WALTER RODNEY (1975), LIMITATIONS of the African petty bourgeoisie, Toronto: Afro-carrib publishers
For a long time now since the so called independence which was attained from the imperial powers, the African, Asian and Latin America working and the majority masses have continually experienced deprivation and untold suffering. This is rather ironical considering that it is the same masses under the ‘guidance’ of some indigenous political leaders who struggled to attain this independence. It was expected that the working classes who form the majority of the population would after gaining independence enjoy both political, social and economic freedom. That every person would now have a chance to share the national wealth which was initially a preserve for the colonial masters.
This turned out to be just the opposite. The initial control of colonial states or regions’ wealth continued to be dominated directly by the African petty bourgeoisie and indirectly by the colonial masters. What happened is that the so called representative of the masses who had had the privileged of accessing education actually gave to the masses a very raw deal. Instead of advocating for real political and economic power, they colluded with the colonial masters to continue suppressing the masses while enriching themselves beyond measure. Instead of revolutionizing the condition in which their people were in at the time of imperialism, these African petty bourgeoisie just had some few constitutional laws reformed mainly for their own selfish gains rather than for the good of the African masses. “…but the petty bourgeoisie were reformer and not revolutionaries.”
The African petty bourgeoisie knew very well that it was difficult for the colonial masters to fully let go the rich source of wealth in the African continent. They knew very well that the lifeline of all the industries established in the European countries largely depended on raw materials from the African soil. This knowledge did not push them in negotiating a good or better deal for the African masses. Instead these traitors played along the tune of the colonial master in the continued oppression of the African people. This article asserts that it is the colonial masters who defined the manner in which constitutional power would be given. This they did to protect their source of wealth which was the major reason for the struggle for independence. They knew very well that giving full political authority to the African leaders would mean forfeiting their economic control over their colonies yet they needed them for continued growth of their mother countries.
They thus made a deal with the few African elite or the bourgeoisie in which only the constitutional rather than the real political and economic power was handed to the people. Contrary to the role and the mandate the African leaders had been given by the African masses, they fully accepted the terms and conditions of the imperialist with the full knowledge that this would continue the suffering of the masses at an even larger scale. “…the African petty bourgeoisie accepted this, with only a small amount of dissent and disquiet…”. Among the this African petty bourgeoisie included among others Kenyatta of Kenya, Nkrumah of Ghana, and Nyerere of Tanzania.
These leaders together with their colleagues accepted the poor and suppressing terms and conditions at the expense of their people not because they were afraid of pushing for better deals, but because they had self interests and wanted to maintain the African bourgeoisie class which had already established itself. This class had been formed by the privileged few who had had access to the imperial powers education. It is clear that had they pushed for revolutions, then the African masses would have enjoyed more political and economic freedom and there would be no much disparity between the colonial masters and the colonies. This big disparity has been there and would continue to grow since the African countries are under what is known as neo-colonialism. This is a case where by the African petty bourgeoisie, rather than perpetuating for the economic development of their masses, have for a long time collaborated with the colonial masters to protect their positions and wealth, allowing much of the African wealth to be transferred to the former colonial masters under the cover of bogus trade agreements and foreign aid ties. This is the reason for cyclic nature of poverty and suffering in the African countries.
It is very ironical that while the colonial masters exploited large regions of this continent with a degree of unity, that these regions could not as a result of gaining independence join forces and form large political kingdoms just as in the western European states. “… whereas the French had maintained unity for the exploration , the African petty bourgeoisie lacked the capacity to demand both unity and freedom.”
It is a known fact that such political and economic unity would lead to decreased costs of production and distribution of wealth and resources would be much easier as compared to the small colonial boundaries which were left behind. If the colonial masters were able to exploit this regions as wholes, why then would these regions not unite and form large units of politically and economically formidable states. These petty African bourgeoisie had witnessed how the imperialists had in Europe done away with the feudal states and formed large political and economic states which in turn led to improved lifestyles not just for a selected few but to the entire masses of the states. “… they sought political unity to guarantee the integration of production and distribution, giving rise to what were then relatively large nation-states in Britain, France and Germany as compared to the numerous feudal fiefs which previously existed.”
