Lessons to Africa from Africa: Reclaiming Early Post-independence Progressive Policies recovers insights from the revolutionary governments of early post-independence Africa to confront today’s development challenges. Case studies from across the continent detail African development alternatives formulated in areas across development planning, finance, industrialization and more, re-examined for today through a progressive, feminist lens. It is a collective undertaking from the Post-Colonialisms Today project.

The collection begins by tracing the root of many African economic challenges: the continent’s subordinate place in the global economic order, as exporters of raw primary commodities (like agricultural goods, minerals, and oil) to fuel the economies of the industrialized global North. It is an unequal dynamic established under colonialism and perpetuated today through exploitative neoliberal finance, aid, trade, and investment regimes. In the early post-independence era, African governments, movements, and institutions recognized and disrupted this dynamic of economic and political dependence, but this project was cut short by the imposition of neoliberalism in the 1980s through World Bank/IMF structural adjustment policies. Today just as under colonialism, Africa’s resources are exploited at the benefit of the global North and a small elite under the guise of “free market” policies, and now the search for development alternatives is impeded by the dominance of neoliberal thought across the continent and the world.

Through rich, archival research on Ghana, Egypt, Senegal, Tunisia, and Tanzania, as well as pan-African efforts, this special issue analyses early post-independence policies for industrialization, international solidarity, delinking from colonial currency, and more, and their potential for building alternatives to neoliberalism today. Examples include:

  • The creation of pan-African institutions like the Organisation of African Unity, which provided material support to anti-colonial movements in South Africa and Zimbabwe.
  • Tunisia’s creation of a central bank with a developmentalist role, such as mobilising resources to fulfil their industrialisation plans.
  • Egypt’s nationalisation of foreign and domestic assets in the quest to transform their post-independence economy.
  • Ghana’s establishment of communal user rights to land and other public resources, and creating and investment in institutions tasked with knowledge production on the continent, such as the Encyclopaedia Africana project and the Institute of African Studies.


Together, this special issue of CODESRIA’s Africa Development journal provides a framework for understanding some of the continent’s enduring challenges, and offers concrete lessons for progressive activists and policymakers to chart a path towards Africa’s political and economic agency.

About the articles

Early Post-independence Progressive Policies: Insights for Our Times

Tetteh Hormeku-Ajei, Aishu Balaji, Adebayo Olukoshi, and Anita Nayar

This introductory article frames the thesis underlying this special issue: that the recovery of the policies and thinking of early post-independence African governments holds profound insights for contemporary struggles against neoliberalism. The article unpacks the impacts of primary commodity export dependence on African economies, whose foundations were violently established under colonialism and maintained through neoliberalism. It then outlines the uniqueness of the early post-independence period, when governments adopted policies to break out of this dependence and promote autonomous development processes, including through nation-building, industrialisation, economic and agricultural diversification, and pan-Africanism. Finally, it suggests the value of efforts like this special issue produced by Post-Colonialisms Today, which seek to reimagine these approaches for today.

Variations in Postcolonial Imagination: Reflection on Senghor, Nyerere, and Nkrumah

Jimi Adesina 

This article aims to strengthen contemporary efforts to construct and pursue a pan-African agenda by interrogating the post-colonial imaginings of Léopold Sédar Senghor, Julius Nyerere, and Kwame Nkrumah. To counter the present-day tendency to erase and flatten the diversity of this period, this chapter explores the variations and similarities of the three leaders’ approaches to socialism, pan-African unity, nationhood, economic development, epistemology, and democracy. Through this contrast, the article derives some broad lessons for the contemporary period, including the importance of cultivating domestic resources (human, material, and financial) rather than being dependent on external forces; the need for countries to construct a macro vision that coordinates their economic, social, and political projects; and the importance of maintaining the sovereignty of thought in the policy thinking on the continent to effectively break free from the universal, market-based prescriptions that now dominate under neoliberalism.

The Rocket in The Haystack: Between Nasser’s Developmental Vision and The Neo-Imperialist Mission

Kareem Megahed & Omar Ghannam

This article assesses Gamal Abdel Nasser’s efforts to transform Egypt’s post-colonial economy via his industrialisation policies, drawing lessons for today from both his successes and shortcomings. By analysing outcomes through indicators of industrial production, employment patterns, productivity, and main beneficiaries in the post-independence period, the article critiques Nasser’s incremental approach, the undermining of worker’s movements, and the limiting nature of ‘state feminism,’ which contributed to the failure to achieve full economic and political independence, leading to its eventual collapse in the face of imperialist resurgence. Nasser’s industrialisation project, however, does demonstrate the superiority of active policy intervention, particularly of planning and import-substitution-industrialization, and suggests the need to pursue central planning, economic inclusion, self sufficiency, and social production aimed at meeting the material needs of the population in the contemporary period.

Post-Independence Development Planning in Ghana and Tanzania: Agriculture, Women and Nation-building

Akua Opokua Britwum

This article analyses development planning in post-independence Ghana and Tanzania, particularly related to agriculture, in contrast with the contemporary neoliberal subsumption of African economies to market forces. The article derives lessons from both their successes and shortcomings. Ghana and Tanzania’s experiences suggest the importance of agricultural transformation for national self-sufficiency; development planning as a mechanism to link all sectors of the economy; and the key strategic potential of the state in production, distribution, and employment. Key shortcomings included the inability to fully de-link national economies from the global capitalist political economy and break dependence on earnings from cash crop exports and the political and economic marginalisation of women post-independence. The article suggests that progressive development planning that centres the pursuit of gender justice is a critical starting point for imagining and pursuing alternatives to neoliberalism.

Economic Decolonisation and the Role of the Central Bank in the Post-colonial Development in Tunisia

Chafik Ben Rouine

Overserving how the hegemonic neoliberal model of central banking works to undermine African agency and development in the present day, this article charts an alternative path, drawing from Tunisia’s efforts to decolonise their monetary institutions in the immediate post-independence period. Tunisia’s construction of a developmentalist central bank played a critical role in mobilising resources to facilitate their post-independence agrarian reform agenda and industrialisation plans. Key characteristics of this model included working in tandem with the government towards shared objectives, mobilising domestic resources to finance development plans, and intervening directly through methods like incentivised savings and subsidised loans for strategic sectors. This is in contrast with the neoliberal model in which central banks are independent from the government, focused on controlling inflation above all else, and exclusively use indirect methods like interest rates to conduct monetary policy. The article highlights the progressive and feminist potential of central bank reform in the contemporary period as a key mechanism for Africa’s economic transformation.

Radical Regionalism: Feminism, Sovereignty and the Pan-African Project

Sara Salem

This article analyses how sovereignty in Africa’s immediate post-independence period was necessarily conceptualised as a regional pan-African and internationalist project of decolonisation, outlining lessons for the contemporary period. The capacity of newly independent states to shape their domestic policy and mobilise resources was constrained by their subordinate place in the global political and economic order⁠, which made them dependent on foreign capital and tied them to the interests of their former colonisers. As such, they fostered radical regional and international solidarity that would facilitate the continent’s development. Looking at a series of feminist conferences in the immediate post-independence era, the article also traces the contributions of South feminists’ to the decolonisation project and African feminists to the conception of pan-Africanism, breaking with Western feminists to conceptualise national liberation as fundamental to gender justice.