Nationalist Movement And The Decolonization Of Africa

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Nationalist Movement And Decolonization In Africa

Decolonization In Africa
Decolonization In Africa

Definition of Nationalism

Nationalism is could mean a certain form of unity which grows out of historical experience. It is the sense of oneness that emerges from social groups, trying to control their interest against competing groups. It can also mean a strong emotional awareness of belonging to a nation-state held in bondage by foreign dominations which leads to the struggle against such foreign rule and domination.

Introduction to Nationalist Movement

Nationalist movement is the coming together of various ethnic groups to force colonial government to grant independence to their empires. Though various cultural groups had diverse beliefs and customs, but they were able to combine forces to fight the colonial powers using the elite as front. The elite did not only provide the leadership, they coordinated, organised, and sometimes confronted the Colonial Masters with genuine reasons why they should be given independence.

After the Second world War, the demand for independence from the colonial masters became more vigorous. What made these movements more pronounced were the weakening of traditional authorities by the colonial masters, which acted as check-and-balance hitherto that were no longer there.

The attack on old believes by the imperialists; especially the Christian missionaries, the introduction of cash crops cultivation for European market, the imposition of taxation; the opening of schools which provided training for the elite,  communication network in the colonies; all these had a profound effect on the emergence of nationalism.

What Promoted Nationalist Activities In Africa Before World War II

Factors that triggered proto-nationalist activities in Africa before the Second World War are;

Definition of Proto-Nationalism

The belief that nations will benefit from acting independently rather than collectively, emphasizing national rather than international goals.

#1. Exclusion of Africans From Economic Activities

One of the factors that promoted nationalist activities before the second world war was that Africans were excluded from the economic activities of the time. For example, the import and export business was controlled by the Europeans, Syrian and the Lebanese. The retail sectors, which should have been left for the Africans, were also taken over by the same foreign elements.

Related Topic ~  Nnamdi Azikiwe (1904 - 1996)

#2. Unemployment

The Western system of education brought in its wake a large team of school graduates who did not have any form of employment.  This set of people thought they should have been given some form of employment in the civil and public service but that was not the case. These groups were left with no option but to join the nationalist movement to put pressure on the colonialists.

#3. The Role of Ex-Slaves

After the end of the slave trade, some of the slaves returned to West Africa to settle. These slaves who came from Britain saw how those places were governed  and they felt that there was the need for the Africans to be involved in the way they are governed, on their own land and in their own country.

#4. Discrimination In The Public Service

The few Africans who are employment to the public service realised that they were being discriminated against. They realised that they were being employed in the lower strata of the service though they may have the same qualification as their European counterparts. This also contributed to the rise of nationalism

#5. The Educated Elites

The educated elites felt that with their level of education, they have been given some roles to play in the governance of their country but this was not so. They were excluded from government both at the central and the local level. One of the ways of solving this was the formation of the nationalist movements of the time.

#6. Opposition to Ordinances

The introduction of the 1987 Land Bills which sought to dispose the indigenes of their fertile lands, or so it was suspected, elicited a strong opposition from the local people. The local people also opposed the Waterworks Bill of 1934 because it was seen as an obnoxious law. The opposition to these laws and others also formed the basis of proto-nationalism.

Reasons For Modern Nationalist Movements In British West Africa

European Dominations In Africa
European Dominations In Africa

Factors that promote modern nationalist activities in British West Africa includes;

#1. The Independence of Asian Countries

After the Second World War, some countries in Asia attain their independence. Such countries like India, Pakistan and Burna why granted Independence by the British. This increased the agitation in British West Africa that they could be granted independence if the fought harder.

#2. Change in African Perception:

In the Second World War, the British were defeated by the Japanese. This destroyed the invisibility surrounding the British in the eyes of the Africans. In the battles themselves, the Africa who were conscripted into the British army to help in the war efforts, realized on the battlefields that the British were humans after all. This broke the aura around them and pushed agitation for independence.

Related Topic ~  Nationalism | Definition, History, & Background

#3. The Press

After the World War II, there was a prolifecation of newspapers in West Africa. There were newspapers like the Evening Press, the Talking Drum, the West African Pilot and the Guardian, to mention but a few. The articles that were churned out in this newspapers aided to the demands for independence.

