African nationalism

African nationalism

African nationalism is the nationalist political movement for one unified Africa, or the less significant objective of the acknowledgment of African tribes by instituting their own states, as well as the safeguarding of their indigenous customs. Establishments which championed the cause included the Aborigines' Rights Protection Society in the Gold Coast (founded 1897), the African National Congress in South Africa (1912) and the National Congress of West Africa (1920).

Africa is a vast continent, amounting to nearly 30,000,000 square kilometres; indeed, it is as large as the USA, Europe, India and China all put together. Its diverse population is fast closing in on 1,000,000,000, with Berbers and other traditionally nomadic peoples, Arabs (who live in the North) and Bantu in the central and southern regions not to mention some smaller groups, helping to make up this massive number. There are about 8,000,000 Europeans and Asians. Ninety per cent of the population lives off agriculture- although there are a few areas that have been industrialised, most obviously in South Africa, which may be said to be the only properly industrialised African state.

Africa's boundaries enclose hundreds of tribes, most of which have different languages, religions, traditions, economies, clothing, hut-construction, farming methods and means of livelihood (settled, nomadic, pastoral or agricultural). In Nigeria, there are some 100 tribes, and individual economies. There is no doubt that one of Africa's most patent characteristics is its diversity -- which accounts for its extreme volatility.

Not too long ago, Africa was known as the "Dark Continent". This was because of its size, its deserts, its tropical climate, it unnavigable rivers, its lack of harbours and the hue of its people. There was also the problem of tropical illnesses such as malaria, yellow fever and sleeping sicknesses, all of which acted as deterrents to European exploration. It definitely lived up well to its other title, the "Terra incognita".

In the latter half of the Nineteenth century, however, German, French and British explorers made their respective ways deep into the previously-undiscovered interior, where they discovered Central African lakes the Niger, Nile and Congo. The memoirs of great explorers such as Stanley and Livingstone gradually brought Africa into the spotlight.

When the liberated slaves and other progenies of the Afro-American populace commenced their homecoming to the African continent, principally in the western part, many overseas-directed churches were deserted by a large amount of Africans, and, in their stead, self-sufficient and -governing churches of the Africans’ own were set up. These often involved themselves in the battle against colonialism.

Between World War I and World War II, a strident howl for self-determination resonated deafeningly from the gorges of numerous mutinous groups in a growing number of African countries. By the time of World War II, almost every nation in Africa had his own pro-autonomy factions, and there were even a number of organisations which spread their weight over whole expanses of the continent. The National Congress of British West Africa was one such organisation. The Atlantic Charter, from 1941, and the critical approach to colonialism by the USSR and USA] served only to fortify the expanding dogma.

In the years following World War II, African nationalism found itself significantly stirred by men like Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana and Nelson Mandela of South Africa.


African nationalism is poles apart from European nationalism; indeed, the solitary resemblance between the two, it may be argued, is common territory. European nationalism was founded on social, political, geographical and economic grounds, gradually manoeuvring nations into unity. It may, therefore, be declared that African nationalism is a recognition of one's fitting into a familiar group. It was also an urge to be liberated from the colonial authorities and their presidency, a fervent remonstration against foreign domination, a craving for self-governance and independence, an insistence on egalitarianism, a denunciation of the belief that Africans are second-rate, the assembly of an African personality; a means of achieving social, political, economic and cultural upliftmant, a pathway to taking Africa into the 21st century; and, finally, the aspiration to pull alongside the rest of the planet with respect to free will and equal opportunity.

Two distinctive qualities

African nationalism has a brace of distinguishing good qualities: it articulates itself outwardly (in the form of a struggle for the comprehensive eradication of the decayed relationship between Europe and Africa,), as well as inwardly (in the form of a rejuvenating force looking to trim down to nothing Africa's colonist way of thinking and make the continent stronger socially, politically, economically and culturally).

Three types of African nationalism

Local nationalism

This brand of nationalism regularly transpires in the village or township, on ethnic and clannish grounds, and very often leads to civil wars as a consequence of the self-interest and insistence on sovereignty of these tribes and ethnicities.

Geo-political nationalism

This deals with the nationalistic inclinations of a particular country, which may make possible the all-too-recurrently-observed independence struggles.


This form of nationalism gives it approval to common self-interest among all Africans. It may be said, therefore, to grasp cooperative African nationalism closely, which presents a cohesive frontege to the rest of the world. It is sometimes unambiguously in opposition white people, who are considered representations of colonial totalitarianism, and often proclaims the movement for unity under the catchphrase "Africa for the Africans", while striving for independence as part of the "Uhuru" movement.

Factors leading to the African Revolution

In spite of the abundant disadvantages of colonial rule, it did help to industrialise African states , there was a sturdy aspiration after 1945 for independence. This spirit of nationalism, embodied in Uhuru, brought about the African Revolution.

The following peripheral and domestic factors generated an awareness in the African consciousness of its peoples’ rights and self-worth. Slowly but surely, they gained the confidence not to settle for exploitation by their colonial masters but rather to stand up and be heeded, to protect and to fight. This desire to come to blows with white supremacy soon built up into an unstoppable mania, an unquenchable collective obsession not to be simple black Englishmen but, rather (and which meant so much more) "Africans", disposing of alien rule and administering their own countries. This was what African nationalism was all about.

