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In the last century, many African states have experienced political decolonization and witnessed the spread of democracy. Considering the global political economy, African states fall within the purview of the Washington Consensus and Bretton Woods institutions, and abide by international laws and regulations regarding economic development. African states are heavily influenced by foreign institutions and nations, and even relegated to secondary status under the current international system. As a result, since WWII many African states have either pursued a pro-capitalist path towards economic development, or in a few instances, a non-capitalist or socialist path towards economic development.

Whatever the path adopted toward development, however, African states (their respective governments and economies) exist in a state of perpetual underdevelopment, especially in relation to developed nations. Despite their underdeveloped state, African nations continue to implement economic and public policy recommendations prescribed by developed nations and international organizations and continue to pursue political development that reflects and supports the state apparatus of Western nations, namely European nations and America. This study examines democratization – the spread of democracy – in Africa and the progress of African capitalist and socialist states that have instituted democratic principles while adopting welfare state policies for economic development. The intent is not to advocate for democracy or another form of governance in African states, nor is it to condemn African states that have adopted welfare state policies for their path toward economic development. The study aims to analyse whether the application of democratic principles in African governance, combined with welfare state economic development policies, can be considered a viable option for development considering the structure and function of the global political economy.

Often, the narrative of African states on the path to capitalist economic development is told from a perspective of Western dominance where the incentives African states could receive are overemphasized. However, capitalist development in Africa has led to conditions of economic deterioration. Instead of considering the impetus of capitalist development and pro-West political and economic activities in Africa as the “consumerism development” that African leaders learned from Western nations, I would suggest that Western influences are just as present as they were in previous centuries. It is widespread knowledge that any economic or political reforms to international economic systems enhanced the control of said system by Western powers. The aforementioned fact, combined with the fact that historically society has been stratified based on a social hierarchy of racialism – which was instituted by false narratives and pseudoscience, both of which were dominant factors in the decisions European leaders (first monarchs and clergy members, and eventually politicians and businessmen and women) made regarding the economic exploitation of African states – should not be underemphasized. With the underpinning racial subjugation as the driving force of the global political economy, in my opinion, neither capitalist nor socialist development would lead to economic development that would benefit African citizens and descendants, unless said subjugation was eradicated and outlawed. Furthermore, relationship between Africans and European Socialist states notwithstanding, Africans could also reach pro-socialist and communal paths of economic and political development without Europeans, due to African philosophy.

The conditions that led to the perception of Africans as derogatory are all present in modern capitalist countries. Therefore, examinations of African state reactions to the global political economy and newly instituted economic order created in the post-1948 (World War II) society are critical. With the conclusion of the Second Great War and the development of capitalist nations such as Germany, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, and others, as well as the United States’ increasing role as a global superpower, African states became the focus of an “extraction-based” global economy based on commerce, that sought to convert Africa’s many resources into financial capital that would in turn be used to develop the “developed” nations. As a result, many leaders of African nations found themselves in a position where they had to participate in the global system of capitalism and accept foreign oversight or administration of their economic and political affairs. Although Africa is known to have experienced political liberation due to the independence movements of the 1950s and 60s, the economic systems that were instituted by the colonial nations were maintained under the new global economic order. In other words, African nations were nominally “liberated” under the guise of political freedom as African leaders showcased their power and privilege internally among Africans, but were exploited, subjugated, and manipulated economically and socially by foreign powers and the overseers of the global political economy.

