The Tragedy of African Commons

The age of the empires was long gone. Not much of their legacy remains, most of them being obliterated by despots and dictators who once again consolidated power into absolute rule and who oversaw the return of corruption and civil wars. Today, many colonized countries remain in the Third World list; it is not the fault of the colonial powers. When they gained their independence in the 1950s and 60s, most of them were on the right track.

In the 60s and 70s, the continent of Africa falls back into the darkness once again. The tragedy of Africa lies with the continent’s irregular geography. Water and rivers are scant in Africa, because of its uneven terrain which created numerous waterfalls in available waterways. Thus, various advances of the civilization were denied to the people of Africa, not because of some genetic makeup (as quasi-science suggested) but because the continent lacks the effective mode of communication and commerce. Commerce and direct relations with major European powers contributed to the bloom it experienced in the late 19th century. After the bloody struggles for independence, most of these ties were severed.

Newly independent African nations were indeed headed by those educated in the West. Espousing and preaching the values of democracy, they managed to whip their fellow countrymen into independence, but for economy and prosperity they cared not. Unlike India or other dominions, Africa was occupied by the powers for only a brief period, and the infrastructure for the new nations to stand on their own is simply lacking. It was not ready to walk without crutches on its own. In other words, independence was still immature.

Independence, they did get. What happened afterwards was tragic. In Ivory Coast, Houphouët-Boigny pursued lavish architecture projects culminating with a $300 million church. Central African Republic becomes an Empire under demented Bokassa. Julius Nyerere established anti-capitalist Ujamaa program, which transformed Tanzania from Africa’s largest exporter of agricultural products to its largest importer. Kenneth Kaunda established one-party state and a personality cult in Zambia. All of this pale in comparison with Uganda’s Idi Amam or Rhodesia’s Ian Smith and Robert Mugabe. Yet, caught in their own political struggles (post-war rehabilitation, Cold War), the former colonial powers has washed their hands off the troubles in Africa. The USA and the USSR found they have ample allies without having to poke their noses into this neutral African mess.

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