How African Elites Failed the Masses

Many theorists argue that the nature of the post-colonial global political order both within and between countries has undergone no fundamental changes. Existing power structures and dynamics are firmly in place and all that changes are the actors who occupy them. Some  even argue that these existing power dynamics are a mere reflection of previous ones.  My goal is to demonstrate the failings of post-colonial African regimes who (i) failed to restructure the  previous colonial relationship between the broader citizenry and the state  (ii) and to assess the structural limitations post-colonial leaders encountered and their responses to them.  It will become clear that whilst post-colonial African leaders were under tremendous structural restraint, there has been a fundamental failure to introduce  concrete measures that would help post-colonial citizenry realise economic , social and political emancipation.

Frantz Fanon argues that there has been a failure by the African middle class to initiate and consolidate the process of liberalization in post-colonial African societies. Fanon, therefore suggests a normative responsibility on post-colonial African elites to lead and achieve the emancipation of society: an obligation on post-colonial African leaders to be revolutionary in nature “by restructuring the previous social, political and economic models implemented within the colonial era”. A lack of revolutionary initiative by African elites has led to bourgeois interests groups filling the space left by imperialist authorities, and replicating the colonial reality. For Fanon the “intellectual laziness of the national middle class” is the primary cause of the lack of an inclusive economy the post-colony.

Resource extraction for elite benefit as opposed to the nations interests has led to post-colonial African societies continuing to provide raw materials in the global production process. As a result they continue down the path of global economic dependency, preventing the masses from the enjoyment of vast mineral resources. “The transfer into native hands of the unfair advantages” has come at the expense of the proletariat African populations, who so desperately held on to the hope the African bourgeoisie would emancipate them.

Secondly, the failure to consolidate national identity has led to the rise of racism and xenophobia. Consider this logic; if the European foreigner is inhibiting the African elite realizing her full emancipation , then for the African masses, it is thought other African foreigners are preventing them from achieving the same. Fanon supports this using cases of xenophobia in Ghana, Ivory Coast and Senegal towards Nigerians, Soudanese and Dahomans. This is a result of the failure of the African bourgeoisie to articulate African unity and assimilate the masses into system that does not ostracize their needs .

The final consequence of the apathy and “intellectual laziness” is the failure to enlighten the masses – the tendency of post-colonial African Regimes to revert back to autocracy or authoritarianism has prevented the African masses from participating in the process of decolonisation. The absence of democracy has led to authoritarian repression which inhibits the ability of the African masses to articulate their interests thus alienating them from participation. This process entrenches the seperation between African leaders and the African masses. The contradiction arises when African leaders faced with economic problems, are more inclined to seek solutions from the elites in former colonial powers than from, their own constituents, primarily because consolidating a relationship with the core and its elites can strengthen the position of African elites, even if the consequence of this is African leaders pushing their own citizens into desolation.

The above discussed is an illustration of the manner in which history operates: in a circular fashion. Rather than witnessing the destruction of colonial structures, Africans have been subject to a post-colonial reality where the leaders who promised them emancipation and liberation have now usurped colonial authority and now exploit and dominate ironically, them. It is important to note that this analysis does not aim to equate the evils of colonialism with the present day failings, but rather aims to highlightsthe African elites failure to drive a project of true liberation.

Considering the above discussed “Pitfalls of National Consciousness” in relation to the African National Congress’s 1969 “Strategy and Tactics.” In this document the ANC address the problems which lead to African masses being betrayed and exploited by their own leaders . “It is inconceivable for liberation to have any meaning without a return of the wealth of the land to the people as a whole.” Such rhetoric suggests revolutionary action by the ANC in reorganising the means of production and ensuring the proletariat are economically and materially emancipated. The call for democracy to feature also suggests a liberation movement that understands the value of including the masses in the process decolonization. Yet despite this, the contemporary South African reality is one where it fails to “represent even a shadow of liberation”, as the proletariat continue to be exploited by the political and economic elite. The means of production has been restructured in relation to its incumbents but not its power dynamics and there continues to be a monopoly of capital, resources and knowledge by few.

This lack of economic freedom has presented a majority of South Africans with a contradiction in that the constitution of the republic and legal system sees them as equals, but the structural arrangements of the political economy are shaped in such a way that they can never truly be seen or behave as such.

In conclusion to better understand the nature of circumstances African societies find themselves in today, including contemporary South Africa, it is of crucial importance to analyse the structural limitations to liberation but also to be conscious of the role that elites play in entrenching systems of exploitation.


By Bongi Maseko