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Nigeria's Wretched Politicians: A Case of Franz Fanon's Underdeveloped Bourgeoise
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Frantz Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth serves as an outstanding foundational piece that has influenced numerous philosophical and intellectual movements such as black liberation and black consciousness movements.[1] Yet, much of the focus on Fanon’s brilliant masterpiece has revolved around the first chapter entitled, “On Violence.”[2] When Wretched of The Earth is discussed in academic circles there is a tendency to emphasize how the first chapter justifies the use of violence by individuals who have been oppressed and treated as subhuman. “On Violence” asserts that violence is a legitimate tool to use in order to re-claim one’s humanity and restore one’s human agency when subjugated by cruel, tyrannical forces.[3]  However, what often gets neglected is an exploration of the third chapter entitled, “The Trials and Tribulations of National Consciousness” which provides answers to explain the absence of sound political leadership in many newly independent African nations such as Nigeria.[4]

To understand the origins of Africa’s weak political leadership, one must first comprehend Fanon’s description of decolonization as a historical process wrought with the disorder that arises from two “congenially antagonistic” forces clashing together to alter or transform man from a spectator to a “privileged actor.” This creation of so- called “new men” through the liberation process implies an inherent need to challenge the colonial situation through a murderous confrontation to ensure that “the last shall truly be the first.” [5] This understanding of decolonization allows us to draw parallels to the rapidly globalizing international system we find our world in today. [6] For instance, as Fanon so eloquently states, the supposed solutions to economic issues plaguing the Global South currently proposed by institutions such as the IMF and World Bank are reminiscent of colonialism. By granting African nations loans with severe interest rates that cripple their economies while influencing major domestic socioeconomic policies, international financial institutions exemplify “…the colonial shadow falls across the successes of globalization.”[7] What does the complex relationship between decolonization and globalization have to do with the crisis in African leadership? As Fanon puts it, even the modern African politician still grapples with the psychological continuous toll of oppression manifesting itself in different forms throughout the decades. As Fanon rightfully questions “How do the oppressed discover the enduring strength to found a free and just society, a national consciousness, if they are continuously aware of their own anxiety and fragility?”[8] It is this chronic anxiety and fragility that renders current African leaders incapable of establishing the national unity necessary for development.

Additionally, while many of the principles of regional integration and solidarity, economic collaboration, urban and agrarian development, and socialist ideals championed by late African politicians such as Kwame Nkrumah and advocated by Frantz Fanon are admirable, the concept of African Unity has been, “…sullied by the corrupt and nepotistic practices of the colonial bourgeoisie.”[9] The goal of unifying the African continent has been hampered by the actions of an underdeveloped African bourgeoisie. As Fanon explains, “African unity, a vague term… reveals its true face and crumbles into regionalisms.”[10] Through this prognosis, Fanon predicts the many ethno-regional and tribal conflicts currently being experienced by newly independent African nations post-decolonization. All of this is a direct result of the “…corruption and cooptation of ‘Westernized nationalist parties led by urban elites.”[11]

First, let us examine the formation of this now corrupt African bourgeoisie. Fanon details the process by which,  “The European elite decided to fabricate a native elite; they selected adolescents, branded the principles of Western culture on their foreheads with a red-hot iron, and gagged their mouths with sounds, pompous awkward words that twisted their tongues.”[12] In the case of Nigeria, this could be seen in the creation of a small group of Nigerians with Western education who served in low bureaucratic levels such as clerks, teachers, interpreters, price buyers, etc. during the colonial period. Through this native authority system, the British were able to exercise indirect rule and use the Nigerian bourgeoisie class to exploit Nigerian people and resources. Meanwhile, this class remained dependent on the colonial power structure for survival and sustenance. During the period of colonization Nigeria, this class began to crave inclusion into higher ranks of colonial administration. Gradually, the Nigerian bourgeoisie gained preferential access to the merchant trading sector and eventually the civil service became almost completely comprised of the Nigerian bourgeoisie. Around the 1950s, decolonization began to occur and newly minted Nigerian politicians scrambled to obtain control of the resources once held by their former colonial masters. While this process fueled competition amongst the Nigerian bourgeoisie, it also signaled the transition from colonialism to neocolonialism as the former colonial power heavily influenced the following economic, political, and social transition of Nigeria into an independent nation.[13]

