African Nationalism

Benyamin Neuberger. The Sage Handbook of Nations and Nationalism. Editor: Gerard Delanty & Krishan Kumar. 2006. Sage Publishing.

African nationalism is rooted in the Americas. Born as a pan-black ideology and movement, it was then called pan-Negroism. It was a diaspora nationalism and as such had similarities to and affinities with Jewish diaspora nationalism (‘Zionism’) (on these affinities, see Neuberger 1985,1986b). It was a typical minority nationalism, a nationalism of a ‘numerical minority’ (as in the United States) or a ‘sociological minority’ (as in the Caribbean) against domination by another racial group, against oppression, discrimination, exclusion and racism (on the concepts of minority and diaspora nationalism, see Smith 1971). Race was central: pan-Negroism was based on black identity, black unity and black solidarity, and on a deep intellectual and emotional connection between the African diaspora and the African homeland (on the importance of race, see Neuberger 1975).

This racial (as different from racist) pan-Africanism emerged in the latter half of the nineteenth century and in the early years of the twentieth century. In the United States it was a bitter reaction to the disappointment felt by black intellectuals in the aftermath of the Civil War. Instead of emancipation, came a whole array of discriminatory legislation, de-facto dis-enfranchisement in the South, the rise of the Ku Klux Klan and a spreading lynch ‘justice.’ Many of the black ideologues hailed from the Caribbean islands—from independent Haiti, from the British colonies of Trinidad, Jamaica and Barbados, from the French territories of Guadeloupe and Martinique, from American-held St Thomas and from British Guiana in northern Latin America. The Caribbean islands had a legacy of harsh slavery as they operated a plantation economy based on slavery and also functioned as intermediaries and markets in the slave trade. As early as 1804, Toussaint l’Ouverture led a successful slave rebellion, which led to Haiti’s independence that same year. European colonialism in the Caribbean preceded colonialism in Africa by centuries, giving rise to anti-racist and anti-colonial ideologies at a time when Africa had hardly yet become colonized. The same is true with regard to the United States in the nineteenth century. (On the history of pan-Africanism, see Esedebe 1994; Fredrickson 1995; Geiss 1974; Langley 1973; Neuberger 1977.)

The founding fathers of African nationalism are Edward Blyden from St Thomas, Marcus Garvey from Jamaica, Henry Sylvester Williams and George Padmore from Trinidad, Frantz Fanon and Aimé Césaire from Martinique, Ras Makonnen from Guiana and Burghardt Du Bois (whose father was Haitian) from the United States. Blyden migrated to Africa in the late nineteenth century, became a well-known educator in Nigeria and Sierra Leone, and Liberia’s Foreign Minister. Fanon participated in the Algerian struggle for independence and, in 1957, became an adviser to President Kwame Nkrumah in independent Ghana, as did Ras Makonnen and George Padmore. Du Bois too spent his last years in Ghana at the invitation of Nkrumah in order to edit an Encyclopedia Africana (see Blyden 1967 [1889]; Du Bois 1964 [1903], 1965 [1947]; Garvey 1963, 1980; Lynch 1971; Padmore 1956; Van Deburg 1997).

All the founding fathers viewed their nationalism as an antithesis to slavery, racism, degradation and oppression, while simultaneously emphasizing their rich historical legacy. They thus rejected the racist-colonialist claim that they had no meaningful history. Theirs was a pride in their African origins, in the African Personality.’ They repudiated the race theories that flourished in Europe and America and depicted all Negroes (as blacks were then called) as ‘savage, primitive, lazy and inferior.’ To counter such allegations, they frequently referred to a bygone black paradise, to a black pharaonic Egypt, to a historical black Ethiopia, to a black Jesus and a black Christianity (Diop 1959). The nineteenth-century Haitian scholar Joseph-Antenor Firmin countered Arthur de Gobineau’s racist classic Essai sur l’inégalitié des races humaines (Gobineau 1967 [1853-55]) with the publication in Paris in 1885 of De l’égalité des races humaines (Firmin 1985 [1885]).

The American pan-Africanists saw Africa as ‘our homeland’ and the ‘land of our fathers.’ There was an underlying assumption in their writings that the standing and fate of the black diaspora were inextricably linked with Africa’s prestige, that is with its culture, folklore, history and its historic states (such as Ghana, Mali, Songhai, Ethiopia, Egypt, Ashanti, Congo and Zimbabwe). ‘Bad’ and ‘good’ news from Africa had a tremendous impact on the pan-Africanists of the New World. They were very much aware of the large-scale massacre of Congolese in the Belgian ‘Free State,’ of the genocide perpetrated by the Germans against the Herero in German South-West Africa (today’s Namibia), of the ongoing slavery and slave-trade in Zanzibar (today part of Tanzania), of the institution of forced labour in the Portuguese and French colonies and of the harsh racist legislation in all settler colonies. They were exhilarated by the foundation of Liberia (the ‘Land of the Free’) and Sierra Leone (whose capital was named ‘Freetown’) by freed slaves, by the resistance against colonial conquest and domination in South Africa, the Gold Coast (today’s Ghana), Rhodesia (today’s Zimbabwe) and German East Africa (today’s Tanzania), and by the Ethiopian victory against the invading Italians at Adowa in 1896.

