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Why Did Almost All African States Rapidly Adopt an Authoritarian Form in the Period After Independence?

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The transitions that were taking place in the period after independence in Africa could be described as nothing less than complex. As many of the African countries moved toward an electoral democratization in the 1990s, many others remained authoritarian, while incorporating some democratic innovations to a degree. This ultimately meant that the basic 'fundaments' for authoritarian regimes changed in ways that were continuously modified throughout the early post-independence period. To address the question of why almost all African states adopted an authoritarian form in the period after independence, this essay will set out to argue that many saw the authoritarian form as a way to satisfy both domestic and international pressures, as constraints on civil and political liberties were present. Whether or not this form did in fact serve it's purpose, remains debatable. This will be illustrated further through the case study of Uganda.

Firstly, in order to be able to analyse the scope of this topic fully, it is necessary to define what it is that defines an authoritarian regime or form. Authoritarianism can be defined as "a belief in, or practice of government 'from above' in which authority is exercised regardless of popular consent ." In terms of authoritarian regime, this places emphasis on the claims of authority over those of individual liberty. More over, the practice 'from above' is concerned with the repression of opposition and political liberty, rather than the more radical feature of eradicating the distinction between the civil society and the state. As a result, authoritarian regimes may tolerate a range of economic and other freedoms.

It is equally important to acknowledge some points about the notion of colonialism itself. With a few exceptions, Africa came of age in the decade of the 1960s, when broad nationalist coalitions were waging anti-colonial struggles triumphed over European rule . The subjugation of Africa took place relatively late in the age of colonialism and at a rapid pace, by the last part of the nineteenth century, most of Africa was forcibly divided to a half dozen European imperial domains . Although it may be argued that the process of colonialism was violent, it can be noted that it more often was not violent. For instance, the violence took the form of both direct and indirect violence. Colonialism more generally could be thought of as imposed by force or through intimidation based on the treat of violence . The point to emphasis here is that the colonial order, established by conquest relied strongly on the features of divide and rule. In addition, certain people such as chiefs were able to be co-opted to the colonising powering order to facilitate the conquest of the African people. As a result, they now had the support of the colonist, which also brought about the emergence of a "culture of impunity, one that originated during the colonial period and continued into the post independence period ." Africa, post-independence seemed to favour this idea of a "culture of impunity."

The departing colonialists left the new African leaders with the idea of liberal democratic constitutions with the guarantee of civil and political rights and freedoms. Despite the preference for centralized systems of governance, some viewed this as the feature of decentralization also being introduced into new constitutions through local government provisions. These democratic forms of governance that were inherited by African states at independence were not only minimalist variety but they were remarkably short-lived; as soon as politically feasible or practicable they were taken apart and replaced by authoritarian alternatives .

This African version of an authoritarian form was characterised by personalisation of authority, institutionalised relations of loyalty and dependence, systematic concentration of political power in the hands of an individual, a stubborn refusal to not only delegate but also share power, all supplemented by self-serving representations of leaders as father figures . During a critical juncture when nation building was a priority goal and time was considered essence, especially as Africa's unenviable inheritance at independence, democracy was considered a luxury the continent could ill afford . Rather than allowing African leaders to the latitude, democracy seemed to cause time-consuming debates, ultimately demonstrating just how democracy was considered inefficient.

At the same time, African societies were also faced with ethnic divisions, which had the potential to create further conflict. These societies needed to be governed by a firm hand. It is commonly argued that Africa's participative culture is incompatible with the authoritarian form of government . In order to understand this argument, one must be sensitive to the fact that African societies, by nature, seem to have been created in a way that the burdens and rewards of citizenship are not private, but shared. Ake also continued to argue that, "authoritarianism was much against the grain of African culture and has simply led to dissociation, confusion, and the phenomenon of withdrawal ." In addition to Ake's arguments, the fact that authoritarianism has few defenders in Africa should be acknowledged; this only emphasises the failure of authoritarianism to produce the developmental outcomes or national unity, integrity, and nation building that was promised.

For decades, African states have been pressured to live up to the ideals of democratic governance along with economic development with the struggle to attain an independent political state. To ensure progress, two points should be considered. Firstly, the post-independent state could be described as fragile, with limited capacity for policy formulation and implementation. The second point refers to the social pluralism in African societies; this includes the attempt to forge national unity among the regional, ethnic, and religious groups at different levels of socioeconomic and political development . This draws one to the reasons as to why most African states rapidly adopted an authoritarian form in the period after independence. With the points mentioned previously, some may argue that in order to facilitate the process of attaining an independent political state, African leaders made pleas for both political and social peace. To the extent that a degree of authoritarianism was thought to be necessary to contain the "centrifugal forces inherent in the ethno-regionally and culturally divided societies over which they had authority over ." It can be argued that adopting an authoritarian form would aid in meeting expectations of independence.

To emphasise the pattern of adopting

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