Chapter 25

Problems in Africa


After achieving independence, the new African nations faced similar problems. It is not possible in the limited space available to look at events in every state in Africa. The following sections examine the problems common to all the states, and show what happened in some of the countries which experienced one or more of these problems. For example:

  • Ghana suffered economic problems, the failure of democracy and several coups.
  • Nigeria experienced civil war, a succession of military coups and brutal military dictatorship.
  • Tanzania – extreme poverty.
  • The Congo – civil war and military dictatorship.
  • Angola – civil war prolonged by outside interference.
  • Burundi and Rwanda – civil war and horrifying tribal slaughter.
  • South Africa was a special case: after 1980, when Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) gained its independence, South Africa was the last bastion of white rule on the continent of Africa, and the white minority was determined to hold out to the bitter end against black nationalism. Gradually the pressures became too much for the white minority, and in May 1994 Nelson Mandela became the first black president of South Africa.
  • LiberiaEthiopiaSierra Leone and Zimbabwe also had their own special problems.
  • In the mid-1980s most of the countries of Africa began to experience HIV/AIDS, which by 2004 had reached pandemic proportions, especially in sub-Saharan

Africa. Some 28 million people – about 8 per cent of the population – were HIV positive.


(a)  Tribal differences

They each contained a number of different tribes which had only been held together by the foreign colonial rulers and which had united in the nationalist struggle for freedom from the foreigners. As soon as the Europeans withdrew, there was little incentive to stay together, and they tended to regard loyalty to the tribe as more important than loyalty to their new nation. In Nigeria, the Congo (Zaire), Burundi and Rwanda, tribal differences became so intense that they led to civil war.

(b)  They were economically under-developed

In this, they were like many other Third World states. Most African states had very little industry; this had been a deliberate policy by the colonial powers, so that Africans would have to buy manufactured goods from Europe or the USA; the role of the colonies had been to provide food and raw materials. After independence they often relied on only one or two commodities for export, so that a fall in the world price of their products was a major disaster. Nigeria, for example, relied heavily on its oil exports, which produced about 80 per cent of its annual income. There was a shortage of capital and skills of all kinds, and the population was growing at a rate of over 2 per cent a year. Loans from abroad left them heavily in debt, and as they concentrated on increasing exports to pay for the loans, food for home consumption became scarcer. All this left the African nations heavily dependent on western European countries and the USA for both markets and investment and enabled those countries to exert some control over African governments (neo-colonialism). In the atmosphere of the Cold War, some states suffered direct military intervention from countries which did not like their government, usually because they were thought to be too left-wing and under Soviet influence. This happened to Angola, which found itself invaded by troops from South Africa and Zaire because those countries disapproved of Angola’s Marxist-style government.

(c)  Political problems

African politicians lacked experience of how to work the systems of parliamentary democracy left behind by the Europeans. Faced with difficult problems, they often failed to cope, and governments became corrupt. Most African leaders who had taken part in guerrilla campaigns before independence had been influenced by Marxist ideas, which often led them to set up one-party states as the only way to achieve progress. In many states, such as Kenya and Tanzania, this worked well, providing stable and effective government. On the other hand, since it was impossible to oppose such governments by legal means, violence was the only answer. Military coups to remove unpopular rulers became common. President Nkrumah of Ghana, for example, was removed by the army in 1966 after two assassination attempts had failed. Where the army was unable or unwilling to stage a coup, such as in Malawi, the one-party system flourished at the expense of freedom and genuine democracy.

(d)  Economic and natural disasters

In the 1980s the whole of Africa was beset by economic and natural disasters. The world recession reduced demand for African exports such as oil, copper and cobalt, and there was a severe drought (1982–5) which caused crop failures, deaths of livestock, famine and starvation. The drought ended in 1986 and much of the continent had record harvests that year. However, by this time, Africa, like the rest of the world, was suffering from a severe debt crisis, and at the same time had been forced by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to economize drastically in return for further loans. In a number of cases the IMF prescribed the ESAP (Economic Structural Adjustment Programme) which the country had to follow. Often this forced them to devalue their currency, and reduce food price subsidies, which led to increased food prices at a time when unemployment was rising and wages were falling. Governments were also forced to cut their spending on education, health and social services as part of the austerity programme. Table 26.2 in the next chapter shows how poor most of the African states were in comparison with the rest of the world.


Kwame Nkrumah ruled Ghana from the time the country gained independence in 1957 until his removal by the army in 1966.

(a)  His initial achievements were impressive

He was a socialist in outlook and wanted his people to enjoy a higher standard of living, which would come from efficient organization and industrialization. Production of cocoa (Ghana’s main export) doubled, forestry, fishing and cattle-breeding expanded, and the country’s modest deposits of gold and bauxite were more effectively exploited. The building of a dam on the River Volta (begun 1961) provided water for irrigation and hydro-electric power, producing enough electricity for the towns as well as for a new plant for smelting Ghana’s large deposits of bauxite. Government money was provided for village projects in which local people built roads and schools.

Nkrumah also gained prestige internationally: he strongly supported the pan-African movement, believing that only through a federation of the whole continent could African power make itself felt. As a start, an economic union was formed with Guinea and Mali, though nothing much came of it, while his dream of an African federal state quickly faded (see Section 24.1(c)). He supported the Organization of African Unity (set up in 1963), and usually played a responsible role in world affairs, keeping Ghana in the Commonwealth; in 1961 Queen Elizabeth II made a state visit to Ghana. At the same time Nkrumah forged links with the USSR, East Germany and China.

(b)  Why was Nkrumah overthrown?

He tried to introduce industrialization too quickly and borrowed vast amounts of capital from abroad, hoping to balance the budget from increased exports. Unfortunately Ghana was still uncomfortably dependent on cocoa exports, and a steep fall in the world price of cocoa left her with a huge balance-of-payments deficit. The smelting plant was a disappointment because the American corporation that built and owned it insisted on buying bauxite from abroad instead of using Ghanaian bauxite. There was criticism that too much money was being wasted on unnecessary projects, like the ten-mile stretch of motorway from Accra (the capital) to Tema, and some grandiose building projects.

Probably the most important reason for his downfall was that he gradually began to abandon parliamentary government in favour of a one-party state and personal dictatorship. He justified this on the grounds that the opposition parties, which were based on tribal differences, were not constructive and merely wanted more power in their own areas. They had no experience of working a parliamentary system, and as Nkrumah himself wrote: ‘Even a system based on a democratic constitution may need backing up in the period following independence by emergency measures of a totalitarian kind.’

From 1959 onwards, opponents could be deported or imprisoned for up to five years without trial. Even the respected opposition leader, J. B. Danqua, was arrested in 1961 and died in prison. In 1964 all parties except Nkrumah’s were banned, and even within his own party no criticism was allowed. He began to build up the image of himself as the ‘father of the nation’. Slogans such as ‘Nkrumah is our Messiah, Nkrumah never dies’ were circulated, and numerous statues of the ‘saviour’ were erected. This struck many people as absurd, but Nkrumah justified it on the grounds that the population could identify itself better with a single personality as leader than with vague notions of the state. All this, plus the fact that he was believed to have amassed a personal fortune through corruption, was too much for the army, which seized control when Nkrumah was on a visit to China (1966). The American CIA gave the coup its full backing, because the USA disapproved of Nkrumah’s links with communist states.

The military government promised a return to democracy as soon as a new constitution could be drawn up, complete with safeguards against a return to dictatorship. The constitution was ready in 1969 and the elections returned Dr Kofi Busia, leader of the Progressive Party, as the new prime Minister (October 1969).

(c)  Kofi Busia

Dr Busia survived only until January 1972 when he too was overthrown by the army. An academic who had studied economics at Oxford, Busia illustrates perfectly the difficulties of democratically elected politicians trying to maintain political stability in the African situation. In power in the first place only by permission of the army, he had to produce quick results. Yet the problems were enormous – rising unemployment, rising prices, the low price of cocoa on the world market, and massive debts to be repaid. Canada and the USA were prepared to wait for repayment, but other countries, including Britain, were not so sympathetic. Busia, who had a reputation for honesty, genuinely tried to keep up payments, but these were using up about 40 per cent of Ghana’s export profits. In 1971 imports were limited and the currency was devalued by nearly 50 per cent. Busia was hampered by the tribal squabbles which re-emerged under conditions of democracy, and the economic situation deteriorated so rapidly that in January 1972, while he was away on a visit to London, the army announced that he had been replaced by a National Redemption Council under the leadership of Colonel Ignatius Acheampong. They too struggled with all the same problems, exacerbated by sharp rises in the price of oil and other imports.

(d)  J. J. Rawlings

As Ghana continued to flounder amid her economic problems, Acheampong was himself removed from power by General Fred Akuffo, for alleged corruption. In June 1979, a group of junior officers led by 32-year-old Jerry J. Rawlings, a charismatic air-force officer of mixed Ghanaian and Scottish parentage, seized power on the grounds that corrupt soldiers and politicians needed to be weeded out before a return to democracy. They launched what was described as a ‘house-cleaning’ exercise in which Acheampong and Akuffo were executed after secret trials. In July, elections were held as a result of which Rawlings returned Ghana to civilian rule with Dr Hilla Limann as president (September 1979).

Limann was no more successful than previous leaders in halting Ghana’s economic decline. Corruption was still rife at all levels, and smuggling and hoarding of basic goods were commonplace. During 1981, inflation was running at 125 per cent, and there was widespread labour unrest as wages remained low. Rawlings came to the conclusion that he and some of his associates could do better. Limann was removed in a military coup (December 1981), and Flight-Lieutenant Rawlings became chairman of a Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC). He was rare among military leaders: the army did not want power, he said, but simply to be ‘part of the decision-making process’ which would change Ghana’s whole economic and social system. Though Rawlings remained leader, the PNDC appointed a civilian government of well-known figures from political and academic circles. Ghana suffered badly from the drought in 1983, but there was ample rainfall in 1984, bringing a good maize harvest.

Reluctantly Rawlings turned to the IMF for help, and though he had to agree to their conditions (austerity measures had to be introduced), the new recovery programme soon seemed to be working. Production rose by 7 per cent, and early in 1985 inflation was down to 40 per cent. As Ghana celebrated 30 years of independence (March 1987), she was still on course for recovery, and Rawlings and his party, the National Democratic Congress (NDC), evoking memories of Nkrumah, were running an apparently successful campaign to unite the 12 million Ghanaians solidly behind them. In the early 1990s Ghana was enjoying one of the highest economic growth rates in Africa. Yet for many people there remained one big criticism: there was no progress towards representative democracy. Rawlings responded in 1991 by calling an assembly to draw up a new constitution, and promised democratic elections in 1992. These duly went ahead (November) and Rawlings himself was elected president for a four-year term, with over 58 per cent of the votes. He was both Head of State and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. He was re-elected in 1996, but the constitution did not allow him to stand again in 2000. His career had been a remarkable one; seizing power in 1981 at the age of only 36, he remained leader for some 20 years, and gave Ghana a long period of political stability and modest prosperity.

The NDC chose Vice-President J. E. A. Mills as its presidential candidate. His main opponent was John Kufuor, leader of the New Patriotic Party. Mills was expected to win, but Kufuor scored a surprise victory and took over as president in January 2001. The NDC defeat was probably caused by economic problems – there had been a fall in the world prices of cocoa and gold, which were Ghana’s two main exports – and by the fact that the popular J. J. Rawlings was no longer the candidate. Kufuor continued the stability and prosperity, and in 2002 he set up a National Reconciliation Commission. He was reelected in 2004 and remained president until the next election, in December 2008. He concentrated on diversifying Ghana’s economy, modernizing agriculture and infrastructure, and encouraging private involvement. Social conditions were improved and the National Health System was reformed. In 2005 the Ghana School Feeding Programme was started – this provided a free hot meal a day for schoolchildren in the poorest areas.

Ghana continued to be regarded as one of the most stable, prosperous and generally successful democracies in the whole of Africa. Kufuor’s policies won the approval of the western countries and the US Millennium Challenge Account awarded Ghana a record $500 million grant for economic development. However, Kufuor was not without his critics among whom J. J. Rawlings was prominent. The complaints were that some projects had not been carried through fully and some had been underfunded or not funded at all. In the 2008 elections the NDC candidate, J. E. A. Mills, won the narrowest of victories.


Superficially, Nigeria, which gained independence in 1960, seemed to have advantages over Ghana; it was potentially a wealthy state, extensive oil resources having been discovered in the eastern coastal area. The prime minister was the capable and moderate Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, assisted by the veteran nationalist leader Nnamdi Azikiwe, who was made president when Nigeria became a republic in 1963. However, in 1966 the government was overthrown by a military coup, and the following year civil war broke out and lasted until 1970.

(a)  What caused the civil war?

A combination of the problems mentioned in Section 25.1 led to the outbreak.

  • Nigeria’s tribal differences were more serious than Ghana’s, and although the constitution was a federal one, in which each of the three regions (north, east and west) had its own local government, the regions felt that the central government in Lagos did not safeguard their interests sufficiently. Balewa came from the Muslim north where the Hausa and Fulani tribes were powerful; the Yorubas of the west and the Ibos of the south and east were constantly complaining about northern domination, even though Azikiwe was an Ibo.
  • To make matters worse there was an economic recession. By 1964 prices had risen by 15 per cent, unemployment was rising and wages were, on average, well below what had been calculated as the minimum living wage. Criticism of the government mounted and Balewa replied by arresting Chief Awolowo, prime minister of the western region, which for a time seemed likely to break away from the federation. The central government was also accused of corruption after blatantly trying to ‘fix’ the results of the 1964 elections.
  • In January 1966 there was a military coup carried out by mainly Ibo officers, in which Balewa and some other leading politicians were killed. After this the situation deteriorated steadily: in the north there were savage massacres of Ibos, who had moved into the region for better jobs. The new leader, General Ironsi, himself an Ibo, was murdered by northern soldiers. When a northerner, Colonel Yakubu Gowon, emerged supreme, almost all the Ibos fled from other parts of Nigeria back to the east, whose leader, Colonel Ojukwu, announced that the eastern region had seceded (withdrawn) from Nigeria to become the independent state of Biafra (May 1967). Gowon launched what he described as a ‘short surgical police action’ to bring the east back into Nigeria.

(b)  The civil war

It took more than a short police action, as the Biafrans fought back vigorously. Britain and the USSR supplied Gowon with arms, and France supplied Biafra. It was a bitter and terrible war, in which Biafra lost more civilians from disease and starvation than troops killed in the fighting. Neither the UN, the Commonwealth, nor the Organization of African Unity was able to mediate, and the Biafrans hung on to the bitter end as Nigerian troops closed in on all sides. The final surrender came in January 1970. Nigerian unity had been preserved.

(c)  Recovery after the war was remarkably swift

There were pressing problems: famine in Biafra, inter-tribal bitterness, unemployment, and economic resources strained by the war. Gowon showed considerable statesmanship in this difficult situation. There was no revenge-taking, as the Ibos had feared, and Gowon made every effort to reconcile them, persuading them to return to their jobs in other parts of the country. He introduced a new federal system of 12 states, later increased to 19, to give more recognition of local tribal differences; this was a pragmatic move in a country with so much ethnic diversity. The Nigerians were able to take advantage of rising oil prices in the mid-1970s, which gave them a healthy balance of payments position. In 1975 Gowon was removed by another army group, which probably thought he intended to return the country to civilian rule too early. Nigeria continued to prosper and the army kept its promise of a return to democratic government in 1979. Elections were held, resulting in President Shagari becoming head of a civilian government. With Nigeria’s oil much in demand abroad, prosperity seemed assured and prospects for a stable government bright.

