Neo-Colonialism, the Last Stage of imperialism


Neo-Colonialism, the Last Stage of imperialism

Kwame Nkrumah 1965


THE neo-colonialism of today represents imperialism in its final and perhaps its most dangerous stage. In the past it was possible to convert a country upon which a neo-colonial regime had been imposed —Egypt in the nineteenth century is an example — into a colonial territory. Today this process is no longer feasible. Old-fashioned colonialism is by no means entirely abolished. It still constitutes an African problem, but it is everywhere on the retreat. Once a territory has become nominally independent it is no longer possible, as it was in the last century, to reverse the process. Existing colonies may linger on, but no new colonies will be created. In place of colonialism as the main instrument of imperialism we have today neo-colonialism.

The essence of neo-colonialism is that the State which is subject to it is, in theory, independent and has all the outward trappings of international sovereignty. In reality its economic system and thus its political policy is directed from outside.

The methods and form of this direction can take various shapes. For example, in an extreme case the troops of the imperial power may garrison the territory of the neo-colonial State and control the government of it. More often, however, neo-colonialist control is exercised through economic or monetary means. The neo-colonial State may be obliged to take the manufactured products of the imperialist power to the exclusion of competing products from elsewhere. Control over government policy in the neo-colonial State may be secured by payments towards the cost of running the State, by the provision of civil servants in positions where they can dictate policy, and by monetary control over foreign exchange through the imposition of a banking system controlled by the imperial power.

Where neo-colonialism exists the power exercising control is often the State which formerly ruled the territory in question, but this is not necessarily so. For example, in the case of South Vietnam the former imperial power was France, but neo-colonial control of the State has now gone to the United States. It is possible that neo-colonial control may be exercised by a consortium of financial interests which are not specifically identifiable with any particular State. The control of the Congo by great international financial concerns is a case in point.

The result of neo-colonialism is that foreign capital is used for the exploitation rather than for the development of the less developed parts of the world. Investment under neo-colonialism increases rather than decreases the gap between the rich and the poor countries of the world.

The struggle against neo-colonialism is not aimed at excluding the capital of the developed world from operating in less developed countries. It is aimed at preventing the financial power of the developed countries being used in such a way as to impoverish the less developed.

Non-alignment, as practised by Ghana and many other countries, is based on co-operation with all States whether they be capitalist, socialist or have a mixed economy. Such a policy, therefore, involves foreign investment from capitalist countries, but it must be invested in accordance with a national plan drawn up by the government of the non-aligned State with its own interests in mind. The issue is not what return the foreign investor receives on his investments. He may, in fact, do better for himself if he invests in a non-aligned country than if he invests in a neo-colonial one. The question is one of power. A State in the grip of neo-colonialism is not master of its own destiny. It is this factor which makes neo-colonialism such a serious threat to world peace. The growth of nuclear weapons has made out of date the oldfashioned balance of power which rested upon the ultimate sanction of a major war. Certainty of mutual mass destruction effectively prevents either of the great power blocs from threatening the other with the possibility of a world-wide war, and military conflict has thus become confined to ‘limited wars’. For these neo-colonialism is the breeding ground.

Such wars can, of course, take place in countries which are not neo-colonialist controlled. Indeed their object may be to establish in a small but independent country a neo-colonialist regime. The evil of neocolonialism is that it prevents the formation of those large units which would make impossible ‘limited war’. To give one example: if Africa was united, no major power bloc would attempt to subdue it by limited war because from the very nature of limited war, what can be achieved by it is itself limited. It is, only where small States exist that it is possible, by landing a few thousand marines or by financing a mercenary force, to secure a decisive result.

The restriction of military action of ‘limited wars’ is, however, no guarantee of world peace and is likely to be the factor which will ultimately involve the great power blocs in a world war, however much both are determined to avoid it.

Limited war, once embarked upon, achieves a momentum of its own. Of this, the war in South Vietnam is only one example. It escalates despite the desire of the great power blocs to keep it limited. While this particular war may be prevented from leading to a world conflict, the multiplication of similar limited wars can only have one end-world war and the terrible consequences of nuclear conflict.

Neo-colonialism is also the worst form of imperialism. For those who practise it, it means power without responsibility and for those who suffer from it, it means exploitation without redress. In the days of old-fashioned colonialism, the imperial power had at least to explain and justify at home the actions it was taking abroad. In the colony those who served the ruling imperial power could at least look to its protection against any violent move by their opponents. With neo-colonialism neither is the case.

Above all, neo-colonialism, like colonialism before it, postpones the facing of the social issues which will have to be faced by the fully developed sector of the world before the danger of world war can be eliminated or the problem of world poverty resolved.

Neo-colonialism, like colonialism, is an attempt to export the social conflicts of the capitalist countries. The temporary success of this policy can be seen in the ever widening gap between the richer and the
poorer nations of the world. But the internal contradictions and conflicts of neo-colonialism make it certain that it cannot endure as a permanent world policy. How it should be brought to an end is a problem that should be studied, above all, by the developed nations of the world, because it is they who will feel the full impact of the ultimate failure. The longer it continues the more certain it is that its inevitable collapse will destroy the social system of which they have made it a foundation.

The reason for its development in the post-war period can be briefly summarised. The problem which faced the wealthy nations of the world at the end of the second world war was the impossibility of returning to the pre-war situation in which there was a great gulf between the few rich and the many poor. Irrespective of what particular political party was in power, the internal pressures in the rich countries of the world were such that no post-war capitalist country could survive unless it became a ‘Welfare State’. There might be differences in degree in the extent of the social benefits given to the industrial and agricultural workers, but what was everywhere impossible was a return to the mass unemployment and to the low level of living of the pre-war years.

From the end of the nineteenth century onwards, colonies had been regarded as a source of wealth which could be used to mitigate the class conflicts in the capitalist States and, as will be explained later, this
policy had some success. But it failed in ‘its ultimate object because the pre-war capitalist States were so organised internally that the bulk of the profit made from colonial possessions found its way into the pockets of the capitalist class and not into those of the workers. Far from achieving the object intended, the working-class parties at times tended to identify their interests with those of the colonial peoples and the imperialist powers found themselves engaged upon a conflict on two fronts, at home with their own workers and abroad against the growing forces of colonial liberation.

Click link to download full pdf format


Astronaut Alexander Gerst shows Gaza war in 'saddest' photo from space

Astronaut Alexander Gerst shows Gaza war in ‘saddest’ photo from space

“The relentless and repetitively compulsive Israeli attacks over the past decade suggest that the Israelis are making innocent Palestinians pay for the savagery of the Germans 70 years ago.  Israeli crimes against the Palestinians, in fact, began in 1948 with the “Nakba,” the “catastrophe,” when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were forced from their homes during the Arab-Israeli War.  As a result, The Palestinians are the only refugees in the world that have been given hereditary refugee status.”

For the past seven decades, there have been very few places on the surface of the earth concentrated so much misery than in Palestine, fewer have experienced state terrorism funded, endorsed and powered by greatest military powers of our time. Gaza in the words of the British PM David Cameron is a “prison camp”. In a manner rarely identified with Western leaders Cameron, criticized the Israeli government when he said “humanitarian goods and people must flow in both directions.  Gaza cannot and must not be allowed to remain a prison camp.” Although that was far back in 2010. In the eyes of the ‘exceptional’ self-acclaimed police of the world, Israel can never do wrong and when she does her wrong is sure going to end up under the filthy rug of giant propaganda machines.

Also in a manner too familiar, a voice in Washington in support of Israel’s aggression against Palestine is bound to echo in EU, so when America says Israel has the right to self-defense (when in fact Israel is busy killing civilians and children) EU member states are expected to kowtow and vomit the same line. After all Israel is the only ‘democratic’ state in the Middle East, shoving her war crimes (which is simply gift of democracy) aside wouldn’t hurt anyone except the displaced Palestinians who has no big power as friends except well-meaning citizens of the world, who can only protest. As Israeli bombardment of Gaza strip reach day 17 death toll of Palestinians in Gaza is in the region of 800 mostly civilians and unfortunately with large number of children which rouse the suspicion of ethnic cleansing.

The latest UN report: says at least 75 percent of the dead are civilians, including an estimated 168 children. In the last two days, Palestinian children have been killed at a rate of one per hour. More than 4,500 Palestinians have been wounded, and more than 150,000 have been displaced. Israel’s recent targets have included an apartment building where 19 children from one family were killed, mosques, a hospital and Gaza’s sole power plant. The United Nations says that a school for girls has been hit for the second time in three days.

Israel’s deliberate, historic and unprecedented precision at hitting civilian target in simplest of term is a war crime a premeditated genocide. In an international show of shame America, proves her sadistic exceptionalism when she defended the indefensible in a bid to protect Israel, her protege in war crimes. America cast the single no vote to investigate Israeli war crimes by the United Nations. “The United Nations Human Rights Council has voted to investigate Israel for potential war crimes. The vote was 29 to one, with 17 abstentions. The United States cast the lone “no” vote. In Washington, State Department spokesperson Marie Harf told reporters: “We will stand up for Israel … even if it means standing alone.” I can only say congratulations to America, as she stand up for Israel in a manner reminiscent of the way Reagan administration stood up for apartheid in Azania (South Africa) some few decades ago. In Palestine, God seem too far away, and justice on indefinite vacation.

For the Gazans living hell on Earth the struggles continues and for those martyred Rest In Peace.

#FreePalestine #PrayForGaza

Book of the Month: The Black Jacobins

The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L'Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution

The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution

“Almost everyone has heard that Abraham Lincoln freed the United States’ slaves in 1863, but how many know that Haiti’s slaves emancipated themselves in 1804.”


This book was written in 1938. Today, I have little to add to or subtract from the fundamental ideas which governed its conception. They are far more common property now than they were twenty-five years ago. Where they fly in the face of historical events I have omitted or altered them, never more than to the extent of a few lines.

I have retained the concluding pages which envisage and were intended to stimulate the coming emancipation of Africa. They are a part of history of our time. In 1938 only the writer and a handful of close associates thought, wrote and spoke as if the African events of the last quarter of a century were imminent.

The Appendix, ‘From Toussaint L’Ouverture to Fidel Castro,” attempts for the future of the West Indies, all of them, what was done for Africa in 1938. Writers on the West Indies always relate them to their approximation to Britain, France, Spain and America, that is to say, to Western civilization, never in relation to their own history. This is here attempted to be the first time.


JANUARY 4, 1962



IN 1789 the French West Indian colony of San Domingo supplied two-thirds of the oversees trade of France and was the greatest individual market for the European slave trade. It was an integral part of the economic life of the age, the greatest colony in the world, the pride of France, and the envy of every other European nation. The whole structure rested on the labour of half-a-million slaves.

In August 1791, after two years of the French Revolution and its repercussions in San Domingo, the slaves revolted. The struggle lasted for 12 years. The slaves defeated in turn the local Whites and the soldiers of the French Monarchy, a Spanish invasion, a British expedition of some 60,000 men, and a French expedition of similar size under Bonaparte’s brother-in-law. The defeat of Bonaparte’s expedition in 1803 resulted in the establishment of the Negroe state of Haiti which lasted to this day.

The revolt is the only successful slave revolt in history, and the odds it had to overcome is evidence of the magnitude of the interests that were involved. The transformation of slaves, trembling in hundreds before a single white man, into a people able to organize themselves and defeat the most powerful European nations of their day, is one of the great epics of revolutionary struggle and achievement. Why and how this happened is the theme of this book. 

By a phenomenon often observed, the individual leadership responsible for this unique achievement was almost entirely the work of a single man – Toussaint L’Ouverture. BeauChamp in the Biographie Universelle calls Toussaint L’Ouverture one of the most remarkable men of a period rich in remarkable men. He dominated from his entry until circumstances removed him from the scene. The history of the San Domingo revolution will therefore largely be a record of his achievement and its political personality. the writer believes, and is confident that narrative will prove, that between 1789 and 1815, with the single exception of Bonaparte himself, no single figure appeared on the historical stage more greatly gifted than this Negro, a slave till he was 45. Yet Toussaint did not make the revolution. It was the revolution that made Toussaint. And even that is not the whole truth.

The writing of history becomes ever more difficult. The power of God or the weakness of man, Christianity or the divine right of Kings to govern wrong, can easily be made responsible for the downfall of states and the birth of a new societies. Such elementary conception lend themselves willingly to narrative treatment and from Tacitus to Macaulay, from Thucydides to Green, the traditionally famous historians have been more artist than scientist: they wrote so well because they saw so little. To-day by a natural reaction we tend to a personification of the social forces, great men being merely or nearly instruments in the hands of economic destiny. As so often the truth does not lie in between. Great men make history, but only such history as it is possible for them to make. Their freedom of achievement is limited by the necessities of their environment. To portray the limits of those necessities and the realisation, complete or partial, of all possibilities, that is the true business of the historian.

In a revolution, when the ceaseless slow accumulation of centuries bursts into volcanic eruption, the meteoric flares and flights above are a meaningless chaos and lend themselves to infinite caprice and romanticism unless the observer sees them always as projections of the sub-soil from which they came. The writer has sought not only to analyse, but to demonstrate in their movement, the economic forces of the age; their moulding of society and politics, of men in the mass and individual men; the powerful reaction of these on their environment at one of those rare moments when society is at boiling point and therefore fluid.

