How Socialism Reshaped Africa


This beautiful, mountainous island, fourth largest in the world, was known as the “Pearl of the French Empire” before independence in 1960.  In 1972 the AREMA Party (Advance Guard of the Malagasy Socialist Revolution) overthrew the conservative government headed by Philibert Tsirinana.  Didier Ratsiraka took power in 1975, instigating an isolationist and socialist era based on theories enunciated in his own, personally-prepared Little Red Book.  This stated that “Madagascar’s only route for rapid development is through socialism.”


Ratsiraka duly nationalised banks, insurance companies, trade and commercial concerns.  Land was expropriated, co-operatives established.  The islanders soon discovered what a bad bargain had been struck.  As a result of reckless spending, poor marketing, corruption and nepotism, the economy declined catastrophically, coming perilously close to bankruptcy.  Within a decade Madagascar had declined into one of the most meagre economies in Africa.

With peasants being paid inadequately for their rice, the nation’s staple food, production collapsed and there were widespread food shortages.  This turned Madagascar from a rice exporter to a rice importer.

On March 11 this year this formerly stalwart Marxist island nation reversed course.  To assuage a public whose purchasing power had dropped 60% in the 15 years of his reign, Ratsiraka agreed to institute free market policies.  Now the private sector is opening up fast.  Madagascar has returned to the French franc zone, and a subsidiary of the French giant, Banque Nationale de Paris, has opened in the capital.  SA investors are taking a close look at the islands.  Officials from SAA, SAFTO and Sun International have visited there for talks on two-way trade.  Socialism bites the dust once more.


Once one of the most promising and prosperous nations in tropical Africa, it has almost from the day of independence from Britain in 1962 been Africa’s house of horrors, ruled by a succession of moral cripples.  First president was socialist Milton Obote, a protégé of Julius Nyerere.  A hard-drinking tyrant, Obote was overthrown by Idi Amin Dada in 1971.  Now an already bankrupted State embarked on years of State-sponsored terrorism.  Amin was overthrown by Tanzania and Obote supporters in 1979 – followed by even greater bloodshed.  Obote was overthrown, this time by President Yoweri Museveni in 1985.  Uganda turned away from command economics and, under IMF guidance, secured some modest return to prosperity.  But the healing process is not easy.  Uganda is now trying to cope with 1,5 million orphans from the decades of atrocity: and from the huge incidence of AIDS depopulating large areas of the country.  To top it all, the murderous Obote threatens to seek power once again.


Emperor Haile Selassie was overthrown in 1974.  The revolution was soon usurped by a faction of Marxist zealots headed by the grotesquely horrid Major Mengistu Haile Mariam, a dangerous and vindictive man and another prolific killer – rightly termed the “African Pol Pot.”  A course of Ethiopian socialism was proclaimed, industries and banks nationalised.  The first “land reform” of March 1975 laid the basis for an agricultural policy which effectively destroyed agriculture.  All rural land was nationalised and redistributed, with a 10 ha limit placed on holdings and transfer of holdings forbidden.  This ensured that agriculture could never progress beyond peasant level, by preventing the growth of efficient producers and excluding economies of scale.  Another policy was to redistribute holdings yearly, making it pointless for an individual cultivator to make land improvements or apply innovations because the benefits would be lost and accrue to another owner at the end of the year.