This intense Westernization of African bourgeoisie, insistence on adhering to aristocratic values, and allegiance to former colonizers can be best explained by Fanon’s theories of psychological warfare and brainwashing.[14] The Europeans were experts at manipulation and devised a fabricated system of “fake bourgeoisie” to enhance their “divide and rule” tactics.[15] Historically, colonized elites and intellectuals were afforded the luxury of traveling abroad to form their notions of political parties. These elites then returned home and attempted to adapt the same European formulas back home to establish political structures that would galvanize the masses and pressure colonial administrations to leave. [16] However, after a successful decolonization process these same elites neglect the masses demands for socioeconomic improvements and, instead, attempt to elevate the interests of the relatively small urban proletariat consisting of small tradesman and civil servants. This new national bourgeoisie based their perceptions of the masses on the false, imported notion that peasants were less politically conscious, individualistic, lacked discipline, loved money, prone to rage, and displayed anarchistic tendencies.[17] This misguided framework is still being utilized to govern interaction s between Nigeria’s national bourgeoisie and the masses. It is said that members of the Nigerian bourgeoisie in particular serve as “active collaborators with foreign monopoly capitalist interest in Nigeria.”[18] This is due to the fact that as Fanon describes:

“There are no constructive talks, no confrontation between the different social strata of the nation. Once it has been achieved after repression of the rural masses and collusion between the colonial authorities and the nationalist parties, we find the mutual comprehension, exacerbated. The peasantry balk at the structural reforms proposed by the government at the even objectively progressive social innovations, precisely because the current leaders of the regime did not explain to the people during the colonial period the party objectives, national policy, and international issues etc.”[19]

Thus the mistrust between the national bourgeoisie and the masses only deepens and transforms into hostility. In Nigeria specifically, the national bourgeoisie now maintain no legitimacy or authority as a result of its inability to translate Nigeria’s enormous economic wealth into socioeconomic development. [20] As Fanon states, “…the unpreparedness of the elite, the lack of practical ties between them and the masses, their apathy and, yes, their cowardice at the crucial moment in the struggle, are the cause of tragic rand tribulations.”[21]

Without a uniform and cohesive national consciousness, countries such as Nigeria regress back to tribalism which is detrimental to nation-building and the establishment of national unity. With the national bourgeoisie during the early stages of independence comprised of business elite, university graduates, traders, landowners, and professionals; industrialists and financiers are excluded from the nation-building process.[22] The national bourgeoisie are not focused on production, invention, and innovation because they harbor the mentality of businessman, not captains of industry. Fanon makes the argument that an authentic bourgeoisie could be created in nations such as Nigeria if the national bourgeoisie relinquishes its status and becomes subservient to the people by learning from the people in exchange for investing the intellectual and technical resources acquired abroad to benefit the masses.[23] However, the Nigerian national bourgeois is unable to take this extreme measure of forfeiting its role as de facto commission agents because of its inextricable link to the global imperialist economy. Take for instance Nigeria’s thriving petroleum industry, which is dominated not only by foreign technology, but by European, American, and Chinese multinational corporations. Meanwhile 90% of oil in Nigeria is exported to Western countries for consumption alongside Nigeria’s agricultural products. As a result of this neocolonialist structure, the national bourgeoisie profit from such exchanges and, therefore, would prove unwilling to step down from their entitled positions due to their own greed and desire to maintain their own selfish interests.[24] Just as Fanon predicted, the Nigerian bourgeoisie have turned their back against the masse sin favor of foreign capitalists and their former imperial powers. The Nigerian national bourgeoisie “…has no intention of sharing its profits with the people or of letting them enjoy the rewards paid by the major foreign companies, it discovers the need for a popular leader whose dual role will be to stabilize the regime and perpetuate the domination of the bourgeoisie.”[25] Thus, corrupt Nigerian presidents such as President Obasanjo serve as mere tools to advance the interests of the national underdeveloped and inauthentic bourgeoisie.

