Colonialism was a project for the free or cheap exploitation of African resources and for the effective conditioning of Africans to ‘worship’ and to depend on the colonialists; for the benefit of the colonialists. Continued success of the project imposed legal, ethical and reputational responsibilities on the colonialists for the governance of the colonies. These responsibilities came at costs that included significant travel, cultural and health risks that often resulted in either pain and suffering or fatalities for the agents of the colonialists. Independence was a legal arrangement that shifted the entire legal, ethical and reputational responsibilities for the management of the colonies on natives whilst at the same time, leaving intact enabling conditions for the continued conditioning and exploitation of Africans and of African resources freely or cheaply for the benefits of the colonialists. Independence was therefore, a plus plus for the colonialists and a plus minus for the natives.
Once upon a time in Africa, some brave leaders took to the podium in front of large and optimistic crowds and loudly declared that “(’Africa’) is free forever”. With the declaration of independence, it was believed by many that years of agitation for independence from colonial rule had borne fruits and that with the governance of the nations in the hands of the “natives”, the Africans were indeed ‘free’ forever. Each year, nation after nation in sub-Saharan African celebrates what it calls Independence Day to much fanfare and festivities. Each Independence Day celebration is supposed to remind the African that he is free to decide his own destiny and that he must cherish his freedoms. There is some truth in that proposition that the declaration of independence was a day of some freedoms for the African. Nevertheless, no nation in Sub- Saharan Africa became “independent” on the historic day of so-called independence. The simple reason for this is that dependence is historic. It is economic, cultural, institutional, intellectual, spiritual, and legal and so on. If you can think of dependence as the hardware of the colonies, the software of the declaration could not undo that hardware. It was there and remained there after the declaration. History, logical systems and long-term relationships have significant effects on dependence and these cannot be undone with mere declarations and decrees.
The declaration of independence passed the legal and the bureaucratic baton to the African but it did not and could not summon the spirit of great nationhood upon the African. “Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it”2: When did we invite God to build our nations? At law, the declaration meant that the foreigner was no longer the visible ruler. The declaration of independence changed the manifest identities, the faces and the colours of the rulers. But the dominant legal cultures, the language, the bureaucracies, the hierarchies and the justifications of power that the previous rulers had built over centuries, remained the same pre and post ‘independence’. What changed was “who” but not “what” ruled the nation. The ‘what’ was still in the hands of the foreign ruler because it was a great puzzle which they had created; and only they knew the correct answers. The faces of governance changed but the levers of governance did not change. The secret codes for governance were still controlled by the ruler-foreigner.
It is important to keep in mind that the declaration of independence did not undo or dismantle the many other national and international structures of culture, of economy, of education and of spirituality that had over centuries ensured the strong dependency of the African on foreign rule and rulers. The declaration of independence sent the foreigner back home, but the foreigner’s prisons, his laws, his agreements, his myths, his language, his fashion, his candies, his temples and his gods were embraced and even worshipped by the so-called free Africans. The declaration of independence could not and did not set the Africans free from their emotional, intellectual, economic, spiritual and technological dependencies upon the foreign rulers. In any event, prior to the declaration of independence the foreign rulers had ensured that African political culture and economies were integrated into the global “cash” economies in ways that made it impossible to survive without taking instructions from and dancing to the tunes of the cash-masters also known as the rulers. In an Africa dependent on machines and other essential commodities which could only be accessed through imports from the foreign ruler, it was obvious that dependency on the ruler was guaranteed for the foreseeable future. Such a dependency had become so strong and so “natural” over time that the very suggestion that with words and wishes or with declarations and decrees alone, these dependencies could be undone ‘fore ever’, was laughable in London; in Paris and in Washington.
Even if it were argued that independence is not the same as true freedom but the opportunity of the African to manage his own affairs, still that opportunity is but a potential that can only become real with certain minimum conditions and efforts. For those who say for example, that that the main accomplishment of independence was to set so and so nation free, we must this
2 Psalms 127:1 (KJV) question. When was the purported African nation created; and in what form did it exist so as to be capable of being set free? Isn’t the setting free of a non-existing nation, a very expensive exercise in vanity? Did the declaration of independence constitute sufficient cause of the necessary national competitive power for the African nation? Did the Declaration of Independence rain down true brotherliness necessary for the necessary collaborations and the required duty of care between Africans? Did the Declaration of Independence automatically transform the imagination, the knowledge and the resources of the African for the good of Africa? Did the Declaration of Independence pull down the many hidden prisons in which countless Africans found themselves? The answers are clearly, “no’. Whatever the vulnerabilities and the viruses that existed in Africa before independence continued to exists post-independence and did not crumble or disappear with the entry of the new faces unto the screens of her majesty.