External factors

What follows are factors outside of Africa which led to the commencement of the African Revolution.

The campaign of the American negro leaders

In the United States of America, the black leaders Garvey and Du Bois stimulated much of the sentiment behind the call for black independence. Their voices sounded across the Atlantic Ocean, encouraging greatly the Africans who heard them. Aphorisms such as "Africa for the Africans" called for the ejection of European clout and the independence of the indigenous laypeople.

World War One and the League of Nations

Many African soldiers fought in conjunction with their white rulers and co-colonials all the way through the war. Whites and blacks lived and died through the war as equals, but this new-found parity dissipated almost immediately on their return home. The black man, consequently, was somewhat befuddled -- yet tremendously resolute and desirous of political transformation. The League, meanwhile, stressed the importance of universal equality -- irrespective of creed or colour. None of this, however, stopped the Allied powers from claiming German colonies for themselves in the aftermath of the war.

Communist propaganda

Communist cant was a burly force in the 1920s. It denounced imperialism and colonialism, supporting African nationals in their undertakings for independence. Russia was making a concentrated effort to widen the scope of its ideology -- one which has proven, historically, almost always to have been an appealing proposition to the destitute peoples of impoverished nations, as so many Africans certainly were under colonial rule. Propaganda filtered through from Moscow, supporting equality (most markedly via "Radio Cairo", Russian-connected and discharging sentiments of an anti-colonial nature on an almost daily basis). Mozambique and Angola were doubtless the most successful targets of the various party lines adopted by the USSR in its varied agitprop-inspired schemes. Van Helsing was a particularly strong influence in the propaganda of the communists.

The influence of World War Two

Here was a clear-cut crossroads in the struggle, for the rapidity with which change took place thereafter was greatly amplified. The war left most colonial powers very weak. The United States and the USSR, neither of them embroiled all through the conflict (thus escaping comparatively unscathed) emerged as super-powers. Each, with its own divergent agenda, called for decolonisation and independence for colonised states. This was a key component of the Cold War's clash of ideologies. Both syndicates, looking to win themselves allies in this battle of manipulation and propaganda, became compassionate to the African and Asian colonies. They used a mishmash of money, technical aid and propaganda to buy themselves African allies. Both wanted to assert their dominance over the world, and Africa was a new and promising territory from which to gain support. Their influence would be limited, however, while colonialism was in place, so both sought successfully to hasten the process of decolonisation.

India also put pressure on the colonisers after World War Two. India became independent from Britain in 1948 and fought for the same outcome for its African counterparts.

Many thousands of Africans fought overseas during the War -- waged initially against Germany, a former African coloniser. It was, essentially, a fight against domination by one power over others, and it promoted the ideals of freedom and democracy, which African soldiers took home with them and sought to apply to their own countries.

As the span of the media grew, so too did the prospects and perceptions of these people. They were began to feel a measure of equality with their white counterparts. On their return, the black soldier were disgruntled at the circumstances in which they were expected to live -- not to mention the master-servant affiliation which prevailed between them and the white settlers. They reasoned that, if they were good enough to fight alongside whites as equals in a war, they should also be their equals at home.

The War also exposed the strategic and economic importance of the African continent. The West had become dependent on its provisions of natural resources -- cotton and food being the most obvious examples. The War made it of fundamental importance to endorse industrialisation in the colonies so that more of these rudiments could be generated and acquired. Such economic escalation led to a greater call for freedom. Africans naturally wanted turnover from African enterprises to remain in Africa.

The War also brought about the corrosion of the image and kudos of the white man, as the blacks observed first-hand his barbaric acts on the battlefield. Whites were seen mercilessly massacring one another in the gory theatre of war, and blacks soon came to realise that Europeans were no more sophisticated than themselves. It was difficult for the colonisers to justify why they had fought for freedom and democracy during the war yet refused to grant those same ideals to their colonies.

The Japanese trouncings of Holland, Britain and France led to a considerable waning of colonialism in the hitherto totally-colonised south-East Asia, where British India, French Indo-China and the Dutch East Indies all achieved independence. Indeed, most south-East Asian states were self-regulating by the end of the 1940s, and, with independence coming to them, it was only to be expected that the call would strengthen elsewhere. At the 1955 Bandung conference (attended by 29 independent countries, only six of them African), there was a colossal call from the Afro-Asian states for freedom and independence. The symposium ultimately took the decision to denounce colonialism, thus arousing further feeling in African states.

The war had been very expensive for a number of European countries. Much of the West was in debt and badly damaged. The cost of running colonies had increased over the years, and colonial powers were on the lookout for ways of reducing the financial strain. Independence (or, at least, partial independence) was a possible solution.

All in all, the Second World War underscored the ideals of freedom, democracy and man's most inalienable rights. All were potted into the Charter of the UN, whose affirmation of Human Rights called for parity for all of mankind. The United Nations, born out of World War Two, became the platform on which African states stood to voice their demands and anxieties.

