Exploring Africa

African Resistance, Nationalism and Independence

As colonial rule became institutionalized, African resistance to colonialism intensified. African peoples responded to colonial rule in a variety of ways. By the 1950s, there were organized nationalist parties that demanded political independence in almost every colony in Africa.

There were four phases of African reaction to colonial rule:

Early Resistance to Colonialism

A few groups welcomed a European presence in hope that there would be peace. Other groups resisted European political control. Most people had no reaction because early colonialism had little impact on their lives in rural Africa.

Throughout the period of the Scramble for Africa, European colonizers faced stiff resistance in many parts of Africa. The forms of resistance varied widely.

Demands for Equity and Inclusion: The Inter-War Years

During the inter-war years opposition to colonialism was expressed in one of the following forms:

  • Demands for opportunity and inclusion: Organizations formed by educated Africans promoted their interest for an end to discriminatory policies and for an increase in opportunities.
  • Religious opposition: The religious opposition was led by African Christians. They based their resistance on the Christian teachings on equality and fairness.
  • Economic opposition: During the 1920s and 1930s ,mine workers in southern Africa and port workers in West and East Africa tried to organize into unions. There were also efforts by African farmers to resist colonial demands on their labor and their land.
  • Mass protests: The Aba Women’s War took place in southeastern Nigeria in 1929. Ibo market women opposed colonial policies that threatened their economic and social position. They staged a series of protests and destroyed a number of colonial buildings before soldiers stopped them.

Nationalism and Independence

World War II had an important effect on Africa. Many Africans were recruited to fight for the Allies. After the war, the returning soldiers questioned why they should have fought to keep Europe and America free, when they were not free in their own country. Their lives were no better than those of people in fascist countries.

In 1941, the British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, and the U.S. President, Franklin Roosevelt, composed the Atlantic Charter, which states that the Allies “respect the right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they will live; and they will wish to see sovereign rights of self-government restored to those who have been forcibly deprived of them.” Africans claimed this as a commitment on the part of the Allies to end colonial rule in Africa.

European colonies in Asia demanded and earned independence from Europe. Many Africans viewed the Asian colonies, such as India, gaining independence as examples of what was politically possible for their own countries.

Libya (1951) and Egypt (1952) were the first African nations to gain independence. Fourteen African countries gained their independence in 1960.

The struggle for independence was mainly non-violent. Unfortunately, this was not the case for the six African colonies who had not yet won their independence.

Struggles for National Liberation

At the end of the 1960s, six African colonies remained. Five were settler colonies, in which the interests of the European settler community kept the majority African populations from gaining their political freedom. These countries included: Angola (Portugal/settler) Mozambique (Portugal/settler), Namibia (South Africa/settler), South Africa (settler) and Zimbabwe (British/settler). The small Portuguese colony of Guinea Bissau and Cabo Verde in West Africa was the sixth colony.

The white settlers in these colonies had the right to vote. They used this vote to pass laws that protected the power of the European settlers and discriminated against Africans.

African nationalist parties made non-violent constitutional demands. The settler colonial governments responded by banning all political protests. The settler governments arrested and imprisoned the leaders of the banned African political parties. The most famous is Nelson Mandela, who spent twenty-seven years in jail. In 1994, he became the first president of an independent South Africa.

The transition to an armed struggle in these colonies was not an easy one. The newly formed liberation movements were too poor to purchase weapons and to train their soldiers.

After many years of struggle, sacrifice, and suffering, by 1994 all the settler colonies had won their independence.

Source: Exploring Africa
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