African (Ethiopian) Political Cultures and the Problems of Government

Hoping to “modernize” their usual mono-economies, the new African leaders often espoused an “African Socialism” where the state controlled the economy. Insisting upon the need for “national integration,” in the face of a plethora of ethnic collectivities, African leaders imposed a single party system, claiming that this was close to the African “palaver.” There was often some justification for these actions, since competitively engaged in the Cold War the protagonists did attempt to profit from African ethnic competition.

What confounded many western theorists was that whether African leaders espoused Marxism-Leninism, African and non-African socialism, capitalism or mixed capitalism and so on, their efforts failed. They rejected compromises and ignored the advice of Sir Arthur Lewis to Nkrumah, that the political-economy of the new African states should use agriculture to build their economies and should employ ethnic-based coalitions for government. The result was that confusion reigned about how African leaders could and should deal with their economies and regimes.

The emergent African political leaders needed to turn the allegiance of the masses from ethnic groups to the state, and from their traditional rulers to the parliamentary leaders–especially when members of the new ruling class, by training and ways of thought, and in styles of life, were divorced from the masses. Politicians need to recognize the loyalty of the people to their traditional leaders, and to involve the latter in the governance of the country. Above all, the politicians should not use traditional leaders only for symbolic purposes, thereby running the risk of “destroying the prestige of the rulers just as did too close an association with the colonial administration in past decades”.
SKINNER, E., P. (1998)African Political Cultures and the Problems of GovernmentAfrican Studies Quarterly| Volume 2, Issue 3 | 1998