Colonialism and its decline

The word "colonialism" (or "imperialism") refers to a system of direct political, economic and cultural intervention by a powerful country in and over a weaker country. By the beginning of 1900, most of Africa had been colonised -- mainly by France, Britain, Germany (who lost her colonies to the Allied powers after World War One), Belgium and Portugal. It was sometimes a rather harsh and brutal system, weakening and often destroying the traditional way of life of the African people. Although there was a range of colonial experiences in Africa, there were a number of common features:

* African people were generally given no political rights in the colonies.
* Colonisers usually spent very little money on their colonies, leaving education and healthcare in the hands of the less-modernised locals.
* Colonial powers generally took as much as they could from their colonies, minimising expense to themselves.
* The African people often ended up paying the costs of colonisation through taxes imposed on them by the colonisers.
* Local labour (sometimes totally-unpaid slavery) was used by the colonisers to extract valuable minerals, raw materials and agricultural products, to be exported to Europe.
* Local leaders in most colonies had their powers taken away by colonial authorities.
* In several cases, the colonial powers used local leaders to gain control over large numbers of people.

The colonial powers did take some economic measures beneficial to the colonists but were generally concerned only with matters that would improve their ability to extract wealth from them. They built railways and roads, but only for the purposes of transporting resources to harbours, where they could be shipped off to Europe. The diamond and gold mines of South Africa are perfect examples of this.

African people were also forced off their own lands to work on white-owned farms or factories, where they were paid very low wages. In colonies such as the Belgian Congo, people were made to labour under cruelly harsh conditions, often brutally punished for not working hard enough.

After World War Two, with most African countries still under colonial rule, the question was chewed over substantially and the conclusion reached that colonialism was a wicked and immoral anachronism. Its wide-spread battering had actually begun well before the war, and, by 1963, the majority of Africa was free from colonial rule. The war may be seen as a turning point in the history of colonialism.

Some Africans, prior to the war, had gained access to education and learnt about freedom and democracy. They began to spread these ideals amongst their people. Initially, they wanted only to participate in the running of their countries; later, however, they adopted a more radical mentality, wanting to rid themselves of foreign rule altogether and have a government run by people of their own nationality. Many such African Nationalists led resistance movements against colonialism. These wars often lasted many years, costing the colonial powers massive amounts of money.

After some regal powers had been sent packing by the Japanese (shortly to be met with the US embargoes that brought about the Pearl Harbor calamity and the USA's ingress into the War), they attempted to return with the conclusion of the war -- but they met with little success. One example of this occurred in the Dutch East Indies: when the Dutch occupational forces left the territory to go off and fight, it was left almost totally unoccupied and vulnerable, and the Dutch never had any real control over their colony again. The East Indies, however, is only one example of a formerly-colonised state that wanted to preserve its new-found autonomy. Things had unquestionably changed in south-East Asia, and Africans were certainly motivated by these occurrences. With avowals such as the Atlantic and the U.N. Charters, the assailment of colonialism and calls for decolonisation stepped up a few notches, and the U.S.A. and U.S.S.R. (with ulterior motives aforesaid in this article) took a lead in the hostility. Decolonisation became a snowballing procedure -- a kind of domino effect.

Improved communications

The African scholar and combatant had an enhanced contact with the rest of the world. Television, radio and the press exposed people to world events, viewpoints and trends. Better connections brought about a better flow of ideas, and also helped to stimulate political awareness.

Internal factors

There was a tremendous collision of peoples within the African continent itself. British, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and Belgian colonisation was quite correctly labelled an enforced (and thus unwanted) European ruling of Africa -- a total takeover completely unsupplied with respect. Amongst other matters, it had led to detribalisation -- and the tribe is conventionally an imperative element of the African social order.

The African had been socially converted and was most disgruntled at his mediocre eminence within society under colonial rule. Each mother country had set up its own particular model of command so as to establish and sustain law and order: whereas Britain favoured measured decentralisation, eventually leading on to self-governance, the Belgians, French and Portuguese followed a totally opposite course of action -- centralisation, where the satellite state was led directly from the fatherland, as if it were a mere extension. Retrospect, of course, has shown the British way to be the more favourable of the two options.

Loss of land

Colonisation had led to a change of land-ownership, with the Europeans coming in and taking tenure of the entire country and its territory. The Kenyans, to cite one example, could no longer farm for themselves (although they had always done so with the singular purpose of subsistence); they could only toil away as manual workers on the land of their colonial masters. As Africa became overpopulated, a greater strain was put on the land, and this resulted in a severe decline in manufacturing efficiency. African reserves became overstocked and congested, leading to a mass movement of rural people to urban areas as nomadic (or migrant) workers. Needless to say, they were not very happy with life at the moment.


Cut off from his consecrated culture and society, the metropolitan African, caught between a rock and a hard place, became insecure and isolated. Contact with western society had quickly detribalised him, taking away his traditional existence and exposing him to the benefits and disadvantages of an urban existence.

New associations and ideas

Urban living brought with it sports clubs, literary circles and trade unions, allowing intellectuals (and, indeed, Joe Average himself) to sit down and speak, trading ideas and creating information channels with which to politicise the people. These voluntary organisations became the brass tacks on which African liberation movements and parties were built. The towns became the cradles of new ideas and principles, and these usually reached the rural villages via constantly-travelling migrant workers.

