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A shaky Independence

Today, we commemorate another milestone as an independent sovereign State. 57 solid years of political independence from the British colonial administration but we are still on our knees with hefty empty bowls crying for alms from the very system and master we demanded our freedom to self-rule, self-determination. The irony we are in is sickening – very shameful. Our country is rich with most natural resources that our colonial master lack in, that most countries in the West do not possess, yet we continue to be heavily indebted and dependent on their aid. We are clearly a living testimony of the proverbial saying that “in abundance of water a full is thirsty!”

Three years from today, we will hit six decades of independence without much to show for it. And soon our citizens will start asking, aggressively, for the benefits of political independence. Our political elites must seriously consider the stakes of this political liberation in the absence of economic emancipation. They must reflect on that common value, self-warning, that issues of freedom and justice can no longer be left in abeyance.

That is, are we satisfied with the socio-economic status of our people? Have we guaranteed our people the dignity they deserve and yearned for? Are our citizens nourished, educated, provided with adequate health service, housing, water and transportation corresponding to a free and fair society – that which must be delivered in an independent country? Can we safely stand before our people and say we are a sovereign State and uphold the principles of self-determination? These are questions for the past, present and near-future leaders.

But as J F Ade Ajayi, noted, “…The most fundamental aspect of post-independence Africa has been the elusiveness of development, however characterised -Europeanisation, Westernisation, modernisation, progress, or simply development. That is to say, in many ways the quality of life of the average farmer and his family in the village, or worker in the urban areas, has not improved significantly; in some respects, and in some areas, it is even worse than on the eve of independence. In particular, many African countries now find it difficult to provide for their population sufficient food and energy resources for the basic necessities of life. Most of the new states have yet to evolve stable political structures that are imbued with a sense of national commitment and notions of social justice, around which the loyalties of the masses could be mobilised. Rather, the uneven development between different regions of the same country and between cities and rural areas of the same region persists. In addition, the inequalities of income distribution that characterised colonial rule have tended to widen considerably since independence. As a result, there have been civil unrest and civil war, and there is generally less security for life and property. In a few cases, grotesque and abnormal regimes have emerged that prey on their own populations rather than protect them or promote their welfare. The optimism of development plans of the 1960s has given way to increasing frustration in the 1970s and disillusionment in the 1980s. The general lament is that this is not what was expected from independence.

The intellectuals – who had the sharpest notions and clearest expectations of independence – have been the most frustrated, and their lamentations, especially when expressed in poetry, tend to be hyperbolic. Their sense of frustration has been heightened by the now current theory of dependency, which sees the new states as having been sucked through colonialism into an inescapable state of underdevelopment and a permanent state of dependency on the industrialised nations. African rulers, therefore, appear virtually helpless before the international network of neo-colonial forces. In the dependency theory, a capitalist mode of development in the periphery is, by definition, doomed. Yet a socialist mode appears no less doomed, for the new states have already been locked, through colonialism, into a system where they have become satellites of the Western world, and the socialist or communist countries do not appear to be providing the kind of assistance necessary to break that bond… Serious, but Not Hopeless. Despite the foregoing, we can hardly deny that political independence has been a positive good. That is the only explanation of the exhilaration at the liberation of Portuguese Africa and the independence of Zimbabwe, as well as the struggle to extend this liberation to Namibia and even the Union of South Africa. Very few, even of the traditional elite, except perhaps in places like Uganda, would like to see a return to colonial rule. The assumption of sovereign power by the new political elite has transferred to Africa at least some power of self-government and self-regulation, which is often misused and sometimes abused, but is yet available. The responsibility for utilising this more effectively, given African aspirations and the state of world economic relationships, lies to a considerable extent within Africa. Some of the regimes have at times made an effort to meet some of the expectations of the people. The pipe-borne water, electricity, and improved health facilities have already cut down the rate of infant mortality and raised life expectancy. The expansion of Western-type systems of education has facilitated social mobility, and for all the increasing inequalities in income distribution, no rigid class structure has yet solidified; the network of family relationships often cuts across income groups and links urban and rural populations inextricably. In anticipation of independence, no provisions seem to have been made for an effective transitional period, and thus this period merely drags along. The greatest cause of the frustration of the mass of the people comes from the uncertainties of this period. After the initial uncertainties of colonial rule, people came to know what to expect. They approached independence with hesitation, for they had no idea what to expect from it. Since independence, the feeling of uncertainty has increased. The political process has obeyed few rules consistently, whether constitutional or legal. World inflation and shifting economic policies have made prices unstable and the value of incomes most unreliable. New facilities such as electricity and pipe-borne water are expanded, but their performance is most unpredictable. Infant mortality is curbed, but highway fatalities are growing alarmingly. Life has become more uncertain. With the spread of Western education, and science and technology, the insecurity of life has bred superstition, and the search for faith healers and prophets has crept into every facet of society… With increasing cynicism about the possibilities of a new International Economic Order, or North-South dialogue, there is a new emphasis on self-reliance, self-fulfillment, and the more rational use of resources within Africa…”

As the Monrovia Symposium wondered, “Only yesterday the birth of a State that respected basic freedoms was one of the most important demands in the struggle for independence. Has this erstwhile dream now turned into a nightmare?”

Ours is a shaky Independence!

And as Dr Kenneth Kaunda advised, “In fighting to establish a fair and just society, we must continue to be as revolutionary as we were during the struggle for Independence. […]political independence without matching economic independence is meaningless. It is economic independence that brings in its wake social, cultural and scientific progress of man. No doubt political independence is the key, but only the key to the house we must build.

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