It has been decades since Africa’s independence, and the peasants (rural land cultivators) are still suffering. How did Africa ignore the agricultural sector, after the peasants ushered the continent’s independence? Agriculture has become Africa’s “sunset” sector making the continent the most impoverished region, with over 70% rural poverty, heavy dependence on donor food aid valued at over US$ 51 million annually and high rates of unemployment. At least Africa is now embarking on agrarian reforms after years of neo-colonialism.
Agriculture, crop production and animal rearing have been part of African society for thousands of years. Colonisation through stringent laws such as the hut tax, poll tax, the Glen Grey Act, the Native Land Act of 1913, and forcible land occupation by the settlers systematically alienated Africans from agriculture. Consequently, the African liberation movements such as the PAIGC, SWAPO, ZAPU, ZANU, MPLA, FRELIMO, MK and others had agrarian origins with the aim of returning the land to the peasants by any means. Disappointingly, the independent and democratic African governments formed by the former liberation movements neglected the peasants and the agriculture. The peasants constituted the revolutionary structures at the centre of the African liberation movements. The examples of the Baixa do Cassange, Mau Mau and the Maji Maji peasant revolts against the forced growing of cash crops (labelled as the mother of poverty), symbolise the peasants’ commitment to the total liberation of the continent’s food and agricultural sector. Such uprisings led by the peasants escalated into wars in many parts of the continent, which delivered African independence. The African elites “telephone revolutionaries” who either was in exile or pampered in prisons were entrusted with formulating cohesive agrarian reform programmes that centred on the equitable land redistribution from the former colonisers to the peasants. That was supposed to be the first step in Africa’s independence and the path to industrialisation and modernisation when peasants still possessed patriotic energies of feeding the nation.
At independence, the elite-led liberation governments favoured the mineral sector where they extracted rents. They invested in the mining of gold and diamonds which fear “neither locusts nor cattle diseases, neither drought nor summer floods.” As a result, agriculture was neglected, and peasants became victims of the African independence they had sacrificed to attain. Rejection and dispossession of land offered farmers a lack of socio-economic options, serfdom being the only option. The productive agricultural land remained in the hands of the organised minority whites, and black farmers officially became settlers in their territory. The white minority farmers prospered from the accumulated cash reserves from centuries of plunder and exploitation, and later from farm loans scrapped off as part of market liberalisation policy. A few African farmers who owned land faced unattractive producer price centred agricultural policy that rendered the enterprise unprofitable. The last straw to the failure of the agrarian revolution was the elites signing of the Washington Consensus, which promoted cutting of state spending on agricultural development, particularly farmer training, extension services and investment in research and development. The Consensus crippled the agricultural sector - labour productivity, outputs and incomes radically decreased to an even worse degree than during colonisation. African liberation leaders were awarded prizes, titles and honorary degrees for liberalising their economies while the African peasants drowned in abject poverty and hunger. Over five decades after independence, the African elites’ privileges of land ownership have become severely under threat from the betrayed society, hence the elites’ support of a swift land reform policy. The aims of such policy are not for the interest of the nation but the political survival of the elites. Notably, the elites have, for many years, maintained law and order regarding land redistribution to keep their rents.
The current political organisations are not revolutionary enough without the peasants to correct the failures of the ruling liberal elites in ensuring Africa’s food sovereignty. Colourful overalls, berets and radical slogans are products of elite consensus. The organisations’ decision making structures lack the presence of the African peasantry class; they purport to represent. Therefore, Africa needs a new breed of leadership that can motivate an army of hopeless, poor peasants and unemployed young Africans to return to the rural areas and toil the soil for the pride of their nation. Any radical stance on land reforms should culminate from the successes of such an initiative when Africans own the food value chain, from inputs supply to the disposal of agricultural waste. Therefore, a bold step should be taken by all of us to fully utilise the available land, to restore the dignity of the peasants who fought for the liberation of the continent.