The condition upon which God has given liberty to man is eternal vigilance.
– John Philpot Curran
Several years ago, an African-American historian, Rayford W. Logan, authored a book titled The Betrayal of the Negro (1965) in which he analyzed how the African-Americans were mistreated in the years following the end of the Civil War.
Instead of enjoying a new lease of freedom as citizens, Logan argued, African-Americans faced a new era of discrimination, prejudice, segregation, and lynching. The post-Reconstruction era climaxed into what Logan termed the “nadir.” The African-American was betrayed.
There is a parallel or similarity of experiences between post-colonial Africans and post-Civil War African-Americans. Both were seriously mistreated and betrayed. The majority of the African people have been betrayed since the end of colonial rule.
Instead of enjoying a new lease of freedom and the fruits of national independence, the majority of African people have been exposed to a new kind of oppression, mistreatment, and savagery. This time the brutality is perpetrated by their own leaders, not foreign colonialists. The brutality includes bodily mutilations, starvation as an instrument of war, genocide, kIeptocracy, and slavery.
Let us pause here and ask some guiding questions. What did the Africans want or need after the colonialists had left Africa? What were their expectations in a new era of independence? Were the Africans justified to hold such expectations? In what ways were the Africans betrayed? What, if any, are the implications of this betrayal?
As one whose first twelve years of life ran through the colonial era, I can categorically state what the people of my generation wanted, and what we did not want or need. I completed elementary school education in 1960 at Ipu Central School, Imo River, in Eastern Nigeria. Thereafter, I looked forward to attending secondary school and the university.
Somehow, intuitively, I believed that education was very important as a tool for rapid upward social mobility. I was not alone in having this belief. I did not want to end up a wine-taper with a shroud of loincloth wrapped around my waist, or a poor peasant farmer and a petty trader as my parents had been.
I wanted to do better in life than my parents had done. I did not want to relive the misery and hardship of eking out a living with a multiplicity of wives and children. Oh, no! I believe that, as a young boy of the post-colonial era, I wanted to complete my education with hopes of a good employment, a good family life, and have the opportunity to contribute to the national development of my country.
I simply wanted to succeed, to become a person who grew up to be a responsible citizen. I did not want to grow up to become a street beggar, ruined by unnecessary wars and deprivations, emasculated and ashamed of my identity as an African within the community of nations.
I wanted to walk with my back erect, my head held high up as a man no longer in bondage or in the enslavement of Europeans but a free man from Africa. I believe that this simple description of my youthful dreams and hopes were similar to those held widely by other Africans around 1960.
If you continue to ask me what the common man or woman in Africa wanted or needed at the time of their national independence, I would reply that their needs included all of the above. What the Africans needed most was a suitable or favorable environment for the realization of their dreams, hopes for the future, and have, at the least, the minimum necessities of life, namely, food, clothing, and shelter.
The average ambitious African who was politically aware wanted the newly independent States to provide for security, some basic social amenities like transportation and communication, good water supply, electricity, a reasonably thriving economy, and a feeling of progress and prosperity. Africans wanted their burdens lightened by the alleviation of poverty.
I do not believe that the Africans wanted to return blindly to the dark ways of the past – to the cruel murder of twins, indulgence and fear of the witches, superstition, and nonsensical worship of trees, spirits, and to intertribal wars. I do not believe that all Africans wanted to become rich overnight.
They just wanted a little encouragement to move on with life. They had just emerged from the trauma of foreign domination and oppression. They needed a little inspiration from those who called themselves the new leaders of Africa. The common man or woman needed hope that all will be well, that Africans were in control of their affairs, of their own destinies.
Perhaps, the common man or woman trusted their new leaders too much to steer them on to the Promised Land – to Canaan. There was nothing wrong with having that kind of trust except that the trust has now been betrayed. Today’s Africans do not trust their government officials and leaders. Many political leaders really don’t care about the common people.
In order to reach their levels of progress and prosperity, the Africans had to assume that there would be national peace and tranquility. Peace is vital to national progress and prosperity. There also would be a relative measure of freedom. It stood to reason that political chaos and disorder bred wars and wars retard the speed of progress in nearly every area of national life. Wars and instabilities lead to stagnation. These were common sense realities.
In fact, common sense also dictated that the affairs of the State be handled in ways which would produce the expected results, one such result being the general well-being of the citizenry. Where there had been serious cases of unemployment during the colonial administrations, the new leaders were expected to be concerned enough to create and provide jobs to as many as possible.
After all, the provision of new jobs was one of the things that the politicians had promised during their campaigns before they took their seats in their respective national assemblies and governments. But, the overriding element for the attainment of all these expectations was FREEDOM.
It was to be a freedom that guaranteed choice over several alternatives, a freedom that would pave the way for the unfettered use and application of personal and collective initiative, talent, skills, and God-given ingenuity which would translate into technology, technical know-how, and, ultimately, lead to an industrial revolution for all of Africa.
Nobody wanted a perpetual existence in penury, a return to feudalism or to primitivity while the rest of the world marched steadfastly onward to modernity and technological breakthroughs. No African ever wanted to be left behind in the rat-race to conquer the land, air, and seas of our planet. Those who think otherwise must have totally missed the whole point of national independence.