African Philosophy and Epistemology

This article seeks to identify if African theory can contribute to development in Africa, considering the nature of the global political economy and the respective approaches to political and economic development in Africa. The development of democratic political systems and institutions is considered a strong political tactic, and the application of welfare state policies combined with increased consumerism is considered the economic model for sustainable development in Africa. This is problematic and frustrating because the spread of democracy and the application of economic policies championed by Western and foreign powers has not led to economic and political development that benefits Africans en masse. The article examines the potential for African philosophy and thought that is independent of foreign guidance to contribute to the development of African states. The impetus for modern African philosophy finds root in similar circumstances:

In Plato’s Theaetetus, Socrates suggests that philosophy begins with wonder. Aristotle agreed. However, recent research shows that wonder may have different subsets. If that is the case, which specific subset of wonder inspired the beginning of the systematic African philosophy? In the history of Western philosophy, there is the one called thaumazein interpreted as awe and the other called miraculum interpreted as curiosity. History shows that these two subsets manifest in the African place as well, even during the pre-systematic era. However, there is now an idea appearing in recent African philosophy literature called onuma interpreted as frustration which is regarded as the subset of wonder that jump started the systematic African philosophy. . . ‘Frustrated’ by colonialism and racialism as well as the legacies of slavery, they were jolted onto the path of philosophy—African philosophy—by what can be called onuma [emphasis mine].

Modern African philosophy was produced by the African’s frustration with slavery’s legacy, colonialism, and both historical and contemporary racialism. Considering the distinct schools of thought that approach ontological and epistemological theorizing differently, it is important to place the approaches to economic and political development in Africa within context with respect to African philosophy. African states are more than capable of leading their own development based on the knowledge, theories, thought, and actions of Africans and the diaspora.

There are various forms of ontological and epistemological approaches to scientific research and theorizing, and as a result, there are distinct schools of thought that approach ontological and epistemological theorizing differently. In “An African Epistemological Approach to Epistemic Certitude and Scepticism”, by Jimoh and Thomas, the authors provide a demonstration of the various forms of ontological and epistemological approaches to scientific research. The authors peruse certainty and scepticism within the context of African epistemology and conclude that culture is the greatest determinant. By juxtaposing African and Western conceptions of epistemology, one can understand the polarity that exists in discourse. Jimoh and Thomas uphold that man and nature, material and metaphysical, are “sacredly united . . . so the African world is a unitary world as against the analytical and pluralistic world of Western thought”. Said differently, African theories of knowledge do not separate subjects and objects but believe both subject and object exist in a continuum and share an interdependent relationship where both subject and object interact and influence each other.

African nations were nominally “liberated” under the guise of political freedom as African leaders showcased their power and privilege internally among Africans.

Considering the nature of development in Africa, as well as the legacy of slavery, colonialism, and contemporary issues of racialism, it is important to consider how Africans’ unique way of creating, surviving, and thriving under extreme conditions can be applied to political and economic development in Africa. Development in African states under the guidance of international organizations and developed nations with either capitalist or socialist economic systems benefits foreign nations and international organizations more than it does Africans. This relationship should be mutually beneficial for African states to experience uninterrupted development.

African development under capitalism and socialism

In Chinweizu’s “Africa and the Capitalist Countries” published in General History of Africa, Volume VIII Africa since 1935, the author discusses various aspects and key points in history that have affected African states that pursued the capitalist road to development. The “Atlantic Charter”, was outlined by the president of the United States, Franklin Roosevelt, and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and instituted multilateral organizations to maintain political, economic, and military control of designated regions of the world.

The Charter led to the development of the Bretton Woods agreement of 1945, where several economic institutions were created such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank system, and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) to manage international economic and political affairs, as well as the United Nations Organization and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which were established to manage world affairs and secure the collective defence of American and European powers, respectively. Despite their attempts to lead their own economic development in alliance and aligned with capitalists’ interests, African nations ultimately maintained a position similar to colonial times, and remained the source of economic growth for foreign nations while their economic conditions deteriorated. 

