The African continent is the home for various cultures and states, many of which struggled to stabilize their policies in the post-colonial period. Although some forms of a state existed in the pre-colonial era, they were trying to preserve wealth and natural resources rather than territorial integrity (Thomson 9). Border formation between countries can be attributed to colonization by European countries in the 19th century (Thomson 12). However, colonization and the creation of state boundaries caused problems for Africa’s economy. Despite the modern view of this continent as an isolated unit, African tribes participated in international trade before colonization due to the lack of boundaries (Thomson 11). Conversely, the formation of states during the colonial period created many landlocked countries, preventing them from participating in global market exchanges. Moreover, colonists brought their religion, forcing local people to accept foreign creed. Nevertheless, colonists introduced technological innovations, access to education, and Western medicine, diminishing the gap between Africa and the developed world (Thomson 19). African countries are unique because they were influenced by ethnicity, religion, ideology, colonialism, social class, and legitimacy that had to be considered to achieve internal and external stability.
Colonization by the European powers had both positive and negative consequences for Africa. Although many tribes were affected by border delineation, imperial rulers introduced technological advancements to accelerate economic and cultural growth. It appears that colonial investments created a foundation for economic growth and development. However, many researchers claim that imperialism was the primary reason behind poor political and financial performance (“Africa in International Relation. Week 1” 36). The problem was that during the entire colonial period, all resources that could be used for Africa’s improvement were extracted and sent to Europe.
The political system of Africa is unique because it combines a pre-colonial system with some colonial innovations. The term used to describe formal and informal ruling is called patrimonialism (“Africa in International Relation. Week 2” 36). The imperial intervention resulted in culturally diverse countries, leading to internal wars and irredentism to unite divided communities (Thomson 14). Indeed, imperial governments formed a ruling elite from the local population, but they were selected based on social status and wealth (Thomson 20). For example, Kenya, the formal British colony from 1920 to 1963, gained a significant economic advantage during this time but was left with weak governance after gaining independence (Thomson 25). Kenya became a more industrialized nation compared to other African countries. Furthermore, the British empire improved the educational and healthcare systems in this country. However, Kenya still experiences the negative impact of “bureaucratic authoritarianism” left by the imperial government (Thomson 27). The colonial-era played an essential role in the development of Africa. Still, many countries were left in a state of political and cultural instability.
The drastic difference in ideology was one of the primary reasons for conflicts between the local population and colonists. Ideology can be defined as the system of beliefs and values that shape political styles, providing states with guidance and mission (Thomson 31). African nationalist ideology played a significant part in the wave of gaining independence by such African states as Libya, Morocco, Sudan, Tunisia, Ghana, and Guinea in the 1950s (Thomson 34). Nationalism attempts to unite a nation, possessing common traditions, language, and history, in its sovereign state as one political unit (Thomson 35). Indeed, nationalism played an essential role in maintaining peace in some regions of Africa after colonialism.
One of the significant benefits of nationalist ideology for Africa was the mutual respect of countries to each other’s integrity and a low number of interstate conflicts. Specifically, there were only three cases when borders were altered in the post-colonial period: Tanzania, Eritrea, and South Sudan (Thomson 45). After obtaining independence, many African states decided to adopt socialism to provide equal benefits (Thomson 38). Indeed, socialism helped to improve literacy and social welfare in such post-colonial countries as Ethiopia and Mozambique that nationalized industry and agriculture (Thomson 44). On the other hand, the countries that decided to acquire capitalism remained open to international trade and private capital. Still, all African countries should continue to improve their ideologies to reach a state of economic prosperity.
Ethnical diversity was the primary cause of armed conflicts in Africa. Ethnicity can be defined as a group of people who share common traditions, kinship, origin, language, and history (“Ethnicity and Religion in African Politics” 4). Many local conflicts in Africa occur between different tribes, equivalent to ethnic groups on this continent (Thomson 62). These groups were historically formed based on kinship system and administration (“Ethnicity and Religion in African Politics” 8). Tribes are critical political and social units in these countries, but they create pluralism in one-party authoritarian regimes. However, constant friction between different ethnic groups creates political instability in Africa, blocking its economic development despite the abundance of natural resources.
