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“The African Experience” by Vincent Khapoya


Many scholars have advanced various schools of thought in their search for real reasons that could help resolve the question that has lived with us for centuries of what could be responsible for the continued economic, social and political backwardness of the African continent. Khapoya undertook to analyze the situation in Africa from ancient times through independence to the modern times. This paper undertakes to summarize chapters four, five, six and seven of his work.

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Colonialism and the African experience

African nations have had a very long history of colonialism from European countries such as the Britain, France, Belgium, Italy, German and Portugal. All these inhumane acts of domination culminated in all time important 1800s – 1900s uptight scramble for the African continent by the whites, particularly the Europeans (p112). The acquisition and subsequent governing of the African land was initially well organized and coordinated in the context of international rules of engagement but this latter turned into an exercise that attracted some degree of combat competition amongst the Europeans. This sharpened people’s quest to have the entire exercise regulated, leading to the 1885 conference in Berlin. This conference succeeded in ratifying imperialism (p114).

Khapoya in fact reckons that it was the Europeans’ quest for self worth that sharpened their appetite for vast lands. The Europeans also felt and, in deed, acted more powerful than the African natives (p108-115). In fact, Khapoya records that of the colonialists, the Britons acted more superior to the African natives to an extent of feeling that the Blacks were lesser humans that could not even measure up to them and were therefore only there to be ruled by them, the whites (p114-115).

The Britons’ superiority was so real that they could not even allow for any marital arrangement that had a black and a white in it. They detested interracial marriage. Arising from their superiority ‘complex’, they believed that they were in a mission to educate, increase their self worth and spread Christianity among the locals. In juxtaposing the mind sets of the colonial masters, Khapoya notes that the French were relatively human, at least to the extent that they could easily and comfortably accept an African who has learnt the French ways (p115). Those that could intermarry with the French were easily adopted, implying that the French were more positive about racial association as opposed to the superiority-minded Britons who did not accept anything short of racial inequality (p118).

The Portuguese appeared more receptive than the Britons as well. They did not detest of intermarriages between Africans and Portuguese, safe for the all time believe that pure breed Portuguese did not in any way measure up to the blacks. As an indicator of how much they valued themselves as being superior to the blacks, an adoption of the Portuguese language meant civilization. Essentially therefore, the Blacks that had not learnt or developed the Portuguese language were uncivilized, and were therefore to be changed in ways the colonial masters wanted (p114-5).

In terms of the nature and style of administration, Khapoya contends that the Britons, as colonial masters to some African nations, assumed a totally different ruling style as compared to their counterparts, the French and Portuguese. Khapoya reports that while the Britons adopted a system known as an indirect rule, the Germans, Portuguese, French, and the Belgians assumed the system of direct rule.

In indirect rule, the Britons sought to have a somewhat decentralized system that involved the use of local power actors to implement the royal directives (p127-8). For instance in Kenya, the Queen’s government employed the use of local people as chiefs, while Governors remained the Britons. As Khapoya contends, such point men were either “encouraged or forced to administer for the British Empire” (p216). French and the others assumed a centralized political structure. French sought to establish its empires through a system of recruiting chiefs in their colonies basing on their individual obedience to and compliance with the French government (p129).

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In the East African region, German colonialists were significantly fought against with concerted efforts as they sought to establish their empire. This was particularly the case because the Germans had adopted a strategy of employing forced labor and tax (p139). Arising from the systematic and coordinated uprising, the German colony increased the capacity of its forces by supplying more sophisticated guns, eventually winning the fight, albeit shortly (p138-9). Belgium on the other hand, under King Leopold II, established an expansive private ‘free state’ colony which he extremely exploited while exceedingly mistreating the native inhabitants, to the extent of infuriating the other colonial masters who did not hesitate in calling for more humane treatment of the subjects of the King’s colony (p124).

In terms of the economics of the colonization process, Khapoya reports that enormous wealth, in terms of industrial raw materials, were taken away from the Belgian Congo (Zaire) to Belgium (p132). He further reckons that discusses (pp. 134–143) none of the colonial masters wasn’t oriented to ripping from situational economics. They acquired land compulsorily leading to the pushing of Africans to reserves that were considered unproductive to the colonial masters.