(d)  Unfulfilled promise

Unfortunately disappointment was soon to follow: during 1981 the economy got into difficulties. The Nigerians had relied too heavily on oil exports; there was a fall in world oil prices, and the healthy trade balance of 1980 became a deficit in 1983. Although Shagari was elected for another four-year term (August 1983), he was removed by a military coup the following December. According to the new leader, Major-General Bukhari, the civilian government was guilty of mismanagement of the economy, financial corruption and rigging of the election. In August 1985, Bukhari became the victim of yet another coup carried out by a rival group of army officers who complained that he had not done enough to reverse the fall in living standards, rising prices, chronic shortages and unemployment. Simmering in the background was religious unrest between the largely Muslim north and the mainly Christian south.

The new president, Major-General Babangida, began energetically, introducing what he called a ‘belt-tightening’ campaign, and announcing plans to develop the non-oil side of the economy. He aimed to expand production of rice, maize, fish, vegetable oil and animal products, and to give special priority to steel manufacture and the assembly of motor vehicles. Following the example of Jerry Rawlings in Ghana, he declared that his military government would not remain in power ‘a day longer than was absolutely necessary’. A committee of academics was set to work to produce a new constitution which could ‘guarantee an acceptable and painless succession mechanism’; October 1990 was fixed as the date for a return to civilian rule. Another blow came in 1986 with a further dramatic fall in oil prices, which in June reached a record low of only $10 a barrel. This was a disaster for the government, which had based its 1986 budget calculations on a price of $23.50 a barrel. It was forced to accept a loan from the World Bank to enable the recovery programme to go ahead.

In spite of the economic problems, local and state elections were held as promised in 1990 and 1991 and there seemed a good chance of a return to democratic civilian rule; in June 1993 Chief Abiola won the presidential election. However, Babangida announced that the election had been annulled because of malpractices, although most foreign observers reported that it had been conducted fairly and peacefully. Babangida’s deputy, General Sani Abacha, seized power in a bloodless coup, and Chief Abiola was later arrested.

Abacha’s rule soon developed into a repressive military dictatorship with the imprisonment and execution of opposition leaders, which brought worldwide condemnation (November 1995). Nigeria was suspended from the Commonwealth and the UN applied economic sanctions; most countries stopped buying Nigerian oil and aid was suspended, which were further blows to the economy. Abacha meanwhile continued apparently unmoved, maintaining that he would hand power to a democratically elected president in 1998, or when he felt ready. Some opposition groups called for the country to be divided up into separate states; others demanded a looser federal system which would enable them to escape from the appalling Abacha regime. Corruption continued to flourish; it was reported that during Babangida’s period of power, over $12 billion in oil revenues had gone missing, and this trend was maintained under Abacha. Nor were such practices confined to the political elite: there was evidence that at every level of activity, bribery was usually necessary to keep the system operating.

It seemed as though military rule might continue indefinitely; then in June 1998 Abacha died unexpectedly. He was replaced by General Abubakar, a northern Muslim, who promised a return to civilian rule as soon as was practical. Political prisoners were released, and political parties allowed to form, in preparation for elections to be held in 1999. Three main parties emerged: the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), the All People’s Party (a more conservative party based in the north) and the Alliance for Democracy (a mainly Yoruba party based in the south-east). The presidential election held in February 1999 was declared by a team of international observers to be fair and free; Olusegun Obasanjo of the PDP was declared the winner and he took over as president in May.

(e)  Civilian rule again

President Obasanjo tried hard to make civilian rule a success; he began by retiring many of the military who had held official posts in the administration, and introduced new restrictions designed to eliminate corruption. Nigeria’s international image improved and US president Clinton paid a visit in 2000, promising aid to restore the country’s infrastructure, which had been allowed to fall into disrepair. However, things did not run smoothly: there was religious and ethnic violence, and the economy did not fulfil its potential.

  • There was sporadic violence between different tribal groups. For example, in Nassarawa state, around 50 000 people were forced to flee from their homes after two months of fighting between the dominant Hausa tribe and the Tiv minority.
  • The most serious problem was the continuous violence between Muslims and Christians. There had always been hostility between the two, but this was now further complicated by the issue of Sharia law. This is a system of Islamic law which imposes severe punishments, including amputation of limbs and death by stoning; for example: for theft – amputation of the right hand for a first offence, left foot for a second offence, left hand for a third, and so on. A man in the state of Zamfara lost his right hand for stealing the equivalent of £25. Punishments are especially severe on women: committing adultery and becoming pregnant outside marriage can bring a sentence of death by stoning. By the end of 2002, 12 of the 19 states – those in the north, which are mainly Muslim – had adopted Sharia law into their legal systems. Sharia was only applied to Muslims, but it was opposed by many Christians, who thought it was barbaric and medieval.

In the other states, which have Christian majorities, there were violent clashes between Muslims and Christians. The president and the attorney-general, both Christians and southerners, were against the introduction of Sharia law, but were in a difficult situation. With the presidential election due in April 2003, they could not afford to antagonize the northern states. However, the attorney-general did go so far as to declare Sharia law illegal on the grounds that it infringed the rights of Muslims by subjecting them ‘to a punishment more severe than would be imposed on other Nigerians for the same offence’. In March 2002 an appeal court overturned the death sentence imposed on a woman in Sokoto state for adultery; but in the same month, a woman in Katsina state was sentenced to death by stoning for having a child out of wedlock. Later in the year a young couple were sentenced to death for having sex outside marriage. These sentences aroused strong international protests; both the European Union and the USA expressed their concern, and the federal government of Nigeria said that it was totally opposed to such sentences.

  • There was serious violence in the northern city of Kaduna following the unwise decision to stage the Miss World contest in Nigeria in December 2002. Many Muslims strongly disapproved, but in November an article appeared in the national newspaper, This Day, which suggested that the Prophet Mohammed himself would not have objected to the Miss World contest, and would probably have chosen a wife from among the contestants. This outraged Muslim opinion; the offices of This Day in Kaduna were destroyed by Muslims, and some churches were burned. Christians retaliated and over 200 people died in the rioting that followed. The Miss World contest was relocated to the UK, and the deputy governor of the northern state of Zamfara issued a fatwa (formal decision) urging Muslims to kill Isioma Daniel, the writer of the article.
  • Early in 2003 there were outbreaks of ethnic violence in the southern Niger delta region. This was serious because it was an important oil-producing centre; three foreign oil companies were forced to suspend operations, and Nigeria’s total output of oil fell by 40 per cent.

In spite of all the problems, president Obasanjo won a convincing victory in the elections of April 2003, taking over 60 per cent of the votes; his People’s Democratic Party won majorities in both houses of parliament. But things did not become any easier for him: in July the country was crippled by a general strike in protest against large increases in the price of petrol. Violence between Christians and Muslims now seemed a permanent feature of life in Nigeria; in February 2004 at least 150 people were killed in Plateau state in central Nigeria, after Muslims attacked a church and Christians took revenge. Statistics published by the UN showed that between 66 and 70 per cent of the population were living in poverty, compared with 48.5 per cent as recently as 1998. The same basic problem continues – the misuse of Nigeria’s oil wealth. By 2004 the country had been exporting oil for more than 30 years, earning over $250 billion in revenue. However, ordinary people had seen very little benefit, while the ruling elites had amassed huge fortunes. In 2005 the president seemed to be making determined efforts to root out corruption. Several government ministers were sacked and even the vice-president, Atiku Abubakar, was accused of accepting bribes. During 2006 Nigerians were treated to the spectacle of their president and vice-president accusing each other of corruption and demanding the other’s resignation. The constitution did not allow a president to run for more than two terms; however, the 2007 presidential election was won by Obasanjo’s choice for the PDP party, the highly respected Umaru Yar’Adua.

Sadly, Yar’Adua was dogged by ill health and in November 2009 was flown to Saudi Arabia for medical treatment. Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian, took over as acting president. Yar’Adua’s death was announced in May 2010. Goodluck Jonathan was elected president in April 2011. His popularity soon plummeted when he announced the removal of a fuel subsidy, one of the few benefits that ordinary Nigerians enjoyed from their country’s oil. The removal more than doubled the price of petrol from 45 cents a litre to 94 cents a litre, causing nationwide and violent protests culminating in a week-long strike. Eventually Jonathan bowed to pressure and announced that the price would be 60 cents a litre (January 2012). The unions called off the strikes but many people still believed that the price was too high. Meanwhile there was violence in the north where a radical Islamist group, Boko Haram, which wanted a separate Islamic state in the north, was blamed for a series of shootings and bombings killing around 500 people in the first of half of 2012. President Jonathan and his PDP supporters announced that they were determined to preserve the unity of Nigeria and to restore peace and security; but towards the end of the year there were reports that the government was on the verge of losing control of the north.


Tanganyika became independent in 1961 and was joined in 1964 by the island of Zanzibar to form Tanzania. It was ruled by Dr Julius Nyerere, leader of the Tanzanian African Nationalist Union (TANU), who had to deal with formidable problems:

  • Tanzania was one of the poorest states in the whole of Africa.
  • There was very little industry, few mineral resources and a heavy dependence on coffee production.
  • Later, Tanzania became involved in expensive military operations to overthrow President Idi Amin of Uganda, and provided help and training for nationalist guerrillas from countries like Zimbabwe.
  • On the other hand, tribal problems were not as serious as elsewhere, and the Swahili language provided a common bond.

Nyerere retired as president in 1985 (aged 63), though he remained chairman of the party until 1990. He was succeeded as president by Ali Hassan Mwinyi, who had been vice-president, and who ruled for the next ten years.

(a)  Nyerere’s approach and achievements

His approach was different from that of any other African ruler. He began conventionally enough by expanding the economy: during the first ten years of independence, production of coffee and cotton doubled and sugar production trebled, while health services and education expanded. But Nyerere was not happy that Tanzania seemed to be developing along the same lines as Kenya, with an ever-widening gulf between the wealthy elite and the resentful masses. His proposed solution to the problem was set out in a remarkable document known as the Arusha Declaration, published in 1967. The country was to be run on socialist lines.

  • All human beings should be treated as equal.
  • The state must have effective control over the means of production and must intervene in economic life to make sure that people were not exploited, and that poverty and disease were eliminated.
  • There must be no great accumulations of wealth, or society would no longer be classless.
  • Bribery and corruption must be eliminated.
  • According to Nyerere, Tanzania was at war, and the enemy was poverty and oppression. The way to victory was not through money and foreign aid, but through hard work and self-reliance. The first priority was to improve agriculture so that the country could be self-sufficient in food production.

Nyerere strove hard to put these aims into practice: all important enterprises, including those owned by foreigners, were nationalized; five-year development plans were introduced. Village projects were encouraged and given aid by the government; these involved ujamaa (‘familyhood’, or self-help): families in each village pooled resources and farmed in co-operatives; these were small but viable units which operated collectively and could use more modern techniques. Foreign loans and investments as well as imports were reduced to a minimum to avoid running into debt. Politically, Nyerere’s brand of socialism meant a one-party state run by TANU, but elections were still held. It seemed that some elements of genuine democracy existed, since voters in each constituency had a choice of two TANU candidates and every election resulted in a large proportion of MPs losing their seats. Nyerere himself provided dignified leadership, and with his simple lifestyle and complete indifference to wealth, he set the perfect example for the party and the country to follow. It was a fascinating experiment which tried to combine socialist direction from the centre with the African traditions of local decision-making. It tried to provide an alternative to western capitalist society with its pursuit of profit, which most other African states seemed to be copying.

(b)  Success or failure?

Despite Nyerere’s achievements, it was clear when he retired in 1985 that his experiment had been, at best, only a limited success. At an international conference on the Arusha Declaration (held December 1986), President Mwinyi gave some impressive social statistics which few other African countries could match: 3.7 million children in primary school; two universities with, in total, over 4500 students; a literacy rate of 85 per cent; 150 hospitals and 2600 dispensaries; infant mortality down to 137 per thousand; life expectancy up to 52.

However, other parts of the Arusha Declaration were not achieved. Corruption crept in because many officials were not as high-minded as Nyerere himself. There was insufficient investment in agriculture so that production was far below what was expected. The nationalization of the sisal estates carried out in the 1960s was a failure – Nyerere himself admitted that production had declined from 220 000 tonnes in 1970 to only 47 000 tonnes in 1984, and in May 1985 he reversed the nationalization. From the end of 1978, Tanzania was in difficulties because of the fall in world prices of coffee and tea (her main exports), rising oil prices (which used up almost half her earnings from exports) and the expense of the war against Amin in Uganda (at least £1000 million). Although oil prices began to fall during 1981, there was soon the problem of the near-collapse of her other exports (cattle, cement and agricultural produce), which left her without foreign exchange. Loans from the IMF only brought her the added problem of how to meet the interest repayments. Tanzania was nowhere near being a socialist state, nor was it self-sufficient – two major aims of the Declaration. Nyerere’s socialist experiment might have worked well in a closed economy, but unfortunately Tanzania was becoming part of the ‘global village’, exposed to the vagaries of the world economy.

Nevertheless Nyerere was deservedly highly respected both as an African and as a world statesman, as an enemy of apartheid in South Africa, and as an outspoken critic of the world economy and the way it exploited poor countries. He played a vital role in the overthrow of Idi Amin, the brutal dictator who ruled Uganda from 1971 until 1979. Nyerere’s prestige was at its height when he was chosen as chairman of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) for 1984–5.

(c)  Tanzania after Nyerere

Nyerere’s successor, President Mwinyi, while at first keeping to the one-party system, began to move away from strict government control, allowing more private enterprise and a mixed economy; he also accepted financial help from the IMF, which Nyerere had always avoided. Mwinyi was re-elected for a further five-year term in 1990; in 1992 a new constitution was introduced, allowing a multi-party system. The first major democratic elections were held in October 1995. Mwinyi was obliged to stand down after two terms as president. The ruling party, which now called itself Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM – the Party of the Revolution), put forward Benjamin Mkapa as its presidential candidate. He won a clear victory, with 60 per cent of the votes, and the CCM won 214 out of the 269 seats in parliament.

Tanzania’s economy continued to be fragile and dependent on foreign aid. But foreign aid often came with unpleasant strings attached. In April 2000, for example, the IMF announced a debt-relief package for Tanzania, but one of the conditions was that parents had to contribute part of the fees for their children’s education. This was totally unrealistic for a poor country like Tanzania and consequently the numbers of children in primary schools fell sharply. Nor was the situation helped by the spread of the HIV/AIDS virus, which infected over a million people. Care and prevention became major public health problems. At the same time, there were some promising developments. In 1999 Tanzania’s first commercial gold mine went into production, and in 2000 preparations began for the mining of tanzanite, a precious stone even rarer than diamonds. As the elections of October 2000 approached, the government was troubled by a series of corruption scandals involving some of its wealthiest members, and also by nationalist sentiment in Zanzibar, which wanted more freedom from the mainland. However, the opposition parties were disorganized and seemed to have nothing better to offer; the president and his CCM won a sweeping victory – Mkapa took over 70 per cent of the votes and CCM won about 90 per cent of the seats in parliament. Foreign observers declared the elections to be free and fair, except in Zanzibar, where there were always complaints of rigging.

