The post-colonial state in Africa has often been marked by a significant number of elites and educated classes who have been at the forefront of the governance and administration of these countries. Notwithstanding their unparalleled education and positions of power, there has been growing criticism of these black elites and educated classes for their attitudes, actions, and roles in the post-colonial state.
First of all, the attitudes of Africa’s crème de la crème have been a subject of considerable debate and criticism. Since independence, and maybe even before independence, these pseudo-elites have often been more concerned with their interests and privileges than with the needs of the masses. It is fair to say that the wrong people were entrusted to lead people to a promised land. In his book ‘Architects of Poverty’, Moeletsi Mbeki calls African elites architects of poverty and underdevelopment.
Africans have lived under oppressive and exploitative conditions for hundreds of years, and when they were told that political freedom was possible they jumped with joy. But their elation was short-lived as the ‘freedom fighters’ decided to turn around and devoured their much-awaited freedom.Teary and scarred, Africans now yearn for ‘second independence’. While political independence was an important milestone, argues Bernard Muna, it did not lead to true independence, as many African states remained economically and culturally dependent on their former colonial powers.
Often labelled as ‘colonial clerks’, these elites were thoroughly prepared through colonial education. What they learned were Western values and ideals and this left them completely disconnected from the realities of the people they were supposed to serve. The African continent is in tatters under these super-educated beings who supposedly control politics and commerce.
Frantz Fanon wrote extensively on the impact of colonialism on the psyche of the colonised. In his seminal work, ‘The Wretched of the Earth’, heslated the attitudes of black elites and educated classes in the post-colonial African state. He further contends that the African petit-bourgeoisiehad adopted the values and attitudes of their colonial oppressors and were more interested in maintaining their own power and privilege than in working for the good of the masses.
Interestingly, Fanon argues that the petit bourgeoisie in Africa, as in other colonised societies, played a complex and often contradictory role in the liberation struggle.Granted that these individuals have a degree of economic and cultural autonomy that gave them a certain amount of leverage in the struggle against colonialism. Meaning, they are often educated in comparison to the general populace. They alsohave access to resources and networks that enabled them to organise and mobilise for political change.
The reality, however, is that the African petit-bourgeoisie suffers from elitism, has little or nocommitment to the struggle for true independence and tends to align itself with colonial powers and interests. This elite class has no interest in advancing the interests of the wider population but is more concerned with maintaining its own position of privilege and power.
The African elites hold an unenviable record of leading some of the world’s failed states. However, a nuanced examination of the historical, political, and economic factors that have contributed to state failure in Africa is necessary to avoid judging these narcissists harshly. For instance, many countries have experienced significant political instability, economic underdevelopment, and social unrest in the post-colonial era. These challenges are not only a function of bad leadership but the elites have been sluggish in taking positions and action.
African elites inherited or were tasked with managing difficult political and economic circumstances that were shaped by decades of colonial rule, external interference, and global power dynamics. Prominent African academicMahmood Mamdani has argued that Africa experienced some of the harshest forms of colonialism in the modern era. Like myself, Mamdani thinks colonialism was not a purely political and economic phenomenon but was also a deeply cultural and social process that had profound and lasting effects on African societies.
Therefore, Mamdani argues that the colonial project in Africa was characterised by a gruesome process of ‘de-Africanisation’, where African cultures, languages and traditions were systematically suppressed and replaced by aliencultural norms and values. Violence and coercionwere part and parcel of this harsh rule whereincolonial powers sought to assert their dominance over African populations.
Unfortunately, African elites not only carried forward the language of violence and force but automated it. International law scholars such as Antony Anghie and Makau Mutua criticise post-colonial elites for retaining the legal and institutional frameworks created by colonial powers to preserve their power and suppress dissent. It is uncommon for African states to use excessive violence to suppress opponents. This is a far cry from what the people had hoped to see after a white man had vacated power.
Mamdani has also challenged the idea that colonialism brought modernisation and development to Africa, arguing instead that it created a deeply unequal and exploitative relationship between Africa and the rest of the world. Be that as it may, the global powers have found reliable partners in local elites who assist in perpetuating the status quo. The people are found in both political and economic sectors of society.
Elites preside over failed states that deny people economic and political freedoms and thus creating inequalities and poverty. Instead, they use their positions of power to accumulate wealth and privilege at the expense of the wider population. Quite often, they select policies that prioritise their own interests and those of their international partners over the needs and aspirations of their desperate citizens.
These scavenging African elites enrich themselves by looting public resources and engaging in illicit financial flows. The shifting of resources worsens the lack of access to basic services such as healthcare, education, and clean water. Corruption contributes to poor health outcomes, limited economic opportunities and a cycle of intergenerational poverty. Young men and women would rather perish in the Sahara or drown in the Mediterranean than stay at home under brutal parents.
In conclusion, the behaviour of pseudo-elites hasgenerally led to the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a few, and the exclusion and marginalisation of large segments of the population. This means that the failure of African states to provide their citizens with economic and political freedoms has led to high levels of migration, as people seek better opportunities and living conditions elsewhere.
Siya yi banga le economy!