Wednesday, April 21, 2010

50th Anniversary of the 'Year of Africa' 1960

50th Anniversary of the ‘Year of Africa’ 1960

After five decades the continent still struggles against imperialism and militarism

By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire

This year marks the 50th anniversary of what has been called “The Year of Africa,” when 17 former colonial territories gained their national independence during 1960. The liberation movements in Africa had gained momentum after the conclusion of World War II when various European colonial powers were weakened as a result of the events of 1939-1945.

Colonialism was a vicious system of national oppression and exploitation that has its origins in the Atlantic Slave Trade extending back to 15th century. After four centuries of African enslavement in Western Europe, the Caribbean, Latin America, North America and on the continent itself, the colonial system was solidified with the convening of the Berlin Conference in 1884-85.

Despite the rapacious nature of slavery and the onslaught of colonialism in Africa, the people resisted this encroachment for centuries. Beginning in the late 19th century, anti-colonial revolts and movements blossomed throughout the African continent and other territories throughout the world.

Even though two imperialist wars took place in the first half of the 20th century, by 1945 colonialism in Africa remained largely intact. The European colonialists claimed that their presence on the continent spurred economic development which prepared African states for eventual independence in the 20th century. However, the introduction of western systems of trade and production were designed to only maximize profits and maintain political control for the imperialists.

For example, in the West African state of Ghana, which was called the Gold Coast during the colonial period, the British domination in this area brought about tremendous economic benefits for England. The establishment of a one-cash crop economy (cocoa) in the Gold Coast provided the British with an effective means of exploiting the African territory.

In addition, the mining of gold propelled the development of the first railway in the territory. This railway line extended from the gold-mining district of Tarkwa to Sekondi by 1901. After the construction of the railway line in the Gold Coast, the rate of profits accrued from the trade in gold accelerated.

In 1897 the value of gold exports from the Gold Coast region was 22,000 (pound sterling), however, by 1902 the value had increased to 97,000 (pound sterling). After 1902 the value had increased to 255,000 and by 1907 the value of the trade in gold was 1,165,000. By 1914, at the beginning of World War I, the value of the gold exported from this area had reached 1,687,000 (pound sterling).

The railway extended to Kumasi in 1903 in order to ensure the political and military dominance over the Ashanti nation. This factor led to the penetration of the forest areas where the process of rubber-tapping began to be carried out by the British. In addition to rubber-tapping, the expansion of cocoa farming brought about another round of windfall profits for the British colonialists.

In 1901, the value of cocoa exported from the colony was 43,000 (pound sterling); it was 95,000 in 1902, 515,000 in 1907 and 2,194,000 in 1914. By that year cocoa amounted to 49 percent of all exports, and cocoa alone was already paying for all the Gold Coast’s imports.

The export of timber, worth 169,000 (pound sterling) in 1907, also resulted from the building of the railway. Cocoa, gold and timber made the Gold Coast, by 1914, the most prosperous of all the African colonies.

The Rise of African Nationalism

At the end of World War II the only states in Africa considered to be independent were Egypt, Liberia and the reconstituted nation of Ethiopia. Nonetheless, these states in actuality were firmly under the yoke of imperialism.

Egypt was controlled by a pro-British monarchy headed by King Farouk I until 1952 when the Free Officer’s Movement seized power in popular coup. In 1956 Gamal Abdel Nassar became president of Egypt and nationalized the Suez Canal leading to an invasion by Britain, France and the state of Israel. This imperialist invasion failed and Egypt became a leading proponent of the independence movements that swept through other areas of the continent during the 1950s and 1960s.

Liberia had been established as a settlement for formerly enslaved Africans from the United States beginning in 1822. It was granted nominal independence in 1847, but remained under the yoke of the United States particularly after the 1920s when Firestone Rubber became the de facto political power inside the country.

After the defeat of Italian fascism in the early 1940s, the Ethiopian monarchy under Haile Selassie, was restored but fell under the political, economic and military domination of the United States. In Southern Africa, three other monarchies in Beuchanaland, Basutoland and Swaziland were under protectorate status by the British and were limited in regard to political and territorial sovereignty.

Nonetheless, beginning in the late 1940s and extending through the 1950s, anti-colonial movements arose throughout the continent. In 1956 Sudan gained its independence from Britain to be followed in 1957 by Ghana.

In 1958, Guinea became the first French occupied territory in Africa to opt out of the colonial system. In 1954 Algeria had embarked upon an armed struggle to win its freedom which was attained in 1961-62.