As Tanzania moved further into the twenty-first century, the economy began to fulfil some of its promise. President Mkapa privatized a number of state-owned corporations and introduced free-market policies, hoping that this would attract foreign investment and help towards economic expansion. The IMF and World Bank were so impressed by this that they obligingly agreed to cancel some of Tanzania’s foreign debts. By the time Mkapa stepped down at the end of his second term in 2005, Tanzania was well on the way to becoming the world’s third largest gold producer, and both foreign investment and tourism were increasing. However, although he had promised to put an end to corruption, he himself was accused of having, during the privatizations, illegally appropriated to himself, a coal mine. He was also criticized for spending £15 million on a private presidential jet. In the 2005 election the CCM candidate, Jakaya Kikwete, a protégé of Julius Nyerere, was elected president. He vowed to eliminate corruption and invested in the building of around 1500 new schools around the country and a new university at Dodoma, the capital. The USA gave a grant of some $700 million to help Tanzania’s general development, and the UK promised £500 million towards education.


(a)  Why and how did civil war develop?

Section 24.6(b) explained how the Belgians suddenly allowed the Congo to become independent in June 1960, with completely inadequate preparations. There was no experienced group of Africans to which power could be handed over. The Congolese had not been educated for professional jobs, very few had received any higher education and no political parties had been allowed. This did not mean that civil war was inevitable, but there were added complications.

  1. There were about 150 different tribes (or ethnic groups, as they now tend to be called), which would have made the Congo difficult to hold together even with experienced administrators. Violent and chaotic elections were held in which the Congolese National Movement (MNC), led by a former post-office clerk, Patrice Lumumba, emerged as the dominant party; but there were over 50 different groups. Agreement of any sort was going to be difficult; nevertheless the Belgians handed power over to a coalition government with Lumumba as prime minister, and Joseph Kasavubu, the leader of another group, as president.
  2. A mutiny broke out in the Congolese army (July 1960) only a few days after independence. This was in protest against the fact that all officers were Belgians, whereas the Africans expected instant promotion. Lumumba was deprived of the means of keeping law and order, and tribal violence began to spread.
  3. The south-eastern province of Katanga, which had rich copper deposits, was encouraged by the Belgian company (Union Minière) which still controlled the copper-mining industry, to declare itself independent under Moïse Tshombe. This was the wealthiest part of the Congo, which the new state could not afford to lose. Lumumba, unable to rely on his mutinous army, appealed to the UN to help him preserve Congolese unity, and a 3000-strong peacekeeping force soon arrived.

(b)  The civil war and the role of the UN

Lumumba wanted to use UN troops to force Katanga back into the Congo, but the situation was complex. The president had already made himself unpopular with the Americans and British because of his outspoken socialism; the Americans in particular regarded him as a dangerous communist who would align the Congo on the side of the USSR in the Cold War. Many Belgians preferred an independent Katanga, which would be easier for them to influence, and they wanted to continue their control of the copper mining. Faced with all these pressures, the UN secretary-general, Dag Hammarskjöld, refused to allow a UN attack on Katanga, though at the same time he refused to recognize Katangese independence. In disgust Lumumba appealed for help to the Russians, but this horrified Kasavubu, who, supported by General Joseph Mobutu and encouraged by the Americans and Belgians, had Lumumba arrested; he and two former ministers in his government were later badly beaten and then murdered by Belgian troops. As the chaos continued, Hammarskjöld realized that more decisive UN action was needed, and although he was killed in an air crash while flying to Katanga to see Tshombe, his successor, U Thant, followed the same line. By mid-1961 there were 20 000 UN troops in the Congo; in September they invaded Katanga and in December 1962 the province admitted failure and ended its secession; Tshombe went into exile.

Though successful, UN operations had been expensive, and within a few months all their troops were withdrawn. Tribal rivalries aggravated by unemployment caused disorders to break out again almost immediately, and calm was not restored until 1965 when General Mobutu of the Congolese army, using white mercenaries and backed by the USA and Belgium, crushed all resistance and took over the government himself.

(c)  General Mobutu in power

It was probably inevitable that if the Congo, with its many problems (an under-developed economy, tribal divisions and a shortage of educated people), was to stay united, a strong authoritarian government was required. Mobutu provided exactly that! There was a gradual improvement in conditions as the Congolese gained experience of administration, and the economy began to look healthier after most of the European-owned mines were nationalized.

However, in the late 1970s there were more troubles. In 1977 Katanga (now known as Shaba) was invaded by troops from Angola, apparently encouraged by the Angolan government, which resented Mobutu’s earlier intervention in its affairs (see Section 24.6(d)), and by the USSR, which resented American support for Mobutu. This was a way for the USSR to make a gesture against the Americans, and yet another extension of the Cold War.

Having survived that problem, Zaire (as the country had been called since 1971) found itself in economic difficulties, mainly because of declining world copper prices, and drought which made expensive food imports necessary. Mobutu came under increasing criticism outside Zaire for his authoritarian style of government and his huge personal fortune. In May 1980 Amnesty International claimed that at least a thousand political prisoners were being held without trial and that several hundred had died from torture or starvation during 1978–9. An important new measure, the Nationality Law, was introduced in 1981. This restricted citizenship in Zaire to people who could demonstrate a family connection with the Congo at the time of the Berlin Conference of 1885. It aimed to deal with the problem dating back to the colonial era, when tens of thousands of migrant workers had moved into the Congo from neighbouring territories. The problem was exacerbated later by an influx of refugees from Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi. There was tension between the indigenous population and the immigrants, and the Nationality Law was passed in response to pressure from the indigenous Congolese. However, it was difficult to implement, and conflict between the two continued. In 1990 Mobutu allowed a multi-party system, but with himself above politics as head of state. He remained in power, but in 1995, after 30 years of his rule, he was becoming more and more unpopular with his people.

(d)  The Kabilas, and civil war again

In the mid-1990s opposition to Mobutu increased. In the east of Zaire, Laurent Kabila, who had been a supporter of Patrice Lumumba, organized forces and began to move towards Kinshasa, the capital. In May 1997 Mobutu left the country and died later in the year in exile in Morocco. Laurent Kabila became president and changed the country’s name from Zaire to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). If the Congolese people had expected dramatic changes in the system of government, they were soon disappointed. Kabila continued many of Mobutu’s techniques – opposition politicians and journalists were arrested, political parties were banned, and elections cancelled. Some of his own supporters began to turn against him; the Banyamulenge, a people of Tutsi origin, many of whom had fought in Kabila’s army, resented what they saw as his favouritism towards members of his own Luba tribe. They began a rebellion in the east (August 1998) and received support from the governments of neighbouring Uganda and Rwanda. The governments of Zimbabwe, Angola and Namibia pledged support for Kabila. With forces from six countries involved, the conflict soon developed a wider significance than just a civil war. In spite of attempts at negotiation, hostilities dragged on into the next century. Then in January 2001 Kabila was assassinated by a member of his bodyguard, who was immediately himself shot dead. His motive was unclear, though the murder was blamed on the rebels.

The ruling group quickly declared Kabila’s son Joseph, the head of the Congolese military, as the next president. Joseph Kabila seemed more conciliatory than his father, promising free and fair elections and announcing that he was willing to make peace with the rebels. It was reported that since the civil war began, almost 3 million people had lost their lives, most of them from starvation and disease in the rebel area in the east. Encouraging signs soon developed:

  • Restrictions on political parties were lifted (May 2001).
  • The UN agreed that its peace mission should stay on in the DRC; it also welcomed the withdrawal of Namibian troops and called for other states with forces still in the DRC to withdraw them.
  • Peace agreements were signed between the DRC, Rwanda and Uganda (2002), with South Africa and the UN acting as guarantors. Both sides were to withdraw troops from the eastern area of the country; a system of power-sharing was to be introduced in which Kabila remained president, with four vice-presidents chosen from the various rebel groups. The transitional power-sharing government would work towards elections in 2005.

The new transitional government was formed in July 2003; the future looked more promising than for many years, though sporadic ethnic violence continued. Especially troubled was the north-eastern province of Ituri, where there were clashes between the Hema and Lendu tribes. A major step forward was achieved in 2005 when citizenship was awarded to everybody descended from ethnic groups present in the country at the time of independence in 1960. In July 2006 elections were held for president and for the national and provincial assemblies. Joseph Kabila took 44 per cent of the vote and did particularly well in the eastern Congo. His party won 111 out of 500 seats in the national assembly. Kabila’s nearest rival, Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo, a former rebel leader, won 20 per cent of the vote and did well in western Congo. Kabila had failed to win a large enough majority and a second round of voting was held in October. In the meantime violence broke out between armies of rival supporters, but the election itself went off reasonably peacefully and was declared to have been fairly conducted. This time Kabila won decisively, taking 58 per cent of the votes and was able to form a coalition government. However, Bemba refused to accept the result, and in March 2007 he tried to seize power in Kinshasa. After fierce fighting Bemba’s forces were defeated and he took refuge in the South African embassy. He was allowed to fly to Portugal but was later arrested and taken to the Netherlands where, in July 2008 an International Criminal Court charged him with war crimes.

Joseph Kabila was elected for a second term as president in December 2011, but the election was widely condemned and described as ‘lacking credibility’. It was reported that the votes from almost 2000 polling stations in areas where support for the opposition candidate, Etienne Tshisekede, was strong, had been ‘lost’. The election was also condemned by the 35 Roman Catholic bishops in the DRC as being full of ‘treachery, lies and terror’. They called for the electoral commission to put right ‘serious errors’. The Archbishop of Kinshasa even called for a campaign of civil disobedience until the election result was annulled (January 2012). Nevertheless, Kabila stayed in power and the violence continued through 2012 as various rebel groups, with help from Rwanda, tried to overthrow him. In September 2012 President Kagame of Rwanda insisted that Rwanda’s intervention was to protect Rwanda business interests in the DRC and to preserve Rwanda’s security.


(a)  Civil war escalates

Section 24.6(d) described how Angola was engulfed by civil war immediately after gaining independence from Portugal in 1975. Part of the problem was that there were three different liberation movements, which started to fight each other almost as soon as independence was declared.

  • The MPLA (People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola) was a Marxist-style party which tried to appeal across tribal divisions to all Angolans. It was the MPLA which claimed to be the new government, with its leader, Agostinho Neto, as president.
  • UNITA (National Union for the Total Independence of Angola), with its leader Jonas Savimbi, drew much of its support from the Ovimbundu tribe in the south of the country.
  • FNLA (National Front for the Liberation of Angola); much weaker than the other two, it drew much of its support from the Bakongo tribe in the north-west.

Alarm bells immediately rang in the USA, which did not like the look of the Marxist MPLA. The Americans therefore decided to back the FNLA (which was also supported by President Mobutu of Zaire), providing advisers, cash and armaments, and encouraged it to attack the MPLA. UNITA also launched an offensive against the MPLA. Cuba sent troops to help the MPLA, while South African troops, supporting the other two groups, invaded Angola via neighbouring Namibia in the south. General Mobutu also sent troops in from Zaire to the north-east of Angola. No doubt there would have been fighting and bloodshed anyway, but outside interference and the extension of the Cold War to Angola certainly made the conflict much worse.

(b)  Angola and Namibia

The problem of Namibia also complicated the situation. Lying between Angola and South Africa, Namibia (formerly German South West Africa) had been handed to South Africa in 1919 at the end of the First World War, to be prepared for independence. The white South African government had ignored UN orders and delayed handing Namibia over to black majority rule as long as possible. The Namibian liberation movement, SWAPO (South West Africa People’s Organization), and its leader, Sam Nujoma, began a guerrilla campaign against South Africa. After 1975 the MPLA allowed SWAPO to have bases in southern Angola, so it was not surprising that the South African government was so hostile to the MPLA.

(c)  The Lisbon Peace Accords (May 1991)

The civil war dragged on right through the 1980s until changing international circumstances brought the possibility of peace. In December 1988 the UN managed to arrange a peace settlement, in which South Africa agreed to withdraw from Namibia provided that the 50 000 Cuban troops left Angola. This agreement went ahead: Namibia became independent under the leadership of Sam Nujoma (1990). The end of the Cold War and of communist rule in eastern Europe meant that all communist support for the MPLA ceased, all Cuban troops had gone home by June 1991, and South Africa was ready to end her involvement. The UN, the Organization of African Unity (OAU), the USA and Russia all played a part in setting up peace talks between the MPLA government of Angola and UNITA in Lisbon (the capital of Portugal). It was agreed that there should be a ceasefire followed by elections, to be monitored by the UN.

(d)  The failure of the peace

At first all seemed to go well: the ceasefire held and elections took place in September 1992. The MPLA won 58 per cent (129) of the seats in parliament, UNITA only 31 per cent (70 seats). Although the presidential election result was much closer – MPLA president Jose Eduardo Dos Santos won 49.57 per cent of the votes, with Jonas Savimbi (UNITA) taking 40.07 per cent – it was still a clear and decisive victory for the MPLA.

However, Savimbi and UNITA refused to accept the result, claiming that there had been fraud, even though the elections had been monitored by 400 UN observers; the leader of the UN team reported that the election had been ‘generally free and fair’. Tragically UNITA, instead of accepting defeat gracefully, renewed the civil war, which was fought with increasing bitterness. By the end of January 1994 the UN reported that there were 3.3 million refugees and that an average of a thousand people a day, mainly civilians, were dying. The UN had too few personnel in Angola to bring the fighting to an end. This time the outside world could not be blamed for the civil war: this was clearly the fault of UNITA. However, many observers blamed the USA for encouraging UNITA:shortly before the Lisbon agreement, President Reagan had officially met Savimbi in the USA, which made him seem like an equal with the MPLA government instead of a rebel leader. At the same time the USA had not officially recognized the MPLA as the legal government of Angola, even after the elections; it was not until May 1993, six months after UNITA had resumed the war, that the USA finally gave recognition to the MPLA government.

A ceasefire was eventually negotiated in October 1994 and a peace agreement was reached in November. UNITA, which was losing the war by that time, accepted the 1992 election result, and in return was to be allowed to play a part in what would be, in effect, a coalition government. Early in 1995, 7000 UN troops arrived to help enforce the agreement and supervise the transition to peace. But incredibly, Savimbi soon began to break the terms of the agreement; financing his forces with the proceeds from illicit sales of diamonds, he continued the struggle against the government until February 2002, when he was killed in an ambush by government troops. His death changed the situation dramatically Almost immediately the new leaders of UNITA showed a willingness to negotiate. In April 2002 a ceasefire was signed, and the two sides promised to keep the terms of the 1994 agreement. The Angolan National Assembly voted in favour of extending an amnesty to all UNITA members, including fighters and civilians. The whole agreement was to be monitored by the UN. At last, with Savimbi no longer on the scene, there seemed to be a genuine chance for peace and reconstruction in Angola.

During the 27 years of its existence, Angola had not known real peace, and its development had been severely hampered. It was a potentially prosperous country, rich in oil, diamonds and minerals; the central highlands were fertile – ideal for rearing cattle and raising crops; coffee was a major product. But at the end of the twentieth century the economy was in a mess: inflation was running at 240 per cent, the war was ruinously expensive, and the vast majority of the population was living in poverty, and thousands were on the verge of starvation. Leading politicians faced accusations of corruption on a grand scale. According to the IMF over $4 billion of oil receipts had disappeared from the treasury since 1996. Human Rights Watch reported that UNITA had employed 86 000 child soldiers, and even the government forces had used 3000. The two armies between them had laid some 15 million landmines and many of these still had to be destroyed. It was calculated that about 4 million people (a third of the population) had been forced to leave their homes and were left homeless in 2002, while 1.5 million had been killed.