The attitude of the American pan-Africanists towards Africa was embodied in two major orientations. One current, whose most famous representative was Du Bois, regarded Africa as a historical homeland, a spiritual and cultural centre and an inspiration to the diaspora. The other aspired to an independent Africa as a power centre of all blacks in Africa and in the diaspora. The latter, whose major representatives were Blyden in the late nineteenth century and Garvey in the 1920s and 1930s, adhered to the idea of a ‘return to Africa’ (‘Black Zionism’). Garvey’s movement, the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), was populist-nationalist and spoke of the need to create a ‘Negro Empire.’

American pan-Africanism, which failed completely in America (at least in its ‘Black Zionist’ version), had a profound impact on Africa. The rising African intelligentsia adopted the ideas of independence, power, Black Empire, black unity and resistance to white domination, in particular in South and West Africa. Black nationalist ideas were also exported to Africa by black British soldiers from the Caribbean serving in Africa. Another pathway was via black American missionaries, who founded ‘Ethiopian,’ African’ and ‘Zionist’ churches, and introduced ideas about black Christianity, black churches and black government. Noted leaders of African nationalism—John Chilembwe and, later on, Hastings Banda from Nyassaland (today’s Malawi), Nkrumah from the Gold Coast and Nnamdi Azikiwe, Eyo Ita and Obafemi Awolowo from Nigeria—studied in the United States at black universities (Lincoln University, Howard University) and absorbed the pan-African ideas (Awolowo 1960;Azikiwe 1968 [1937]; Nkrumah 1962, 1963; Shepperson and Price (on Chilembwe) 1958).

In 1900 a worldwide pan-African movement was founded. Its first congresses—1900 and 1921 in London, 1919 in Paris, 1923 in Lisbon and 1927 in New York—were dominated by the black Americans. However, in the fifth Pan-African Congress in Manchester in 1945, the Africans (Nkrumah, Banda, Jomo Kenyatta) became prominent, although an important American delegation (Du Bois, Padmore, Amy Garvey, Ras Makonnen) still participated. In Manchester the first demands for national self-determination, freedom, democracy and independence were voiced, while the old, pre-World War II goals of protection, mandate and trusteeship were rejected. (On the Pan-African congresses, see Geiss 1974; Langley 1973; Thompson 1969).

From Primary Resistance to Proto-Nationalism

African nationalism stems both from the Americas and from Africa. Though the American contribution was of great ideological importance, early resistance to colonial conquest and colonial rule prepared the ground for the emergence of Africa-rooted African nationalism. If nationalism is understood simply as opposition to foreign rule, this implies it developed in the early days of colonial rule (Hodgkin 1956). If, however, nationalism is seen as a ‘modern’ ideology aiming at self-determination, nation-states, sovereignty, national unity, modernization and cultural roots, and if it is a movement led by modern, educated leaders leading modern mass-movements, parties or guerilla groups, then the stirrings of early anti-colonial wars are pre-nationalist. They are nevertheless important for the later emergence of full-scale nationalism.

The early anti-colonial wars in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century establish a continuity of resistance from the early days of colonialism to independence in the 1960s. In fact, many territories were occupied by unequal treaties with traditional rulers, and in many colonies there were, alongside rebellion and resistance, long periods of tranquility, passivity and even collaboration. Colonial powers very much exploited the diversity and enmity of various African groups within the colony by a policy of divide et impera. Nevertheless, at one time or the other, most colonial territories saw revolts and resistance, which African nationalism would later on be able to build on.

Anti-colonial resistance in the late nineteenth century is called ‘primary resistance,’ that is, resistance of local ethnic or sub-ethnic groups, led by traditional rulers and chiefs, against the colonial conquest. Such were, for example, the Swahili resistance to the German conquest of the East African coast, the Ashanti Wars against the British and the Kingdom of Dahomey’s war against the French. Later on came the ‘early rebellions’ against an established colonial administration and its abuses. These were usually large-scale rebellions, encompassed a variety of traditional and ethnic groups and were led by new leaders, ‘charismatic prophets’ who had no traditional status, but were not ‘modern’ in the sense of having been Western-educated. These rebellions broke out for a variety of reasons—insults by racist colonial officials, abuse of the native religion, forced labour (e.g. the Shona and Ndebele rebellion in Rhodesia and the Maji-Maji in German East Africa), taxation on heads, women or huts (e.g. the Hut Tax War in Sierra Leone), opposition to disarmament (e.g. the Basuto Gun War), land expropriation and the seizure of cattle (e.g. the Herero Revolt in German South-West Africa) and cruel treatment by the colonial administration and their local collaborators.