In Iba Der Thiam, James Mulira, and Christophe Wondji’s “Africa and the Socialist Countries”, the authors outline the relationship between socialist countries and African states dating back to the early 20th century during the Bolshevik revolution. During this time, African anti-colonial movements were encouraged to combat colonizers and align with the anti-imperialist front, so Lenin’s Comintern established mutual agreements with nationalist organizations including the National Congress of British West Africa (NCBWA), the Kikuyu Central Association and the African National Congress (ANC). Other instrumental organizations that supported communism in Africa were the Red International of Labor Unions, RILU), the United Front from Below (UNFB) and the International Trade Union Committee of Negro Workers (ITUCNW), for which Jomo Kenyatta was a correspondent. Despite the economic downturn, Marxism continued to spread throughout Africa as Marxist intellectuals trained in Portugal via communist linkages such as Agostinho Neto and Amilcar Cabral.

After WWII, the socialist world began to take an interest in African states – this coincided with the increasing/looming Cold War – and in the period between 1945 and 1960 there was an increase in anti-colonialism, and the independence movement in Africa began to take shape. During the struggle for independence, several African nationalist parties in countries such as Algeria, Egypt, Ghana, Guinea, Mali, Sudan, Tunisia, Kenya, Uganda, Tanganyika, and Somali were supported by socialist states. In Southern Africa, the USSR and Eastern Europe assisted the ZAPU movement in Zimbabwe, FRELIMO in Mozambique, and the MPLA in Angola, as well South Africa’s ANC and Namibia’s SWAPO.

The welfare state and democratization in Africa

Some students of social policy see the development of ‘The Welfare State’ in historical perspective as part of a broad, ascending road of social betterment provided for the working classes since the nineteenth century and achieving its goal in our time. This interpretation of change as a process of unilinear progression in collective benevolence for the classes led to the belief in the year 1948 ‘the Welfare State’ was established. Since then, successive governments, Conservative and Labour [parties], have busied themselves with the more effective operation of the various services, with extension here and adjustments there and both parties, in and out of office, have claimed the maintenance of the ‘Welfare State’ as an article of faith . . . An analysis of the more important writings on the subject since 1948 lends support, for the dominant note, far from suggesting that social needs have been neglected, has been that the ‘Welfare State’ was ‘established’ too quickly and on too broad a scale. The consequences, it is argued, have been harmful to the economic health of the nation at its ‘moral fiber’. – Richard Titmuss

Simply defined, a “welfare state” is a state or nation that consist of a central government that provides social services for the nation’s citizenry. This form of public policy is based on the economic output and productivity of a nation, as the aggregate labour of citizens is transformed into wages, income, savings and, hopefully, investment by the government in order to improve public welfare. In “Essays on ‘The Welfare State’” Richard Titmuss offers a series of public lectures and speeches on the efficacy, potential, and purpose of the welfare state in the global political economy. Whereas most of the speeches took place in the 1950s and 1960s, Titmuss’ central argument and takeaway remains in 2021, as the author asserts, that “the social services (however we define them) can no longer be considered as ‘things apart’; as phenomena of marginal interest, like looking out of the window on a train journey. They are a part of the journey itself. They are an integral part of industrialization.” This statement is crucial considering the economic policies and models of development that African states utilize in modern-day society. Readers can observe by Titmuss’ tone that he considered the administration, model, and review of social services provided by a government a key issue considering the divisions of class and labour in British society.

African states are more than capable of leading their own development based on the knowledge, theories, thought, and actions of Africans and the diaspora.

Should we use the maxim provided by Titmuss and multiply the sentiment based on the scope of African states and the global political economy, we would also consider the administration, model, and review of social services provided by African governments important. Yet, the context of African governance can be distinguished from British governance because the United Kingdom does not have a colonial history, which lends itself to cater to its former colonizer in contemporary society via international regulations based on economic policy. Said differently, Britain operates independently (or with its allies) under the current international economic order, while African nations operate as an appendage of the international economic order and their former colonizers.

