Post-colonial Africa: A Diplomatic Malaise

  • James Mayall


The legacy of the 1884 Berlin conference remains with us today. Indeed, when one looks at the political, social and economic development of the African continent 25 years after the major effort in decolonisation, it is difficult to be particularly optimistic. The grounds for pessimism are depressingly familiar: approximately half of the world’s refugees wander homeless across the continent, Africa contains many of the poorest countries in the world, an increasing number of which cannot feed themselves, and there is the process of growing militarisation of African societies, a trend which is admittedly not confined to Africa but which is certainly well represented there. Add to this list the rising tide of local and external interventions of one kind or another in African politics and the ruthless, but also spectacular exercise in South African machtpolitik, and one needs to have an almost nineteenth-century belief in the inevitability of progress to maintain a positive view of the future. Indeed, it does nobody a service to try to represent what is happening as a picture of hope. It is particularly difficult to get a purchase on African problems if they are viewed against the background of what was ‘meant to happen’: at the time of independence in the late 1950s and 1960s, many of the books written about Africa by liberal Europeans were imbued with hope, so that a major problem in talking about contemporary Africa is that for these authors Africa is the ‘god that failed.


African State African Society Political Society Western Power African Leader 
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Copyright information

© Stephen Wright and Janice N. Brownfoot 1987

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  • James Mayall

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