Why is Africa Still So Poor? - #5

May 30, 2021

So why did African countries choose a system that prevents them from becoming wealthy in the first place? Well, the reason is that this was the system which they inherited from their former colonizers; where the colonial government controlled nearly every aspect of the colony’s economy. And if they wanted to switch to a free market system like Western Europe, East Asia, or North America then they would need business people and entrepreneurs to set up new businesses, but the problem with this was that Africans weren’t allowed to run their own businesses under colonialism, so the entrepreneurial attitude didn’t exist.

On top of that, due to colonialism, Africans were never trained in modern skills, so if you wanted to open a factory for example, it would be impossible to find qualified employees who knew how to run the machines and factories. In today’s world we know the answer to this dilemma because we’ve seen countries like Singapore, Vietnam, and China in similar predicaments. But back in the 1940s through the 70s there were no such examples to follow, except for countries like Japan and the USSR who each gained economic development through strict government control. Except those two countries did so through the deaths of millions and already had an educated population when they began their economic development projects. And so Africa’s leaders thought African Socialism was the best way to create wealth and prosperity for their countries.

Let’s compare this to a colony which did become wealthy after independence: South Korea. They decided to focus on just a few industries such as electronics, agriculture, and steel and only putting trade barriers on those products. South Korea would then trade those products with things it didn’t produce itself. As a result, South Korea became a world leader in things like electronics and has become one of the richest countries in the world and it now has lots of high-paying jobs selling goods and services which turn a large profit, with which South Koreans can buy all the things they need from abroad. But this only explains why Africa didn’t become wealthy after independence. However, after a few decades Africans would have better education and would be able to indeed set up African businesses using African labour to create African industries, yet this didn’t happen until the 21st century. So why didn’t this happen earlier?

Well, this has a lot to do with the corruption that emerged after independence. Shortly before independence, most African colonies became democratic and these democracies were VERY unstable because they had only been around for a few years in most cases. We still see this today, where recent democracies tend to be the least stable democracies. And most African nations were not at all united. Some countries were lucky in that most people spoke the same language while other countries had hundreds of different languages. And good luck to anyone trying to run a political campaign in over 100 languages. So instead, politicians realized they could more easily win votes if they targeted specific ethnic groups.

As a result, politics was divided along ethnic lines and African countries became more and more divided with each election in the 60s and 70s. Groups of people were not only divided based on ethnicity, but also separated politically based on where they were born. From the perspective of a politician this made perfect sense; if you want to win votes, appeal to certain ethnic groups. But from the perspective of the country as whole, it just made the country more difficult to govern over time. And if a candidate decided to appeal to the whole country instead of specific ethnic groups then they would lose elections. And so, through a natural process, African nations tended to become more divided after independence, all thanks to the social and political systems left behind by their former colonizers.

A prominent example of where this went horribly wrong was Rwanda, with the Rwandan genocide, where over half a million members of the Tutsi ethnic group were massacred along with many other crimes against humanity.

Once a party got into power they would try to keep the power for themselves. Many Africans saw democracy as nothing more than a mess of infighting, with opposition parties abusing their power to hinder the greater national interest. Therefore, a single party system was created in many African nations in the years following independence by crushing the opposition. And in countries with hundreds of different cultures and languages, it makes sense that you wouldn’t want to deal with all of them vying for power. By the 1980s, the elites had taken full control over the political system in most African countries and so, very little changed after independence, with the European elites replaced with African elites. Those new elites were concerned that they would be overthrown in a coup, so how were they going to keep themselves in power? Read on by clicking here.

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