Primary resistance and early rebellions were a source of pride and inspiration for future nationalists. They proved that Africans had not been merely ‘partitioned’; they had fought and resisted, had shown courage in the face of a modern army and had not surrendered easily. They had sometimes even been victorious—the Ethiopians defeated the Italian army at Adowa (1896), the Hehe of East Africa wiped out an entire German Expeditionary Force and the Basuto’s Gun War prevented Basutoland (today’s Lesotho) from being annexed to South Africa and settled by whites. The victories, still emphasized in today’s African historiography and narratives, demonstrate that Africans did have military skills and organizational capabilities and, contrary to colonial race theory and prejudice, were in no sense inferior. (On the primary resistance and early rebellion and their connection to modern nationalism, see Ranger 1968.)

The period between the world wars is a period of proto-nationalism, or evolutionary nationalism. Proto-nationalism did not have the characteristics of a fully fledged nationalism, but had prepared the ground for its emergence later on. By the end of World War I most rebellions had been crushed by force and the colonies had been ‘pacified.’ In the 1920s and 1930s another development took place, which prepared the ground for the emergence of a post-World War II full-scale anti-colonial nationalism. Modern African social, cultural and political organizations were founded by members of the new African intelligentsia. In the colonial capitals and urban centres of most colonies, unions, congresses, parties, veterans’ associations, school graduate clubs and cultural circles emerged. Their demands were modest—more equality, more representation in legislative bodies, more openings for Africans in the middle and upper levels of the public service, the abolition of discriminatory laws. There were no demands for independence or decolonization. It had not yet become full-scale modern nationalism. It was, however, ‘proto-nationalism,’ first because the demands were partially ‘national,’ secondly because some of the leaders would later on lead the nationalist struggle and, finally, because there was some organizational continuity between the proto-nationalist organizations and the future nationalist movements (Geiss 1974).

Cultural Nationalism

Culture is important for a people’s identity and, as such, plays an important part in many nationalisms. It was especially important in African nationalism. The African renaissance had to overcome colonial notions of Africa’s inferiority, primitiveness and lack of meaningful culture. While some Africans imitated everything European and Western, thus internalizing psychological colonialism which claimed Africa was ‘different and unequal’ or ‘different and inferior,’ the nationalists countered this with Africa is different and equal,’ and sometimes with ‘different and superior.’ One such voice of cultural nationalism was found in négritu á e, a movement led by Aimé Césaire of Martinique and Léopold Senghor of Senegal. In the 1930s they already underscored the beauty of African music, folklore, painting, sculpture, dance and poetry. While colonialists saw Africa as savage and primitive, the proponents of négritu á e pointed out that this so-called ‘primitiveness’ was in reality an expression of humanity, harmony, spontaneity, love, intuition, vitality, warmth, simplicity and reflected the African’s closeness to the other, to tradition, nature, land and homeland. The African cultural nationalists recognized Europe’s advantage in military skills, technology and rationality, but they stressed African hospitality and solidarity, the African attitude toward the aged, and the egalitarian, cooperative and ‘democratic’ character of African society. (On cultural nationalism, see AMSAC 1962; Césaire 1971 [1947]; Diop 1959, 1962; Hymans 1971; Senghor 1945, 1990.)

Liberal Ideas, Modernization, and Anti-Colonial Nationalism

In the 1930s and 1940s liberal-democratic ideas about human rights and liberties, about national self-determination, the rule of law and the equality of peoples and races, and about tolerance and justice gradually percolated into Africa. Africa’s new elites absorbed these ideas at British, French and American universities, through their contacts with French socialists and British Labour leaders, and through the teachings of liberal-minded missionaries in Africa. Nkrumah, Azikiwe, Tanganyika’s Julius Nyerere, Kenyatta and his fellow Kenyan Tom Mboya, Senghor, Patrice Lumumba and Joseph Kasavuvu from the Belgian Congo, Banda, Uganda’s Milton Obote, Northern Rhodesia’s Kenneth Kaunda, Eduardo Mondlane of Mozambique and South Africa’s Nelson Mandela all fought against Western colonialism in the name of Western liberal values. They demanded that the West realize its own goals and values, but this time in Africa and for Africans. (On the introduction of liberal ideas, see Avineri 1963; Braganca and Wallerstein 1982; Hanna 1964; Hodgkin 1956; Kedourie 1970; Mutiso and Rohio 1975; Neuberger 1986a; Taylor 2002.)

The liberal ideas of freedom did not grow in a vacuum. Socio-economic change—such as urbanization, modern transportation, the spread of Western education, growing literacy, commodity agriculture replacing subsistence agriculture, international trade, the rapid rise of Christianity and Islam, the establishment of workers’ unions, student organizations, ethnic associations and political parties—prepared the ground for the rise of nationalism.

In Africa’s new colonial towns—in Dakar, Abidjan, Accra, Lagos, Leopoldville (today’s Kinshasa), Dar-es-Salaam, Nairobi, Kampala and Luanda—a ‘national’ consciousness, cross-cutting ethnic loyalties, grew among the new urban elites. Associations based on class, profession or education, developed a ‘national’ orientation and identity. Racial segregation in the colonial capitals, the visible juxtaposition of white suburbs and African slums created the conditions for nationalist mobilization.