Religious differences can also cause disagreement between various groups of the same state. Religion has always been a crucial component of governance in Africa (Thomson 66). Historically, African religious beliefs were animistic, involving communication with ancestors and ghosts via skilled people, witches, and shamans. Other religions like Christianity, Judaism, and Islam were also spread in this region by missioners and colonists (Thomson 67). Any religious institution could function openly and sometimes influence political decisions in African countries (Thomson 69). Although some Islamist groups want the state and religion to be inseparable, most African Muslim countries are secular (Thomson 72). The 2009 Islamist movement in Nigeria that aimed at eradicating corrupt officials turned into the massive murder of thousands of civilians (Thomson 80). This conflict illustrates that secularization is a crucial step towards removing the interference of religion into governance.
Class is another source of potential social disparity and conflicts. The existence of class represents social inequality, and according to Marxists’ views, a class defines society (“Class and Politics in Africa” 4). Africa does not have classical bourgeoisie or capitalist and proletariat or explored workers; thus, it is hard to define class conflict on this continent (Thomson 86). The only country where the proletariat dominates is South Africa, which underwent the industrial revolution (Thomson 91). However, most African countries do not have the proletariat as the dominant class; instead, the peasantry is predominant in this region. Unlike feudal peasants, African agriculture workers produce crops for self-consumption (Thomson 90). Despite the peasantry domination in Botswana, this country experienced sustained economic growth in the post-colonial era, providing equal access to social services to its citizens (Thomson 101). The bourgeoisie class incorporates entrepreneurs, landowners, military officers, financial institutions, monarchs, and clan chiefs (Thomson 97). Social class is defined in Africa as more based on access to power rather than the amount of wealth.
Legitimacy is a central component of any state to maintain a government’s authority. Legitimacy can be defined as the relationship between leaders and governed based on a belief that governors have the power to establish political rules over a society (Thomson 108). If this power is equally distributed between several parties, a fair ruling may be guaranteed (Thomson 110). There are three main types of leadership: traditional, charismatic, and legal-rational – all of which can be found in Africa (“Legitimacy” 15). In traditional leadership, the power is taken based on a society’s history or cultures, like in Kenya or Botswana (“Legitimacy” 16). Charismatic leadership becomes legitimate based on the majority’s acceptance of one person’s values and beliefs (“Legitimacy” 17). For example, Nelson Mandela was a charismatic leader in South Africa. Legal-rational leadership, which is prevalent for governance, is based on a formal contract between the state and the leader (“Legitimacy” 18). Like Cote d’Ivoire and Tanzania, many leaders wanted to centralize power rather than distribute it in a multi-party system to avoid political rivalry and create a strong government. On the other hand, some countries chose liberal multi-party governance inherited from the colonial period.
Overall, Africa’s politics is unique due to colonialism, religion, ethnicity, social class, ideology, and legitimacy. Colonialism had a positive and negative impact on the development of African countries. Imperial governments brought technological advancement, medicine, and education to these countries. However, continuous drainage of natural resources to Europe during colonization delayed the economic development of this region. Although ethnicity and religion still can influence states’ governance, most African countries became secular. Nationalist ideology prevalent on the continent prevented significant wars for territories in the post-colonial period. In Africa, the bourgeoisie is considered the ruling class, while peasants represent the working class. Finally, the legitimacy of leaders can be defined by state laws or by social acceptance of authority. Many African leaders chose centralized power to avoid political competition.
Author Last Name, First Name. “Africa in International Relation. Week 1.” Course, Date Month. 2021, University, City. PowerPoint presentation.
Author Last Name, First Name. “Africa in International Relation. Week 2.” Course, Date Month. 2021, University, City. PowerPoint presentation.
Author Last Name, First Name. “Class and Politics in Africa.” Course, Date Month. 2021, University, City. PowerPoint presentation.
Author Last Name, First Name. “Ethnicity and Religion in African Politics.” Course, Date Month. 2021, University, City. PowerPoint presentation.
Author Last Name, First Name. “Legitimacy.” Course, Date Month. 2021, University, City. PowerPoint presentation.
Thomson, Alex. An introduction to African politics. Routledge, 2010.