African socialism

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

African socialism or Afrosocialism is a belief in sharing economic resources in a traditional African way, as distinct from classical socialism. Many African politicians of the 1950s and 1960s professed their support for African socialism, although definitions and interpretations of this term varied considerably. These politicians include Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, and Modibo Keita of Mali, among others.

Origins and themes[edit]

As many African countries gained independence during the 1960s, some of these newly formed governments rejected the ideas of capitalism in favour of a more afrocentric economic model. Leaders of this period professed that they were practising "African socialism".[1]

Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, Modibo Keita of Mali, Léopold Senghor of Senegal, Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana and Sékou Touré of Guinea, were the main architects of African Socialism according to William H. Friedland and Carl G. Rosberg Jr., editors of the book African Socialism.[2]

Common principles of various versions of African socialism were: social development guided by a large public sector, incorporating the African identity and what it means to be African, and the avoidance of the development of social classes within society.[3] Senghor claimed that "Africa’s social background of tribal community life not only makes socialism natural to Africa but excludes the validity of the theory of class struggle," thus making African socialism, in all of its variations, different from Marxism and European socialist theory.[4]


The first influential publication of socialist thought tailored for application in Africa occurred in 1956 with the release of Senegalese intellectual Abdoulaye Ly's Les masses africaines et l'actuelle condition humaine.[5]



Julius Nyerere

The concept, or political ideology of Ujamaa, formed the basis of Julius Nyerere's autarkic social and economic developmental policies in Tanzania after Tanganyika gained independence from its colonial power Britain in 1961 and its union with Zanzibar to form Tanzania in 1964.[6] The word Ujamaa comes from the Swahili word for extended family or familyhood and is distinguished by several key characteristics, namely that a person becomes a person through the people or community. Julius Nyerere's perceived African socialism as being embedded within African culture largely due to its communitarian model, a feature of African lifestyle that had been severely changed during the period of colonisation, and therefore took it upon himself to reestablish it.

In 1967, President Nyerere published his development blueprint, which was titled the Arusha Declaration, in which Nyerere pointed out the need for an African model of development. That formed the basis of Tanzania's political vision for the years to come. Julius Nyerere partly based his declaration on the People's Republic of China as he had close contacts with them. Inspired by the Chinese experience of collectivisation under Mao, Tanzania followed a strategy of social equality and autarky.

Tanzania's rural areas were reorganised in autonomous communities on the basis of voluntary adhesion wherein the distribution of goods and living conditions were aimed to be as equal as possible. All decisions had to be reached by consensus within the village. The economy was reorganised with the purpose of valuing agricultural output, on the other hand the economic model worked on the assumption that peasants were able to pay back their loans.

The Ujamaa village policy was generalised in 1969, only to become obligatory in 1974 which broke the traditional principle of autonomous rule over the village. Nyerere's regime nonetheless remained less authoritarian than those of Nkrumah or Sékou Touré as for instance although a one-party system existed within Tanzania, elections could be disputed between two candidates. In spite of belonging to the same party this form of political confrontation allowed the direct competition of ideas within the party.

By 1975 65% of the rural community had been regrouped in so-called Ujamaa villages. The economic targets set by the Arusha Declaration had not been met and living conditions for poor farmers had not improved in the meantime. To add to Julius Nyerere's concerns, bureaucratic inefficiencies hampered effective distribution of resources and clear directives. Ujamaa is ultimately considered to be a political failure and Nyerere himself retired from the political scene in 1985.[7] According to the BBC, "while he united his nation and made major advances in the fields of health and education," Julius Nyerere's African socialist "Ujamaa" collectives "proved disastrous for Tanzania's economy".