Modern transportation made it possible for leaders from different regions and ethnic groups to meet, and for urban party activists to reach the countryside. Information and ideas were transmitted via radio and newspapers in colonial and African languages.

Modernization created a small, but sociologically and politically important, working class employed in mines and ports, on railways and in the colonial administration. Their wages were low and they worked alongside white workers whose wages were much higher. All employers and managers were white. The rise of an African working class led to the establishment of unions that made the connection between their miserable living conditions and colonialism, and played a pivotal role in anti-colonial nationalism.

The nationalist parties were also a product of modernization since parties cannot exist without educated leaders, a politicized public, a modern press and modern transportation and communication. Anti-colonial nationalism, as represented by parties like the African National Congress (ANC) of South Africa, the Kenya African National Union (KANU), the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU), the West African Rassemblement Démocratique Africain (RDA), the Union Camerounaise (UC) and the Union Nationale Congolaise (UNC), would be unthinkable without the socio-economic modernization of the 1930s and 1940s. (On the connection between modernization and the rise of nationalism, see Aluko 1974; Birmingham 1995; Coleman 1971; Falola 2001; Hodgkin 1956; Joseph 1977; Mazrui and Tidy 1984; Sklar 1994; Wallerstein 1966; Young 1970.)

Full scale anti-colonial nationalism erupted in Africa after World War II, when hundreds of thousand of Africans had fought on the Allied side in the name of liberty and self-determination, had perceived the gap between the proclamation of the Allies and colonial reality, seen the whites slaughtering each other, and the British and French need of African and Indian troops.

The 1945 Pan-African Congress in Manchester indicated a turning point. There was deep disillusionment with pan-Negroism. In the United States the struggle against oppression and for equality increasingly became a struggle for civic rights in America itself. Pan-Negroism became anti-colonial nationalism—more African, less based on race and culture (compared to racial pan-Africanism and négritude), fiercely anti-colonial and more political and territorial. The ultimate aim was liberation, though in the 1940s and 1950s, it still remained unclear whether the focus was on Africa,’ on the ‘colonial peoples,’ on regions like West Africa, East Africa or Central Africa, or on particular territories like Uganda or Nigeria.

Reformist proto-nationalism gave way to movements which arose all over Africa and demanded not only liberation, independence, self-determination and autonomy, but also democracy, ‘freedom now,’ majority rule, ‘one man one vote’ and human rights. The movement also had socio-economic goals—modernization, industrialization and education. Its aims were future-oriented rather than to revert to a traditional pre-colonial Africa, as had been the aim of primary resistance and early rebellion. Modern anti-colonial nationalism was led by Western-educated Africans (journalists, teachers, social scientists and union leaders), not by chiefs, emirs and sultans. It was a modern, polycentric nationalism (see Smith 1971), which wanted to integrate Africa into the family of nations, to assure her a respectable place on the world stage, and to close the gap between the ‘have’ nations of the North and the ‘have not’ nations of the South. Its language was no longer moderate, gradualist and evolutionary, but harshly anti-imperialist, anti-colonialist, opposed to exploitation and calling for mobilization and struggle.

The means were either a determined political struggle—demonstrations, rallies, general strikes, electoral competition and the mobilization of outside support in the colonial countries or the UN—or a violent struggle, that is, guerrilla warfare. In some countries (such as Tanganyika, Uganda, Nyassaland, the Belgian Congo or the Ivory Coast), the struggle was mainly political; in others (such as French Cameroun, Angola, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau, Southern Rhodesia), it was to a large extent a bloody war for liberation. In still other territories, like South Africa, Kenya and Namibia, the struggle was mixed, led either by one major anti-colonial movement (South Africa) or by competing and sometimes complementary political and violent anti-colonial movements (Kenya). (On modern anti-colonialism, see Birmingham 1995,1998; Hanna 1964; Hodgkin 1956; Maddox and Welliver 1993; Neuberger 1986a; Nkrumah 1962, 1963; Nyerere 1966; Young 1970.)

Anti-colonial nationalism started as an elite-nationalism of a small circle of intellectuals. It then spread to the wider urban population—mainly white-collar and blue-collar workers in the civil service, the nascent industries, the ports, the railways and the mines. It finally became mass-nationalism when the peasantry was mobilized. (On the way nationalism spreads, see Hroch 1985.) The success of anti-colonial nationalism cannot be called into question. In 1957 the first African colony (the Gold Coast) became independent. In the 1960s almost all British, French, Italian (Somalia), Belgian (Congo, Rwanda, Burundi) and Spanish (Equatorial Guinea) colonies achieved independence, to be joined in the 1970s by all Portuguese territories (Angola, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau, Cape Verde, São Tomé and Principe). Finally, in the 1980s and 1990s, the last bastions of European rule (Southern Rhodesia, South-West Africa and South Africa) succumbed to the anti-colonial onslaught.

