The African concern for the state and society socioeconomic and political advancement led to the consideration of both capitalist and socialist paths of development, which brought about a wealth of anthropological studies on precapitalist forms of the social organization, colonialist policies innovating the society, and the challenges of post independence times to carry out sustainable development by the new states. African socialist thought incorporated the African supernatural values, including Islam or Christianity, into socialist ideas. Nkrumah adopted both Marxist socialism and Christianity in Ghana without any contradiction between the two. Leopold Senghor (1960-1980) maintained reconciliatory relations between the Christian and the Muslim groups of Senegal, and Nasser considered Islam as an essential part of Egyptian life and which, perhaps, could assist the revolution.
The early 1950s throughout the 1960s witnessed the continent’s rejection of the inherited capitalist planning of the colonial authorities and an increasing yearning to do away with the state of sluggish economic growth in the face of mounting demands by the rural and urban populations for the modern services of education, health, and the other welfare programs for which high agricultural and industrial productivity was seriously sought by the nationalist bureaucracies. The failure of most African states, however, to ensure successful achievements of these goals led to an acute drift from free-market capitalist planning to a complete adoption of socialist policies for which more state powers were adamantly enforced. It was with these drastic transformations in the structure of state bodies that Africa passed the cold war era with subtle alliances that mostly reinstated an African cult of leadership rather than installing deep consistent changes in the social structure for the vast majority of the poor populations.
In a few African states, significant changes in political representation, land reform, and a vital access to health and education nonetheless enabled the peasants and the working urbanites to acquire parliamentary seats and a few portfolios in the cabinet. The emphasis of socialist ideas on national unity and popular mobilization and the effective sharing by the poor peasantry and the working people in state management motivated many African liberation movements to eradicate apartheid in South Africa; liberate Congo, Angola, and Mozambique; and open up intriguing approaches for state planning and development programs. The African socialist experiences, however, were largely marked with short-lived systems of rule that further ensued in the emergence and growth of bureaucratic-authoritarian regimes—the totalitarian police-states that seriously curtailed civil rights and public freedoms. Before the end of the 1980s, therefore, many African socialists advocated liberal democracy as the best alternative to state socialism.
Starting with Gamal ’Abd al-Nasser’s massive nationalizations of the Suez Canal Company and the feudal lords’ land ownership in Egypt, Kwame Nkrumah announced unrelenting war to combat neocolonialism in Ghana and the whole continent, and Amilcar Cabral armed revolutionary activists to liberate Guinea Bissau from Portugal. Signaling the engagement of Africans in the cold war era, a wave of pro-Soviet ideologies embraced the African states, for which eager intellectuals developed schools of socialism that uniquely added African thought to the European-based Marxist doctrine.
The African socialism of Julius Nyerere was closely linked in Tanzania with self-help programs and the pan-African movement. In general, the common characteristics of African socialism embodied a commitment to replace the free-market economies of colonial capitalism with state policies that gradually led to the sequestration of private property, the prohibition of private firms from free trade, and the monopoly of national wealth by the state as a sole regulator of society. The result of these restrictive policies, however, depleted the national resources by security concerns, escalated the brain drain, and increased the corruption of state officials that further aggravated the impoverishment of rural populations.
Kwame Nkrumah’s Towards Colonial Freedom (1947) and Class Struggles in Africa (1970) emphasized the commonness of African cultures as a basis for emancipation of the African continent. His consciencism aimed to end exploitation, solidify class divisions, and promote planned egalitarian development and social justice. By the mid-1960s, the Nkrumah-led pan-African movement successfully motivated the African heads of state to sign the establishment of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in Accra, and the following years saw the African Charter for Human and People’s Rights that embraced both nationalist and socialist orientation.
Theoretically, the African socialist state aimed to increase popular participation in national decision making. The state-socialist changes of the Egyptian Pasha feudalism culminated in the Charter for National Action in 1962. It defined the objectives of the Arab world as freedom, socialism, and unity.
The enforcement of state socialism, regardless of popular participation in decision making, by Mu’amar Qadafi in Libya, Siyad Berre in Somalia, Mangistu Mariam in Ethiopia, Kaonda in Zambia, and Ja’far Nimeiri in Sudan alienated many national and democratic parties and generated similar repercussions: the Sudanese Socialist Union (SSU) (1970-1985) created more problems for the state and society than it was originally established to reform. Excessive use of administrative and financial powers by the SSU ruling elite consolidated state hegemony and isolated the masses from policy making. In Algeria, the Front Islamique du Salut (FIS: the Islamic Salvation Front) was the victor, giving rise to opposition by the ruling military and violent confrontations between the two.
- Arhin, K. (Ed.). (1993). The life and work of Kwame Nkrumah. Trenton, NJ: African World Press.
- Hopwood, D. (1982). Egypt: Politics and society 1945-1981. London: Allen & Unwin.
- Hughes, A. J. (1963). East Africa: Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda. Baltimore: Penguin.
- Rawson, D. (1994). Democracy, socialism, and decline. In A. I. Samatar (Ed.)., The Somali challenge from catastrophe to renewal. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner.
- Willis, M. (1996). The Islamist challenge in Algeria: A political history. New York: New York University Press.