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What challenges did Africans face when they gained independence from colonial rule?

The main challenge that Africans faced when they gained independence from colonial rule was the question of how to build a stable system of government. Many African countries were not divided along tribal lines, making to difficult to establish a unified state. Such differences had been largely suppressed under colonial rule. But under independence they came to the surface once more, causing severe problems for many of the new nation states.

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Most African nations started gaining their independence in the mid-1950s through 1975. African nations faced many challenges after gaining independence from European rule. Although these challenges varied from country to country, it is widely agreed that many of the challenges African countries faced, and still face today, were caused by European interventions on the continent.

One of the more common issues newly independent African countries faced was a lack of experienced leadership. For example, the first prime minister of Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah, had the support of his people at the time of independence. However, he was overthrown by the year 1966 because Ghana had amassed insurmountable debt under his leadership.

Another common issue experienced by African nations was a lack of a national identity. European involvement on the continent led to the destruction and mixing of local African cultures and traditions. When independence was granted, European powers delineated the borders of new African nations in whatever way best suited themselves. They failed to consider natural ethnic boundaries or the social landscape of the continent. Many new countries were composed of people from entirely different cultures who spoke different languages. Understandably, this brought a variety of different challenges as these different groups were forced to work and live together under one state.

Arguably the worst European-driven problem that plagues African nations is the idea of neocolonialism. Coined in 1956, this is the idea that larger, wealthier nations assume influence and control over smaller and less-developed sovereign nations through economic means. For example, a smaller country could be indebted to a larger country because that country built much needed pieces of infrastructure that the less-developed country desperately needed.

Neocolonialism is often known as “modern imperialism.” Powerful countries no longer keep control through direct military means but through trade and other economic means. Less-developed countries are incredibly reliant on this trade, and are therefore often forced to submit to the wishes of larger, wealthier nations. The most straightforward examples of this can be found in Africa: African countries have many raw resources that larger nations need for manufacturing (many mined materials from African countries are used in technology like smart phones). African countries provide these important raw resources to larger nations at a cheap rate and receive the “short-end of the stick” in the global economy.

African nations have little bargaining power because of the immense size and control of the largest countries. This creates a vicious economic style that traps many pan-African peoples in poverty. This also means the economic fabric of African countries is brittle due to the over-reliance on raw resources that are subjected to the fluctuating world-market price. This problem wrecked Ghana in the 1960s when the price of cocoa dropped, and Rwanda in the 1980s when the price of coffee fell. I would argue neocolonialism is the worst of the challenges African nations face, because of the continued disadvantages it causes African nations—even more than 60 years after independence.

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Most of the African colonies were artificial states, carved out for the benefit of Western colonialists. This meant that a variety of different peoples and tribes often found themselves being thrown together in territories that took no account of different cultural, linguistic, and ethnic identities. Inevitably, this created the potential for considerable conflict.

But for the most part colonial authorities were able to keep intertribal and interethnic tensions under control. However, once African states achieved independence the whole dynamic changed, and many new governments found themselves forced to deal with tensions that had long been suppressed.

For instance, in Uganda, just a year after independence had been achieved, the Minister of Internal Affairs in the new government admitted that interethnic tensions were on the rise. Such tensions, he went on to say, threatened the development of the newly-independent country.

To a large extent, tribal tensions were consolidated by the post-independence system of government in Uganda and elsewhere. Political parties in Uganda were built on tribal lines, making it harder for any kind of consensus to emerge as to how to make independence a success. This had the effect of effectively institutionalizing tribal divisions, making it nigh impossible for them to be eradicated. In the years and decades to come these divisions would bring instability to Uganda, preparing the rise to power of the notorious dictator Idi Amin.

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African countries encountered a myriad of challenges after gaining their independence because of the changes made by the colonialists during the colonial period. African countries were initially organized administratively along communities, and each community had its own form of governance. Entry of the colonialists created territorial boundaries as determined by the origin of the colonialists given they were from different European countries.

African communities were effectively divided to serve these new territorial interests. After the exit of the colonialists, these communities were left disillusioned as to how the new system of governance and territorial boundaries would work. The situation resulted in conflicts among some of the societies. The colonialists also left behind power vacuums in the different countries, which led to further conflicts among African societies, with groups and individuals clamoring for the administrative positions. Some of these conflicts are still prevalent in certain African countries.

The European colonialists deliberately failed to empower the colonized societies economically. The situation forced the colonized African countries to remain dependent on their colonial masters. On the other hand, the colonialists took advantage of the situation to continue exploiting the different countries.

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Another very critical and ultimately tragic challenge that post-Colonial Africa faced was the military legacy of the empires, which placed minority tribes in positions of power and the military over majority rival tribes.  This was called indirect rule and was primarily practiced by the British, and as the above post suggests, this system remained after colonialism ended, and is still the source of conflict to this day in some areas of Africa.

To compound this problem, the US and the Soviet Union waged the Cold War through proxy states in Africa, extending foreign aid by the billions to sometimes ruthless dictators in exchange for loyalty, resources or military bases, and huge amounts of modern military weaponry, which turned centuries-old tribal disputes into genocidal bloodbaths.  The CIA and the KGB were also very active in planning coups, rigging elections, and engineering the most friendly possible governments in African nations.

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When African countries won their independence from European colonizers, they faced many challenges.  Here are some major types of challenges they faced:

  • Multi-ethnic states that had no logic to their boundaries.  The colonizers created colonies without regard to where one ethnic group began and another ended.  This caused situations with many ethnic groups in one state or one ethnic group spread overy many states.  Both led to conflict.
  • Economies geared toward colonial goals.  The Europeans were not trying to create mature and stable economies.  They just wanted the colonial economies to help the colonizing country.  This meant that the newly independent countries had weak economies that were generally only geared towards extractive industry.
  • A lack of educated citizens to take over the running of the government and economy.  The colonizers didn't really care about educating Africans because they had little need for highly educated subjects.  Once independence came, not enough Africans had been educated or trained well enough to take over major positions in a modern government.

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