Factors Hampering Economic Development in Africa

Sunday, 31 August 2014
Factors Hampering Economic Development in Africa John Wollwerth/Shuttershock.com


Uhuru, uhuru, tunataka uhuru!! (Freedom, freedom, we want our freedom!) These are some of the chants that became very popular during the colonization period of the 19th and early 20th centuries in most African countries, giving them strength to carry on. African freedom fighters were forced to stay out in the cold of the night and suffer mosquito bites in the forests to counter their enemies, the colonial powers of Europe. Our great-grandfathers struggled and sacrificed their precious lives for the sake of future generations. Years later, the colonial governments surrendered after they could no longer bear the pressure of African resistance at that time. On February 3rd in 1960, history was written as the British Prime Minister Harold MacMillan made a historic speech to the parliament of South Africa, in Cape Town. “The wind of change is blowing through this continent. Whether we like or not, this growth of national consciousness is a political fact.” Subsequently, most Africans began to breathe the air of freedom.

During the post-colonial era, Africans had the opportunity to exercise their freedom without fear or threat, whatsoever. There was a beautiful feeling of peace. Singing and dancing were the order of the day. Leaders of national movements joined together to form an African government or, colloquially, to share national ‘cake.’ Education was available for African children. They could enroll in the so-called "white schools" and had equal education with the European children. Jobs were created and the young and old could get employment. Farmers began cultivating their lands with ease. Freedom fighters were immediately released from prison and bondage joining their beloved families at home. The impossible became possible; the future of the African people looked brighter and more promising.

Today, African countries are all independent and sovereign states and most operate under some presidential and legislative system of rule. But in spite of all these achievements, economic development has been hampered, mostly by instability, corruption, ethnic violence and coups that lead to military dictatorship and authoritarianism.


With the advent of colonialism, the colonial masters created a bureaucracy in which Africans became servants to the whites. According to Allan Metzger, Sierra Leone nationalist and international trade expert, the whites came up with what they termed the "preferential incentive system" requiring that special bonuses be discriminately granted to those Africans with the highest potential to work and produce. The system was basically introduced by the white government as bribery to exploit Africans as human resources.  Corruption is not an African culture; it is something where most of our leaders consciously or unconsciously emulate their colonial masters.

The plague, however, still haunts African politics and governance. “If you can’t tip me, then you won’t get my services”. This is the way to go in Africa today. Corruption is eating the economy as mites feed on dead carcasses.

Ethnic Clashes and Civil War

Unlike the French who used direct rule through a centralized administration, the British, who had claimed a vast area of Africa, used indirect rule whereby they recognized the local leadership and used it to gain control of particular regions. The indirect method led to the divide and rule system, which was largely used by most powers in their colonial governance.  Communities were split along ethnic and tribal lines, like what happened in Nigeria from 1900 to 1960 among the Igbo and Hausa tribes. Rwanda experienced a horrible genocide in 1994, which was partly as a result of the divide and rule policy used by the Germans and Belgians, by placing members of the Tutsi minority in positions of power in 1916. In Kenya, some ethnic groups collaborated with their colonial masters in exchange for jobs, favors, free land and posts in the colonial administration as chiefs. Consequently, it also led to ethnic hatred and mistrust which exist to this day, because some communities perceived the ones favored as traitors and cowards.

After independence was won in the different countries, Africans set up their own governments and held elections to choose their own leaders. This process was flawed by influential political leaders from large communities selectively appointing members of their respective ethnic groups to government and civil service, leaving out the minorities.  Presently, national resources in some countries are unfairly distributed along ethnic and tribal lines which results to even more division and segregation. Minority tribes suffers the most as they lack the ‘bargaining power’ to fight for their share, forcing underdogs to organize and protest their grievances by attacking each other, resulting in horrid ethnic violence and instability.

Emergence of civil war has created unrest in most parts of Africa. It’s mainly caused by some countries seeking to achieve their independence or changes in government policies, further leading to war, displacement of people and economic collapse like Somalia and Congo. Other sources of violence include the scramble for substantial mineral resources and border incursions. 

Coup and Dictatorship

Military rule and dictatorship are very common in Africa with some countries still operating under this structure, Larry Diamond of Journal of Democracy stated that whenever civil society is weak and the politics are corrupt and divided, the military will prevail in that moment of opportunity, regardless of whether it is despised or distrusted. The opposite of this is also true.  Where there is an active civil society with corruption-free politics, military rule will not occur, meaning there is a firm link between democratic governance and stability.  Most African countries have been under military rule for decades and they are just emerging from it.  Most of the coups are a result of ‘loopholes’ in the government such as corruption, tribalism and injustice. For instance, countries like Central African Republic, Mauritania, Sudan and Niger, are today experiencing political instability and lack of freedom which instigate poor growth of their economy.

Lack of democracy in Africa has created negative effects on its governance. Most leaders will either use force through a coup or make a change or amend to the constitution to suit their 'taste' or style of leadership, declaring themselves  presidents-for-life, like Omar Bongo of Gabon and Idi Amin of Uganda. This type of governance is characterized by greed and abuse of power in the name of the constitution, poor management of national resources at the expense of the common man for selfish gain and enrichment, human rights violations, interference with freedom of the press, a high unemployment rate, gender inequality and poverty.


These factors have been of great hindrance in Africa’s development for decades. While most countries in Asia and South America continents are putting more efforts to improve their economy, Africa still lags behind. For Africa to develop economically, we should embrace democracy in the political governance, and acknowledge social co-existence amongst diverse ethnic communities, and lastly, move towards technological and agricultural advancements to become industrialized. This is more than possible, if we pull together in the spirit of harambee (togetherness) and walk in our vision. Africa’s future depends on, our today’s decisions and actions. The power is in our hands.

Last modified on Wednesday, 03 September 2014 04:13
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Kiliswa Mauka

Kiliswa Mauka previously served as operations manager at Brydges Youth Orphanage in Nairobi, Kenya. There he helped implement farming and other entrepreneurial projects to generate income for disadvantaged and impoverished youth in Nairobi. He recently earned his B.S. in business management from the University of Wyoming.

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