Angola’s natural resources enabled the country to recover reasonably quickly economically. An encouraging sign was the signing of a peace deal with the separatist rebels of the Cabinda region. It was a relatively small area with a population of little more than 100 000, but it was important because about 65 per cent of Angola’s oil comes from there. In September 2008 the first national elections for 16 years took place. The ruling MPLA won just over 80 per cent of the votes, while the main opposition party (UNITA) could muster only 10 per cent, giving the MPLA and president José Eduardo dos Santos a two-thirds majority in parliament. By 2010 the president’s popularity was beginning to wane. One of the main criticisms was that he and his family had amassed huge personal fortunes while the country’s recovery and wealth had not percolated down to ordinary people. He survived an assassination attempt in October 2010, and there was an increasing number of massive anti-government demonstrations. By September 2011 the police were using violent methods to disperse demonstrators. However, President dos Santos, now aged 70, appeared to be the comfortable winner in the election of August 2012, and thanks to a change in the constitution, he seemed set to stay in power until 2022.


The Belgians left these two small states, like the Congo, completely unprepared for independence. In both states there was an explosive mixture of two tribes – the Tutsi and the Hutu. They spoke the same language and looked very much alike, and although the Hutu were in a majority, the Tutsi were the elite ruling group, and they followed different occupations: the Tutsi raised cattle (the word ‘Tutsi’ actually means ‘rich in cattle’), whereas the Hutu were mainly farmers growing bananas and other crops (the word ‘Hutu’ means ‘servant)’. There was continuous tension and skirmishing between the two tribes right from independence day in 1962.

(a)  Burundi

There was a mass rising of Hutus against the ruling Tutsi in 1972; this was savagely put down, and over 100 000 Hutu were killed, along with many Tutsi. Some 200 000 Tutsi fled into Tanzania. In 1988 Hutu soldiers in the Burundi army massacred thousands of Tutsi. In 1993 the country held its first democratic elections and for the first time a Hutu president was chosen. Tutsi soldiers soon murdered the new president, in October 1993, but other members of the Hutu government were able to escape. As Hutu carried out reprisal killings against Tutsi, massacre followed massacre; around 50 000 Tutsi were killed and the country disintegrated into chaos. Eventually the army imposed a power-sharing agreement: the prime minister was to be a Tutsi, the president a Hutu, but most of the power was concentrated in the hands of the Tutsi prime minister.

Fighting continued into 1996, and the Organization of African Unity, which sent a peacekeeping force (the first time it had ever taken such action), was unable to prevent the continuing massacres and ethnic cleansing. The economy was in ruins, agricultural production was seriously reduced because much of the rural population had fled, and the government seemed to have no ideas about how to end the war. The outside world and the great powers showed little concern – their interests were not involved or threatened – and the conflict in Burundi was not given much coverage in the world’s media. In July 1996, the army overthrew the divided government, and Major Pierre Buyoya (a Tutsi moderate) declared himself president. He claimed that this was not a normal coup – the army had seized power in order to save lives. He had the utmost difficulty in pacifying the country; several former African presidents, including Julius Nyerere of Tanzania and Nelson Mandela of South Africa, attempted to mediate. The problem was that there were about 20 different warring groups, and it was difficult to get representatives of them all together at the same time. In October 2001 an agreement was reached at Arusha (Tanzania), with the help of Mandela. There was to be a three-year transitional period; during the first half of this, Buyoya would continue as president with a Hutu vice-president; after this, a Hutu would become president with a Tutsi vice-president. There was to be an international peacekeeping force and restrictions were to be lifted on political activity. However, not all the rebel groups had signed the Arusha agreement, and fighting continued, in spite of the arrival of South African peacekeepers.

Prospects for peace brightened in December 2002 when the main Hutu rebel party at last signed a ceasefire with the government. President Buyoya kept his side of the Arusha agreement, handing over the presidency to Domitien Ndayizeye, a Hutu (April 2003). The new president was soon able to reach a power-sharing agreement with the remaining Hutu rebel group, but the peace remained fragile. Elections for parliament in 2005 resulted in a series of victories for the ruling party, and its leader, Pierre Nkurunziza, was chosen as the next president. One of the younger generation of Hutu leaders, he described himself as a born-again Christian and was committed to restoring peace and harmony among all Burundians. He also aimed to revive the economy and develop social policy. His first achievement was to reach a ceasefire with the last of the rebel militias (2006). New policies were introduced to safeguard the rights of women and children and to provide free education for primary-school children. He was also keen to keep in touch with ordinary people, and spent a lot of time in the countryside, meeting and talking with villagers. He received several international honours including a UN peace award, and in August 2009 he was presented with the ‘Model Leader for a New Africa Award’ by the African Forum on Religion and Government, the first African president to be so honoured. In August 2010 President Nkurunziza was elected for a second five-year term.

(b)  Rwanda

Tribal warfare began in 1959 before independence, and reached its first big climax in 1963, when the Hutu, fearing a Tutsi invasion from Burundi, massacred thousands of Rwandan Tutsi and overthrew the Tutsi government. In 1990 fighting broke out between the rebel Tutsi-dominated Rwandese Patriotic Front (Front Patriotique Rwandais – FPR), which was based over the border in Uganda, and the official Rwandan army (Hutu-dominated). This lasted off and on until 1993 when the UN helped to negotiate a peace settlement at Arusha in Tanzania, between the Rwandan government (Hutu) and the FPR (Tutsi): there was to be a more broadly-based government, which would include the FPR; 2500 UN troops were sent to monitor the transition to peace (October 1993).

For a few months all seemed to be going well, and then disaster struck. The more extreme Hutu were bitterly opposed to the Arusha peace plan, and shocked by the murder of the Hutu president of Burundi. Extremist Hutu, who had formed their own militia (the Interahamwe), decided to act. The aircraft bringing the moderate Hutu President Habyarimana of Rwanda and the Burundian president back from talks in Tanzania was brought down by a missile, apparently fired by extremist Hutu as it approached Kigali (the capital of Rwanda), killing both presidents (April 1994). With the president dead, nobody was sure who was giving the orders, and this gave the Interahamwe the cover they needed to launch a campaign of genocide. The most horrifying tribal slaughter followed; Hutu murdered all Tutsi they could lay hands on, including women and children. A favourite technique was to persuade Tutsi to take sanctuary in churches and then destroy the church buildings and the sheltering Tutsi. Even nuns and clergy were caught up in the massacre. Altogether about 800 000 Tutsi and moderate Hutu who tried to help their neighbours were brutally murdered in what was clearly a deliberate and carefully planned attempt to wipe out the entire Tutsi population of Rwanda, and it was backed by the Hutu government of Rwanda.

The Tutsi FPR responded by taking up the fight again and marching on the capital; UN observers reported that the streets of Kigali were literally running with blood and the corpses were piled high. The small UN force was not equipped to deal with violence on this scale, and it soon withdrew. The civil war and the genocide continued through into June; in addition to those killed, about a million Tutsi refugees had fled into neighbouring Tanzania and Zaire.

Meanwhile the rest of the world, though outraged and horrified by the scale of the genocide, did nothing to stop it. Historian Linda Melvern has shown how the warning signs of what was to come were ignored by all those who might have prevented the genocide. She claims that Belgium and France both knew what was being planned; as early as the spring of 1992, the Belgian ambassador told his government that extremist Hutus were ‘planning the extermination of the Tutsi of Rwanda once and for all, and to crush the internal Hutu opposition’. The French continued to supply the Hutu with arms throughout the genocide;US president Clinton knew precisely what was happening, but after the humiliation of the US intervention in Somalia in 1992, he was determined not to get involved. Linda Melvern is highly critical of the UN; she points out that UN secretary-general Boutros-Ghali knew Rwanda well and was aware of the situation, but being pro-Hutu, refused to allow arms inspections and avoided sending sufficient UN forces to deal with the problem. On the other hand, it was not just the West and the UN that turned a blind eye to the tragedy in Rwanda; the Organization of African Unity did not even condemn the genocide, let alone try to prevent it; nor did any other African states take any action or issue public condemnation. Arguably African attention was focused on the new democracy in South Africa rather than on halting the genocide in Rwanda.

By September the FPR were beginning to get the upper hand: the Hutu government was driven out and a Tutsi FPR government was set up in Kigali. But progress to peace was slow; by the end of 1996 this new government was still beginning to make its authority felt over the whole country, and refugees started to return. Eventually a power-sharing arrangement was reached, and a moderate Hutu, Pasteur Bizimungu, became president with Paul Kagame, a Tutsi, as his vice-president. This was an important concession by the Tutsi as they tried to deflect accusations of a resurgent Tutsi elitism, though in fact Kagame was the real policy decider. However, in 2000 when Bizimungu began to criticize parts of Kagame’s programme, he was removed from the presidency and Kagame took over. Bizimunbu immediately founded an opposition party but the Kagame government banned it.

One of the problems facing the government was that jails were overflowing with well over 100 000 prisoners awaiting trial for involvement in the 1994 genocide. There were simply too many for the courts to deal with. In January 2003, Kagame ordered the release of around 40 000 prisoners, though it was made clear that they would face trial eventually. This caused consternation among many survivors of the massacres, who were horrified at the prospect of coming face to face with the people who had murdered their relatives.

A new constitution was introduced in 2003 providing for a president and a two-chamber parliament and established a balance of political power between Hutu and Tutsi – no party can hold more than half the seats in parliament. It also outlawed the incitement of ethnic hatred in the hope of avoiding a repeat of the genocide. In the first national elections since 1994, President Kagame won an overwhelming victory, taking 95 per cent of the votes (August 2003). However, observers reported that there were ‘malpractices’ in some areas, and two of the main opposition parties were banned. But at least Rwanda seemed to be enjoying a period of relative calm. In February 2004, the government introduced a new reconciliation policy: people who admitted their guilt and asked for forgiveness before 15 March 2004 would be released (except those accused of organizing the genocide). It was hoped that this, like the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, would help Rwandans to come to terms with the traumas of the past and move forward into a period of peace and harmony.

Certainly economic and social conditions improved during Kagame’s presidency. He succeeded in reducing the amount of corruption and crime; between 2000 and 2008 per capita income doubled; almost half the country’s children were receiving a full primary education, compared with 20 per cent before Kagame came to power; and there was a marked increase in life expectancy. Rwandans infected with AIDS could now receive antiretroviral drugs in health centres across the country. Exports of tea and coffee began to increase, and tourism became an important source of revenue, especially the safari parks. In 2009 Rwanda was accepted as a member of the British Commonwealth of Nations; this was an attempt to distance the country from its Belgian past. President Kagame was decisively re-elected for a further term in August 2010, although doubts were expressed by observers about how free the elections really were. During the election campaign, several opposition supporters and journalists were killed and press freedom was limited. The UN, the European Union and the USA all expressed concerns about these developments.


(a)  The formation of the Union of South Africa

South Africa has had a complicated history. The first Europeans to settle there permanently were members of the Dutch East India Company who founded a colony at the Cape of Good Hope in 1652. It remained a Dutch colony until 1795, and during that time, the Dutch, who were known as Afrikaners or Boers (a word meaning ‘farmers’), took land away from the native Africans and forced them to work as labourers, treating them as little better than slaves. They also brought more labourers in from Asia, Mozambique and Madagascar.

In 1795 the Cape was captured by the British during the French Revolutionary Wars, and the 1814 peace settlement decided that it should remain British. Many British settlers went out to Cape Colony. The Dutch settlers became restless under British rule, especially when the British government made all slaves free throughout the British Empire (1838). The Boer farmers felt that this threatened their livelihood, and many of them decided to leave Cape Colony. They moved northwards (in what became known as ‘the Great Trek’) and set up their own independent republics of the Transvaal and Orange Free State (1835–40). Some also moved into the area east of Cape Colony known as Natal. In the Boer War (1899–1902) the British defeated the Transvaal and the Orange Free State, and in 1910 they joined up with Cape Colony and Natal to form the Union of South Africa.

The population of the new state was mixed:


70  per cent were black Africans, known as Bantus;

18  per cent were whites of European origin; of these about 60 per cent were Dutch, the rest British;

9 per cent were of mixed race, known as ‘coloureds’;

3 per cent were Asians.

Although they made up the vast majority of the population, black Africans suffered even worse discrimination than black people in the USA.

  • The whites dominated politics and the economic life of the new state, and, with only a few exceptions, blacks were not allowed to vote.
  • Black people had to do most of the manual work in factories, in the gold mines and on farms; the men mostly lived in barracks accommodation away from their wives and children. Black people generally were expected to live in areas reserved for them away from white residential areas. These reserved areas made up only about 7 per cent of the total area of South Africa and were not large enough to enable the Africans to produce sufficient food for themselves and to pay all their taxes. Black Africans were forbidden to buy land outside the reserves.
  • The government controlled the movement of blacks by a system of pass laws. For example, a black person could not live in a town unless he had a pass showing that he was working in a white-owned business. An African could not leave the farm where he worked without a pass from his employer; nor could he get a new job unless his previous employer signed him out officially; many workers were forced to stay in difficult working conditions, even under abusive employers.
  • Living and working conditions for blacks were primitive; for example, in the gold-mining industry, Africans had to live in single-sex compounds with sometimes as many as 90 men sharing a dormitory.
  • By a law of 1911, black workers were forbidden to strike and were barred from holding skilled jobs.

(b)  Dr Malan introduces apartheid

After the Second World War there were important changes in the way black Africans were treated. Under Prime Minister Malan (1948–54), a new policy called apartheid (separateness) was introduced. This tightened up control over blacks still further. Why was apartheid introduced?

  • When India and Pakistan were given independence in 1947, white South Africans became alarmed at the growing racial equality within the Commonwealth, and they were determined to preserve their supremacy.
  • Most of the whites, especially those of Dutch origin, were against racial equality, but the most extreme were the Afrikaner Nationalist Party led by Dr Malan. They claimed that whites were a master race, and that non-whites were inferior beings. The Dutch Reformed Church (the official state church of South Africa) supported this view and quoted passages from the Bible which, they claimed, proved their theory. This was very much out of line with the rest of the Christian churches, which believe in racial equality. The Broederbond was a secret Afrikaner organization which worked to protect and preserve Afrikaner power.
  • The Nationalists won the 1948 elections with promises to rescue the whites from the ‘black menace’ and to preserve the racial purity of the whites. This would help to ensure continued white supremacy.

(c)  Apartheid developed further

Apartheid was continued and developed further by the prime ministers who followed Malan: Strijdom (1954–8), Verwoerd (1958–66) and Vorster (1966–78).