As aforementioned, the Nigerian national bourgeoisie also have no knowledge of how to effectively govern the economy because the economy has always developed externally and outside of its control. The so-called “syndrome of dependence” continues in part due to the fact that the political and economic decision makers within the national bourgeoisie remain ignorant of how the international economic system actually works.[26] While Nigerian technocrats such as Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala have arrived at the political scene wielding impressive World Bank resumes and economic knowledge to contribute, views of general economic principles and notions of development are almost always tainted by the ne-liberalist agenda in Africa.[27] Overall Nigerian bourgeoisie fulfill all the negative characteristics Fanon describes in vivid detail: scarce managerial talent (partially as a result of the ‘brain drain’ phenomenon), limited perspectives, the inability to establish new industries, a propensity for grandiose speeches, lack of knowledge of the nation’s physical resources, clamoring to fill vacancies through ethnic favoritism and nepotism, incompetency when building institutions or dealing with domestic politics etc.[28] In a sense, Nigeria is experiencing a period of “false independence” as a nation who has technically been granted its freedom but still operates under the auspices of imperialist aggression.[29] As Fanon noted, “…independence does not bring a change of direction… we continue to ship raw materials, we continue to grow produce for Europe and pass for specialists of unfinished products.”[30]

While some forward thinking national bourgeoisie often like to talk of nationalization of the economy and commercial sector, much of this talk is confined to transferring privileges previously enjoyed by former colonizers rather than actually using the economy to service and benefit the nation as a whole.[31] Since the national bourgeoisie lacks the intellectual power of engineers and technicians and the material resources, it cannot transform ay newly independent nation. As Fanon explains, “…its vocation is not to transform the nation but prosaically serve as conveyor belt for capitalism, forced to camouflage itself behind the mask of neocolonialism.”[32] The Nigerian national bourgeoisie “…revels in the role of agent in its dealings with the Western bourgeoisie. This lucrative role, this function as small-time racketeer, this narrow- mindedness and lack of ambition are symptomatic of the incapacity of the national bourgeoisie to fulfill its historic role…”[33] On a psychological level, the African bourgeoisie identifies with the Western bourgeoisie and mimics the negative, decadent aspects without accomplishing any of the initial exploration and innovation that allows for the bourgeoisie to warrant such behavior.[34]

Nigeria illustrates the dual economy and divided worlds theory that Fanon posits regarding uneven and unequal development conditions that exist simultaneously with issues such as poverty and malnutrition. Nigeria fits the description of an African nation where “enormous wealth rubs shoulders with abject poverty…”[35] Nigeria’s huge wealth gap depicts the continuation of the colonial legacy of preferential treatment to certain geographic regions.[36] For instance, in Nigeria there is a clear socioeconomic disparity between the poorer Muslim North and wealthier Christian South. These inequalities lead to the incitement of old pre-colonial rivalries and tribal hatred. The recent insecurity in Nigeria’s north and the Islamic insurgency of Boko Haram are simply manifestations of the socioeconomic disparities and regional favoritism.[37] Nigeria’s bourgeoisie cash in as opportunists seeking favors while corruption rises and morals decline. This presents a detrimental situation to newly independent nations because as Fanon explains, “…today the vultures are too numerous and too greedy, considering the meagerness if the national spoils.”[38] Nigeria’s corruption issue is known all too well. One can see the extent of the corruption within the national bourgeoisie with the recent scandal involving Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, the central bank of Nigeria governor recently suspended for allegedly stealing over $20 billion USD worth of oil revenues.[39] This blatant and rampant corruption practiced by the Nigerian bourgeoisie demonstrates that, “…the national bourgeoisie sells itself increasingly openly to the major foreign companies. Foreigners grant concessions through kickbacks, scandals abound, ministers get rich, their wives become floozies, members of legislatures line their pockets, and everybody, down to the police officers and customs officials joins stands in this caravan of corruption”[40]

