You are on page 1of 8

Factors For The Growth Of African Nationalism

Nationalism can be defined as the desire for Africans to end all forms of foreign control and influence so
as to be able too take charge of their political, social and economic affairs. Before 1960 most of Africa was
still under colonial control. However, by 1970 most of Africa was independent of European colonialism.
Several factors contributed to the rise of African nationalism.

The loss of independence to foreigners and the introduction of foreign systems of government caused
feelings of resistance among rulers and peoples of Africa. Therefore foreign control caused feelings of

There were also unfair colonial policies. Colonial economic policies such as taxation, forced labour and
compulsory growing of crops caused discontent among Africans. The suffering of Africans which was also
expressed in form of armed resistance in many countries marked the growth of African nationalism.

The settlement of large numbers of European settlers in different parts of Africa caused growth of African
nationalism. Large numbers of Africans were displaced from fertile lands in Kenya, Zimbabwe, Tanzania,
South Africa and many other countries. This caused destruction of African culture, poverty, hunger and
other forms of suffering. It also exposed Africans to segregation. This caused the need to fight for political
freedom and self determination.

The emergence of the new super powers, that is, USA and Soviet Union, replaced Britain, France and
Germany which had failed to protect world peace. The new powers wanted to be free to pursue their
trading interests in Africas wanted to spread the ideology of capitalism. Also Russia, wanted to spread
communism. They therefore put pressure on colonial powers to decolonize. In addition they provided
support to liberations movements for example, scholarships for education. They also used their influence
in the UN to call for independence of African colonies this encouraged the growth of nationalist

Also important to note is the improved transport network and urbanization. Improved transport led to
concentration of population in mining centers, cash crops growing and processing areas and port cities.
This in turn caused urbanization. Many people from different ethnic groups migrated to the towns. People
of different cultural backgrounds shared their experiences. They suffered the same problems of racial
discrimination, unemployment and poor living conditions. People decided to unite and fight for

Colonial education also contributed to the rise of African nationalism. As a result of colonial education a
group of African elite with anti-colonial sentiments emerged. These educated Africans later became
leaders of nationalist movements. They played a decisive role in the mobilization of their people for
political independence. They include Nkwame Nkrumah, Jomo Kenyatta, Modibo Keita, Mamadou Dia,
among others.

News papers also played a major role. After World War II there emerged a big number of educated elite
who founded a number of news papers. The elite used these news papers to expose colonial exploitation
and to mobilize the people for the nationalist struggle.

The influence of decolonization in Asia also played a big role in the growth of African nationalism. The
independence of India and Pakistan in 1947 encouraged Africans also to struggle for political
independence. Of particular importance was Mahatma Gandhis strategy of non-violence. This was
borrowed by Nkrumah who called it positive action. It involved political campaigns, education,
newspapers, boycotts and strikes. African nationalists decided to use this strategy, hence promoting

The example of Liberia and Ethiopia also influenced nationalism. The presence of the independent states
of Liberia and Ethiopia showed that it was possible for Africans to rule there own countries. This
influenced the rise of nationalist movements.

The Pan African Movement also influenced African nationalism. Pan-African Congresses which were held
in the first half of the twentieth century emphasized the need to promote the dignity of black people and
liberate them from racial discrimination. They emphasized the idea of Africa for Africans. Of particular
importance was first Pan-African Congress which was held in Manchester in 1945. It was attended by key
figures like Kwame Nkrumah and Jomo Kenyatta. The congress resolved that Africans must organize
liberation movements to free Africa from foreign control. This encouraged the rise of nationalist

Linked to this was the work of the organization for African unity. The O.A.U supported the liberation
struggle by providing diplomatic and military support. The O.A.U liberation committee with head
quarters in Dar-essalaam under the leadership of Julius Nyerere inspired and supported nationalist
movements in Mozambique, Angola, Namibia, South-Africa, Zimbabwe, among others.

The formation of political parties also inspired nationalism. They sensitized colonial people about their
human rights and especially the need for political independence. Examples include CPP in Ghana, TANU
in Tanzania, among others.

Also important to note was the contribution of African nationalists. People like Kwame Nkrumah, Patrice
Lumumba, Abdel Nasser among others provided leadership and mobilization which encouraged the
emergence of nationalist all over Africa.