The main features of apartheid

  1. There was complete separation of blacks and whites as far as possible at all levels. In country areas blacks had to live in special reserves; in urban areas they had separate townships built at suitable distances from the white residential areas. If an existing black township was thought to be too close to a ‘white’ area, the whole community was uprooted and ‘re-grouped’ somewhere else to make separation as complete as possible. There were separate buses, coaches, trains, cafés, toilets, park benches, hospitals, beaches, picnic areas, sports and even churches. Black children went to separate schools and were given a much inferior education. But there was a flaw in the system: complete separation was impossible because over half the non-white population worked in white-owned mines, factories and other businesses. The economy would have collapsed if all non-whites had been moved to reserves. In addition, virtually every white household had at least two African servants.
  2. Every person was given a racial classification and an identity card. There were strict pass laws which meant that black Africans had to stay in their reserves or in their townships unless they were travelling to a white area to work, in which case they would be issued with passes. Otherwise all travelling was forbidden without police permission.
  3. Marriage and sexual relations between whites and non-whites were forbidden; this was to preserve the purity of the white race. Police spied shamelessly on anybody suspected of breaking the rules.
  4. The Bantu Self-Government Act (1959) set up seven regions called Bantustans, based on the original African reserves. It was claimed that they would eventually move towards self-government. In 1969 it was announced that the first Bantustan, the Transkei, had become ‘independent’. However, the outside world dismissed this with contempt since the South African government continued to control the Transkei’s economy and foreign affairs. The whole policy was criticized because the Bantustan areas covered only about 13 per cent of the country’s total area; over 8 million black people were crammed into these relatively small areas, which were vastly overcrowded and unable to support the black populations adequately. They became very little better than rural slums, but the government ignored the protests and continued its policy; by 1980 two more African ‘homelands’, Bophuthatswana and Venda, had received ‘independence’.
  5. Africans lost all political rights, and their representation in parliament, which had been by white MPs, was abolished.

(d)  Opposition to apartheid

1  Inside South Africa

Inside South Africa, opposition to the system was difficult. Anyone who objected – including whites – or broke the apartheid laws, was accused of being a communist and was severely punished under the Suppression of Communism Act. Africans were forbidden to strike, and their political party, the African National Congress (ANC), was helpless. In spite of this, protests did take place.

  • Chief Albert Luthuli, the ANC leader, organized a protest campaign in which black Africans stopped work on certain days. In 1952 Africans attempted a systematic breach of the laws by entering shops and other places reserved for whites. Over 8000 blacks were arrested and many were flogged. Luthuli was deprived of his chieftaincy and put in jail for a time, and the campaign was called off.
  • In 1955 the ANC formed a coalition with Asian and coloured groups, and at a massive open-air meeting at Kliptown (near Johannesburg), they just had time to announce a freedom charter before police broke up the crowd. The charter soon became the main ANC programme. It began by declaring: ‘South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white, and no government can claim authority unless it is based on the will of the people.’ It went on to demand:
  • equality before the law;
    • freedom of assembly, movement, speech, religion and the press;
    • the right to vote;
    • the right to work, with equal pay for equal work;
    • a 40-hour working week, a minimum wage and unemployment benefits;
    • free medical care;
    • free, compulsory and equal education.
  • Church leaders and missionaries, both black and white, spoke out against apartheid. They included people like Trevor Huddleston, a British missionary who had been working in South Africa since 1943.
  • Later the ANC organized other protests, including the 1957 bus boycott: instead of paying a fare increase on the bus route from their township to Johannesburg ten miles away, thousands of Africans walked to work and back for three months until fares were reduced.
  • Protests reached a climax in 1960 when a huge demonstration took place against the pass laws at Sharpeville, an African township near Johannesburg. Police fired on the crowd, killing 67 Africans and wounding many more (see Illus. 25.1). After this, 15 000 Africans were arrested and hundreds of people were beaten by police. This was an important turning point in the campaign: until then most of the protests had been non-violent; but this brutal treatment by the authorities convinced many black leaders that violence could only be met with violence.
  • A small action group of the ANC, known as Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation), or MK, was launched; Nelson Mandela was a prominent member. They organized a campaign of sabotaging strategic targets: in 1961 there was a spate of bomb attacks in Johannesburg, Port Elizabeth and Durban. But the police soon clamped down, arresting most of the black leaders, including Mandela, who was sentenced to life imprisonment on Robben Island. Chief Luthuli still persevered with non-violent protests, and after publishing his moving autobiography Let My People Go, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. He was killed in 1967, the authorities claiming that he had deliberately stepped in front of a train.
  • Discontent and protest increased again in the 1970s because the wages of Africans failed to keep pace with inflation. In 1976, when the Transvaal authorities announced that Afrikaans (the language spoken by whites of Dutch descent) was to be used in black African schools, massive demonstrations took place at Soweto, a black township near Johannesburg. Although there were many children and young people in the crowd, police opened fire, killing at least 200 black Africans. This time the protests did not die down; they spread over the whole country. Again the government responded with brutality: over the next six months a further 500 Africans were killed; among the victims was Steve Biko, a young African leader who had been urging people to be proud of their blackness. He was beaten to death by police (1976).

Illustration 25.1  Bodies litter the ground after the Sharpeville massacre, South Africa, 1960

2  Outside South Africa

Outside South Africa there was opposition to apartheid from the rest of the Commonwealth. Early in 1960 the British Conservative prime minister, Harold Macmillan, had the courage to speak out against it in Cape Town; he spoke about the growing strength of African nationalism: ‘the wind of change is blowing through the continent … our national policies must take account of it’. His warnings were ignored, and shortly afterwards, the world was horrified by the Sharpeville massacre. At the 1961 Commonwealth Conference, criticism of South Africa was intense, and many thought the country would be expelled. In the end Verwoerd withdrew South Africa’s application for continued membership (in 1960 it had become a republic instead of a dominion, thereby severing the connection with the British crown; because of this the government had had to apply for readmission to the Commonwealth), and it ceased to be a member of the Commonwealth.

3  The UN and OAU

The United Nations and the Organization of African Unity condemned apartheid and were particularly critical of the continued South African occupation of South West Africa (see above, Section 25.6(b)). The UN voted to place an economic boycott on South Africa (1962), but this proved useless because not all member states supported it. Britain, the USA, France, West Germany and Italy condemned apartheid in public, but continued to trade with South Africa. Among other things, they sold South Africa massive arms supplies, apparently hoping that it would prove to be a bastion against the spread of communism in Africa. Consequently Verwoerd (until his assassination in 1966) and his successor Vorster (1966–78) were able to ignore the protests from the outside world until well into the 1970s.

(e)  The end of apartheid

The system of apartheid continued without any concessions being made to black people, until 1980.

1  P. W. Botha

The new prime minister, P. W. Botha (elected 1979), realized that all was not well with the system. He decided that he must reform apartheid, dropping some of the most unpopular aspects in an attempt to preserve white control. What caused this change?

  • Criticism from abroad (from the Commonwealth, the United Nations and the Organization of African Unity) gradually gathered momentum. External pressures became much greater in 1975 when the white-ruled Portuguese colonies of Angola and Mozambique achieved independence after a long struggle (see Section 24.6(d)). The African takeover of Zimbabwe (1980) removed the last of the white-ruled states which had been sympathetic to the South African government and apartheid. Now South Africa was surrounded by hostile black states, and many Africans in these new states had sworn never to rest until their fellow-Africans in South Africa had been liberated.
  • There were economic problems – South Africa was hit by recession in the late 1970s, and many white people were worse off. Whites began to emigrate in large numbers, but the black population was increasing. In 1980 whites made up only 16 per cent of the population, whereas between the two world wars they had formed 21 per cent.
  • The African homelands were a failure: they were poverty-stricken, their rulers were corrupt and no foreign government recognized them as genuinely independent states.
  • The USA, which was treating its own black people better during the 1970s, began to criticize the South African government’s racist policy.

In a speech in September 1979 which astonished many of his Nationalist supporters, the newly elected Prime Minister Botha said:

A revolution in South Africa is no longer just a remote possibility. Either we adapt or we perish. White domination and legally enforced apartheid are a recipe for permanent conflict.

He went on to suggest that the black homelands must be made viable and that unnecessary discrimination must be abolished. Gradually he introduced some important changes which he hoped would be enough to silence the critics both inside and outside South Africa.

  • Blacks were allowed to join trade unions and to go on strike (1979).
  • Blacks were allowed to elect their own local township councils (but not to vote in national elections) (1981).
  • A new constitution was introduced, setting up two new houses of parliament, one for coloureds and one for Asians (but not for Africans). The new system was weighted so that the whites kept overall control. It came into force in 1984.
  • Sexual relations and marriage were allowed between people of different races (1985).
  • The hated pass laws for non-whites were abolished (1986).

This was as far as Botha was prepared to go. He would not even consider the ANC’s main demands (the right to vote and to play a full part in ruling the country). Far from being won over by these concessions, black Africans were incensed that the new constitution made no provision for them, and were determined to settle for nothing less than full political rights.

Violence escalated, with both sides guilty of excesses. The ANC used the ‘necklace’, a tyre placed round the victim’s neck and set on fire, to murder black councillors and black police, who were regarded as collaborators with apartheid. On the 25th anniversary of Sharpeville, police opened fire on a procession of black mourners going to a funeral near Uitenhage (Port Elizabeth), killing over forty people (March 1985). In July a state of emergency was declared in the worst affected areas, and it was extended to the whole country in June 1986. This gave the police the power to arrest people without warrants, and freedom from all criminal proceedings; thousands of people were arrested, and newspapers, radio and TV were banned from reporting demonstrations and strikes.

However, as so often happens when an authoritarian regime tries to reform itself, it proved impossible to stop the process of change (the same happened in the USSR when Gorbachev tried to reform communism). By the late 1980s international pressure on South Africa was having more effect, and internal attitudes had changed.

  • In August 1986 the Commonwealth (except Britain) agreed on a strong package of sanctions (no further loans, no sales of oil, computer equipment or nuclear goods to South Africa, and no cultural and scientific contacts). British prime minister Margaret Thatcher would commit Britain only to a voluntary ban on investment in South Africa. Her argument was that severe economic sanctions would worsen the plight of black Africans, who would be thrown out of their jobs. This caused the rest of the Commonwealth to feel bitter against Britain; Rajiv Gandhi, the Indian prime minister, accused Mrs Thatcher of ‘compromising on basic principles and values for economic ends’.
  • In September 1986 the USA joined the fray when Congress voted (over President Reagan’s veto) to stop American loans to South Africa, to cut air links and to ban imports of iron, steel, coal, textiles and uranium from South Africa.
  • The black population was no longer just a mass of uneducated and unskilled labourers; there was a steadily growing number of well-educated, professional, middle-class black people, some of them holding important positions, like Desmond Tutu, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 and became Anglican archbishop of Cape Town in 1986.
  • The Dutch Reformed Church, which had once supported apartheid, now condemned it as incompatible with Christianity. A majority of white South Africans now recognized that it was difficult to defend the total exclusion of blacks from the country’s political life. So although they were nervous about what might happen, they became resigned to the idea of black majority rule at some time in the future. White moderates were therefore prepared to make the best of the situation and get the best deal possible.

2  F. W. de Klerk

The new president, F. W. de Klerk (elected 1989), had a reputation for caution, but privately he had decided that apartheid would have to go completely, and he accepted that black majority rule must come eventually. The problem was how to achieve it without further violence and possible civil war. With great courage and determination, and in the face of bitter opposition from right-wing Afrikaner groups, de Klerk gradually moved the country towards black majority rule.

  • Nelson Mandela was released after 27 years in jail (1990) and became leader of the ANC, which was made legal.
  • Most of the remaining apartheid laws were dropped.
  • Namibia, the neighbouring territory ruled by South Africa since 1919, was given independence under a black government (1990).
  • Talks began in 1991 between the government and the ANC to work out a new constitution which would allow blacks full political rights.

Meanwhile the ANC was doing its best to present itself as a moderate party which had no plans for wholesale nationalization, and to reassure whites that they would be safe and happy under black rule. Nelson Mandela condemned violence and called for reconciliation between blacks and whites. The negotiations were long and difficult; de Klerk had to face right-wing opposition from his own National Party and from various extreme, white racial-ist groups who claimed that he had betrayed them. The ANC was involved in a power struggle with another black party, the Natal-based Zulu Inkatha Freedom Party led by Chief Buthelezi.

3  Transition to black majority rule

In the spring of 1993 the talks were successful and a power-sharing scheme was worked out to carry through the transition to black majority rule. A general election was held and the ANC won almost two-thirds of the votes. As had been agreed, a coalition government of the ANC, National Party and Inkatha took office, with Nelson Mandela as the first black president of South Africa, two vice-presidents, one black and one white (Thabo Mbeki and F. W. de Klerk), and Chief Buthelezi as Home Affairs Minister (May 1994). A right-wing Afrikaner group, led by Eugene Terreblanche, continued to oppose the new democracy, vowing to provoke civil war, but in the end it came to nothing. Although there had been violence and bloodshed, it was a remarkable achievement, for which both de Klerk and Mandela deserve the credit, that South Africa was able to move from apartheid to black majority rule without civil war.

(f)  Mandela and Mbeki

The government faced daunting problems and was expected to deliver on the promises in the ANC programme, especially to improve conditions for the black population. Plans were put into operation to raise their general standard of living – in education, housing, health care, water and power supplies and sanitation. But the scale of the problem was so vast that it would be many years before standards would show improvement for everybody. In May 1996 a new constitution was agreed, to come into operation after the elections of 1999, which would not allow minority parties to take part in the government. When this was revealed (May 1996), the Nationalists immediately announced that they would withdraw from the government to a ‘dynamic but responsible opposition’. As the country moved towards the millennium, the main problems facing the president were how to maintain sound financial and economic policies, and how to attract foreign aid and investment; potential investors were hesitant, awaiting future developments.

One of Mandela’s most successful initiatives was the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which looked into human rights abuses during the apartheid regime. Assisted by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the commission’s approach was not one of taking revenge, but of granting amnesties; people were encouraged to talk frankly, and to acknowledge their crimes and ask for forgiveness. This was one of the most admirable things about Mandela, that although he had been kept in prison under the apartheid regime for 27 years, he still believed in forgiveness and reconciliation. The president decided not to stand for re-election in 1999 – he was almost 81 years old; he retired with his reputation high, almost universally admired for his statesmanship and restraint.

Thabo Mbeki, who became ANC leader and president on Mandela’s retirement, had a difficult job to follow such a charismatic leader. After winning the 1999 elections, Mbeki and the ANC had to deal with mounting problems: the crime rate soared, trade unions called strikes in protest against job losses, poor working conditions and the increasing rate of privatization. The economic growth rate was slowing down: in 2001 it was only 1.5 per cent compared with 3.1 in 2000. The government came under special criticism for its handling of the AIDS epidemic. Mbeki was slow to recognize that there really was a crisis and claimed that AIDS was not necessarily linked to HIV; he refused to declare a state of emergency, as opposition parties and trade unions demanded. This would have enabled South Africa to obtain cheaper medicines, but the government seemed unwilling to spend large amounts of cash on the necessary drugs. There was uproar in October 2001 when a report claimed that AIDS was now the main cause of death in South Africa, and that if the trend continued, at least 5 million people would have died from it by 2010.

As the 2004 elections approached, there were many positive signs in the new South Africa. Government policies were beginning to show results: 70 per cent of black households had electricity, the number of people with access to pure water had increased by 9 million since 1994, and about 2000 new houses for poor people had been built. Education was free and compulsory and many black people said that they felt they now had dignity, instead of being treated like animals, as they had been under apartheid. The economic situation appeared brighter: South Africa was diversifying its exports instead of relying on gold and there was a growing tourist industry; the budget deficit had fallen sharply and inflation was down to 4 per cent. The main problems were still AIDS – it was reported that in 2005 South Africa was the country with the most HIV positive people in the world, 6.5 million; high unemployment levels and the high crime rate. However, in the election of April 2004, Mbeki was re-elected for a second and final five-year term as president and his ANC won a landslide victory, taking around two-thirds of the votes cast.