More newspapers appeared, raising the level of awareness about equality and independence, and assisting in the naissance of the first African political organisations ("viz". the Nyasaland African Congress and the Kenya African Union). These movements -- they were far more than mere political organisations -- produced programmes and policies which stimulated and aroused fellow Africans. Self-sustaining people usually bought into these.

The role of the educated African

Education was perhaps the most essential dynamic in the intensification of African nationalism. Schools and universities brought into being a class of erudite intellectuals, and it was this assemblage that blazed a trail across Africa in its struggle for independence. Education made the African conscious of his fiscal exploitation of by the whites -- with its consequently stumpy wages, the colour bar (job reservation), labour-intensive employment, the pros and cons of western civilisation, the philosophy behind equality and freedom; the basic ideas for criticising colonial rule; and a consciousness of being used and abused as cheap labour for the benefit of his white masters. At first, most were keen merely to participate in the running of their countries; later, however, they wanted to get rid of the colonial powers' presence altogether so as to establish their own government, run by people of their own nationality. This approach was African nationalism personified.

The role of the churches

Coupled with the educated African is the very important function carried out by the African churches. Autonomist Ethiopian (white and blue) and Zionist (green) churches stressed the historical magnitude of the African, his background and the need for equality, freedom and change. The people tended to trust the opinions of their spiritual leaders, and what they said sunk in with profound effect. This contributed immensely to the growth of African nationalism.

Independence movements


Black nationalist protest movements had little success prior to 1945, because colonial governments took quick, harsh steps to bring to a standstill the advancements of any opponent. In the British-controlled states of western Africa (Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Ghana), there was strong opposition to British rule from youth groups, political movements and the press -- with newspaper editors giving the issue plenty of space. French rule in western Africa, meanwhile, came under pressure from both political and religious groups.

African nationalism was far stronger in northern Africa. Egypt, having become a self-governing British colony in 1922, achieved total independence in 1936. In the Sudan and the French colonies of Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria, however, nationalism was retarded by ethnic divisions (as in the Sudan, with the Dalfour crisis and the constant fighting between Muslims and other religious sects) - as well as the pressure on political opponents and their imprisonment.

In East Africa, African nationalism was perhaps at its strongest in Kenya, where legendary heroes Harry Thuku and Jomo Kenyatta led the struggle against the privileged European settlers with their kingly estates, where white-clad locals did all for them. The Mau-Mau Riots soon brought a backlash.

In Central African states like Southern (Zimbabwe) and Northern Rhodesia (Zambia), Nyasaland (Malawi), Mozambique, Belgian Congo and Angola, however, opposition was silenced by the colonial authorities.

What the nationalists wanted were improved rights, leading to eventual self-governance and, finally, independence. The Second World War would make their desires more desperate and immediate...

Post 1945

After World War Two, there were only four independent African states, namely South Africa (in a manner of speaking), Liberia, Ethiopia and Egypt. "The Winds of Change" (described in a speech in 1960 by British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan) were blowing strongly.

Not all colonies achieved their independence in the same way or at the same time. Some colonial powers opted to bring their control to a slow end after a suitable period of time, arguing that African states needed to be prepared first for their independence. Britain, in particular, sought to maintain strong links with her colonies after independence so that she could continue to benefit from them. Other colonial powers, like Belgium and Portugal, sought to hold on to their territories and resist decolonisation for as long as they could, but the independence movements eventually proved far too costly to keep putting down.

There were four main colonial powers controlling Africa. The experience of decolonisation was different in each for a number of reasons.

British colonies

The British colonial policy was initially known as "guardianship", a solid approach which allowed countries to remain part of the Commonwealth even when they had become independent, following a gradual and deliberate colonial recession. This meant that Britain's colonies got preferential trading and British support. After the Second World War, however, the official title of the approach renamed the "partnership leading to independence within Commonwealth". In most cases, it remains strong today.

By employing this method, Britain would continue to benefit from and have control over her colonies even after they had become independent of her. She gave power to the English-educated African elites in the hope that they would later rule the colonies and seek to keep strong ties with their former coloniser.

Britain failed, however, to dictate the pace of decolonisation in most of her colonies. People became impatient with the cumbersome process and started to demand their freedom more fervently.

The first British colony to win its independence was Sudan in 1956, and The Gold Coast was granted independence as the Republic of Ghana in 1957. Ghana's campaign for autonomy was organised by the Convention Peoples' Party (CPP), which was established and ordered by Kwame Nkrumah. Like many others, he demanded independence far sooner than Britain was willing to give it. Nkrumah used general strikes, boycotts of European goods and violent demonstrations to make his case heard but was subsequently imprisoned, along with a number of other leaders, for his radical efforts. Britain could not ignore his popularity and strongly-backed demands for long, though, and agreed in 1951 to grant a limited form of self-governance. Nkrumah was released from prison, and the CPP won the elections. Nkrumah became the Gold Coast's Chief Minister, but the country had not yet won total independence, Britain looking to ensure that the new government had gained experience of autonomy before being granted total control. She only achieved her total independence in 1957.