The analysis is the science and the demonstration the art which is history. The violent conflicts of our age enable our practised vision to see into the very bones of previous revolutions more easily than heretofore. Yet for that very reason it is impossible to recollect historical emotions in that tranquility which a great English writer, too narrowly associated with poetry alone.

Tranquility to-day is either innate (the philistine) or to be acquired only by a deliberate doping of the personality. It was in the stillness of a seaside suburb that could be heard most clearly and insistently the booming of Franco’s heavy artillery, the rattle of Stalin’s firing squad and the fierce shrill turmoil of the revolutionary movement striving for clarity and influence. Such is our age and this book is of it, with something of the fever and the fret. Nor does the writer regret it. The books is the history of a revolution and written under different circumstances it would have been a different but not necessarily a better book.



In Solidarity with Gaza


In Solidarity with Gaza

In Solidarity with Gaza

“Israel claimed that it has the right to self-defense, but an occupying power does not have the right to self-defense; it has an obligation and a duty to protect the civilians under its occupation.” -NOURA ERAKAT

As the death toll of Palestinians, keep rising the apartheid state of Israel, unfortunately intensifies bombardment of the Gaza Strip, and vow to continue this injustice and cruelty against the defenseless people of Palestine, in the Gaza Strip, under the pretext of self-defense. This latest siege lay on Palestine came after the three Israeli teenagers who were allegedly kidnapped by Hamas, on June 12, and were later found dead on the 30th of the same month. What is worth noting is that there was no single evidence no matter how farcical pointing to Hamas, or any other group inside Palestine, talk-less of a reasonable one. But the Israeli government immediately pointed to Palestine and label Hamas as the culprit.

In response Israeli government besiege Gaza and start indiscriminate bombing of Gaza, whilst claiming self-defense in an offensive called “Operation Protective Edge”. As at last Saturday, the Israeli military says it has dropped 800 tonnes of bombs on 750 targets throughout Gaza, nearly half of the victims are women and children. On Thursday, a funeral procession was held for a family of eight, including five children who were annihilated by Israeli military strike. Whilst the Israeli, are yet to record any victim on their side the narrative in the western media remain sadly the same pro-Israeli sentiment. Voices from Washington, unfortunately but not surprisingly echoes support for Israeli aggression whilst labeling Hamas as the aggressor. According to  State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki:  “As you know, we’re encouraging all sides to de-escalate the situation on the ground. But again, Israel has every right to defend themselves and take steps to defend themselves. And as we know, the aggression is currently coming from Hamas in Gaza.”

According to UN report:  more than 80 percent of the dead are civilian, of whom 20 percent are children — at least 36 dead. At least 1,200 Palestinians have been wounded, nearly two-thirds women and children. More than 940 homes have reportedly been severely damaged or destroyed, some 400,000 people are without electricity, and 17,000 people are displaced.

Also there have been missed reactions coming from Israel, whilst some are protesting against the act of aggression by their government against the Palestine people in Gaza, there have also been others who cheer on this act of barbarity. In this report  by Danish journalist Allan Sorensen ‏ posted an image on Twitter, which shows residents watching and celebrating Gaza being bombed. This siege on Gaza, should be condemned by all peace loving people of the world, the self-defense rhetoric is a sham and nothing but absurd justification to continue the act of aggression against Palestine, a state that has no standing army. This despicable act of aggression, torture and vicious circle of violence against Palestine, has sadly turn out to be the blind spot of many, I wonder if it would have be the same if the aggression has been against the apartheid state of Israel.


The Counter-Revolution of 1776:Slave Resistance and the Origins of the United States of America.

Counter-Revolution of 1776

“From a very literal point of view, the harbours and the ports and the railroads of the country – the economy, especially in the south – could not conceivably be what they are if it had not been (and this is still so) for cheap labour. I am speaking very seriously, and this is not an overstatement: I picked cotton, I carried it to the market, I built the railroad under someone else’s whip for nothing. For nothing.” James Baldwin


As the United States of America, celebrate its independence anniversary declared on 4th July, 1776, we take a look at the history of America, the events that led to declaration of independence, and most importantly why declaration of independence was not a cause for celebration among all Americans, particularly for the native Americans and the enslaved African Americans. “For Native Americans, it may be a bitter reminder of colonialism, which brought fatal diseases, cultural hegemony and genocide. Neither did the new republic’s promise of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” extend to African Americans. The colonists who declared their freedom from England did not share their newly founded liberation with the millions of Africans they had captured and forced into slavery.”

The so-called Revolution was according to Professor Gerald Horne, was a ‘Counter-Revolution’ a conservative effort by American colonists to protect their system of slavery. Contrary to anonymous role often assign to African Americans in the American Revolution (which Prof. Gerald Horne refer to as Counter-Revolution) the prof. lucidly outline their roles and their major impact. The book is a great shift in paradgim.

Professor Gerald Horne, is the author of the book “The Counter-Revolution of 1776: Slave Resistance and the Origin of the United States of America.”


Below is an introduction to the book




It was just past ten in the morning on 22 June 1772 in a London courtroom. And the presiding magistrate, Lord Mansfield, had just made a ruling that suggested that slavery, the blight that had ensnared so many, would no longer obtain, at least not in England. A few nights later, a boisterous group of Africans, numbering in the hundreds, gathered for a festive celebration; strikingly, none defined as “white” were allowed— though they toasted Lord Mansfield, the first Scot to become a powerful lawyer, legislator, politician, and judge, with unbounded enthusiasm.1

Others were not so elated, particularly in Virginia, where the former “property” in question in this case had been residing. “Is it in the Power of Parliament to make such a Law? Can any human law abrogate the divine? The Law[s] of Nature are the Laws of God,” wrote one querulously questioning writer.2 Indicating that this was not a sectional response, a correspondent in Manhattan near the same time assured that this ostensibly anti-slavery ruling “will occasion a greater ferment in America (particularly in the islands) than the Stamp Act itself,” a reference to another London edict that was then stirring controversy in the colonies.3 The radical South Carolinian William Drayton—whose colony barely contained an unruly African majority—was apoplectic about this London decision, asserting that it would “complete the ruin of many American provinces.”4

This apocalyptic prediction was shaped inexorably by the inflammatory statements emanating from the London courtroom. The lawyer for the enslaved man at issue sketched a devastating indictment of slavery, an institution that undergirded immense fortunes in the colonies. He observed that slavery was dangerous to the state, perhaps a veiled reference to the forced retreat of colonists in Jamaica a few decades earlier in the face of fierce resistance by African warriors designated as “Maroons”: their militancy seemed to augur at one point the collapse of the colonial regime.5

Caribbean revolts were so frequent that—according to one analyst—this unrest “underscored colonists’ pathological fear of Africans as their natural enemy”6—a situation that was inherently unsustainable but, simultaneously, indicated why this London case had fomented such raw emotion.

This lawyer’s reproach of slavery was not only part of enlightened conversation in London, for as far afield as Madrid and Paris, serious reconsideration of this institution had arisen. In the late 1750s in Hispaniola, dozens of Europeans and thousands of livestock had succumbed to poisons administered by African herbalists. Unsurprisingly, French “physiocrats” had begun to raise searching questions about the future viability of slavery.7

Slavery inevitably bred angry disaffection that could be quite destabilizing— particularly when combined with intervention by other European powers. Consequently, this attorney railed against the “unlawfulness of introducing a new slavery into England from our American colonies or any other country.” Yes, he conceded, “by an unhappy occurrence of circumstances, the slavery of Negroes is thought to have become necessity in America”8—but why should this pestilence be extended?

Hanging ominously in the air was the implication that if slavery were to be deemed null and void in London, then why not in Charleston? Even before these foreboding words were uttered in London, the Virginia Gazette—whose audience had few qualms about enslavement of Africans—had noticed that since this case had commenced, “the spirit of Liberty had diffused itself so far amongst the species of people”— namely Negroes—“that they have established a club near Charing Cross where they meet every Monday night for the more effectual recovery of their freedom.”9

The New Yorker was prescient, as we know, while the man from Carolina summarized neatly what was to befall the British holdings south of the Canadian border. The eminent 20th-century historian Benjamin Quarles has argued that this London case “hastened” slavery’s “downfall in New England.”10 Moreover, what came to be known as “Somerset’s case” emerged in the wake of a number of decisions emanating from London that unnerved the powerful slaveholders of North America— and was followed by others—all of which aided in lighting a fuse of revolt that detonated on 4 July 1776.

This is a book about the role of slavery and the slave trade in the events leading up to 4 July 1776 in igniting the rebellion that led to the founding of the United States of America11—notably as the seditiousness of rebellious Africans intersected with the machinations of European powers, Spain and France most particularly. It is a story that does not see the founding of the U.S.A. as inevitable—or even a positive development: for Africans (or indigenes) most particularly.12 I argue that a number of contingent trends led to 1776. As we know, the now leading metropolis that is New York was once controlled by the Dutch; the area around Philadelphia once was colonized by the Swedes; New Orleans had French, then Spanish, then French rule once more; Jamaica went from Spain to Britain in the mid-17th century. The colonizing of the Americas was a chaotic process for which teleology is particularly inappropriate: it was not foreordained that the Stars and Stripes would flutter at all, least of all over so much of North America. The colonizing of the Americas was a wild and woolly process. Guy Fawkes and Oliver Cromwell were surging to prominence as London’s creation of colonies in the Americas was accelerating: these two men represented plotting and attempting to overturn an already unstable status quo that was hard to hide from Africans. Moreover, the colonial project unfolded alongside a kind of Cold War between Catholics and Protestants13 (studded with the periodic equivalent of a kind of “Sino-Soviet” split that from time to time disunited Madrid and Paris). The chaos of colonialism combined with this defining religious rift ironically created leverage for Africans as they could tip the balance against one European power by aligning with another—or with the indigenous. Then there was the developing notion of “whiteness,” smoothing tensions between and among people hailing from the “old” continent, which was propelled by the need for European unity to confront raging Africans and indigenes: this, inter alia, served to unite settlers in North America with what otherwise might have been their French and Spanish antagonists, laying the basis for a kind of democratic advance, as represented in the freedom of religion in the emergent U.S. Constitution. Surely, the uniting of Europeans from varying ethnicities under the umbrella of “whiteness” broadened immeasurably the anti-London project, with a handsome payoff delivered to many of the anti-colonial participants in the form of land that once was controlled by the indigenous, often stocked with enslaved Africans—not to mention a modicum of civil rights denied to those who were not defined as “white.” Ironically, the founders of the republic have been hailed and lionized by left, right, and center for—in effect—creating the first apartheid state.

Assuredly, as with any epochal event, the ouster of London from a number of its North American colonies was driven by many forces— not just slavery and the slavery trade—a point I well recognize.14 As ever, there were numerous economic reasons for a unilateral declaration of independence. When British forces in 1741 were in the midst of attacking Cuba and Cartagena, an officer of the Crown mused—in case of victory— about settling North American colonists in the “East End of Cuba” since if they “could be settled there, it would be much better than their returning home to a Country over-peopled already, which runs them on setting up manufactures, to the prejudice of their Mother Country.”15 Nine years earlier, another Londoner fretted that while once “almost all the sugar made” in the West Indies “was brought to England in British built ships[,] now it is as notorious that one ship in three, which bring that commodity are New England built and navigated by New England sailors. From whence it follows that New England has supplanted Britain in its Navigation to those colonies one part in three.” These North American colonies were surpassing Britain in making hats, so useful in frequently inclement weather; thus, it was concluded portentously, “independency” of these colonies “must [be] the consequence: a fatal consequence to this Kingdom!” This “independency” was “highly probable.”16 By 1761, yet another Briton was arguing that these North America colonies were “far from being beneficial to Great Britain, that it would have been much better if no such Continent or no such colonies had ever existed” since “from their very establishment [they] have been a growing evil to Great Britain, which [has] thereby laid the Foundation of an EMPIRE that may hereafter make her a COLONY” (emphasis original).17

These economic conflicts were all very real and deeply felt by settlers and Londoners alike. Yet, even when one posits this economic conflict as overriding all others in sparking revolt, the larger point was that it was slavery that was driving these fortunes, particularly in the North American colonies. For example, in Rhode Island—epicenter of the slave trade during a good deal of the 18th century18—these merchants of odiousness moved rapidly to plow their vast fortunes into sectors that competed aggressively with the “Mother Country,” notably manufacturing, insurance, and banking, indicating that slavery remained at the root of the conflict.19 “Negroes were considered essential to New England’s prosperity,” argues historian Lorenzo Greene, speaking of the colonial era.20 In South Carolina, always on edge because of the presence of a restive African majority often in league with Spanish Florida, care was taken to build roads and establish ferries in order to more effectively gain access to lands rocked by slave revolt—but this infrastructure spending also spurred economic development generally.21

In sum, the argument between these colonies and London was—in a sense—a chapter in a larger story whose first lines were written in 1688 during the “Glorious Revolution” when the Crown was forced to take a step back as a rising merchant class stepped forward,22 not least in corroding the monarch’s hegemony in the slave trade. Arguably, it was then that the groundwork was laid for the takeoff of capitalism—a trend in which slavery and the slave trade played an indispensable role.23 The growing influence of merchants in the aftermath of 1688 turbocharged the African Slave Trade, which allowed for spectacular profits growing from investments in the Americas and the forging of a wealthy class there which chafed under London’s rule. It was in 1696 that the House of Commons received a petition objecting to the monopoly on this hateful trade in humans then held by the Royal African Company (RAC). The petition was signed by individuals referring to themselves as “merchants and traders of Virginia and Maryland,” who argued that their “plantations” were “capable” of much greater profit and production and if they were “sufficiently supplied with Negroes, they would produce twice the quantity they do now”—indeed, “the shortage of slaves was hindering the development of the tobacco colonies.” After wrangling, their prayers were answered, leading to spectacular increases in the number of Africans in chains crossing the Atlantic.24

This business benefited handsomely some entrepreneurs in New England—notably in Massachusetts and Rhode Island—where the trade flourished. This region contained the “greatest slave-trading communities in America,” according to Lorenzo J. Greene: “the profits from the slave trade were almost incredible. Seldom has there been a more lucrative commerce than the traffic in Negroes,” since “gross profits [were] sometimes as high as sixteen hundred percent,” as “the slave trade easily became the most lucrative commerce of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.”25 The “Puritan colonies,” says Greene, “were the greatest slave-trading communities in America. From Boston, Salem and Charlestowne in Massachusetts; from Newport, Providence and Bristol in Rhode Island; and from New London and Hartford” emerged these vessels of opprobrium —and profit. And “of the American ships involved in [shipboard] insurrections, those from New England suffered the most,” with Massachusetts leading the pack.26 Simultaneously, this phenomenon bonded colonies—north and south—on the altar of slavery and nervousness about African intentions.

