African nationalism played a significant role in the resistance against foreign domination and had been a major influence in the lives of Africans throughout much of the continent. It is often defined as the political movement that called for African unity in the struggle for self-determination against colonial regimes. Its general history can be summarized as having occurred in the following fashion.
The earliest known African nationalist groups had first come into existence beginning in the late nineteenth century. The Aborigines Rights Protection Society in the Gold Coast was the first such group that was formed in 1897. Groups that were formed shortly after that were the African National Congress in South Africa in 1912 and the National Congress of West Africa in 1920. Many African-run churches, such as the Kitwala and Kimbanguist churches, also began participating in nationalist movements during the 1950’s.
By 1939 almost all the African territories had nationalist groups working for them. Kwame Nkrumah, who would later become Africa’s first ever prime minister, formed the Gold Coast Convention People’s Party in 1948. Most of the groups aspired towards self-determination for single territories; examples of such groups included the Tanganyika African Association and the Rhodesian Bantu Voters Association. Very few groups, which included the National Congress of British West Africa, aspired towards Pan-African unity.
After WWI the desire for African self-determination was bolstered by U.S. President Woodrow Wilson’s support for it, which he emphasized about in his Fourteen Points. It was not until after WWII however, when African nationalist groups began fervently working to end colonialism within their nations. America’s anti-colonialist stance, as stipulated in the 1941 Atlantic Charter, the Soviet Union’s censure of colonialism, and the generally weakened position of the colonial powers after WWII encouraged calls for independence from various African territories. This led to the eventual political emancipation of these territories, beginning with Kwame Nkrumah becoming the prime minister of an independent Ghana in 1957. The rest of Africa became politically independent of colonialism beginning in the 1960’s.
Mills (n.d) provides a description of how African nationalist groups were formed during the years prior to resistance. He explains that African Initiated Churches (AIC’s) were prominent groups that staged resistance some 10-20 years prior to the formation of actual nationalist groups. AIC’s came into existence throughout Africa beginning in the 1890’s and were initially in response to African concerns on the domination by whites over church finances and offices. Middle class African intellectuals who wished to be bestowed political power by colonialist regimes formed other types of resistance groups. Later, more forms of resistance came about from African working-class groups such as trade unions, friendly societies, sports associations, and so on. After 1945 all these diverse interest groups were later merged into the large nationalist movements that began working towards achieving independence from the colonialist powers.
Mills (n.d) explains that historians often dichotomize African nationalism into two distinct groups according to their long-term nationalist goals for post-independence Africa. The first type of group was termed as being the primary resistance, which was characterized as consisting of individuals whose goal was to reinstate the traditional African societies that existed prior to the advent of colonialism. The second type of group was termed as the secondary resistance, which consisted largely of Africa’s intellectual elites who wished to develop modern civil societies within post-independence Africa. Mills noted that groups tended to often display both types of resistance tendencies, thus making the dichotomy inapplicable to every situation.
African nationalism came about as a strong reaction towards the unjust political, economic, and social domination of Africa by its European colonialist masters. Nationalists were affected by several ideological influences from outside Africa. Foremost among these influences was the ideology of Pan-Africanism. This point-of-view supported the notion of African unity and was inclined towards achieving such unity not only among the peoples of Africa, but also among people from throughout the world who possessed African ancestry.
In terms of African nationalism, it helped Africans to appreciate their racial and cultural heritage in the face of extreme hatred and prejudice displayed by the colonialist powers especially during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It also helped to unite Africans of differing ethnic, economic and social backgrounds towards calling for independence from foreign control. It provided a source of pride in race and identity among the intellectual elites of Africa, particularly those who studied abroad. It inspired Africans to consider the formation of political and economic organizations that would help to unite the continent in a post-colonial world. It also inspired them to learn not to make the same mistakes Europe made which eventually led it towards two terrible world wars. Finally, it helped peoples of African descent from elsewhere around the world to begin supporting African nationalism and independence from within their own countries.
African nationalism was one of the primary factors behind the overthrow of colonialism in the continent. It started as a set of diverse organizations that began resisting colonial rule in various ways and eventually led to the formation of nationalist movements that called for complete independence. African nationalism helped to attract peoples from throughout Africa through its embrace of Pan-African ideology. It wished to give Africans the hope for a better future in a post-colonial world.
African nationalism.” Hutchinson’s encyclopedia website. (2005). Retrieved April 18, 2005 at http://www.tiscali.co.uk/reference/encyclopaedia/hutchinson/m0029558.html
Mills, Wallace G. “Nationalist and independence movements in British colonies.” (n.d.)
Retrieved April 19, 2005 at http://husky1.stmarys.ca/~wmills/course317/13African_Nationalism.html
Mills, Wallace G. “Origins and development of African nationalism.” (n.d.) Retrieved April 19, 2005 at http://husky1.stmarys.ca/~wmills/course322/17African_natm.html
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