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Los Angeles Legacies of Colonialism Discussion
Answer Below question in 2 or max 3 pages, double spaced 12 font. Use the notes provided and if necessary outside sources as well.
“The colonial era casts a long shadow over contemporary Africa. Discuss three legacies of colonialism and explain how they affect present-day political, social, or economic outcomes.“
Colonialism and the Two Publics in
Africa: A Theoretical Statement
PETER P. EKEH
University of Ibadan, Nigeria
This paper argues that the experiences of colonialism in Africa have led
to the emergence of a unique historical configuration in modern postcolonial Africa: the existence of two publics instead of one public, as in
the West. Many of Africa’s political problems are due to the dialectical
relationships between the two publics. I shall characterize these two
publics and attempt to explain some of Africa’s political features within
the matrix of these publics. In order to give some empirical content to
the distinction drawn here, I shall illustrate the issues raised with examples
THE PRIVATE REALM, THE PUBLIC REALM, AND SOCIETAL
Perhaps the best definition of politics is the oldest one: politics refer to
the activities of individuals insofar as they impinge on the public realm
made up of the collective interests of the citizenry. As Wolin (1960:2-3)
has pointed out, ‘one of the essential qualities of what is political, and
one that has powerfully shaped the view of political theorists about their
subject-matter, is its relationship to what is “public”‘. The distinction
between the private realm and the public realm delimits the scope of
politics. Not all the everyday activities of an individual are political. To
the extent that he acts in his household or practices his religion in his
home, he is acting in the private realm. Furthermore, the distinction tells
us when changes do take place and may define the characteristics of
political regimes. The publicization of the private realm-that is, the
conversion of private activities and resources into material for the public
realm-is characteristic of absolutist regimes. On the other hand, the
privatization of the public realm-that is, the ‘sublimation’ of politics
in which what is traditionally private swallows up the public realm-may
This paper has benefitted from comments by Professor Ronald Cohen, Northwestern
University, Dr. James L. Wood, University of California, Riverside, and Sam E. Oyovbaire,
Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, and Clement E. Tobi, University of Ibadan.
92 PETER P. EKEH
well, as Wolin (1960) contends, be a major characteristic of the age of
But the distinction between the public and private realms as used over
the centuries has acquired a peculiar Western connotation, which may be
identified as follows: the private realm and the public realm have a
common moral foundation. Generalized morality in society informs both
the private realm and the public realm. That is, what is considered morally
wrong in the private realm is also considered morally wrong in the public
realm. Similarly, what is considered morally right in the private realm is
also considered morally right in the public realm. For centuries, generalized
Christian beliefs have provided a common moral fountain for the private
and the public realms in Western society. There are anomic exceptions,
of course. For instance, the strong appeal of Banfield’s The Moral Basis
of a Backward Society is that it provides a striking case of an exception
in which the same morality does not govern the private and the public
realms. But this is a case where the exception proves the rule. Banfield’s
(1958) observation of amoral politics in the southern Italian village has
drawn so much attention precisely because it violates the Western norm
of politics without reproach.
When one moves across Western society to Africa, at least, one sees
that the total extension of the Western conception of politics in terms of
a monolithic public realm morally bound to the private realm can only
be made at conceptual and theoretical peril. There is a private realm in
Africa. But this private realm is differentially associated with the public
realm in terms of morality. In fact there are two public realms in postcolonial Africa, with different types of moral linkages to the private realm.
At one level is the public realm in which primordial groupings, ties, and
sentiments influence and determine the individual’s public behavior. I
shall call this the primordial public because it is closely identified with
primordial groupings, sentiments, and activities, which nevertheless
impinge on the public interest. The primordial public is moral and operates
on the same moral imperatives as the private realm. On the other hand,
there is a public realm which is historically associated with the colonial
administration and which has become identified with popular politics in
post-colonial Africa. It is based on civil structures: the military, the civil
service, the police, etc. Its chief characteristic is that it has no moral
linkages with the private realm. I shall call this the civic public. The civic
public in Africa is amoral and lacks the generalized moral imperatives
operative in the private realm and in the primordial public.1 The most
1This distinction borrows from a parent distinction between ‘civil’ and ‘primordial’
realms in individual behavior, introduced into sociological analysis by Shils (1957) and
popularized and strengthened by Geertz (1963). Ultimately of course, it dates back to
Toennies’ classic distinction between association-type Gelleschaft and community-type
COLONIALISM AND THE TWO PUBLICS IN AFRICA 93
outstanding characteristic of African politics is that the same political
actors simultaneously operate in the primordial and the civic publics.
The dialectical relationship between the two publics foments the unique
political issues that have come to characterize African politics. The two
publics are amenable to observation. But they will gain their full meaning
in the context of a theory of African politics. Having identified the two
publics, there are two lines of theoretical approach that one can attempt.
The first is politico-historical: how did this unique political configuration
emerge in Africa? The second is sociological: how does the operation
of the publics affect African politics ? I shall discuss both theories in this
IDEOLOGIES OF LEGITIMATION AND THE EMERGENCE OF
THE TWO PUBLICS
Modern African politics are in large measure a product of the colonial
experience. Pre-colonial political structures were important in determining
the response of various traditional political structures to colonial interference. But the colonial experience itself has had a massive impact on
modern Africa. It is to the colonial experience that any valid conceptualization of the unique nature of African politics must look.2
In fact, we can still narrow the issue and focus on the two critical
bourgeois groups that influenced colonial Africa and continue to influence
post-colonial African politics. These are the cadre of colonial administrators, mostly drawn from the rising bourgeois class in Europe, and the
African bourgeois class born out of the colonial experience itself. It is
my contention that the emergence and the structures of the two publics
owe their origin first and foremost to these two groups, especially to their
ideological formulations intended to legitimate their rule of the ordinary
African. This is not to say that the ordinary African had nothing to do
with the emergence of the two publics. He was the target of the intellectual
workmanship of the two bourgeois groups in their formulation of
It is chiefly to emphasize the lack of firm legitimacy on their part that
I have used the term ‘bourgeois’ to characterize these groups. The term
connotes the newness of a privileged class which may wield much power,
but have little authority; which may have a lot of economic influence, but
enjoy little political acceptance. I have not, unlike Hodgkin (1956),
preferred the term middle class because it connotes (a) that those thus
referred to have established value linkages with the other layers of their
society, and (b) that the class thus referred to occupies a middle layer in
a social stratification system. In my view, the European colonial rulers
2 Cf. Ekeh (1972:93): ‘Colonialism is to Africa what feudalism is to Europe. They form
the historical background from which Africa and Europe advance to modernity. As such,
they have determined the peculiar characteristics of modernity in each of these areas.’