The underdevelopment of African states cannot be considered to be a product of African governance and leaders as if they operate independently, of their own volition, when in fact, said African leaders have been under the “guidance” and influence of international economic organizations, alliances, and developed nations as they instituted “prescribed” economic policies. The problem with African states implementing welfare state policies for their populations is that the current international economic system does not allow African states to opt out and seek African development as a primary goal. Unfortunately, African nations are only allowed to engage in economic development efforts via the facilitation of international overseers such as the IMF, the OECD, the European Union, and the United States. This point can be further exemplified when considering developments in the international economic order such as the G20 Conference, which features a single African nation, South Africa.

Economic development and policy reform are boosted by political liberation, yet Africa’s new democracies continue to experience economic underdevelopment. In Democratization in Africa: Progress and Retreat, Peter Lewis considers this the “democracy-development disconnect” in his essay “Growth Without Prosperity in Africa”. Lewis notes:

Officials and average citizens alike often note the ‘disconnect’ between macroeconomic indicators and microeconomic performance . . . data on poverty and human development are showing few significant improvements, and citizens report discouragement when surveyed about attitudes and economic conditions . . . This paradox presents a basic challenge for Africa’s new democracies. However desirable democracy may be in its own right, political liberalization does not ensure economic regeneration or improved popular welfare . . . the tension between democracy and welfare is evident. . .

Lewis suggests that while early observations of democracy in Africa did not outperform non-democratic African governments economically, a recent study by Brian Levy assessed 21 African states between 1975 and 2000 and found that African states pursuing democracy and economic reforms were more successful than non-democratic states. Despite the metrics used to assess economic growth in Africa, (GDP growth, income per capita, etc.)  – which led to Levy’s assertion that democracies in Africa were economically successful – such metrics are deceiving as they conceal that African states are under the purview of the international economic order, which ensures that non-African states benefit from African labour more than African states due to the extraction- and commodity-based economy. Secondly, democratic African states that experienced “economic progress” according to Levy, also suffered from welfare state policies, as the public welfare of citizens did not improve, which further illustrates Lewis’ point of “growth without prosperity in Africa”.

As the end of the colonial era gave rise to the independence era and movements that saw Africans vie for nationalist leadership within their respective states and various forms of political development took place, the new international economic order continued to benefit from former European colonies in Africa. African states experienced politicization and liberation movements that lead to political development, whilst foreign states and the international system of economic governance maintained the extraction-based economy. After independence, African states began to implement welfare state policies and pursued economic development models under the tutelage, supervision, and oversight of developed nations and agents from international bodies such as the IMF, World Bank, OECD, and EU. It can be said that African states’ relationship with former colonizers merely changed to one of idolization, as the global political economy expanded at the expense of African labour. However, is the decision to prioritize the economic and political recommendations of non-African states a rejection of African philosophy? Can African philosophy and thinking that is absent of foreign guidance and interference enhance the efficacy of democracy in Africa?

African nations ultimately maintained a position similar to colonial times, and remained the source of economic growth for foreign nations while their economic conditions deteriorated.

If the present conditions in African states are due to poor African leadership, management, and administration of public services and economic development, one must consider the influence of foreign states. Foreign states and international institutions have driven the increase of democratic institutions in African governance, yet economic development that benefits Africans has been absent. Beyond this fact, should we analyse the behaviour of African leaders and elites and their pursuit of economic policy that does not prioritize Africans through a particular lens, say Pan-African, one could consider their actions indicative of notions they were taught via colonialism. By neglecting the needs of African citizens, have African elites and leaders in fact treated their fellow citizens in ways similar to how colonizers treated Africans during colonialism? Can this be considered benign neglect? Was the purpose of implementing democratic institutions in African states post-independence movements and pursuing economic policies that benefit welfare state economies that are non-African supposed to contribute to political and economic development in Africa? Based on this treatment, I believe the answer is, at best, “not exactly”.

Using this conclusion as a driving and creative force, those who believe in the potential of African states should unquestionably be interested in the capacities of African states to facilitate and lead their own political development, democratic or non-democratic, as long as the economic activity improves the welfare of Africans and their relative economic status in the global political economy.