Africa's wind of change, 50 years on

On the eve of Black History Month, Africans reflect on their independence
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The Independent Online

Meet the faces of the modern Africa. In the 50 years since Harold Macmillan began the process of decolonisation with his "wind of change" address to the South African parliament much has indeed changed and, as Black History Month begins this Friday, those who have lived through post independence lend their voice to a new radio documentary called The Ballad of Africa.

Narrated by rappers, businessmen, activists, writers, journalists and politicians from across continent, the documentary examines how Africa's fledgling states overcame civil war, natural disaster, apartheid, tribal rivalry and even genocide.

Nigeria is among the 17 countries marking the anniversary of their independence in 1960 but not everyone is celebrating. The main opposition party, Action Congress, has heaped blame on the ruling Peoples Democratic Party for the lack of economic development, noting that "Millions of Nigerians cannot watch [the celebrations] on television because there is no power. Many cannot travel from the hinterland to the cities to be part of the celebrations because there are no roads, and many are afraid of falling victim to robbers and kidnappers because there is no security."

That lack of progress prompts many to question what exactly African nations should be celebrating. Stephen Smith, a historian and anthropologist, says many Africans have struggled economically post independence. "Celebrating? Definitely not, but commemorating. I think Africa should not scrap its 50th anniversary because people are unemployed.

"You have to put up with the circumstances as they are. There is lots to commemorate and maybe to pore over and to reflect upon, but not necessarily celebrating."

Vince Hunt, who produced The Ballad of Africa, said many of the people he spoke to were optimistic about the future. "I found everybody passionate about Africa," he said. "Africans like having their destiny in their own hands now and they are honest about the things that have gone wrong, but positive about the future.

"The great thing about the people I spoke to, particularly in Rwanda, is that they accept things have gone wrong but want to make that extra effort to get the continent on track."

'The Ballad of Africa' airs on BBC World Service at 8pm on Saturday 9 October

Jean-Prime Harerimana

Language teacher, Burundi

"You cannot say I am independent politically or economically – I'm not. Because someone who is giving you aid will give you some conditions and these conditions will somehow have an impact on your politics."


The country became independent from Belgium in 1962. It is now classed as one of the 10 poorest in the world.

Oumou Sangaré

Singer, Mali

"My family said it was very difficult because the first thing the colonists wanted to do was impose their language. They also wanted to erase the culture – to erase all of their culture. That is why it was very difficult for them. It was an endless fight. The colonies tried to impose this but we said, 'No, our culture is our culture. Our language is our language. We are going to study in your language, but we are going to keep ours.' That's what made things tough."


The country gained independence from the French in 1959. After a long period of one-party rule, a 1991 coup led to a new constitution and a democratic, multi-party state.

Robert Maseko

Musician and businessman, DR Congo

"The Belgians, when they left the Congo after independence, left not more than 20 intellectuals in total. So, imagine a massive country like the Congo run by not more than 20 intellectuals... it is a very difficult time."

DR Congo

Independent since 1960, DR Congo struggles to recover from Africa's "world war" in which millions died between 1998 and 2003.

Angélique Kidjo

Singer, Benin

"All we ever see about Africa in the media is war. They always show images of people holding guns, but has the question occurred to anyone in the West to ask where did those guns come from?"


After independence from France in 1960, Benin had 12 years of democracy. But the country later became a self-proclaimed Marxist-Leninist dictatorship.

Ogo Ogbata

Writer, Nigeria

"Under British rule it wasn't all roses. It was very demeaning. People were not treated with dignity. You would find grown men doing menial work, working as house boys, washing panties for white women. But some of the privileged classes had the opportunity to travel out of the country and go to school abroad. So when they came back to Nigeria, they began to mobilise people and eventually we had independence."


Gained independence in 1960 and, barring two periods of corrupt civilian government, it was led by disastrous military dictators until 1999.

Warrick Sony

Former press secretary to Nelson Mandela, South Africa

"As a country, we could go down the tube or we could be a success story like the way Malawi is. They've gone back to farming; they've got rid of their debts and they're concentrating on the big things. That's what we should be doing: feeding our people. I think for Africa as a whole, it's about growing food. They've got to go back to that."

South Africa

Despite hopes of an end to racial discrimination that independence from British rule brought, the white government continued apartheid until 1994.

Abye Tasse

Sociologist, Ethiopia

"It's not the Ethiopian peasants who are leaving for the United States or Europe; it's the people who are connected or who have some kind of level of education. That profoundly affects the production of resources for a country such as Ethiopia."


Africa's oldest independent country, but one of its poorest states, is blighted by periodic drought and famine that starved millions of people in the 1970s and 1980s.

Senator Aloisea Inyumba

Senior member of the Rwandan government

"Rwanda was at one time organised by Belgium who left in 1962. I would say that the leadership that took over after the colonial administration really changed the structure and the political thinking of the country. It was a kind of dictatorial and repressive regime. So people are not surprised that that kind of system, that kind of discriminatory system, culminated in genocide."


Since the 1994 genocide in which 800,000 people were killed, the country has made a recovery and is now considered a success due to growth and political and social stability.