94 PETER P. EKEH
of Africa and their African successors in the post-colonial period do not
fit readily into the same social stratification system with other segments
of the societies they ruled and now rule. The African bourgeois class
especially does not have an upper class, an aristocracy, over’and above it,
although it does have a defeated traditional aristocracy whose bases of
power have been weakened by the importation of foreign techniques of
governance. Nor have I used the term African ‘elites’ because it connotes
to me a class of men who enjoy autonomy in the formation of their
values and in their decision-making processes, independent of external
sources. The emergent ruling class in Africa clearly lacks such autonomy.
Because of the repeated use of the term ‘ideologies’ in this essay, it
would seem fair to the reader to explain as clearly as possible the use of
the term, and the context of that use. By ‘ideologies’ I refer to unconscious
distortions or perversions of truth by intellectuals in advancing points of
view that favor or benefit the interests of particular groups for which the
intellectuals act as spokesmen. That is, ideologies are interest-begotten
theories. The invention of aesthetically appealing interest-begotten
theories, or ideologies, that detract from scientific truth is, as Werner
Stark (1958) has emphasized, different from socially determined thought
in which the writer’s cultural world view and his more immediate social
background condition and define his perception of social reality. It is when
bias in favor of an identifiable group is introduced into theories that I
refer to them as ideologies. Needless to add, this specialized usage leans
on a tradition of the conceptualization of ideology as an abnormal
element in social theory construction-so fully expounded by Werner
Stark (1958)-rather than on Mannheim’s broad view of ideologies as
constituting essential elements in social theories.
My view of ideologies does not then imply a Marxist or Paretean
assumption of pan-ideologism-that is, the assertion that all ideas and
theories in society are biased in favor of either the ruling class or the
emerging class. My position does imply that the particular groups that
benefit from ideological distortions of truth must be identified in any
analysis that claims perversion and abuse of scientific truth. My assumption-that is, the unexamined hypothesis in this analysis-is that ideological distortions and abuse of truth usually indicate a degree of insecurity
on the part of the group promoting such ideologies. This is the case with
the European bourgeoisie, not only in the eighteenth and nineteenth
centuries in Europe, but also in the colonial administration of Africa.
A sense of insecurity also dominates the emergent African bourgeoisie.
The European bourgeois class of course has a well known history in
domestic European economic and political life. Not so well known is
its influence in the European expansion to Africa. Although the history
of the ‘scramble’ for Africa is filled with the names of nobility, the motive
COLONIALISM AND THE TWO PUBLICS IN AFRICA 95
force of the expansion must ultimately be traced to the rise of the bourgeoisie in Europe:
The central inner-European event of the imperialist period [between 1884 and 1914
and ending with the scramble for Africa] was the political emancipation of the bourgeoisie, which up to then had been the first class in history to achieve economic preeminence without aspiring to political rule. The bourgeoisie had developed within,
and together with the nation-state (Arendt, 1951:123).
Imperialism was born when the ruling class in capitalist production came up against
national limitations to its economic expansion. The bourgeois turned to politics out of
economic necessity; for if it did not want to give up the capitalist system whose inherent
law is constant growth, it had to impose this law upon its home governments and to
proclaim expansion to be an ultimate political goal of foreign policy (Arendt, 1951:126).
In large part, the European expansion to, and colonization of, Africa
must be seen as a result of the bourgeois attempt to acquire political
power, via colonization, that would be commensurate with, and further
consolidate, its economic power at home.3 Arendt (1951:133) was pointing
to an important matter in colonization when she remarked that ‘The
conflict between the representatives of the imperial “factor” [i.e., the
home government] and the colonial administrators [largely recruited
from the ranks of the bourgeoisie] runs like a red thread through the
history of British imperialism.’ As Hobson (1902:46) so bitterly complained, ‘Although the new Imperialism has been bad business for the
nation, it has been good business for certain classes and certain trades
within the nation.’ The British bourgeoisie, like some other European
bourgeois classes, who gained the most from expansion and colonization,
attempted to justify such imperial expansion as being beneficial to all
the colonizing nations and to every taxpayer in them. I call the theories
that emerged from such rationalization and justifications addressed to the
taxpayers and citizens of the colonizing nations imperial ideologies.4
Although they constitute an important area that must be examined in
any intellectual history of colonialism in Africa, I shall not deal directly
with such imperial ideologies in this essay.
3 Needless to say, the bourgeois influence varied a great deal from nation to nation in
internal European politics. It was more significant in France and England than in Germany
and Portugal (cf., e.g., Moore, 1966). There is a possibility that the different colonial policies
in Africa-e.g., as between the Germans and the Portuguese on the one hand and the British
and the French on the other-reflected the varied domestic influence of the bourgeois class
in European national politics. My characterization of the bourgeois class seems truer of the
English and French cases than of the Portuguese and German bourgeoisie.
4 Such imperial ideologies include the moral appeal to Europeans in terms of ‘the white
man’s burden’ and the fanciful flattery to Europeans that there were ‘noble savages’ somewhere in the non-European world that could imitate them. For good sources of such
imperial ideologies see Arendt (1951) and Curtin (1964). European nineteenth- and early
twentieth-century literature is suffused with imperial ideologies. In English, the works of
Rudyard Kipling and Rider Haggard are especially effective in upholding the moral
superiority of Europeans, especially Englishmen, and the evangelical call for imperial expansion. In the academic sphere, Mannoni’s Prospero and Caliban, depicting Africans as naturally
dependent and Europeans as naturally dominant, remains one of the most subtle examples
of these imperial ideologies dressed up in academic ‘objectivity’.
96 PETER P. EKEH
The European bourgeois colonizers of Africa were also confronted
with formidable problems in their conquest and rule. Although their
superior technology plus the fact that African political life had been
softened by the slave trade that ravaged the continent in the previous
three centuries facilitated their conquest, the successful colonization of
Africa was achieved more by the colonizers’ ideological justification of
their rule than by the sheer brutality of arms. I shall call the ideologies
invented by the colonizing Europeans to persuade Africans that colonization was in the interest of Africans colonial ideologies. The impact of these
colonial ideologies on the emergence of the two publics in Africa is of
major concern for me in this essay.
