Five decades after its ‘year’: Africa still struggles against imperialism
Apr 25, 2010
The year 2010 is the 50th anniversary of the Year of Africa, when 17 former colonial territories gained their national independence during 1960.
The liberation movements in Africa had gained momentum after World War II, when the European colonial powers were weakened by their mutual destruction from 1939 to 1945.
Colonialism was a vicious system of national oppression and exploitation with origins in the Atlantic Slave Trade starting in the 15th century. After four centuries of enslaving Africans in Western Europe, the Caribbean, Latin America, North America and on the African continent itself, the imperialists solidified their colonial system with the 1884-1885 Berlin Conference.
African people resisted the rapacious slave trade and colonialist encroachment for centuries. Beginning in the late 19th century, anti-colonial revolts and movements blossomed throughout the African continent and other territories throughout the world.
Despite the two inter-imperialist wars in the first half of the 20th century, as of 1945 colonialism in Africa remained largely intact. To justify their crimes, the European colonialists claimed that their presence in Africa spurred economic development and prepared African states for eventual independence in the 20th century. The introduction of capitalist systems of production and trade, however, only managed to maximize profits and maintain political control for the imperialists.
For example, in the West African state of Ghana, which was called the Gold Coast during the colonial period, British rule established a one-cash-crop economy of cocoa, providing the British ruling class with an effective means of exploiting the African territory.
Gold mining provided an impulse for the territory’s first railway, which extended from the gold-mining district of Tarkwa to Sekondi by 1901. After the railway line’s construction in the Gold Coast, the rate of profit extracted from gold mining grew quickly. Gold exports expanded from £22,000 (all numbers in pound sterling) in 1897 to £255,000 by 1907 and £1,687,000 by 1914, the beginning of World War I.
The railway extended to Kumasi in 1903 in order to ensure the political and military dominance over the Ashanti nation. This factor led to the penetration of the forest areas where the British carried out the process of rubber-tapping. The expansion of cocoa farming brought about another round of windfall profits for the British colonialists.
In 1901, the value of cocoa exported from the colony was £43,000, £515,000 in 1907 and £2,194,000 in 1914, when cocoa amounted to 49 percent of all exports, and cocoa alone paid for all the Gold Coast’s imports.
The railway also expedited the export of timber, worth £169,000 in 1907. Cocoa, gold and timber made the Gold Coast, by 1914, the most prosperous of all the African colonies.
Rise of African nationalism
As World War II ended, the only nominally independent African states were Egypt, Liberia and the reconstituted nation of Ethiopia. Nonetheless, in 1945 these states in actuality were firmly under the yoke of imperialism.
Pro-British King Farouk I’s monarchy controlled Egypt until 1952, when the Free Officers’ Movement seized power in a popular coup. In 1956 when Gamal Abdel Nasser became president of Egypt and nationalized the Suez Canal, Britain, France and the state of Israel invaded. After this imperialist invasion failed, Egypt became a leading proponent of the independence movements that swept other areas of the continent during the 1950s and 1960s.
Liberia had been established as a settlement for formerly enslaved Africans from the United States beginning in 1822. Granted nominal independence in 1847, it remained under the U.S. yoke and after the 1920s became Firestone’s private rubber plantation.
After the defeat of Italian fascism in 1943, the restored Ethiopian monarchy of Haile Selassie fell under U.S. political, economic and military domination. In Southern Africa, three other monarchies in Bechuanaland, Basutoland and Swaziland were under protectorate status by the British and were limited in regard to political and territorial sovereignty.
Nonetheless, beginning in the late 1940s, anti-colonial movements arose throughout the continent. In 1956 Sudan gained its independence from Britain, followed in 1957 by Ghana.
In 1958, Guinea became the first French-occupied territory in Africa to opt out of the colonial system. In 1954 Algeria had embarked upon an armed struggle and finally won its freedom from French imperialism in 1961-62.
1960 became a watershed year because a cluster of states, many of them former French colonies that did not join Guinea in its demand for liberation in 1958, along with British and Belgian colonies, became independent. These included Cameroon, Togo, Madagascar, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, Benin, Niger, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Chad, the Central African Republic, the Republic of Congo, Gabon, Senegal, Mali, Nigeria and Mauritania.
