Rise And Growth Of Nationalism After World War II

Post date:



83 / 100

Rise And Growth Of Nationalism After Second World War (15 Internal And External Factors)

Nationalism in the African context may be defined as the struggles by Africans to free themselves from foreign rule, and to determine, after independence has been won, their own future. In the period before the Second World War, nationalism was aimed at resolving certain grievances of the elites.

Rise Of Nationalism
Rise Of Nationalism

The nationalists demanded better prices for agricultural commodities and fair treatment for African businessmen and merchants in their competition with Europeans who dominated the economy. Africans also wanted representation in the legislative councils which usually had European majority.


Several factors accounted for the sudden change in the tempo of nationalist activities after the Second World War (1939 – 1945). These factors were both internal and external with the latter propelling the former. It is therefore important to start the discussion with the external factors.

External Factors

The external factors Which inspired nationalism in British West Africa included those conditions which occurred outside the British colonial territories in West Africa but which had effect on nationalism in these countries. Some of these factors are outlined below:

  • DeveIopments in Asia

Certain events that took place in Asia during the Second World War affected the pace of nationalism in British West Africa. Britain was a great world power but she was defeated by Japan, a small power, during the war. She also lost Malaya and many other South East Asian countries. These defeats suffered by Great Britain were a big blow to her supposed invincibility.

The nationalist struggle for independence in India, Indonesia, Pakistan and Burma also reached its peak during the war period. Beside, the Chinese Revolution of 1949 which overthrew the prevalent social and political order and installed a revolutionary Marxist government that was actively supportive of the cause of the masses and the oppressed had a significant effect on Asian, and by extension, African nationalism.

These events damaged the prestige of Britain as a dominant world power and called into question her capacity to protect its colonial territories. The defeat of Britain had a psychological effect on the colonized people and, this encouraged their resolve to fight for self-rule. It also compelled the British Government to review its colonial policy.

The war in Asia also gave rise to an increased demand for West African cash crops such as cocoa, rubber palm oil, cotton and groundnut. Besides, the contributions of Nigerian soldiers to the war efforts especially in retaking the lost territories enhanced the value of Nigeria to Britain.

  • Atlantic Charter

The Atlantic Charter was signed in August 1941 between the British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill and President Franklin Roosevelt of the United States. The agreement contained a blueprint about how to win the Second World War. It also recognized the need to respect “the right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they will live”.

This clause was given different interpretations by all the parties concerned. To the nationalists, the declaration represented an acknowledgment of their right to self-determination. Churchill, on the other hand, claimed that the declaration applied only to European states. President Roosevelt, however, maintained that the Atlantic Charter applied to all humanity.

The liberal interpretation given by Roosevelt and the support which the colonized people received from the generality of American and British public opinion gave a big boost to the moral of the nationalists in their struggle for independence. The narrow interpretation given by Churchill, contrary to expectation, rather strengthened the belief of the nationalists that Britain was not ready to terminate her imperial rule.

  • American Influence

Ever since the signing of the Atlantic Charter, the American government and people rose stoutly against colonialism, which they saw as evil. The aggressive anti-colonialist stance of the government and people of the USA should not be a surprise since the United States was herself a former colony of Britain, and she recognized the deleterious effects of colonialism.

  • Attitude of British Labour Party

The British Labour Party was a major influence on nationalism in the colonial territories. The party, though a part of the British government, condemned colonialism as immoral. The party also recognized the right of all people to choose their own form of government. The attitude the British Labour Party might have favourably influenced the British post-war colonial policy.

  • War Propaganda

The war propaganda of both the Allies and the Nazi centered mainly upon the desire of all people for freedom. That is, they promised all countries freedom. You cannot promise freedom in one breath and deny it in another breath.

  • Colonial Development and Welfare Acts

As a result of the riots and disturbances that took place in British West Indies in 1938, a Royal Commission was instituted by the British Government to examine the social conditions of the colonial territories and recommend measures to alleviate the poor living condition of the people. The Report of the Commission released in 1940 revealed the deplorable social conditions of the people living in the colonial, territories and, it therefore recommended radical changes in colonial policy.

To redress the situation, the Colonial Development and Welfare Act of 1940 was promulgated. The Law was a recognition by the British government of the need to improve the social and economic conditions of the people.

One immediate consequence of this law was the introduction of development plans in these countries. The British Government, for example, gave Nigeria £23 million for this purpose in 1945. The availability of the money made it possible for the colonial government to provide roads, schools, hospitals and communication facilities, etc which helped to open up the country and improve the standard of living of the people.

  • United Nations Charter

The United Nations Charter of 1945 recognized the right of all colonial people to freedom. The Charter therefore provided a basis for nationalist agitation.