During Mbeki’s second term it was the problems rather than the progress that gained most of the publicity. There was an influx of migrants and refugees, mainly from Zimbabwe, but also from Rwanda, the Congo, Somalia and Ethiopia. With unemployment already high and housing in short supply, this has caused competition for jobs and living accommodation, especially in the shanty towns that surround most large cities. In May 2008 there were serious protest riots directed against immigrants, and at least 80 people were killed. The more left-wing ANC supporters felt that there had been too little progress in the redistribution of wealth. In May 2009 South Africa’s unemployment rate had reached 25 per cent and those out of work were forced to live on less than US$1.25 a day. Mbeki’s second term was also marred by a feud with his vice-president Jacob Zuma. In 2005 Mbeke sacked him after Zuma was accused of corruption, including fraud and money-laundering. In December 2007 Zuma, still a very popular figure, defeated Mbeke in the election for president of the ANC. When Zuma was acquitted on the corruption charges, the ANC National Executive Committee voted that Mbeke was no longer fit to lead the country, the implication being that the charges against Zuma had been trumped up in order to get him removed. Mbeke immediately resigned and in May 2009 Zuma was elected president. He was firmly on the left-wing of the ANC and had once been a member of the South African Communist Party. Now he could rely on solid support from the trade unions and the communists. His programme included a pledge to fight poverty and narrow the poverty gap, given that South Africa was tenth in the world list of countries with the widest gap between rich and poor.

The president suffered a setback in August 2012 when police shot and killed 34 striking platinum miners at the Marikana mine, near Johannesburg. Poorly paid and working in difficult conditions, the miners were demanding wage increases from the mine-owners, a British company called Lonmin. To make matters worse, 270 miners were arrested and charged with the murder of their colleagues, on the grounds that their behaviour had caused the police action. A wave of outrage followed and President Zuma came under severe criticism for his handling of the crisis. Although the charges were later dropped, critics claimed that he was an ineffective leader, more interested in protecting the industry rather than helping the poverty-stricken miners and working to narrow the poverty gap. In December 2012 he was re-elected leader of the ANC for another five years. However, many observers see his continuing presence as the party’s Achilles heel. According to the Guardian (18 December 2012), Zuma is ‘a man steeped in corruption and personal scandal’.


(a)  Haile Selassie

Ethiopia (Abyssinia) was an independent state, ruled since 1930 by the Emperor Haile Selassie. In 1935 Mussolini’s forces attacked and occupied the country, forcing the Emperor into exile. The Italians joined Ethiopia to their neighbouring colonies of Eritrea and Somaliland, calling them Italian East Africa. In 1941, with British help, Haile Selassie was able to defeat the weak Italian forces and return to his capital, Addis Ababa. The wily emperor scored a great success in 1952 when he persuaded the UN and the USA to allow him to take over Eritrea, giving his landlocked country access to the sea. However, this was to be a source of conflict for many years, since Eritrean nationalists bitterly resented the loss of their country’s independence.

By 1960 many people were growing impatient with Haile Selassie’s rule, believing that more could have been done politically, socially and economically to modernize the country. Rebellions broke out in Eritrea and in the Ogaden region of Ethiopia, where many of the population were Somali nationalists who were keen for their territories to join Somalia (which had become independent in 1960). Haile Selassie hung on to power, without introducing any radical changes, into the 1970s. Fuelled by poverty, drought and famine, unrest finally came to a head in 1974, when some sections of the army mutinied. The leaders formed themselves into the Co-ordinating Committee of the Armed Forces and Police (known as the Derg for short), whose chairman was Major Mengistu. In September 1974, the Derg deposed the 83-year-old emperor, who was later murdered, and set itself up as the new government. Mengistu gained complete control and remained head of state until 1991.

(b)  Major Mengistu and the Derg

Mengistu and the Derg gave Ethiopia 16 years of government based on Marxist principles. Most of the land, industry, trade, banking and finance were taken over by the state. Opponents were usually executed. The USSR saw the arrival of Mengistu as an excellent chance to gain influence in that part of Africa, and they provided armaments and training for Mengistu’s army. Unfortunately the regime’s agricultural policy ran into the same problems as Stalin’s collectivization in the USSR; in 1984 and 1985 there were terrible famines, and it was only prompt action by other states, rushing in emergency food supplies, which averted disaster. Mengistu’s main problem was the civil war, which dragged on throughout his period in power and swallowed up his scarce resources. In spite of the help from the USSR, he was fighting a losing battle against the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front and the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). By 1989 the government had lost control of Eritrea and Tigray, and Mengistu admitted that his socialist policies had failed; Marxism–Leninism was to be abandoned. The USSR deserted him; in May 1991, with rebel forces closing in on Addis Ababa, Mengistu fled to Zimbabwe and the EPRDF took power.

(c)  The Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF)

The new government, while maintaining some elements of socialism (especially state control of important resources), promised democracy and less centralization. The leader, Meles Zenawi, who was a Tigrayan, announced the introduction of a voluntary federation for the various nationalities; this meant that ethnic groups could leave Ethiopia if they chose, and it prepared the way for Eritrea to declare its independence in May 1993. This was one less problem for the regime to deal with, but there were many others. Most serious was the state of the economy, and yet another dreadful famine in 1994. In 1998 war broke out between Ethiopia and Eritrea over frontier disputes. Even the weather was unco-operative: in the spring of 2000 the rains failed for the third year in succession, and another famine threatened. Although a peace settlement with Eritrea was signed in December 2000, tensions remained high.

Events in 2001 suggested that Ethiopia might have turned the corner, at least economically. Prime Minister Zenawi and his EPRDF, who had easily won the national elections in May 2000, went on to register another landslide victory in the local elections in 2001. The economy grew by 6.5 per cent, the rains arrived on time and there was a good harvest. The World Bank helped by cancelling almost 70 per cent of Ethiopia’s debt. Zenawi won the 2005 elections, though there were allegations of fraud followed by riots and protest demonstrations in which at least 200 people were killed. The opposition accused the police of massacring protesters, while the government blamed one of the main opposition parties, the Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD), for organizing the protests. In fact the majority of foreign observers declared that the elections were basically free and fair. With Zenawi in charge for the next five years, economic growth continued, but at the end of 2006 Ethiopia became involved in war with neighbouring Somalia. In the south of Somalia, bordering on Ethiopia, Islamist groups were fighting against the National Transitional Federal Government of Somalia, which was supported by the USA (see Section 25.13(b)). It was suspected that these Islamist groups had links with al-Qaeda, and Ethiopia had already allowed the USA to station military advisers at Camp Hurso, where they had spent a year training the Ethiopian army. In December 2006 the Ethiopians took the offensive, forced the Islamists to retreat and occupied the areas formerly under Islamist control. They pulled out in January 2009, leaving behind a small African Union force and a small detachment of the Somali army. But they were not strong enough to keep the Islamists at bay, and they soon began to take back control of southern Somalia. Re-elected in 2010 for a further five-year term, Zenawi died in August 2012 aged only 57. His deputy, Hailemariam Desalegn, took over, and was expected to remain prime minister until the next elections, due in 2015. However, there were fears that, since the new prime minister lacked the experience, the prestige and the charisma of Mr Zenawi, the country was in for a difficult few years.


(a)  Early history

Liberia has a unique history among African states. It was founded in 1822 by an organization called the American Colonization Society, whose members thought it would be a good idea to settle freed slaves in Africa where, by rights, they ought to have been living in the first place. They persuaded several local chieftains to allow them to start a settlement in West Africa. The initial training of the freed slaves to prepare them for running their own country was carried out by white Americans, led by Jehudi Ashmun. Liberia was given a constitution based on that of the USA, and the capital was named Monrovia after James Monroe, US president from 1817 until 1825. Although the system appeared to be democratic, in practice only the descendants of American freed slaves were allowed to vote. The native Africans in the area were treated as second-class citizens, just as they were in the areas colonized by Europeans. In the late 1920s there was a scandal when the US State Department accused the Liberian government of selling large numbers of these citizens into slavery. The League of Nations carried out an investigation and in 1930 published a report showing that this was indeed the case. There were probably mixed motives: to make money for the poverty-stricken government and to get rid of troublemakers from native tribes in the interior. The president, Charles King, was forced to resign, but a further investigation in 1935, this time by the Anti-Slavery Society, showed that the practice was still going on. One of the investigators was the British novelist, Graham Greene.

Liberia gained new importance during the Second World War because of its rubber plantations, which were a vital source of natural latex rubber for the Allies. The Americans poured cash into the country and built roads, harbours and an international airport at Monrovia. In 1943, William Tubman of the True Whig Party – the only major political party – was elected president; he was continually re-elected and remained president until his death in 1971, shortly after his election for a seventh term. He presided over a largely peaceful country, which became a member of the UN and a founder member of the Organization of African Unity (1963). But the economy was always precarious; there was little industry and Liberia depended heavily on her exports of rubber and iron ore. Another source of income came from allowing foreign merchant ships to register under the Liberian flag. Shipowners were keen to do this because Liberia’s rules and safety regulations were the most lax in the world and the registration fees among the lowest.

(b)  Military dictatorship and civil war

President Tubman was succeeded by his vice-president, William Tolbert, but during his presidency things began to go badly wrong. There was a fall in the world prices of rubber and iron ore and the ruling elite came under increasing criticism for its corruption. Opposition groups developed and in 1980 the army staged a coup, led by Master Sergeant Samuel Doe. Tolbert was overthrown and executed in public along with his ministers, and Doe became head of state. He promised a new constitution and a return to civilian rule, but was in no hurry to relinquish power. Although elections were held in 1985, Doe made sure that he and his supporters won. His ruthless regime aroused determined opposition and a number of rebel groups emerged; by 1989 Liberia was engaged in a bloody civil war. The rebel armies were poorly disciplined and guilty of indiscriminate shooting and looting. In spite of efforts by neighbouring West African states which intervened in an attempt to bring peace, Doe was captured and killed (1990); but this did not end the war: two of the rebel groups, led by Charles Taylor and Prince Johnson (the man responsible for Doe’s murder), fought each other for control of the country. Altogether this devastating conflict raged on for seven years; new rival factions appeared; at one point Taylor’s forces invaded Sierra Leone which he accused of backing Prince Johnson who controlled the capital, Monrovia. The Organization of African Unity tried to broker talks under the chairmanship of former Zimbabwean president Canaan Banana; but it was not until 1996 that a cease-fire was agreed. Taylor succeeded in winning the support of Nigeria and announced that he wanted to be a conciliator.

Elections held in 1997 resulted in a decisive victory for Charles Taylor and the National Patriotic Front of Liberia Party. He faced an unenviable task: the country was literally in ruins, its economy was totally disrupted and its peoples were divided. Nor did the situation improve. Taylor soon found himself at odds with much of the outside world: the USA criticized his human rights record and the European Union claimed that he was helping the rebels in Sierra Leone. After the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, the USA accused him of harbouring members of al-Qaeda. Taylor denied all these charges and accused the USA of trying to undermine his government. The UN voted to impose a worldwide ban on the trade in Liberian diamonds.

By the spring of 2002 the country was once again in the grip of civil war as rebel forces in the north launched a campaign to overthrow Taylor. Again the ordinary people suffered appallingly: by the end of the year, 40 000 had fled the country and a further 300 000 were only kept alive by food aid from the UN. In August 2003 the UN Security Council decided to send security forces into Liberia and about a thousand Nigerian troops were airlifted into Monrovia to prevent rebel forces taking it. Taylor resigned and took refuge in Nigeria. All the various factions met and signed a peace agreement. There was to be a two-year transitional period, during which a UN force of 3500 troops from several West African countries would keep the peace. Democratic elections were held in October and November 2005 in which the final run-off was won by Ellen Johnson-Shirleaf, who became Africa’s first female head of state. She had been educated at Harvard, and had worked as an economist for the World Bank.

In 2006 ex-president Charles Taylor was handed over to an international court at the Hague and charged with crimes against humanity alleged to have been committed in the 1990s when he intervened to support the rebels in the civil war in Sierra Leone. In April 2012 he was found guilty of being responsible for murder, rape, sexual slavery and conscription of child soldiers. He was sentenced to 50 years in prison. Meanwhile in 2011 president Johnson-Shirleaf was a joint winner, along with two other African female politicians from Liberia and Yemen, of the Nobel Peace Prize for their work for the safety of women and for women’s rights. Later in the year she was re-elected president for a second term.


(a)  Early prosperity and stability

Sierra Leone became independent in 1961 with Sir Milton Margai as leader and with a democratic constitution based on the British model. It was potentially one of the richest states in Africa, with valuable iron-ore deposits and diamonds; later gold was discovered. Sadly, the enlightened and gifted Margai, widely seen as the founding father of Sierra Leone, died in 1964. His brother, Sir Albert Margai, took over as leader, but in the election of 1967, his party (the Sierra Leone People’s Party – SLPP) was defeated by the All-People’s Congress (APC) and its leader Siaka Stevens. In a foretaste of the future, the army removed the new prime minister and installed a military government. This had only been in place for a year when some sections of the army mutinied, imprisoned their officers and restored Stevens and the APC to power. Stevens remained president until his retirement in 1985.

Sierra Leone under Siaka Stevens enjoyed peace and stability, but gradually the situation deteriorated in a number of ways.

  • Corruption and mismanagement crept in and the ruling elite lined their own pockets at public expense.
  • The deposits of iron ore ran out, and the diamond trade, which should have filled the state treasury, fell into the hands of smugglers, who siphoned off most of the profits.
  • As criticism of the government increased, Stevens resorted to dictatorial methods. Many political opponents were executed, and in 1978 all political parties except the APC were banned.

(b)  Chaos and catastrophe

When Stevens retired in 1985 he took care to appoint as his successor another strong man, the Commander-in-Chief of the army, Joseph Momoh. His regime was so blatantly corrupt and his economic policies so disastrous that in 1992 he was overthrown, and replaced by a group calling itself the National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC). The new head of state, Captain Valentine Strasser, accused Momoh of bringing the country ‘permanent poverty and a deplorable life’, and promised to restore genuine democracy as soon as possible.

Unfortunately the country was already moving towards the tragic civil war, which was to last into the next century. A rebel force calling itself the Revolutionary United Front(RUF) was organizing in the south, under the leadership of Foday Sankoh. He had been an army corporal who, according to Peter Penfold (a former British High Commissioner in Sierra Leone), ‘brainwashed his young followers on a diet of coercion, drugs, and unrealistic promises of gold’. His forces had been causing trouble since 1991, but the violence intensified; Sankoh rejected all calls to negotiate, and by the end of 1994 the Strasser government was in difficulties. Early in 1995 there were reports of fierce fighting all over the country, although Freetown (the capital) was still calm. An estimated 900 000 people had been driven from their homes and at least 30 000 had taken refuge in neighbouring Guinea.