By the end of his political tenure, 96% of children had gone to primary school, 50% of them being girls.[8] Female life expectancy had grown from 41 to 50.7 years between 1960 and 1980 and maternal mortality rates dropped from 450 per 100,000 births to under 200 by 1973.[8]


The ancient Ubuntu philosophy of South Africa recognizes the humanity of a person through their interpersonal relationships. The word comes from the Zulu and Xhosa languages.[9] Ubuntu believes in a bond that ties together all of humanity and the fact that a human being is of a high value. According to Archbishop Desmond Tutu, A man with ubuntu is open and accessible to others, confirming of others, doesn't feel debilitated that others are capable and great, for he or she has a legitimate confidence that originates from realizing that he or she has a place in a more noteworthy entire and is decreased when others are mortified or reduced, when others are tormented or abused.[9]


Harambee is a term that originated among natives, specifically Swahili porters of East Africa and the word Harambee traditionally means "let us pull together".[10] It was taken as an opportunity for local Kenyans to self-develop their communities without waiting on government.[11] This helped build a sense of togetherness in the Kenyan community but analysts state that it has brought about class discrepancies due to the fact that some individuals use this as an opportunity to generate wealth.[12]

Kwame Nkrumah and Nkrumahism[edit]

Nkrumahism was the political philosophy of Ghana's first post-independence president Kwame Nkrumah. As one of the first African political leaders, Nkrumah became a major figure in the left-wing pan-African movement. In his piece A declaration to the colonial peoples, Nkrumah called on Africans to "...affirm the right of all colonial peoples to control their own destiny." and that "All colonies must be free from foreign imperialist control, whether political or economic.".[13] His focus on economic and political freedom would prove to be a fundamental part of his overarching political philosophy, combining the nationalist independence movement in his home country of Ghana along with left-wing economic thought.

A major figure in the Ghanaian independence movement, Nkrumah came to power shortly after Ghana gained its independence in 1957. Once in power, he began a series of infrastructural and economic development plans designed to stimulate the Ghanaian economy. $16 million was designated to be used to build a new town in Tema to be used as an open seaport for Accra and the eastern region of the country.[14] The government designed a new plan to tackle issues surrounding illiteracy and lack of access to education, with thousands of new schools being built in rural areas.

Kwame Nkrumah, the first President of Ghana

Determined to industrialize the country rapidly, Nkrumah set out to modernize Ghana's economy in order to better compete with the West. In turn, his government embarked on a strategy of slowly increasing the amount of government-controlled firms in the country while simultaneously putting restrictions on privately-owned companies operating in Ghana. By 1965, the state-controlled 50% of the insurance industry within the country, 60% of all bank deposits were deposited at state-run banks, 17% of the country's sea-bound cargo was handled by state-run firms, 27% of all industrial production was either produced by state-run firms or firms in which the state-controlled a considerable portion and 35% of the country's total imports were handled by the government.[15]

Nkrumah also pushed for Ghana to become an international advocate for the spread of socialism and pan-Africanism throughout the newly independent African states. As the first African colonial state to be granted independence, Ghana became an inspiration to many of the nascent left-wing independence movements throughout the continent. In 1958, Nkrumah helped found the Union of Independent African States, a political union between Ghana, Mali, and Guinea.[16] Though the union was short-lived, the proposed political organization marked the first attempt at regional unity among newly established African republics.

Nkrumah was also instrumental in pushing Ghana towards the major Communist powers, including the USSR and the PRC. In 1961, he made his first official visit to Moscow, receiving an honorary degree from the University of Moscow. In a speech given in Accra given in front of a visiting Soviet delegation in 1963, Nkrumah said, "We in Ghana have formally chosen the socialist path and we will build a socialist society... Thus our countries, the Soviet Union and Ghana, will go forward together."[17]

Léopold Sédar Senghor and the Socialist Party of Senegal[edit]

Léopold Senghor was the founder of the Socialist Party of Senegal and the first President of the country. An important figure not only in the political development of the country, but Senghor was also one of the leading figures in the Négritude movement, which informed much of his political thought. Senghor would come to embody a new form of African socialism that rejected many of the traditional Marxist modes of thinking that had developed in post-independence Africa.

Born into an upper-middle-class family, Senghor was able to take advantage of the French educational system that was afforded to many of Africa's educated colonial elite. However, these schools did little to teach African students about their native culture, instead favoring policies of assimilation into mainstream French life. As Senghor once put it the French wanted "bread for all, culture for all, liberty for all; but this liberty, this culture, and this bread will be French."[18] Excelling in his primary education, Senghor enrolled in the University of Paris.