To be sure, for the longest period it was the sugar colonies of the Caribbean that were the cash cow for London. In 1700, the average English person consumed five pounds of sugar per year. In 1850, the figure was thirty-five pounds. By value, sugar had become Britain’s number- two import, after cotton. Poor people in England spent about 5% of their wages on sugar. Sugar planters, as a result, became fabulously wealthy and influential in London itself, as William Beckford—whose fortune was centered in Jamaica—became Lord Mayor of this sprawling metropolis, only to be mocked as “Negro whipping Beckford.”27

Yet, because the gain was so potentially stupefying, this dirty business bred conflict among the European powers almost effortlessly, igniting piracy and privateering—all of which, as we shall see, allowed Africans to tip the balance against one of these powers, which in most cases meant disfavoring London and its colonies. In a like fashion, the gargantuan wealth generated by trade in human commodities fed conflict between London and the colonies over taxes and who should pay— importers or exporters—not to mention clashes between insurers and merchants over losses at sea or the much-dreaded shipboard insurrections. At a certain point, some colonists may have wondered if deluging the mainland with Africans was part of a ploy by the metropolis to place in their backyard a force that could discipline—if not eliminate— them. Africans were victimized by this trade, but the clash of interests opened the door for their engaging in political arbitrage.

This influx of Africans also bailed out the colonial enterprise in another sense, for as the historian Colin G. Calloway has observed, “up until the end of the seventeenth century the British had feared for the survival of their infant American colonies.”28 By 1698, the RAC was obliged to yield and rescued the colonial enterprise when so-called separate traders and private traders filled the breach with slave-trade profits—and filled their pockets with filthy lucre, many of them enabled to climb the class ladder to esteemed merchant status. Thus, in the fifteen years prior to 1698, slavers transported close to fifty-five hundred enslaved Africans to the North American mainland, and in the fifteen years after, the figure increased dramatically to more than fifteen thousand. The heralded reforms flowing in the aftermath of 1688 were as important to slave-trade escalation as the reforms of 1832 were to slave emancipation.29 Finally, in 1750, London declared the trade to Africa to be even more free and open, which sent a cascade of Africans across the Atlantic to the mainland, with wide consequences hardly envisioned at the time.30

This enormous influx of Africans laid the foundation for the concomitant growth of capitalism. The advent of this system has been seen widely and schematically as a leap forward from the strictures of feudalism and, therefore, a great leap forward for humanity as a whole.31 Nonetheless, this trade did not signal progress for Africans, as their continent was besieged by “separate traders” with the demented energy of crazed bees. It was an early example of the immense profit and productivity (and devastation) that accompanied “free trade”—but this time in Africans. In fact, to the extent that 1776 led to the ossification of slavery and an increase in the illegal slave trade captained by U.S. nationals—particularly after 1808, when it was thought to have gone into desuetude—1776 marks a counterrevolution. 32 The de facto repudiation of “Somerset’s Case” on the mainland was an affirmation of the necessity of slavery, and this—at least for the Africans—meant a counter-revolution. This affirmation in turn made the explosion in 1861—a deepening of the “counter-revolution of slavery” and the continuously heightened denunciation of the import of “Somerset’s Case”—virtually inevitable. Such was the onrushing momentum, the electrifying intensity, of this powerful counter-revolution that—arguably— it continues today, albeit in a different form.33

Inexorably, the process of brutal and hurried enslavement generated an opposing and fierce resistance. Reports of various plots and conspiracies by the enslaved were rising sharply in the years preceding 1776.34 What was at play was a crisis of rapid change: when the pace, force, and pressure of events increase sharply in a frenzied manner, making pervasive ruptures veritably unavoidable. The enormous influx of Africans— and the settlers’ intoxication with the wealth they produced—meant that more “whites” had to be attracted to the continent to countervail the ferocity of the fettered labor force, and ultimately, an expanded set of rights for these European migrants, along with land seized from the indigenous, was critical in enticing them.

The unforgiving racial ratios in the Caribbean basically determined that slave rebellions would be more concentrated and riotous there; yet this placed London in a vise, for—as noted—there were growing reservations about focusing investment in North America given that region’s growing competitiveness, while militant Africans were driving settlers away from the Caribbean, precisely to North America. Yet this brought London no surcease since the arrivals of these enterprising individuals in North America brought as well those who had experienced the fright of riotous Africans. It was in early 1736 that a conspiracy was exposed in Antigua for the enslaved to liquidate the European settlers—according to the authorities, “all the white inhabitants of this island were to be murdered and a new form of government to be established by the slaves among themselves,” as they were determined to “possess the island . . . entirely.”35 This was preceded by yet another “horrid” plot that was exposed in early 1729, in which the enslaved were determined to “cutt off every white inhabitant” of Antigua.36

Eliza Lucas, the daughter of the lieutenant governor of Antigua, promptly migrated to South Carolina, where she became the spouse of Charles Pinckney, a leader of this colony, and their sons became leaders of the revolt against London. Unsurprisingly, she found “Carolina greatly preferable to the West Indies”—though by March 1741 she was anxiety ridden once more as Charleston, she thought, was to be “destroyed by fire and sword to be executed by the Negroes before the first day of next month.”37 Then, as some of these colonists fled northward, they brought with them enslaved Africans well aware that their oppressors were vulnerable, which was not the kind of insight conducive to stability in the mainland colonies. Among these was the influential Isaac Royall, who by 1737, it was said, had arrived in Massachusetts with “a Parcel of Negroes designed for his own Use” and a willingness to “pay the Duty of Impost” in a province where—as elsewhere—nervousness about the growing presence of enslaved Africans was growing.38 Then there was Josiah Martin, the final colonial governor in North Carolina, who outraged fellow settlers in the immediate prelude to 1776 by allegedly threatening to free and unleash Africans against rebels: he too had roots in Antigua and, thus, had reason to possess a healthy regard for the fighting spirit of Africans and their own desire for domination—a point that may have occurred to residents of what became the Tarheel State.39

As settlers fled from the Caribbean to the mainland of North America, they brought with them nerve-jangling experiences with Africans that hardened their support of slavery—just as abolitionism was arising in London. But the point was that rebellious Africans were causing Europeans to flee the Caribbean for the mainland, as the productive forces in the latter were already burgeoning: the following pages will reveal that slave resistance in the Caribbean too merits consideration when contemplating the origins of the U.S.

Thus, in 1750, fifty thousand more Africans lived in the islands than on the mainland, but as 1776 approached, thirty thousand more Africans lived on the mainland than on the islands. Likewise, in 1680, almost nine out of ten Africans under London’s jurisdiction in the Americas lived in the Caribbean, and half resided on the small island of Barbados, while the Negro population on the mainland was relatively small.40 This rapid transition to the mainland by 1750 reflected many forces—particularly investors betting on the mainland more than the islands, as Africans had inflamed these small territories. But this transition occurred as restiveness was growing on the mainland about the nature of colonial rule.

The mainland and the metropolis were approaching confrontation for another reason: abolitionism was rising in London not least because Britain was becoming increasingly dependent on African soldiers and sailors: it was not easy to enslave those of this important category of workers, particularly when they carried weapons. One observer detected “twelve ‘black moore’ sailors serving in one of the King’s ships at Bristol in 1645, nor was it unknown that black body-servants to rise into battle alongside their Roundhead or Cavalier masters”; some of these men “whose presence was recorded on Civil War battlefields may well have been born in these islands.”41 The Civil War in which these Africans participated and the fractiousness of English, then British, politics virtually preordained that various island factions would seek the support of Africans— notably as their numbers escalated in the 18th century.

Moreover, a number of Irishmen, quite dissatisfied with London, often sought succor with the Crown’s most obstinate foes, providing further impetus for reliance on Africans. Strikingly, in early 1748 in South Carolina, a plot of the enslaved was uncovered to liquidate European settlement, which was said to be assisted by an Irishman, Lawrence Kelley.42 In the run-up to 1776, there were numerous Irish soldiers of fortune who had thrown in their lot with His Catholic Majesty in Spain, including Alejandro O’Reilly, Spain’s chief representative in New Orleans, and General Richard Wall, who served in the post of “Spanish Secretary of State.” The powerful O’Reilly was deemed to be the most respected figure in the military of Spain.43

Many Scots were similarly unhappy—a discontent that has yet to disappear. 44 The Act of Union, formally consolidating Scotland’s role in the United Kingdom, came only in 1707. There were two massive uprisings— 1715 and 1745—that had a particular resonance in the Highlands, where resistance was the strongest, which happened to be a point of departure for numerous migrants to North America. Some of these migrations were involuntary, as prisoners of war were shipped en masse to the colonies, many of whom arrived in no mood to compromise with London and eager for revenge.45 Satisfying the needs of these migrants often meant massive land grants to them in the colonies,46 necessitating either enslaved Africans to work the land or armed Africans offshore to protect them from attack, goals at cross-purposes leading to strains in the colonial project.

Thus, in early 1776, Arthur Lee of Virginia was gleeful, as he reported from London. The “Irish troops go with infinite resistance” to North America, he averred, and “strong guards are obliged to be kept upon the transports to keep them from deserting wholesale. The Germans too, I am well informed, are almost mutinous.” London, he said, “found it impossible to recruit in England, Ireland or Scotland, though the leading people of the last are [to] a man almost violently against America.”47 The presumed unreliability of the Irish and Scots facilitated London’s increased reliance on African soldiers and sailors.

Yet the sight of armed Africans was quite unsettling to the settlers. It was in 1768 that Bostonians were treated to the sight of Afro-Caribbean drummers of the 29th Regiment actually punishing their fellow “white” soldiers. In the heart of Boston Commons, these Negroes whipped about ten alleged miscreants for various misdeeds. One can only imagine how such a sight would have been received in Carolina, though such displays gave resonance to the growing perception that London would move to free the enslaved, arm them, and then squash colonies already perceived as a growing rival. It was also in Boston in 1768 that John Hancock and other eminent petitioners accused the redcoats of encouraging slaves to “cut their masters’ throats and to beat, insult and otherwise ill treat said masters”; it was felt that with the arrival of more redcoats, the Africans surmised they would soon “be free [and] the Liberty Boys slaves.”48

It was not only the British who felt compelled to place weapons in the arms of Africans. It was in 1766 that Louisiana’s governor, Etienne Boucher Perier de Salvert, asserted that since “soldiers fled at the first flash of the Indian gun,” it “would be much better to trust Negroes on the battle-field and use them as soldiers . . . because they, at least, were brave men.”49 Actually, the governor was an inadequate sociologist, for what drove the indomitable courage of Africans was the perception that, if captured, they could easily wind up in slavery, while their European counterparts—alternatively—had numerous options available, including becoming property owners stocked precisely with the enslaved.

London felt compelled to rely upon Negro soldiers and sailors, as the colonists came to rely upon Negro slaves: this was becoming an unbridgeable chasm. The Crown—the sovereign in both London and the colonies—had created a highly combustible political volcano. This instability was also propelled by another contradiction that the Crown helped to create: the model in the “Mother Country” was based upon a certain privilege for the English, as against the Irish and Scots. In contrast, the colonies—desperate for men and women defined as “white” to counter the fearsome presence of Africans in the prelude to 1776—could empower the Irish and Scots and provide them with more opportunity. All this was occurring as economic conflicts brewed in the trans-Atlantic relationship. Ultimately, the mainland model based on “racial” privilege overwhelmed the London model based on “ethnic” privilege. London’s “ethnic” approach implicitly—at times explicitly—sacrificed the interests of Irish and Scots and Welsh (and even the English of certain class backgrounds) and made up for the shortfall by seeking to attract Africans to the banner, a policy propelled not least by competition with Madrid. But such a policy could only alienate mainland settlers, driving them toward a unilateral declaration of independence on 4 July 1776.

