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07.12.2015 Feature Article

Political And Historical In-depth Analysis: Nationalism And Independence In West Africa (Africa). (1897-1939); 1945 -Independence

Political And Historical In-depth Analysis: Nationalism And Independence In West Africa (Africa). (1897-1939); 1945 -Independence
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ABSTRACT: Political scientists don’t accept anything they read but subject to proper in-depth and thorough analysis through research. Nationalism and independence shape the historical and political analysis and development of the continent called Africa.

Periodization is very indispensable and key in the overall analysis of what brings to light the historical background of the continent. Many scholars have provided periodization to nationalism in West Africa and Africa at large.

On the other hand there is to a significant extent an element of inconsistency with the periodization provided for nationalism in Africa as identified by this work due to in-depth research. The central thesis of this paper is to critically analyze what African nationalism constitutes and thus provide a consistent periodization to nationalism in West Africa as the area of concern this paper addresses.

This paper also brings to light the first nationalist movement in West Africa that have been sidelined by many scholars and thus illuminates independence as an outcome of African nationalist activities.

Key words: Nationalism, elitist politics, independence, West Africa (Africa).

The politics of the continent called Africa has got certain indispensable dynamics that need to be properly comprehended. It is worth noting that historical background and the political developments on the continent provide a proper comprehension of African politics. The politics of Africa and the various compelling and challenging themes of development that range from social, cultural and political can never be properly understood without a powerful retrospective analysis of the general origins of how the continent has been dominated and ruled for many years .several scholars have promoted and enhanced the general knowledge that surrounds Africa as a continent (see Boahen et al…1985)

For certain period the African continent had been subjugated, dominated and controlled by alien or foreign powers for the exception of Ethiopia. Boahen (1985), provides a very strong, thorough, and settled historical and political basis of Africa. He elucidates further by analyzing the system of governance involving the administration of law and justice and the organization of the economic system in such a way that the fundamental rights of those subject to it are secondary to that of the colonizing power.

Colonialism as officially began in the 1800, crippled the natives of the lands of Africa. Dependencies were created through which there was restructuring of the political, economic, social and cultural aspects of the interteritorial countries in order to serve the interest of the colonial imperialist.

By 1884, the partition of Africa had been given international legal backing and thus the Europeans were convinced that the only way to establish free trade was through political and military control of Africans As a results of this, for instance in west Africa, Britain and France intensified their spheres of influence through institution of governance, law, statutes, ordinances and through other coercive ways.

For about 56 years of official colonial subjugation in the continent ,a state of consciousness emerged ,the oneness of the black Africans in their various inter territorial states resisted ,opposed and thus raised a bone of contention towards the ordinances and system of government of the foreign imperialist. The people demanded inclusiveness as far as positions in government were concerned, protest against obnoxious statutes and ordinances.

This was one phase of that sense of resilience. On the other hand, another state of the mind as characterized by external manifestations which was radical, militant, also took center stage with the aim and objective to oust the foreign imperialist and obtain a holistic emancipation,

This paper focuses objectively what nationalism seeks to explain as far as African history and political development is concerned. As periodization is very indispensable, the two broad forms of nationalism are identified and elucidated. I establish the relationship between nationalism and independence. Within this paper I limit myself to West Africa although will touch on other African states.

A claim is then established that nationalism is not an abstract concept but a concrete phenomenon as it the external manifestation of various activities by scholars that brought to light what nationalism in its two broad forms came to light. Another claim is also put forward as I attach to a significant extent inconsistency and thus raise a critique about the periodization of nationalism by scholars by strictly identifying 1919-1935 as the genesis of nationalism and thus nationalist movements began in 1919.

By nationalist movements I shall refer to all the efforts made by the indigenous people and their rulers to resist the imposition of humiliating tendencies, ordinances, bills from the colonial leadership and all the conscious organizations and movements formed during colonial rule with the sole objective of seeking emancipation. Attention is then drawn to independence, how nationalism in another form and several factors led to the ousting of the expatriate and thus obtaining self-rule. We then finally draw some conclusions from our study.


Nationalism and independence in Africa (West Africa) to be precise have been given attention by scholars and political scientist. (See Atiemo 1995; Boahen et al...1985; Hodgkin 1956; Geiger 1990). They provide the overall, settled and thorough political and historical facts about nationalism and independence in Africa .Boahen (1985), expands the knowledge on nationalism in West Africa, with the periodization of 1919 as the beginning of nationalist activities.

