The role of the African Intelligentsia & Intellectuals – Class struggle revisited


SaineyBy Sainey Faye, Atlanta

Ghana has just turned 56 in March – gaining its political independence from Britain; and leading the rest of colonies of Europe in Africa; to fight for their independence and from bondage. It is also leading or playing a leading role in instituting term limitations in political office, thanks to the masses’ political consciousness, and dedication. Its progressive intelligentsia has also been praised for their positive contributions in helping to bring down ex-President Jerry Rawlings.Their role in bringing together various parties to form a movement to oust a military man, who turned civilian to continue his despotic rule was a feat, especially after he had executed few former military heads of States; whom he deemed traitors. He is now a relic of history, and lucky enough to be left to live in Ghana. But this feat by the Ghanian masses with the help of the revolutionary intelligentsia, both in the Diaspora and at home is a lesson for other micro-states like Gambia, Guinea Bissau, and many others on the continent of Africa to emulate.

Today, the country has been recognized by the world, as making great strides in democracy and good governance; its new leadership has vowed to stay the course on term limitations.untitled
The role of the intelligentsia in the post Independent Africa is one that needs to be dissected, to better see how and why intellectuals behave the way they do; with regards to regimes and/or governments. Why would a class of supposedly highly educated workers join any train wagon, undemocratic — or, say even outright despotic. In his book “Class Struggle In Africa”, Kwame Nkrumah notes that ‘In Africa, as in Europe and elsewhere, education largely determines class. As literacy increases, tribal and ethnic alliances weaken, and class divisions sharpen”. In the early days of the Independence era, it was not difficult to see them infused in the anti-colonialist pro Independence Movements. Some were genuine; whilst others were opportunists — plain and simple. Indeed, the true and genuine revolutionary intelligentsia worked hard in raising the level of political consciousness.

The struggle to dismantle colonialism was a peoples struggle and an ideological one, the lack of understanding this has been one fundamental problem in achieving victory quickly over colonialism and settler colonialism. We later learned,  as others have done that unless you change the ideology of a society you can never change that society. There are those on the other hand,  who had joined the struggle for personal aggrandizement and selfish motives; which is now a carry over to the present post independence period. It  got even worst  in these past decades, when they take leading roles in managing and micro-managing despotic regimes, undemocratic and dictatorial self styled/self imposed government. I will spare you the laundry lists of such regimes; for any informed person can name them endlessly. There are sellouts to any cause, especially political liberation in a neo-colonial era; where the lines may not be clearly defined.

No wonder it is hard to separate the wheat from the chaffe. Of these, Nkrumah further notes “The intelligentsia always leads the nationalist movements in its early stages. It aspires to replace the colonial power, but not to bring about a radical transformation of society. The object is to control the system rather than to change it.

But intellectuals are probably the least cohesive or homogenous of elites. Most of the intellectuals in the U.S.A.; Britain, and in Western Europe belong to the right. Similarly, the aspirations of the majority of Africa’s intellectuals are characteristic of the Middle class. They seek power, prestige, wealth and social position for themselves and their families. There is what may be described as an esprit de corps, particularly among those who travelled abroad for their education. The cohesiveness of the intelligentsia before Independence disappears once Independence is won.”


The intelligentsia and intellectuals he notes; “if they are to play a part in the African revolution must become conscious of the Class Struggle in Africa, and align themselves with the oppressed masses’. Right now, there seem to be too many sell outs teleguiding regimes that are hindering progress throughout the continent; and their numbers are growing exponentially; given the mass education/miseducation that this computer age university systems are spewing out ….half baked, medium, and rare. Now anyone, anywhere can earn enough credits online in most any field to join the club of the University educated elites; without ever setting foot on a college or university campus. Thanks to the online university colleges; their numbers are up and up and up ….just have some bucks and you’re good to go.


Ask any African on the continent what he/she thinks about the military’s role in national development , and the majority would answer (1) Brutality , (2) Counterproductive (3) Outlived its usefulness (4 ) Obsolete. The late  Kwame Nkrumah, a victim of a military coup himself had this to say about military Coups d’etat in his book” Class Struggle in Africa.”

” Coups d’etat are forms of struggle the objective being the seizure of political power..Though carried out by a special organ of the state apparatus seemingly isolated from society, they reflect class interest and are part of the class struggle. They do not change the nature or content of the struggle, they only change its form. The politico-economic and social situation is in essence unchanged.”

Africans and their allies in Asia , Latin America, especially the majority of the down trodden masses of the poor are testimony to what a few ; or rather handful of indigenous peasants and workers in uniform calling itself armed forces can do to a nation — any nation including Gambia. But, we may also need to ask and understand how and why Coups take place; and the effects and impact they have on our lives and Democratic institutions.

Nkrumah sums it thus  “When neo-colonialist coups take place, members of the armed forces ,the police and the bureaucracy work together. This is not to say that they necessarily sit down together and plot coups, though this has sometimes been the case. But they have common interests and each needs the other.

Bureaucrats alone cannot overthrow a government; and the military and police have not the expertise to administer a country. Therefore they combine, and bring about a state of affairs similar to that which operated in colonial times, when the colonial government depended on the civil service, on the army and police, and on the support of traditional rulers.”

Military coups occur after a country gains independence from its colonial masters, or during what is commonly called the post Independence period. Africa alone does not have the monopoly share of military coups in the world. All territories of colonial empires of Europe, be they in South East Asia, Asia Minor, all of South and Central America (otherwise known as Latin America); have had their share of military coups. They all have experienced, to name a few brutal and atrocious killers like Idi Amin, Thieu,Bao Dhai, Pinochet ; these men created pain ,suffering, carnage, never before seen in the twentieth century on a helpless poverty stricken people.

How do military dictators gain the power and audacity to usurp power from a constitutionally elected government? Osagyefo notes that ” In almost every case where a coup has taken place there has been no mass participation. The rank and file of army and police are from the peasantry. A large number are illiterate. They have been taught to obey orders without question. While to obey orders without question is a fundamental requirement of the ordinary soldier in most professional armies, it becomes extremely dangerous when those in a position to give orders serve the interest of only a small privileged section of society. It means that the rank and file soldier or policeman can be used to bring about, and maintain, reactionary regimes. In this , the ordinary soldier who is after all only a worker or peasant in uniform, is acting against the interest of his own class.”

Interestingly though, the military in England, France, Portugal ( she tried it briefly in the 70’s) but was short lived, the people sent them back to barracks; cannot usurp power. Likewise the U.S.A., but they can, and have in Africa, Asia, and South & Central America and elsewhere. In all these, especially Africa, the role of the intelligentsia and intellectuals acting as willing and unwilling collaborators with regimes inflicting pain and suffering, economically, politically, and physically, on the masses of people is something that makes us wonder why they continue to sell their souls for a mess of pottage.

May be, we might need to revisit what Nkrumah wrote in “Africa Must Unite”, which is:
“Africa needs a new type of citizen, a dedicated, modest, honest, informed man and woman
who submerges self in service to the nation and mankind. A man or woman who abhors
greed and detests vanity. A new type of man [and woman]whose humility is his [her] strength and whose integrity is his [her]greatness”.



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