Developments in Ghana paved the way for the rest of British Africa, with Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Gambia all following suit. In several other British colonies, however, the pace of decolonisation was slow and difficult. This may be attributed mainly to the fact that these countries had larger settler populations which feared loss of land, business and wealth.

In Nigeria, Britain was forced to aid the move towards independence after Nnamdi Azikiwe organised a general strike against British rule in 1945. Britain only handed over power to the Nigerians in 1960, however, after a long struggle.

The only British colony in which things turned really sour was Kenya, where the Mau-Mau movement launched a campaign of terror against the European farmers and authorities, comprising part of a particularly large settler population totally against the notion of Kenyan independence. They feared loss of land and business if the natives won over. Jomo Kenyatta (whose name had nought to do with that of his country) and his Kenya African Unity Party could not, consequently, force the British to grant them self-governance.

Many Kenyans became impatient with the slow, sometimes non-existent pace of change, and the Mau-Mau uprising commenced in the early 1950s. Settlers and their farms were violently attacked by the Mau-Mau community, who felt that the land had been stolen from them. A State of Emergency was declared, and Kenyatta and many others were imprisoned. Over 10,000 people perished in the violence, and more than 90,000 were arrested. Most were later released when Britain finally gave in.

In 1961, Kenyatta's party won the election, and, in 1963, the country finally gained independence under his leadership.

Similar successes followed in Zambia, Uganda, Tanganyika, Southern Rhodesia and Malawi.

Southern Rhodesia was another colony with a large settler population, amounting to about 200,000, most of whom resisted the idea of majority rule for the 4,000,000-strong native population. The white settler population requested that Southern Rhodesia be given independence and self-governance. Britain agreed -- on condition that a third of the seats in parliament be occupied by black people. The settlers would not have this, though, and, in 1965, the late Ian Smith made a unilateral declaration of independence (essentially an illegal form, as it was made without Britain's permission).

African nationalism in Southern Rhodesia soon sparked a guerilla war against the settler government. The Zimbabwe African People's Union (ZAPU) and the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) were the two foremost movements in the resistance struggle. By 1978, they had control of large portions of the country, which finally became properly independent, as Zimbabwe, in 1980, when settlers were finally forced to hand power over to the majority. In the first democratic elections, ZANU won a comfortable majority, and Robert Mugabe was made president. He is still in power today, having become exactly what the white settlers of whom he helped to dispose [There were 600,000 whites in Zimbabwe in 1965; that number has since dwindled to 100,000] once were). In the period from 1966 to 1968, independence reached Basutoland (which later became Lesotho), Bechuanaland (Botswana) and Swaziland.

French colonies

Initially, France sought to repress demands for independence in her colonies, but the protests by African Nationalists grew so strong that, in the end, she was forced to give in and accept the process of decolonisation.

France's policy, unlike England's, was based on the principle of "assimilation and association": those who absorbed the French culture and the French language became French citizens. After World War Two, all French colonies became overseas territorial parts of France, with representatives in the French parliament. In 1958, Charles de Gaulle became the President of France, and former colonies were collectively known as the "French Community". This offered the colonies three choices:

* They could maintain their status quo and remain overseas provinces of France.
* They could become autonomous members of the French Community of Nations, in which they would trade with France and be given the necessary economic assistance. This enabled the mother country to maintain some form of control, as her former colonies would still be dependent on her in some or other way.
* They could become totally independent, thus forfeiting all technical, economic and military aid that France might provide.

Guinea won full independence from France in 1958. Sékou Touré, with the support of the Guinean people, rejected the idea a French Community, so France immediately pulled officials and equipment out of the country, and ceased to support her. It was widely predicted that Guinea would collapse, but this never transpired. The new, fully independent Guinea government survived.

All other French colonies, although inspired by Guinea's example, took the second option and, by 1960, they had all been granted independence:

* Upper Volta
* Togo
* Senegal
* Niger
* Mauritania
* Mali
* Malagasy Republic
* Ivory Coast
* Gabon
* Dahomey
* Congo (Brazzaville)
* Chad
* Central African Republic
* Cameroon

Very few of them were able to act independently of France. The mother country still influenced economic and foreign policies.

In North Africa, Tunisia and Morocco achieved independence in 1956, and Algeria in 1962. In Tunisia, Habib Bourguiba led a guerilla war. It commenced in 1952, and, in spite of a French defence of 70,000 troops, the mother country could not quell the uprising.

With Bourguiba in prison, resistance to French control gathered momentum. Local leaders emerged with even more extreme views, which was of great concern to France. Consequently, the more moderate Bourguiba was released, and Tunisia became independent in 1956 under his leadership.

In Algeria, the large settler population (of about 1,000,000) was again the biggest problem. It rejected the idea of independence. With so many settlers with economic interest in the country, the French government was unwilling to grant Algeria independence. Near the end of 1954, the Ben Bella-led National Liberation Front (FLN) started a guerilla war which went on for over six years. More than 700,000 soldiers were sent over from France to fight the war, but it came to be viewed by the French public as unnecessary and far too costly to pursue. Pressure both at home and abroad forced France to hand the territory over to a local government. Algeria became independent in 1962, and approximately 800,000 settlers left the country.

