It was no wonder, therefore, that the colonialists victimised pupils and parents, and took repressive measures on the grounds that those schools were also hotbeds of sedition.
The missionaries asked for control of schools, because that was one of their drawing cards for the church itself and because they considered themselves as experts on the side of cultural imperialism (which they called ‘civilising’). However, there were other Europeans both within and without the colonies who were absolutely opposed to schools-be they Christian, Independent, Government or Islamic. Starting from a racist position, they asserted that offering education to Africans was like throwing pearls before swine. Some of the most violent expressions of racism were directed, against educated Africans. Starting from the time of individuals like Lord Lugard and through to the days of the last colonial administrators like Sir Alan Burns, many colonialists demonstrated hostility to educated Africans. Educated Africans made colonialists extremely uneasy, because they did not conform to the image which Europeans liked to harbour of the ‘unspoilt African savage’.
But, if one goes to the heart of the matter, it can be discerned that the white racists. did not seriously believe that Africans could not master knowledge then in the possession of Europeans. On the contrary, the evidence of educated Africans was before their eyes; and the white settlers especially feared that, given an opportunity, far too many Africans would master white bourgeois knowledge too thoroughly. Such Africans would, therefore, refuse to work as agricultural labourers for 12/- per month; they would compete with Europeans in semi-skilled and skilled categories; and above all they would want to govern themselves.
In the records of colonialism, it is not uncommon to encounter the following type of remark:
What need is there to educate the natives?You will give them the weapons to destroy you!
In one sense, those Europeans were simply dreamers, because giving education to Africans was not an option which could have been avoided; it was an objective necessity to keep colonialism functioning. P. E. Mitchell, who later became Governor of Uganda, remarked in 1928 that ‘regret it ay he may, no Director of Education can resist the demand for clerks, carpenters, shoemakers and so on-trained in European methods to meet European needs. These men are not being trained to fit into any place in the life of their own people, but to meet the economic needs of a foreign race.’ At the same time, the available education was also a consequence of the irrepressible actions of the African people, who hoped to move forward within the alien system. So, those Europeans who were absolutely opposed to giving education to Africans did not understand the contradictions of their own colonial society. But in another sense they were defending the interests of colonialism. Firstly, however much the colonialists tried, they could not succeed in shaping the minds of all Africans whom they educated in schools. The exceptions were the ones who were going to prove most dangerous to colonialism, capitalism and imperialism. And secondly, the most timid and the most brainwashed of educated Africans harboured some form of disagreement with the colonialists; and, in the pursuit of their own group or individual interests, the educated elite helped to expose and undermine the structure of colonial rule.
Keeping the above distinction in mind, one can consider both those contradictions which arose between the colonisers and the African educated as a whole, and those which arose between the colonisers and particular individuals among the African educated.
As already noted, insufficient educational facilities and inadequate jobs were the complaints raised by the lower echelons of those who were educated in Africa during the colonial period. Those who went to secondary school or institutions of higher learning found little access to remunerative and responsible posts, because they were destined to fill the lower ranks of the civil and business administration. After working for twenty years, an African in the civil service would have been extremely lucky to have become ‘head clerk’, or in the police to have become a sergeant. Meanwhile, to add insult to injury, any European doing the same job as an African got higher pay; and whites who were less qualified and experienced were placed above Africans, who did the jobs their superiors were paid to do. In the colonial civil service to be a European was enough. It did not matter whether the white person was ignorant and stupid, he would be assured of drawing a fat salary and enjoying wide privileges. The Guinea-Bissau leader, Amilcar Cabral, gave an example of that type:
I was an agronomist working under a European who everybody knew was one of the biggest idiots in Guinea; I could have taught him his job with my eyes shut but he was the boss: this is something which counts a lot, this is the confrontation which really matters.
Questions such as salaries, promotions, leave, allowances, etc., were ones which were of paramount interest to most African civil servant associations and Welfare or ‘Improvement’ Associations. There should be no illusions concerning the factor of self-interest. But, their complaints were justified in terms of the discrepancy between their living standards and those of white expatriates or settlers, as well as in terms of the ideology of the very bourgeoisie who had colonised Africa. The educational process had equipped a few Africans with a grasp of the international community and of bourgeois democracy, and there was a most unsatisfactory credibility gap between the ideals of bourgeois democracy and the existence of colonialism as a system which negated freedom. Inevitably, the educated started gravitating in the direction of claims for national independence, just as educated Indians had done much earlier on the Indian sub-continent.