But I have identified certain shortcomings in the professor’s is an established fact that with historical analysis, every aspect counts and thus periodization is very significant. Due to the in-depth research made and a general understanding of nationalism as I am about to illustrate, the periodization is inconsistent as far as the concept and theories of nationalism elucidates further.

In 1884, there was an official and international (legal) backing of the Europeans scrambling for Africa and thus partitioning the continent to establish a legal sphere of influence .as a matter of fact dependencies were created within the continent, the African states were restructured, that is their political, social, economic and cultural foundational principles in order to serve the interest of the colonizing power. Political authority was established, administration of law and justice: the indirect rule, the crown colony system, the policy of assimilation in the West African states to be precise.

Throughout the political and military subjugation of the expatriates in West Africa, there were series of agitations, resistance, articulation of sentiments and grievances by the indigenes of the various inter territorial regions. During the period of colonization there was the emergence of educated elites, intelligentsia who spearheaded this concrete resistance.

Nationalism before 2nd world war (proto): an in-depth and definitional analysis with a consistent periodization.

The term nationalism does not lend itself to a universally accepted definition. Hans (1955), defines nationalism as the state of the mind in which the supreme loyalty is due to a nation state. Oloruntmehin (1985) tries to identify nationalism by making a comparative analysis of nationalism in Europe and Africa. Hodgkin (1956) defines nationalism in abroad sense to describe any fight, claims, and aspirations of a given African society (from the level of language group to that of pan African) in opposition ,rebellion and resistance to European authority whatever its institutional form and objectives.

I define nationalism by incorporating the two forms of nationalism that occurred within the periods of 1897-1939 and after 1945(post second world war).Also I equate nationalism to nationalist movements, because it was due to these movements that brought to light what nationalism was all about. That is the external manifestation of the activities by the indigenes. Finally I define nationalism in the African context as that conscious effort of national self-assertion, interest and political movements to agitate, protest, revolt against the political authority of the colonizing power, its statutes, obnoxious laws, humiliating tendencies and finally to demand emancipation in order to obtain self-rule.

It is very clear that two forms of nationalism emerged: nationalism before 2nd world war and nationalism after Second World War. This phase of the paper deals with nationalism before the 2nd world war. (Proto nationalism).Several scholars periodize 1919-1935 as the period of proto nationalism. As far as operationalization of the (passive) proto nationalism is concerned the periodization is inconsistent. Nationalism in general and as a matter of fact proto nationalism is not an abstract concept but a concrete phenomenom.that is it was due to the various activities and movements that led to the proper understanding of nationalism.

Nationalism before the Second World War has an objective underpinnings that characterize the concept. Atiemo (1995), postulates that A. nationalism before the 2nd world war was not radical or militant and thus there was nothing like independence on the minds of the Africans. B .reforms/ resistance to obnoxious statutes, ordinance and bills Protection of the political and constitutional rights of the natives’ D .spirit of inclusiveness or inclusion in the management of the economy. The elites wanted to be part of the British or French administration or government. This means that all the movements that emerged during this period exhibited these underpinnings.

Elitist politics: This phase although a continuation of the paper identifies that this period of nationalism saw the emergence of educated elites, intelligentsia or professionals. They spearheaded the whole movement of nationalism before the world war 2.’ Elite ‘ was a group of people who were set form the rest of the society and superior because of certain qualities which they possess by virtue of ascription or achievement or modern elite was based on such personality acquired tracts as further education,proffessonal occupation, wealth or superior standard of living.doctors,lawyers,merchants ,engineers ,to mention British west Africa ,some of these elites were J .E Casely Hayford, John Mensah Sarbah ,E.J.Pbrown, I.T Wallace Johnson, Herbert Macaulay , J. W de Graft Johnson, George Huge, and Kobina sakyi. In French West Africa, there were also numerous elites. Some of them were Blaise Diagne, Prince Kojo Tovalou Houenou, and Lamine Senghor to mention few. During this period of proto nationalism, their objectives were not to overthrow the colonial system but rather its improvement and above all for an increase and meaningful role of the African in the system. Also methods such as rebellions, violent revolts and activities were completely abandoned in favour of more peaceful methods of petition, newspaper campaigns and delegations .The proto nationalism also saw the formation of large number of elitist clubs, societies and religious groups. There was nothing like political parties with the sole aim of wrestling power from the imperialist. There were several movements that were formed during this period of nationalism.