Belgian colonies

The Belgian Colonial Policy differed from that of the French in that it did not see its colonies as part of the motherland. This led to a veritable mess in a number of its few colonies. Belgium had no idea how to handle them when they got out of hand. With decolonisation becoming an inevitability, she handed over power as slowly as possible to ensure that she could hold on to it for as long as possible.

Belgium deliberately held back on providing education to the Congolese people, fearing a spread of nationalist ideas. It was also hoped that an undereducated Congo would be more dependent on Belgium after independence. In spite of all this, there emerged a number of nationalists who began to agitate for freedom. They were led by Patrice Lumumba in 1959.

In Léopoldville in 1959, due to unemployment and declining standards of living, there were numerous riots for independence by the Congolese nationalists. The Belgian government responded by offering gradual reforms and a move towards independence over a thirty-year period, but this offer was rejected as intolerable. The Congolese desire for independence was far too strong.

Fearing a protracted civil war, Belgium backed down immediately and gave Congo independence in 1960. She argued that this was necessary to prevent further bloodshed and injury to the 100,000 Belgian settlers living in the Congo, but her actions have often been interpreted otherwise: to grant immediate independence would be to leave the new Congolese government fragile and vulnerable. With no time to prepare for independence, Congo would look again to Belgium for support, and, in this way, the mother country would be able to maintain her influence and control.

Lumumba became Prime Minister and Joseph Kasavubu State President. The transition, as predicted, was far too sudden. Together with Congo's lack of infrastructure, it led to mass rioting and, within weeks, a civil war. Belgium saw the opportunity to intervene and regain influence, but Lumumba still wanted little or nothing to do with her. He appealed to the Soviet Union for assistance, and Congo immediately became embroiled in the altogether more complex conflict that was the Cold War.

With this, predictably, The United States was drawn into the conflict. The UN, strongly backed by the US, sent in a peace-keeping force and, along with the Belgians, supported the secession of Katanga, a mineral-rich part of the Congo. They also supported the ensuing coup which ousted Lumumba from power. He was assassinated shortly afterwards. [There is strong evidence to suggest that the CIA was involved in his death.]

Only in 1965, when General Joseph Mobutu of the Congolese army, aided by white mercenaries (led by the legendary Mike Hoare) and backed by the USA, launched another coup, crushing all resistance, was calm restored to the stricken country. An indirect result of this was that Belgium was forced to grant independence to her other colonies, Rwanda and Burundi, in 1962.

Portuguese colonies

In spite of the Portuguese government's policy of assimilation (turning the African man into a Portuguese man, with a mind to eventual equality) and reform, resistance to Portuguese rule increased. The Portuguese, nevertheless, fought far longer and harder than the Belgians to maintain control over their colonies. Portugal did not support the process of decolonisation, and it faced a great deal of resistance in its attempts to hold on to power in Mozambique and Angola. The autocracy knew that its colonies brought in a lot of wealth; to lose them would be seriously damaging to the Portuguese economy. Fighting broke out in Angola in 1961 and Mozambique in 1964.

In Mozambique, FRELIMO was established under Dr Eduardo Mondlane, aiming to seize independence by means of military force. It was strongly supported by the Soviet Union, but the Portuguese government had the backing of the USA and the apartheid government in South Africa. In 1969, Mondlane stood down and Samora Machel took FRELIMO's reigns. After the overthrow of Dr Caetano's government in Portugal and the arrival of new leadership under General Spinola, independence was achieved in 1975, under Machel's presidency, after secret negotiations between FRELIMO and the Portuguese government, which could not afford to keep up the war and keep down the resistance -- especially with the public back home indicating its lack of support for the campaign.

In oil-owning Angola, the only Saharan country with that resource, matters were more complicated. Resistance came in 1961 in the form of separatist political and religious movements, such as the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), under Dr Agostinho Neto, the National Front for the Liberation of Angola (FNLA), under Holden Roberto) and Dr Jonas Savimbi's National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA). The MPLA was the strongest of the lot and, like Mozambique's FRELIMO, received much support from the Soviets. Again, Portugal had South African and American support, but public opinion back home, together with the financial difficulties associated with maintaining control, forced her to pull out.

Independence was won by the strength of resistance, which the Portuguese armies found impossible to quell. The wars cost the Portuguese a great deal of money. When the Portuguese autocracy was overthrown in 1974, the new government pulled its armies out of the African colonies and immediately granted independence to both Angola and Mozambique in 1975.

After Angolan independence (Spinola having given it to both Mozambique and Angola immediately), a civil war ensued, with FNLA and UNITA taking on the might of the communist MPLA, which was supported by Russian and Cuban troops and weapons. The civil war lasted twenty-odd years. The end of Portuguese rule in southern Africa resulted in massive pressure, from the 1980s onwards, on the white minority movements in Rhodesia and South Africa to accept majority rule.