Harold Macmillan also played an important role. As a result of a powerful nationalist movement in Africa,
on one of his visits to Africa he made the famous speech called The wind of change. He observed that a
wind of change was sweeping through Africa and that colonial powers had to leave Africa to avoid
fighting. This encouraged the demand for independence.

Also important was the role of the Labour Party in Britain after 1945. The Second World War led to death,
destruction of buildings and other property. As a result, the conservative party of Winston Churchill was
replaced by the Labour Party led by Clement Atlee. The Labour Party was determined to grant
independence to British colonies, hence the rise of African nationalism.

Religion also played an important role. The growth of the Ethiopian movement, a religion which was
inspired by Biblical references, that Africa and black people would dominate the world politically, socially
and economically started in South Africa in 1892 and spread to West Africa. This encouraged pride of
black people and inspired feelings of nationalism.



The First World War, which lasted from 1914 to 1918, was mainly a struggle for supremacy among the
European powers. Africans participated in this war both as combatants and non-combatants in support of
colonial powers. The First World War also extended to Africa. German forces were pushed out of
Kamerun, Togo, German South-West Africa and German East Africa. This war had many effects on Africa.

Economic Effects

As a result of the war, trade between Africa and Europe was disrupted. This was because many countries
in Africa traded with Germany, especially in the previous 2-3 decades. As a result of the war, the cost of
goods and services was higher than the income of the people. The cost of living was so high and not

The war also had a negative effect on trade. There was an economic depression at the end of the war.
Prices of commodities fell, poverty increased. Trade with many counties stopped, especially with
Germany, the leading trade partner. For example 80% for Liberias trade involved Germany and collapse
of trade seriously affected Liberias economy, producers also suffered because of unfavorable prices on the
market. There was also unemployment. Unemployment also seriously affected thousands of demobilized
world war one veterans who returned home. Transport and work on ports disappeared and this created

The economic depression after world war one also led to urbanization and migration. Many people moved
to port cities in research of jobs. Once outside their home areas they suffered because of lack of social
support. They suffered unemployment and illness. Those people who changed from subsistence to urban
work could not support those they left in rural areas and this created more suffering.

The hard economic conditions created disturbances. For example there were workers tricks in Dahomey
(Benin) in the port of Cotonau and Mombasa port in Kenya. The strikes pointed to the unfairness of
colonial policies and contributed to the beginning of the independence struggle.

The war also led to changes in colonial economic policies. Colonial powers left the war very poor. They
therefore encouraged their colonies to be economically independent or self sufficient. In trying to get
money to support the war, colonial powers raised taxes which Africans were supposed to pay. However,
Africans were mainly involved in subsistence production and very poor. They found it difficult to raise
money for taxes.

Colonial powers learnt lessons from the war which further affected changes in their policies. Colonial
powers adopted ideas introduced during the war such as self determination, liberty, and democracy
among others. As a result, racism and exploitation in their colonies were reduced. New strategies to
develop their colonies were put forward. In British colonies they pursued the dual mandate of Lord
Lugard. Lugard had suggested that Africa should be developed to benefit Africans by improving living
standards and the rest of the world through trade. In French colonies they introduced La mise en valeur-
increasing the value of colonies through increased development.. The idea of colonial powers obligation to
develop Africa developed. However although they felt concerned about the situation of Africans this did
not include promotion of equality or liberation of Africans.

Political Effects

According to propaganda of the allied powers, the First World War was fought for democracy. It was
against militarism and dictatorship. As a result, there was much discussion about human rights, especially
civil and political rights. Many Africans who had acquired western education began to demand for greater
participation in governance and decision making. Educated Africans started news papers critical of
colonial policies. The criticism was only tolerated in British colonies because of the British traditional of
free speech. However, the demands of educated Africans could not be accepted because they were a
minority. Secondary, influence of racism was still very strong.

Many Africans were disappointed as a result of the war. Africans saw the Versailles settlement of 1919 as
an opportunity to present their complaints. However, Africans were not allowed to attend. In addition,
Germanys colonies were divided without consulting anyone. No attention was paid to geographical
spread of ethnic groups. The disappointment led to the rise of nationalism and the rise of Pan-African

Social Effects

The First World War caused loss of lives for Africans. The thousands of Africans lost life during World
War I both as combatants and labourers. More than two millions Africans died during the war. Some died
as a result of the war and others in combat while fighting on the side of their colonial masters. In eastern
Africa 100,000 died while from French North and West Africa 65,000 died. The influenza epidemic
affected large areas of Africa where about 2% of the African population died as a result of disease. There
was easy spread of disease because of movements during the war and the forced migrations encouraged
by colonial powers after the war.