Furthermore, we cannot forget that power is relative to the competition. It is irrational to state that the ability to rule oneself without interference from another person is the same as the ability to rule oneself competently, effectively and competitively. Competence, effectiveness and competiveness are independent capacities that must be nurtured for generations by generations. These things cannot be assumed from the absence of third party-interference in internal management of the nation. To assume that independence gave the Africans the power to govern themselves is a gigantic fallacy that has misled a great many people.
INDEPENDENCE & THEN WHAT?
Furthermore, even if for the sake of argument only it were stated independence automatically gave the African the power to govern himself competently, that power could amount to ‘nothing’ relative to the powers of other competitors in the global race to empire. The relativity of power is well-known. The power of the lamb to tear grass to pieces is real power. Yet, that power, is nothing when faced with the demand to tear a lion into pieces. In an interconnected world dominated by irresistible, intrusive and patented sweets and technologies under the monopolies of super powers obsessed with empires, which poor African nation has had sufficient power to control its destiny and to govern herself as a free nation?
INDEPENDENCE IS MISLEADING
If some of our forebears thought that they had set Africans free forever with the departure of the foreign ruler, they were mistaken. What we know as a fact that is that the declaration of independence offered the Africans the opportunity to build their nations. They day of independence should have been the day of the gathering of the wise brethren on a sacred labour for the motherland. How many of the wise brethren were given the opportunities to lay the foundations for the new nations and to support the young to build the nations? When it comes to nation-building, you cannot have a few men no matter how brilliant, running the show. A nation is a very long-term project requiring thousands of brilliant hearts collaborating harmoniously under one God, one vision and one destiny. Unless you get the learned brethren on board and at work, you cannot and you will not have that great nation. As of the 1950s and 1960ss when many of the African nations obtained their so-called independence, the world had become so complicated, so integrated economically, technologically and politically to the extent that it was impossible for any poor nation to escape its “yoyo” status through legal promotion unto a ‘sovereign’ status. The “equality” of nations is a myth perpetrated to mislead the naïve. The equality of nations is more mythical than the birth of the gods as men.
Thus, the independence phenomena merely repositioned rulers and rearranged the “how” but not the “who” of the rule. The key processes, the symbolisms and the visible identities of the rulers changed within Africa but the subject-status of the African was untouched by the declarations of independence. If you mistake appearances for substances, you would think that change is progress. Yet, the fact is that not every movement is progressive. Nations are not built by mere declarations and changes in the faces and identities of the decision-makers. The heart of a great nation is not the persons calling themselves its leaders. The heart of a nation is its people. Whatever the people are, that is the nation.
The facts, weaknesses and relationships that made the African dependent on empires remained tightly in place at “independence”. Independence offered an opportunity for the great awakening and for the great work to begin. Without more, many of the new faces that become the rulers of supposedly independent Africa did not have sufficient time and the power to inspire and to gather the learned brethren to begin and to continue the sacred and difficult tasks of altering the deeply seated vulnerabilities that formed the foundations of the Unfreedoms of the African. In the circumstances, the take-over did not translate into nation-building but city-buildings. Many leaders equated the nation with infrastructure or with so-called development through physical structures. They assumed that roads, buildings and factories made up the nation. They therefore, spent precious resources on ‘great’ projects whilst the people remained apart from one another and could not collaborate to know and to build a future together. Many leaders put the cart before the horse and ignored the true foundations of the nation namely, an inspired and inspiring family of selfless creatives set on a sacred mission for posterity.
We can say all these things with clarity because those of us living today have the benefit of hindsight and the luxury for objective analysis, which may not have been the lot of the freedom fighters. From our many far-reaching telescopes; through our greater access to enormously useful historic data and symphonic programs to analyze them all, we can see farther than our forebears. We understand their hopes and efforts but we also know their handicaps and some of their misconceptions. Empire and its effects were not going to disappear with the appearance of new faces in visible control of African affairs. Empire “gave in” to the demand for independence as quickly as they did because empire was prepared to undo the effects of independence. At all material times, empire formed far-reaching counter-measures and institutions that guaranteed continued or even greater control over the African post-independence. When faced with obstacles to their rule, the leaders of empire did not run away or simply give up. That is no what empires do. They thought about their options as you would do as a ruler with access to great thinkers and strategists. In the end, they found alternative and more efficient ways of ruling the African systematically through narratives, institutions, laws, technologies, credit, charity, expertise and so on in ways that minimized their visible control over African affairs and without the risks of being infected by mosquitoes and one thousand and one tropical viruses.