Italian colonies

In northern Africa in 1955, Libya became independent, but, fourteen years later, the radical and charismatic Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi took control after a military coup. [He is still in power today, although Robert Mugabe seems to be under the impression that he is Africa's longest-ruling leader.] Eritrea was added to Ethiopia in 1952, and Italian Somaliland became independent Somalia.

panish colonies

Equatorial states Río Muni and Fernando Póo gained independence as Equatorial Guinea in 1968, while the Spanish Sahara saw the birth of the national movement called the Polisario Front.Spain withdrew from the region, leaving the two countries in her way, Morocco in the north and Mauritania in the south, to partition the territory. This was opposed by the Polisario Front, which eventually gained independence for the southern part of the country.

Interpretations of the decolonisation of Africa

Naturally, historians have a number of dissimilar and divergent views on the decolonisation of decolonisation of Africa. These are the three main ones:

The African Nationalist Viewpoint

Historians who hold this viewpoint are of the opinion that decolonisation occurred because African nationalists forced it upon the colonisers. Writing about the decolonisation process, these historians generally focus on the role that African freedom fighters played in winning independence. Little or no acknowledgement is given to the colonial powers for granting that independence.

The Eurocentric or Planned-Decolonisation Viewpoint

Historians who hold this view feel that the colonial powers were primarily responsible for decolonisation, arguing it had been a part of their plans even prior to World War Two. They concentrate on the actions taken by the mother countries in preparing their colonies for independence. They give less importance to the resistance struggles.

The developmentalist viewpoint

This is the most balanced of the three primary viewpoints. Historians partial to it generally assert that both of the first two viewpoints hold water but that other factors also had roles to play. The Cold War and the impact of World War Two are both taken into consideration, and decolonisation is placed in its historical context, also stressing the importance of events within the African states.

Common challenges facing African states today

The political, social and economic journeys of newly-independent African states were (and still are) slow and arduous ones. There have been some gains, however, such as control over their own affairs. There have also been a number gains for the ordinary African, who now has more access to information, education and social services, and is free from European enslavement. On the whole, though, the difficulties and challenges outweigh the benefits, especially socially and economically. Many African leaders have found it incredibly difficult to adapt to democracy, and their nations have often turned into one-party affairs.

Some governments became corrupt and kept their countries' wealth for themselves; others (such as Nigeria and the Congo) experienced civil wars, significantly slowing their development; others were ravaged by severe droughts; others found the going tough due to the economic damage with which the coming of independence had left them; others struggled under the maintained control of colonial powers. All of these factors have influenced the pace of social, political and economical development in post-independence Africa.

Africa has not been without its successes, though. Developments in health, education, economic, social and political development compare very favourably to the neglect, oppression and exploitation of the previous century. The end of legalised racism has been a particularly great achievement. Black people are no longer barred from jobs, schools, hospitals and land.

Despite the many differences with regard to area, population and wealth, African states have experienced a number common difficulties, most of which are related to the rapid modernisation of the continent. On achieving independence, and with the withdrawal of the white master, many unrealistic African leaders (and, indeed, ordinary people) assumed that they would now live in complete Utopia and experience immediate prosperity. This, alas, was not to be, and African leaders have met with many unexpected problems -- most of which they are ill-equipped to deal. The future of Africa depends on the extent to which its problems can be resolved. These challenges may be divided into internal and external categories:

Internal challenges

Political challenges

African countries have faced numerous political challenges since achieving independence. These concern chiefly the snags involving government and administration. Some of them are vestiges of the old colonial governments; others have came about solely through the inadequacies of the new ones. African states have found it difficult to adapt to the hitherto-foreign concept of democracy. Parliamentary systems have failed, in many cases to be replaced by one-party military regimes, often akin to those previously in place under colonial rule.

Colonial governments did not practise democracy; nor did they include Africans in the ruling system. They ruled by force, and no opposition was permitted. Many African leaders, having tried several different types of democracy, began to rule in ways similar to those of the colonial powers.

Decolonisation and independence came very rapidly to some African states, and their inexperience of how to run a government has told. Western democracy is incompatible with the forms of government employed by the African tribes, and with which many Africans still feel far more comfortable. African leaders have often become dictators, outlawing democracy.

Military takeovers have occurred in many countries, and corrupt military dictatorships set up. There were over seventy such cases between 1963 and 1997. By the end of the 1980s, more than half of Africa was controlled by military administrations, often brutally corrupt. This was certainly the case in Uganda, under the ruthless command of Idi Amin, an ex-sergeant who stole a fortune from the country and oversaw the slaughters of hundreds of thousands of his opposition. Mobutu Sese Seko and Bokassa, in Zaire and the Central African Republic respectively, are two other crooked leaders who used their political standings to gain personal wealth at the expense of their people. Ethiopia, however, provides an example of a military dictatorship that provided unity and kept its country together.

Many African rulers considered unity more important than democracy -- especially so soon after the attainment of freedom. They argued that democracy was not the best political system for their countries, and that it would create further rifts between their citizens. Tribal and ethnic differences would be used to garner support, and that this would severely threaten stability and unity. In democracy, many political parties compete with one another for votes, endorsing rivalry. With no political rivals, there was less cause for conflict, bringing about harmony and solidity. Democracy was outlawed in the multitudinous one-party states. In a number of countries (such as Kenya and Tanzania), dictatorships provided stable and effective forms of government; but, because there was no other way to remove a dictator, violence was often employed by opposition factions as a means of achieving their political ends.