Socialism, Communism, and Anti-Colonial Nationalism

The October Revolution in Russia (1917) has made communism a major force in the twentieth century. An in-depth analysis of anti-colonial nationalism in Africa should not disregard its direct and indirect impact, which has accelerated Europe’s withdrawal from Africa. An entire generation of educated Africans who aspired to national liberation was deeply affected by Marxist-Leninist ideas about the connection between colonialism and capitalism, about the exploitative economic nature of colonialism, about its being a product of the capitalist system. Lenin’s Imperialism—the Highest Stage of Capitalismhad a profound influence (Lenin 1939 [1917]). Lenin argued that imperialism was based on the concentration of capital, the fusion of industrial and financial capital, the export of capital to underdeveloped countries, the formation of international monopolies and the partition of the world among the capitalist powers. In the early years of the Soviet Union, anti-capitalism became identified with hostility towards the West, that is with hostility towards Western companies that operated in Tsarist Russia and towards the ‘imperialist’ powers that intervened in the Russian Civil War. Chinese Communism also perceived capitalism and Western imperialism—which directly or indirectly ruled China via spheres of influence and capitulations—as two sides of the same coin.

The communist revolutions in China, Vietnam and Cuba may be seen as anti-Western nationalism, as opposition to foreign rule by imperial powers and capitalist companies. African anti-colonial nationalism was profoundly influenced by developments in the Soviet Union, China, Eastern Europe, Vietnam and Cuba. African nationalists also associated colonial rule with capitalist exploitation by Western companies and European settlers. Capitalism was identified as a worldwide system based on the extraction of primary products from Africa and the exploitation of cheap African labour. In the eyes of the anti-colonial nationalists, colonialism was almost identical with Western capitalism, and anti-colonial nationalism was mostly anti-Western and anti-capitalist.

The communists saw the West as the common enemy of the Soviet Union, of all Communist parties around the world and of the colonized peoples. For a short period, some of the early pan-Africanists, like Du Bois, Padmore and Césaire, were members of the Communist Party (in the United States, Great Britain and France). Other founding fathers of African nationalism, like Nkrumah and Kenyatta, had loose connections with communist circles during their studies in England. In the post-World War II era, a close cooperation developed in French West Africa between the French Communist Party (PCF) and the major nationalist party, the Rassemblement Démocratique Africain (RDA), led by Félix Houphouet-Boigny from the Ivory Coast and Modibo Keita from the French Soudan (today’s Mali).

The image of the Soviet Union as a state that had, within a very short period of time, crushed capitalism, contained Western intervention, instituted agrarian reform and had become a leading industrial and military force, raised the admiration of African nationalists. In the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, capitalism was seen as an unsuitable model for rapid modernization as it had taken the West generations to industrialize and modernize. At the time, African nationalists were unaware of Stalinist oppression and terror, and their image of Soviet and Chinese progress was highly flawed.

The leaders of Africa’s anti-colonial movements accepted any assistance for their struggle. The Soviet Union and the communist parties in the West strongly supported this struggle because it weakened their Western enemy. The linkage between communism and anti-colonial nationalism in Asia accelerated the process of decolonization in Africa. The relatively swift decolonization of Western and Eastern Africa in the late 1950s and early 1960s aimed at preventing protracted guerrilla warfare and communist-nationalist fusion à la Vietnam. In the Portuguese colonies, from which Portugal refused to withdraw until 1974, the anti-colonial struggle became very much radicalized by guerrilla movements led by Marxists and supported by the Soviet Union, China and Cuba. The same held for the Southern African territories under white settler domination, namely South Africa, Southern Rhodesia and South-West Africa.

Different social groups in Africa identified with anti-Western nationalism and anti-capitalism. Peasants, integrated into the colonial money economy and growing cash crops for export, resented their dependence on impersonal market mechanisms, which determined the price of ground-nuts, coffee, cocoa and cotton and had a great impact on their well-being. They were very much aware of their exploitation by Europeans because the gap between what they were paid for primary commodities and what the foreign companies earned by selling the products in Paris, London or Brussels was enormous.

Africans were often dependent on Arab or Indian money-lenders, whom they considered to be part of the hated colonial system. In addition, colonialism introduced private ownership of land in areas that had hitherto only known communal ownership; this created a class of landlords, resulting in populist resentment amongst the peasantry that could be mobilized by the new nationalist parties and movements.

Artisans and small-scale retail traders, for whom modernization and colonialism meant competition by foreign imports and foreign trade networks, joined the nationalists. So did the workers. Their employers in ports, mines, industries and railways were either the colonial government or the European foreign companies. The labourers were uprooted from their villages, from the traditional order and from the safety net of the larger family. They lived in slums, felt isolated and alienated, their wages were meagre, and the contrasting wealth of the Europeans was all too visible. They developed growing feelings of hatred against white rule and white capitalists. This could easily be mobilized by the nationalist intellectuals and translated into ideas about the need for a radically different social order. (On the mobilization of the different social groups, see Kautsky 1976.)