According to official Spanish sources, it is said that the school system in Spanish Guinea achieved all that the colonisers expected of it. It produced the required Africans who loved Spaniards more than the Spaniards loved themselves, but it produced no opponents of the colonial regime. Ii is difficult to believe the truth of such an assertion; and the Spanish took good care that no one from outside got wind of what things were like in the small Spanish colonies in Africa. However, if it were true that the colonial educational system in Spanish Guinea created only whitewashed Africans according to plan, then that would represent an outstanding exception to the general rule. Wherever adequate evidence is available, it shows that the cultural imperialism of colonial education was successful in large measure, but was never entirely successful. It produced according to plan many ‘loyal Kikuyu’, ‘Capicornists’, ‘Anglophiles’, ‘Francophiles’, M.B.E.s, etc.; but it also produced in spite of itself those Africans whom the colonialists called ‘upstarts’, ‘malcontents’, ‘agitators’, ‘communists’, ‘terrorists’, etc.
From the viewpoint of the colonialists, trouble often started with African students before they had completed studies. The Sudan, for example, has a history of nationalist student protests; and Madagascar was outstanding in that respect. From the early years of this century, a politicised student movement was growing in Madagascar, in spite of specific steps taken by two French governors. By 1816, Malagasy students had organised the Vy Vato society, seeking to kick out the French. When the Vy Vato was discovered, students were brutally suppressed. However, as so often happens, students gained inspiration from the martyrdom of their fellows, and they re-surfaced at a later date on the nationalist scene.
Students who were taken to universities in the metropoles were the most favoured and the most pampered of the Africans selected by the white colonial overlords to become Europeanised; and yet they were among the first to argue vocally and logically that the liberty, equality, and fraternity about which they were taught should apply to Africa. African students in France in the post-war years were placed carefully within the ranks of the then conservative French national student body, but they soon rebelled and formed the Federation of Students of Black Africa (FEANF), which became affiliated to the communist International Union of Students. In Britain, African students formed a variety of ethnic and nationalist organisations, and participated in the Pan-African movement. After all, most of them were sent there to study British Constitution and Constitutional Law, and (for what it is worth) the word ‘freedom’ appears in those contexts rather often!
The fascists who ruled Africans at some points during the colonial epoch tried to avoid bourgeois democratic ideals altogether. For example, while the Italian fascists were in charge of Somalia between 1922 and 1941, they took away from history text-books all references to Mazzini and Garibaldi, two key leaders of the democratic wing of the Italian nationalist movement of the 19th century. Yet, the clerks and NCOs who received that education nevertheless went into the Somali Youth League and fought for Independence at the head of popular forces.
The fact of the matter is that it was not really necessary to get the idea of freedom from a European book. What the educated African extracted from European schooling was a particular formulation of the concept of political freedom. But, it did not take much to elicit a response from their own instinctive tendency for freedom; and, as has just been noted in the Somali instance, that universal tendency to seek freedom manifested itself among Africans even when the most careful steps were taken to extinguish it.
There was no sector of colonial life in which educated Africans appeared and remained wholly loyal to the colonialists. Teachers were supposed to have been steeped in the culture of domination, so as to pass it on to other Africans; but, in the end, many of them stood in the vanguard of the national independence movements. African priests and pastors were supposed to have been the loyal servants of God and bis European lieutenants, but the church gave birth in Nyasaland to John Chilembwe, as early as the first World War. Shortly afterwards, in Congo, when Simon Kimbangu started his Independent church, he actually threatened the colonialists that he would introduce Bolshevikism!
It is particularly interesting to notice that the colonialists could not be sure of the loyalty of their African troops. It has already been argued that the army and police were educational and socialising institutions to perpetuate colonialist and capitalist power and values. How successfully they served that function can be seen in the number of veterans of Burma and Indo-China who returned to the continent to loyally carry out policies of Britain and France, respectively. Colonel Bokassa of the Central African Republic and Colonel Lamizana of Upper Volta provide two outstanding examples, both of them having graduated from fighting the Vietnamese to a point where they are prepared to dialogue with the fascist apartheid state of South Africa. However, returned soldiers also played a very positive role in the national independence struggles after both wars. And, occasionally, towards the end of colonial rule, African troops and police mutinied, as in Nyasaland in 1959.