In the course of colonization a new bourgeois class emerged in Africa
composed of Africans who acquired Western education in the hands of
the colonizers, and their missionary collaborators, and who accordingly
were the most exposed to European colonial ideologies of all groups of
Africans. In many ways the drama of colonialism is the history of the
clash between the European colonizers and this emergent bourgeois class.
Although native to Africa, the African bourgeois class depends on colonialism for its legitimacy. It accepts the principles implicit in colonialism but
it rejects the foreign personnel that ruled Africa. It claims to be competent
enough to rule, but it has no traditional legitimacy. In order to replace
the colonizers and rule its own people it has invented a number of interestbegotten theories to justify that rule. I shall call the ideologies advanced
by this new emergent bourgeois class in Africa African bourgeois ideologies
of legitimation. Their impact on the development of the two publics in
Africa is also of major concern for me in this essay.
Colonial Ideologies of Legitimation
The late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century European colonization
of Africa owes a measure of its effectiveness to the ideological justifications
of the efforts of the colonizers. The more successful colonizers, particularly
the British and the French, attempted to create ideologies that not only
backhandedly justified their penetration into Africa but also justified
to their fellow countrymen their continuing actions. In addition, and
more to our point here, they also tried to persuade Africans to accept
European rule as beneficial. These latter attempts aimed at colonized
Africans are what I have called colonial ideologies. They were wrought
jointly by the colonial administrators and their close collaborators in the
colonial enterprise, the Christian missionaries.5 What were the ideologies
invoked by the colonizers to legitimate their rule of Africa ?
5 For a dramatic case history of Christian missionary involvement in colonization see
Padmore’s (1949:70-73) discussion of the religious wars between the Ba-Ingleza (English)
and the Ba-Fransa (French) parties in Uganda. For a well-argued sympathetic interpretation
of the role of Christian missionaries see Neill (1966).
COLONIALISM AND THE TWO PUBLICS IN AFRICA 97
The backwardness of the African past. One of the most successful
ideologies used to explain the necessity of colonial rule was the heavy
emphasis placed on what was described as a backward ahistorical past.
Africans, according to this view, should be ashamed of their past; the
only important thing is in the present. Missionaries openly told Africans
that ancestor-worship was bad and they should cut themselves loose from
their ‘evil’ past and embrace the present in the new symbolisms of Christianity and Western culture. Indeed, Africans were virtually told that the
colonizers and missionaries came to save them, sometimes in spite of
themselves, from their past.
The point of emphasis here of course is the ideological distortion of
what is after all a partially correct observation, namely that Africa was
and is, in many ways, backward. ‘Nowhere’, Warner Stark (1958:50)
once warned, ‘are [ideological influences] more dangerous than where
they make use of, and abuse, undeniable scientific truths.’ That abuse is
what is at issue here. It consisted of defaming the African past-including
important city-state civilizations-and exaggerating the achievement of
the African present. Africans who were ‘Western’ educated-and they
mattered in the colonial situations in Africa-were sharply differentiated
from the ‘natives’ on the principle that the former were those of the
‘Europeanized’ present and the natives belonged to the backward past.
The lack of contributions by Africans to the building of Africa. A
related ideological weapon employed by the colonial administrators in
emphasizing the necessity of their rule in Africa consisted of downgrading the contribution by Africans to the building of African nations
and to history generally. History is to a large extent the selective emphasis
of events from a national point of view. Americans talk a great deal
about their relations to England; but it would be a rare American teacher
or writer who says that England built or founded the U.S. In colonial,
and even in post-colonial, Africa, the emphasis on contributions made
by the colonizers to the building of Africa is extravagantly presented in
favor of colonialism. The essence of colonial history is the demonstration
of the massive importance of the European ‘intervention’ in Africa and
of the ‘fact’ that African contributions to the building of Africa have
relevance only when seen in the context of a wider and more significant
contribution of the European colonizers. Every schoolboy in colonial
Africa, and many in post-colonial Africa, read in history books that
Africa and especially its important landmarks and waterways were
‘discovered’ by European explorers. The mental outlook here is important. To say that River Niger or Kano was discovered by European
explorers is to invite the African to see his own people from the point of
view of the European. Many Western educated Africans took this point
of view. As Jahoda (1961:115) puts it, the Western educated African
98 PETER P. EKEH
‘now comes to look at Africans and African culture to some extent
through the eyes of those European educators who determined the manner
and content of the teaching he received’.
Again, of course, it enhanced the legitimacy of Europeans to downgrade African contributions to the building of Africa and hence to make
the European colonizer a benevolent ruler who graciously filled a void
and brought Africa ‘into light and history’. The most effective vehicle
here is the teaching of colonial history, although the very use of the
language of the colonizers as the medium of education has much the same
effect of legitimating foreign rule. Mungo Park, an adventurer, becomes
a ‘discoverer’ in colonial history taught in British colonized nations.6
A rather sensitive African historian once complained that Bishop AjayiCrowther’s-the first Nigerian bishop’s-contribution to the documentation of history was underrepresented: ‘Crowther’s narrative is an important document on the early stages of the Yoruba Wars of the nineteenth
century. It is in fact surprising that while so much has been made of the
accounts of the journeys of Clapperton and Lander through western
Yoruba, so little attention has been paid to this account of a journey
through the central part in 1821-22’ (Ajayi, 1967:291). Professor Ajayi
would be less surprised if he recognized that history is in large part the
selective biography of nations, not an ‘objective’ interpretation of all
documents. Certainly colonial history as taught in African schools and
universities had a primary purpose: to legitimate the European colonial
rule of Africa.
Inter-tribal feuds. Ideological distortions also exist in the characterization of political life in pre-colonial Africa. ‘Tribe against tribe’ is the
common theme in colonial accounts of African struggles. ‘Inter-tribal’,
rather than ‘intra-tribal’, struggles are given the accent in interpretations
of African political strife. It is only recently that African historians like
Ajayi (Ajayi and Smith, 1964) and Dike (1956) have pointed to the
scope and even the significance of ‘intra-tribal’ struggles in Africa. By
carefully emphasizing ‘inter-tribal’ disharmonies in pre-colonial Africa,
European colonial administrators had two things to gain at once. First,
the principle of divide et impera was effectively employed to create disharmony between groups in the colonial situation, a strategy especially
apparent in the declining days of colonialism in virtually every African
nation; second, it gave the colonial administrators the image of benevolent
interveners, who came to Africa because they wanted to establish order.