This in essence meant that Africans were made vulnerable too poverty and therefore remain loyal to the colonial master in order to get favors. Arising from this marginalization of native populations, the British government, in east Africa, benefited from loyal chiefs and other administrative personnel who could easily deal with grassroots revolt (p136). After pushing out the Africans in the agriculturally viable areas, what followed was conscription into forced labor with meager wages. In the Agriculturally viable areas, cash crops were introduced and people forced to work in such farms.

A very serious problem with this kind of colonial policy was that the initially grown food crops were relegated, not voluntarily, in order to provide the unpaid forced labor to the colonial masters’ commercial farms. Other attendant problems were the cutting short the hitherto very important barter trade, between different African nations, and the emergence of laborers from India (p134-137). What all these meant is that the colony could not develop as it continued to export its raw materials to the colonial master to develop its own infrastructure. This represents a serious form of expropriation, bearing in mind that the laborers were underpaid despite having been forced to work.

African children failed to go to school as they were also recruited to provide farm labor. This has ever since acted against African countries’ development given that they are still the sources of cheap industrial raw materials hence not gaining in foreign trade exchange. This explains why the African continent, as a whole, remains unindustrialized (p134-143).

African Nationalism and the Struggle for Freedom

It is to be found that the main force, or perhaps the trigger force, behind the call and struggle for independence was actually the World War II. It was in the aftermaths of the war that pro-independence pressure groups and movements like Mau Mau in Kenya and Maji Maji rebellion in Tanzania begun to take shape. This is the period, according to Khapoya, when African participants in the fight for Britain in the Second World War realized how unfair the British government was in distributing rewards (p148).

This resulted in disgruntlement on the part of the relatively unrewarded African soldiers. “Many British veterans were rewarded for their part in saving Britain and her empire with generous pensions and offers of nearly free land in the colonies. The African soldiers were given handshakes and train tickets for the journey back home. They could keep their khaki uniforms and nothing else (p158). The result was that such disgruntled but otherwise exposed African soldiers were ready to fight for the freedom of their countries.

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Missionaries came to Africa in the guise of spreading Christianity. But it later appeared that they had the same interests as their fellow colonial masters. It succeeded in complementing the exploitative tendencies of the colonizers by making Christian values as to mean westernization, and therefore civilization. By introducing the education aspect into its mission objectives, it only advanced literacy to allow Africans to read the bible and at least work as “Clerks in the colonial bureaucracy” (p132).

Bible reading ensured the adherents were satisfied with the existing economic, social and political order because the bible taught such values of brotherhood and benevolence. Africans received only limited education, which would allow them to read the Bible, take orders efficiently from the missionaries, and function, at best, as clerks in the colonial bureaucracy” (p132). Later, especially after the WW II, people were able to discern the hypocritical nature of the colonialists and the missionaries and they begun organizing themselves to fight for their freedom and independence (148).

It was in the early 20th century when a movement in the name of Pan-Africanism was formed by a group of Nationalists and intellectuals. This movement sought to promote and protect equality, unity, self governance and independence. All that the movement advocated was a great deal of self-knowledge by attempting to keep track of where they have come from and what they have always aspired to achieve (p163-4).

Numerous conferences were done to build on the noble idea and this saw the emergence of such African nationalists as Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya, Nkrumah of Ghana, and Nyerere of Tanzania. These nationalist advocated for Africa’s self governance and self determination. Because what they were advocating was in resonance with the people’s feelings and perceptions, this idea really sold. However, as soon as many of these countries gained independence, the reality that each country had its own distinct problems hit these leaders and the idea, though noble, was relegated in favor of national policies (p169).