African trade unionists also went to ‘school’ under colonialism. To begin with, the organisation and activity of the small wage-earning sector in Africa bothered the colonialists a great deal. Their initial desire was to crush worker dissent, and (when that appeared unlikely to succeed) to co-opt it and guide it along ‘acceptable’ channels.
The British Trade Union Council sponsored a number of African trade unions, and tried to get them to accept a rigid separation between industrial matters (such as wages and working hours) and political matters. But, the T.U.C. was in that context acting on behalf of the British bourgeoisie, and they did not succeed in holding back the working class in Africa. African workers were able to appreciate that there was no difference between the private employers and the colonial administration. Indeed, the colonial administration was itself one of the biggest employers, against whom workers had many charges. Consequently, in the 1940s and 1950s, it was common to have strikes that were specifically connected with the struggle for independence, notably in Gold Coast, Nigeria and Sudan.
The contradiction between French workers and African workers in French colonies emerged in a very acute form. The French trade union movement (and notably the Communist Union, the C.G.T.) insisted that Africans should not have separate unions, but should be members of French labour unions — just like any other French workers. That arrangement gave support to the juridicial political fiction that places like Dahomey and Comoro Islands were not colonies, but merely the overseas section of France. Sekou Touré of Guinea was one of the first to break with the patronage of French trade unions and to establish an independent African trade union. In so doing, Sekou Touré made it clear that the principal contradiction of the colonial situation was that between colonised peoples on the one hand and the colonising nation on the other. So long as African workers remain colonised, they had to think of themselves firstly as African workers, rather than members of an international proletariat. That interpretation, which was entirely in accordance with reality, led to the trade union movement taking on a highly politicised and nationalist role in French West Africa. It was an achievement which defeated the chauvinism of white French workers as well as the class interests of the French bourgeoisie.
The attitude of the white metropolitan working class towards their African counterparts was influenced by the prevailing racist values of capitalist society. Indeed, the racist factor heightened the principal contradiction between the colonisers and the colonised. Discriminatory racist methods and measures were found in every colony — with varying degrees of openness or hypocrisy. Sometimes, white racism was vicious and at other times it was paternalist. Nor did it necessarily reflect Europe’s desire to exploit Africans economically. In Southern Rhodesia, racial discrimination was very much tied up with the white settlers maintaining their jobs and the stolen land; but when some semi-literate white inspector insulted an educated Sierra Leonean that may be referred to as ‘gratuitous’. Racism in such a context actually jeopardised economic exploitation, and it was merely the manifestation of prejudices that had grown over the centuries.
The racial contradiction extended far beyond the shores of Africa, because of the historical antecedence of the slave trade. It is not in the least surprising that Pan-African ideas should have been most forcefully expressed by West Indians like Garvey and Padmore and North Americans like W.E.B. Dubois and Alpheus Hunton. Those individuals had all been educated within the international capitalist structure of exploitation on the basis of class and race. Having realised that their inferior status in the societies of America was conditioned by the fact of being black and the weakness of Africa, the Pan-Africanists were forced to deal with the central problem of Europe’s exploitation and oppression of the African continent. Needless to say, the metropolitan powers could never have foreseen that their humiliation of millions of Africans in the New World would ultimately rebound and help Africa to emancipate itself.
The process by which Africa produced thirty-odd sovereign states was an extremely complex one, characterised by an interplay of forces and calculations on the part of various groups of Africans, on the part of the colonial powers, and on the part of interest groups inside the metropoles. African independence was affected by international events such as the second World War, the rise of the Soviet Union, the independence of India and China, the people’s liberation movement in Indochina, and the Bandung Conference. On the African continent itself, the ‘domino theory’ operated, so that the re-emergence of Egypt under Nasser, the early independence of Ghana, Sudan and Guinea, and the nationalist wars in Kenya and Algeria all helped to knock down the colonies which remained standing. However, it must be stressed that the move for the regaining of independence was initiated by the African people; and, to whatever extent that objective was realised, the motor force of the people must be taken into account.
In a conference held by the French in Brazzaville in 1948 (and chaired by General de Gaulle), it was explicitly stated that ‘the establishment, even in the distant future, of self-government in the colonies is to be avoided’. As is well known, the French eventually considered the idea of conceding independence to African peoples after being taught a salutary lesson by the Algerian people. Moreover, when Guinea chose independence in 1958 rather than accept to be permanently a footstool for France, the French administrators literally went crazy and behaved like wild pigs before sailing from Guinea. They just could not cope with the idea of African independence.