Most anti-colonial nationalists did not want to imitate the Soviet or Chinese model. They wanted a socialism of their own, a national variety they called ‘African Socialism.’ African Socialism emphasized its unique African character, and can therefore be considered a form of nationalism. It rejected some of the main tenets of European Marxism, such as class struggle, hostility towards religion and historical materialism. Despite the fact that African Socialists also accepted the capitalist explanation of colonialism, they did not—as opposed to the orthodox Marxists—believe in the power of economics to shape politics.

African Socialists also argued that pre-colonial Africa was socialist and that Socialism had therefore not been imported from elsewhere. Socialism simply meant a return to the roots, the reinstatement of a traditional society based on solidarity, communality and equality. Julius Nyerere of Tanzania called this African Socialism Ujamaa (familyhood) in order to stress its African roots. The way African socialists looked at pre-colonial African society was very similar to that of the cultural nationalists, such as the proponents of négritude. (On African Socialism, see Friedland and Rosberg 1964; Nyerere 1968; Senghor 1964.)

During the anti-colonial struggle almost all African leaders identified with one or the other variety of socialism. Very few believed in capitalism. African socialists and nationalists strove not only for independence, but also for a socio-economic revolution based on accelerated industrialization, a centralized economy and state planning. In the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s very few believed in a laissez-fairemarket economy. However, African Socialism failed to effect a socio-economic transformation. This is one of the reasons why the later anti-colonial movements in the Portuguese colonies and in Southern Africa veered towards radicalism—radical nationalism, radical socialism and guerrilla warfare.

Radical Nationalism

Radical nationalism developed in the Portuguese colonies and the white settler territories of Southern Africa, which refused to join the decolonization process prevalent in most of West, East and Central Africa in the 1950s and 1960s. Portuguese colonialism dismissed moderate demands for reform and outlawed all political organizations and parties and continued with its harsh oppressive policies and forced labour. In defiance of African nationalism and liberal public opinion in the West, a harsh Apartheid regime was imposed on South and South-West Africa. In 1965, a white settler government issued a Unilateral Declaration of Independence in Southern Rhodesia. It is no coincidence that most territories that did not gain independence in the 1960s and 1970s were white settler colonies where African land was expropriated on a large scale and where the settlers imposed a policy of oppression and racial segregation. In most of these territories, armed struggle became the mode of operation of the national liberation movement.

Radical nationalism was deeply influenced by the writings of Frantz Fanon, a psychiatrist from Martinique who participated in the Algerian war of independence. In his famous books Les Damnés de la terre(The Wretched of the Earth) and Peau noire, masques blancs (Black Skin, White Masks), Fanon argued for violent struggle as the only weapon of the colonized to meet the challenge of violent colonialism. In his view only violence could mobilize the colonized masses, integrate the intellectuals and the masses, undo the colonial divide and rule, and restore dignity by creating a ‘new man’: active, creative, courageous and modern. He called not only for independence, but also for the total destruction of the colonial order. He rejected as a ‘colonialist invention’ and a ‘corrupting compromise’ any decolonization initiated by colonial powers and accepted by moderate nationalism.

The radical movements—the ANC and PAC in South Africa, ZANU and ZAPU in Rhodesia, FRELIMO in Mozambique, the PAIGC in Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde and the FNLA, MPLA and UNITA in Angola—first tried the political option, but after its rejection by the colonial governments, they opted for armed struggle. This frequently occurred after colonial massacres (1945 in Setif/Algeria; 1960-61 in Mueda and Xinavane/Mozambique; 1960 in Sharpville/South Africa; 1959 in Pijiguiti/Guinea-Bissau).

The guerrilla movements aimed at achieving independence and liberation, and also wanted to do away with all the attributes of postcolonial neo-colonialism—the capitalist system, dependence on the West, the presence of foreign companies and the rule of African oligarchies. Their rhetoric was harshly anti-imperialist, anti-colonialist, a populist hailing of the masses and the revolution. (On radical nationalism, see Cabral 1969; Fanon 1952, 1961; Henriksen 1983; Joseph 1977; Mondlane 1969; Neuberger 1990; Nkrumah 1968,1969,1970.)

Continental Pan-Africanism

Continental pan-Africanism is another variety of African nationalism. While racial pan-Africanism (pan-Negroism) was still important in the fifth Pan-African Congress in Manchester (1945), pan-Africanism became continental in the 1950s. It detached itself from the black diaspora and now included Arab North Africa. The driving force behind this development was Kwame Nkrumah, who became Ghana’s first president in 1957. In a way, continental pan-Africanism imitated Gamal Abdul Nasser’s pan-Arabism, which had a strong appeal in the Arab world in the 1950s and 1960s. Continental pan-Africanism was built on what was perceived as a common colonial past of Arab and African Africa, and on a growing Afro-Asian solidarity, which emerged after the first Afro-Asian summit in Bandung/Indonesia in 1955. These were the times of a rising ‘neutralist’ Third Bloc (later to include Latin America and become the Third World). White Arabs were accepted by pan-Africans as fellow Africans and non-Europeans, and as part of the ‘colonial peoples.’ Nasser’s strong support of African independence movements, which had their base in Cairo, whence they could broadcast in African languages, strengthened African-Arab ties. So did the Algerian War of Independence (1954-62), which became a symbol of anti-colonial struggle, heroism and pride.

