Amidst the sweeping wave of Pan-Africanism rallying against imperialism across the continent, the ideas of Professor Claude Ake take on a fresh resonance. Ake’s voice becomes particularly indispensable in the present moment, as it deftly navigates the intricate interplay between external and internal forces that underlie Africa’s ongoing resistance to imperialism. Ake’s analyses and recommendations should serve as an anthem for Africans committed to emancipating and propelling the region forward across diverse sectors. We here examine the importance of (re)centring his contributions to the current wave of Pan-Africanism across the continent and among its diasporas.
Renowned as one of Africa’s preeminent political philosophers, Professor Claude Ake, a Nigerian political scientist, political economist, and development theorist, crafted a body of work with wide-ranging profound implications. The focal point of his work lies in unravelling the political economy of Africa’s advancement. While he was an outspoken critic of imperialism, he did not fail to condemn authoritarianism and corruption on the continent. A defining hallmark of his work is its incisive examination of Africa’s political and economic structures, lamenting the persistent reliance on former colonial powers for policy direction. Ake ardently advocated shedding these externally imposed systems in order to emphasize the imperative of cultivating grassroots-based democracy and sound governance, all in service of realizing social justice.
Central to Ake’s legacy is his seminal book, Political Economy of Africa (1981), a thought-provoking work that has indelibly shaped the discourse on genuine progress in Africa. In the book, Ake contends that Africa’s ongoing struggles to forge independent systems stem from a blend of factors: the enduring vestiges of colonialism, the dominance of foreign capital, and the authoritarian disposition of African governments. Ake dissects and censures the development strategies adopted by African states, highlighting their flawed emulation of Western experiences. His argument rests on the premise that Africa’s historical, societal, and cultural fabric markedly diverges from the West, warranting an approach to nation-building that is staunchly rooted in African realities.
Ake’s analyses underscore the intrinsic link between Africa’s economic hurdles and its political structures. He identifies three cardinal attributes characterizing African economies: statism, signifying the state’s overarching presence; dependence, denoting reliance on foreign capital and markets; and disarticulation, i.e. the absence of seamless sector integration. These traits, Ake posits, have precipitated widespread economic poverty. Moreover, Ake contends that the global economic order is inherently biased against Africa, which is a formidable obstacle to progress. His prescription for sustainable advancement in Africa hinges on a holistic, people-centred transformation, orchestrated by an economically autonomous state.
Imperialism as Social Science (1979), another pivotal work by Ake, casts a discerning gaze upon the predominance of Western-dominated social sciences, uncovering their inadequacy in comprehending and addressing Africa’s peculiarities. Ake forcefully argues that these disciplines, propagated by Western scholars, often marginalize the role of colonialism and imperialism in shaping Africa’s political, economic, and cultural landscapes, inadvertently sustaining the continent’s exploitation. Akecalls for a paradigm shift, advocating for a new breed of social sciences rooted in non-Western perspectives.
In Democracy and Development in Africa(1995), Ake contends that genuine progress in Africa hinges on nurturing grassroots-based, endogenously conceived democracy. Beyond mere electoral processes, Ake posits that democracy entails upholding the rule of law, safeguarding citizens’ fundamental rights, and fostering a vibrant civil society—a triad indispensable for growth and inclusive participation. He deconstructs the evolution and shortcomings of development policies, attributing their misguided adoption and failures to the authoritarian political architecture inherited from colonial regimes. Ake’s rallying cry underscores the need for an alternative governance paradigm anchored in traditional practices, decentralized politics, and the empowerment of indigenous communities.
To understand the surge in coups across Africa, Ake’s Revolutionary Pressures in Africa (1978) emerges as a mandatory compass for navigating the tumultuous currents. Ake dissects the origins of revolutionary pressures, tracing them back to the legacy of colonialism, neocolonialism, and underdevelopment. He unearths the enduring system of dependency birthed by colonial exploitation, perpetuating post-colonial poverty, inequality, and political suppression. These conditions, Ake argues, have fomented a climate ripe for revolutionary upheaval, driven by disparities between the elite and the marginalized, as well as by the concentration of political power, and government neglect. Ake underscores the point that revolution in Africa need not always be violent, emphasizing the significance of popular engagement in forging a just and equitable society.
Many years after his untimely demise in a plane crash, Claude Ake’s legacy as a prolific writer and ardent advocate for Africa endures, resonating through his 20+ books and numerous articles. His impact continues to reverberate across the academic, policy, and activist realms, galvanizing critical scrutiny of the status quo and propelling the quest for a more equitable African future.