Some of these movements were the West African youth League(1935),West African students union (1925),Nigeria Youth Movements (1934), Gold coast youth conference (1936)national congress of British west Africa(NCBW) 1917.These groups and many others were formed by elites across British colonies in west Africa,; Ghana,Nigeria,sierra Leone, and the Gambia. Also in francophone West Africa, there were movements that were very the outcome of the movement led Blaise Diagne to become the first black to be elected a deputy to French national assembly for Senegal.

Some of these movements were ligue universelle pour la defence de la race noire which was founded by prince Kojo Tovalou Houenou, in 1924(Benin).Another group was the comite de la defense de la merge, formed by Lamine Senghor (Boahen 1985) Blaise Diagne did not advocate for self-government but proposed and agitated for constitutional and political rights for the people of French colonies.

But there is a sidelined protest proto nationalist movement that was formed during the political establishment of control by the Europeans. Several scholars who have written about nationalism in West Africa do not talk about this movement. As I have identified earlier that it is well noted that periodization in political and historical context and analysis counts and thus this movement is very important and contributes much to history as recorded as the first nationalist movement in west Africa. Due to this, there is a general inconsistency in the periodization by several scholars.

ABORIGINES RIGHTS PROTECTION SOCIETY (ARPS), THE GENESIS OF NATIONALISM IN WEST AFRICA: (1897-1939) as a consistent periodization of proto nationalism

The creation of the ARPS in 1897 was the first organized protest movement on anything approaching the national scale in the Gold was the first clearly nationalist organization in the gold coast and thus West Africa. It was formed in 1897 at cape coast by john Mensah Sarbah to protect the rights of Ghanaians or provided a forum within major policies affecting the country could be discussed and brought to the attention of the colonial authorities. The occasion for its birth was the passage of the land bills of 1894 and 1897 in the legislative council on 10th march 1897.The bill was aimed at empowering the colonial government to claim the ownership of land in the gold coast. The bill was vehemently opposed because according to the culture of the people of Gold coast, land belonged to the community that is the living, the dead and those yet unborn have a share in the community. The land bill was aroused the opposition of both the elite and traditional elite in Ghana because they feared that Africans would lose the ownership of much of their lands.folowing the protest a delegation was send to London ,the office of the secretary of states to withdraw that obnoxious bills.

Membership of this nationalist group were: john Wilson Say (president), John Mensah Sarbah, Jacob Peter Brown, Joseph Caseley Hayford, J. W de Graft Johnson and John Huge, to mention few. I make a claim that this was the first national because it had the characteristics of what constituted proto nationalism.

Post World War II nationalism in Africa (radical/militant): the road to independence.

The Second World War served as an impetus or catalyst which spurred the existing force basically social, economic and political should be observed that these problems were already in existence .the war only acted as a catalyst in speeding up these economic and social problems which arouse out of the very nature of the colonial system. Before the outbreak of World War II in 1939, nationalist activities were limited to the demand for participation of nationalist in the government of their countries, africanization of the civil service and abolition of all forms of racial discrimination.

Their battle cry was for reforms and not self-government though that could have their ultimate goal. Immediately after the end of the Second World War, there was the upsurge in nationalist activities, the nationalist were not demanding mere participation and reforms of the colonial system but immediate self-government.

The war shifted the whole basis of politics in West Africa. The introduction of mass political parties and the emergence of radical leaders with the demand for immediate self-government and independence ,for example the CPP preferred self-government with danger to servitude in tranquility.(Atiemo 1995).nationalist sentiments became radical and militant because several factors;

Among the major factors that influenced this form of nationalism was the role and inspiration from the pan African movement. This factor this not only strengthened but also radicalized African 1945 a conference and congress was held in Manchester by several leaders to rise against foreign domination and exploitation. There were inspirations from African leaders and African Americans especially african-americans especially we du Bois, Edward Blyden, Marcus Garvey George Padmore which helped to encourage the nationalist leaders to struggle harder for an eventual independence for the colonies.

Among other things several political parties were formed in the West Africa to grab independence from the foreign imperialist. Pan Africanism proved very popular among nationalist African leaders because it offered a way for them to overcome both regionalism and ethnic divides by stressing commonalities and a common the 1950s ,pan Africanism had profoundly influence almost every African nationalist leader; Kwame Nkrumah ,Jommo Kenyatta, Kenneth Kaunda, Haile Selassie ,albert Luthuli, and Nnamdi Aazikiwe .

