The Place OF the African Petty Bourgeoisie
It has widely been said that African leaders have failed so much in their leadership starting from the time they took leadership from the white colonizers. Most of the African leaders who took over from the white minority bargained for power on individual or regional basis at the expense of the entire country’s benefits. They have ever since continued to immerse wealth while the common man suffers in ignorance. This paper therefore seeks to examine the place of the African petty bourgeoisie. The main questions that this paper seeks to answer are: why have these African leaders failed? Who is to blame for their failure(s)? (Zari, 2000).
The expression ‘African petty bourgeoisie’, as Walter Rodney uses it, refers to the post-independence African leaders. It includes those who led Africa into independence and others who took over the leadership roles, either by military force or other means. They are also referred to as the African intellectuals. Most of them were those who had benefited in the overseas education for African students during the colonial period. They returned as lawyers, political scientists and other. They were adored and looked up to by the people, who now believed that with the white man’s education, their learned countrymen could now reason and fight where necessary with the colonialists on the same level. As such, it was only natural-if I may say- that they would be the ones to lead the people into independence (Walter, 1975)
But the people did not just look up to their education. They saw the education as an extra tool that would help these African intellectuals’ honest need- so it seemed- to liberate their people from the chains of colonialism, and other social and economic deprivations.
The African intellectuals failed their people: Today, on a rather pessimistic point of view, it is widely seen that the hopes placed on these intellectuals were premature if not mere utopia. Much analysis of the so-called ‘African Petty Bourgeoisie’ pays attention to the fact these leaders have failed to lead Africa into actualizing the hopes of the people in their call for independence.
Rodney speaks of ‘limitations’ that have stood in the way of these leaders. The term ‘limitations’, refers to occurrences or situations that these African leaders could not have foreseen and could thus not fight. It implies a sense of helplessness of these leaders to powerful forces that are none of their making. Partly, that is true. But mostly, these forces have thrived on their (the African bourgeoisie) readiness and willingness to play along, not just their mere weaknesses (Rodney, 1975).
One of these limitations was the nature of the negotiated independence. Rodney notes that “the petty bourgeoisie were reformers and not revolutionaries”, which could also be seen as one of the major limitations. This means that they took an easy stance to negotiate for their independence rather than insisting –armed if necessary- for their voices to be heard. As it were, this so-called ‘diplomacy’ was the drive for their consent with the ‘dividing’ terms of independence that the colonial powers insisted on. For instance, the national boundaries were symbols of the imperialism and had been criticized by these African intellectuals, as well as other sympathizers. It, therefore, would have only been natural for these African liberators to question the credibility and validity of these boundaries. However, they chose to hold their tongues, perhaps, hoping that they would deal with these issues once the colonialists departed. Unfortunately, this would not come to be as every country became immersed in its own peculiar dilemma with the challenges of the white man’s central government (Zari, 2000).
But these boundaries only remained because they belonged to different powers. For example, Kenya belonged to the British while Tanganyika belonged to the Germans. These territories negotiated their independence differently and attained it at different times. However, it is doubtful if these colonialists would have wanted these boundaries broken. This is because they were not fully leaving. They were only leaving the mainstream leadership to the Africans, but hoping to run them, their resources and control their leaders to their benefits. In other words, they still hoped to retain their territories.
Evidence of this can be seen in the way some of the colonial powers fought to prevent any national unities in fighting for independence. Instead, they started ethnic rivalries so the people would not unite for development because in their failures and poverty, these territories would still need them. The Francophone West and central Africa, for instance, had been united during the colonial period, but became more fragmented after independence. They also made sure that any individual political ambitions were not viewed as national assets but as ethnic or regional ambitions that called for competition from other parts of the country. The ethnic power play that Belgium sparked in Congo is a good example. Of course, history has told how this was an extension of the cold-war; capitalism-communism wrangles. But even then, it still asserts the fact that independence as was hoped for by the African people was nothing of the sort behind the scene. Congo, for instance, was more divided after the assassination of Patrick Lumumba (Otieno, 2006).
In short, Africa was further fragmented, and with it the possibility of authentic Pan-Africanism was relegated if not demoted. The petty bourgeoisie can therefore be said to have inherited an already fragmented Africa. Except for small/meek disapprovals by others like Nkrumah, Nyerere and Sekou Toure, the leaders took it in silence. They, especially the lawyers and place-seekers who took over the run to independence, were later unable to transcend ethnic and geographical boundaries to embrace their national and continental oneness; to reverse the reigning wave of balkanization (Otieno, 2006).
These African petty bourgeoisies are hardly/not directly involved in the economy of their countries. They are professionals working in the administration and/or in the armed forces: military or police. These positions have placed them at strategic positions to negotiate and ‘receive’ on behalf of the people, which they have used to enrich themselves; to satisfy their selfishness. They don’t see beyond the present gains. “They lack both the vision and the objective base to essay the leap towards continental unity.” (Rodney, 1975)Actually, they would willingly suppress such visions because it would be against their benefits.