After graduating and serving in the French Army during the Second World War, Senghor began a career as a poet in Paris, releasing his first book, Chants d'ombre (Shadow Songs) in 1945 and Anthologie de la nouvelle poésie nègre et malagache de lengue française (Anthology of the New Black and Malagasy Poetry in 1948. Both pieces were instrumental in developing the bulk of the emerging Négretude movement, which Senghor hoped would represent the "sum total of the values of the civilization of the African world.".[18]

President Senghor meeting with President Rafael Caldera of Venezuela

His work highlighted the vast inequalities in French colonial society and looked at the unique experience of the thousands of Africans living under French rule. In his piece The Challenge of Culture in French West Africa, Senghor called on Africans to "develop a culture based on the strengths of local tradition that was also open to the modern European world".[19]

Senghor was initially not a supporter of an independent Senegal, worrying that the small African country would have little chance as an independent nation. Instead, he advocated for an interconnected relationship similar to that of Paris and France's provinces. In his piece, Vues sure l'Afrique noir, ou s'assumiler non être assimilés (Views on Black Africa, or To Assimilate, Not Be Assimilated), Senghor advocated for popularly elected Senegelese representatives and an executive in Paris, French economic funds to help with Senegalese development, and the inclusion of African cultural and linguistic education in the French educational system.[20]

In 1958, referendums were held in all of the French African colonies on the future of the colonial possessions. The debate was between full on independence and joining the French community, a sort of association of former French colonies that would allow countries like Senegal to become independent, but still maintain an economic and diplomatic relations with the French government. Senghor supported the yes side of the vote and Senegal voted 97% in favor of the association.[21]

When Senegal became a fully independent country in 1960, Senghor was elected to the presidency. After a failed coup led by his Prime Minister in 1962, the Senghor government moved to abolish the post, which was approved by 99% in referendum.[22] The vote substantially strengthened the power of the President, who no longer had to compete with the Prime Minister for executive power.

The Socialist Party compounded its control of Senegalese politics in 1966 when it was declared the country's only legal party, with Senghor as its leader.[23] The one-party system would stay in place until Senghor decided to liberalize the country's election laws by allowing for a 3 party system, with one socialist, one liberal, and one communist party being allowed to contest elections.

As president, Senghor represented a moderated version of African Socialism that didn't align with the more radical interpretations seen in other newly independent African states. Unlike other ex-colonies, Senegal remained closely aligned with the French government. They retained the French Franc as the national currency and Senghor was known to consult the French government before making any major foreign policy decisions. He allowed French advisors and companies to remain in Senegal, including in government and educational posts. When asked about nationalizing French companies, Senghor responded that it would be to "kill the goose that laid the golden egg".[20] His government invested heavily in both education and the public sector, investing 12-15 billion francs and 6 to 9 billion francs in both sectors respectively.[24] He also sought to give more power to the underdeveloped Senegalese countryside which he did by instituting price protections on peanut crops and allowing for rural representation when making decisions on agricultural policy.[24]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Socialist Models of Development, p. 851, Charles K. Wilber, Kenneth P. Jameson
  2. ^ Friedland, William H.; Rosberg Jr., Carl, eds. (1964). African Socialism. California: Stanford University Press. pp. 3.
  3. ^ Friedland and Rosberg Jr., William and Carl (1964). African Socialism. California: Stanford University Press. pp. 3–5.
  4. ^ Brockway, Fenner (1963). African Socialism. London: The Bodley Head. p. 32.
  5. ^ Young 1982, pp. 2, 97.
  6. ^ Jaimungal, Candice (May 2019). "Self Reliance, Agriculture and Ujamaa: Policies of Development in Postcolonial Tanzania". ResearchGate.
  7. ^ Hyden, Goran (April 1975). "Ujamaa, Villagisation and Rural Development in Tanzania". Development Policy Review: 53–72. doi:10.1111/j.1467-7679.1975.tb00439.x.
  8. ^ a b James, Selma. "What we can learn from Tanzania's hidden socialist history". The Guardian.
  9. ^ a b "About the Name". 2013-02-23. Archived from the original on 2013-02-23. Retrieved 2018-04-22.CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  10. ^ Ng'ethe, Njuguna (1983). "Politics, Ideology and the Underprivileged: The Origins and Nature of the Harambee Phenomenon in Kenya". Journal of Eastern African Research & Development. 13: 150–170. JSTOR 24325584.
  11. ^ Ngau, Peter M. (1987). "Tensions in Empowerment: The Experience of the "Harambee" (Self-Help) Movement in Kenya". Economic Development and Cultural Change. 35 (3): 523–538. doi:10.1086/451602. JSTOR 1153928. S2CID 153870731.
  12. ^ Smith, James H. (1992). "Review of The Harambee Movement in Kenya: Self-Help, Development and Education among the Kamba of Kitui District". The Journal of Modern African Studies. 30 (4): 701–703. doi:10.1017/S0022278X00011198. JSTOR 161279.
  13. ^ Smertin, Yuri (29 March 2020). "Kwame Nkrumah". New York : International Publishers. Retrieved 3 April 2020.
  14. ^ Rooney, David (31 October 1988). "Kwame Nkrumah". Palgrave Macmillan. Retrieved 3 April 2020.
  15. ^ Esseks, John. "Political Independence and Economic Decolonization: The Case of Ghana under Nkrumah". University of Utah. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  16. ^ DeLancey, Mark. "The Ghana - Guinea - Mali Union: A Bibliographic Essay". Cambridge University Press. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  17. ^ Klinghoffer, Arthur (1969). Soviet Perspectives on African Socialism. Fairleigh Dickinson Univ Press. ISBN 9780838669075. Retrieved 3 April 2020.
  18. ^ a b Harris, Laurie Lanzen; Cherie, Abbey (1997). "Biography Today: Modern African Leaders". Omnigraphics Inc.
  19. ^ Vaillant, Janet. "Homage to Léopold Sédar Senghor: 1906-2001". Indiana University. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  20. ^ a b Vaillant, Janet (1990). "Black, French, and African". Harvard University Press.
  21. ^ Foltz, William J. (1965). From French West Africa to the Mali Federation. Internet Archive. New Haven : Yale University Press.
  22. ^ "Elections in Senegal". Retrieved 2020-05-13.
  23. ^ "Constitutional history of Senegal". ConstitutionNet. Retrieved 2020-05-13.
  24. ^ a b Skurnik, Walter. "Leopold Sedar Senghor and African Socialism". Cite journal requires |journal= (help)