Benefits of European colonial rule. The argument that European rule
brought benefits is the common justification for the presence of Europeans
in Africa, from the Portuguese rape of Angola to the godfather image of
6 It is not an insignificant matter that French colonized Africans knew nothing of these
British explorers and that British colonized Africans were unaware of the French ‘explorers’.
COLONIALISM AND THE TWO PUBLICS IN AFRICA 99
the French in the Ivory Coast. But it is significant that little is ever said
in the same context about the disadvantages of European colonial and
missionary activities in Africa. There are indeed benefits deriving from
colonial rule. But it may well be the case that in the long run the crushing
psychological and social implications of colonialism have disadvantages
that far outweigh the heralded advantages. (It is often unnoticed, for
instance, that the only non-Western nations to have successfully modernized-Japan and China-are those that have not been colonized. Is it an
accident that all Asian and African nations formerly colonized by
Europeans have a uniform history of failure in attempts to modernize ?)
The administrative cost of colonization to Europeans. One of the most
pronounced examples of double-talk in colonization (and one suspects
here that what was involved was a deliberate lie rather than an unconscious
ideological misrepresentation of truth) is with respect to the accounting
of the cost, financial and otherwise, of colonization. While the cost was
de-emphasized to the ‘imperial factor’ (i.e., the government) and the
taxpayers in the colonizers’ home countries, it was clearly exaggerated in
the colonial situation. The financial benefits that the colonized nations
derived from the colonizing nations were shown to outweigh the wealth
that might have been taken out of the colonies. Indeed, colonial accounts
were always presented in ways that showed that goods and produce in
the colonies were ‘bought’ at good prices, when in fact the colonial
market was monopolistic. On the whole the colonized were led to believe
that they gained a great deal, and that they gave very little in return, in
the colonial arrangement. As I shall emphasize later, when interpreted in
the idiom of this essay, this posture amounts to an undue emphasis on
rights and an undue de-emphasis on duties. Indeed, this ideological
distortion invariably led to an exaggeration of the riches in Europe in
the view of many Africans.
Native vs. Westernized. Standing somewhat apart from the rest, but
central to the ideological promotion of the legitimacy of the colonizers
in Africa, is the pervasive emphasis on the distinction between ‘natives’
(that is Africans who have no Western education) and Western educated
Africans. Most colonized Africans had the perception of the European as
a man blessed with much, who did nothing much more than acquire
literary education to earn such luxury. To become a Western educated
African in the colonial situation was for many an avenue for escaping
hard work. Hard work was meant for the ‘natives’. At least it was believed
that the European, having acquired an adequate education, could not
work with his hands. To send one’s son to school was to hope that he
would escape the boredom of hard work (cf. Jahoda, 1961:78).
Many of these perceptions of Europeans and of Western education
100 PETER P. EKEH
were encouraged by the European colonial administrators and missionaries themselves. They were in part promoted to preserve the aura of
charisma which formed the basis of legitimacy for European rule. A
supreme strategy of colonial administrators was to separate ‘native’
from Western institutions and define the ‘native’ in terms of what is
low (cf. Arendt, 1951:131). This condescending distinction between
Westernized and ‘native’ sectors gained maximum expression of course
in the doctrine of indirect rule. But the Western educated African did not
completely escape the ‘native’ sector. Indeed his greatest difficulty was,
and remains, the simultaneous adaptation to two mentally contraposing
orders. One solution to this problem formulated by the educated African
is to define one of these orders in moral terms and the other in amoral
terms. The native sector has become a primordial reservoir of moral
obligations, a public entity which one works to preserve and benefit.
The Westernized sector has become an amoral civic public from which
one seeks to gain, if possible in order to benefit the moral primordial
African Bourgeois Ideologies of Legitimation
The colonial ideologies have had a major impact on Africans. The absence
of a strong traditional ethos, for instance in the form of a pan-African
religion, made Africans easy targets of these ideologies. But there was
considerable variation in the spread of their effects on Africans. The
Western educated African was a greater victim of their intensity than the
non-literate African. The acceptance of the colonial ideologies in many
ways led to the creation by the African bourgeois class of its own ideologies. The purpose behind the colonial ideologies, wrought by colonial
administrators and missionaries, was to legitimate an alien domination
of Africans; African bourgeois ideologies were formed to achieve two
interrelated goals. First, they were intended to serve as weapons to be
used by the African bourgeois class for replacing the colonial rulers;
second, they were intended to serve as mechanisms for legitimating their
hold on their own people. Both types of ideologies were largely directed
at the African masses. However, in terms of timing, the first set was used
during colonialism and was an attack on alien rulers. I shall call this set
anti-colonial ideologies. The second set of ideologies is more directly
related to the issue of legitimation and is involved in post-colonial politics
in Africa. Its appearance coincided with the departure of the alien colonial
rulers. I shall call these post-colonial ideologies of legitimation.
(1) Anti-colonial Ideologies. What I call anti-colonial ideologies here
refer to the interest-begotten reasons and strategies of the Western
educated African bourgeoisie who sought to replace the colonial rulers.
Anti-colonialism did not in fact mean opposition to the perceived ideals
COLONIALISM AND THE TWO PUBLICS IN AFRICA IOI
and principles of Western institutions. On the contrary, a great deal of
anti-colonialism was predicated on the manifest acceptance of these ideals
and principles, accompanied by the insistence that conformity with them
indicated a level of achievement that ought to earn the new educated
Africans the right to the leadership of their country. Ultimately, the source
of legitimacy for the new African leadership has become alien. Anticolonialism was against alien colonial personnel but glaringly pro foreign
ideals and principles.
I shall now discuss some of the ideologies used to justify this form of
African high standards. In every post-colonial African nation, Western
educated Africans, that is the African bourgeoisie, have bent over backwards to show that their standards of education and administration are
as good as those of their former colonizers. The point of reference in such
demonstrations is to prove that they are the ‘equals’, but never the
betters, of their former rulers. At least if they judge their standards of
education and administration not to be as high as those prevailing in the
capitals of the former colonizing nations, they rue the fact of their ‘low’
standards and make attempts to raise them. Nowhere does one come across
the statement that the prevailing standards, say, in England are not high
enough or too high for the problems in, say, Nigeria. These ‘high’
standards are invariably defined in terms of the prevailing, that is ordinary,
standards in the former colonizing nations.
