At the height of colonialism there were only two independent states in the whole of Africa. Of these one was the Union of South Africa, which represented a kind of indigenous colonialism, with the white minority ruling the black majority. That left Liberia, with its one million inhabitants, as the only native-ruled state. The rest of Africa’s 230 millions were divided up into colonies which belonged to half a dozen Western European countries— Britain, France, Spain, Portugal, Belgium and Italy (Germany’s colonies having been taken from her after the First World War, and distributed among the victors).
But now the position is revolutionised. By the end of this year two-thirds of the Africans will be under independent African rule (The Observer, 3.1.60); and other territories are more than halfway to independence. Of the Arab countries, Egypt, the Sudan, Libya, Tunisia and Morocco have thrown off foreign domination. The extensive countries of what used to be French Equatorial and French West Africa are now independent, either inside or outside the French “Community.” In British West Africa, Sierra Leone has an elected African majority. Ghana is independent, Nigeria will be independent this year. Also becoming independent in the next few months are the Belgian Congo, and Somalia, on the Horn of Africa. Tanganyika will have self-government next year, and there are proposals for an elected African majority in Uganda.
How has this come about? The answer is, largely because of the development of commerce and industry in the colonies, which leads to the emergence of a native capitalist class. As The Observer (3.1.60) puts it: “New people are rising all the time. Among the Africans there are forceful, intelligent and sometimes brash young nationalists; traders, contractors and careerist politicians cashing-in on independence; serious, highly-principled young intellectuals and Civil Servants.” This native capitalist class, with its supporting politicians and intellectuals, is usually able (as in Britain) to get the mass of the people on its side against “the foreigner.” When this embryo ruling class reaches a certain stage of development, it becomes aware of the vast opportunities for profit there would be for itself if it could end colonialism and spread industry throughout the whole of its territory.
When this stage is reached, what is the attitude of the imperial power? Unfortunately for the imperialists, empires no longer pay, as John Strachey shows in his recent book. The End of Empire. At first they paid, and paid handsomely: but with changing economic conditions, and the increasing expense of the police forces and armies necessary to maintain imperial rule, they have not been profitable to the ruling class as a whole for some years. They still have strategic value, which causes all the trouble in, for example, Cyprus and Malta. But when these considerations can be satisfied, the crippling annual bills for the colonel-based armed forces must make any ruling class less enthusiastic about colonies. Secondly, capitalists and the supporters of capitalism always believe that their system is the best possible; to them, progress is synonymous with the establishment of capitalism. The setting up of another capitalist state seems to them a great step forward. Of course, no imperialist country will hand over power to a ruling class which would ally itself to a rival bloc; hence the British fight against the Malayan guerrillas who would have taken Malaya into the Soviet camp, as contrasted with the subsequent handing over of power, after the defeat of the guerrillas, to the present Malayan ruling class.
The rest of the capitalist world watches and applauds, partly because it sees its own capitalist ideals put into practice, partly to gain the friendship of the emerging states. Russia is always ready with its help to ex-colonial countries, as can be seen in its financing of Egypt’s Aswan Dam project. As for America, the Presidential candidates Nixon (on the Republican side) and Humphrey and Kennedy (on the Democratic) sent strong messages of support to the recent All-Africa People’s Conference in Tunis (The Guardian. 28.1.60).
The greater part of Africa is now independent or well on its way to independence. The only colonies where no concessions have yet been made arc Angola and Mozambique, both belonging to Portugal; these are both less densely populated (having a combined population of only nine million) and less industrialised than most of Africa. Rut as trade and industry develops, these too will follow the same path.
Apart from that, the exceptions to the otherwise universal rule are to be found in the states which have a considerable white settler population—Kenya. Algeria and Rhodesian Federation. and South Africa. In all these states, the government is in the hands of the white landed interests, who regard the development of capitalism with distrust, and who want to keep the Africans as illiterate farm-workers. But the first three of these countries are still colonies, under the suzerainty of European powers. Britain and France are old capitalist states, and have no desire to maintain permanent expensive armies in their colonies in order to uphold the rule of a small minority of white farmers. As in their former “all-black” colonies, they want to set up these territories as independent capitalist democracies.
In the case of Kenya, the Colonial Secretary Mr. Macleod reiterated the aim of the British government as being “ to build a nation based on parliamentary institutions and enjoying responsible self-government” (The Times, 21.1.60). and refused to grant the settlers’ demands that they should continue to have the exclusive right to run the government. Group-Captain Briggs, the principal settlers’ leader at the recent Kenya constitutional conference in London, described Mr. Macleod’s proposals as “shocking,” and went back to Kenya before the conference ended.
As for Algeria, not even open rebellion by the settlers could shake President de Gaulle’s decision that the colony must be granted self-determination, based on the wishes of all its peoples. In the Rhodesian Federation, the Southern Rhodesian settlers fear a similar outcome; both the settlers’ parties, the United Federal Party and the Dominion Party, have recently threatened to secede from the Federation—obviously hoping that if they surrender Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland to those who wish to establish capitalist democracy, they will be allowed to keep “their” Southern Rhodesian black farmworkers. Even in South Africa, where the whites are twenty per cent, of the population (twice as high as anywhere else in Africa) there are increasing fears for the future. Mr. Macmillan, in his speech to members of both houses of the South African Parliament, told them bluntly he could not support their racial policies, and is reported to have warned Dr. Verwoerd. the Premier, that Britain can no longer support in the United Nations South Africa’s contention that the apartheid question is her own domestic concern.
End of an era
So the curtain is falling on colonialism in the last continent where it still had a firm hold. Now there are few countries left in the world which are not driving ahead with industrialisation, under a capitalist ruling class. And as the debris of one historical epoch is cleared away, the stage is set ever more unmistakably for the next act. Capitalism, and the working class which it exploits, are set still more squarely face to face. Socialism, even more than ever before, has become the one genuine political issue confronting the working class.