The Atlantic/UN charter which was signed made several declaration of principles, whereby all allies began to defend rights and virtues .the un charter article 55, made all member nations pledge to ensure political, social, and economic developments of all people, especially countries under colonial rule .one important article talked of the “the right of all people to choose the form of government under which they will live. The charter gave African nationalist the impetus and authority to demand freedom from colonial rule.

The return of the ex-service men after the Second World War were deprived of the benefits that was promised by the colonial governments, and thus the government remerged on their promises. These men through personal experience in war had seen that the white were not superior to the Africans .they therefore supported nationalist aspirations movements and then called for self-rule.

Furthermore the influence of Asian nationalism and independence of other previously colonized countries that is the influence of political developments from sub Asian continent of India and Burma.

During the course of the war Britain and France were forced to abandon many of their colonies in Asia, but with the defeat of the axis (japan, Italy and Germany) the colonies were again taken back by them., again within few years at the end of the war, a lot of Asian countries had either gained independence of were at the verge of it. The independence of India, Sri lanker Burma and others inspired the African nationalist that self-government would not be handed on a silver platter, only determination and hard work could send them there.

Africans also asked why they could not also follow the Asians states significant group depicted to anti colonialism. These and many others were the factors that influenced the nationalism after the Second World War and thus lead to independence.

Intervals for political independence in Africa

Interval number of countries
1955-59 3
1960-64 26
1965-69 6
1970-79 9
1980-89 1
1990-99 2
2000-11 1 source: Hyden (2013)
Sub-Saharan Africa consist of forty nine independent states. All but two are former colonies. Ethiopia is the oldest country in the was never colonized. Liberia was established as an independent republic with the assistance of united states in 1847.south Africa gained political independence under white majority rule in 1910,but shifted officially to majority rule in 1994.All the British and the states gained their independence after 1956,with Sudan the first and Ghana second in 1957.`most of the states especially in west Africa that belonged to the British and the French empires gained their independence in the 1960s.also in the 1970s,some other African countries gained independence especially the colonies of the Portuguese following the demise of the Portuguese empire.(the carnation revolution of 1974).the five colonies Angola ,cape Verde ,guinea Bissau ,Mozambique, and Sao tome and Principe gained their independence in 1975soon after the fascist regime in Lisbon had been overthrown in a military coup. The last country to gain independence is south Sudan, which broke away from the Sudan in 2011(see hyden 2013).

African women were major contributors to resistance to colonial rule and the promotion of nationalism. Many argued that women feared the worst under colonial rule. Governments such as those in Rhodesia, Kenya and Africa sought to restrict women’s movement and even banned them from urban areas .In rural areas ,they often expected to maintain food production and raise children while their husbands rotted in jail, migrated to other areas in search of wage labour,or fought in wars .These women did not idly sit back and allow colonial governments to impinge on their rights and in response to their harsh situation under colonial rule ,they organized protest ,boycotts, workers strikes and Kenya, Zimbabwe and other west African states ,areas that attempted armed struggle, women as well as men carried messages ,spied and played their part in the resistance. Overall their impact on anticolonial and nationalist movements throughout Africa was profound. Women in Nigeria also protested during the proto nationalism era.

The women in who were located in the provinces of calabar and owerri in the southeastern Nigerian November and December of 1929which became known as the” aba”women riots and as the women’s war in Igbo history. Thousands of women organized a massive revolt against the policies imposed by the British colonial administration .the Aba women war prompted the colonial authority to drop their plans to impose a tax on the market women and to curb the power of the warrant chiefs.(Allen 1971).

As periodization is key in political and historical analysis this paper has objectively identified critical analysis of nationalism in west Africa with a consistent periodization of 1897 as the beginning of nationalism and thus raise a critique to many literature for capturing 1919 as the period that spearheaded the nationalist aggression in west Africa.

The paper has explained the two broad forms of nationalism and identify what constituted the underpinnings and characterization of what nationalism before the second world was and the nature of nationalism after the second world war and thus saw independence in many African states as a whole and precisely west Africa.

Also nationalism has been brought to light as not a mere abstract in concept but a concrete one due to the external manifestations of the uprisings .protests, movements, articulation of grievances to the colonial authority before and after the Second World War. Elitist politics was a major development in proto nationalism that is it was these intelligentsia, professionals, merchants, educated sect who fueled the ignition of opposition in respect to the administration of the colonial authority.

