Busia Speaks of “African Democracy” – Part 3
By Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D.
In many respects, like Senegal’s President Leopold Sedar Senghor, of blessed memory, Busia expansively envisages Africa’s encounter with Europe, Western Europe, to be exact, in universally humanistic terms, with either side of the proverbial equation maturely accepting its strengths and weaknesses in good faith. Thus the perceived victim is not unrealistically idealized and quixotically sublimated out of the objective realm of the human and ineluctably fallible. Likewise, the European culprit-perpetrator is squarely perceived in terms of the baneful arrogance that conquest breeds in the conqueror, even while also recognizing the human capacity of the violent conqueror for the collective good of all the players involved in the encounter:
“It is thus in the context of race relations that negritude is to be understood. Colonialism, white domination over black, and apartheid have one thing in common; they are all seen as an affront to the dignity of the black man. The sentiment is shared alike by all colonial subjects[,] whether they have come under British, French, Belgian, Portuguese, or Spanish rule. ¶ But the concept of negritude has, in the hands of Senghor, passed beyond its militant anti-European and racist stage to a mellower tone where it shows an awareness of a wider brotherhood of man. Said President Senghor at Oxford: ¶ ‘If we are justified in fostering the values of Negritude, and arousing the energy slumbering within us, it must be in order to pour them into the mainstream of cultural miscegenation; they must flow towards the meeting point of all humanity; they must be our contribution to the civilization of the universal.’ ¶ This wider concept acknowledges that some good did come out of colonization. ¶ Seen within this prospect of the civilization of the universal, the colonial policies of Great Britain and France have proved successful complements of each other and black Africa has benefited. The policies of Great Britain tended to reinforce the traditional native civilization. As for France’s policy, although we have often reviled it in the past, it too ended with a credit balance through forcing us actively to assimilate European civilization. This fertilized our sense of Negritude. Today our Negritude no longer expresses itself in opposition to European values, but as a complement to them. ¶ Those who still see African politics in terms of racism, and are constantly declaiming against colonialism and neocolonialism disapprove of this development of negritude. Senghor has stretched the concept even wider. It has now become a philosophy of humanism; but a humanism that has room for God. In his Oxford speech of 1961, he asserted: ¶ ‘Our revised Negritude is humanistic. I repeat[:] it welcomes the complementary values of Europe and the white men, and indeed of all other races and Continents. But it welcomes them in order to fertilize and reinvigorate its own values, which it then offers for the construction of a civilization which shall embrace all mankind. The neo-humanism of the twentieth century stands at the point where the paths of all nations, races, and Continents cross, where the four winds of the spirit blow. ¶ This widening of the concept has affected Senghor’s appraisal of the results of colonialism. To those who smart under a continuing sense of injustice and nurse gnawing injuries, the conclusions are unpalatable. ¶ ‘Let us [he admonishes] stop denouncing colonialism and Europe and attributing all our ills to them. Besides being not entirely fair, this is a negative approach, revealing our inferiority complex, the very complex the colonizer inoculated in us and whose accomplices we thereby are secretly becoming. It is too easy an alibi for our own laziness, for our selfishness as intellectuals, for our failures. It would be more positive for us and our people to analyze the colonial fact objectively, while psychoanalyzing our resentment.’ ¶ Senghor’s own analysis is that ¶ ‘examined in historical perspective[,] colonization will appear at first glance as a general fact of history. Races, peoples, nations, and civilizations have always been in conflict. To be sure, conquerors sow ruin in their wake, but they also sow ideas and techniques that germinate and blossom into new harvests.’ ¶ In the hands of its leading exponent, the concept of negritude has developed from a racist, militant reaction to colonialism to a wide humanism and generous assessment which now sees colonialism in terms of cooperation and involvement rather than condemnation and unyielding opposition”(Africa in Search of Democracy 45-47).
As I have already pointed out elsewhere, it is this round and holistic view of history and humanity that appears to have informed Busia’s relatively less hostile attitude towards the ignoble architects of South Africa’s apartheid regime. Under absolutely no circumstances, whatsoever, is such scientific view of humanity and/or human nature to be perceived as a traitorous acceptance of the purported racial inferiority of the African. Rather, it is the fanatical champions of the purported moral innocence of the African Personality who do the greatest damage and disservice to the African continent and its people.
