So why did African countries getting their Independence not lead to African nations becoming wealthy? Well, history has shown us that former colonies can become wealthy countries such as New Zealand, Ireland, or South Korea, yet not a single country in Africa is considered a ‘developed country’. And this as a result of the state reason in which the colonizers left Africa. When people don’t have the skills to run a country, when communities don’t connect to each other, and when prosperity is already rare, it becomes very difficult for the leaders of that country to bring prosperity to that country. But at the same time, leaders of African independence movements promised the African people prosperity after independence.
So how were African leaders going to fulfill this promise of wealth and prosperity? Well, for most African countries the solution was an economic system called ‘African Socialism’. The way this system works is that many industries would be controlled by the national government, such as mining, construction, plantations, etc. It would then use all of the nation’s resources to industrialize, because at the time manufacturing jobs paid higher salaries than farming jobs and so they decided that the best way for Africa to become rich was to replace low-paying jobs in agriculture and mining with high-paying jobs in factories.
It made foreign goods more expensive by putting extra taxes on those goods, arguing that if foreign products are more expensive, then people will need to buy goods from their own country instead.The leaders were hoping that foreign investors would come to their countries because those foreign businesses wouldn’t have to pay those extra taxes if they just moved some of their factories to Africa. And luckily for Africa at the time, they gained independence during a cold war, so they could receive foreign aid from either the West or from the Soviet Union in exchange for being on their side in the cold war. While every African country had different economic policies, they were all similar to this.
But African Socialism simply didn’t work. First of all, the trade restriction meant that African countries couldn’t sell products to each other, meaning it was hard to find customers to buy any products made in Africa. As a result, none of the industries could grow large enough to be able to compete with the industries of North America, Europe, or East Asia and so nobody else wanted to buy African goods because they could get those same goods better and cheaper from other countries.
Secondly, a single large government isn’t able to adapt to changes in world markets as quickly as hundreds of smaller businesses. Centrally planned economies will always be less efficient than economies which have lots of different businesses competing with each other.
Thirdly, Africans simply lacked the skills and education required to work in manufacturing jobs in the first place, meaning that they were far less efficient than their better-educated counterparts in the rest of the world. For example, out of the 200 million Black Africans in the 1950s, only 8000 received secondary education, 200 a university education, and ⅓ of the student-age population went to primary school, so it would take decades before enough qualified professionals would join the job market. So African countries lacked the people needed to make their countries thrive.
The fourth reason why it didn’t work is because Africa’s landscape is harsh with some places experiencing droughts lasting years, such as a drought which lasted from 1968-1973, causing large food shortages. While other parts have locusts and Red-billed quelea birds which makes agriculture nearly impossible.
The fifth reason was disease: yellow fever, smallpox, sleeping sickness, and malaria are but a few of the diseases which plagued African development. And while smallpox was being eradicated, new diseases were spreading such as River Blindness and Bilharzia. These diseases are easily preventable in rich countries with access to water sanitation facilities and modern medicine, but because Africans were poor, they couldn’t afford the doctors, clinics, and medicine they needed to fight those diseases.
And so a combination of trade barriers, inefficient governments, a lack of education, harsh environments, and disease meant that this system was doomed to fail from the very beginning. There was simply no way for any African nation to reach wealth and prosperity at that time, because of the underdeveloped countries they inherited from their former colonizers. But this raises a new question: why did African countries choose this system in the first place? Read on by clicking here.