In desperation Strasser offered to hold democratic elections and to sign a truce with the RUF. This produced a lull in the fighting and preparations went ahead for elections to be held in February 1996. However, some sections of the army were unwilling to give up power to a civilian government, and a few days before the election they overthrew Strasser. Nevertheless, voting went ahead, though there was serious violence, especially in Freetown, where 27 people were killed. There were reports of mutinous soldiers firing at civilians as they queued up to vote, and chopping off the hands of some people who had voted. In spite of intimidation, 60 per cent of the electorate voted. The Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) emerged as the largest party and its leader, Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, was elected president. Enormous crowds celebrated in Freetown when the army formally handed over authority to the new president, after 19 years of one-party and military rule. President Kabbah pledged to end violence and corruption and offered to meet RUF leaders. In November 1996 he and Sankoh signed a peace agreement.

Just as it seemed that peace was about to return, the country was plunged into further chaos when a group of army officers seized power (May 1997), forcing Kabbah to take refuge in Guinea. The new president, Major Johnny Paul Koroma, abolished the constitution and banned political parties. Sierra Leone was suspended from the Commonwealth and the UN imposed economic sanctions until the country returned to democracy. Nigerian forces fighting on behalf of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) drove Koroma’s military regime out and restored Kabbah (March 1998).

But this was not the end of Sierra Leone’s misery. The RUF resurrected itself and was joined by troops loyal to Koroma. They advanced on Freetown, which they reached in January 1999. Then followed the most appalling events of the entire civil war: in a ten-day period about 7000 people were murdered, thousands more were raped or had their arms and legs hacked off, about a third of the capital was destroyed and tens of thousands were left homeless. Eventually Kabbah and Sankoh signed a peace agreement in Lomé, the capital of Togo (July 1999), providing for a power-sharing system and granting an amnesty for the rebels. This provoked strong criticism from human rights groups in view of the terrible atrocities committed by some of the rebels. The UN Security Council voted to send 6000 troops to Sierra Leone to supervise the implementation of peace. Unbelievably, in May 2000 Sankoh, who had become a member of Kabbah’s cabinet, ordered his rebel troops to march on Freetown and overthrow the Kabbah government. This was prevented by the timely arrival of British troops sent by UK prime minister Tony Blair. In October 2000 this number had to be increased to 20 000, since many of the RUF fighters refused to accept the terms of the settlement and continued to cause havoc. British troops joined the UN forces and played an important part in the final defeat of the rebels. Sankoh was captured and died in prison in 2003. The job of disarmament was slow and difficult, but violence gradually subsided and something approaching calm was restored. In January 2002 the war was officially declared to be over; it was estimated that 50 000 people had been killed during ten years of conflict.

However, peace was fragile, and the UN kept 17 000 troops in the country, and some of the British contingent stayed in case of renewed violence. In May 2002 President Kabbah was re-elected, winning 70 per cent of the votes. In 2004 it was announced that all rebel troops had been disarmed and the UN opened a war crimes tribunal. But the country’s economy was in ruins, the infrastructure needed rebuilding, and in 2003 the UN rated it as one of the five poorest countries in the world.

The constitution did not allow President Kabbah to run for a third consecutive term, and his party, the Sierra Leonean People’s Party (SLPP), chose the vice-president, Solomon Berewa, as their candidate in the elections of September 2007. He was unexpectedly defeated by the All People’s Party (APC) candidate, Ernest Bai Koroma. He promised that corruption would not be tolerated and that the country’s resources would be used in the best interests of all citizens. Further work was done to restore the country’s infrastructure and more resources were put into the healthcare system. In April 2010 a new free health-care system was introduced for pregnant women, mothers and babies, and children under 5. In 2008, after an aircraft carrying around 700 kg of cocaine was stopped at Freetown airport, President Koroma took action against the increasing number of drug cartels, many of them from Colombia, which had started to use Sierra Leone as a base from which to ship drugs to Europe. The minister for transport was suspended and stricter punishments and longer gaol sentences were introduced for offenders. As the 2012 elections approached, there was still a long way to go before Sierra Leone came anywhere near fulfilling its potential.


(a)  An impressive beginning, 1980–90

Robert Mugabe, prime minister of the newly independent Zimbabwe, had been an uncompromising guerrilla leader with Marxist opinions. He soon showed that he was capable of moderation, and pledged himself to work for reconciliation and unity. This calmed the fears of the white farmers and businessmen who had remained in Zimbabwe and who were necessary for the economy to flourish. He formed a coalition government between his party, the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU), whose main support came from the Shona people, and Joshua Nkomo’s Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU), supported by the Ndebele people in Matabeleland. He kept his promise made at the Lancaster House Conference (see Section 24.4(c)) that the whites should have 20 guaranteed seats in the 100-seat parliament. Measures were introduced to alleviate the poverty of the black population – wage increases, food subsidies and better social services, health care and education. Many commentators felt that in his first few years in power, Mugabe showed great statesmanship and deserved credit for keeping his country relatively peaceful.

Nevertheless there were problems to be dealt with. The most serious in the early years was the long-standing hostility between ZANU and ZAPU. The Shona people of ZANU felt that ZAPU could have done more to help during the struggle for black majority rule. The coalition between Mugabe and Nkomo was uneasy, and in 1982 Nkomo was accused of planning a coup. Mugabe forced him to resign and had many leading members of ZAPU arrested. Nkomo’s supporters in Matabeleland retaliated with violence, but were brutally suppressed. However, resistance continued until 1987 when at last the two leaders reached agreement – the so-called Unity Accord:

  • ZANU and ZAPU united and became known as the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF);
  • Mugabe became executive president and Nkomo became a vice-president in a power-sharing scheme;
  • reserved seats for whites in parliament were abolished.

The other worrying problem was the state of the economy. Although in years of good harvests Zimbabwe was regarded as ‘the breadbasket of southern Africa’, success depended heavily on the weather. During the 1980s there were more than the usual periods of drought, and the country also suffered from the high world price of oil. It was becoming clear that although Mugabe was a clever politician, his economic skills were not so impressive. Since the 1987 Unity Accord, he had been pushing to turn Zimbabwe into a one-party state. However, this was thwarted when Edgar Tekere formed his Zimbabwe Unity Movement (ZUM) in 1989. Nevertheless, in 1990 Mugabe was still immensely popular and regarded as a hero by much of the population because of his vital role in the struggle for freedom. In 1990 he was re-elected president in a landslide victory over ZUM.

(b)  The hero’s image begins to tarnish

During the 1990s Zimbabwe’s economic problems worsened. After the collapse of the USSR, Mugabe abandoned most of his Marxist policies and attempted to follow western free-market methods. He accepted a loan from the IMF and, very much against public opinion, agreed to abide by the Economic Structural Adjustment Programme it imposed. This involved unpopular cuts in public spending on social services and jobs. Difficulties were compounded in 1992 by a severe drought, bringing a poor harvest and food shortages. More problems were caused when squatters occupied hundreds of white-owned farms. About 4000 white farmers had stayed on in Zimbabwe after independence, and between them they owned about half the country’s arable land. The government encouraged the squatters and the police gave the farmers no protection; consequently the areas occupied by squatters were not cultivated, and this added to the food supply problem. Unemployment and inflation rose and the spread of AIDS began to cause concern.

By the late 1990s unrest was growing. Mugabe’s intervention to help President Laurent Kabila in the civil war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo was unpopular, since it was widely rumoured that his motive was to protect his own personal investments in that country. In November 1998 there were protest demonstrations when it was announced that Mugabe had awarded himself and his cabinet large pay increases.

(c)  Opposition increases

Around the turn of the century, opposition to the regime increased as Mugabe’s rule became more repressive and dictatorial.

  • In February 2000, men claiming to be veterans of the war for independence began the systematic and violent occupation of white-owned farms. This continued throughout the next four years, and was clearly a deliberate policy organized by the government. When the UK government protested, Mugabe claimed that it was the fault of the British: they had broken their promise (made during the 1979 Lancaster House Conference) to provide adequate compensation to white farmers. Britain declared itself willing to pay extra compensation provided that the confiscated land was given to ordinary peasant farmers rather than to members of Mugabe’s ruling elite.
  • Another proviso was that the elections due in June 2000 were free and fair. In February 2000, the people had rejected a new pro-Mugabe draft constitution, a clear indication that his popularity had dwindled. This probably led him to take whatever measures were necessary to win the June elections. Although he had agreed that they should be free and fair, he apparently did little to make sure that this happened.There was widespread violence and intimidation of the opposition before and during the election, and international observers were severely restricted. Even so, the result was close: Mugabe’s ZANU-PF won 62 seats in the 150-seat parliament, while the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) won 57. The MDC had support from trade unions and by the prominent, but mainly white Commercial Farmers’ Union (CFU). However, the president had the right to nominate 30 of the 150 members, and so Mugabe maintained a comfortable majority.
  • The forcible occupation of white-owned farms continued during 2001, bringing more protests from the UK and the USA. Mugabe accused the British government of running a neo-colonial and racist campaign, supporting whites against blacks. The dispute brought mixed reactions from the rest of the world. The majority of black African states expressed sympathy and support for Mugabe. President Mbeki of South Africa, on the other hand, claimed that the land seizures were a violation of the rule of law, and ought to stop; but he urged a conciliatory approach and refused to apply economic sanctions against Zimbabwe, since these would only ruin the already ailing economy. However, the EU condemned Mugabe’s policy and imposed sanctions (February 2002), the Commonwealth expelled Zimbabwe for one year, and the World Bank cut off its funding because of Zimbabwe’s huge debt arrears, which had risen to over $380 million.
  • Meanwhile, Mugabe took steps to muzzle the mounting criticism of his policies within Zimbabwe. There was now only one independent daily newspaper, the Daily News, and its journalists were increasingly harassed and intimidated, as were members of the MDC. Morgan Tsvangirai, the MDC leader, was charged with plotting to overthrow the president, and the government tightened its control over TV and radio. When the Supreme Court ventured to criticize Mugabe’s land policy, he sacked three of the judges and replaced them with his own nominees. As the presidential election of March 2002 approached, restrictions were tightened further. Public meetings were banned, except those of Mugabe’s supporters, and it became an offence ‘to undermine the authority of the president by making statements or publishing statements that provoke hostility’. No foreign observers were to be allowed into the country to monitor the elections.

During the election campaign ZANU-PF took the line that the MDC was a puppet political party being used by the West to destabilize the nationalist and fundamentally Marxist attempt to redistribute wealth in Zimbabwe. Jonathan Moyo, the Minister of Information and Publicity, accused the MDC of being unpatriotic because they supported the CFU in their attempts to derail Mugabe’s land-redistribution exercise. It was no surprise when Mugabe won the election and was sworn in for a further six-year term, although he was 78 years old. He took 56 per cent of the vote while Morgan Tsvangirai could muster only 42 per cent. Tsvangirai immediately challenged the result, claiming that ‘it was the biggest electoral fraud I’ve seen in my life’. He complained of terrorism, intimidation and harassment; tensions ran high as he demanded that the High Court overturn the result.

(d)  Zimbabwe in crisis

Rejecting the opposition’s accusations, President Mugabe declared a ‘state of disaster’ (April 2002) because of the food situation. The whole of Central Africa was suffering the effects of a prolonged drought, and the harvest was expected to be only half its usual size. Yet Mugabe continued with his controversial land-seizure policy, although agricultural experts pointed out that this would threaten the vital crop of winter wheat.

Protests against the government continued in various forms, and so did the suppression of criticism. Mugabe used almost every means possible to stay in power: war veterans, youth militias and members of the security forces were used to intimidate the opposition. In February 2003 the Cricket World Cup competition was held in Zimbabwe; in Zimbabwe’s opening match, two of their players – one black and one white – wore black armbands in order, they said, to ‘mourn the death of democracy in our beloved Zimbabwe. We cannot in all conscience take the field and ignore the fact that millions of our compatriots are starving, unemployed and oppressed.’ They did not play for Zimbabwe again. Later in the month, 21 Christian church leaders were arrested when they tried to present a petition asking the police to behave with less violence and more regard for human rights.

But the opposition refused to be silenced; in March the MDC organized a mass protest across the whole country, demanding that Mugabe should either reform his regime or leave office. Many factories, banks and shops closed, but the government dismissed it as ‘an act of terrorism’. It was reported that over 500 opposition members, including Gibson Sibanda, vice-president of the MDC, had been arrested. Supported by a number of Western countries, the MDC called for foreign intervention and appealed for the UN to get involved in future elections. They also called on neighbouring states, asking them to take a more active role in Zimbabwe’s affairs. Through the regional Southern African Development Community (SADC) there were a number of attempts at mediation. Presidents Mbeki of South Africa and Obasanjo of Nigeria several times tried to persuade Mugabe to form a coalition government with the MDC, but although representatives of Mugabe and Tsvangirai held talks, no solution to the deadlock could be found. Mugabe insisted that Zimbabwe was a sovereign country which could run its own affairs without interference from other states; issues pertaining to Zimbabwe could only be solved by Zimbabweans themselves. He also argued that Western talk of human rights abuses in Zimbabwe was simply political rhetoric and part of a neo-colonial strategy to continue influencing what went on in Zimbabwe. Jonathan Moyo has linked the recent farm seizures to the 1970s war of liberation from British colonial rule. He described the farm takeovers as the third ‘Chimurenga’, a Shona word for the war of liberation, the first and second Chimurenga being the wars started by black natives against white settlers during the 1890s and 1970s.

When the Commonwealth summit met in Abuja (Nigeria) in December 2003, the issue which dominated the conference was whether or not Zimbabwe’s suspension should be lifted. Mugabe was hoping to split the Commonwealth along black–white lines, but after intense discussion, the majority of members, including many African countries, voted to continue the suspension. Bitterly disappointed, Mugabe withdrew Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth.

The tragedy was that by the summer of 2004, as well as the dire human rights situation, Zimbabwe’s economy was in a state of collapse. It was reported that since the land reform programme began, agricultural production had fallen catastrophically: in 2003 the tobacco crop fell to less than a third of the 2000 crop; worst of all, the wheat crop was less than a quarter of the total in 2000, and the numbers of cattle on commercial farms fell from 1.2 million to a mere 150 000. Although the government claimed that 50 000 black families had been settled on commercial farms, the real figure was less than 5000. Many of the best farms had been given to the president’s supporters; vast amounts of fertile land were lying uncultivated because of shortages of seeds, fertilizers and agricultural machinery. In May 2004, the unemployment rate stood at over 70 per cent and the inflation rate was over 600 per cent, one of the highest in the world. The EU decision to continue sanctions for a further year did nothing to help. As usual, the main victims were Zimbabwe’s poverty-stricken, oppressed and neglected people.

In spite of all this, Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party won a decisive victory in the parliamentary elections of April 2005, taking 78 seats out of the 120 contested. The opposition MDC could muster only 41 seats. With the 30 seats that the president could fill with his own appointments, he would have more than the two-thirds majority needed to change the constitution. A smiling Mugabe said that he would retire when he was ‘a century old’. There was less violence than during the two previous elections, and South African observers reported that the proceedings had been free and fair. However, the MDC and many European observers claimed that there had been widespread abuses, fraud and intimidation of voters; they accused the South African government of turning a blind eye to the fraud in order to discourage the MDC from resorting to violence, which would destabilize South Africa’s frontier with Zimbabwe. In fact, the MDC leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, a former trade union leader, decided not to launch a legal challenge to the results and rejected calls for armed resistance. As the UK Times put it: ‘It would be a brave group indeed which would openly confront the thugs of ZANU-PF.’ In March 2007 when the MDC did criticize Mugabe and staged a protest march, Tsvangirai and several other protesters were arrested and beaten up and one of them was killed.