African Independence – The First Thirty Years

Having fought for long periods, it was time the colonial masters accepted to hand over independence to their respective colonies. Khapoya (p177) explains the distinction between the process of handing over power between Britain and the French. He posits that Britain assumed a somewhat bit by bit transfer method. In North Africa, however, France sought to implement a strategy of assimilation. Khapoya goes on to report that the 1958 referendum by president Gaulle, did not succeed as was anticipated by the colonizer and so it necessitated constitutional reviews and changes to accommodate the feelings of the colony (p183).

Most African states inherited economies that had been shattered by extended periods of conflicts, and external prohibitions. This meant that such countries could not engage in any meaningful development strategy as it sought to pay the already accumulated external debt (p190). Coupled with the wanton corruption inherent in most of these countries, the popular expectation soon degenerated to frustrations whish ended up breeding dissent. This culminated in rebellions e.g. in Uganda.

Most African nations after independence adopted a centralized government. This over time degenerated into some tyrannies in which those who hold a different political opinion was labeled rebel and anti-government. Most of these nations engaged in vibrant political movements with the opposition fighting for decentralization of power in order for the common man to feel part of the government he fought for (p196-7).

For example, in Kenya, immediately after independence, the nation became a one party state leading to the multi-party struggles of the 1990s. The Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs) of the 1980s came as a curse to many African nations as cost sharing in social sector meant the economy could not afford development. For instance with unfavorable terms of trade, these nations export cheap agricultural raw materials and import expensive finished products, import crude oil expensively transferring the cost to end user. Therefore, people have opted to walking, and hence a walking nation.

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The colonial masters of Nigeria, Britons, adopted a segregating methodology to help establish the current Nigerian state out of the hitherto segmented religiously organized vast land. This helped the Britain government to keep off the French colonizers who were gaining entry into the territory (p184). By establishing the council composed of emirs, kings and traditional elders/leaders from the various regions, Lugard unconsciously created a kind of competition between the various regions to increase their share in the government.

So it can be said that for Nigeria, it was not the pan-Africanism (which advocated for self governance and determination) that lad to independence. In stead it was the need to have more representation and more decision making power in government (184-5). But it was the lapses in the colonizer’s strategic plans that killed the new found good relations between the Muslim north and the Christian south which ended up pushing the two groups into retreating to preservation of their separate cultures at the expense of peace and unity. These conflicts have in fact persisted to the present when we still witness civil wars between the north and the South.

African Struggle for Democracy and Free Markets

Immediately after independence, most African countries degenerated into battle fields between democracy conscious and those not amused by anything of the sort. The nationalists of the early 1960s, soon after being thrown into power by the independence gained, turned against their pre-independence comrades and established a system that do not uphold democracy (p224-5). Elections in Africa are said not to be won but are stolen. This is in fact manifested in the current situation in Ivory Coast, Zimbabwe and Libya.

Free markets imply a situation in which market forces are left to operate independent of any interference from any quarter. It is a situation where the market prices of goods are determined by the demand and supply forces, in the absence of state regulations (p234). Since there can never be a completely free market devoid of government participation in the form of subsidies, taxes, restrictions and price controls, the idea of a free market remains just but an ideological framework. African countries predominantly run mixed economies in which the state always intervenes to regulate the market dynamics without necessarily regulating it.

These interventions often occur by way of subsidies and tax exemptions, especially on agricultural inputs. Most African countries also protect their infant industries from the kind of competition coming from foreign industries. This is done by way of limiting the amount of imports of the products that such industries deal in. For example, Kenya often employs tax waivers on agricultural inputs and limits the amount of sugar and maize that private businessmen can import in a bid to protect the farmers. This is done by almost all the African countries even as they open up for outside markets through regional partnerships and trading blocs as ECOWAS, EAC, SADC, NEPAD etc.


Even though many would want to content that the contemporary African problems were solely the cause of Africans and their leaders, a clear analysis reflects the inherited problems of internal conflicts, huge balance of payments, inappropriate and unfair trade, fiscal and social policies as the primary causes of the continued backwardness of Africa. The 1980s SAPs were completely inappropriate to African nations. The current push for free markets protocol continues to edge out the relatively young and weak industries in Africa.

Work cited

Khapoya,Vincent, B. The African Experience: An Introduction. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1998. Print.

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