In Africa Must Unite, Nkrumah proposed the creation of a United States of Africa, a strong united African state similar to the USA and the Soviet Union (Nkrumah 1963). He thought this was the only way to liberate the whole of Africa, to create development and prosperity through a common market, to have an African say in world affairs and to avoid the weakness caused by balkanization and fragmentation. Nkrumah and his supporters thought Africa’s partition and borders were artificial and would become redundant in the future United States of Africa.

In April 1958 Nkrumah convened the first Conference of Independent African States (CIAS), to be attended by African Ghana, Liberia and Ethiopia, as well as Arab Egypt, Libya, Sudan, Morocco and Tunisia. In December 1958 another important conference convened in Accra, the All African Peoples’ Conference (AAPC), which assembled representatives of governments, parties and underground movements from all over Africa. In the 1960s, the CIAS and the AAPC convened annually.

Nkrumah and other leaders also tried to fulfil the pan-African dream by uniting colonial territories. In the late 1950s and the early 1960s the efforts to create unions of independent African states included the Ghana-Guinea Union, the Association of Independent African States (Ghana and Liberia), the Union of African States (Ghana, Guinea and Mali), the Mali Federation (French Soudan and Senegal) and the East African Federation (Kenya, Tanganyika and Uganda). All these efforts ended in failure. The only fusions to succeed were the Republic of Somalia (Italian Somalia and British Somaliland), which disintegrated in the 1990s, the unification of French Cameroun and the British Southern Cameroons, the unification of British Togoland and the Gold Coast within Ghana, the fusion of Nigeria and the Northern Cameroons, and the union of Tanganyika and Zanzibar, which resulted in the creation of Tanzania in 1964. There were local, historical, cultural and ethnic reasons for each of these successful mergers, but pan-Africanism also played a role.

A United States of Africa failed because territorial nationalism proved to be stronger. The new ruling elites did not want to give up their sovereignty and power; in addition, there were deep cleavages between Arab Africa and Black Africa, between the Francophone and Anglophone states and between the pro-Western and the pro-Soviet governments during the Cold War. Instead of achieving a maximalist pan-Africanism, what was achieved was a minimalist-functionalist version of pan-Africanism in the form of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), founded in 1963 and transformed into the African Union (AU) in 2002. The OAU/AU is not one state, but a loose international organization of states that remain independent and insist on the principles of sovereign equality, non-interference and territorial integrity. The OAU was, nevertheless, very successful in its struggle for the liberation of the Portuguese colonies, UDI-Rhodesia, South-West Africa and Apartheid South Africa. Both the OAU and, later on, the AU effectively put an end to some inter-African wars (e.g. Morocco-Algeria in the 1960s, Ethiopia-Eritrea in the 1990s) and to civil wars (e.g. Mozambique in the 1980s). However, it failed in other cases (e.g. Nigeria-Biafra in the 1960s, Sudan in the 1980s and 1990s, Rwanda in the 1990s). The OAU/AU also became an organization for inter-African cooperation in economics, transportation, education and technology. Similar functionalist organizations were established on the regional level, the most successful of which are the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which comprises both Anglophone and Francophone states, and the Southern African Development and Cooperation Council (SADC). (On continental and regional Pan-Africanism, see El-Ayouty and Zartman 1984; Foltz 1965; Legum 1965; Mazrui and Tidy 1984; Neuberger 1977; Nyerere 1963; Welch 1966.)

Territorial Nationalism and Nation-Building

The failure of pan-Africanism has meant that nation-building has had to be accomplished by territorial nationalism in each colony about to become an independent state. With few exceptions, like Somalia, Lesotho, Botswana and Swaziland, the populations in these states were multi-ethnic. There was not one ethno-cultural nation in one single colony so that the newly independent states were not nation-states. Anti-colonial nationalism in the various colonies was a ‘nationalism without a nation, a nationalism that aimed at liberation, self-determination, unity, power, prestige and finding roots, to create a new nation. The French, British and Italian nations came into being in a similar way. Anti-colonial and postcolonial nationalism could build on a common colonial history, which had lasted for 60-80 years, on a common European language (French, English, Portuguese) among the territory’s elites, on links established within the colony-turned-state through commerce, transportation, communication and urbanization, and on a common anti-colonial struggle. Many of the anti-colonial movements did indeed stress their loyalty to the territory in its colonial boundaries by adopting the colony’s name. They were named the Kenya African National Union, the Tanganyika African National Union, the Zimbabwe African Peoples’ Union, the Nyassaland African Congress, the South West African Peoples’ Organization (SWAPO), the Parti Démocratique de Guinée (PDG), the Parti Démocratique de la Côte d’Ivoire, the Frente de Libertaçâo de Moçambique (FRELIMO), the Partido Africano da Independência da Guiné e Cabo Verde (PAIGC) and the Movimiento Popular para la Liberación de Angola (MPLA). Most of them insisted on maintaining the ‘sanctity’ of the colonial boundaries. In many colonies and postcolonial states, major ethnic groups, such as the Kikuyu and Kalenjin in Kenya, the Hausa-Fulani in Nigeria, the Wolof in Senegal and the Amhara in Ethiopia, had vested interests in preserving the postcolonial status quo. (On the problematics of nation-building within the colonies turned states, see Neuberger 1994,2000; Nzongola-Ntalaja 1993; Rotberg 1966; Rothchild 1986, 1991; Rothchild and Oluronsola 1983; Yeros 1999.)

