Africa: The Politics of Failure

Basil Davidson


The current scene in Africa, with which this essay is concerned, cannot be agreed to encourage even modest hope, let along millenial hope; but at the same time it gives clear indications that there is a great deal more to be said. Socialism in any of its statist forms in Africa has certainly failed wherever one or other of such forms has been applied beyond the mere verbiage of propaganda, and there may be a true sense in which history, in this dimension, has indeed ended. Yet this is saying rather little. The applications of socialism, whether of one sort or another, whether 'scientific' or simply well-intended, were small or short-winded, or in any case destroyed by the handy AK47 of this or that gang of bandits (sometimes home-grown, sometimes not). They will not be tried again; it is far from certain that they will even be remembered. But then there is this other failure to be considered. Along with the failure of socialism there is the still larger and much more wounding failure of whatever, in Africa, has been introduced as capitalism: the failure, that is to say, to solve by the methods or systems of capitalism any great social or economic problem of indigenous African development. But isn't failure, in this context, perhaps too strong and final a word? Won't capitalism in Africa, just as in Europe and North America and Japan (yes, and the 'four little dragons' of Asia) work itself through to the stabilities of success? And if there are still sceptics to say no, it won't, then what prospect may one see for Africa while the future opens this ideological void in which the one system, like the other, is frustrated? These questions call at any rate for argument.

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