  • Bismarck U. Mwansasu and Cranford Pratt, Towards Socialism in Tanzania, University of Toronto Press, Toronto, 1979.
  • Fenner Brockway, African Socialism, The Bodley Head, London, 1963.
  • Ghita Jonescu and Ernest Gellner, Populism, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 1969.
  • Harambee. (2018, February 6). In Wikipedia. Retrieved from
  • Ngau, P. M. (1987). Tensions in Empowerment: The Experience of the “Harambee” (Self-Help) Movement in Kenya. Economic Development and Cultural Change, 35(3), 523–538.
  • Ng’ethe, N. (1983). POLITICS, IDEOLOGY AND THE UNDERPRIVILEGED: THE ORIGINS AND NATURE OF THE HARAMBEE PHENOMENON IN KENYA. Journal of Eastern African Research & Development, 13, 150–170.
  • Paolo Andreocci, Democrazia, partito unico e populismo nel pensiero politico africano, in Africa, Rome, n. 2-3, 1969.
  • Peter Worsley, The Third World, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 1964.
  • William H. Crawford and Carl G. Rosberg Jr., African Socialism, Stanford University press, California, 1964.
  • Ngau, P. M. (1987). Tensions in Empowerment: The Experience of the “Harambee” (Self-Help) Movement in Kenya. Economic Development and Cultural Change, 35(3), 523–538.
  • Ng’ethe, N. (1983). POLITICS, IDEOLOGY AND THE UNDERPRIVILEGED: THE ORIGINS AND NATURE OF THE HARAMBEE PHENOMENON IN KENYA. Journal of Eastern African Research & Development, 13, 150–170.
  • Smith, J. H. (1992). [Review of Review of The Harambee Movement in Kenya: Self-Help, Development and Education among the Kamba of Kitui District, by M. J. D. Hill]. The Journal of Modern African Studies, 30(4), 701–703.
  • Yves Bénot, Idélogies des Indepéndances africaines, F. Maspero, Paris, 1969.
  • Young, Crawford (1982). Ideology and Development in Africa. New Haven: Yale University Press. ISBN 9780300027440.