This ideology of African high standards had its origin in the fight for
independence. Most African, leaders in the fight for independence boasted
to their followers that they were as qualified as the English or the French
colonizers; that their rule could be as ‘democratic’ as that in England or
France; that Africans could attain as high a degree of efficiency in
bureaucracy as that in Britain or France, etc. In his manner of speaking
the English language and of pronouncing English words, the Nigerian
‘been-to’,7 for instance, wants to demonstrate to the common man that
he is as good as an Englishman in the use of the English language.
There is logic to these over-zealous attempts by the African bourgeois
class to prove the equal, but never the better, of the former colonizers.
They are a message addressed to the masses that educated Africans have
attained the level of the colonizers and therefore can replace them permanently. It is not required to prove oneself the better of the former
colonizers to do so, since their behaviors represented the very best in the
view of Africans.
7 ‘Been-to’ is a Nigerian term used to refer to those who have been overseas, usually to
England, Europe, and the U.S.A. or Canada, and who overdo their imitation of Western
manners. Also cf. Fanon’s (1967:17-40) discussion of this issue with respect to Frenchspeaking Africans and West Indians.
102 PETER P. EKEH
Anyone who has studied in a leading university-at Berkeley, Harvard,
or Oxford-will have noticed that very little is ever said about high
standards. It is the less distinguished institutions that want to appear to
be as good as Berkeley, Stanford, or the Sorbonne. The same is true of
the African bourgeois class. In many ways they are at a considerable
disadvantage in attempting to do things as Englishmen in what Englishmen do best: speaking the English language. To take the example of the
most successful non-Westerners in history, the Japanese do not strive to
speak English or French as well as an Englishman and an American or as
a Frenchman. They see themselves as different from them. The African
bourgeois, born out of the colonial experience, is very uncomfortable with
the idea of being different from his former colonizers in matters regarding
education, administration, or technology. One suspects that he is unconsciously afraid that he may not be qualified to be an effective replacer
of the former colonizers. If he does reject an English model, he wants
to take an American model; but the point is still that he wants to validate
his replacement of the colonizers by accepting the standards of the
Americans who were after all potential colonizers in Africa.
Independence strategies. The notion, promoted by the African bourgeois
class, that Africans had high standards and that educated Africans were
as qualified to rule as the former colonizers constituted the principal basis
of the claim of the African bourgeois class to gain independence from the
alien rulers and thus to rule its own people. The ‘fight’ for independence
was thus a struggle for power between the two bourgeois classes involved
in the colonization of Africa. The intellectual poverty of the independence
movement in Africa flows from this fact, that what was involved was not
the issue of differences of ideas regarding moral principles but rather the
issue of which bourgeois class should rule Africans. The colonizers did
resist a great deal by discrediting the African bourgeois class and by creating divisions within it. In the long run, however, it is the African bourgeois
class which had the advantage in the struggle by persuading the lay African
that it had finally acquired the charismatic qualities with which Western
education endowed its recipients.
The struggle entailed a necessary but destructive strategy: sabotage of
the administrative efforts of the colonizers. A great deal of the anticolonial activities by the African bourgeoisie consisted of encouragement
to their followers to be late to work, to go on strikes for a variety of
reasons,8 etc. The African who evaded his tax was a hero; the African
laborer who beat up his white employer was given extensive coverage in
newspapers. In general, the African bourgeois class, in and out of politics,
8 Thus the Nigerian trade union leader Michael Imoudu became a hero in colonial Nigeria
for encouraging strikes against the British, a practice that earned him strong resentment
from his former collaborators, now in government, when he repeated it against his own
independent nation, with the British gone.
COLONIALISM AND THE TWO PUBLICS IN AFRICA I03
encouraged the common man to shirk his duties to the government or
else to define them as burdens; in the same breath he was encouraged to
demand his rights. Such strategy, one must repeat, was a necessary sabotage against alien personnel whom the African bourgeois class wanted to
The irony of it all, however, is that the ordinary African took the
principles involved in such activities quite seriously. There is clearly a
transfer effect from colonialism to post-colonial politics. As should be
apparent to anyone who is acquainted with the history of peasants and
the ordinary man in other parts of the world, the line of distinction between
allegiance to alien rulers and to the new African bourgeois rulers was a
thin one in the mind of the lay African. Given the historical context of
colonialism in Africa, it is the case that the African bourgeoisie had no
basis of legitimacy independent of colonialism. In a sense then, they
contributed directly, although unwittingly, to undermining their own
legitimacy by encouraging the abrogation of duties and obligations to
the colonial government and the demand for rights in excess of the
resources available to meet them.
The promise of independence. A related strategy in the fight for independence was to raise the hopes and expectations of the ordinary citizen
in two different directions. First, and rather forthrightly, the ordinary
man was promised increased benefits, benefits that were characterized
with extravagance. Second, and less forthrightly but not less impressive
in the mind of the ordinary man, was the promise to lower the ‘colonial
burden’ which when translated into other terms means the duties of the
common man, taxation for sure. Again it should be pointed out that
such promises were generalized to mean that in the colonizing nations-in
England, in France-the rights of the ordinary man were abundant while
his duties were meager. These promises may have been honestly made in
some cases because of the limited experiences of the African bourgeois
class; but in many other instances they were made to discredit the alien
colonizer, and to win the allegiance of the ordinary man.
(2) Post-colonial Ideologies of Legitimation. The African bourgeois class
has a precarious foundation. It fought alien rulers on the basis of criteria
introduced by them. Moreover, the alien rulers were seasoned fighters,
at least judging by the success of the bourgeoisie in Europe, and they
were always prepared to use that ancient weapon of ‘divide and rule’. In
the waning days of colonialism in many African nations two sorts of
divisions were created or at least encouraged by the colonizers. The first
was deliberately encouraged to undermine the African bourgeois class
by reviving tradition as the basis of legitimacy, i.e., by restoring the
defeated chiefs and kings to power. At best this was a delaying tactic on
the part of the colonizers; the traditional rulers were much too enfeebled
I04 PETER P. EKEH
from the pre-colonial and colonial days to survive a struggle with the emergent African bourgeois class. In any case, the colonizers had implanted
a new concept of legitimacy in matters relating to the civic public.
