How Socialism Reshaped Africa


A former Portuguese possession wedged between Senegal and Guinea.  When the country won its independence in 1974 the new government, headed by Luiz Cabral, a man familiar in international communist circles, invited Moscow and its allies to advise on nationalisation, redistribution, central State planning, collectivisation, State-owned manufacturing, and confiscation of the business sector.  Such communist extremes led to the exodus of most Portuguese.

“African Albania”

The economy rapidly went into reverse.  Formerly self-sufficient in food, rice production fell 50% below pre-independence levels.  Dubbed “West Africa’s Albania,” it became one of the world’s 15 poorest countries with an average per capita income of US$3 a week.  By 1985 the situation had deteriorated so badly that President Joao Barnardo Vieira turned to the IMF for an emergency rescue operation.  It switched to free market principles, encouraged more private ownership, and lifted price controls and trade restrictions.


Once the rich child of the French colonial family, it was at the time of independence in 1958 Africa’s leading banana exporter; possessed one-third of the world’s known bauxite reserves; had three major rivers with potential for hydropower projects.  It was considered much more likely to succeed than neighbouring Ivory Coast, which was then dependent on a single crop – coffee.

Soviet Tutelage

At independence President Sekou Toure, a well-known exponent of radical revolutionary politics in Africa (and recipient of the Lenin Peace Prize), rejected France’s offer of close co-operation.  Instead he set out to create “Marxism in African clothes” under Soviet tutelage.  He wound up confirming the point made by Kenya’s cynical old Jomo Kenyatta: “Don’t be fooled into looking to Communism for food.”  Toure was already throwing off Communism before his death in 1984.  Conakry is now pursuing the market system.


Even this formerly staunch Marxist/Leninist People’s Republic has now declared its constitutionally-prescribed communism a dead duck.  Earlier this year, under pressure from France, Military President Mathieu Kerekou was forced to end 18 years of Marxist rule and invite previously banned opposition parties to help run the country.  Unable to pay government salaries for months past, Mr Kerekou’s announcement came after a general strike and widespread demonstrations demanding an end to Marxist rule.  Soldiers opened fire on crowds who had earlier torn the cover off a still-to-be-inaugurated statue of Lenin and stoned it.  Multiparty elections are to be held next year.  The country will now “exploit the positive factors of capitalism.”