  • Activities Of Students Abroad

The African students, based in London played a great role in energizing and encouraging the nationalist movement at home. The students, under the auspices of the West African Students Union (WASU) pressed for constitutional changes by organizing rallies and writing petitions.

WASU, for example, sent a petition to the Secretary of State for the Colonies on 6th April, 1942 in which it demanded for complete self government within five years. Similarly, several cultural associations such as the Egbe Omo Oduduwa and a branch of the NCNC were established in London by Nigerian students.

Although the demands of WASU and other student bodies for self-government in the 1940s might appear incremental and premature, their activities provided a valuable experience for the students who later played a key role in the struggle for the independence of their respective countries.

  • Role of Ex-Servicemen

The British Government promised the payment of demobilization and resettlement allowances to the West African troops deployed to fight in South East Asia, North Africa and East Africa. She, however, reneged on this promise and the soldiers were summarily discharged without benefits. This angered the ex-servicemen who quickly joined the discontented elements among the population on their return home.

During the war, the ex-servicemen also interacted with the white soldiers at close quarters. They discovered, to their utter surprise, that the white soldiers were like them in every respect. The ex-servicemen found out that the white people could cry, feel pain and die like any other human being and, above all, could be defeated. They had previously thought that the white people were superhuman. The war revelation gave them a feeling that if the, African nationalists were well organized, they could wrestle power from the colonialists.

Furthermore, some ex-servicemen had acquired new knowledge and skills and some of them could now speak English language. Moreover, a large majority of them became financially independent.

Internal Factors

The internal factors which encouraged nationalism in British West Africa included the following:

  • Unpopular Colonial Policies

Unpopular colonial economic policies which alienated the government from the people encouraged nationalist agitation in British West African territories. Colonial policies, including government’s control of the economy, stabilization of prices of export products like cocoa, and palm products through the marketing boards, and domination of the export trade by European firms discouraged the indigenous businessmen.

Thus, while the prices of cash crops produced by Nigerians were falling, the prices of imported manufactured goods were rising.

The nationalists simply capitalized on the disaffection of the people with the colonial government and contended that the government should be held responsible for the economic crises.

  • Discrimination in the Civil Service

The discrimination against Africans in the civil service also encouraged nationalism in British West Africa. British officials received higher pay than their African counterparts and enjoyed more rapid promotion. The Europeans were also entitled to better housing and medical facilities. In the early stages of British colonialism, Africans were recruited into junior posts in the civil service and barred from promotion to the senior grades which were reserved exclusively for Europeans.

Several agitated civil servants like Herbert Macaulay simply realigned and threw their hats into the ring.

  • Growth of Trade Unions

The discriminatory labour practices in the civil service and the high cost of living resulted in to the emergence of several trade unions. Their primary objective was to promote the interest of workers. Since it was often difficult to draw a clear line of distinction between economic and political issues, some of the labour management problems soon assumed a political dimension.

This was illustrated by the Railway Workers Union’s strike of 1945. The strike which was led by Michael Imoudu received maximum support from the nationalists and was given maximum coverage in the nationalist newspapers such as the West African Pilot and the Daily Comet. The newspapers were initially suspended and later proscribed by the colonial government on 8th J uly, 1945 for alleged misrepresentation of facts of the strike. But the panic action of the government only aggravated the strike.

  • Establishment of Political Parties

As said before, the introduction of the elective principle by the Clifford Constitution of 1922 in Nigeria resulted in the immediate establishment of many, political parties, but the parties had limited political objectives. The entry of the National Council of Nigeria and Cameroon (NCNC), the Action Group (AG) and the Northern People’s Congress (NFC) into the political scene after the Second World War, completely changed the face of African nationalism as nationalists agitated for immediate self-governance and independence.

  • Establishment of Newspapers

The establishment of newspapers by nationalists before and after the Second World War helped the nationalists to present their views and mobilize the people against colonialism. Some of the prominent newspapers were the West African-Pilot, the Daily Comet and the Nigerian Tribune.

  • Expansion of Educatonal Facilities

The expansion of existing educational facilities and the establishment of new schools and colleges after the Second World War to meet the manpower requirements of the colonial government also facilitated nationalism in British West Africa. In the 1940s, the Yaba Higher College (now Yaba College of Technology), and the University College, lbadan were established to complement the training of high-level manpower for the civil service.

These institutions produced several graduates for work in the civil service and self-employment. Their political consciousness was expectedly high, but the racial discrimination, and the lack of opportunities for promotion in the civil service as well as the neglect of the educated elite by the colonial government caused a great deal of discontent in the system.

Many of the educated people simply joined the nationalist struggle to soive their own problems and win political independence for the country.

Facebook Comments Box