by Fred L. Hadsel
Understanding the characteristics of the continent helps understand African political forces.
Nationalism in Africa is so greatly different from the nationism which emerged in Europe that straight comparisons between the two movements are not very useful. Instead, an understanding of nationalism in Africa must first of all stem from an identification of the special characteristics of that continent. It then becomes possible to put into proper perspective the ideas and practices which Africans have borrowed from other parts of the world.
Geography and ethnography have placed formidable obstacles in the development of any national consciousness. Not only is the continent vast, but its rivers, deserts and climactic zones greatly hindered the communication among Africans on which nationalism depends. Scattered over this area, moreover, are hundreds of tribal groupings and an equal number of languages. These conditions have fostered entirely different ecologies, and the resulting differences in economies – rain forest, farming, pastoral or desert – reinforced the divisions among Africans.
The conquest of Africa, and the resultant penetration of ideas and practices conditioning its present nationalism, largely disregarded the geographical and historical pattern of the continent. Based on a dynamics having nothing to do with Africa, the first "modern" invasion of Africa came from the Arab world a thousand years ago. Its temporal control in northern Africa was brief, but its cultural influence on that part of the continent was permanent. The second. invasion began five hundred years ago, as the Portuguese explorers worked their way down the west coast of the continent. The result, of course, was the conquest of almost all of sub-Sahara Africa by European nations, and the organization of most of the continent on the basis of boundaries drawn in the chancelleries of Europe along political lines reflecting the imperial views of these powers.
The colonial conquest conditioned the nationalism in Africa in many ways, some of which appear paradoxical in terms of other national movements. For example, unlike nationalism in Europe and the Middle East, which has almost always identified itself with the development of an indigenous language, the nationalists of Africa formulated their views in the language of their conquerors. They articulated the principles of their masters. In some cases, they found that they were closer in cult-Lire and thought to the imperialists from whom they were seeking freedom than they were to many of the people they sought to free. This situation resulted, in a few cases, in the national leader not only campaigning for freedom in the language of the enemy but having to use an interpreter to get across his ideas to his own people.
As a result of the colonial conquest, the African nationalist thinkers and leaders throughout most of Africa have faced a double problem-the search for a doctrine and method of assuring effective unity within their country and independence from outside domination. Both of these preoccupations dominate the thought and practices of nationalists in Africa today. They have been deeply affected by the sheer size of the task before them. Unlike the nationalists in Europe, or even in the Middle East, the African leaders had practically no original, indigenous institutions on which to base their national efforts. While certain concepts, such as the development of a consensus through "palaver," might be adapted to some extent in political activity, the greater number of institutions, such as communal land, tribal customs, military organization and selection of leadership were too far removed from modern requirements to be useful to the new nationalist. He found himself, in the first place, rejecting his heritage, which put him at odds with the vast bulk of his people. In the second place, he had to turn outside his society both for his ideas and his lieutenants.
Both the burdens and limitations placed on the nationalists by the size of their task were increased by the way in which independence came to the continent. Over thirty African nations became sovereign in less than fifteen years. Never have so many nations become independent in such a short time in history. There was little time to prepare for freedom – whether in terms of the doctrine, or in terms of its application. It is a practical fact of political agitation, moreover, that struggle begets rationalization, and rationalization is the hand-maiden of doctrine. Of all the new African nations since World War 11, only one, Algeria, went through a long war of liberation. Others experienced violence before their independence, but the scope and duration of these uprisings were limited. As a result, the forge of independence was either cool or quick, and the doctrine which could be hammered out during this transition was inevitably incomplete. There thus is an intellectual feeling that the revolution of independence is incomplete; there is a practical experience that most African nations are more divided than they are united.
Finally, there is a by-product of these difficulties and divisions facing the nationalists of Africa. Realizing their internal weaknesses and recognizing the hasty and incomplete nature of their independence, they were more ready than nationalists of Europe to seek support and cooperation from their colleagues elsewhere on the continent. The path to individual nationhood in Africa was paved with conferences and cooperation among various leaders of various national movements. A loose fraternity of national leaders developed before independence and continued, in spite of rivalries, after freedom was achieved. This was particularly true within the language groups of the French and English speaking leaders. It is presently continuing to be honored to the extent that the Heads of State address each other at major conclaves as: "My Brothers," or "Mes freres," even though they may need an interpreter to make their views known to many of their colleagues.
ORIGIN AND GROWTH OF AFRICAN NATIONALISM
The roots of nationalism in individual countries fan out in so many directions and ‘to such different depths that valid generalizations concerning the origins of African thought and practice are next to impossible. There is, for example, the unique mystique of Ethiopia, which enshrines its nationhood in Solomon and Sheba and claims over two thousand years of independence. Nearby, Egypt’s roots are even more ancient, although its modern incarnation dates from the early Nineteenth Century. On the other side of the continent is Liberia with its special origin of emigres from America and its constitution modeled upon that of the United States. In the north, Morocco is in one sense about ten years old, yet its monarchial system reaches back for centuries and some of its institutions (such as the University of Fez) which contributed to its present nationalism are upward of a thousand years old. In the south, the Republic of South Africa is unique in being based on permanent European migration, and its philosophy has nothing in common with the rest of the continent.
