African Resistance, Nationalism and Independence

Supporters of colonialism in Europe claimed that the average African person welcomed colonialism, because it brought an end to slavery in East and Central Africa and stopped wars between kingdoms in parts of West Africa. While colonialism did bring peace to some areas in Africa, there was strong resistance to it.

Early (Primary) Resistance to Colonialism

Many rural African people had no initial reaction to colonialism, because the early years of colonialism did not impact their lives. This changed in the mid-20th century. During the Scramble for Africa, European colonizers faced stiff resistance in many parts of Africa.

Demands for Equity and Inclusion: The Inter-War Years

By the end of World War I, most of Africa had been colonized. Even though the next two decades were relatively quiet, the colonized people were not happy.

During the inter-war years opposition to colonialism was expressed in the following ways:

  • Demands for opportunity and inclusion. Educated Africans formed organizations to promote an end to discriminatory policies and to increase opportunities.
  • Religious opposition. African Christians took seriously the Christian teachings on equality and fairness. By the 1920s, some African Christian leaders were forming their own churches.
  • Economic opposition. Africans organized into unions and resisted colonial demands on their labor and land.
  • Mass protests. In 1929, over 10,000 protestors destroyed a number of colonial buildings. Soldiers stopped the protest, killing more than fifty women in the process.

Nationalism and Independence

World War II (1939-1945) had an important effect on Africa. Many Africans were recruited to fight for the Allies. The British and French emphasized that soldiers would be helping protect the world against the evils of Fascism and Nazism. At the end of the war, the returning African soldiers asked, “Why should I give my life to keep Europe and America free, when I am not free in my own country?”

In a document called the Atlantic Charter of 1941, the Allies had promised to “respect the right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they will live.” Africans understood this promise as a commitment to end colonial rule.

Immediately following WWII, European colonies in Asia demanded and earned independence from Europe. Africans saw India as an example of what was politically possible for their own countries.

In the late 1940s and early 1950s, new mass-based political parties formed in almost every African colony. The central demand was for independence. The Europeans eventually responded, and by 1966, all except for six African countries were independent nation-states.

Source: African Resistance, Nationalism and Independence
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