One espies part of this trend unfolding in the Chesapeake during this tumultuous era. Beginning in the 1680s and stretching until at least 1720, there was a decided shift from the use of servants to the use of slaves; as the population of the latter increased at twice the rate of the Europeanderived population, instability increased. But for present purposes, note that the term “white”—the vector of a potently rising identity politics still operative centuries later—only began to supplant “Christian” and “free” as favored designations in the 1690s, as the monopoly of the Royal African Company eroded and “separate” and “private” traders began descending in droves on Africa, providing the human capital for economic expansion.50 In short, the privilege of “whiteness” was based heavily upon the increased presence of Africans, but since mainlanders were coming to suspect that London would deploy the Negroes against them—or, at least, had a more expansive view of their deployment than settlers—this meant that independence in 1776 was tied up with complicated, even fearful, sentiments about humans designated as slaves. This expansion in the colonies fueled by enslavement of Africans then undergirded the conflict with London that erupted in 1776.

Unfortunately for London and its energetic North American colonies, there were other forces that had a vote on their future. In retrospect, it seems appropriate that the Spanish term for “Blacks”—that is, “Negros”—invaded the English language almost as effortlessly as the bronze troops of His Catholic Majesty invaded the territory ostensibly controlled by London. For as early as 1555, Madrid was deploying in the Americas attacking forces heavily composed of Africans, and by 1574 in Havana the darkest of us all had their own militias under African command. 51 Thus, as Africans began flooding into North America, forced to endure the most heinous of circumstances, this prepared a delicate recipe for the exquisite taste of Spain, which wished to reverse London’s gains. It was in mid-1742, as London and Spain were at war once more, that Madrid’s man in Havana barked out blunt orders: “after taking possession of Port Royal [South Carolina], it will be proper to send out Negroes of all languages (some of which [should] accompany the militia of this place for this very purpose) to convoke the slaves of the English in the plantations round about, and offer . . . in the name of our King, liberty, if they will deliver themselves up of their own accord and to say that the lands will be assigned them in the territories of Florida, which they may cultivate and use themselves as owners, under the direction and laws of the Kingdom of Spain.”52 In the long run, enslaved Africans in the British colonies—and then the early U.S. itself—may have absorbed Iberian notions about the relation between slavery and freedom, notably the seditious notion that freedom was a permissible goal for a slave.53

The threat from Spanish Florida led directly to the creation of London’s colony in Georgia. A motive force for the founding in 1733 was to forge a “white” buffer—where African slavery was to be barred— between South Carolina, which labored anxiously with a Negro majority, and Spanish Florida, from whence armed Africans continually probed. Establishing Georgia evidently did not hamper unduly Madrid’s plans, particularly when a few years after the founding, South Carolina endured the Stono revolt, the bloodiest in the history of colonial North America, in which—it appears—Spain played a starring role. Thus, it was also in mid-1742 that the founding father of Georgia, James Oglethorpe, confessed disconsolately that the devilish “Spaniards” had “fomented” a “mutinous temper at Savannah,” and, as a result, the “destruction of that place was but part of their scheme for raising a general disturbance through all North America. Their correspondence [with] the Negroes too fatally manifested itself in the fire at New York & Cha Town [Charleston] & the insurrection of the Negroes in Carolina.”54

These were not Oglethorpe’s views alone. The idea was growing that the South Carolina, then Georgia, border separating British from Spanish soil was the soft underbelly, the Achilles’ heel of London’s mainland colonial project that could push the Union Jack back to the Canadian border. It was in mid-1741 that an official investigation poking through the debris of the September 1739 Stono uprising by the enslaved, which led to buckets of blood being shed by Carolina colonists (more than two dozen were slaughtered), observed that these Africans “would not have made this insurrection had they not depended” on Florida “as a place of reception afterwards”—this was “very certain and that the Spaniards had a hand in prompting them to this particular action, there was but little room to doubt” (emphasis original); for the previous July, a Spanish official in Florida arrived in Charleston with about 30 aides, “one of which was a Negro that spoke English very well.” This arrival was “under the pretence of delivering a letter” to Oglethorpe, though it must have been known that he did not reside there. It was feared that this Negro was tasked to incite Carolina Africans.55

Oglethorpe thought he knew why Madrid relied so heavily on armed Africans, and inexorably, given the intensity of religiosity, the reason was to be found in Catholicism. Madrid and Paris, he stressed, contained “one hundred thousand Cloyster’d Females, not permitted to propagate their Species and the Number of Males in a State of Celibacy is still abundantly greater”—besides, “a considerable part of their great Armies” tended to “resolve against Marriage,” meaning a birth dearth that could only be resolved by a more dedicated inclusion of Africans that Protestant London abjured.56 If Oglethorpe had paid closer attention to Iberian politics, he might have noticed that—like Scotland—Catalonia, which included Barcelona, was not wholly reconciled to being administered by Madrid. It was on 11 September 2012 that an estimated 1.5 million Catalonians called for more autonomy for this region, which contained a population of about 7.5 million: it was on that date in 1714 at the end of the War of Spanish Succession that the Bourbon monarchy suppressed regional institutions.57 Madrid’s reliance upon Africans in the Americas may have seemed less risky than reliance upon men with roots in Catalonia.

Ultimately the clash between London and Madrid at the South Carolina– Georgia–Florida border in the 1740s proved decisive for the future of what was to become the U.S., on the same level as the better-known conclusion of the Seven Years’ War in 1763; yet this former struggle (even more than what befell Quebec) had the enslavement of Africans at its throbbing heart.58 Moreover, after the 1740s, Georgia’s role as a “white” equivalent of the Berlin Wall rapidly crumbled, bringing more Africans to the mainland and, thus, increasing the anxieties of mainland settlers.

There was a kind of “arms race” that ensnared London and Madrid involving competition for the often angry affections of Negroes. London, with a developing empire and a relatively small population, could hardly ignore Africans. London’s negotiations in the 1730s with Jamaican Maroons suggested that the Crown recognized early on the value of an entente with Africans. In this contest, London was at a blunt disadvantage, not least since its blustering mainland colonies had opted for a development model based on the mass enslavement of Africans and the reluctance to build an “escape hatch” for free Africans. The very name St. Augustine, Florida, sent a frisson of apprehension coursing down the spines of the British, particularly after it became a citadel where armed Africans were known to reside. By the late 1720s, British subjects returning to Carolina battered and bruised from captivity in Florida told spine-shaking tales of Africans (and the indigenous) selling British scalps for thirty Spanish pieces-of-eight.59 Unfortunately for the settlers, it was not only Carolina that was terrified by the dual prospects of internal revolt and external invasion, particularly from Spanish Florida, for this dual nightmare was a frequent topic of discussion in Virginia at the highest level.60

Moreover, London was administering an over-stretched empire, which too necessitated the employment of more Africans. By 1757, after a battle with Bengal’s Muslim viceroy, the East India Company found itself in possession of a territory three times larger than England. Less than a decade later, the company had successfully undermined the ruler of Awadh, the largest of the Mughal Empire’s provinces.61 Yes, the “distraction” of India benefited the North American rebels—but it also underscored the importance of Africans as a military force in the Americas.

London probably undermined its cause with the mainland colonists during the all-important siege of Havana in 1762. There was conscription in North America for this campaign, which admittedly was designed in no small part to ease Spanish pressure on the Carolinas and Georgia—though these settlers thought their time could have been better spent subduing the indigenous and the land they controlled. But then London’s commanders were instructed that the “corps of Negroes to be raised in Jamaica” for this battle “should have an equal share in all booty gained from the enemy in common with his regular troops”: this only served to add heft to the gnawing feeling on the mainland that settlers were being treated like Africans— which, in their argot, meant being treated like slaves.62

Britain finally ousted the Spanish from rule in St. Augustine in 1763— though the future Sunshine State continued to be the dog that didn’t bark, since it was the “fourteenth” colony that did not revolt in 1776, perhaps because Africans continued to play a martial role there and like most Africans were not enthusiastic about a settlers’ revolt that augured an ossification of slavery; strikingly, Africans also fled en masse as London took the reins of power.63 Interestingly, in 1776, Governor Patrick Tonyn, in what was then British East Florida, created four black militia companies to join in defense of the province—mostly with success—designed to foil attacks from Georgia, which these companies then proceeded to attack.64

In summary, the post-1688 tumult brought London mixed blessings. Surely, the enhanced slave trade it augured lined the pockets of numerous merchants in Bristol and Liverpool—but in Rhode Island too, which instigated dreams of independence. This tumult delivered more Africans to the hemisphere who were not immune to the seductive appeals of Madrid. This tumult also brought more Negro insurrectionists who helped to spur an abolitionist movement that served to create a gulf between London and its increasingly obstreperous colonies.

These Africans played a pivotal role in spurring once proud British subjects to revolt against the Crown, thanks to the final colonial governor in Virginia, Lord Dunmore: he was viewed as a villain by the rebels, particularly after his notorious November 1775 decree to free and arm enslaved Africans in order to squash the anti-colonial revolt. Dispatched to bolster his deteriorating rule were 160 men from the 14th Regiment at St. Augustine.65

But often forgotten when Dunmore is invoked is the run-up to November 1775, when rebellious Africans had sought to eliminate settlements, leading some colonists to feel that the world could be upended and they could assume a status below that of vassals. Thus, the threat of Negro revolt was magnified in the desperation driven by the Yamasee War, featuring the indigenous rampaging against settlers, which led to the arming of Africans in South Carolina in 1715. In other words, in addition to competing European powers—for example, Spain—allying with Africans, settlers also had to worry about slaves bolstering revolts of the indigenous. Engaged typically in dickering and arbitrage, simultaneously Africans were also negotiating with and cooperating with raiding parties by the indigenous. In some instances, they even entered into formal alliances with the indigenous and commenced their own unilateral wars against the colony. “There must be great caution,” several planters warned, “lest our slaves when arm’d might become our masters.” This was the profoundly significant fear that hovered like a dark cloud over the colonial project, a fear London unwittingly ignited into raging fever as 1776 approached with its tentative steps toward abolition while arming and deploying African soldiers in the colonies.66

Besieged by Africans, the indigenous, and European powers alike, mainland settlers found their options narrowing. Creating a buffer class of “free” Africans was a potential alternative to what appeared to be impending disaster. Indelicately, Governor William Gooch of Virginia had to explain in 1736 why such policies were inappropriate for his province. Why pass a law, he was asked, “depriving free Negroes & Mulattos of the privilege of voting at any Election of Burgesses . . . or at any other elections”? Well, he huffed, recently there was a “conspiracy discovered among the Negroes to Cutt off the English, wherein the free Negroes and Mulattos were much suspected to have been concerned (which will forever be the case).” Indeed, he continued, “such was the insolence of the Free Negroes at that time, that the next assembly thought it necessary . . . to fix a perpetual Brand upon Free Negroes & Mulattos by excluding them from that great privilege of a Freeman, well knowing they always did and, every will, adhere to and favour the Slaves.”67

Mainland settlers railed against overtures to Africans while they made overtures to London’s staunchest foes. In early 1751, London was informed that mainland settlers were involved in a “clandestine trade” “with the French, Dutch and Danes” that was such a “success” that now these devious merchants were seeking to “introduce foreign sugar into Great Britain” itself, along with “great quantities of foreign rum into Ireland . . . as well as into Halifax.” In turn, mainlanders were bringing to North America “all kinds of French and Dutch merchandise directly interfering with those of Great Britain.” This was causing “irreparable injury to the commerce and manufactures of the Mother Country and to the great increase and strength and riches of [Britain’s] most dangerous rivals,” leading inexorably to “impending ruin . . . falling upon Great Britain.”68 In 1756, London railed against “an illegal trade” that had “been carried out between [British] plantations and the French settlements.”69

Indeed, mainland trade with Hispaniola was so sizeable, particularly with regard to trade implicating slavery and the slave trade, that it may have contributed to the demographic racial imbalance leading directly to the vaunted Haitian Revolution, 1791–1804, meaning these mainland settlers were active agents in two of the major developments of the past few centuries. In 1762, British officer Jeffrey Amherst complained that “some of the merchants on this Continent, particularly those of Pennsylvania and New York, were entering into Schemes for supplying the Havannah [Cuba] with provisions.” In August 1776, the British seafarer James Stokes, who had just arrived on the French-controlled Hispaniola, noticed armed North American vessels loading arms and ammunition, presumably for the anti-colonial revolt.70

Thus, even before 1756—or 1763—these settlers, apparently unable to resist the stupendous profits emerging from an ascending slave-driven capitalism, were busily cutting various deals with their erstwhile opponents, particularly the French, even though London repeatedly warned that this was jeopardizing British interests. The settlers had good reason to believe that if they cut a deal with Madrid and Paris against British interests, they would emerge as the eventual winners. In other words, from 1756 to 1763, London fought an expensive and largely successful war against Paris and Madrid to oust the latter two from a good deal of North America to the benefit of the colonists, then sought to raise taxes to pay for this gigantic venture— only to have the settlers go behind the back of London and conspire with Spain and France against Britain. Yet even this gloss on the founding should not be allowed to downplay the role of Africans, for it was their conspiring with the Spaniards in Florida—in particular—which was a driving force behind the Seven Years’ War that contributed to London’s loss.

