Decolonization of African Nations

Comparison of the Scramble For Africa in different time periods.  (Creative Commons photo. Attribution to author and info can be found here)


Since the Scramble for Africa, European countries had continued to take land in Africa. Western powers had taken over the vast majority of Africa by the 20th century. These powers would take over countries for the express purpose of taking their natural resources so that they could make money off these countries. Unfortunately for the Africans, this system would cripple African economies over time and lead them to be more dependant on European countries over time. The 20th century would be the time period in which the revolts against this system would grow exponentially though. Ethnic leaders and the educated elite would often lead the charge in these movements, but be denounced by the Europeans as “chiefs” and “tribes” instead of kings and ethnic groups.

The major turning point in the fight for freedom would be found in World War II, which would feature some harsh fighting in North Africa between the US forces and one of Hitler’s best generals in Rommell. African

soldiers wereused to fight many battles during this war and it led them to expect a higher degree of freedom for their actions. This feeling was furthered by a philosophical document called the Atlantic Charter (1941). This charter would be signed by Roosevelt (US) and Churchill (UK) claiming that both countries would “respect the right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they will live; and they wish to see sovereign rights and self government restored to those who have been forcibly deprived of them.” While this wasn’t a legal treaty or a document that was supported by the rest of the governments of these two men, it was a document the leaders tried to hold each other to moving forward. This would have been a tougher thing to ask had it not been for the fact that Europe was in shambles after the war and many of the countries with colonies were in desperate need of money to rebuild their own cities. This need would make it extremely unlikely that the countries could afford to keep these overseas colonies, so there was a wave of colonies attaining independence directly after the war was over.

At the same time the Africans started a wave of movements to either unify as Africans to fight the oppression they were dealing with or start to appreciate the beauty and history of the African people. The most important of these movements was undeniably the Pan-Africanist movement, which tried to unify Africans all over the globe in fighting against the oppression they had been dealing with. Educated leaders would unite in fighting against the struggles of slavery, racism and colonialism. A few well known US citizens would push this movement all over the US also. The famous WEB Dubois and Marcus Garvey would push a similar narrative not only in the US but also in Africa in a number of different ways. Dubois would actually visit Ghana to help this movement and would be denied the right to return to America due to his possible communist ties. The most important of these unity conferences would be the 5th Pan-African Congress, which would host a who’s who of important educated Africans, many of which would become leaders of countries soon after, and together these leaders would demand and end to colonies.

Other African movements would focus on the general thought process of what it meant to be African. Centuries of being treated as if Africans were ‘less than’ the value of Europeans had a dramatic effect on the mindset of African people. The people had internalized this idea that Africans and African culture was not as good as their European counterparts. So leaders started to counter this narrative with movements aimed at placing more value on African culture and values than people were doing at the time. These movements, which often fall under the name “negritude,” weren’t anti-European but were about loving yourself more. Unfortunately, like the ‘Black is Beautiful’ movement in the United States, they would be misinterpreted to mean something more like ‘black power’ from the Europeans.

All of these concepts would be tied up in the dramatic independence movements that followed, to varying degrees for the next few decades. Due to the time this was happening, however, these movements would also become part of a worldwide conflict between the superpowers of the world. Each of these countries would be used as pawns by the US or the USSR (Russia) in their Cold War fights over the spread of communism. Countries would be forced to pick a side during these independence movements so that they could receive monetary help from someone, but by doing so they would automatically make an enemy of the other side. Often times the US and USSR would be supporting different groups within the movements in countries and be showering their side with money to help them win. This situation made these movements infinitely more violent and bloody because of the amount of technology given to the two sides.