In the beginning of the 1960s, the African leaders were “wedded to the idea of African Socialism.”1 This system developed during a period when the continent was still fighting the hangover of colonialism and the systems that were left behind by the Europeans. Interestingly, in most of the thirty-five African states that adopted African socialism, the leaders did not describe themselves as classical socialists. In fact, they distanced themselves from European Scientific Socialism. African Socialism afforded the leaders an opportunity to forge political, economic, and social independence while distinguishing himself or herself from political domination by either the East or the West. Politically, African Socialism was a promise to safeguard democracy and promote individual rights. It also promised to promote social rights while upholding the rule of law. Economically, African Socialism was an attempt at common ownership of production, and common control of the means of production. The capitalistic characteristics of the power to live by rent and the manipulation of labor and profits were to be abolished. To create social harmony, African Socialism promised to destroy the class system that had been established by colonial rule. These African nations promised to institute equal opportunities and that “talent and character” were to be the only prerequisites for attaining employment.2 Man was not to be an end to means but rather an end to a better self. 3This new system would "regard humankind, not as a social means but as an end and entity in society."4 The challenge was, therefore, in guaranteeing some opportunities that would foster the development of the African person. With all these promises for change, African leaders took on the task of clearly defining socialism as it applied to their countries. There were three commonalities with socialist societies that developed in Africa. The first was that African socialism was born out of the struggle for independence between the colonial rulers and the African proletariat class that had been created by capitalism. The leaders wanted to develop a system that would make sure that they “were never again exploited, oppressed or humiliated”, for “it was in the struggle to break the grip of colonialism that [they] learned the need for unity”.5 The second commonality was the argument that African traditional culture was communal, therefore socialist. In this was the belief that the egalitarian system of pre-colonial Africa was the basis that the leaders needed to revisit, and African Socialism would be the path that would lead the Africans back to the traditions that would include shared property.6 The third commonality was the conviction that socialism was the best way to provide democratic political order that was supported by a strong government. Therefore, each state took the initiative to create a system that mostly included nationalizing the country’s industries in an effort to exemplify strong government that had elements of traditional African values.
There is no time period that can point to the end of African Socialism, as this ideal is still held by many leaders and African philosophers. As Sindima puts it, "African socialism is not merely rhetoric, but an unfinished agenda, a project, and a discourse on African values."1 All the systems collapsed. Today, in most places, development consists of telephones that are inadequate, roads without the engineering structure to withhold stress that become deep holes that swallow vehicles, and education in most African countries is poor. The billions of dollars in debt compound all failures that African nations have accumulated, which have literally mortgaged their land and people. It is, therefore, unquestionable that African socialism has not succeeded - at least not yet. According to Fatton, there are four reasons why African Socialism did not see the success that it hoped. Firstly, the idealization of the Pre-colonial culture contributed to the false idea that Africa was inherently socialist. Secondly, the reality of severe scarcity or mismanagement of the materials and the lack of proper organization came into focus. Thirdly, the idea that the assumed process of converting back to the communal way of production would be simple, only it proved to be much more difficult. Finally, there was a contrast between the promises of self-reliance and democracy given societal inequalities, and rising authoritarianism. 2 The failure to fulfill their promises, leaders confronted the people who became impatient viewing their leaders accumulating obscene wealth while they continuously kept sinking into impoverishment. Nyerere's economic policy proved to be a failure although “Ujamaa” villages and nationalization were, initially, greeted with enthusiasm. However, most liberal thinkers were not fond of moving from private to cooperative ownership. Most villages accepted that anything would be better than being under colonial rule because honest attempts could not halt the impact of global capitalism. The enthusiasm was dampened by the 1970’s crisis in the world economy as the production of commercial crops in Ujamaa villages failed completely and left them more destitute than they had ever been. In Ghana, Nkrumah faced the same challenges as Nyerere. Nkrumah was too quick to implement change in Africa. He wanted to achieve, in a decade, what had taken the Europeans a century to achieve and in that effort, he built industries that were not stable. In nationalizing the industries, Nkrumah put them in the hands of inexperienced workers, a problem that Senghor had tried to avoid.3 Like Nyerere, global enterprises affected the results of Nkrumah's attempt to build the economy. In the 1960s, the world Cocoa prices fell, and that proved to be disastrous for Ghana, leading to the decline of the Ghanaian economy. The government's most prominent officials started robbing the people, and the economy was barely held together by the imposition of "high tariffs, price controls, and import licenses."4 In 1966, while Nkrumah was visiting North Korea, his government was overthrown, and the force of Pan-Africanism was reduced to Academic exercises.So what is next for African Socialism?
1 Sindima. Africa's agenda, 118
2 Robert Fatton Jr. “The Political Ideology of Julius Nyerere: The Structural Limitations of 'African Socialism'.” Studies in Comparative International Development 20, Summer 1985: 23, 17
3 Ayyitey. The End of African Socialism?
4 Hobsbawm, The Age of Extremes: 351
1 William H. Friedland, and Carl G. Rosberg. 1964. African Socialism. Stanford: Stanford University Press: 250
2 William H. Friedland. and Carl Gustav Rosberg. African Socialism, 230
3 Kwame Nkrumah. “African Socialism Revisited.” 1967. Available from
4 William H. Friedland, and Carl Gustav Rosberg. African Socialism, 250
5 Julius K. Nyerere. Ujamaa- Essays on Socialism. (Dar es Salaam: Oxford University Press, 1968), 6-10
6 William H. Friedland, and Carl Gustav Rosberg. African Socialism, 23