Revolution in Third World/African Countries

Revolution in Third World/African Countries   Revolution in Third World/African Countries

Most third world and African countries have had revolutionary movements at some times before and since their independence. During the cold war years, the typical third world revolutionary movement was a communist insurgency based in the countryside. Those who view their leaders as promoting what they called US imperialism, which they consider to be against their national interest, organize such revolutions. Consequently, the domestic politics of third world countries were coloured by the great power politics in the East-West contest. In reality, many of these governments and revolutions had little to do with global communism, capitalism or imperialism. They were indeed local power struggle largely between rural ethnic groups into which great powers, for selfish reasons, were drawn.

The end of the Cold War in 1989 removed super power support from both sides of domestic politics; and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, and the adoption of capitalist oriented economic reforms in many countries, including Russia and China, reduced the appeal of communist directed revolution. Although third world revolutions usually advocate for the poor versus rich, nationalism versus imperialism, the particular character of these movements varies across regions. In the Arab world, for instance some of the most potent revolutionary movements are motivated by extreme, or in the Western usage, fundamentalist interpretation of Islamic doctrine as it was successfully launched in Iran in 1979 and Afghanistan in 1982. Islamic political activities in the Middle East derive their main base of strength from championing the cause of the Palestinians against Israel (Zionism), or against the idea of exclusive nuclear club or selective proliferation, or the poor masses against the rich elites. Thus, radical group like the Hezbollah runs school, hospitals, and control 12 seats in Lebanon’s parliament as at 2001 (Goldstein). Through such activities, they gain legitimacy in the eyes of their people, rather than being perceived as terrorist organizations.

 In Africa also, where colonialism led to the creation of artificial boundaries that were at variance with ethnic divisions, many revolutionary claims or movements have continued to have a strong tribal appeal or primordial base, as it was successfully demonstrated in the secession of Eritrea from Ethiopia, and is ongoing in countries such as Sudan and Cote de Voire. In his book, Revolutionary Pressures in Africa, Claude Ake (1977:9) wrote of contradictions that arose between proletarian and bourgeois countries, which has created a class struggle between the two, “brought about revolutionary pressures in Africa” and intensified what he called “mutual alienation.” He identified neo-colonial dependency as the most salient feature of a post-colonial African state, a condition that is rooted in, and perpetuated by global class struggle. He concluded that the class war can only be brought to an end through “socialist revolution”. This however did not occur, especially with the collapse of the Soviet Union, a country that was passionate about spearheading the global overthrow of the capitalist system.

However, there are about half a dozen countries in the continent where revolutionary activities, even if they do not approximate to Claude Ake’s prediction, have succeeded. They include, among others, Egypt, Algeria, Ghana, Mozambique, Namibia, and South Africa. Let us briefly examine some of them.


Egyptian Revolution

The Egyptian Revolution was launched in 1952 by Gamely Abdul Nasser when he led the army to overthrow King Farouk. The revolution began under a revolutionary petty-bourgeois leadership that revolted against the incapacity and corruption of the old regime. It proposed to modernize the country by striking at the old conservative order, and bring about a new era of economic progress that will put to an end the imperialist domination of Egypt. One of the objectives of the revolution was to widen considerably the state sector, a factor that led to the nationalization of heavy industries and big banks including the Suez Canal in 1956. Nasser’s administration also granted to the workers and peasant a formal majority of seats in the Egyptian National Assembly. These reforms were meant to actualize the goals of Arab-socialism, which was also anti-capitalist.

Despite these reforms, we must point out that due to a number of reasons Nasser was unable able to create a worker’s state. The revolution could not stop free buying and selling of land by the bourgeoisie up to a certain ceiling. Similarly, the state structure inherited from the former regime remained largely intact. There were also no organ of workers power, or independent trade unions, or independent workers’ party, and no socialist consciousness among the broad masses. All these have made the private sector to remain very strong, if not dominant. Indeed, apart from the symbolic changes made under Abdul Nasser, the few gains of the revolution were not sustainable, as Nasser successors-Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak- have returned Egypt to the pre-1952 era, especially with their enthusiastic embrace of Western powers, particularly, the United States.