So what is to be done to repair Nigeria’s wretched politicians and failing bourgeoisie? Perhaps appoint or elect one strong central leader? According to Fanon, centralized leadership of a nation with an underdeveloped, inauthentic bourgeoisie will only cause the leadership to be corrupt and a champion of the interest of the former colonial master. Such a leader would be out of touch with the masses and utilize the nation’s economic channels to benefit the neocolonial system. How does one resolve the enormous problem of a national budget almost completely composed of loans and donations? What does one do with a bourgeoisie that is content with allowing the former colonial power s to influence the national government’s policies while demanding guarantees as the majority of citizens suffer from poverty? First, the masses must become aware of the leader’s treason. The masses must no longer fall for the leaders pacifying words because he serves as an instrument of both the national bourgeoisie and the former colonial power.[41]  At the same time, we must acknowledge that all the actions taken by the leadership and national bourgeoisie are made out of fear and a need for self-preservation. As Fanon declares, “A colonized person must constantly be aware of his image, jealously protect his position… The defenses of the colonized are tuned like anxious antennae waiting to pick up the hostile signals of a racially divided world.”[42]

Next, the bourgeoisie must become attune and in touch with the masses. Fanon clearly and eloquently details this process:

“…in an underdeveloped country the party must be organized in such a way that it is not content merely to stay in touch with the masses, the party must be the direct expression of the masses. The party is not an administration with the mission of transmitting government orders, it is the vigorous spokesperson and the incorruptible leader of the masses, in order to arrive at this notion of party we must first and foremost rid ourselves of the very Western, very bourgeois, and hence very disparaging, idea that the masses are incapable of governing themselves.”[43]

For this process to occur the masses must get angry. For “…without the basic political instinct of anger, there can be no hope for ‘the wretched of the earth’ [who] are still with is.”[44] Nigerian national bourgeoisie must be opposed and overthrown to end its role as a “predatory agent of imperialism.”[45] It is not enough for the national bourgeoisie to become aware of neocolonialism, the must cease to act as agents of imperialism themselves. The masses must effectively mobilize masses to challenge the international division of labor in which Nigeria serves the role as an exporter of raw materials and importer of manufactured goods. Regionalism must be abolished in order to enable the masses to unify for the sake of national interest. All politicians that do not uphold or defend the genuine interests of the Nigerian people must be ousted so that new individuals may occupy the positions and be given the chance to start anew. Under new political leadership and with a national bourgeoisie in touch with the masses, the Nigerian government can finally begin utilizing oil revenues for national development. Major public works projects such as a renewal of the telecommunications industry, better urban traffic systems, and better equipped universities and hospitals can be accomplished as a result of a decrease in the loss of capital flowing outside Nigeria’s borders to benefit Western powers.[46]

As Fanon proclaims, “…each generation must discover its mission, fulfill it or betray it, in relative opacity.”[47] Our generation’s mission is to overthrow the national bourgeoisie and have a revolution to the international system led by the masses. In order for the Global South to unite against imperialism and neocolonialism, post-independent nations such as Nigeria must undergo a dramatic leadership transformation that results in leadership that actually represents the peasant class. Only then can the Global South overthrow the former colonial powers and tyrants that seek to line their pockets through the neoliberalist policies of economic exploitation.[48]

Udodilim (U.d.) Njideka Odera Nnamdi attends Howard University’s College of Arts & Sciences, majoring in Political Science and minoring in African Studies. U.d. has participated in Alternative Spring Break NOLA, served as the Chairperson for Slowe Hall Judiciary Board, and currently serves as the Vice Secretary General for the Society for Future Diplomats. She is also a member of Pi Sigma Alpha, Political Science Honors Society and Golden Key International Honors Society. Currently, she works at the U.S. Department of Justice, Consumer Protection Branch as a Paralegal Trainee and has also participated in past internship programs at the Council on Foreign Relations, Robert F Kenney Center for Justice & Human Rights, and the World Jurist Association.