#4. Rise of the Labour Party to Power in Britain

In the 1945 general elections in Britain, the Labour Party won the majority seats in Parliament and therefore formed a government of the day. The Labour Party, in collaboration with the liberal minds in British felt there was the need to colonize the overseas territories.

#5. Return of the Ex-service men

The Africans who were conscripted to the British army to fight the battles alongside their counterparts were promised a form of pension after they were discharged from Active Service.  However, the resettlement package which was promised was not forthcoming. This forced the ex-servicemen to join in the nationalist activities.

#6. Exclusion of Africans From the Economy

It was realised that the people who had taken in the commanding heights of the economy of West Africa were Europeans, Indians and Lebanese. This was the detriment of the Africans. They were especially incensed by the fact that, even the retail trade, which should have been reserved for the Africans were also taken over by the Indians and the Lebanese especially.

Differences In Nationlist Movements Between British And French Colonies

It is evident from the history of nationalism in Africa that the movement towards independence began earlier in the British colonies than the French colonies. The activities of the National Congress of British West Africa (NCBW) and the formation of the Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP) in the early 20th century were pointed to the early embrace of nationalist struggle in British colonies.

Many factors are accounted for this, which includes;

#1. Indirect Rule System in British Colonies

It created a division between the traditional rulers and the educated elites. Because the educated Africans were excluded from the Colonial administration, they therefore portrait the traditional rulers as agents of colonial rule. In order to moderate opposition to their rule, the British rulers deliberately introduced constitutional reforms to accommodate the educated elites which in turn, speeded their agitation for right to fully control their own affairs.

On the other hand, the French Policy of Indirect Rule (Assimilation) consciously made African French educated elite member of the French Parliament. The idea was to give them a false sense that they were part of the administration of their colonies.

#2. Political Parties

Unlike France, Britain did not discourage are colonies from forming political parties. For example, while the first party emerged in Nigeria in 1922, no political party was formed in the French colonies until after World War II.

Related Topic ~  Clifford Constitution of 1922 | Features, Merits & Demerits

#3. Poor Western Education In French Colonies

French colonial administration directly limited the spread of Western education to few Africans. Missionaries were not allowed to build schools untill 1943. The only grammar school for the whole of French West Africa was ECCLE Normale Willita Plenty in Dakar, Senegal. In summary, while Britain consciously and gradually worked are colonies towards independence, France and to a greater extent, Portugal saw their colonies as extensions of the metropolitan, mother country.

Good Bye Europeans - Say No To Imperialism
Say No To Imperialism

Impact Of Nationalism

Impact of modern nationalist activities in West Africa includes;

#1. Emergence of Political Parties

One of the effects of the activities of modern nationalism is that it led to the emergence of political parties in the west African sub-region. The political parties became the tools which are used to drive home the demand for reforms in the Colonial system and later the agitation for independence.

#2. Constitutional Reforms

Another effect of the militant agitations after the Second World War was that many constitutional reforms were introduced in West Africa by colonial powers. The elective principle, which was first introduced in 1922 to Nigeria by the Sir. Hugh Clifford Constitution of 1922, was later extended to Kumasi under the 1946 Burns constitution of Ghana. In that same constitution, an African majority was introduced into the Legislative Council.

#3. Increased Social Amenities

The agitations after the Second World War by the modern nationalists lead to the increased provision of the social amenities that were needed in the colonies. New educational facilities were built, including the then University College of the Gold Coast. The road ntwork was increased and hospitals were also constructed.

#4. Self-government

The modern nationalist activities after the Second World War led to the attainment of independence, at various points, in the various colonies.

#5. It Broke The Might Around The White Men

Up until the Second World War, the black Africans held their white counterparts in a very high esteem. When the black men were recruited to fight alongside the British soldiers, they realised that the white-men were also human after all. The white men were frightened on the battlefield like any normal human being. The blacks did not therefore see why the white-men should continue to be in the helm of affairs.

#6. More Africans In Colonial Administration

With the piled up pressure to Africanise colonial administration, more and more Africans were appointed to play a major role in colonial administration. In the 1946 Richard (Nigeria) and Burns (Ghana) constitution, more Africans were introduced into the legislative council. Also more and more Africans were appointed to the upper echelons of the African civil service.


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