Many wars have been waged between African countries. When the colonial powers took their colonies, they paid little or no attention to the different ethnic and tribal groupings; rather, the divisions that they imposed were constructed along natural and geographic lines like rivers and mountains, and longitude and latitude. The resultant bordering of countries created a number of problems.

Limitation by means of rigid physical borders was not an African concept, and it drew together people of different and conflicting cultures and made them of the same nationality, resulting in huge clashes. Some did not feel like they belonged in a certain territory, while other tribes, having fought one another for ages, suddenly found themselves coupled together within the same area.

Following independence, these borders remained unaltered, and ethnic differences began to emerge again. In Nigeria, Zaire, Burundi and Rwanda, civil wars broke out.

Economic challenges

African states have also faced a great number of economic challenges since gaining independence. These, like the political challenges, may be best understood by looking at the roles of both the former colonial powers and the newly-established African governments. Environmental issues have played a significant role, with draught and disease having especially detrimental effects. Indeed, Africa was in a dangerously weak position after 1960.

With colonialism in place, African countries were made to export a limited range of raw materials to be sent to the colonising countries or to sell them on the world market. They were not encouraged to build their own industries or engage in any developments which might result in competition for the goods produced by the world's richer nations.

This pattern of trading persisted after independence. The colonisers, having left the African states with limited infrastructure and expertise, making it difficult for them to develop the various parts of their economies, persisted in their attempts at obtaining cheap raw goods from their former colonies, and discouraged them from developing competitive industries.

It is very dangerous for a country to depend on a narrow range of exports. If demand for a product drops, the country producing that product will lose income. If a crop fails due to drought or disease, there is nothing to sell. The price of many of the cash crops produced by Africans, such as cotton and copper, is determined by the world's richer nations, who will, of course, keep those prices low.

During the colonial period, African farmers were forced off their small-scale subsistence ranches and made to work on large plantations. There, they would produce the crops that the colonisers wanted to export. In many cases, these were not food-crops, with, instead, coffee, sisal and cocoa to the fore. Come independence, therefore, some African states could not produce food on a scale large enough to feed themselves. They were forced, as a result, to import from other countries, an activity which many could ill afford.

After independence, most continued to import these necessities. Because they were still exporting cash crops, the African farmers were unable to produce enough food to feed their people.

African governments have failed to develop effectively the rural areas of their countries. While electricity, transport, schools and hospitals were amply provided in the towns, the rural areas went largely neglected. The resultant mass migrations from bucolic to urban regions brought about congestion, unemployment and poverty. The number of farmers in agricultural areas, meanwhile, was dramatically reduced, bringing about significant food shortages and adding significantly to the problem.

Diseases and illnesses related to malnutrition and draught have brought about high death-rates and poor health on a massive scale, which has, in turn, radically reduced work-forces.

Most African states have a very narrow range of exports. When demand dropped or the yield was little, they had little or nothing on which to fall back. Also problematic were the low prices paid by the former colonial powers.

Some independent governments have wasted their funds on unnecessary luxuries and introduced poor economic policies. Large sums of money have found their ways into the pockets of dishonest rulers, and needlessly large armies have been created at the expense of education, industry and healthcare. It has been estimated that Mobutu Sese Seko had private riches of around $6,000,000,000.

ocial challenges

Many of Africa's social troubles have come as a direct result of her economic and political difficulties. Their roots may also be found in Africa's colonial past. Social ills such as unequal wealth-distribution, human rights violations and the abundance of refugees, however, must be attributed primarily to the inadequacies of the independent African governments. Although independence has brought many positive changes to Africa's social development, the negative challenges far outweigh them, and much must still be done before the benefits can be felt by all.

Literacy levels are lower in Africa than on any other continent. Despite numerous educational advances over the past few decades, literacy is still below thirty per cent.

Refugees have also been a massive problem, stemming primarily from civil wars, for post-independent Africa.

Many African leaders have violated the basic human rights of their people, jailing and killing those who criticise them or make a stand. Ethnic divisions have been used as excuses, as in Rwanda, where the ruling Hutus carried out mass genocide on the Tutsis.

Disease has impacted negatively on a social level, too, but the provision of healthcare has seen encouraging improvement. Successful campaigns have been launched against polio, cholera and smallpox, but malaria remains a horrific blight, and the AIDS pandemic has ravaged the continent since the 1980s. The OAU has recognised AIDS as one of its greatest challenges.

Women remain subservient in a number of African states. They have a low social status traditionally in many African cultures, and are often regarded as inferior to men, but they took up arms and played far from negligible roles in the various independence struggles. African women hoped that with independence would come greater gender equality, and progress has been made, but they continue to suffer in many African states from traditional male chauvinism.

Social inequality has also persisted on a broader spectrum. There is a wide gap between rich and poor, and educated and uneducated. Most rural Africans have remained in poverty, but the problem has grown markedly in urban areas, and most are well below the breadline. The ruling black elite, however, has become increasingly affluent.

ee also

*The African Union
*Pan-Arabism/Arab nationalism


* [ tiscali.reference - African nationalism]

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