Ghana became a republic in 1960 and moved further away from British imperialism. In 1961, Ghana’s leader Kwame Nkrumah initiated a political program he said was aimed at building socialism inside the country. Ghana in 1960 had formed an alliance with both Guinea under Sekou Toure and Mali under Modibo Keita, aimed at building a political union which pursued direct trade and economic links among newly independent African states.
Neo-colonialism stifles national independence
Despite the African peoples’ tremendous achievements, the Western imperialists devised methods to maintain economic and political control over the newly independent states and to stifle the process of liberation in the still-existing colonies. The most notable of these efforts was the reversal of the independence process in the former Belgian Congo.
On June 30, 1960, the people of Congo proclaimed their independence under Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba and the Congolese National Movement. Within three months, however, the U.S.-led imperialist states had reoccupied the country under the banner of the United Nations and used a secessionist movement in the Congo’s south to undermine the new nation’s sovereignty.
By September 1960, U.N. forces had put Patrice Lumumba under house arrest. He would later escape and flee to the eastern region of the country, where he was kidnapped, tortured and executed by U.S., Belgian and Congolese agents. Over the next five decades, Congo has remained a reservoir of mineral resources and cheap labor for the imperialist states.
Nkrumah in his book “Neo-Colonialism: The Last Stage of Imperialism,” published in 1965, stated: “The essence of neo-colonialism is that the State which is subject to it is, in theory, independent and has all the outward trappings of international sovereignty. In reality its economic system and thus its political policy is directed from outside.”
The independent states of Africa suffered numerous setbacks between the 1960s and the 1980s. Along with the assassination of Lumumba in Congo, the revolutionary government of Nkrumah was overthrown in a reactionary military and police coup that was backed and engineered by U.S. imperialism in 1966.
These coups would continue in Nigeria in 1966, leading to a civil war between 1967 and 1970. In Mali, the progressive government of Modibo Keita was overthrown in 1968. In 1984, after the sudden death of President Ahmed Sekou Toure in Guinea, a Western-backed military coup took place.
Starting in the mid-1980s, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, both U.S.-dominated financial institutions, insisted that African states institute structural adjustment programs, which undermined the governments’ role providing social services and education to their populations.
Victories over imperialism
Despite these efforts by imperialism, led by the U.S. ruling class, victories in Africa provide hope and profound lessons for the future. In Southern Africa, after years of protracted struggle, the racist settler-colonial regimes in Rhodesia, Namibia and South Africa were eventually overthrown through a combination of mass struggle, armed resistance and international solidarity during the 1980s and 1990s.
Cuba’s revolutionary government under President Fidel Castro deployed 250,000 troops to Angola to fight the racist South African Defense Forces from 1975-1989. In Mozambique FRELIMO and in Angola the MPLA, the ruling parties that fought for national independence in their respective countries, defeated efforts by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and the former apartheid regime in South Africa to topple them.
In Zimbabwe and Sudan, the imperialists have attempted to institute a policy of regime change to reverse the independent course of their domestic and foreign policies. In Somalia, the people have effectively resisted two U.S. military occupations and remain steadfast in their determination to defeat the imperialist aims of domination in the Horn of Africa and the surrounding waterways of the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean.
The U.S. Africa Command or AFRICOM has attempted over the last two years to establish a military base of operations on the continent. The African Union, regional organizations and most individual states have opposed these plans, viewing AFRICOM as a danger to the independence and sovereignty of the continent.
Nonetheless, the U.S. maintains a military base in the Horn of Africa nation of Djibouti and is engaged in numerous war games and training programs with various states under the guise of fighting “terrorism” and enhancing regional security. Even though a few puppet regimes welcome U.S. military assistance, the masses in Africa and their popular organizations continue to strive towards genuine independence, unity and non-interference in the internal affairs of the continent.
In light of the current global economic crisis, the desperation of U.S. imperialism pushes the ruling class toward engaging in continued military adventures in Africa. Nevertheless, if the history of the last five decades is an indication of what is to come, the African workers and farmers will continue to fight against outside Western intervention and strive to determine the destiny of the continent’s people based on their own national and class interests.