For the sake of sheer argument, let us say that the African did not want or did not need to progress and prosper. Says who? Why would the African not want to prosper? Why would the African choose backwardness or prefer to be brutalized by a new political oppressor when he or she may have fared better under a colonial administrator? Africans are not that stupid!
It is my concrete belief that inherent in the expectation to be free from foreign rule was the desire and the earnest yearning by the African to do better than he or she did in the years of colonial rule. Most probably, the Africans felt that their new leaders, being one of their own kith and kin, would treat them better than the foreign imperialist did.
The expectations of the Africans were not totally unfounded. For one thing, the African had been taking care of himself or herself for centuries before the arrival of the first foreigner to the continent. God had provided the continent with a favorably warm and wonderful climate, a rich vegetation, abundant mineral wealth and human resources, and a healthy social philosophy which knew nearly nothing of the acute individualism prevalent in other countries.
Generally speaking, Africans tended to act “brotherly” when they met with each other. Also, Africans had some experience with survivalism over the centuries. They had not gone over to the frigid countries of Europe nor to the Asiatic East in order to escape from their continent. Ancient Africa was like the Garden of Eden teeming with abundant wild life.
Africans seemed to have been content with what nature had bestowed upon them. They did not voluntarily flood the shores of the Americas in search of a new paradise. When you seriously think about it, Africa seems to have endowed upon her sons and daughters sufficient blessings so that they did not need to abandon the motherland in search of greener pastures.
In the Biblical times, Africa was the bread-house for the wandering Hebrews. Africa offered a safe haven for mankind’s coming messiah. Foreigners could come and were often welcome in Africa. Africans were people with a deep sense of hospitality. But they stayed close to home.
Africans of the post-colonial era did not expect that, after the imperialists had robbed and plundered the continent for nearly 500 years, the new political leaders would dare to continue this robbery by stealing from the people and depositing such ill-gotten wealth in the banks and treasuries of the very people who had robbed Africa! And to have the temerity to demand reparations from their erstwhile colonizers. Imagine such idiocy. Keep in mind that Africa’s foreign debt in 1996 was $400 billion.
Let us move on to our next important question, which is, were Africans justified to expect a better life during the post-colonial era? Absolutely, yes. And why not? No society is truly static. And who would dare to insist that Africans were divinely destined to the yoke and banalities of her past, while that same Divine hand tolerated the other races of mankind to conquer many lands, overcome their maladies, and reach out to human victories and national glory?
Such a God did not even exist. God is a good God. At least, the Christian God claimed that He is a God of justice and love. So, the Africans of the post-colonial era were justified to expect the best from their new political leaders. As Dr. James Emman Kwegyir Aggrey (1875-1927) and Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowther (1806-1891) had maintained years before, only the best was good enough for Africa.
Those who sought to pilot the national ship of State had the awesome responsibility to make good on their promises to their people. There were very few instances, if any at all, where an aspirant politician was forced to accept national responsibility. In general, the new leaders sought for the offices which they eventually occupied.
Those politicians who felt too much of the pressures of public life had the opportunity or option to resign or quit. Very few ever did. Therefore, Africans were justified in their expectations for a better life. However, those expectations and hopes were dashed or betrayed. The question we must now ask is: why were those hopes and dreams dashed?
I firmly believe that the hopes and dreams were dashed because of the gross misconception about the idea of freedom or liberty held by some African nationalists. Now, with hindsight, we may safely say that there were two levels of understanding of the idea of freedom or liberty by the nationalist leaders.
At one level, the greatest need of the time was the struggle to end colonial rule. There was much effort in securing political freedom or liberty from the imperialists. Scores of books were written to that effect. An example was The Case For African Freedom by Joyce Cary who was a British novelist and officer in the colonial administrative service around 1913. He had the far-sight that Africa needed independence from Europe.
Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe spoke and wrote profusely about the necessity for national independence from colonial rule. For example, on April 4, 1949, he stated in a speech: “I conceive the cult of imperialism anywhere it exists, as a crime against humanity.” On his forty-second birthday, he predicted that “Nigeria shall become a sovereign state in our life-time, in spite of the might of the oppressor.” His prediction came to pass fourteen years later because “the God of Africa…so willed it.”
Kwame Nkrumah also spoke and worked hard for the independence of his country, Ghana, which became independent on March 6, 1957. Seven years before this date, he was arrested and thrown into a filthy jail for nine months for his political activism. He wrote several books in the defense of national independence. Two such books were Towards Colonial Freedom and I Speak of Freedom: A Statement of African Ideology (1961).
Creditably, the goal to secure national independence from the imperialists was finally achieved. As we saw in Chapter One, many African countries gained independence by 1960. But, at the second level, there was little or no serious thought given to an understanding of the kinds of other freedoms which the Africans were bound to enjoy after colonial rule.
Therefore, it is very doubtful if the nationalist leaders clearly thought through the other forms of freedoms, such as social freedoms, economic freedoms, freedom of speech and expression, and the freedom of religion. The latter one mentioned I believe is the most important, that is, the right to believe or not to believe and to choose what kind of God to worship.
LISTEN AFRICANS: Freedom Is Under Fire
Book Cover design: George Foster