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Marxism in Africa: Why So Many African Economies Failed after Independence

“As far as I am concerned, I am in the knowledge that death can never extinguish the torch which I have lit in Ghana and Africa. Long after I am dead and gone, the light will continue to burn and be borne aloft, giving light and guidance to all people.” ~ Dr. Kwame Nkrumah

September 21 marks the birthday of Kwame Nkrumah, Africa’s Marxist revolutionary and first president of the republic of Ghana. The day is celebrated as a public holiday in Ghana to commemorate the significant role Nkrumah played to free the Gold Coast from colonial rule. Nkrumah was born on September 21, 1909, at Nkroful, in what was then the British-ruled Gold Coast, the son of a goldsmith. After his graduation from Achimota College in 1930, he traveled to the United States to pursue his master’s degrees at Lincoln University and the University of Pennsylvania, where he was influenced by Marxist ideologies and pan-Africanist ideas, and especially Marcus Garvey, the black American nationalist leader of the 1920s. Eventually, Kwame Nkrumah came to describe himself as a socialist and a Marxist, a leading proponent of African socialism, the offshoot of pan-Africanism.

He returned to Ghana in late 1947 under invitation of the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC), the first political party in Ghana. Nkrumah served as the general secretary to the party but due to his Marxist tendencies broke away from the conservative UGCC party to form his own socialist political party, the Convention People’s Party (CPP), which won the 1951 general elections. Kwame Nkrumah became prime minister of Ghana and later president of the new republic in 1960. He was the winner of Lenin Peace Prize in 1962. Nkrumah founded numerous state-run companies, launched the construction of a huge dam for the generation of hydroelectric power, built schools and universities, and backed liberation movements in African colonies that had yet to achieve independence.

In 1964, faced with economic crises caused largely by his Marxist economic policies, Nkrumah’s proposed solution was to tighten government control. He declared Ghana a one-party communist state with himself as president for life. Nkrumah was accused of actively promoting a cult of his own personality (Nkrumahism), which eventually led to his overthrow in 1966 by military coup d’état. He died in Bucharest, Romania, after six years in exile in Guinea, at age sixty-two. In the year 2000, Nkrumah was voted Africa’s “Man of the Millennium” by BBC listeners as a “Hero of Independence” and an “international symbol of freedom as the leader of the first African country to shake off the chains of colonial rule.”

“Nkrumah’s primary concern really was the good of the nation,” noted German political scientist Christian Kohrs, but the path he chose was dangerous both for himself and for the people of independent Africa. Like Nkrumah, many other African leaders—namely Julius Nyere of Tanzania, Modibo Keita of Mali, Léopold Senghor of Senegal, and Sékou Touré of Guinea, among others—also took the socialist path in the struggle for African independence. This resulted in the rise of despots and a series of military coups d’état in most African countries and had a devastating effect on the social and economic life of Africa. Though some of these African socialists did not align themselves with Marxism like Nkrumah did, their brand of socialism was not different from the collectivist principles of Marxism. Senghor, for example, claimed that “Africa’s social background of tribal community life not only makes socialism natural to Africa but excludes the validity of the theory of class struggle.” On the surface, socialism might appear natural to African tribal community life, as with many other economies of the world, but according to America-based Ghanaian economist professor George Ayittey, “Africa has had a long history of free market economies dating back to precolonial times.”

According to Joseph Schumpeter, Marxism is a sort of religion whereby goods are distributed to believers by an all-knowing state. This differs from capitalism, where each individual in a society is held as absolute end in himself. Marxism, like Nazism, fascism, tribalism, communism, and all other socialist theories of nationalism, is based on the principle of collectivism that overrides the free decisions of individuals. It is only capitalism that allows the individual to be free and pursue his interests, which at the end will serve the common good.

The brutal rejection of capitalism in favor of socialism by African politicians at independence was largely due to a deep-seated misconception that equates capitalism to colonialism. In fact, according to Lenin, capitalism was the extension of colonialism and imperialism. For this reason, African leaders at the time of independence didn’t want anything to do with capitalism. Nkrumah said, for example, “We need socialism to fight off the imperialists.” Nyere said: “Capitalism encourages individual acquisitiveness and competition. We don’t want that. We need socialism.” This led African leaders to adopt the socialist ideology of Marxism. By that they mean complete ownership of all the means of production by the state. In the end, the socialist experiment was economic failure.

Insanity is said to be the inability to correlate causes and effects. Wherever Marxism/socialism has been practiced, it has meant slavery and death for the majority. It’s no surprise that Marxism failed in Africa just as it has done in many other nations. Throughout history, there has been a lot of evidence showing that capitalism works and socialism is a failure. The results of socialism are poverty and tyranny. Despite all these failures and atrocities committed under national socialism by Marxist dictators, there is a majority that still believes socialism is the way to African social and economic prosperity. The truth is that socialism is not about economics. Socialism is about competition for political power that results in the destruction of wealth and prosperity.

Unfortunately, Africa currently is largely under the influence of Marxism because of the political ideologies of its founding fathers, learned from anticapitalist intellectuals in the West, especially in the United States. As I am writing this article, many African nations are starving and deeply in debt as a result of the socialist programs that have been pursued by their governments. According to the World Bank, 416 million Africans still live in extreme poverty, 210 million of whom are in fragile and conflict-affected countries. African development partners continue to think the solution to these challenges is more political than economic, so they keep on pouring money to support big government programs in Africa as a way of reducing poverty and social injustice. The only real solution to Africa’s long-standing challenges is economic freedom. Africa needs less and less government control and more capitalistic control of the economy. This will make competition for political power unattractive and give people more freedom to exercise their right to individual initiatives, which is the only way to peace and prosperity.

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