Elements of Civil Society in African States of Post-Colonial Era

1330 words | 5 page(s)

Throughout the course of this assignment, the elements of civil society that came about in African nations in the post-colonial era will be identified. A civil society can be defined as one in which the will of the citizens is manifested, and the rule is not placed in the hands of either the military or a religious organization. These societies are commonly held to entail freedom of speech, equality, democracy and judicial independence, amongst other characteristics.

One of the main elements of civil society that came about in many African states in the post-colonial era was a commitment to existing within prejudice-free communities. Nations that were once characterized by regimes that advocated the superiority of one nation over another advocated racial equality. Not all nations practiced what they preached. However, the mere fact that they advocated the notion that all ethnicities were equal represented an improvement upon the ideologies that underpinned colonialism.

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During the colonial era, constraints were placed upon the careers of indigenous Africans. They were only able to get so far in society, whereas there were no limits upon the career advancements that could be attained by white people. African men who knew how to speak the languages of the nations that had colonized their homelands could advance to a certain level within society. However, there was still a point that they could not surpass.

However, once the colonial era had finished, indigenous Africans occupied the highest positions in the governments of many nations, for example Uganda. This did not necessarily mean that there was true equality, as tribal groups were marginalized. However, it was a step in the right direction.

It is also notable that the post-colonial era saw a proliferation of African journalists who were dedicated to bringing the truth to light. Freedom of press is frequently quoted as being a mark of a civil society. Although these journalists do not all necessarily exist within nations in which this freedom exists, they frequently struggle to illuminate pressing issues irrespective of the restrictions that are placed upon them, risking their lives for their professions. This represents a move towards civil.

Democracy has also been achieved in some nations within the post-colonial era. Leaders have been voted in, there have been fair elections, and the governments truly represent the wishes of the majority of the population. South Africa is an example of a nation in which this is the case. This is in stark contrast to how it was during the colonial era. Tribal chiefs were appointed as despots and ruled with few constraints or checks with the approval of white officials.

It is ironic that colonizers frequently believed that they were installing civil societies in the nations that they colonized. This was clearly not the case in South Africa, as the state was ruled over by what were essentially regional dictators. A true transformation was only able to come about as a result of the colonial powers relinquishing control of the nation and placing it within the hands of the people.

The 1990s marked a period of hope that democracy could deliver many African nations from the states of political and social turmoil that they existed in. Although this did not happen in many cases, the situation is clearly better than it was during the colonial era, when indigenous African societies were ruled by white Europeans and the natives had little say in how their communities operated. At least in the post-colonial era, some semblance of democracy was brought about throughout the continent.

It is also notable that during the colonial era, regional administrators were associated with the military, whereas in many cases, in the post-colonial era, they were not military officials. This marks a move towards a civil society. It demonstrates the fact that African societies started becoming less militarized once they were provided with independence from the Western nations that once ruled over them.

It is also notable that taxes were implemented in many post-colonial African nations that benefitted the indigenous people as opposed to merely aiding colonial overseers. This is in line with the principles of civil society, as it was a move that was geared towards facilitating equality and provision of services throughout society. Although it is arguable that many of these taxes benefitted certain sections of the community more than others, it was still an improvement upon the old system.

Young has pointed out that if civil society is to be defined by enhancements in the organization of society then the era immediately following the fall of colonization can be viewed as a golden age. In Zaire, for the first time, metropolitan civil society in Africa took an interest in the promotion of overseas auxiliary bodies. Unions and political parties provided training and opportunities for travel to other continents.

Whereas some African nations have failed to maintain effective organizational systems, it is notable that others have systems in place that whilst still imperfect represent a major improvement. They are catered towards the needs of the masses. These needs might not always be met, but at least they are targeted, whereas the colonial system was aimed solely at benefitting the European nations that were in charge of African states.

Young has provided Mauritius and Botswana as examples of African nations that have effective systems in place. It is notable that both of these countries are stable, democratic and have less social problems than many other African nations. It is arguable that this is due to the fact that they have travelled further on the path towards civil societies.

Judicial independence is another area that has improved since the colonial era. Interpreters and supposed experts on African affairs were able to unduly influence the judicial process during the colonial era. An example of this is Sir Theophilius Shepstone’s interference in a capital case. Shepstone spoke Xhosa and was knowledgeable about South African customs. He did not like the outcome of this case so he stated that there were numerous different dialects in existence in the area in which it took place and that this meant that there was considerable scope for misunderstandings that would have affected the result. He suggested that the case was repeated, with him acting as the interpreter.

It is possible that Shepstone merely wanted to gain financially from acting as an interpreter. It may also have been true that he wished to be the interpreter for this case in order to enhance his own reputation. The fact that post-colonial courts are not subject to manipulation from Western interpreters and so-called experts means that they are clearly less prone to bias.

It is arguable that other factors now seek to compromise the independence of the judicial systems in African nations. However, at least they are not at the mercy of Europeans who can manipulate them as they see fit. There can be no true judicial independence in a nation in which one race is viewed as being superior to another. This means that the entire system is biased.

However, in nations such as Rwanda and Uganda in which certain tribal groups have been subject to acts of genocide, it is arguable that judicial independence has been compromised. Unbiased justice cannot be dispensed in a country that holds some tribes to be worthy of death and believes them to be inferior. This means that there are still dramatic improvements required with regards to this issue in numerous African nations.

In conclusion, numerous different elements of civil society emerged in African states in the colonial era. There were increases in equality, the organizational structure of some nations witnessed a sustained improvement and some countries saw a move away from military rule towards civilian rule. Unfortunately, the progress towards civil society has not been even; some African nations have elements that were present in the colonial era, for example biases towards tribes, social injustices, and a lack of democracy. Whether civil societies will eventually exist within every African nation remains to be seen.

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