During the war, Africans were exposed to racism, especially on the British side where they were restricted
from combat and only concentrated on labour such as cooking and carrying goods. Because of racist
policies and unfair treatment during the war, many Africans and blacks in the Caribbean decided to
return to Africa.


The second world war of 1939-1945 was a result of the German Chancellor, Adolf Hitlers plans to take
control of Europe. Hitler also wanted to regain territories in Africa lost as a result of Treaty of Versailles of
1919. On other hand, Mussolini the Italian dictator occupied Ethiopia in 1935 until he was forced out in
1941. Africans participated in World War II as combatants and labourers. This war affected Africa in
different ways.

The first major result of World War II for Africa was the end of colonialism. Britain and France were
replaced as world powers by Russia and USA. They had an anti-colonial tradition and encouraged colonial
powers to decolonize. The new super powers dominated the United Nations and put pressure on colonial
powers to prepare Africans for self-government. The emergence of Russia as a world power also led to the
spread of socialist and Marxist ideas especially in French colonies.

Post war Asia also contributed to the rapid decolonization of Africa. In World War II the Japanese
overrun South-East Asia, pushing the British out of Hong Kong, Malaya, Burma. The Dutch were defeated
in Indonesia. The fall of Singapore marked the worst defeat in British history. The French were defeated
in Vietnam. Some Africans had fought on the side of the French in Vietnam, for example, Ben Bella, leader
of Algerian revolution and Jean Bedel Bokassa, later president of Central African Republic. The defeat of
the white men by yellow people encouraged black people to begin on a struggle that would mark the
decolonization of Africa.

The independence of India and Pakistan in1947 and Mahatma Gandhis strategy of achieving
independence after World War II encouraged Africans to struggle for self determination. In particular,
Gandhis method of non-violence was adopted by Kwame Nkrumah and other African nationalists. This
led to the achievement of self determination of African colonies in a few years.

Another effect was the growth of Pan-Africanism. The Pan-African movement started at the end of ther
19th C to promote the interests of black people both in Africa and the Diaspora. The attack of Italy on
Ethiopia in 1935 and the defeat of Italy in 1941 served to unite black people in Africa and the rest of the
world against colonial rule. It encouraged the growth of black nationalism, leading to the convening of the
5th Pan-African Congress which was held at Manchester in 1945. The solution of the congress to push for
the immediate end of colonialism in Africa resulted in the formation of mass political parties. As a result
most African countries achieved their independence between 1960 and 1970.

The war also resulted in the formation of the UN which in turn affected events in Africa. In 1941 American
president Franklin Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill signed the Atlantic Charter
which called for self determination of all peoples. This idea was adopted by United Nations Charter of
1945 which also called for independence and improvement of livelihoods colonized peoples. The
development of human rights system which began in 1948 with the signing of the Universal Declaration of
Human Rights has led to the improvement of livelihoods in Africa through the promotion human rights,
for example for children and women. In addition, the United Nations Trusteeship council put pressure on
colonial powers to grant independence to African states. The formation of the UN also encouraged the
growth of African nationalism which in turn led to the rapid decolonization of Africa.

The Second World War economically affected Africa in many ways. During the war the needs of European
powers led to economic expansion in Africa. This led to expansion on the growth of cash crops and small
scale industry, for example, the supply of groundnut oil from Senegal. There was also expansion in mining
because of the need for different minerals by the European powers. In Kenya Africans were allowed to
grow crops.It was previously not allowed to grow, for example tea and coffee.

War time industrialization led to greater expectations for Africans as Africans demanded for
industrialization in their countries. There was inflation as a result of high prices for imports and low ones
for exports. This affected living conditions of Africans.

As a result of the war, more jobs were created especially in French West Africa. This in turn caused
migration of large numbers of people to cities.However as the numbers of migrants increased there was
unemployment. Africans especially produce rubber and other goods. The economic hardships in turn
caused discontent and led to the rise of African nationalism.

The post war period marked increased exploitation of Africa by the colonial powers. There was increased
dependence of Africa on the western world. This was because of emphasis on the production of cash
crops. Cash crops were exported a low prices as compared to imports while industrialization was
discouraged. The post war period also marked increased destruction of African culture as a result of
colonial education.