If we leave aside these and, a few other nations, particularly in North Africa, there are two principal groups of African nationalists – those who opposed British colonalism, and those who sought freedom from French control. From the former there emerged nine independent nations, with their idealogues and leaders formulating their doctrine and actions along British lines; from the latter there emerged fifteen nations whose antagonist and mentor was France, with three more whose leaders had a Belgian accent.
The English speaking nationalists, the Anglophones – reached farther afield for their initial inspiration than did their French speaking colleagues. The early opposition to British inperialism in the colonies itself was modest, parochial, tribal or personal. The early inspiration for independence from outside the continent came first from the United States, where under the impetus of an intellectual, W. E. B. DuBois, and a politician, Marcus Garvey, they spawned a grandiose concept of nationalism and pan-nationalism which was as vague as it was ineffective during the years before the Second World War. Out of the period of this war, however, there came three elements, which within a decade transformed African nationalism from a dream into a possibility. First, the war itself loosened the grip of Britain upon her colonies and gave them a practical stimulus to the development first of self-government and then independence. Second, the real if sometimes halting efforts of missionaries and administrators had produced schools, such as the famed Achimoto in the Gold Coast, from which Africans were emerging during this period as qualified leaders. Third, international sentiment – whether in the United Nations or elsewhere in world opinion -favored independence.
The twelve years from the end of the War to the independence of the first of the British territories (Ghana, in 1957) were marked by intense political activity – conferences, commissions and constitutions – by passionate propaganda – in the press or on political platforms – and by occasional violence -of which only the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya was serious.
Certain special qualities graced this activity. It was couched within the framework of British parliamentary democracy. Part of this was tactical, since the colonial government hoped to pass on its heritage, and the nationalists saw that their freedom would come more quickly if the package was labeled with Westminster markings. Part of this attitude was genuine, for admiration for British institutions was very real. It was surprisingly middleclass, non-communist and pragmatic. Finally, even though its leaders were understandably very sensitive on racial questions, they were not racists in the extreme sense of the word.
The French speaking nationalists – the Francophones – drew their ideological inspiration almose entirely from Paris. This is true whether the leaders were formerly ministers in French cabinets, such as Senghor of Senegal or HouphouetBoigny of the Ivory Coast, or more Marxian in outlook, such as Toure of Guinea or Keita of Mali. The slogans of the Revolution of 1789 were often used; the dogmas and tactics of the French Communist Party were sometimes applied; and the personal mystique associated with General de Gazelle played an important role.
Two other developments occurred in the evolution of Francophone nationalism in Africa. For a number of years just before and after the Second World War, nationalism was detoured into assimilation, in which the aspirations of some Africans to become French overshadowed their desire to be independent. During these same years, however, there also began to develop an almost mystical admiration of negritude. In due course its most eloquent proponent was the poetstatesman, Leopold Senghor. Even though the praise was couched in a European language, the effect of this literature was to give new status to a color which was essentially African.
The conditions surrounding the achievement of Francophone independence were similar to these of the English speaking states in that the Second World War brought greater opportunity for freedom, the colonial administration had produced the essential leadership, and international sentiment favorable to independence was felt in French as well as other territories. French efforts to retain greater influence after initial freedom brought hostile reactions from some and obtained active cooperation from others. Above all, the concept of French culture has been actively propounded in the new state whether or not it chose close ties to the former metropole. As a result the elites of the new Francophone nations have graduated from lycees having the same courses as those in Paris. Their nationalism is as authentic as any in Africa, but their accent is still very French.
NATIONALISM IN PRACTICE
Although some of the African leaders have continued to talk or write in theoretical terms – President Nkrumah is the most noteworthy example – most of the contemporary ideas of African nationalists are close to practical life. They are developed in the light of concrete issues, which might range from the immediate imperative of political survival to more general reactions to world political or economic questions. One of the most interesing ways in which these ideas have been formulated is the Charter of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), and some of the most active debates of these ideas have taken place in the course of its meetings.
The OAU Charter, which was adopted by the African states in 1963, enunciates four cardinal principles of modern African nationalism: national sovereignty, continental liberation, pan-African unity and world non-alignment. Each of these attitudes has drawn some of its inspiration from outside of Africa, all are nevertheless very African in their elaboration.
National sovereignty has the most pragmatic possible basis. The African leaders were forced to accept the boundaries which they inherited from the colonial powers, or face a Pandora’s box of almost universal political upheaval. At the same time almost every state in Africa has one or more dis-puted frontiers with its neighbors, in which ethnic or other considerations play a part. This has focused the attention of African leaders on the problem of subversion, the more so since some of the nations have not neglected this dangerous form of international pressure. Hence, the OAU Charter enshrines the sovereignty of individual nations; upholds the sanctity of their territorial integrity; and condemns (and thereby admits the danger of) subversion. At the last meeting of the OAU Heads of State, in October 1965, subversion was roundly denounced, and all the participants pledged themselves to oppose every form of this activity, whether from within or from outside of Africa.