London had created an inherently unstable colonial project, based on mass enslavement of Africans—who could then be appealed to by Spanish neighbors and wreak havoc—and an inability to hedge against the fiasco that such a policy promised by building a buffer class of free Negroes and mulattoes. This conspicuous weakness drew London into a seemingly endless cycle of conflicts with Spain—and its frequent ally France—culminating in the so-called Seven Years’ War, 1756–1763. This proved to be a catastrophic victory for London, as in eroding these external threats to the colonies, it allowed the settlers to concentrate more of their ire on London itself, leading to the 1776 unilateral declaration of independence. That is to say, before 1763, mainland settlers were huddling in fear of Negro insurrection combined with foreign invasion, particularly from Spanish Florida or, possibly, French Canada; afterward, it appeared to a number of colonists— particularly as abolitionist sentiment grew in London—that Negro insurrection would be coupled with a throttling of the colonies by redcoats, many of them bearing an ebony hue. Minimally, a mainland settler deal with Madrid in particular could forestall the eventuality of another Stono, no small matter as reports of slave conspiracies rose in the years immediately preceding 1776. The threats to London’s interests were multiplying as some mainland settlers were busily conspiring with the Crown’s enemies.

London did not seem to realize that when the RAC monopoly eroded, set in motion were virtually unstoppable economic forces that would place stressing strain on mainland provinces, ultimately setting them adrift toward independence. The traditional narrative of the republic’s founding has emphasized insufficiently the amorality and trans-border ethos that came to define capitalism—which often was at odds with traditional notions of patriotism and even sovereignty. This trend was reflected in the earliest stages of the mainland revolt. Quite naturally, this dearth of patriotism also came to characterize Africans— the human capital which propelled this system—who had little interest in identifying their interest with that of their so-called masters.

Moreover, the settlers thought that London’s special relationship with Africans had gone too far, to the point where they thought they had reason to fear that the Crown’s sable arm would come down with a crash upon their heads. “Every slave might be reckoned a domestic enemy,” according to Benjamin Franklin speaking almost two decades before 1776.71 Just before 4 July 1776, a fellow Philadelphian denounced London for “not only urging savages to invade the country, but instigating Negroes to murder their masters.”72 The embodiment of colonial secession, George Washington, may have spent more time overseeing “his” enslaved Africans than he did supervising soldiers or government officials,73 suggesting the importance of this troublesome property; by 1764, he owed one of his London creditors a still hefty eighteen hundred pounds sterling74 and certainly had an incentive to both preserve his slave property and escape from the Crown which seemed to be calling it into question. John Adams, who earned handsome fees as legal counsel for slaveholders in cases against the enslaved, had little reason to disagree. 75 Ditto for John Hancock, whose large signature on the nascent republic’s founding document was somehow appropriate since he was one of Boston’s largest slave owners.76 James Madison speculated in late 1774, “if America & Britain should come to an hostile rupture, I am afraid an Insurrection among Negroes may & will be promoted. In one of our Counties lately a few of those unhappy wretches met together & chose a leader who was to conduct them when the English Troops should arrive—which they foolishly thought would be very soon & that by revolting to them they should be rewarded with their freedom.”77

Prominent slaveholder—and anti-London rebel—Henry Laurens of South Carolina was told that just before the April 1775 confrontation at Lexington between the republicans and the Crown, the latter planned to instigate the enslaved to revolt to blunt the settlers’ initiative. By 1774, he was reportedly convinced that if London had its way, “none but Slaves & his Officers and their Task Masters shall reside in America.” He may have heard of the British subject of African descent David Margrett, who was in South Carolina in 1775 preaching about abolition.78

As the tempting of fate by Margrett in Carolina suggested, there were strong hints from Britain that sensitive settlers may have found—in every sense—unsettling. As June 1772 approached, beating slaves was much less common in London than in the colonies. Increasingly, Londoners were beginning to see slavery and slaveholders as an American phenomenon that sophisticated metropolitans disdained as uncivilized—partly because that was the view propounded by the growing number of Africans (perhaps fifteen thousand) in British streets in the 1770s; that the colonists were prating about liberty while enforcing a draconian enslavement tended to induce an adamantly defensive response among Londoners, who began to castigate the settlers as tyrants themselves.79

Wittingly or not, reform proposals by London only served to incite the settlers even more, particularly those who were bent on imposing a model of development based on mass enslavement of Africans. In 1775, a leading British official proposed that London was willing to return to the status quo ante of 1763 with regard to taxes and the like if the settlers would concur with the notion that slavery was a “vice” that was “contrary to the law of God” and, thus, “every slave in North America should be entitled to his trial by jury in all criminal cases . . . as a foundation to extirpate slavery from the face of earth”; with a flourish, it was added, “let the only contention hence forward between Great Britain and America be, which shall exceed the other in zeal for establishing the fundamental rights of liberty to all mankind.” Settlers may have thought that this official was either daft or engaged in a dangerous provocation, but in any case, this was not the kind of proposal designed to attract the sincere attention of rebels, many of whom had invested fortunes in slavery and the slave trade.80 London appeared to present a clear and present danger to the lives and fortunes of settlers. The decision to rebel, though festooned in the finery of freedom, wound up depriving a countless number of Africans of the liberty that the 1776 revolt has been thought to have provided.

* * *

As the 21st century proceeds, one point is evident: the heroic creation myth of the founding of the U.S. is desperately in need of revisiting. In November 1965, in remarks that escaped attention for the most part, Ian Smith—the leader of the newly founded racist republic that was Rhodesia (which became Zimbabwe in 1980)—argued that his Unilateral Declaration of Independence was a replay of 1776: he and his comrades were seeking to escape the logic of decolonization, just as 1776 sought to escape the logic of slavery’s abolition.81 Smith had a coarse disregard for the aspirations of Africans, as did his counterparts in 1776. Contemporary observers should note that Smith had as much success in “integrating” Africans successfully into his ill-fated republic as did his North American counterparts in the aftermath of 1776. Smith was defeated and, justifiably, has passed into the ignominy of history. The rebels of 1776 were victorious and have been hailed widely ever since, suggesting that there is something to be said for winning in the shaping of history’s judgment of a rebellion.

A few years before Smith’s telling remarks, Blas Roca, a leader of what became the Communist Party in Cuba, then in a desperate confrontation with Washington, asked a question not often posed in Washington: why, he asked, was the plight of Negroes in the U.S. probably worse than that of any other group of Africans in the hemisphere?82

Roca’s plaint reflected the point that unlike in Cuba, where the anti-colonial and anti-slavery struggles merged, in the person of Antonio Maceo,83 or in Mexico, where an early leader was of African descent, Vicente Guerrero, 84 in what became the U.S., there was a divergence between the struggle against London and the struggle for abolition—in fact, arguably these goals were at loggerheads. With Africans on the mainland standing largely at the side of London—and even more so after independence—it was inevitable that the path ahead for U.S. Negroes would be exceedingly rocky. Indeed, one of the more striking aspects of the anti-London struggle on the mainland was how often it merged with a “Black Scare” in the form of the imprecations tossed at Lord Dunmore and Governor Martin of North Carolina.

Well after 1776, it remained striking that white supremacists were quite clear and precise as to the identity of their bête noire. For example, it has become veritable folklore that in order to escape successfully the pincers of Jim Crow, Africans with deep roots in the U.S. often began speaking in French or Spanish so as to escape the damning accusation that they were descendants of mainland slaves,85 a group not notorious in its celebration of 1776 and quite willing to align with the republic’s foes in London thereafter.86

Though historians have pointed in various directions in seeking to explicate what has befallen Africans on the mainland,87 it is difficult to ignore the point that one central reason for this awful persecution has been the simple fact that this besieged group had their own ideas about the configuration of North America and that their conceptions often involved collaboration with the antagonists of Euro-American elites (be they indigenes, Madrid, or ultimately London). The Negro dalliance with London was then followed by various relationships with Mexico City,88 Tokyo,89 New Delhi,90 and Moscow,91 in a repetitive pattern of seeking leverage abroad to overcome rapacity at home. However, it was not until the 1950s that Washington came to realize that, perhaps, easing racist oppression at home might serve to foil such dangerous diplomatic alliances—until then, such relations served partially to provide further grist for the oppressive mill. Nevertheless, today the continuing invidious discrimination that undermines the descendants of enslaved Africans on the mainland92 stems in no small part from their historically consistent and staunch opposition to the capacious plans of slaveholding rebel—then republican—elites, which too often targeted these very same Africans.

This chapter began with a remarkable instance of opposition to a sacred principle of mainland settlers—slavery—which in June 1772 helped to ignite a new departure in our complex history. Part of the background suggesting how these Africans came to be in a London courtroom and how their audacity helped to ignite a republican revolt will unwind in the following pages.


Book of the Month: Wretched of the Earth pdf

Colonialism is not a machine capable of thinking, a body endowed with reason. It is naked violence and only gives in when confronted with greater violence.

Colonialism is not a machine capable of thinking, a body endowed with reason. It is naked violence and only gives in when confronted with greater violence.

Book of the Month: Wretched of the Earth pdf

Fellow Young African Pioneers, This month’s book by Fanon, is highly recommended for acute understanding of the neo-colonial and bourgeois nature of contemporary politics in the post-colonial Africa. He reveals that it is only through viewing history from the perspective of the colonized that their current plight can be understood. This book is a gateway to the knowledge of how contemporary African politics came to be, how it is shaped and structured to serve the interest of a microscopic few (the bourgeois and the ex colonizers) at the expense of the majority (the masses) whose interest are perceptually taken for granted and never addressed. It is important this book is carefully studied in order to be able to extract the important messages and lessons contain within.

(click the title of the book to get the full pdf version)


the destructive results of African politics in the post-colonial era owes something to the amorality of the civic public.

the destructive results of African politics in the post-colonial era owes something to the amorality of the civic public.



This paper argues that the experiences of colonialism in Africa have led to the emergence of a unique historical configuration in modern post-colonial Africa: the existence of two publics instead of one public, as in the West. Many of Africa’s political problems are due to the dialectical relationships between the two publics. I shall characterize these two publics and attempt to explain some of Africa’s political features within the matrix of these publics. In order to give some empirical content to the distinction drawn here, I shall illustrate the issue raised with examples from Nigeria.

The Private Realm, the Public Realm, and Social Morality.

Perhaps the best definition of politics is the oldest one: politics refer to the activities of individual insofar as they impinge on the public realm made up of the collective interest of the citizenry. As Wolin (1960: 2-3) has pointed out, ‘one of the essential qualities of what is political, and one that has powerfully shaped the view political theorists about their subject-matter, is its relationship to what is “public”. The distinction between the private realm and the public delimits the scope of politics. Not all the everyday activities of an individual are political. To the extent that he acts in his household or practices his religion in his home, he is acting in the private realm. Furthermore, the distinction tells us when changes do take place and may define the characteristics of political regimes. The publicization of the private realm – that is, the conversion of private activities and resources into material for the public realm – is characteristics of absolutist regimes. On the other hand, the privatization of the public realm – that is, the ‘sublimation’ of politics in which what is traditionally private swallows up the public realm – may well, as Wolin (1960) contends, be a major characteristics of the age of organization.

But the distinction between the public and private realms as used over the centuries has acquired a peculiar Western connotation, which may be identified as follows: the private realm and the public realm have a common moral foundation. Generalized morality in society informs both the private realm and the public realm. That is, what is considered morally wrong in the private realm is also considered morally wrong in the public realm. Similarly, what is considered morally right in the private realm is also considered morally right in the public realm. For centuries, generalized Christian beliefs have provided common moral fountain for the private and the public realms in Western society. There are anomic exceptions, of course. For instance, the strong appeal of Banfield’s The Moral Basis of a Backward Society is that it provides a striking case of an exception in which the same morality does not govern the private and the public realms. But this is a case where the exception proves the rule. Banfield’s (1958) observation of amoral politics in the southern Italian village has drawn so much attention precisely because it violates the western norm of politics without reproach.

When one moves across Western society to Africa, at least, one sees that the total extension of the Western conception of politics in terms of a monolithic public realm morally bound to the private realm can only be made at conceptual and theoretical peril. There is a private realm in Africa. But this private realm is differentially associated with the public realm in terms of morality. In fact there are two public realms in post-colonial Africa, with different types of moral linkages to the private realm. At one level is the public in which primordial groupings, ties, and sentiments influence and determine the individual’s public behavior. I shall call this the primordial public because it is closely identified with primordial groupings, sentiment, and activities, which nevertheless impinge on the public interest. The primordial public is moral and operates on the same moral imperatives as the private realm. On the other hand, there is a public realm which is historically associated with the colonial administration and which has become identified with popular politics in post-colonial Africa. It is based on civil structures: the military, the civil service, the police, etc. Its chief characteristic is that it has no moral linkages with the private realm. I shall call this the civic public. The civic public in Africa is amoral and lacks the generalized moral imperatives operative in the private realm and in the primordial public. The most outstanding characteristic of African politics is that the same political actors simultaneously operate in the primordial and the civic publics. The dialectical relationship between the two publics foments the unique political issues that have come to characterize African politics. The two publics are amenable to observation. But they will gain their full meaning in the context of a theory of African politics. Having identified the two publics, there are two lines of theoretical approach that one can attempt. The first is politico-historical: how did this unique political configuration emerge in Africa? The second is socio-logical: how does the operation of the publics affect African politics? I shall discuss both theories in this paper.