The objective humanity and fallibility of the European colonizer notwithstanding, Busia insightfully points to the grim and glaring fact that, in practice, the establishment of a salutary and robust democratic political culture in Africa, especially in the transitional period immediately preceding the granting of sovereign status appears to have been the last thing that the European colonial masters had in mind. Rather, the standard practice was for the departing European colonial power to throw its massive and leaden weight, expertise and resources behind the winners of the elections that ushered most of their former colonies into the new dispensation. In the process, notes Busia, an unhealthy geopolitical context was created wherein the new governing party readily and rapidly came to envisage itself in a winner-takes-all situation. For the former Prime Minister of Ghana, it was this reckless infusion of Darwinian political partisanship that set the inevitable course of epic leadership failure in much of Africa, particularly vis-à-vis the cynical adoption and blind pursuit of the one-party mode of governance:
“The British teach that an opposition is an essential part of the parliamentary democratic system; yet their policy for helping the institution of the parliamentary system at this final stage never included any official help to the opposition. Three British administrators sat on the Front Bench with the government; and an array of experienced civil servants sat behind the government benches, always ready to send notes and answers to the members of the government to save them from being shown up by the opposition, while members of the opposition had to fend for themselves, without any help. Handicapped in many ways, held up to the country by the propaganda of their opponents in government as ‘enemies of the people,’ and with the civil servants and administrators of the colonial regime weighted against them, no surprise that the opposition was often crushed. Yet explanations of opposition failures and weaknesses do not take account of the fact that the policy of the colonial government included help for the party that won elections, and no help for the party that formed ‘Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition.’ Neither at the center nor at the local level can it be said that strong foundations for democratic rule were laid. The shoot was very tender, easy to smother under the authoritarian framework that is bequeathed at independence. ¶ Under the French system, some of those who later led independence movements in the colonies, or headed the governments, such President Houphouet-Boigny of the Ivory Coast, or President Senghor of Senegal, received experience in official posts in France. But the French colonies that have received independence since 1960 have done so at a time when, as French political scientists have themselves pointed out, France has been moving towards a type of monarchical republic, in the Fifth Republic under General de Gaulle, with a dominant executive and a weak, almost powerless parliament. This evolution has set an example not markedly different in effect from the one-party constitutions which have been adopted in the French-speaking States. ¶ ….¶ It cannot be said of colonial regimes that they were shining examples of democracy; nor can it be justly claimed that the newly independent States inherited from them democratic institutions suited to their condition. What the colonial powers have left is a foundation of democratic ideas and techniques which can help a country whose leaders wish to establish a democratic form of government; they have also left institutional frameworks of centralized administration with a tendency towards authoritarianism which can be, and in some States have[,] indeed[,] already been adapted to that end”(Africa in Search of Democracy 50-52).
While it has consistently and perennially claimed to have no imperialist ambitions in Africa, nevertheless, Busia clearly demonstrates subtle moves by the erstwhile Soviet Union to exert a remarkable political influence on the independent African states, a policy initiative that is not altogether dissimilar from classical colonial influence and control, however oblique this may appear to the keen observer: “The recurrent theme of Soviet writers is that political independence for Africans means little unless they free themselves from the capitalist economies of the West and cooperate with the socialist camp. In an article in Aiya I Afrika Segondyna, V. I. Povlov explained that cooperation with Socialist States ‘promotes the emergence of the most democratic, anti-imperialist facets of the public sector.’ The public sector, he said, may develop in one of two directions: it may take the democratic course of economic independence ‘through industrialization, and elimination of feudal anachronisms,’ or the course of ‘subjection to bourgeois land-owning reactionaries.’ It will take the first course if the working class and peasantry rally to its support by forming ‘a national democratic front.’ So again[,] the importance of the role of the working class is emphasized. This is all in accordance with the Marxist-Leninist doctrine. National Bourgeois governments only embark on the democratic road when they build economic systems which become ‘the property of a working-class regime.’ The way for a former colony to become truly independent and free is to rid itself of all Western influence and accept Communism. This, in short, is the Soviet concept of democracy. ¶ The newly independent States of Africa are therefore not yet democratic. They have all, in the Soviet view, been under the ideological influence of capitalist Europe and America, and are already capitalist States in which the capitalist bourgeoisie have begun to exploit the labor of others. African society in these States, as seen by the Soviets, consists of small producers, private property owners, and petty bourgeoisie”(Africa in Search of Democracy 57-58).