1960 became a watershed year because a cluster of states, many of them former French colonies who did not join Guinea in its demand for liberation in 1958, became independent. These states that had been under the control of France as well as Belgium and Britain, were Cameroon, Togo, Madagascar, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, Benin, Niger, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Chad, the Central African Republic, The Republic of Congo, Gabon, Senegal, Mali, Nigeria and Mauritania.

Also that same year, Ghana became a republic and consequently moved further away from the sphere of British imperialism. In 1961, Ghana under Kwame Nkrumah, initiated a political program aimed at building socialism inside the country. Ghana in 1960 had formed an alliance with both Guinea under Sekou Toure and Mali under Modibo Keita seeking to a construct a political union which pursued direct trade and economic links among newly independent African states.

Neo-colonialism and the stifling of national independence

Although these were tremendous achievements for the African continent and its people, the western imperialists devised methods to maintain economic and political control over the newly independent states and to stifle the process of liberation in the still existing colonies. The most notable of these efforts on the part of the western imperialist states was the reversal of the process of independence in the former Belgian Congo.

On June 30, 1960, the people of Congo proclaimed their independence under Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba and the Congolese National Movement (MNC-Lumumba). However, within three months the imperialist states, led by the U.S., had occupied the country under the banner of the United Nations. Also a secessionist movement in the south of the country had been utilized to undermine the sovereignty of the new Congolese government.

By September 1960, Patrice Lumumba had been placed under house arrest by the United Nations forces. He would later escape and flee to the eastern region of the country where he was kidnapped, tortured and executed by the U.S., Belgium and Congolese agents operating on their behalf. Congo over the next five decades still remained a reservoir for mineral resources and cheap labor for the imperialist states.

Nkrumah in his book “Neo-Colonialism: The Last Stage of Imperialism,” published in 1965, stated that “The essence of neo-colonialism is that the State which is subject to it is, in theory, independent and has all the outward trappings of international sovereignty. In reality its economic system and thus its political policy is directed from outside.” (Revolutionary Path, P. 314)

The independent states of Africa suffered numerous setbacks between the 1960s and the 1980s. Along with the assassination of Lumumba in Congo, the revolutionary government of Nkrumah was overthrown in a reactionary military and police coup that was backed and engineered by U.S. imperialism in 1966.

These coups would continue in Nigeria in 1966 leading to a civil war between 1967-1970. In Mali, the progressive government of Modibo Keita was overthrown in 1968. In 1984, after the sudden death of President Ahmed Sekou Toure in Guinea, a western-backed military coup took place in that country as well.

Starting in the mid-1980s, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, both U.S.-based financial institutions, began to demand that African states institute structural adjustment programs (SAPs) which undermined the role of the governments in efforts to provide social services and education to their populations.

The Last Stage of Imperialism

Despite these efforts by imperialism, led by the U.S. ruling class, various victories have been won that provide hope and profound lessons for the future. In Southern Africa after years of protracted struggle, the racist settler-colonial regimes in Rhodesia, Namibia and South Africa were eventually overthrown through a combination of mass struggle, armed resistance and international solidarity during the 1980s and 1990s.

The revolutionary government of Cuba under President Fidel Castro deployed over 250,000 of its troops to Angola to fight the racist South African Defense Forces between 1975-1989. In Mozambique and Angola, efforts by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the former apartheid regime in South Africa to topple the MPLA and FRELIMO, the ruling parties that fought for national independence, were defeated.

In Zimbabwe and Sudan, the imperialists have attempted to institute a policy of regime-change to reverse the independent course of their domestic and foreign policies. In Somalia, the people have effectively resisted two U.S. military occupations and remain steadfast in their determination to defeat the imperialist aims of domination in the Horn of Africa and the surrounding waterways of the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean.

The U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) has attempted over the last two years to establish a military base of operations on the continent. The African Union, regional organizations and most individual states have opposed these plans viewing AFRICOM as a danger to the independence and sovereignty of the continent.

Nonetheless, the U.S. maintains a military base in the Horn of Africa nation of Djibouti and is engaged in numerous war games and training programs with various states under the guise of fighting “terrorism” and enhancing regional security. Even though a few puppet regimes welcome U.S. military assistance, the masses in Africa and their popular organizations continue to strive towards genuine independence, unity and non-interference in the internal affairs of the continent.

In light of the current global economic crisis, the desperation of U.S. imperialism will compel the ruling class to engage in continued military adventures in Africa. Nevertheless, if the history of the last five decades are an indication of what is to come, the African workers and farmers will continue to fight against outside western intervention and strive to determine the destiny of the continent’s people based of their own national and class interests.

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