Ideologies of Legitimation and the Emergence of the Two Publics

Modern African politics are in large measure a product of the colonial experience. Pre-colonial political structures were important in determining the response of various traditional political structures to colonial interference. But the colonial experience itself has had a massive impact on modern Africa. It is also the colonial experience that any valid conceptualization of the unique nature of African politics must look.

In fact, we can still narrow the issue and focus on the two critical bourgeois groups that influenced colonial Africa and continue to influence post-colonial African politics. These are the cadre of colonial administrators, mostly drawn from the rising bourgeois bourgeois class in Europe, and the African bourgeois class born out of the colonial experience itself. It is my contention that the emergence and the structures of the two publics owe their origin first and foremost to these two groups, especially to their ideological formulations intended to legitimate their rule of the ordinary African. This is not to say that the ordinary African had nothing to do with the emergence of the two publics. He was the target of the intellectual workmanship of the two bourgeois groups in their formulation of ideologies.

It is chiefly to emphasize the lack of firm legitimacy on their part that I have used the term ‘bourgeois’ to characterize these groups. The term connotes the newness of a privileged class which may wield much power, but have little authority; which may have a lot of economic influence, but enjoy little political acceptance. I have not, unlike Hodgkin (1956), preferred the term middle class because it connotes (a) that those thus referred to have established value linkages with the other layer of their society, and (b) that the class thus referred to occupies a middle layer in a social stratification system. In my view, the European colonial rulers of Africa and their African successors in the post-colonial period do not fit readily into the same social stratification system with other segments of the societies they ruled and now rule. The African bourgeois class especially does not have an upper class, an aristocracy, over and above it, although it does have a defeated traditional aristocracy whose bases of power have been weakened by the importation of foreign techniques of governance. Nor have I used the term African ‘elites’ because it connotes to me a class of men who enjoy autonomy in the formation of their values and in their decision-making processes, independent of external sources. The emergent ruling class in Africa clearly lacks such autonomy.

Because of the repeated use of the term ‘ideologies’ in this essay, it would seem fair to the reader to explain as clearly as possible the use of the term, and the context of that use. By ‘ideologies’ I refer to unconscious distortions or perversions of truth by intellectuals in advancing points of view that favor or benefit the interests of particular groups for which the intellectuals acts as spokesmen. That is, ideologies are interest-begotten theories. The invention of aesthetically appealing interest-begotten theories, or ideologies, that detract from scientific truth is, as Werner Stark (1958) has emphasized, different from socially determined thought in which the writer’s cultural world view and his more immediate social background condition and define his perception of social reality. It is when bias in favor of an identifiable group is introduced into theories that I refer to them as ideologies. Needless to add, this specialized usage leans on a tradition of the conceptualization of ideology as an abnormal element in social theory construction – so fully expounded by Werner Stark (1958) – rather than on Mannheim’s broad view of ideologies as constituting essential elements in social theories.

My view of ideologies does not then imply a Marxist or Paretean assumption of pan-ideologism – that is, the assertion that all ideas and theories in society are biased in favor of either ruling class or emerging class. My position does imply that the particular groups that benefit from ideological distortions of truth must be identified in any analysis that claims perversion and abuse of scientific truth. My assumption – that is, the unexamined hypothesis in this analysis – is that ideological distortions and abuse of truth usually indicate a degree of insecurity on the part of the group promoting such ideologies. This is the case with European bourgeoises, not only in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in Europe, but also in the colonial administration of Africa. A sense of insecurity also dominates the emergent African bourgeoises.

The European bourgeois class of course has a well known history in domestic European economic and political life. Not so well known is its influence in the European expansion to Africa. Although the history of the ‘scramble’ for Africa is filled with the names of nobility, the motive force of the expansion must ultimately be traced to the rise of the bourgeoise in Europe:

The central inner-European event of the imperialist period (between 1884 and 1914 and ending with the scramble for Africa) was the political emancipation of bourgeoise, which up to then had been the first class in history to achieve economic preeminence without aspiring to political rule. The bourgeoise had developed within, and together with the nation-state (Arendt, 1951:123).

Imperialism was born when the ruling class in capitalist production came up against national limitations to its economic expansion. The bourgeois turned to politics out of economic necessity; for if it did not want to give up the capitalist system whose inherent laws is constant growth, it had to impose this law upon its home government and to proclaim expansion to be an ultimate political goal of foreign policy (Arendt, 1951:126).

In large part, the European expansion to, and colonization of, Africa must be seen as a result of the bourgeois attempt to acquire political power, via colonization, that would be commensurate with, and further consolidate, its economic power at home. Arendt (1951:33) was pointing to an important matter in colonization when she remarked that “The conflict between the representatives of the imperial “factor” (i.e, the home government) and the colonial administrators (largely recruited from the ranks of the bourgeoisie) runs like a red thread through the history of British imperialism.’ As Hobson (1902:46) so bitterly complained, ‘Although the new imperialism has been bad business for the nation, it has been good business for certain classes and certain trades within the nation.’ The British bourgeoisie, like some other European bourgeois classes, who gained the most from expansion and colonization, attempted to justify such imperial expansion as being beneficial to all the colonizing nations and to every taxpayer in them. I call the theories that emerged from such rationalization and justifications addressed to the taxpayers and citizens of the colonizing nations imperial ideologies. Although they constitute an important area that must be examined in any intellectual history of colonialism in Africa, I shall not deal directly with such imperial ideologies in this essay.

The European bourgeois colonizers of Africa were also confronted with formidable problems in their conquest and rule. Although their superior technology plus the fact that African political life had been softened by the slave trade that ravaged the continent in the previous three centuries facilitated their conquest, the successful colonization of Africa was achieved more by the colonizers’ ideological justification of their rule than by the sheer brutality of arms. I shall call the ideologies invented by the colonizing Europeans to persuade Africans that colonization was in the interest of Africans colonial ideologies. The impact of these colonial ideologies on the emergence of the two publics in Africa is of major concern for me in this essay.

In the course of colonization a new bourgeois class emerged in Africa composed of Africans who acquire western education in the hands of the colonizers, and their missionary collaborators, and who accordingly were most exposed to European colonial ideologies of all groups of Africans. In many ways the drama of colonialism is the history of the clash between the European colonizers and this emergent bourgeois class. Although native to Africa, the African bourgeois class depends on colonialism for its legitimacy. It accepts the principles implicit in colonialism but it rejects the foreign personnel that ruled Africa. It claims to be competent enough to rule, but it has no traditional legitimacy. In order to replace the colonizers and rule its own people it has invented a number of interest-begotten theories to justify that rule. I shall call the ideologies advanced by this new emergent bourgeois class in Africa African bourgeois ideologies of legitimation. Their impact on the development of the two publics in Africa is also of major concern for me in this essay.

In the course of colonization a new bourgeois class emerged in Africa composed of Africans who acquired Western education in the hands of the colonizers, and their missionary collaborators, and who accordingly were most exposed to European colonial ideologies of all groups of Africans. In many ways the drama of colonization is the history of the class between the European colonizers and this emergent bourgeois class. Although native to Africa, he African bourgeois class depends on colonialism for its legitimacy. It accepts the principle implicit in colonialism but it rejects the foreign personnel that ruled Africa. It claims to be competent enough to rule, but its own people it has invented a number of interest-begotten theories to justify that rule. I shall call the ideologies advanced by this new emergent bourgeois class in Africa African bourgeois ideologies of legitimation. Their impact on the development of the two publics in Africa is also of major concern for me in this essay.

Colonial Ideologies of Legitimation

The late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century European colonization of Africa owes a measure of its effectiveness to the ideological justification of the efforts of the colonizers. The more successful colonizers, particularly the British and the French, attempted to create ideologies that not only backhandedly justified their penetration into Africa but also justified to their fellow countrymen their continuing actions. In addition, and more to our point here, they also tried to persuade Africans to accept European rule as beneficial. These latter attempts aimed at colonized Africans are what I called colonial ideologies. They were wrought jointly by the colonial administrators and their close collaborators in the colonial enterprise, the Christian missionaries. What were the ideologies invoked by the colonizers to legitimate their rule of Africa?

The Backwardness of the African Past. One of the most successful ideologies used to explain the necessity of colonial rule was the heavy emphasis placed on what was described as a backward ahistorical past. Africans, according to this view, should be ashamed of their past; the only important things is in the present. Missionaries openly told Africans that ancestor-worship was bad and they should cut themselves loose from their ‘evil’ past and embrace the present in the new symbolisms of Christianity and Western culture. Indeed, Africans were virtually told that the colonizers and missionaries came to save them, sometimes in spite of themselves, from their past.

The point of emphasis here of course is the ideological distortion of what is after all a partially correct observation, namely that Africa was and is, in many ways backward. ‘Nowhere’, Warner Stark (1958:50) once warned, ‘are [ideological influences] more dangerous than where they make use of, and abuse, undeniable scientific truths.’ That abuse is what is at issue here. It consisted of defaming the African past – including important city-state civilizations – and exaggerating the achievement of the African present. Africans who were ‘Western’ educated – and they mattered in the colonial situations in Africa – were sharply differentiated from the ‘natives’ on the principle that the former were those of the ‘Europeanized’ present and the natives belonged to the backward past.

The lack of contributions by Africans to the building of Africa. A related ideological weapon employed by the colonial administrators in emphasizing the necessity of their rule in Africa consisted of down-grading the contribution by Africans to the building of African nations and to history generally. History is to a large extent the selective emphasis of events from a national point of view. Americans talk a great deal about their relations to England; but it would be a rare American teacher or writer who says that England built or founded the U.S. In colonial, and event in post-colonial, Africa, the emphasis on contributions made by the colonizers to the building of Africa is extravagantly presented in favor of colonialism. The essence of colonial history is the demonstration of the massive importance of the European ‘intervention’ in Africa and of the ‘fact’ that African contributions to the building Africa have relevance only when seen in the context of a wider and more significant contribution of the European colonizers. Every schoolboy in colonial Africa, and many in post-colonial Africa, read in history books that Africa and especially its important landmarks and waterways were ‘discovered’ by European explorers. The mental outlook here is important. To say that River Niger or Kano was discovered by European explorer is to invite the African to see his own people from the point of view of the European. Many Western educated Africans took this point of view. As Jahoda (1961:115) puts it, the Western educated African ‘now comes to look at Africans and African culture to some extent through the eyes of those European educators who determined the manner and content of the teaching received’.

Again, of course, it enhanced the legitimacy of Europeans to downgrade African contributions to the building of Africa and hence to make the European colonizers a benevolent ruler who graciously filled a void and brought Africa ‘into light and history’. They most effective vehicle here is the teaching of colonial history, although they very use of the language of the colonizers as the medium of education has much the same effect of legitimating foreign rule. Mungo Park, an adventurer, becomes a ‘discoverer’ in colonial history taught in British colonized nations. A rather sensitive African historian once complained that Bishop Ajayi-Crowther’s – the first Nigerian bishop’s – contribution to the documentation of history was underrepresented: ‘Crowther’s narratve is an important document on the early stages of the Yoruba Wars of the nineteenth century. It is in fact surprising that while so much has been made of the accounts of the journey of Clapperton and Lander through western Yoruba, so little attention has been pain to this account of a journey through the central in 1821-22’ (Ajayi, 1967:291). Professor Ajayi would be less surprised if he recognized that history is in large part the selective biography o nations, not an ‘objective’ interpretation of al documents. Certainly colonial history as taught in African schools and universities had a primary purpose: to legitimate the European colonial rule of Africa.

Inter-Tribal Feuds. Ideological distortions also exist in the characterization of political life in pre-colonial Africa. ‘Tribe against tribe’ is the common theme in colonial accounts of African struggles. ‘Inter-tribal’, rather than ‘intra-tribal’, struggles are given the accent in interpretations of African political strife. It is only recently that African historians like Ajayi (Ajayi and Smith, 1964) and Dike (1956) have pointed to scope and even the significance of ‘inter-tribal’ struggles in Africa. By carefully emphasizing ‘inter-tribal’ disharmonies in pre-colonial Africa, European colonial administrators had two things to gain at once. First, the principle of divide et impera was effectively employed to create disharmony between groups in the colonial situation, a strategy especially apparent in the declining days of colonialism in virtually every African nation; second, it gave the colonial administrators the image of benevolent interveners, who came to Africa because they wanted to establish order.

Benefits of European Colonial Rule. The argument that European rule brought benefits is the common justification for the presence of Europeans in Africa, from the Portuguese rape of Angola to the godfather image of the French in Ivory Coast. But it is significant that little is ever said in the same context about the disadvantages of European colonial and missionary activities in Africa. There are indeed benefits deriving from colonial rule. But it may well be the case that in the long run the crushing psychological and social implications of colonialism have disadvantages that far outweigh the heralded advantages. (It is often unnoticed, for instance, that the only non-Western nations to have successfully modernized-Japan and China-are those that have not been colonized. Is it an accident that all Asian and African nations formerly colonized by Europeans have a uniform history of failure in attempts to modernize?)