Traditional kingship and chieftaincy has always been defined in moral
terms, and the new attempt by the colonizers to drag it into the muddle
of amoral civic public politics was bound to fail. A more serious division
was suggested by the colonizers to the African bourgeois class, and it
remains the red thread that runs through the whole of post-colonial
African politics. It is a division within the bourgeois class along primordial
ethnic lines. Both divisions-between the bourgeois and the traditional
chiefs and within the bourgeois class itself-have led to two sets of
ideologies promoted by the African bourgeois class to legitimate its
threatened status in post-colonial politics. They are as follows:
Education as guarantee of success. Education is at least as much
needed in Africa as anywhere else. But this need has been subverted by
the African bourgeois class in a curious way. In many human societies,
attaining an educational standard is treated as an avenue to success.
But in post-colonial Africa, attaining the requisite educational standard,
usually phrased in terms of high-sounding university degrees, is now
deemed a guarantee of success. There is an important difference here.
To say that education is an avenue to success is to invite the benefactor
of the educational system to earn his success by treating his educational
achievement as a baseline for advancement. To treat education as a
guarantee of success is to invite the benefactor of the educational system
to demand advancement once he has successfully achieved the requisite
standards in education. This latter definition of what education is intended
for with respect to the individual recipient is, I suspect, an ideological
invention of the Western educated bourgeois class to legitimate its rule,
based on colonial education, vis-a-vis the legitimacy of the traditional
chiefs. The ‘first-come-first-promoted’ logic in public service and in
university professorial politics is a direct consequence of this ideology.
Ethnic domain-partition ideology. A fact of life in post-colonial Africa
is the emergence of strong primordial ethnic groups in politics. What is
interesting about them is that objectively they gained their significance
only within the context of the various African nations in which they
are implicated. In fact many of them have been created by modern politics.
But almost everywhere separate sections of the African bourgeois class
have backhandedly attempted to justify them as primordial entities that
not only antedate the African nations in which they are implicated but in
fact as corporate groups that have always existed. It is in this sphere that
the ideology-creating achievements of the emergent African bourgeoisie
approach their intellectual heights. While successfully demoting tradition
COLONIALISM AND THE TWO PUBLICS IN AFRICA 105
as a basis of legitimacy in the new Africa and insisting that Western
education provides that legitimacy, the African bourgeois class has at
the same time divided Africa into domains of influence along traditional
The dimensions of this problem can most profitably be illustrated in
the context of Nigerian politics. As we know them today, Nigerian ethnic
groups developed their boundaries and even their character only within
the context of Nigerian politics. But ideologies and myths do have realitycreating functions, and the corporate character now attributed to the
various ethnic groups is the reality that flowed from the ideologies and
myths invented by the bourgeoisie to consolidate their parcels of influence
in the new Nigeria. No ethnic group existed before Nigeria as a corporate
entity with the boundaries now claimed for them and the loyalties now
directed at them. What existed before Nigeria were amorphous polities:
many were organized around city-states, others in kingdoms and quasikingdoms, and yet others with the narrowness of villages with no conceptions of wider political entities within which they were implicated.
Even the languages by which some claim to identify the ethnic groups
in modern Nigeria (cf. Awolowo, 1966) are to a large extent a product
of this domain-partition ideology.
Perhaps we will benefit from our discussions of this domain-partition
ideology by referring directly to the two ethnic groups in Nigeria whose
political and intellectual leaders are most adept at promoting this ideology.
Beginning with the ranks of the ‘officers’ of the Ibo State Union and Egbe
Omo Oduduwa to Ibo and Yoruba professors in Nigerian universities,
many resources have been expended in order to prove that their ethnic
groups have always been identifiable corporate ethnic groups. It was such
an ideological assertion by Professor Biobaku (on behalf of the Yoruba
bourgeois class) that led the British historian Hodgkin (1957:42) to
remark, ‘Everyone recognizes that the notion of “being a Nigerian” is a
new kind of conception. But it would seem that the notion of “being a
Yoruba” is not very much older.’ The ideology of corporate Ibo ethnicity
has been pushed even more vigorously by the Ibo bourgeois class.
B. O. N. Eluwa, for many years the ‘General Secretary’ of the Ibo Federal
(State) Union, told Abernethy (1969:110) that he, apparently among
other Ibo bourgeois leaders, toured ‘Iboland’ from 1947 to 1951 to
convince ‘Ibo’ villagers that they were in fact Ibos. In Eluwa’s own words
these villagers ‘couldn’t even imagine all Ibos’. Abernethy adds:
In the 1930’s many Aro and Onitsha Ibos consciously rejected identification as Ibos,
prefering to think of themselves as separate, superior groups. The very term ‘Yoruba’
was popularized by Church Missionary Society leaders during the nineteenth century
who were anxious to produce a Bible in a uniform language for several city-states
that were warring against each other at the time (Abernethy, 1969:110n).
106 PETER P. EKEH
THE STRUCTURE OF THE TWO PUBLICS
Taken by itself, each of these sets of ideologies of legitimation may
amount to little. But taken together, they point up a major characteristic
of African politics: the existence of two publics. The structure of modern
post-colonial politics in Africa owes a great deal to these two publics
that exist side by side and that tend to grow together. I shall now develop
the implications of these ideologies further by examining the structure of
politics in Africa and by doing so in the idiom of the concept of citizenship.
As I shall use it here, its meaning takes as a point of departure T. H.
Marshall’s (1949) incisive analysis of citizenship in England and Bendix’s
(1964) subsequent generalization and elaboration of T. H. Marshall’s
and de Tocqueville’s conceptions of citizenship. To put the matter rather
directly, these various sources suggest that there are two distinct elements
in the concept of citizenship. The individual as a member of a political
community has certain rights and privileges which he may claim from it.
Similarly he has certain duties and obligations which he has to perform
in the interest of the political community.