Various ways and means were adopted to forge new nations. Frequently, a common history was invented by the creation of integrative common myths. Thus, the Mau-Mau rebellion, led by ethnic-Kikuyu but opposed by many other ethnic groups, became an all-Kenya anti-colonial struggle. The Maji-Maji Rebellion in German East Africa, the Ashanti Wars in the Gold Coast, the Herero Revolt in German South-West Africa and the Zulu Wars in South Africa have become ‘nationalized’ in a similar way in today’s Tanzania, Ghana, Namibia and South Africa respectively. (On the use of history in nation-building, see Ajayi 1966; Anderson 1991; Kalinga 1998; Neuberger 1987.)

Another way to foster integration is by ‘nationalizing’ the tradition and folklore of one or several ethnic groups. In Banda’s Malawi, for instance, Chewa culture and tradition were taught to be truly Malawian (see Forster 1994). Another strategy of nation-building is through linguistic integration: either by institutionalizing one indigenous language as national language (Swahili in Tanzania, Somali in Somalia, Amharic in Ethiopia, Malagacy in Madagascar, Arabic in the Sudan, Swati in Swaziland), or by strengthening a common European lingua franca (English in post-Apartheid South Africa and Namibia, French in the Ivory Coast, Portuguese in Angola). Sometimes, a common ideology was thought to be the right device for nation-building: Ujamaa in Tanzania from the 1960s to the 1980s, Marxism-Leninism in Ethiopia in the 1980s, Islamism in Sudan in the 1980s and 1990s, Christianity in Zambia in the 1990s and authenticité in Mobutu’s Zaire in the 1980s.

New centrally located inland capitals replacing colonial coastal capitals were another device of nation-building adopted by Nigeria (Abuja), the Ivory Coast (Yamassoukro), Tanzania (Dodoma) and Malawi (Lilongwe). Another deliberate step taken to enhance the population’s pride in the historical state was by Africanizing the name of the state or of its capital. The Gold Coast thus changed its name to Ghana, the French Soudan to Mali, Southern Rhodesia to Zimbabwe, Northern Rhodesia to Zambia and Upper Volta to Burkina Faso. The capitals Leopoldville and Salisbury became Kinshasa and Harare. An additional nation-building strategy was to reduce socio-economic gaps between regions and ethnic groups by heavily investing in the poor and disadvantaged areas.

African nation-building rested on three basic strategies. One was the Jacobin strategy of homogenizing the country through coercion and with the use of force. The effort by Ethiopia under Haile Selassie and Mengistu Haile Mariam to ‘amharize’ the non-Amharas by suppressing their languages and culture, and by discriminating against Muslims is one example. Other examples of such Jacobin strategy are the wars waged by Sudan (1955-72, 1983-2002 and 2004) to arabize and Islamize the Africans of Southern Sudan and Darfur; the slaughter of the Arabs and Indians in Zanzibar (1964), the expulsion of the Indians from Uganda (1971) and the genocide perpetrated in Rwanda (1994).

A second basic strategy is gradualist nation-building. In an attempt to mould one ethno-cultural nation in the long run this strategy accepts pluralism in the short run while rejecting coercion and force. This melting-pot strategy relies on integration by a common European or African language, communication and the growth of a shared patriotism over time. It was favoured by regimes like Nkrumah’s Ghana, Nyerere’s Tanzania and Banda’s Malawi.

A third strategy aims to build an ethno-culturally heterogeneous, pluralist civic nation. Pluralism may be either fully insitutionalized through federalism or regional autonomy (as it has been in Nigeria since independence, in Ethiopia after 1991, and in Sudan between 1972 and 1983). It can also be partially formalized through ethno-cultural provinces (as in Kenya) or provinces that are at least in part ethno-cultural (as with the Western Cape and Kwazulu-Natal in post-Apartheid South Africa). One additional pluralist strategy is non-institutionalized pluralism, such as in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and in the Ivory Coast. (On the different strategies, see Neuberger 1984, 2000.)


African nationalism has meant different things to different people over different periods of time: pan-Negroism in the second half of the nineteenth century until World War II; primary resistance and early rebellions against colonial rule in Africa from the 1880s to World War I; proto-nationalism between the world wars; modern anti-colonial nationalism in the 1940s and 1950s; radical nationalism in the 1970s and 1980s; territorial nationalism before independence and nation-building in the post-colonial state. One could have added white settler nationalism in South Africa or Southern Rhodesia, but the focus of this chapter has been on black African nationalism.