The internal organization of political power in the various African states has been equally pragmatic. Under the various pressures of new nationhood, ranging from building new institutions to surviving personal struggles for power, a trend has developed in the direction of a single party system. Reacting in part to the centralized control of the colonial period, and adopting in part some of the tactics of single party states, the African leadership is often trying to meld the traditional societies with the modern needs of government and to organize power without giving way to political opponents. Given the size of the task, the extremely limited institutions available and the external pressures which have appeared throughout the continent, the remarkable thing is that African nationalism is as successful as it is. For example, the Government in Nairobi published a booklet on Kenyan Socialism which is far more, Kenyan than socialist. A "one party" election in Tanganyika recently submitted multiple candidates to the electorate. Ethiopia has a parliament without parties. The Congo has a parliament, presently prorogued, with scores of parties. Nigeria has a federation with widely dispersed powers; under Nkrumah, Ghana had a highly centralized government with power concentrated in a lifetime President. The only conclusions that can be drawn from this diversity is that while African leaders are nationalists, no single manifestation of this belief has gained general acceptance, and the permutations of these practices have just begun.
The second principle, continental liberation, draws primarily on the remaining anti-colonialism of the earlier years of African nationalism. Because the remaining areas under colonial domination are controlled by Europeans, this sentiment has considerable racial overtones. This is especially true with respect to South Africa, since apartheid, the ideology of their opponents, is in itself one of white supremacy. This anticolonialism, moreover, is directed against conditions which the Africans hold to be violations of basic human rights. Under these circumstances, the Africans are entirely willing to justify means of opposing it which under other circumstances they would condemn. They decline to accord the right of sovereign integrity to the present rulers in southern Africa; they are therefore entirely willing to support subversion which they would otherwise condemn. They endorse the use of sanctions and the ultimate use of force against these governments, while the OAU Charter condemns such action among themselves. The liberation of the continent thus continues to be a revolutionary element in African nationalism.
A close corollary of the liberation is African unity. This third principle is the pan-African aspect of African nationalism. just as the leaders of the independence movements in Latin
America in the first half of the nineteenth century spoke of a unification of their new states along with their independence, so did some of the leaders of Africa link freedom from colonial powers with federation of the continent. The concept of African unity emerged as a specific program in the All-African Peoples Conference of 1958 held in Accra, and Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, the leader of Ghana’s independence, was its most articulate proponent. Thereafter, it quickly became part of the African creed, and the "unity and solidarity" of Africa was placed at the beginning of the purposes of’ the OAU in its Charter.
African unity has had many interpreters, ranging from those who seek a United States of Africa, in which real power lies with a continental organization, to those who favor limited, regional or functional cooperation for very specific purposes. The tenor of discussion of this problem within the OAU suggests that -unity remains more of a ideal than an early objective. Having been put before the Africans by President Nkrumah with audacity and vision, however, the concept will be one with which nationalists will have to conjure during the coming years.
The fourth principle of contemporary African nationalism, non-alignment in world affairs, is the least clearly formulated of these points of view. Being applicable to situations outside the continent – non-alignment begins at the water’s edge – it relates to problems to which African leaders have given relatively less attention. At the same time, it takes on an immediacy in several circumstances; when the nuclear powers fail to agree on disarmament; when great or lesser powers undertake warfare which might escalate to world proportions; when world trade policies, aid practices, or investment operations appear to threaten the interests of African countries. In these cases, non-alignment is often an effort on the part of African nations to exert influence by diplomatic or other means which they could not deploy either as individuals or by conventional methods.
Non-alignment has still another connotation for the African continent as a whole. just as the principle of sovereignty involves opposition to subversion against individual states, the doctrine of non-alignment implies resistance to external efforts to dominate the continent. It is therefore natural that the OAu African governments will condemn imperialism, colonialism, and the presence of foreign military bases in Africa, for these are historically the ways in which they have been influenced from .abroad. It remains to be seen the manner in which African nations as a whole will react to the threats to their collective independence. on the part of Communist countries. If, however, their disenchantment with Communist China in connection with the Afro-Asian conference scheduled in 1965 for Algiers is any guide to the views of African nationalists, it would appear that non-alignment may become a basis for assuring the independence of Africa against domination from any quarter whatsoever.
THE FUTURE OF AFRICAN NATIONALISM
It requires no prescience to point out that African leaders will continue to face difficult problems in all four paths along which their nationalism is now developing. In the development of the theory and practice of internal rule, there is every reason to assume that it will be years before the present themes and variations will be fully worked out. Liberation of Africa already faces major obstacles in the southern part of the continent, and if difficulties produce new approaches, there should emerge interesting theories from this confrotation. Although these issues may induce a sense of urgency into African developments, unity must still grow out of the practical experience, of African national cooperation. The prospects of non-alignment, by contrast, will probably depend as much as anything else on the world situation and the policies of other powers toward the African nations. Whatever the aspect of Africa’s change, African leaders are only beginning to play out their role and African thinkers have only begun to give this revolution of freedom a distinctive formulation.
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