Ghanaian Revolution

The Ghanaian revolution can be seen from two phases. The first phase was noticed during the struggle for independence by Kwame Nkrumah who advocated for independence for “Self-governance-Now” as opposed to Dr Joseph Danquah, his counterpart of the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC), whose slogan was ‘Self-Government within the shortest possible time’. What actually made the struggle for independence in Ghana to be regarded as a revolution was that the militancy employed by Nkrumah in his slogans (we prefer self-government in danger to servitude in tranquility) and his eloquent (seek ye first the political freedom and every other thing shall be added unto it), though earned him detention where he won a colonial supervised election, but eventually succeeded in making Ghana the first black African country to gain independence in 1957.

The other phase of the Ghanaian Revolution is the cleansing of the socio-political and economic Augean Stable of Ghana, especially through the execution of three past heads of state Achampong, Afrifa and Akuffo, when Jerry John Rawlings came to power in 1981. He transformed the Ghanaian society by flushing out the corrupt structures and people in the system. Afterwards, he transformed from a military rule to democratic leader, organized a successful transition, and laid the foundation in Ghana of what can now be referred to as an oasis of true democracy in the West African desert of guided or flawed democratic practice.

Ethiopian Revolution

In the early 1974, Ethiopia entered a period of profound political, economic, and social change, frequently accompanied by violence. One major reason for the Ethiopian revolution was the need to confront the traditional status quo by the modern forces in order to effect meaningful changes in the political, economic and social nature of the Ethiopian state. This is because of the government’s failure to effect significant change in the economic and political systems in the country falling standard of living, rising inflation, corruption, and famine which affected several provinces. It is important to note that the 1974 Ethiopian Revolution was initiated by the military, acting essentially in its own immediate interests. But this later spread to the civilian population in an outburst of general dissatisfactions.

Specifically, Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam led the revolution, which ousted Emperor Haile Salaissi from his authoritarian grip on power and exploitative feudal regime. To some extent, the rule of Mengistu Haile Mariam in Ethiopian is one exemption to the general stereotype of military rule in Africa as an aberration, because his revolution was able to liberate the long-oppressed and exploited working class. It created the necessary conditions for the subsequent rise of the Ethiopian workers Party (EWP), and the Peoples Democratic Republic of Ethiopian (PDRE), with its own new system of provincial divisions and administration for a socialist government in Ethiopia.

Algeria, Zimbabwe, Namibia, and South Africa

The revolutions in these Africa countries were struggles to liberate these former colonial territories from an oppressive and exploitative regime of colonial powers. This mostly took the form of guerilla warfare aimed at independence. In Algeria the FLNA led by Ahmed Bembella provided the military vanguard while Frantz Fanon supplied the intellectual sinew; in Zimbabwe Robert Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo of the Patriot Front(an amalgam of ZANU and ZAPU) led the struggle; in Mozambique it was Samoral Machel who piloted the struggle; in Namibia Sam Njuoma was the hero of struggle while, in South Africa, the African National Congress, after it was unbanned and its leader, Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1990, succeeded in achieving majority rule for the country in 1994.

It is important to note that it was not all liberation struggles in Africa that entailed large scale violence; there were countries such as Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Gambia where independence were negotiated. Equally important is the case of Zimbabwe where Robert Mugabe, after more than three decades in office has succumbed to counter revolutionary forces: manipulation of elections and annihilation of opposition forces to remain in power, economic mismanagement, corruption and gross human rights violations. The only pretences to revolution his regime now show include indiscriminate seizure of white owned farmlands, ostensibly to redress alleged past wrongs, and vitriolic verbal attacks on Western imperialists for interfering in Zimbabwe’s internal affairs.

Apart from guerilla wars aimed at independence, African revolution also took internal forms like revolution against despotic and authoritarian leaders. One could cite the example of the overthrow of Mobutu Sese Seko, the sit-tight ruler of former Zaire (now DRC) by Laurent Kabila as another variant of a revolution, since in this case, a corrupt and an unpopular leader was changed in a popular revolt and a new government formed.

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