Within the literature, the main argument is that periodization for the genesis of nationalism in Africa has been silent in several works. Periodization is key, so this work identified the aborigine right protection society (ARPS), which was formed in the gold coast in 1897 as the genesis of nationalism or any organization approaching the national scale in Africa.

The argument that this organization was the first nationalist movement fit into the underpinnings given as what constitute nationalism and nationalist agitation in Africa before the second world war in . A. nationalism before the 2nd world war was not radical or militant and thus there was nothing like independence on the minds of the Africans. B .reforms/ resistance to obnoxious statutes, ordinance and bills Protection of the political and constitutional rights of the natives’ D .spirit of inclusiveness or inclusion in the management of the economy. The elites wanted to be part of the British or French administration or government. Also after the Second World War the nature of nationalism changed to radicalism and thus saw many African countries to independence.

Rotberg(1966),and several other scholars raise the point that nationalism in Africa is seen as a confusion ,in that African states were not nations as nationalism has its roots from a nation and that there was no nationalism in Africa as established by other scholars.

But what these writers fail to comprehend is that there is no conventional universally accepted definition for nationalism. Also when the issue of comparative analysis about the nationalism in Western Europe and Africa is raised then Africa’s nationalism becomes meaningless.

To attack rotberg, with the definition of nation states given his literature, there is a counter argument in the sense that there were nation states in Africa. Per the definition of nation, similar historical background, similar customs, language and other ethical principles that chgarateriszres what a nation is, Africa fits into this categorization. In Ghana there were nation states, the Ashanti (Asante) kingdom was one of the largest nation states in Ghana (gold coast) and Africa at large, in i844, the British governor signed treaties with the Fante states in gold coast, the Zulu kingdom in South Africa is also a very strong example of nation states that existed in Africa.

In addressing the issue of nationalism with respect to the idea that there was no nationalism in Africa because there were no nation states. With nationalism, Anderson (2002), argues strongly that nationalism is not about the state of national consciousness and thus there must be necessarily a nation before nationalism.

He argues that nations are ‘imagined communities’, that is nations are just imagined because the members of even the smallest nation will never most of their members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the mind of each lives the image of their communion. He goes on further to explain the specific origins of nationalism.

He also postulates that the idea of imagining nations only arose historically when all the three fundamental cultural conceptions all of great antiquity lost their axiomatic grip on men’s attitude. Also the nature of nationalism in Africa was parked by the general interest and wellbeing of the indigenes of the various African communities.

A typical example provided in this work as the first nationalist movement and agitation ,the aborigines rights protection society(ARPS) ,which was formed to safeguard the interest specifically to protect the communal rights and safeguard the lands of the natives

Again the comparative analysis of nationalism in Africa and in Europe can’t be substantive in the sense that, the conditions that existed in Europe and Africa were different, issue of colonialism and other conditions in Africa was not the same as that which persisted in Europe and thus the argument becomes inconsistent.

So the primacy of nationalism of the western countries over the African continent and with this proposing a claim that there was no nationalism in Africa is a fallacy and illusive argument while a country such as Britain or France is viewed as one nation, in reality each contains a variety of nations of people. Uniting these various groups creates a nation the study has also shown the interval and periods independence was achieved by some of the African countries.

Women also contributed a lot to African nationalism (proto) as the paper has elucidated. Africans had their versions of nationalism that need to be critically appreciated and comprehended because Africans were able to resist oppressors rule due to this concrete phenomenon.

Allen, van Judith (1971) Aba riots or women’s war? British ideology and eastern Nigerian women’s political activism.

Anderson, Benedict R. (2002) Imagined communities: reflections on the origin and spread of nationalism.

Atiemo, A. D (1995) colonialism and nationalism in West Africa.

Boahen, A .Adu (1987) African perspectives on colonialism.

Boahen, A. Adu (1985) politics and nationalism in West Africa, 1919-1935

Falola, Toyin (2002) the end of colonial rule, nationalism and decolonization.

Hodgkin, Thomas (1957) nationalism in colonial Africa.

Hyden Goran (2013) African politics in comparative perspective, 2nd edition

Kohn Hans (1955) the idea of nationalism.
Oloruntimehin B. O (1985) African politics and nationalism, 1919-1935

Robert L .Rotberg (1966) African nationalism concept or confusion.

Owusu Nsiah Isaac…… KNUST
[email protected] .. 0501357211

Isaac Owusu Nsiah
Isaac Owusu Nsiah, © 2015

The author has 16 publications published on Modern Ghana.Column: IsaacOwusuNsiah

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