Blog Post for Week 2: Kilson, Ajayi, Young, and Nyerere

This week’s reading selection grants us access to commentary on the post-independence period from different perspectives that focus on different questions of the new independence. With the exception of Ajayi, all these pieces were written and published in the 1960s meaning that the authors were watching these events and trends unfold as they wrote about them. From the outset, it is obvious that all was not well in African post-independence paradise. Kilson’s (1963) introduction targets “authoritarian tendencies” in African politics. Young (1966) analyzes the Congolese army’s violent rebellion in 1960 and the “collapse of the formidable state created by Belgium.” Nyerere’s (1967) declaration refers constantly to the harmful tendencies of the new state over its first five years and Ajayi (1982) speaks to the general lament that “this is not what was expected from independence.”

Kilson’s analysis and Ajayi’s commentary go well together. The content of Kilson’s piece is summarized in its title: “Authoritarian and Single-Party Tendencies in African Politics.” His research leads him to conclude that a confluence of (national and international) insecurities, party makeups, ideological justifications, and the political motivation of the new elite class join together to create a tendency toward authoritarianism in the new African state. Ajayi, writing nearly twenty years later (and with a better understanding of how Kilson’s trends would develop), emphasizes Kilson’s final point of analysis. The traditional elite were absorbed into the new positions of the independent government and immediately began to perform in similar ways. Both Kilson and Ajayi speak to a general trend that Pierce and Young spoke to last week: colonial institutions survived the tumult of independence. The actors who filled those colonial institutions were now intimately interested in maintaining their newfound power and the material benefits that accompanied it.

Interestingly, Ajayi seems to posit that the traditional elite were the original scapegoats of any negative effects caused by colonial policies pre-independence. This, of course, was an effect directly fabricated by indirect rule policies. Ajayi says that “the people” saw the White Man as an “incomprehensible, irrational, and uncontrollable force.” However, these same people “blamed their misfortunes on the traditional elite, who acted as agents of this irrational force.” (emphasis mine) Now, those same traditional elite who acted in the interest of the colonizers to the detriment of the populations to which they belonged had been given legitimate authority under this new government structure. The suspicion of pre-independence times carried over into post-independence perceptions of government.

Couple this distrust with the insecurity of those same now-legitimate actors and a formula for post-independence failure emerges. Ajayi explains that the people’s notion of freedom was a “catalogue of specific wants” that soon came to consist of specific and physical development demands. The political elite, however, focused on their own retention of power, which Kilson shows was perceived as quite fragile because of inner turmoil from regional, political violence and outer turmoil as other African states negotiated their own independence in sometimes-threatening ways (Pan-African movements). The connection between a major political shift like independence and no real, physical development on the ground allowed the distrust of the political elite at the local level to fester, forcing actors to look for different options.

Though the initial army-rebellion in the Congo in 1960 as told by Young is not a direct example of this process, the reconstruction and eventual 1964 rebellion that followed had similar sentiments. Young writes, “In the Congo, parties were one of the first casualties of independence” and that soon after independence, “the leaders no longer had need of the led; the system had turned within itself.” Ajayi writes that “many interest groups soon began to see in the army a more logical and efficient alternative to the political elite.” This was especially true in Young’s Congo example as the country was continually divided between 1960 and 1965 by different violent acquisitions. Those violent uprisings were, in the general populace, fueled by the very physical reality of non-development in communities that distrusted both the apparatus constructed to provide said development and the actors who performed the functions of the bureaucratic machine.

The efficacy of these new political institutions to facilitate development was the pressure point of the post-independence years. The difficulties of emerging states to develop under either capitalist or socialist policies elucidated by Ajayi are found in The Arusha Declaration written by Nyerere in 1967. When new political leaders attempted to implement developments in their country, those developments occurred inconsistently across the country. This inability to exit a sense of developmental despondency, forcing what Ajayi fears is a “permanent state of dependence on industrialized nations, is what Nyerere is responding to as he puts forth his prospective socialist reforms. Nyerere alludes to past tendencies on Tanzania’s part to rely on money for development projects and bureaucratic functions. Tanzania got this money from outside the country. His declaration called for an end to this foreign dependence as it “endangers independence” by reasserting the influence of the industrialized powers that Tanzania had shirked mere years before. Nyerere’s call to a socialist emphasis on abstract values such as “intelligent, hard work,” “good policies,” and “good leadership” did not prove enough of a revolution to remove his country from the formula constructed by the arguments above, but this declaration refers to their ideas in a way that confirms their validity even in the minds of the political elite.

The most logical next step in this discussion would be to ask whether these patterns observed by Young, Ajayi, and Kilson have persisted through the past half century. As the permanence of these particular African states has solidified, I would posit that Kilson’s analysis of pan-African political threats to domestic power consolidation has become less relevant, as has his observation that legitimacy is reserved to the party of independence. But his observation of authoritarianism still seems relevant. I would argue that the greatest value of these pieces is to explore the specific steps taken, and the motivation for those steps, directly before, during, and after independence. These steps, though often approached as temporary, set enormous and influential precedent for the next half-century of politics in Africa.

2 thoughts on “Blog Post for Week 2: Kilson, Ajayi, Young, and Nyerere

  1. macsfall

    Luke, i really did enjoy reading your article and the way you reviewed each period and each ruling system in Africa. You really pointed out in details the lack of a REAL development MODEL in Africa. When reading Kilson, Ajayi and Young, we can easily conclude that it is particularly difficult to refer to a specific model to boost development and democracy in Africa. From the pre-colonial system to nowadays one via the decolonizational process and the independent’ governing systems, none of them did provide satisfaction. However, the question that comes up might be: which model for Africa?
    To answer to that question which in fact none of the authors (Kilson, Ajayi, Young) did in their passages, i would refer to some of the pre-islamic and pre-colonial African values: I mean the ”real” African values with their interdependence theories. Everything is linked and the oral tradition, source of history in Africa learns us that « A good thing is what is useful and improve the vital force; evil is what is thwarting and diminishing it”. From that basic theory, which discredit injustice and promote equity and improvement of a societal or communal models throughout the vital force, I would say that Africa does not lack good models but again the problem in my opinion is typically identity. And once Africa finds who is Africa, the question will be solved.

  2. Jasmine W

    I agree with your statement the greatest value of these pieces is to explore the specific steps taken, and the motivation for those steps, directly before, during, and after independence because once these actions are taken progress can be made.

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