In trying to analyze the link between colonial rule and nationalist rule, one cannot discount the influence of the past on the present. Analyzing nationalist actions and decisions without taking into account how society got to that point, and the situation of society when power was transferred would be asinine. The effects of colonization on various African countries through border setting and defining ethnic groups, the morphing of ethnic group disputes into class-based struggles, and the stunting of economies through failure to diversify national economies is intrinsically linked to the paths followed by leadership after attaining independence.
Previous to colonial rule, African governance took place at the local level. Political power functioned similarly to the theory of a social contract. Individuals submitted themselves to a local chief that was to represent their interest in matters both inside and outside their community. If the chief’s constituents were not pleased with his performance it was relatively easy to ouster him and promote a replacement. Once colonial power began infiltrating the continent this dynamic began to change. Colonial powers enlisted the local chiefs as their local liaison, rewarding the chiefs for their cooperation with favors, money, and protection from uprisings. In my opinion this is the beginning of the social change necessary in Africa to permit this despotism we later see under nationalist rule, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Colonial powers utilized a technique known as ‘divide and rule,’ which originally involved dividing the population along ethnic lines and generally pitting these different divisions against each other. This led to conflicts among the population, keeping them busy and thus facilitating colonial powers’ exertion of authority. The Mau Mau uprising in Kenya is a great example of ethnic divisions being used for the good of the colonial state. The Mau Mau, aka the Kenya Land and Freedom Army was painted as an extreme radical group that should be despised by all freedom and peace loving people of Kenya. In reality the Kenya Land and Freedom Army was a conglomeration of peasants who were disenfranchised and were seeking remuneration for ancestral land that had been slowly taken from them over the years until they were left with nothing. Faced with the prospect of living in an internment or rehabilitation camp, they decided to voice their displeasure through an armed uprising.
During the struggle for independence, the natives had a common cause of ridding themselves of colonial rule. Many were able to look past the divisions that had taken hold in their communities and band together for a common cause. Once independence was achieved, however, there was far from a consensus on how to proceed in ruling their countries. Prior to colonization in Nigeria, ethnic divisions had already begun to give way to class divisions. While colonial rule obviously did not introduce these divisions, it did...