Anarchism in Africa


We traveled in Africa for just over a year and, whenever possible, tried to meet with anarchists in the countries we visited. In Africa the organised anarchist movement is quite young, starting with the formation of the Workers Solidary Federation in South Africa in 1995. Unfortunately due to internal problems this organisation disbanded about 2 years ago. The people we met from the old WSF were now involved in anarchist publishing organisations as well as being heavily involved in struggles such as the anti-privatisation forum. They hope one day to reform the WSF.

The Awareness League in Nigeria is another anarchist organisation that we came across in Africa. The Awareness League is an anarcho-syndicalist organisation who, when we visited them, were setting up an anarchist radio station in Enugu, where they are based, and were also involved in the nation-wide strikes taking place at the time in protest over the IMF sanctioned fuel price increases.

During military rule which only ended in 1999 they had focused most of their energy into fighting to end the dictatorship. In the rest of Africa anarchist ideas are also starting to emerge in countries such as Egypt, Uganda and Zambia.

There are several major difficulties when it comes to spreading anarchist ideas in Africa. Firstly there are high illiteracy rates throughout Africa, which reach as high as 60 percent in some areas. Also the vast majority of africans can not afford to spend money on books and because of the lack of a market for themit is often extremely difficult to find any books at all. Another major difficulty is the lack of adequete means of communication from one place to the next. There are no phones in most villages in africa, let alone internet cafes and when traveling from one town to the next it can often take days of highly uncomfortable and relatively expensive transport to journey only a short distance.

Despite these difficulties however there is good potential in Africa for the growth of anarchism. This is because in Africa people are much more open to new ideas about how society should be run than in the first world. Capitalist ideology is not nearly so deeply entrenched in the minds of people. In Africa the complete failure of capitalism to provide even the most basic necessities such as education, healthcare and even in many places water and food is blatantly obvious. People have to believe that there is an alternative way to organise society because the current system is unbearable.

Most Africans do not hold many illusions about nature of the state. In almost all African countries there is no middle class to speak of, only a very small extremely rich and powerful ruling class and a huge desperately poor working class. The main role of the state in Africa is to ensure the steady extraction of raw materials to the first world for the benefit of the imperialist powers and any opposition to this is usually met with severe repression. For most people the parasitic nature of the state and its security forces are glaringly obvious and hard to avoid. For example often when travelling around West Africa we witnessed the police and army intimidate and extort money off people for no reason whatsoever as they tried to go about their daily business.

These are some of the reasons why I think there is great hope that anarchism in Africa will continue to grow.

As Sam Mbah and Igarwey from the Awareness League in Nigeria point out in their book on African anarchism Africa is one of capitalisms weakest links and therefore one of the most likely places for capitalism to first begin to break.

This is the text of a talk given to a Workers Solidarity Movement meeting in April 2001. As such it represents the authors opinion alone and may be deliberately provocative in order to encourage discussion. Also it may be in note form. Still we hope you find it useful.