Why is Africa still mostly poor? Some suggest the ghost of colonialism has turned the continent into a wasteland of corruption and poverty – but could there be another reason? The continent remains mostly socialist. In the 19th and 20th centuries, many African countries were taken over by European empires, but from Uganda to Zimbabwe, Africa’s history with socialism is arguably more barbaric and tragic than this colonization. Following decades of destitution, deprivation, and despair, has Africa learned from socialism’s failure?
In the 20th Century, a lot of African countries became independent of Great Britain and other European countries. Once they broke free from the European empires, nations adopted a socialist economic model, and authoritarian governments. Despite being rich in natural resources like gold and crude oil, Africa quickly experienced the lowest living standards for its people. When you look at what its national leaders instituted, the region’s collapse makes sense. Let’s hop on a time machine and find out what happened.
In his one-man quest for absolute power, Idi Amin committed socialist atrocities in Uganda. Amin nationalized the means of production, collectivized agriculture, and abolished private property. Ugandan factories collapsed, farmlands were mismanaged, businesses were neglected, and exports disappeared. Amin printed money – and lots of it. Inflation eventually surged 700%, making toilet paper cost almost a month’s wages.
Robert Mugabe transformed Zimbabwe from the breadbasket of Africa into poverty-stricken country. Despite being described as a liberator by the foreign press, Mugabe was a disaster for his nation. He presented himself as a Marxist-Leninist, and he assured everyone that socialism was his “sworn ideology.” So, what did Mugabe do during his 30-year reign of terror? He took land from white Zimbabweans, introduced price controls, and destroyed the currency. All this in addition to a list of human rights abuses and crimes against humanity. Food shortages, blackouts, and beatings of white farmers were the new norm in the former Rhodesia.
In the 1980s, Mengistu Haile Mariam and his Ethiopian government introduced villagization, a scheme to centrally-regulate village life and the agricultural industry. The Derg, also known as the Provisional Military Government of Socialist Ethiopia, used Marxist-Leninist initiatives to boost food output and enhance social services. The campaign sparked a food crisis and the displacement of 70,000 people, worsening the situation it tried to remedy.
You would not believe that one of today’s poorest economies had been a prosperous one in the past until it flirted with socialism. In 1961, Tanzania declared its independence, and President Julius Nyerere introduced Ujamaa, which means socialism and brotherhood in Swahili. Despite having an economy on par with South Korea before this system, the country immediately saw economic stagnation, slumping food production, and communal living that wiped out personal wealth. Decades later, Tanzania remains one of the planet’s poorest countries.
Socialism – Then, Now, Forever?
Did every African state travel down this Marxist road? No. There was “The Ivorian Miracle,” explains author Germinal G. Van:
“In the 1960s and 1970s, Côte d’Ivoire was the most economically advanced country in West Africa. While its neighbors were embracing socialism, Côte d’Ivoire opted for a market economy. Despite having an authoritarian political regime, like all African countries during that time; the Ivorian people were, nonetheless, economically free. They had the freedom to create businesses, and to expand private property.”
The results? Today, it is the wealthiest economy in the West African Economic and Monetary Union, thanks to the private economy’s use of its vast cocoa beans, natural rubber, crude oil, and other agricultural products. The Ivory Coast is far from a perfect nation as it still faces governance and cultural issues. It could even serve as a model for its neighbors that are in dire need of a change.
It is said that socialism mirrors African culture, but the data suggests this is nonsense. Why do Africans suffer in Africa, but prosper when they leave the continent? When you look at Africans who have relocated to the U.S. and other Western countries, they do remarkably well. For example, Nigerian Americans maintain a median household income of $63,000 in the U.S., which is higher than the average $58,000. Therefore, you could surmise that capitalism is more in line with African heritage.