In 2008 both parliamentary and presidential elections were held. With the economy in dire straits, Mugabe’s ZANU-PF suffered a narrow defeat by the MDC, and Mugabe himself came second to Morgan Tsvangirai in the first round of the election for president. However, Tsvangirai had narrowly failed to win the requisite 50 per cent to secure victory in the first round. A run-off took place almost two months after these results were announced. During that time ZANU-PF launched a campaign of violence against the MDC and its supporters in which 86 people were reported killed, hundreds injured and hundreds more driven from their homes. Five days before the run-off Tsvangirai announced that he had withdrawn from the contest; there was no point in running, he said, when the election would not be free and fair, and when the outcome would be decided by Mugabe himself. He claimed that his supporters risked being killed if they turned up to vote for him. Mugabe retorted that he had only withdrawn because he knew he would be humiliated in the vote. The run-off went ahead and predictably, since Tsvangirai was no longer a candidate, Mugabe took around 90 per cent of the votes. In June 2008 he was sworn in for a further term as president. There was widespread international condemnation of the result, and the African Union insisted that the only fair outcome would be the formation of a government of national unity. Talks were held between ZANU-PF and the MDC under the auspices of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), and mediated by South African president Mbeki. In September 2008 a power-sharing agreement was signed: Mugabe was to remain as president, Tsvangirai was to become prime minister, both would share control of the police and Mugabe’s ZANU-PF would be in control of the army.

Over the next four years the economy at last began to make some progress, although in June 2012 an MDC report stated that ‘the transport system remains in a complete shambles’; all major roads were in need of upgrading and the secondary roads were full of potholes. At the same time the UN Human Rights Commissioner reported that in spite of the unity government, polarization was still very pronounced; she expressed grave concerns that the next elections, due in 2013, could turn into a repeat of the 2008 elections. Only a week after the Commissioner’s visit an MDC official was murdered by ZANU-PF supporters and several others were severely beaten. Clearly Mugabe’s conception of sovereignty has more to do with the perpetuation of his own rule than the protection and well-being of his people. In the words of one of the disaffected Anglican priests, in 2012:

Zimbabweans continue to suffer under Mugabe’s rule. There is general suffering across Zimbabwe, and unemployment is a serious problem in every part of the country. Moreover the involvement of the military in the politics of the country means that the idea of free and fair elections continues to be a fantasy in the minds of many Zimbabweans.


(a)  Somalia united

The territories occupied by the Somali people had been colonized in the nineteenth century by the French, British and Italians. By 1960 both Britain and Italy recognized the independence of their areas which were united to form the Republic of Somalia. There was a long history of frontier disputes between the Somalis in the south-west of the country neighbouring Kenya, and between the Somalis in the north-west of Somalia, bordering on the Ethiopian province of Ogaden, and the Ethiopian government. In 1963 a boundary commission recommended that the Somali-populated area bordering on Kenya should be included in the new Republic of Kenya. When the British government agreed to this there were protest riots across Somalia and the Somali government broke off diplomatic relations with Britain. This alarmed Ethiopia where border skirmishes had already occurred in Ogaden in 1962. The president of Sudan and the King of Morocco offered to mediate, and following talks in Khartoum, hostilities between Somalia and Ethiopia were suspended temporarily. However, sporadic border clashes continued until 1967 when President Kaunda of Zambia mediated more successfully. Meanwhile the small French colony of Djibouti, situated between Somalia and Eritrea, voted to remain separate as a member of the French Union. The French finally withdrew in 1975 and Djibouti became an independent republic in 1977. Though small, the new republic included the port of Djibouti, which was vital for the trade of the landlocked state of Ethiopia and extremely desirable for Somalia. The republic’s population was mixed, consisting both of Ethiopians (Afars) and Somalis (Issas).

In October 1969 the Somali president Abdi Rashid Ali Shermarke was assassinated and the army took over, with Major-General Mohamed Siad Barre as president. The country’s name was changed to the Somali Democratic Republic, but this did not solve one of its basic problems – it was divided into a large number of tribes or clans, and sub-tribes. Before independence these had only been held together by the colonial power, and after 1960 some tribes began to act more independently. The new president Siad Barre, a member of the Marehan tribe, aimed to reassert central control from the capital, Mogadishu, with himself as the uniting force. He gained the support of several other clans and introduced a programme of socialist reforms.

(b)  War and civil war

In 1977, expecting help from the USA, President Siad Barre launched an ill-advised invasion of Ethiopia. When American help failed to materialize, his forces were easily driven back by the Ethiopians, who received support from the USSR and Cuba. After the Ethiopians had invaded Somalia in 1982, the country gradually deteriorated into a terrible civil war lasting well into the next century. The former British area in the north declared itself independent under President Muhammad Egal, though only Djibouti gave it official recognition. A number of tribes united and in 1991 forced Barre to leave the country. However, they immediately fell out again and continued to fight each other. The leading figures were now Muhammad Farah Aided, who was supported by Islamist groups, and Ali Mahdi Muhammad, whose forces controlled Mogadishu and who declared himself president.

Meanwhile the unfortunate population suffered famine, epidemics and drought; millions were forced to flee from their homes. At one point there were over 20 different aid agencies at work in the country. Sadly they were often terrorized and robbed by local militias, and at the end of 1992 a UN mission (known as UNOSOM) was sent to try to make sure that the aid reached the right people. This group was eventually enlarged to 28 000 (of which 8000 were from the USA) and given authority to disarm the warring factions. When this proved beyond them, the Americans decided it would be easier to back Ali Mahdi and eliminate Aided, rather than trying to bring the two together in peace talks. They were in for a great disappointment: an American force sent to arrest Aided failed to capture him and lost two helicopters and the lives of 18 teenage American soldiers. This was too much for President Clinton, who decided to pull all American troops out of Somalia. UNOSOM forces soon followed (1994). They had totally failed to disarm the militias and certainly to reunite the country. Aided was killed in 1996 but it seemed to make little difference. In reality, Somalia had no government, just a collection of warlords each ruling his own patch.

In 2000 it seemed that some progress was being made: a group of warlords met in Djibouti and set up a government, though at first it controlled only about 10 per cent of the country. In August 2004 a National Transitional Federal Parliament of 275 members was inaugurated for a five-year term and Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed was elected president. The new government was forced to spend the first year based in Kenya, because Somalia itself was too violent, but eventually it was able to move to the town of Baidoa. More violence followed in 2006, this time caused by a group of Islamists calling themselves the Somali Islamic Courts Council (SICC). They seized Mogadishu and took control of most of the south. President Yusuf tried to reach a peace agreement with them, but no progress could be made. At this point the Ethiopian government intervened. They considered the Islamists to be a dangerous threat to their territory and to the region in general, and carried out a series of air strikes against them. Ethiopian troops joined the Somali government’s struggling forces and together they regained control of Mogadishu. By the end of 2006 most of the Islamists had been forced out of Somalia. The Americans joined in, launching air strikes against the retreating Islamists whom they suspected of having links with al-Qaeda. These were widely condemned in a number of Muslim countries which claimed that the Americans had killed more ordinary Somalis than Islamist rebels.

The Islamists soon regrouped and the militant wing of the SICC, known as Al-Shabab, grew much stronger in 2007. Supported by many local warlords, they recaptured much of the south. One encouraging sign for the beleaguered government was that many moderate Muslims supported it, and when President Yusuf resigned at the end of 2008, parliament elected Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, a moderate Muslim cleric, as the next president. In 2010 Al-Shabab announced that it acknowledged allegiance to al-Qaeda and in July it claimed responsibility for a bomb blast in a restaurant at Kampala, the capital of Uganda, which killed 75 people. Ugandan forces had been helping the Somali government, and the explosion was clearly meant as a warning to any other countries that might be considering similar assistance. Even the weather was cruel to the Somalis – in the summer of 2011 there was a prolonged drought. This caused a famine in most of the south where thousands were reported to have died from malnutrition and thousands more had migrated into neigh-bouring Kenya and Ethiopia looking for food. The government had proved incapable of controlling the Somali pirates who had been terrorizing the seas off the coast of East Africa for many years. Since 2000 hundreds of vessels have been attacked, though only a small proportion of these resulted in successful hijackings. Many countries have joined an international task force to eliminate piracy. This had some success and the number of attacks was reduced, though in February 2012 pirates were still holding ten ships and 159 hostages. In September 2012 Sheikh Sharif Ahmed was unexpectedly defeated when MPs voted for Hassan Sheikh Mohamud as the next president. He was described as being ‘a more moderate Muslim’ than his predecessor. He was an academic who had once worked for UNICEF.

25.14  THE SUDAN

At the end of the twentieth century no fewer than 17 African countries were experiencing crises of various kinds, and the UN rated Sudan as probably the worst. Since 1956, southern Sudan had been ravaged by civil war between the Arab-dominated government and the African tribes, many of whom were Christians. The Africans felt they were not receiving a fair deal; they had been refused the right to secede and had not even been allowed a certain amount of independence as part of a federal state. In 1983 the government in Khartoum introduced fundamentalist Islamic law, which only exacerbated the rift between Arabs in the north and the black African tribes in the south. Government forces were strongly influenced by the National Islamic Front (NIF) while the rebels’ main supporters were the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA). In 1989 a group of army officers led by Omar al-Bashir overthrew the Sudanese government and took over the presidency. He was still president in 2012 though he has promised to stand down in 2015. The fighting ended in 2002, but peace was fragile, and in February 2003 rebel groups from African tribes in the Darfur region again took up arms against the government in the struggle for more land and resources. In retaliation the government used various Arab militias including the Janjaweed to disguise the fact that they were really waging an ethnic cleansing campaign against people of African origin. The government itself did nothing to stop the violence. By the summer of 2004, the situation in the Darfur region was chaotic: some estimates put the number of deaths as high as 300 000, between 3 million and 4 million people were homeless, and over 2 million were in urgent need of food and medical attention. To make matters worse, consecutive years of drought and floods had ruined tens of thousands of livelihoods, and living conditions were said to be appalling. The infrastructure was in ruins, with scores of schools and hospitals destroyed, there was no electricity, disease was rife and trade depended on barter. UN and other aid agencies were desperately trying to provide for basic survival needs; food was dropped in from planes because there were no good roads. The whole of the south was desperately backward and under-developed. Yet the country had plenty of valuable assets which were not being fully exploited: the soil was fertile and watered by the Nile – properly cultivated, it could easily provide sufficient food for the population; and there were rich oil resources.

Hopes for an improvement rose in August 2004 when the African Union began a peace-keeping mission. In January 2005 representatives of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement and the Khartoum government signed a peace deal in Nairobi, the capital of Kenya. It was agreed that Southern Sudan would be autonomous for six years, and that there would then be a referendum to decide whether it was to remain part of the Sudan. However, the new deal seemed to have little immediate effect in Darfur, where fighting continued, in spite of all international efforts to bring peace. In March 2009 the International Criminal Court issued a warrant for the arrest of President Bashir on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur. He continued blithely in office and in April 2010 he won the first multi-party elections to be held in Sudan since 1986. This was no surprise since most of the opposition parties boycotted the elections. The leader of the SPLM, Salva Kiir, was re-elected for another term as president of the semi-independent Darfur.

In January 2011 the referendum over the future of Darfur provided for in the 2005 peace agreement took place; 98 per cent voted in favour of independence. President Bashir accepted the result and said he would not stand for re-election at the end of his term in 2015. In July 2011 South Sudan officially became independent as Africa’s 54th state. Even then tensions between the two continued, mainly over possession of oil fields and disputed frontiers. In April 2012 the South took over some disputed oil fields but withdrew after the Sudan launched air attacks. The African Union gave the two sides three months to resolve all their issues, but the future did not look promising.


In November 2003 the UN secretary-general Kofi Annan complained that since the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 on the USA, the world’s attention had focused on the war against terrorism, and that Africa and its problems had been, if not exactly forgotten, then certainly neglected. Resources that might have gone to help Africa had been diverted to Afghanistan and later to Iraq, which turned out to be a much more difficult problem than the USA had expected. He appealed for $3 billion (about £1.8 billion) to help provide basic services such as food, water, medical supplies and shelter. It was pointed out in comparison that the US Congress had voted to spend $87 billion on rebuilding Iraq.

After gaining independence from Ethiopia in 1993, Eritrea had a difficult time. There was continuing tension with Ethiopia over the exact position of their frontiers. Border clashes broke out in 1998. Both governments seemed to be obsessed with building up large armaments in case of a full-scale border war, and spent millions of dollars which they could ill afford on warplanes and weapons. Unfortunately, as well as using up vital resources, this also took men away from the farms where they were needed for ploughing and bringing water. Fortunately a peace agreement was signed at the end of 2000. Eritrea also suffered four consecutive years of drought; the once fertile plains were barren and the wind was blowing away the topsoil. The harvest was only 10 per cent of normal, and it was estimated that 1.7 million people were unable to feed themselves. Border tensions continued and clashes between frontier forces at some stage every year, the most serious recent skirmish being in January 2010 when Eritrean forces killed 10 Ethiopians.

Tanzania had the problem of how to deal with hundreds of thousands of refugees who had fled from the civil wars in Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Similarly in West Africa, Guinea’s frontier areas were crammed with refugees from neighbouring Sierra Leone and Liberia. Southern Africa was feeling the effects of drought. Malawi was badly affected: in January 2003 the government declared a national emergency after a drought and the failure of the maize crop. Then storms and heavy rains washed away bridges and flooded riverside fields; by April the World Food Programme claimed it was feeding around 3.5 million Malawians – a third of the population. Things did not improve in 2005 when more than 4 million people had insufficient food.

Lesotho, Mozambique and Swaziland were suffering from similar problems. The outlook for the future was not encouraging: experts were predicting that unless global warming could be controlled, droughts would become progressively worse and some parts of Africa might become uninhabitable (see Section 27.5). On top of this, all the countries of Africa were suffering in different degrees from the HIV/AIDS pandemic (see Section 28.4). In fact, although the West was understandably obsessed with the threat of terrorism, Africans were most concerned about AIDS, since, by and large, it was affecting the most active generations – the 20 to 50 age group.

On the other hand, there were encouraging developments on the political and economic front. At a summit conference of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) held in Mauritius in August 2004, a new charter of regulations for the conduct of democratic elections was drawn up. This included, among other things, allowing a free press, no vote-rigging, and no violence or intimidation. There was also to be a commitment by presidents to submit themselves for re-election when their term of office ended, and not to use armed force to keep themselves in power. As a demonstration of good faith, the presidents of Tanzania, Mozambique and Namibia indicated that they would be stepping down soon. In October 2008 the African Free Trade Zone was set up with 26 members. Experts believed that this would encourage African internal trade and boost economic development, as well strengthening the bloc’s bargaining power when negotiating international trade agreements.


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  1. Explain why the newly independent states in Africa suffered so many problems and assess to what extent the problems were of their own making.
  2. How accurate do you think it is to describe Angola as ‘a victim of the Cold War’ during the years 1975 to 2002?
  3. Explain why Robert Mugabe was regarded as a hero in Zimbabwe in the years 1980 to 1990, but had to face increasing opposition after 1990.
  4. Assess the reasons why J. J. Rawlings was more successful as president of Ghana than Kwame Nkrumah.
  5. How far would you agree that the Belgians should bear most of the responsibility for the outbreak of civil war in the Congo in 1960 and its continuation until 1965?
  6. Why was apartheid in South Africa brought to an end, and how successfully did the ANC govern the country up until 2009?
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