The political problems of the age as well as the historical context of
politics determine to a large extent the aspects and issues of citizenship
that are sorted out for emphasis in a given society. It is thus the case that
the conception of citizenship in the West has led to a rich analysis of
rights (cf. T. H. Marshall, 1949; Bendix, 1964), whereas scant attention
is paid to the analysis of duties. This is because the historical context of
politics in the West led to a situation where rights and their resulting
egalitarian ideals were problematic issues in the conception of citizenship,
while duties were for the most part assumed as given. Similarly, it may
be noted that one eminent attribute of citizenship in the West is that the
two elements of citizenship are closely associated. That is, rights and
duties are conceived in a transactional manner: the demand for rights
implies some willingness to perform the concomitant duties, and vice
The historical context of African politics, especially as it emerged
from colonialism, has given a different character to African conceptions
of citizenship from this Western model. In effect citizenship has acquired
a variety of meanings, which depend on whether it is conceived in terms of
the primordial public or the civic public.
The primordial public in Africa may indeed be fruitfully seen in terms
of the elements of citizenship. The individual sees his duties as moral
obligations to benefit and sustain a primordial public of which he is a
member. While for the most part informal sanctions may exist that
compel such obligations from individuals, duties to the primordial public
have a moral side to them. The foci of such duties may of course vary
COLONIALISM AND THE TWO PUBLICS IN AFRICA 107
from one setting to another, but in most of Africa they tend to be emergent
ethnic groups. Informal taxation in the form of ‘voluntary’ contributions
to ethnic associations and different other types of obligations to help
out with ethnically-owned community programs are a prominent feature
of modern Africa.
But what is the obverse side of the duties to the primordial public.?
What are the rights that the African expects from the primordial public
in return for his duties to it ? It is here that one must be cautious and not
assign economic equations to the operation of the primordial public.
Although the African gives materially as part of his duties to the primordial public, what he gains back is not material. He gains back intangible,
immaterial benefits in the form of identity or psychological security. The
pressure of modern life takes its toll in intangible ways. The cost of the
rapid advance in urbanization and the sudden emergence of several
individuals from a rural, non-literate background to as high as the
leadership of prestigious departments in the universities and the civil
service may not be measured in tangible economic terms. In all of postcolonial Africa, new men with non-literate parents and brothers and
sisters-from non-chiefly families ungrounded in the ethics and weight
of authority-are emerging to occupy high places. Behind the serenity
and elegance of deportment that come with education and high office
lie waves of psychic turbulence-not least of which are widespread and
growing beliefs in supernatural magical powers. The primordial public
is fed from this turbulence. For it is in the primordial public, whether it
be narrowly defined as limited to an extended family of some two hundred
individuals or, far more likely, to a whole emergent ethnic group ranging
from half a million to some ten million people, that gives security to many
first-generation educated Africans. The material manifestation of the
duties of the educated African to his primordial public may or may not
be balanced by the psychic benefits of security, benefits that flow from
close association with the primordial public. But the point is, like most
moral spheres, the relationship between the individual and his primordial
public cannot be exhausted by economic equations. There is more to all
moral duties than the material worth of the duties themselves.
The citizenship structure of the civic public is different. Because it is
amoral, there is a great deal of emphasis on its economic value. While
many Africans bend over backwards to benefit and sustain their primordial
publics, they seek to gain from the civic public. Moreover, the individual’s
relationship with the civic public is measured in material terms-but with
a bias. While the individual seeks to gain from the civic public, there is no
moral urge on him to give back to the civic public in return for his benefits.
Duties, that is, are de-emphasized while rights are squeezed out of the
civic public with the amorality of an artful dodger.
IO8 PETER P. EKEH
These differing stances toward the primordial public and the civic
public make sense in the historical perspective of colonialism. The ideologies of legitimation invented alike by the alien colonial rulers of Africa
and their African successors have given credence to the myth among the
ordinary African that the civic public can never be impoverished. On the
other hand, the primordial public is pictured as needful of care-in fact
from the civic public.
THE DIALECTICS OF THE TWO PUBLICS
Most educated Africans are citizens of two publics in the same society.
On the one hand, they belong to a civic public from which they gain
materially but to which they give only grudgingly. On the other hand they
belong to a primordial public from which they derive little or no material
benefits but to which they are expected to give generously and do give
materially. To make matters more complicated, their relationship to
the primordial public is moral, while that to the civic public is amoral.9
The dialectical tensions and confrontations between these two publics
constitute the uniqueness of modern African politics.
A good citizen of the primordial public gives out and asks for nothing
in return; a lucky citizen of the civic public gains from the civic public
but enjoys escaping giving anything in return whenever he can. But such
a lucky man would not be a good man were he to channel all his lucky
gains to his private purse. He will only continue to be a good man if he
channels part of the largesse from the civic public to the primordial public.
That is the logic of the dialectics. The unwritten law of the dialectics
is that it is legitimate to rob the civic public in order to strengthen the
The issues which the inevitable confrontation between the two publics
foments are varied.10 I shall limit myself to three areas here:
Tribalism. Tribalism is a term used in most of post-colonial Africa to
denote animosities between members of different ethnic groups. By its
very nature, tribalism is a de-radicalized construct. That is, it is a term
that has lost its root. Tribalism emerges only in situations where tribes and
tribesmen are vanishing. Tribalism is robust in Lagos, where there are
no tribes or tribesmen; it is absent in the most hinterland villages in
Nigeria. Tribalism flourishes among professors and students in
Nigerian universities (cf. van den Berghe, 1971, 1973), many of whom
rarely visit their villages of birth in the interior; it is minimal in the
secondary schools in the backwoods of Nigeria. The truth of the matter
9 The amoral conception of the duties of the government was decried by Okoi Arikpo
(1967:112-13) as follows: ‘Everybody expects the government to provide modern social
amenities-[but]-Few expect the government to provide sound moral leadership.’ 10 For an attempt to explain the Nigerian civil war in these terms see Ekeh (1972).
COLONIALISM AND THE TWO PUBLICS IN AFRICA 109
is that the degree and scope of tribalism in Africa are negatively correlated
with the predominance of ‘tribal’ life.
