At independence, African countries had to decide what type of state to put in place, and between 1950 and the mid-1980s, thirty-five of Africa"s countries adopted socialism at some point.1 The leaders of these countries believed socialism offered their best chance to overcome the many obstacles these new states faced at independence. Initially, African leaders created new, hybrid versions of socialism, known as African socialism, but by the 1970s, several states turned to the more orthodox notion of socialism, known as scientific socialism.
What was the appeal of socialism in Africa, and what made African socialism different from scientific socialism?
Socialism was anti-imperial. The ideology of socialism is explicitly anti-imperial. While the U.S.S.R. (which was the face of socialism in the 1950s) was arguably an empire itself, its leading founder, Vladimir Lenin wrote one of the most famous anti-imperial texts of the 20th century: Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism. In this work, Lenin not only critiqued colonialism, but also argued that the profits from imperialism would ‘buy out’ the industrial workers of Europe. The workers’ revolution, he concluded, would have to come from the un-industrialized, underdeveloped countries of the world. This opposition of socialism to imperialism and the promise of revolution coming underdeveloped countries made it appealing to anti-colonial nationalists around the world in the 20th century.
Socialism offered a way to break with Western markets To be truly independent, African states needed to be not only politically but also economically independent. But most were trapped in the trading relations established under colonialism. European empires had used African colonies for natural resources, so, when those states achieved independence they lacked industries. The major companies in Africa, such as the mining corporation Union Minière du Haut-Katanga, were European-based and European-owned. By embracing socialist principles and working with socialist trading