Instead of the African pan African movements advocating and pushing for the same political unity, they shamelessly agreed to the division of states into fragments which were both politically and economically weak. This is what is commonly known as the Balkanization. The major aim or objective of pan Africanism was to forge for the unity of the African continent as a whole and not just fragments of the African states. it was to do away with the colonial boundaries which had only been put in place as a result of the portioning of Africa and the need for the imperialists to effect their rule easily. This movement which had began in the union of south Africa in 1912 “aimed at being African not merely south African.” It was to be renamed later in 1923 to pan-Africanism putting an emphasis to these aim.
This aim has although continually been frustrated by the petty African bourgeoisie for their own political and selfish aims and not because of the fear of the former colonial masters. A case in point which presents itself as a perfect example is the western francophone region. This region was fragmented into small states of Niger, Chad, Central African Republic, Ivory coast and upper Volta. If the African elite so wanted, this region could have been politically united and could have been in a better position than how the individual small states are at the moment. Due to their greed and need to maintain their wealth and positions, the African petty bourgeoisie have made it sure that this is not possible. This condition may continue not un less the masses get enlightened and rise against this so called elites.
Rodney uses the term ‘petty bourgeoisie’ to refer 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. Rodney pays attention to the fact these leaders have failed to lead Africa into actualizing the hopes of the people in their call for independence. He asserts that there have been certain elements to stand in the way of these leaders. The term ‘limitations’ may express a sense of helplessness of these leaders to external forces. On the contrary, while these forces may be from without, they have been helped by the African leaders’ willingness to play along rather than helplessness.
Rodney notes that “the petty bourgeoisie were reformers and not revolutionaries”. This was limitation enough for them to consent with and play along the dividing terms of independence that the colonial powers insisted on. The result was a further fragmentation of Africa, and with which the possibility of authentic Pan-Africanism was relegated. These petty bourgeoisie, in their divided state, became aware of the opportunities that their positions could allow. 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.
These African petty bourgeoisie are hardly/not directly involved in 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. Well, they have been weak, and refused to question and say where appropriate. Rodney gives the example of 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. 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)
But these rulers have also 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.”
The choice of this article was most reasonably appropriate as it brings out clearly the contribution of the African Bourgeoisie to the plight of their own countries. He defines balkanization and attributes it to the elusive Unity of the African states. The author gives a clear picture of the gradual failure of the African states after independence. He however fails to escape criticism as he exposes his weaknesses with the same zeal with which he attempts to seal them. He seems to attribute the failure of African states to the approach taken by their earlier leaders and seems to absolve their colonial masters from their share of the blame. He fails to note that it is the attempt by these same colonial masters to maintain their influence in these countries that has served to narrow their democratic space and to stifle their efforts at development.
B) Paraphrasing, also called paraphrasing involves presenting the text of a paragraph, or a sentence without employing the use of Direct quotation but while strictly focusing to convey the same message.
Accordingly it is clearly evident that the failure of the African ruling class was not due to their weakness but due to their negligence and selfish interests. This is evident in the disintegration of the colonial French region in west Africa when the ruling class were negotiating for independence. They had the power and authority to effect some unifying policies for the region to emerge as one but could not do so as that could have been a threat to their interests of enriching themselves at the expense of the people.
Considering south Africa whose the white minority rule have extended for quite a long time with support from NATO and other multinational corporations and also the support of the Portuguese minority rule in this region is an evidence that there is more to independence than actually what was or is currently being fought for.
From the discussions presented here in, it is clear that the misfortunes that befell Africans were not as a result of their own doings but were caused by their continued negligence and their self-centeredness. The African leaders who took power from their colonial masters were mainly self-seeking and lacked development conscious thereby making them fail in their leadership. When the countries leaders were in discussions with the white minority over attaining independence, they mainly based their reasons for wanting independence on their own regional and individual gains. In western Africa for instance, those vouching for freedom from the French rulers had the ability to negotiate for the uniform freedom. Instead they feared for the infringement of their self interests and presented policies that only benefited a few people at the expense of national interest.
The South African example on the other hand has proven that Africans were freer during the colonial error as opposed to the current political situation: the people of South Africa enjoyed more support from the NATO organ and the Portuguese governments compared to what they receive with their incumbent leaders. The political elite in African countries have immersed wealth at the expense of caring for the people’s needs (Rodney, 1975).
Rodney, W., (1975).The rise of an African petty bourgeoisie. Toronto: Afro-carrib publishers