The failures of the African rulers are not only attributable to their weakness. They have, in themselves, failed to act decisively in matters that involve their people. These petty bourgeoisies, in their divided state, became aware of the opportunities that their positions could offer. Faced with the choice of trying to bring Africa together amidst ethnic ambitions sparked by the balkanization set in motion by the departing colonialists and that of being “compradors” to the international capitalist system and staying in power, the latter was/is an easier to make. Their failure to question the validity of the imperialism-imposed ‘national’ boundaries in spite the fact that this was a shared sentiment between the Pan-Africanists is one such failure. “They maintain themselves as a class by fomenting internal divisions, and by dependence on external capitalist powers. These policies are antithetical to Pan-Africanism. The record since independence confirms that the interests of the African petty bourgeoisie are as irreconcilable with genuine Pan-Africanism as Pan-Africanism is irreconcilable with the interests of international capitalism.” (Rodney, 1975)
These leaders were afraid, aware of the determination of the colonial powers, to lose face before those very powers lest the leadership positions be denied them. They had to keep up the good behavior for their own gains and they did it in silence, without any sign whatsoever of dissent. Also, because of this weakness, even in the post colonial period, they have kept on dancing to the tune of the superpowers. They have let themselves be used. “The capitalist super-powers, directly and indirectly, individually and collectively, guarantee the existence of the African petty bourgeoisie as a ruling class and use them to penetrate and manipulate African society.” (Rodney, 1975)
These rulers have therefore grown selfish. They are willing to forget the people for their own good. They are willing to forego any prospective unity just so they can gain. Rodney says, “The only alliance which the African ruling class now vigorously defends is that with imperialism against the African people. Most decidedly, this power structure does not want to allow the masses either the consciousness or the reality of unity” (Luwezi, 2009).
The sense of shared grievances that seemed to have been there in the earlier anti-colonialism campaign period with the ready willingness of the leaders to forget about the needs of their people (Luwezi, 2009).
But their failures should not only be seen in relation to control by the superpowers. The rampant corruptions that have continually hit these governments cannot be blamed on the international community per se. For example, Mugabe (of Zimbabwe) has continually to play by the strings of the west. He has stood out as an anti-west personality with an independent mind. This makes him a rare character amongst the other African leaders. This should make him a sort of pride for Africa. But even then, his countrymen have continually suffered some of the world’s worst economic recessions. This may be quite understandable, considering the economic sanctions that his country has faced. But what is not understandable is how he and his family, the most visible of whom being his wife, keep amassing wealth for themselves. Besides, it can largely be said that he is only critical of the West’s take on his tyrannical leadership (Walter, 1975).
The African Union (AU) has occasionally failed to take decisive actions for the sake of the civilian Africans. For example, the heads of state unanimously voted to support the bid of the Kenyan government to pull out of the Rome Statute in the name of protecting the 2007/08 post-election violence suspects; it has failed to cooperate with the International Criminal Court (ICC) with the warrant of arrest for Sudan’s (now Northern Sudan) president, El-Bashir; it also failed to take a clear stand in the Libya stalemate until the NATO air-strikes took heightened its bombings. These cases show that the African leaders have also helped the foreign nations act on their continent, on their behalf because they have failed to act on time or not at all. We are seeing the same thing in Somalia. If the AU members do not send soldiers for AMISOM (African Union Mission on Somalia) the international community will be forced to step in solve African problems. The AU has, in fact, become a platform for the heads of states to protect each from taking responsibility for their actions (Walter, 1975)
As we have seen, there are both external forces and internal, historical and current conditions that have provided fertile ground for the failures of the African bourgeoisie. The leaders have refused to play tough. And they have also been victims to the west, especially considering that independence was framed in ways to provide space for further exploitation by the former colonial masters. Neocolonialism has hence continued to affect the African countries through ways that are rather exploitative the Africans: the developed countries have continued to exploit the Africans in the name of helping them through such programs as Structural Adjustment programs and the World Bank and International Monetary Funds (IMF). African miseries can only be blamed on the political elite who care less for the very people who brought them to power. This will only stop if Africans realize that the needs of the whole nation are more important than their individual needs (Peter Rosenblum, 2002).
Luwezi, Kinshasa Secretary-General of the African Socialist International (May 28, 2009), the role of African intellectuals in the world, UHURU NEWS
Otieno, E., (2006). African post colonialists: A move towards black Freedom, Nairobi: KIE.
Peter, D., (2002). Irrational Exuberance: The American Administration in Africa, Current History 101:195-202. New York: Oxford.
Walter R. (1975) Pan-Africanism: Documents of the Sixth Pan-African Congress, Toronto: Horace Campbell.
Zari S. (2000) Exposing the Petty Bourgeoisie 365: Henry Louis Gate’s intellectual assault on the war of ideas. New York: Eve publishers.