INDEPENDENCE AS A GIFT TO THE COLONIALIST
What I am saying is that ironically, and with the greatest respect to our forebears, independence without effective nation-building, was a gift to the colonialists. Instead of being physically present and going through indescribable pain and suffering under African jungles, the parliaments, schools, the weaknesses and failures they left behind made it easier for their greatly profitable transactions and projects to be approved legally, cheaply and quickly by the natives without the need to leave Paris, London or New York. In the absence of a change in global power dynamics, what independence meant was that, the natives had voluntarily undertaken to do the “dirty work” for the ruler and to bring him the goodies a la law. When the weak pretend to be strong in a game of power, the powerful pretend to be weak in order to crush the weak. Just think about how clever the arrangement is. Of course, there is no evidence that the freedom fighters intended to be used by empire but the fact is that ‘independence’ reduced the risk of governance for the empire without reducing their control and profits legally.
What the freedom fighters for the independence of Africans did not see in their honest, heroic and patriotic struggles for freedoms from colonial rules, was that the very concept of independence was in and of itself manipulative and misleading. With the greatest respect, the confusion was to equate the declaration of independence with the acquisition of national power.
The two are not the same. One does not necessarily cause the other. Freedom for a nation surely depends on the power of each citizen working wisely and faithfully together with his brethren for the greatness of the nation. It is not possible for the nation to be powerful unless the greater majority of the citizenry or the dominant group of the nation are of themselves powerful enough to control their destinies. As of the time of the declaration of independence, the greater majority of Africans were illiterate, poor and disconnected from one another. Each was caught up in his subsistence farming and linked to others through tribes and affiliations that were not the foundations for power or for nation-building. In other words, the ‘nation’ did not exist and the people who would have formed it were powerless at the time of the declaration of independence. Something more was required to empower the people and to build the nation. That work; that monumental work of personal and community empowerment and of nation-building, did not automatically arise from the legal declarations and decrees in foreign languages. Who undertook that work and what happened?
A CLEVER PLAN
The leaders of the empires had the foresight to know that sooner or later the educated few in Africa would agitate for self-rule and that they would thereby demand the legal authority and the powers and the titles of the empires. The empires had prepared themselves for this. As I mentioned earlier, they a plan. Naturally, the plan would not have been to allow things to get out of hand so as cause permanent losses or injuries to the best interests of empire. The plan was to arrange matters in way that enabled parallel systems to negate or to counter the effects of independence. The empires also knew that total governance is a function of fractional governance.
The sum reflects its parts. It is the little drops of governance found in the cup of each citizen that makes up the ocean of governance called the nation. Unless people have the capacity and the will to govern themselves effectively as families, as communities and as individuals, it is not possible to have good governance within the nation. Without good governance, there can be no power and no freedoms for the nation. No matter how brilliant the so-called leaders may be, they could not conjure sufficient: wisdom, power and the will, that was required to enable each citizen or the majority of citizens, to join the team as it were; and to play competitively according to the rules of the international games. Therefore, the leader of empire were not worried about independence. They were confident that the countless weaknesses of the African would guarantee the dependence on empire and that the declarations of independence without more, was an exercise in wishful-thinking.
WHAT THE EMPIRE KNEW
The leaders of the empires always knew that the capacity of each person to govern himself is not just a matter of declaring oneself to be free from third party presence or the mere declaration of freedom from a dictatorship within the nation. Rather, the empire was aware that the capacity for self-governance, is a matter of being a useful member of a healthy, wise, evolving, innovative and caring culture of mechanics and of electronics. Empire has always known that power or the absence of power is not dependent upon the presence or absence of foreigners in our midst. Power is the sum of competitive wisdom in pursuit of a great mission by a learned brotherhood driven by a deep and sacred calling for excellence and of faithfulness to the nation. Empire knew all along that power is not given or taken by third parties but arises naturally as the lasting effect of a glorious culture much like light arising from the sun. Thus, in order to have real freedoms, empire knew that the Africans needed to build or to become a community that was healthy, active, organic, wise, learned, organized, creative and glued together by the national “journey”.
