Civil Society in the Post-Colonial Era in Africa

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The relationships between the state, civil society, and international interests are of high importance for scientists interested in history and politics. Such connections help explain some political events from different perspectives, including social and historical ones. Post-colonial Africa is an interesting subject of study because it underwent significant changes within the last 60 years. Independent Africa suffered from both political and financial decline, but the country was also known as “Africa Rising” and “Africa Emerging” for its economic success (Thomson 272). Changes in civil society, the state, and external interests stimulated post-colonial Africa to grow and develop and influenced its politics.

The First Years of Post-Colonial Era

When Africa became independent, it could not manage effective relationships between the state and civil society. On the one hand, these two parties were interdependent and could not exist without each other. On the other hand, they did not know how to coexist in the new conditions. Civil society was the one that helped Africa overthrew the colonial state. Various activities between ethnic groups, trade unions, and diverse organizations gave rise to the nationalist movements that later became strong forces. People united to fight against the European states that colonized Africa and ruled it for about seventy years (Thomson 273). Civil society was essential for African social and economic development. It could solve various problems of the citizens, including welfare needs and some political claims (Mati 677). If civil society and the state had similar goals, they cooperated, but if their goals were divergent, they usually acted against each other. Thus, civil society had a significant impact on the development of post-colonial Africa.

At the same time, African states were not as strong as civil societies. Previous governments imposed European interests on African people and did not develop any collective consciousness in them. Thus, after gaining independence, African rulers had to find new ways to change the people’s perspectives and make them more Africa-centric instead of Europe-centric. Moreover, new governments had to rebuild the African economy because the previous colonial policies resulted in the state’s underdevelopment. The country had to think about how to increase its productivity and create more effective economies. One can see that all these changes stimulated Africa to grow and develop in new conditions.

However, the government found it difficult to rebuild an underdeveloped country with a deficient economy and liberal views. Thus, they decided to change their approach and govern the state through centralized institutions. As a result, Africa became a one-party state, and political pluralism decreased significantly. All existing civil societies were either harassed or forbidden, and African chief executives became monopolists. The state and civil society relationships had changed, and the latter had to stay aside and admit the monopolist rules and policies.

However, when the Cold War came to its end, Africa suffered from a deficiency of internal resources. The state could not provide enough resources for its citizens, and the new era in African history began. The changes in society led to changes in politics, substituting a one-party government with a multi-party one. In the 1990s, the state introduced multi-party elections to its citizens, and civil society returned to the political process again. Eventually, the relations between civil society and the state improved.

Growth of Africa: Reality or Illusion?

The new era in African politics began when the monopolist regime came to its end. Different spheres of life began to change and advance during this period. For example, the infant mortality rate decreased while the mean age increased significantly. Schools began to develop, and people received access to fresh water. International relations have also altered, and Africa began to interact with India, Brazil, Indonesia, and China (Thomson 277). One of the cornerstones of such changes was a global demand for African primary exports. When other countries increased their commodity prices, African raw materials were sought after. As a result of such international trade, African exports multiplied by four since the millennium (Thomson 277). The economy of the state was growing, and the entire society benefited.

However, the government of Africa had to adjust the country’s economy in accordance with the international economy. A more liberal approach to the economy of the state attracted investors from all over the world. In such a way, in 1980, African foreign investment was US$400 million, and it grew to US$57 billion by 2013 (Thomson 277). Moreover, the Gleneagles agreement of 2005 allowed Africa to manage its debts, thus stimulating economic growth (Thomson 278). These financial changes had a positive impact on society, significantly increasing the country’s middle-class. People became stronger and more confident in their lives, and they demanded the rule of law and freedom of speech. Consequently, the government had to adjust its politics according to the citizens’ demands.

Despite all the above-mentioned Africa’s achievements, the country faced many challenges during the post-colonial period. For example, corruption did not vanish in the state, and it became a serious threat to African growth. Most African states were governed by the bureaucratic bourgeoisie. They continued to enrich themselves at the expense of common citizens (Thomson 281). Some African governors practiced gathering and saving money for a group of people who were subscribed to a special system, similar to micro-credit. At the end of a season, the citizens were supposed to receive their money back, but some governors refused to return it (Igboin 156). Therefore, instead of reinvesting all net profits in productive areas of African manufacture and distributing resources to civil societies, African elites enhanced their wealth. In such a way, African economic growth was not a panacea for its political economy.

One more critical aspect influencing African politics is its political representation and accountability. The aim of politicians is to represent their states and be responsible for their constituents. In Africa, two institutions were created to perform these functions: the African Union (AU) and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) (Thomson 280). The AU’s charter function was to provide for intervention against a member state’s wishes in cases of human rights abuse, poor government, and collective intrusions with the aim to correct the situation (Thomson 280). The role of NEPAD was to unite African states and foreign partners in order to advance the country’s financial and political performance. Each of these institutions had both successes and failures, and their changing nature influenced the politics of Africa.

The AU failures can be identified with the main crises in Africa. For example, African refusals to intrude in the Dafur conflict or in post-Gaddafi Libya demonstrate the government’s unwillingness to participate in international conflicts and communication (Thomson 280). NEPAD’s inability to cooperate with civil society is another example of poor politics and lack of transparency in its daily functioning. Even though the African government changed its approach to politics, it still has to establish and implement the norms of liberal democracy to succeed in the future.

The electoral systems of Africa have changed too in the post-colonial period. Most of the states of Africa have multi-party elections on a regular basis within the last several decades (Thomson 281). These elections allowed civil society to change state elites more frequently, thus affecting the continent’s politics. At the same time, these electoral systems are not perfect, and some politicians may find excuses not to hold further elections or not to accept their outcome (Thomson 282). When such cases occur, the country loses its political stability, and its economic development suffers as well. One can see that many breaches in Africa’s inner political systems directly affect its global reputation.


Having analyzed different areas of post-colonial Africa, one can conclude that the changing nature of the relationships between the state, civil society, and external interests have a great impact on its politics. Africa’s fast economic development positively influenced its middle-class citizens, while the global demand for raw materials attracted international investors. Despite its economic growth, the continent is still less wealthy than many other Western states. Moreover, the country is politically unstable because of corruption and human rights’ abuse in many states. Politicians and state elites use the country’s economic success to enrich themselves. The state is also unable to solve some conflicts, which is another factor affecting its politics. Africa is unattractive to other countries because of its inner conflicts and other issues mentioned above. Only when the state and civil society cooperate and go in one direction, Africa will be able to succeed both politically and economically.


Igboin, Benson O. “Traditional Leadership and Corruption in Pre-Colonial Africa: How the Past Affects the Present.” Studia Historiae Ecclesiasticae, vol. 42, no. 3, 2016, pp. 142-160.

Mati, Jacob Mwathi. “Civil Society in ‘Politics’ and ‘Development’ in African Hybrid Regimes: The Kenyan Case.” VOLUNTAS: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations, vol. 31, 2020, pp. 674-687.

Thomson, Alex. An Introduction to African Politics. 4th ed., Routledge, 2016.

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DemoEssays. 2022. "Civil Society in the Post-Colonial Era in Africa." July 20, 2022.

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DemoEssays. "Civil Society in the Post-Colonial Era in Africa." July 20, 2022.