Progress in these 17 nations might have doubled or even tripled were it not for Western interference and corrupt partners on the ground.
Sixty years ago, 17 African nations regained their independence from their colonial masters, bringing to an end decades of European rule. That phenomenal year became known as “The Year of Africa.”
As we mark this landmark occasion — which also marks the 135th anniversary of the infamous Berlin Conference — many are asking what has changed in over 60 years of independence, what hasn't, and why?
When independence came in 1960, bringing an “end” to around 75 years of colonial rule by Britain, France, and Belgium, and until World War I, Germany, high hopes for a better future were bright.
From oil-rich Nigeria on the far western edge of the Atlantic and pasture-rich Somalia in the Horn of Africa to the Democratic Republic of Congo in the heart of the continent and beautiful Madagascar in the middle of the Southern Indian Ocean - the past 60-years should have been a golden opportunity to flourish.
Needless to say, they have not, to the bewilderment and disappointment of many. One of the reasons for this has been the consistent overthrow of democratically elected leaders and governments, which all too frequently were directed by policy makers in London, Washington or Paris. In my opinion, this is the crux of Africa's stagnation.
In Asia, coups were typically staged by generals. Coups in Latin America were largely staged by colonels and, with some exception, generals. During Africa’s first forty years it was a former sergeant of the colonial army. The first was Sgt. Joseph Desire Mobutu in Congo in 1960; the beginning of a string of coups in Africa that still haunts us.
With Washington’s support, Mobutu misruled Congo, using the central bank as his personal account, for 32 years of the 20th century. In spite of this, President Reagan called him “a voice of good sense and goodwill.”
The fourth was Sgt. Etienne (later Gnassingbe) Eyadema in Togo in 1963; the year the African Union (then the Organisation for African Unity) was created.
When he died in office in 2005, the French helped his son Faure Gnassingbe seize power. Others, such as Sgt. Jean-Bedel Bokassa, who declared himself emperor of the Central African Republic and Sgt. Mathieu Kerekou in Benin, were all despots working for their “former” colonial leaders.
Indeed, by the end of the cold war, there was an average of 25 coups every decade in Africa. In fact, with the exception of Senegal, every country which regained independence in 1960 have experienced coups, and most more than once.
The many and varied disastrous and destabilising consequences of these coups should not be underestimated. One worth highlighting has been the illicit draining of Africa’s wealth.
According to a 2014 report, nearly $200 billion is extracted from Africa each year, much of it through illicit financial flows. Now if we do a very rough calculation and multiply that $200 billion by 60, Africa has lost $12 trillion since independence. That is two-third of the EU’s GDP. If you say just $50 billion is taken out each year, you will still end up with $3 trillion in extracted wealth.
Far from the West aiding Africa, it is actually Africa that has been aiding the West. The question that follows is: when will Africa stop giving aid to the West?
In spite of all of this, Africa has registered some social notable progress. In 1960, for instance, the average life expectancy was just 42 years. Today, it has increased to nearly 60, and while that might not seem like much, without malaria, TB and HIV/AIDS pandemic as well as wars and dictatorships which continue to ravage much of the continent, progress might have doubled or tripled.
In fact, Africa’s population has increased from 300 million in 1960 to over 1.2 billion today, nearly half of which live in the 17 countries which regained their independence in 1960.
Over that same period, white minority rule in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) and South Africa have been abolished. Despite the coups, democracy, respect for human rights and the free market is taking root.
Access to education — an essential indicator of development — has also dramatically increased. On the eve of independence, for instance, only 17 Congolese had obtained university education during 75 years of Belgian rule. The corresponding figure today is over 20 million.
Of course, this progress cannot hide the fact that life remains hellish across the region. Africa, which is often touted as the world’s fastest growing continent, remains the poorest and most ravaged part of the planet.
Of the 177 countries listed in the UN Human Development Index, the bottom 35 are all from Africa. There are fewer people with internet connections in the 17 countries which regained independence in 1960 than there are in just New York City.
Clearly, post-independence Western-sponsored coups overshadowed and de-developed Africa. Consequently, 60-years later, we are still not quite free from the will of Western capitals.
In an era of Black Lives Matter, one cannot help but wonder what life might be like by 2060? And I, for one, am quite excited. One-third of the world’s youth might be African.
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