At the time of so-called independence that free or true community did not exist. To declare that therefore, that the non-existent nation was free, was to declare no more than a wish, a mere dream. The empires was aware of this. Thus, the best that could be said for the great efforts towards independence was nothing but the beginning of the quest for freedom. Those who misunderstood this mistook the first step for the last and “partyed” too early. The so-called free nations were not even born at independence and their citizens were powerless.
If on the other hand, it is said that the sacking of the foreigners from within the nation was the beginning of the steps to native-power that might be correct. But let me ask you this. What other steps were taken after independence to guarantee lasting and healthy power for the new born nations? What spirit, what narratives, which texts, which myths, which heroes, which ancestors, which prophets, which practices, which promised lands founded the new nations of Africa?
THE MISSING NATION
Clearly, the replacement of the foreign ruler is great in its promise and in its symbolism. We do not and cannot underestimate the valiant efforts of our forebears in seeking after our freedoms. We honour and salute them with all sincerity and humility. Nevertheless, the replacement of a foreign ruler with a native-ruler is clearly in and of itself not a significant contributor to the organic national power, as I have explained above. The construction of roads, bridges and infrastructure in many parts of the nation are useful but not decisive tools of true national power. Missing in the momentous change of the guard; missing in the exchange of the faces or colours of power; missing in the new infrastructures of development programs after the declaration of independence were: a people connected to one another by (a). shared wisdom; b). shared vision; c). one will and d). the sacred duties that moved everyone towards heroic struggles for a better future. These are the sine qua non of real freedoms and of lasting national greatness. The declaration of independence and the construction of physical and institutional structures reflecting the so-called independence did not and could not magically transform disconnected and chaotic selves unto wholesome and harmonious creatives also known as free and great nations.
Power is Knowledge. Power is Imagination. Power is Will. Power is Spirit. Power is Brotherliness. Power is Creativity. Power is an organic peoplehood founded on shared myths, shared wisdom and a shared vision. Remarkably, the institutions and structures built by the leaders of empires for the so-called colonies were designed to negate native-power. For indeed, native-power was inconsistent with colonial rule. Thus, it was necessary post-independence, to build native-power from scratch as I have described previously. So I ask again. When was that great work of building native-power commenced and continued? Where do we find the knowledge; the power, the imagination, the will, the spirit, the brotherliness, the creativity, the sacred duty, the vision and all the significant factors that found the power of the nation in Africa?
FREEDOM IN CHAINS
It was no brainer for the leaders of empires to know that in the absence of the necessary power for the Africans, the granting of independence was ceremonial, appearances: juridical only. They knew that as a matter of fact, the Africans did not have what was required to be truly free or to govern themselves. This was bolstered by the reality that the leaders of empires had left behind enduring and powerful linguistic, educational, religious, economic, political and technological structures, narratives and institutions that cumulatively had the effect of making each African dream of Europe; wish for whisky and worship every great and silly thing of empires. With this as the background to the demand for independence, there was no doubt in the minds of the leaders of empires that the independence movement was window-dressing in the change of global power.
Do not get me wrong. Something ‘big’ happened with the declaration and the granting of independence. But it was not independence. Without more, the declaration of independence was no more than the re-dependence of Africa through Africans. Of course, there is some good to see African faces in palaces found in Africa. But is this what true independence is about? What should have been done after the colours changed, was that the people should have changed.
But they did not. The leaders changed. But the people, the nation: the spirit did not change. Some people declared the powerless free but they did not break the chains that crippled the people. Some people declared the powerless free but they did not break down the prison doors and continued to hold many a prisoner. Some people declared the powerless free but they perpetuated the system that guaranteed incoherence in the national discourse. Indeed, the declaration of independence was a great first step in a journey of ten thousand miles towards true freedoms. Unfortunately, we started celebrating after the first step and got so tired, we have been sleeping since. The real work of African independence is a long way to go.
To be truly free, Africans must start working on themselves. They must get off the rat race and begin the long and intelligent work of authentic reformation of their imagination, of their minds, of their hearts of their vision, of their will and care for one another. Practically, the work must start with the children. We must find beautiful ways to lead them to know, to cherish and to seek after true power for good. Let us build the map to true freedoms and encourage the young to study it. Someday, the adventurous will undertake the journey and they would invite their brethren unto their great discoveries. That would be a great day for Africa. Peace unto the worlds.
By Nana Oppong PhD, President of the Distinguished Scholars of Africa