The Administration Cost of Colonization to Europeans. One of the most pronounced examples of double-talk in colonization (and one suspect here that what was involved was deliberate lie than an unconscious ideological misrepresentation of truth) is with respect to the accounting of the cost, financial and otherwise, of colonization. While the cost was de-emphasized to the ‘imperial factor’ (i.e. the government) and the taxpayers in the colonizers home countries, it was clearly exaggerated in the colonial situation. The financial benefits that the colonized nations derived from the colonizing nations were shown to outweigh the wealth that might have been taken out of the colonies. Indeed, colonial accounts were always presented in ways that showed that goods and produce in the colonies were ‘bought’ at good prices, when in fact the colonial market was monopolistic. On the whole the colonized were led to believe that they gained a great deal, and that they gave very little in return, in the idiom of this essay, this posture amounts to an undue emphasis on rights and an undue de-emphasis on duties. Indeed, this ideological distortion invariably led to an exaggeration of riches in Europe in the view of many Africans.

Native vs. Westernized. Standing somewhat apart from the rest, but central to the ideological promotion of the legitimacy of the colonizers in Africa, is the pervasive emphasis on the distinction between ‘natives’ (that is Africans who have no Western education) and Western educated Africans. Most colonized Africans had the perception of the European as a man blessed with much, who did nothing much more than acquire literary education to earn such luxury. To become a Western educated African in colonial situation was for many avenue for escaping hard work. Hard work was meant for the ‘natives’. At least it was believed that the European, having acquired an adequate education, could not work with his hands. To send one’s son to school was to n=hope that he would escape the boredom of hard work (cf. Jahoda, 1961:78).

Many of these perceptions of Europeans and of Western education were encouraged by the European colonial administrators and missionaries themselves. They were in part promoted to preserve the aura of charisma which formed the basis of legitimacy for European rule. A supreme strategy of colonial administrators was to separate ‘native’ in terms of what is low (cf. Arendt, 1951:131). This condescending distinction between Westernized and ‘native’ sectors gained maximum expression of course in the doctrine of indirect rule. But the Western educated African did not completely escape the ‘native’ sector. Indeed his greatest difficulty was, and remains the simultaneous adaptation to two mentally contraposing orders. One solution to this problem formulated by the educated Africa is to define one of these orders in moral terms and the other in amoral terms. The native sector has become a primordial reservoir of moral obligations, a public entity which works to preserve and benefit. The Westernized sector has become an amoral civic public from which one seeks to gain, if possible in order to benefit the moral primordial public.

African Bourgeois Ideologies of Legitimation

The colonial ideologies have had a major impact on Africans. The absence of a strong traditional ethos, for instance in the form of a pan-African religion, made Africans easy targets of these ideologies. But there was considerable variation in the spread of their effects on Africans. The Western educated African was a greater victim of their intensity than the non-literate African. The acceptance of the colonial ideologies in many ways led to the creation by the African bourgeois class of its own ideologies. The purpose behind the colonial ideologies, wrought by colonial administrators and missionaries, was to legitimate an alien domination of Africans; African bourgeois ideologies were formed to achieve two interrelated goals. First, they were intended to serve as weapons to be used by the African bourgeois class for replacing the colonial rulers; second, they were intended to serve as mechanisms for legitimating their hold on their own people. Both types of ideologies were largely directed at the African masses. However, in terms of timing, the first set was used during colonialism and was an attack on alien rulers. I shall call these set anti-colonial ideologies. The second set of ideologies is more directly related to the issue of legitimation and is involved in post-colonial politics in Africa. Its appearance coincided with the departure of alien colonial rulers. I shall call these post-colonial ideologies of legitimation.

(1) Anti-colonial ideologies. What I call anti-colonial ideologies here refer to the interest-begotten reasons and strategies of the Western educated African bourgeoisie who sought to replace the colonial rulers. Anti-colonialism did not in fact mean opposition to the perceived ideals and principles of Western institutions. On the contrary, a great deal of anti-colonialism was predicated on the manifest acceptance of these ideals and principles, accompanied by the insistence that conformity with them indicated a level of achievement that ought to earn the new educated Africans the right to the leadership of their country. Ultimately, the source of legitimacy for the new African leadership has become alien. Anti-colonialism was against alien colonial personnel but glaring pro foreign ideals and principles.

I shall now discuss some of the ideologies used to justify this form of anti-colonialism:

African High Standards. In every post-colonial African nation, Western educated Africans, that is the African bourgeoisie, have bent over backwards to show that their standards of education and administration are as good as those of their former colonizers. The point of reference in such demonstrations is to prove that they are ‘equals’, but never the betters, of the former rulers. At least if they judge their standards education and administration not to be as high as those prevailing in the capitals of the former colonizing nations, they rue the fact of their ‘low’ standards and make attempts to raise them. Nowhere does one come across the statement that prevailing standards, say, in England are not high enough o r too high for the problems in, say, Nigeria. These ‘high’ standards are invariably defined in terms of the prevailing, that is ordinary, standards in the former colonizing nations.

This ideology of African high standards had its origin in the fight for independence. Most African leaders in the fight for independence boasted to their followers that they were as qualified as the English or the French colonizers; that their rule could be as ‘democratic’ as that in England or France; that Africans could attain as high a degree of efficiency in bureaucracy as that Britain or France, etc. In his manner of speaking the English language and of pronouncing English words, the Nigerian ‘been-to’, for instance, wants to demonstrate to the common man that he is as good as an Englishman in the use of the English language.

There is logic to these over-zealous attempts by African bourgeois class to prove the equal, but never the better, of the former colonizers. They are a message addressed to the masses that educated Africans have attained the level of the colonizers and therefore can replace the permanently. It is not required to prove oneself the better of the former colonizers to do so, since their behaviors represented the very best in the view of Africans.

Anyone who has studied in a leading university-at Berkeley, Harvard, or Oxford- will have noticed that very little is ever said about high standards. It is the less distinguished institutions that want to appear to be as Berkeley, Stanford, or the Sorbonne. The same is true of the African bourgeois class. In many ways they are at a considerable disadvantage in attempting to do things as Englishmen in what Englishmen do best: speaking the English language. To take the example of the most successful non-Westerners in history, the Japanese do not strive to speak English or French as well as an Englishman and an American or as a Frenchman. They see themselves as different from them. The African bourgeois, born out of the colonial experience, is very uncomfortable with the idea of being different from former colonizers in matter regarding education, administration, or technology. One suspects that he is unconsciously afraid that he may not be qualified to be an effective replacer of the former colonizers. If he does reject an English model, he wants to take an American model; but the point is still that he wants to validate his replacement of the colonizers by accepting the standards of the Americans who were after all potential colonizers in Africa.

Independence Strategies. The notion, promoted by African bourgeois class, that Africans had high standards and that educated Africans were as qualified to rule as the former colonizers constituted the principal basis of the claim of the African bourgeois class to gain independence from alien rulers and thus to rule its own people. The ‘fight’ for independence was thus a struggle for power between the two bourgeois classes involved in the colonization of Africa. The intellectual poverty of the independence movement in Africa flows from this fact, that what was involved was not the issue of differences of ideas regarding moral principles but rather the issue of which bourgeois class should rule Africans. The colonizers did resist a great deal by discrediting the African bourgeois class and by creating divisions within it. In long run, however, it is the African bourgeois class which had advantage in the struggle by persuading the lay African that it had finally acquired the charismatic qualities with which Western education endowed its recipients.

The struggle entailed a necessary but destructive strategy: sabotage of the administrative efforts of the colonizers. A great deal of the anti-colonial activities by the African bourgeoisie consisted of encouragement to their followers to be late to work, to go on strikes for a variety of reasons, etc. The African who evaded his tax was a hero; the African laborer who beat up his white employer was given extensive coverage in newspapers. In general, the African bourgeois class, in and out of politics, encouraged the common man to shirk his duties to the government or else to define them as burdens; in the same breath he was encouraged to demand his rights. Such strategy, one must repeat, was a necessary sabotage against alien personnel whom the African bourgeois class wanted to replace.

The irony of it all, however, is that ordinary African took the principles involved in such activities quite seriously. There is clearly a transfer effect from colonialism to post-colonial politics. As should be apparent to anyone who is acquainted with the history of peasants and the ordinary man in other parts of the world, the line of distinction between allegiance to alien rulers and to the new African bourgeois rulers was a thin one in the mind of the lay African. Given the historical context of colonialism in Africa, it is the case that African bourgeoisie had no basis of legitimacy independent of colonialism. In a sense then, they contributed directly, although unwillingly, to undermining their own legitimacy by encouraging the abrogation of duties and obligations to the colonial government and the demand for rights in excess of the resources available to meet them.

The Promise of Independence. A related strategy in fight for independence was to raise hopes and expectations of ordinary citizen in two different directions. First, and rather forthrightly, the ordinary man was promised increased benefits, benefits that were characterized with extravagance. Second, and less forthrightly but not less impressive in the mind of the ordinary man, was the promise to lower the ‘colonial burden’ which when translated into other terms means the duties of common man, taxation for sure. Again it should be pointed out that such promises were generalized to mean that in the colonizing nations-in England, in France- the rights of the ordinary man were abundant while his duties were meager. These promises may have been honestly made in some cases because of the limited experiences of the African bourgeois class; but in many other instances they were made discredit the alien colonizer, and to win the allegiance of the ordinary man.

(2) Post-colonial Ideologies of Legitimation. The African bourgeois class has a precarious foundation. It fought alien rulers on the basis of criteria introduced by them. Moreover, the alien rulers were seasoned fighters, at least judging by the success of the bourgeoisie in Europe, and they were always prepared to use that ancient weapon of ‘divide and rule’. In the waning days of colonialism in many African nations two sorts of divisions were created or at least encouraged by the colonizers. The first was deliberately encouraged to undermine the African bourgeois class by reviving tradition as basis of legitimacy, i.e., by restoring the defeated chiefs and kings to power. At best this was a delaying tactic on the part of the colonizers; the traditional rulers were much too enfeebled from the pre-colonial and colonial days to survive a struggle with the emergent African bourgeois class. In any case, the colonizers had implanted a new concept of legitimacy in matters relating the civic public. Traditional kingship and chieftaincy has always been defined in moral terms, and the new attempt by the colonizers to drag it into the muddle of amoral civic public politics was bound to fail. A more serious division was suggested by the colonizers to the African bourgeois class, and it remains the red thread that runs through the whole of post-colonial African politics. It is a division within the bourgeois class along primordial ethnic lines. Both divisions-between the bourgeois and the traditional chiefs and within the bourgeois class itself-have led to two sets of ideologies promoted by the African bourgeois class to legitimate its threatened status in post-colonial politics. They are as follows:

Education as Guarantee of Success. Education is at least as much needed in Africa as anywhere else. But this need has been subverted by the African bourgeois class in a curious way. In many human societies, attaining an educational standard is treated as an avenue to success. But in post-colonial Africa, attaining the requisite educational standard, usually phrased in terms of high-sounding university degrees, is now deemed a guarantee of success. There is an important difference here. To say that education is an avenue to success is to invite the benefactor of the educational system to earn his success by treating his educational achievement as a baseline for advancement. To treat education as a guarantee of success is to invite the benefactor of the educational system to demand advancement once he has successfully achieved the requisite standards in education. This latter definition of what education is intended for with respect to the individual recipient is, I suspect an ideological invention of the Western educated bourgeois class to legitimacy of the traditional chiefs. The ‘first-come-first-promoted’ logic in public service and in university professorial politics is a direct consequence of this ideology.

Ethnic Domain-Partition Ideology. A fact of life in post-colonial Africa is the emergence of strong primordial ethnic groups in politics. What is interesting about them is that objectively they gained their significance only with the context of the various African nations in which they are implicated. In fact many of them have been created by modern politics. But almost everywhere separate sections of the African bourgeois class have backhandedly attempted to justify them as primordial entities that not only antedate the African nations in which they are implicated but in fact as corporate groups that have always existed. It is in this sphere that the ideology-creating achievements of the emergent African bourgeoisie approach their intellectual heights. While successfully demoting tradition as a basis of legitimacy in the new Africa and insisting that Western education provides that legitimacy, the African bourgeois class has at the same time divided Africa into domains of influence along traditional lines.

The dimensions of this problem can most profitably be illustrated in the context of Nigerian politics. As we know them today, Nigerian ethnic groups developed their boundaries and even their character only within the context of Nigerian politics. But ideologies and myths do have reality-creating functions, and the corporate character now attributed to the various ethnic groups is the reality that flowed from the ideologies and myths invented by the bourgeoisie to consolidate their parcels of influence in the new Nigeria. No ethnic group existed before Nigeria as a corporate entity with boundaries now claimed for them and the loyalties now directed at them. What existed before Nigeria were amorphous politics: many were organized around city-states, other in kingdoms, and quasi-kingdoms, and yet others with narrowness of villages with no conceptions of wider political entities within which they were implicated. Even the languages by which some claim to identify the ethnic groups in modern Nigeria (cf. Awolowo, 1996) are to a large extent a product of this domain-partition ideology.