Apart from the Portuguese, the Belgians were the colonialists who were the most reluctant in withdrawing in the face of African nationalism. In 1955, a Belgian professor suggested independence for the Congo in thirty years, and he was regarded as a radical! Of course, Congo turned out to be one of the places where imperialism was successful in hijacking the African revolution. But, the order of events must still be considered. Firstly, it was the intensity of the Congolese and African demands that made independence thinkable, as far as the Belgians were concerned; and, secondly, it was precisely the strength and potential of the nationalist movement under Lumumba which forced the imperialists to resort to murder and invasion.
The British make much of the fact that they conceded the idea of self-government immediately after the last war; but self-government was a long cry from independence, and the notion of training people for independence was nothing but a political gimmick. Lady Margery Perham, a true voice of patronising colonialism, admitted that the Colonial Office’s timetable for independence had to be scrapped in the face of the mobilised African people. For that matter, even African leaders never hoped to achieve national sovereignty as rapidly as they did, until the mass parties began to roll like boulders down a hillside.
The fact that this analysis has been focussed on the role of the educated Africans in the independence movements is not intended to detract from the vital activity of the broad African masses, including the sacrifice of life and limb. In brief, it is enough to say that the African people as a collective had upset the plans of the colonialists, and had surged forward to freedom. Such a position may seem to be a mere revival of a certain rosy and romantic view of African independence which was popular in the early 1960s, but, on the contrary, it is fully cognisant of the shabby reality of neo-colonial Africa. It needs to be affirmed (from a revolutionary, socialist, and people-centred perspective) that even ‘flag independence’ represented a positive development out of colonialism.
Securing the attributes of sovereignty is but one stage in the process of regaining African independence. By 1885, when Africa was politically and juridically partitioned, the peoples and polities had already lost a great deal of freedom. In its relations with the external world, Africa had lost a considerable amount of control over its own economy, ever since the 15th century. However, the loss of political sovereignty at the time of the Scramble was decisive. By the same reasoning, it is clear that the regaining of political sovereignty by the 1960s constitutes an inescapable first step in regaining maximum freedom to choose and to develop in all spheres.
Furthermore, the period of nationalist revolution gave rise to certain minority ideological trends, which represent the roots of future African development. Most African leaders of the intelligentsia and even of the labour movement were frankly capitalist, and shared fully the ideology of their bourgeois masters. Houphouet Boigny was at one time called a ‘Communist’ by the French colonisers! He defended himself vigorously against that false charge in 1948:
We have good relations with the (French) Communist Party, that is true. But ü is obvious that that does not mean that we ourselves are communists. Can it be said that I, Houphouet-Boigny — a traditional chief, a doctor of medicine, a big property owner, a catholic — can it be said that I am a communist?
Houphouet-Boigny’s reasoning applied to so many more African leaders of the independence epoch. The exceptions were those who either completely rejected the world-view of capitalism or at least stuck honestly to those idealistic tenets of bourgeois ideology such as individual freedom-and, through experience, they could come to realise that the ideals remained myths in a society based on the exploitation of man by man. Clearly, all leaders of the non-conformist type had developed in direct contradiction to the aims of formal and informal colonial education; and their differences with the colonisers were too profound to have been resolved merely by ‘flag-independence’.
African independence was greeted with pomp, ceremony and a resurgence of traditional African music and dance. ‘A new day has dawned’, ‘we are on the threshold of a new era’, ‘we have now entered into the political kingdom’ — those were the phrases of the day, and they were repeated until they became clichés. But, all the to-ing and fro-ing from Cotonou to Paris and from London to Lusaka and all the lowering and raising of flags cannot be said to have been devoid of meaning. Withdrawal of the directly-controlled military and juridical apparatus of the colonisers was essential before any new alternatives could be posed with regard to poetical organisation, social structure, economic development, etc.
The above issues were raised most seriously by the minority of African leaders who had individually embarked on a non-capitalist path of development in their mode of thought; and the problems were considered within the context of inequalities and contradictions not just between Africa and Europe but also inside Africa, as a refection of four centuries of slavery and one century of colonialism. As far as the mass of peasants and workers were concerned, the removal of overt foreign rule actually cleared the way towards a more fundamental appreciation of exploitation and imperialism. Even in territories such as Cameroon, where the imperialists brutally crushed peasants and workers and installed their own tried and tested puppet, advance had been made in so far as the masses had already participated in trying to determine their own destiny. That is the element of conscious activity that signifies the ability to make history, by grappling with the heritage of objective material conditions and social relations.