Needless to say, this is because tribalism emerged from the colonial
situation. It is the direct result of the dialectical confrontation between
the two publics. Tribalism arises where there is conflict between segments
of the African bourgeoisie regarding the proportionate share of the
resources of the civic public to differentiated primordial publics. The
leaders of the primordial public (who should not be confused with
traditional ethnic leadership) want to channel as great a share of these
resources from the civic public to individuals who are in the same primordial public as they are-in part, one suspects, because a significant proportion of them will eventually find their way into the coffers of the
A fuller meaning of tribalism will emerge from the discussion of a
concrete case. It is now commonplace knowledge that tribalism is the
perennial and undying problem in our universities. Van den Berghe (1971,
1973) is perhaps a unique spokesman in setting forth his observation
of this phenomenon, but he is by no means the only foreign visitor
to our universities to be struck by it. What is so remarkable here is
that tribalism is more prominent in the Federal universities in Nigeria
than in the state and regional universities. This is clearly because the
civic public is most operative in the Federal universities and comes into
most violent confrontation with the primordial public in them. To
concentrate on one example: in our Nigerian Universities confrontations
continually occur between professors and lecturers from different ethnic
groups in matters regarding especially appointments of new members
and the promotion of old ones. But there is logic to these conflicts. They
are mostly promoted by mediocre Nigerianization”l professors who seem
to feel insecure. Insecurity is in fact the stuff of which tribalism is made.
That it involves and indeed hurts more efficient Nigerians is only part of
the consequences of tribalism. But eventually it is the civic public that
is hurt most deeply: efficiency and quality are sacrificed for expediency
and, what is perhaps worse in the long-run, the amorality of the civic
public deepens. Such is the source of the plight and restlessness in our
universities in Nigeria today. Behind the show-case suavity of professorial
pretensions lies the deep havoc wrought by the dialectical tensions between
the civic public and the primordial public.
Voluntary Associations. If tribalism is an amorphous ism, ethnic
‘voluntary’ associations are its visible operational arm. Again, voluntary
associations emerge in the big urban centers and are nourished in our
1 It was a deliberate policy at one time in our Federal Universities to ‘Nigerianize’ top
positions by replacing foreigners with Nigerians. Such windfall promotions brought some
competent Nigerians into top positions, but they also dragged up some very incompetent
Nigerians into key positions.
IIO PETER P. EKEH
universities. Like tribalism, they have developed with the civic public
and in fact feed on it. That these ‘voluntary’ associations grow out of
urbanization, that they attract well-educated Africans, that indeed they
are the invention of the African bourgeois class: these are facts that have
been well documented. What has not been fully emphasized, however,
is that these associations do not belong to the private realm in the same
sense as political sociologists conceive of voluntary associations in the
West. They are an integral part of the primordial public. As such they
do not complement the civic public; they subtract from it.
The tenacity of voluntary associations in the face of attempts to
regulate and even ban them (as was attempted in Nigeria) indicates that
they have underlying dynamics. So long as the primordial public survives
-and it survives on the insecurity of the African bourgeoisie thrust into
unwonted places of authority-so long will voluntary associations retain
their strength. In spite of outward appearances the emergent African
bourgeoisie lacks ‘introspective’ strength. Voluntary associations, tied to
the primordial public, give a sense of security to those who have not
achieved maximum differentiation from societal constraints-those, that
is, who have not experienced the ‘introspective revolution’ that was a
feature of the modern age in the West (cf. Weinstein and Platt, 1969).
Corruption. The acme of the dialectics is corruption. It arises directly
from the amorality of the civic public and the legitimation of the need to
seize largesse from the civic public in order to benefit the primordial
public. There are two forms of corruption that are associated with the
dialectics. The first is what is regarded as embezzlement of funds from
the civic public, from the government, to be more specific. The second is
the solicitation and acceptance of bribes from individuals seeking services
provided by the civic public by those who administer these services. Both
carry little moral sanction and may well receive great moral approbation
from members of one’s primordial public. But contrariwise, these forms
of corruption are completely absent in the primordial public. Strange is
the Nigerian who demands bribes from individuals or who engages in
embezzlement in the performance of his duties to his primordial public.
On the other hand, he may risk serious sanctions from members of his
own primordial public if he seeks to extend the honesty and integrity
with which he performs his duties in the primordial public to his duties
in the civic public by employing universalistic criteria of impartiality.
Thanks to the de Tocquevellian skill of one English sojourner in
Nigeria who has discussed this issue with limpid richness, we can look
at this matter for a moment through the eyes of a foreigner. Wraith
contrasts the integrity with which Nigerians handled matters of primordial
ethnic character with ‘the dragging footsteps and exiguous achievements
of the local [government] authorities’. He notes that, while the local
COLONIALISM AND THE TWO PUBLICS IN AFRICA III
government authorities, with their civic structure, have ‘a sad record of
muddle, corruption and strife’, the ‘ethnic unions are handling sums of
money comparable to those of many local authorities; that they are
spending it constructively, and that they are handling it honestly’ (italics
in orginal). As Wraith rightly emphasizes, ‘To put your fingers in the till
of the local authority will not unduly burden your conscience, and people
may well think you are a smart fellow and envy you your opportunities.
To steal the funds of the union would offend the public conscience and
ostracise you from society’ (Wraith and Simpkins, 1963:50).
This differentiated attitude extends to African habits of work. Africans
are extremely hard-working in the primordial public, as anyone familiar
with the operation of ethnic associations will testify to. The man-hours
spent in the service of the primordial public are enormous-but it would
be profane to count and emphasize them, such is their moral character.
On the other hand, Africans are not hard-working in matters connected
with the civic public. At least one does not feel guilty if one wastes one’s
time in the service of the civic public. The same individual would be
terribly embarrassed were he to waste time or make claims for work
he has not done in the primordial public. It is not unknown that some
individuals treat their duties in the civic public as an opportunity for rest
in preparation for their tougher assignments in the primordial realm.
Modern comparative politics partially emerged with the widening interest
of American and European social scientists in modern, especially postcolonial, Africa. The tools of comparative politics inhere in the traditional
conception of politics in the West. That by itself seems appropriate. But
the tools sometimes appear dull from overuse and cry out for sharpening.
Certainly, if we are to capture the spirit of African politics we must seek
what is unique in them. I am persuaded that the colonial experience
provides that uniqueness. Our post-colonial present has been fashioned
by our colonial past. It is that colonial past that has defined for us the
spheres of morality that have come to dominate our politics.
Our problems may be partially understood and hopefully solved by
the realization that the civic public and the primordial public are rivals,
that in fact the civic public is starved of badly needed morality. Of course,
‘morality’ has an old-fashioned ring about it; but any politics without
morality is destructive. And the destructive results of African politics in
the post-colonial era owes something to the amorality of the civic public.
Abernethy, David B. (1969) The Political Dilemma of Popular Education. An African
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