Perhaps we will benefit from our discussions of this domain-partition ideology by referring directly to the two ethnic groups in Nigeria whose political and intellectual leaders are most adept at promoting this ideology. Beginning with the ranks of ‘officers’ of the Ibo State Union and Egbe Omo Oduduwa to Ibo and Yoruba professors in Nigerian universities, many resources have been expended in order to prove that their ethnic groups have always been identifiable corporate ethnic groups. It was such an ideological assertion by Professor Biobaku (on behalf of the Yoruba bourgeois class) that led the British historian Hodgkin (1957:42) to remark, ‘Everyone recognizes that the notion of ‘‘being a Yoruba’’ is not very much older.’ The ideology of corporate Ibo ethnicity has been pushed even more vigorously by the Ibo bourgeois class. B. O. N. Eluwa, for many years the ‘General Secretary’ of the Ibo Federal (State) Union, told Abernethy (1969:110) that he, apparently among other Ibo bourgeois leaders, toured ‘Iboland’ from 1947 to 1951 to convince ‘Ibo’ villagers that they were in fact Ibos, in Eluwa’s own words these villagers ‘couldn’t even imagine all Ibos’ Abernethy adds:

In the 1930’s many Aro and Onitsha Ibos consciously rejected identification as Ibos, preferring to think of themselves as separate, superior groups. The very term ‘Yoruba’ was popularized by Church Missionary Society leaders during the nineteenth century who were anxious to produce a Bible in a uniform language for several city-states that were warring against each other at the time (Abernethy 1969:110n).

The Structure of the Two Publics

Taken by itself, each of these sets of ideologies of legitimation may amount to little. But taken together, they point up a major characteristic of African politics: the existence of two publics. The structure of modern post-colonial politics in Africa owes a great deal to these two publics that exist side by side and that tend to grow together. I shall now develop the implications of these ideologies further by examining the structure of politics in Africa and by doing so in the idiom of the concept of citizenship. As I shall use it here, its meaning takes as a point of departure T. H. Marshall’s (1949) incisive analysis of citizenship in England and Bendix’s (1949) subsequent generalization and elaboration of T. H. Marshall’s and de Tocqueville’s conceptions of citizenship. To put the matter rather directly, these various sources suggest that there are two distinct elements in the concept of citizenship. The individual as a member of a political community has certain rights and privileges which he may claim from it. Similarly he has certain duties and obligations which he has to perform in the interest of the political community.

The political problems of the age as well as the historical context of politics determine to a large extent the aspects and issues of citizenship that are sorted out for emphasis in a given society. It is thus the case that the conception of citizenship in the West has led to a rich analysis of rights (cf. T. H. Marshall, 1949; Bendix, 1964), whereas scant attention is paid to the analysis of duties. This is because the historical context of politics in the West led to a situation where rights and their resulting egalitarian ideals were problematic issues in the conception of citizenship, while duties were for the most part assumed as given. Similarly, it may be noted that one eminent attribute of citizenship in the West is that the two elements of citizenship are closely associated. That is, rights and duties are conceived in a transactional manner: the demand for rights implies some willingness to perform the concomitant duties, and vice versa.

The historical context of African politics, especially as it emerged from colonialism, has given a different character to African conceptions of citizenship from this Western model. In effect citizenship has acquired a variety of meanings, which depend on whether it is conceived in terms of the primordial public or the civic public.

The primordial public in Africa may indeed be fruitfully seen in terms of the elements of citizenship. The individual sees his duties as moral obligations to benefit and sustain primordial public of which he is a member. While for the most part informal sanctions may exist that compel such obligations from individuals, duties to the primordial public have moral side to them. The foci of such duties may of course vary from one setting to another, but in most of Africa they tend to be emergent ethnic groups. Informal taxation in the form of ‘voluntary’ contributions to ethnic associations and different other types of obligations to help out with ethnically-owned community programs are a prominent feature of modern Africa.

But what is the obverse side of duties to the primordial public? What are the rights that the African expects from the primordial public in return for his duties to it? It is here that one must be cautious and not assign economic equations to the operation of the primordial public. Although the African gives materially as part of his duties to the primordial public, what he gains back is not material. He gains back intangible, immaterial benefits in form of identity or psychological security. The pressure of modern life takes its toll in intangible ways. The cost of the rapid advance in urbanization and the sudden emergence of several individuals from a rural, non-literate background to as high as the leadership of prestigious departments in the universities and the civil service may not be measured in tangible economic terms. In all of post-colonial Africa, new men with non-literate parents and brothers and sisters-from non-chiefly families ungrounded in the ethnics and weight of authority-are emerging to occupy high places. Behind the serenity and elegance of deportment that come with education and high office lie waves of psychic turbulence-not least of which are widespread and growing beliefs in supernatural magical powers. The primordial public is fed from this turbulence. For it is in the primordial public, whether it be narrowly defined as limited to an extended family of some two hundred individuals or, far more likely, to a whole emergent ethnic group ranging from half a million to some ten million people, that gives security to many first-generation educated Africans. The material manifestation of the duties of the educated African to his primordial public may or may not be balanced by the psychic benefits of security, benefits that flow from close association with the primordial public. But the point is, like most moral spheres, the relationship between the individual and his primordial public cannot be exhausted by economic equations. There is more to all moral duties than the material worth of the duties themselves.

The citizenship structure of the civic public is different. Because it is amoral, there is a great deal of emphasis on its economic value. While many Africans bend over backwards to benefit and sustain their primordial publics, they seek to gain from the civic public. Moreover, the individual relationship with the civic public is measured in material terms-but with a bias. While the individual seeks to gain from the civic public, there is no moral urge on him to give back to the civic public in return for his benefits. Duties, that is, are de-emphasized while rights are squeezed out of the civic public with the amorality of an artful dodger.

These differing stances toward the primordial public and civic public make sense in the historical perspective of colonialism. The ideologies of legitimation invented alike by the alien colonial rulers of Africa and their African successors have given credence to the myth among the ordinary African that the civic public can never be impoverished. On the other hand, the primordial public is pictured as needful of care-in fact from the civic public.


The Dialectics of the Two Publics

Most educated Africans are citizens of two publics in the same society. On the one hand, they belong to a civic public from which they gain materially but to which they give only grudgingly. On the other hand they belong to a primordial public from which they derived little or no material benefits but to which they expected to give generously and do give materially. To make matters more complicated, their relationship to the primordial public is moral, while that to the civic public is amoral. The dialectical tensions and confrontations between these two publics constitute the uniqueness of modern African politics.

A good citizen of the primordial public gives out and asks for nothing in return; a lucky citizen of the civic public gains from the civic public but joys escaping giving anything in return whenever he can. But such a lucky man would not be a good man were he to channel all his lucky gains to his private purse. He will only continue to be a good man if he channels part of the largesse from the civic public to the primordial public. That is the logic of the dialectics. The unwritten law of the dialectics is that it is legitimate to rob the civic public in order to strengthen the primordial public.

The issues which the inevitable confrontation between the two publics foments are varied. I shall limit myself to three areas here:


Tribalism is a term used in most of post-colonial Africa to denote animosities between members of different ethnic groups. By its very nature, tribalism is a de-radicalized construct. That is, it is a term that has lost its root. Tribalism emerges only in situations where tribes and tribesmen are vanishing. Tribalism is robust in Lagos, where there are no tribes or tribesmen; it is absent in the most hinterland villages in Nigeria. Tribalism flourishes among professors and students in Nigerian universities (cf. van den Berghe, 1971, 1973), many of whom rarely visit their villages of birth in the interior; it is minimal in the secondary schools in the backwoods of Nigeria. The truth of the matter is that the degree and scope of tribalism in Africa are negatively correlated with the predominance of ‘tribal’ life.

Needless to say, this is because tribalism emerged from the colonial situation. It is the direct result of the dialectical confrontation between the two publics. Tribalism arises where there is conflict between segments of the African bourgeoisie regarding the proportionate share of the resources of the civic public to differentiated primordial publics. The leaders of the primordial public (who should not be confused with traditional ethnic leadership) want to channel as great a share of these resources from the civic public as they are-in part, one suspect, because a significant proportion of them will eventually find their way into the coffers of the primordial public.

A fuller meaning of tribalism will emerge from the discussion of a concrete case. It is now commonplace knowledge that tribalism is the perennial and undying problem in our universities. Van den Berghe (1971, 1973) is perhaps a unique spokesman in setting forth his observation of this phenomenon, but he is by no means the only foreign visitor to our universities to be struck by it. What is so remarkable here is that tribalism is more prominent in the Federal universities in Nigeria than in the state and regional universities. This is clearly because the civic public is most operative in the Federal universities and comes into most violent confrontation with the primordial public in them. To concentrate on one example: in our Nigerian Universities confrontations continually occur between professors and lecturer from different ethnic groups in the matters regarding especially appointments of new members and the promotion of old ones. But there is logic to these conflicts. They are mostly promoted by mediocre Nigerianization professors who seem to feel insecure. Insecurity is in fact the stuff of which tribalism is made. That it involves and indeed hurts more efficient Nigerians is only part of the consequences of tribalism. But eventually it is the civic public that is hurt most deeply: efficiency and quality are sacrificed for expediency and, what is perhaps worse in the long-run, the amorality of the civic public deepens. Such is the source of the plight and restlessness in our universities in Nigeria today. Behind the show-case suavity of professorial pretensions lies the deep havoc wrought by the dialectical tensions between the civic public and the primordial public.


Voluntary Associations

If tribalism is an amorphous ism, ethnic ‘voluntary’ associations are its visible operational arm. Again, voluntary associations emerge in the big urban centers and are nourished in our universities. Like tribalism, they have developed with the civic public and in fact feed on it. That these ‘voluntary’ associations grow out of urbanization, that they attract well-educated Africans, that indeed they are the invention of the African bourgeois class: these are facts that have been well documented. What has not been fully emphasized; however is that these associations do not belong to the private realm in the same sense as political sociologists conceive of voluntary associations in the West. They are an integral part of the primordial public. As such they do not complement the civic public; they subtract from it.

The tenacity of voluntary associations in the face of attempts to regulate and even ban them (as attempted in Nigeria) indicates that they have underlying dynamics. So long as the primordial public survives-and it survives on the insecurity of the African bourgeoisie thrust into unwonted places of authority-so long will voluntary associations retain their strength. In spite of outward appearances the emergent African bourgeoisie lacks ‘introspective’ strength. Voluntary associations, tied to the primordial public, give a sense of security to those who have not achieved maximum differentiation from societal constraints-those, that is, who have not experienced the ‘introspective revolution’ that was a feature of the modern age in the West (cf. Weinstein and Platt, 1969).


The acme of the dialectics is corruption. It arises directly from the amorality of the civic public and the legitimation of the need to seize largesse from the civic public in order to benefit the primordial public. There are two forms of corruption that are associated with the dialectics. The first is what is regarded as embezzlement of funds from the civic public, from the government, to be more specific. The second is the solicitation and acceptance of bribes from individuals seeking services provided by the civic public by those who administer these services. Both carry little moral sanction and may well receive great moral approbation from members of one’s primordial public. But contrariwise, these forms of corruption are completely absent in the primordial public. Strange is the Nigerian who demands bribes from individuals or who engages in embezzlement in the performance of his duties to his primordial public. On the other hand, he may risk serious sanctions from members of his own primordial public if he seeks to extend the honesty and integrity with he performs his duties in the primordial public to his duties in the civic public by employing universalistic criteria of impartiality.

Thanks to the de Tocquevellian skill of one English sojourner in Nigeria who has discussed this issue with limpid richness, we can look at this matter for a moment through the eyes of a foreigner. Wraith contrasts the integrity with which Nigerians handled matters of primordial ethnic character with ‘the dragging footsteps and exiguous achievements to the local [government] authorities’. He notes that, while the local government authorities, with their civic structure, have ‘a sad record of muddle, corruption and strife’, the ‘ethnic unions are handling sums of money comparable to those of many local authorities; that they are spending it constructively, and that they are handling it honestly’ (italics in original). As Wraith rightly emphasizes, ‘To put your fingers in the till of the local authority will not unduly burden your conscience, and people may well think you are a smart fellow and envy you your opportunities. To steal the funds of the union would offend the public conscience and ostracizes you from society’ (Wraith and Simpkins, 1963:50).

This differentiated attitude extends to African habits of work. Africans are extremely hard-working in the primordial public, as anyone familiar with the operation of ethnic associations will testify to. The man-hours spent in the service of the primordial public are enormous-but it would be profane to count and emphasize them, such is their moral character. On the other hand, Africans are not hard-working in matters connected with the civic public. At least one does not feel guilty if one wastes one’s time in the service of the civic public. The same individual would be terribly embarrassed were he to waste time or make claims for work he has not done in the primordial public. It is not unknown that some individuals treat their duties in the civic public as an opportunity for rest in preparation for their tougher assignments in the primordial realm.


Modern comparative politics partially emerged with the widening interest of American and European social scientists in modern, especially post-colonial, Africa. The tools of comparative politics inhere in the traditional conception of politics in the West. That by itself seems appropriate. But the tools sometimes appear dull from overuse and cry out for sharpening. Certainly, if we are to capture the spirit of African politics we must seek what is uniqueness. Our post-colonial present has been fashioned by our colonial past. It is that colonial past that has defined for us the spheres of morality that have come to dominate our politics.

Our problems may be partially understood and hopefully solved by the realization that the civic public and the primordial public are rivals, that in fact the civic public is starved of badly needed morality. Of course, ‘morality’ has an old-fashioned ring about it; but any politics without morality is destructive. And the destructive results of African politics in the post-colonial era owes something to the amorality of the civic public.