In essence, what we see from the preceding quote are subtle and vigorous attempts being made by the erstwhile Soviet Union to fashion the newly independent African states of the 1950s and 60s after the former’s own so-called scientific socialist image. Looking back at the epic collapse of Soviet Socialism in the late 1980s and ’90s, the hitherto pro-socialist African countries, nearly all of which were described by Soviet scholars and critics as being incapable of forging “scientific socialist” polities have proven to have been the more realistic in their several chosen development agendas, either by sheer default or foresighted deliberation.
Ever the meticulous, fearless and systematic critic of propagandistic canard, Busia painstakingly, and eloquently, takes on the flamboyant and insufferable arrogance of white supremacist thinkers and pseudo-scholars of Soviet socialism like Professor Potekhin, who would have Africans religiously pursue Soviet-type “scientific socialism” and yet mischievously and hypocritically underestimate the intelligence, ingenuity and capacity of the African to achieving the same, even while also seeming to pontifically celebrate the apparent rejection by many a newly independent African state of Western-type capitalism: “In answer to those who maintained that pre-colonial African society was already socialist, Potekhin replied: ‘Before the colonizers came, many African peoples were living in a primitive communal society, knowing neither exploitation nor the division of society into classes. If equality existed among those people [at all], it was equality of poverty, whereas a socialist society is a society of abundance.’ ¶ In another article written a year later in Kommunist, on ‘Negritude, Pan-Africanism, and African Socialism,” Potekhin examined African socialism again; his remarks contained an outburst which is an excellent illustration of how Communist propaganda and scholarly works are often inseparably interlocked: ¶ ‘There is no single concept of African socialism; it has many variations. An attentive study of all these variations shows that in some cases it is the result of a delusion of people who are sincerely striving for socialism, while in others[,] it is the reflection of the interests of the growing African national bourgeoisie, which reckons on using certain methods (economic planning, the creation of a state sector in the economy, and other things) to do away with the economic backwardness of the country without damaging its own interests. But, no matter how theoreticians in Africa and abroad interpret the concept of ‘African socialism,’ the popular masses of the African Continent see in it the idea of a categorical rejection of the capitalist path of development, and the idea of ridding themselves not only of imperialist exploitation of man by man, that is, the idea of genuine scientific socialism. The workers attach their hopes for a better life to the idea of socialism which has already led a third of mankind on the road of happiness, freedom and justice, and in this consists the most important victory of our epoch. There is no doubt that the masses will find the right forms for the transition to socialism, taking into account the concrete peculiarities of African countries. ¶ Some leaders of young African States maintain that Marxism is inapplicable in African countries, because in them there are no classes of the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. But Marxism is, specifically, a doctrine of the most general laws of development of any society, including the pre-capitalist. It embraces the concept of a non-capitalist course, that is, the development which, by-passing the capitalist stage, may lead to socialism, in precisely those countries where [the] bourgeoisie and [the] proletariat have not been able to form. The idea of non-capitalist development is finding wide recognition in Africa; this is one more confirmation of the obvious truth that Marxism is applicable to all and countries, including those in Africa.’ ¶ It may be asked on what data Professor Potekhin based the findings which enabled him to speak with such authority on behalf of the ‘popular masses of the African Continent’; and indeed who the ‘popular masses’ are. Judging from his own writings, he did not find the workers, or the trade unions, or the peasants of Africa ready to play the role of a ‘revolutionary vanguard’ of scientific socialism. The workers as a whole are said to lack organization and class consciousness, and the thousands of migrant workers on mines and farms throughout Africa are ‘the most backward and least conscious part of the [global] working class.’ As for the trade unions, Professor Potekhin found ‘the almost complete illiteracy of the workers’ to be a serious obstacle. The peasants were even less suitable. He described them as ‘an uncompacted, atomized mass of small producers, illiterate, and politically extremely backward.’ The Soviet Party Program of 1961 condemned as ‘petty bourgeois illusion’ a socialism which excluded class struggle. It is therefore difficult to see how the ‘popular masses’ who lack class consciousness fit into the picture he has painted”(Africa in Search of Democracy 61-63).
*Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D., is Associate Professor of English, Journalism and Creative Writing at Nassau Community College of the State University of New York, Garden City. He is Director of The Sintim-Aboagye Center for Politics and Culture and author of “Dr. J. B. Danquah: Architect of Modern Ghana” (iUniverse.com, 2005). E-mail: email@example.com.