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  • Africa's Second Independence
  • Bernard Muna (bio)

When I received an invitation to take part in this conference, what struck me most was the title, for what we find ourselves in the midst of is indeed an unfinished revolution. This revolution began in Africa soon after the Second World War, when the colonized peoples launched their [End Page 60] struggle for freedom. African political leaders of that era were mainly concerned with lifting the yoke of colonialism and gaining political independence. By the beginning of the 1960s, most of the countries in West and Central Africa had gained political independence in one form or another and the rest of Africa was not far behind. A revolution had begun; it has not yet been completed.

It was a revolution that started with calls for the liberation of the African peoples from colonial exploitation and slavery, and expressed their aspirations to self-government and independence. Self-government and independence were granted to the new nations, but the revolution was hijacked by the new indigenous leaders. The African people were never handed their full sovereignty. In the name of national unity and rapid economic development, many basic human rights and democratic freedoms were sacrificed. Dictatorships, minority governments, and single-party regimes became the order of the day. The peoples of Africa watched helplessly as their own countrymen became the new oppressors. Country after country suffered as oppression, tribalism, and gross injustice ran rampant.

Ironically enough, the retreating colonial powers had left most of these young nations with the necessary structures of democratic government: multiparty parliaments, independent judiciaries, and strong executive branches. Before long, however, most of Africa's multiparty parliaments and independent judiciaries had been done away with. Rulers preferred strong central governments without checks and balances to limit their power.

The revolution also remained unfinished in another respect. During the colonial period, the European-imposed governments had their own administrative structures, tailored to serve the aims and needs of colonialism and the colonial power. At no time did these aims include the development of the colony for the benefit of its people. Yet the new indigenous governments that took over after independence did little or nothing to change the administrative structures that they had inherited; the new rulers found in these structures a convenient means of consolidating their power and oppressing their fellow citizens. Even if all of Africa's postcolonial rulers had nothing but good intentions, however, the colonialist structures that passed into their control could never have proven themselves suitable for serving a sovereign people and developing the nation for their benefit. Hence, the need to reform these structures is another aspect of the unfinished revolution.

What, then, are the prospects for multiparty democracy in Africa today—or rather for democracy simply, since I do not believe that there can be any other kind? The notion of one-party democracy in Africa was at best an empty dream, and for the most part nothing but sheer hypocrisy. One-party democracy can work only with an angel as president and saints as members of the central committee. Even in [End Page 61] heaven, the existing order was challenged by Satan, and we all know that today he is still in the opposition.

The second phase of Africa's revolution—what General Olusegun Obasanjo has called the second independence of Africa—now seems to be underway. The leaders who hijacked the revolution and trod upon the sovereignty of the people are now being called to account. Thirty years of dictatorship, minority government, and one-party rule have brought neither national unity nor economic development. Africa is still ravaged by civil wars and ethnic conflicts, as well as by ignorance, poverty, hunger, and disease.

Today, thankfully, respect for human rights and the establishment of a democratic society are coming to be seen as the true means to unity and development. But this view is not universally shared. Some ask whether democracy is not a luxury for Africa, and wonder if truly democratic governments can be maintained in the midst of ignorance, poverty, and hunger. Others suspect that democracy might impede development, or fear that it will merely exacerbate intertribal tensions and make the...


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pp. 60-63
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