"A Nation Divided." The Economist. October 25, 2014. Accessed November 20, 2014.


Beckman, Bjorn. "Imperialism and the 'National Bourgeoisie'" Review of African

Political Economy. Accessed November 22, 2014. http://www.roape.org/pdf/2204.pdf.

Dibua, Jeremiah I. Modernization and the Crisis of Development in Africa: The

Nigerian Experience. Aldershot, England: Ashgate, 2006. 65-66.

Fanon, Frantz, and Jean Sartre. The Wretched of the Earth. New York: Grove Press,


Iroegbu, Senator. "Articles." FG Cautioned on Neo-liberal Policies ,. August 26, 2011.

Accessed November 17, 2014. http://www.thisdaylive.com/articles/fg-cautioned-on-neo-liberal-policies/97155/.

"Nigeria's Boom Leaving Many Behind." BBC News. July 18, 2014. Accessed

November 21, 2014. http://www.bbc.com/news/business-28367439.

Osoba, Segun. "The Deepening Crisis of the Nigerian National Bourgeoisie." Review

of African Political Economy, 2007, 63-77.

"Playing Politics." The Economist. February 21, 2014. Accessed November 22, 2014.


[1] Fanon, Frantz, and Jean Sartre. The Wretched of the Earth. New York: Grove Press,

1965, xxviii-xxix

[2] Ibid 1

[3] Ibid xxxvixx

[4] Ibid 97

[5] Ibid 2-3

[6] Ibid xi

[7] Ibid xii

[8] Ibid xxxi

[9] Ibid xxvii

[10] Ibid 106

[11] Ibid xxxii

[12] Ibid xliii

[13] Dibua, Jeremiah I. Modernization and the Crisis of Development in Africa: The

Nigerian Experience. Aldershot, England: Ashgate, 2006, 65-66

[14] Fanon. Wretched of the Earth, 1

[15] Ibid xlvi


[17] Ibid 64-66

[18] Osoba, Segun. "The Deepening Crisis of the Nigerian National Bourgeoisie." Review

of African Political Economy, 2007, 63-77

[19] Fanon. Wretched of the Earth.,71

[20] Osoba. “The Deepening Crisis…” 65

[21] Fanon. Wretched of the Earth, 97

[22] Ibid xv, 98

[23] Ibid 99

[24] Osoba. “The Deepening Crisis…” 67

[25] Fanon.Wretched of the Earth, 111

[26] Osoba. “The Deepening Crisis…”63-64

[27] Iroegbu, Senator. "Articles." FG Cautioned on Neo-liberal Policies ,. August 26, 2011. Accessed November 17, 2014. http://www.thisdaylive.com/articles/fg-cautioned-on-neo-liberal-policies/97155/

[28]Fanon. Wretched of the Earth, 106

[29] Ibid xlvi


[31] Ibid 100

[32] Ibid 100-101

[33] Ibid 101

[34] Ibid 101

[35] Ibid 117

[36] "Nigeria's Boom Leaving Many Behind." BBC News. July 18, 2014. Accessed November 21, 2014. http://www.bbc.com/news/business-28367439.

[37] "A Nation Divided." The Economist. October 25, 2014. Accessed November 20, 2014. http://www.economist.com/news/middle-east-and-africa/21627646-africas-lodestar-nation-has-weathered-ebola-extremist-takeover-has-exposed.

[38] Fanon. Wretched of the Earth, 116

[39] "Playing Politics." The Economist. February 21, 2014. Accessed November 22, 2014. http://www.economist.com/blogs/baobab/2014/02/trouble-nigerias-central-bank.

[40] Fanon. Wretched of the Earth, 117

[41] Ibid 112-114

[42] Ibid ix

[43] Ibid 130

[44] Ibid x

[45] Beckman, Bjorn. "Imperialism and the 'National Bourgeoisie'" Review of African Political Economy. Accessed November 22, 2014. http://www.roape.org/pdf/2204.pdf, 11-13

[46] Ibid 11-13

[47] Fanon Wretched of the Earth, xliv

[48] Ibid xlvii


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