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Opinion - Africa’s planned or unplanned social change under a microscope

2023-09-25  Reverend Jan Scholtz

Opinion - Africa’s planned or unplanned social change under a microscope

With social and political change that came with independence came a search, a search for the best possible way to implement that change and to develop the full potential of the various countries in Africa. 

The four basic social and political approaches to development adopted by the countries which became independent after the Second World War were: Third-world oriented socialist methods of development; the freedom of a single ruling party to implement that form of government whatever the ideology; the counteracting of the restraint which will be placed on that development by forces which still attempt to control from outside the critical assessment from inside of any ideology or development plan.  

The first is presented by Nkrumah in the article on socialism, the second dealing with political parties is a critical analysis by Tom Mboya, Nkuramh’s neo-colonialism demonstrates the external restraints to development, Oginga Odinga, the critical and controversial internal questioning, Nyerere’s blueprint for Tanzanian education is a composite of the preceding approaches.

Theories of development have been exposed by virtually all leaders of independent Africa.  To those who thought that socialism was the best means of bringing development to Africa, socialism is a synthesis of traditional value and systems with modern technological methods to foster economic, social and political development. The blend itself varies both in thought and deed.  Two different and at times conflicting syntheses have been presented by the late Kwame Nkrumah and Leopold Senghor, independence leaders of both Ghana and Senegal respectively.  Senghor in an essay  ‘The African Road to Socialism’ emphasised the humanist aspects of African socialism.  He claimed that the communal nature and the spirit of the traditional African life from the societal base for socialism, for individual and collective potential are developed through the common understanding of historical roots which provide a sense of total being both within oneself and with all others.  The State must work for these goals, not as a small elite but as an entire people in harmonious endeavour.  There can be no single scientifically devised model for economic planning, only the complete understanding that each policy as always to be for the benefit of the whole and in accord with overriding cultural goals.  Senghor draws an African tradition to which he ascribes harmonious and idyllic qualities in search for a more beautiful future.

Kwame Nkrumah in his essay ‘African Socialism Revisited’ argues that the spirit of individual well-being, seen in terms of group welfare must be captured and then developed in a modern context. 

He defined African socialism as the humanism of traditional African life reasserting itself in a modern technological community western practices Islam and Christianity have effected profound changes on African society which must be fused with traditional values to produce a new and higher ideology.  

To do this, a strong and powerful State is necessary to plan and regulate the growth and distribution of wealth which will accumulate in a technological society. Unlike Senghor, Nkrumah here advocates scientific planning which conforms to the historical dialectic of materialism, thereby looking beyond African to a larger system for his development model.  Nkrumah claims that “to suppose that there are tribal, national or racial socialism is to abandon objectivity in favour of fantasy.” He claimed that African socialism which is communality of Africa living was one of the highest forms of socialism.

At the time of independence, all countries are faced with the dilemma of choosing the best form of government. The struggle for independence united the country and created a national party and leaders devoted to the principles of African socialism, ready to guide the State in the arduous efforts of nation-building once political freedom has been won.  

Mboya claimed that the important issue is not the existence of more than one party, but rather the possibility of such, depending on the wishes of the people. He questioned the function of opposition parties which are neither fundamentally nor ideologically different from the government party, which at times impede progress and development. Mboya accused the colonial powers of deliberately attempting to weaken the newly independent African states by forcing restrictive clauses into independence constitutions under the guise of protecting minority rights. Mboya’s essay is persuasive, yet may be argued that a one party system, with its small infrastructure can lead to totalitarian regimes or military dictatorship.

Weaknesses and division, both within and among African countries, enable neo-colonist forces to continue economic exploitation in Africa. After political independence, Nkrumah in his essay ‘Neocolonialism’ describes this process, explains its causes and forcefully set forth a policy to counteract it.  

Nkrumah called for a coordination of economic planning and development among African countries rather that the existing relationship between single African states and their mother countries. He also demanded greater political links and cooperation if the African community is to be truly free and able to assert herself as a powerful and independent force in work affairs. In this instance, he advocated for a decrease in economic link with the West and increase in trade links with the east. 

In effect, independence has meant only a change in leadership, where black faces are doing what white people were doing during the colonial period.  Not a restructuring of the economic, social or political relationship between the people and the government.

According to Karl Popper, the difference between utopian or planned social change and piecemeal engineering or unplanned social change is the difference between a reasonable method of improving the lot of man, and a method which if really tried, may easily lead to an intolerable increased in human suffering. (Ibid) Unplanned social change is the difference between a method which can be applied at any moment and a method whose advocacy becomes a means of continually postponing action until a later date when conditions are more favourable.  His comparison of planned and unplanned social change has some sorts of merits, but it has some demerits as he was so much prejudiced against planned social engineering which from his point of view is a dangerous method to use to reconstruct society.  He describes an implementer of planned social change as a dictator because in implementing his or her vision of an ideal society he is bound to ignore suggestions from the people whom this particular social change is supposed to benefit.  The question that can equally be asked Karl Popper is how his unplanned social change can be carried out without some sorts of dictatorship.  As the ancient Romans put it “Quot homines tot sententiae.” 

As so many men so are many opinions. There is no way it can be known whether one uses planned social engineering or unplanned one, will lead to dictatorship. If the people agree with the method being used to bring about the change, it can never lead to dictatorship.  

It is only when there are others in the society who disagree with the method being used, that some type of dictatorship may be brought to bear whether the method being used is planned social change or unplanned social one.  Many modern and old societies rebuild or are conceived on the classical example of planned social change as envisaged in Plato’s ideal society.  It is regarded as an ideal society for all times and place.  

The communist society which Karl Marx envisaged and the Russian tried to use it to reconstruct their society after the Boshevic revolution of 1917 was influenced by Plato’s ideal society.  

The Chinese commune system of Chairman Mao and the Israel Kybbut – system are all influences from Plato’s ideal society.  

Many social reconstruction models which followed independent African states have a bit of this influence from Plato. The western so-called civilisation has not escaped from this influence especially in schools and in their monasteries.  Plato’s ideal society cannot be ignored in man’s search for a model of society where he is to feel at home.

*Reverend Jan A Scholtz is the former chairperson of //Kharas Regional Council and former !Nami#nus constituency councillor and is a holder of Diploma in Theology, B-Theo (SA), a Diploma in Youth Work and Development from the University of Zambia (UNZA), Diploma in Education III (KOK) BA (HED) from UNISA.

2023-09-25  Reverend Jan Scholtz

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