AFRICA: Reactions To Colonialism

Ashanti War

Ashanti War

Europeans made headway into Africa by making associations with disaffected ethnic groups—who hoped that the newcomers would provide leverage over territorial disputes with other groups.  Some initially welcomed the Europeans, but eventually all would resist European occupation. In the west, the coastal Fante Confederation, weak from raids of the nearby Asante, would side with the British; in the east, the Buganda province would align with against the dominant Bunyoro.[1] European powers capitalized on regional conflict to at first gain footing on the continent, and then secondly, to undermine the native ruling structures of the interior. The Europeans conducted long wars against holdout groups, which fought with both conventional and guerrilla tactics, such as the Islamic empire of Samory Touré, which held a resistance for nearly 20 years against French rule in West Africa at the end of the 19th century.[2]

Defeat for Africans meant a new means of tribute. The European model of taxation for the purpose of capitalizing work projects was introduced to the continent, as a means of self-sufficiency for the European colonies. Hut taxes, Head taxes, and a host of other taxes were introduced upon the Africans who never had to pay such things.[3] Failure to pay taxes, would force conscription into a forced labor gang to build improvements desired by the European nations, which mainly consisted of roads and railways to coastal ports, but nary a road between neighboring groups. Africans were also pressed into mine work, and other dangerous duties by the local chief, who was only crafting the work detail out of a European demand from higher up.

Avoidance of taxation and forced labor could lead to imprisonment; another system foreign to the continent.[4] Prior to physical incarceration, punishments were closer to moral judgments and self-reflection. The true leaders of the people were often jailed, for instigating rebellion, or on the fear they might, and it is from this practice that Africa, again, was forced into chains and captivity, and suffered the loss their human capital. Though the slave trade purportedly ceased, a new model of slavery replaced it, one of economic and political servitude. All the while, Africans were being dispossessed of their lands, and forced into meager reservations of poor soil, which would sew “the incipient seeds of future African nationalism.”

Where once the Europeans were welcomed by certain parties, when the demands that were placed upon their enemies were eventually then put upon them, they too, were forced to rebellion in their own self-interest. In what is described as the Secondary Reaction to European colonialism, the ethnic groups that initially welcomed the Europeans would rebel against them, when taxation, forced labor, imprisonment and land alienation began to be imposed on them, in addition to their enemies. The opportunity for alliance was too late, and these rebellions were suppressed, forcing Africa into compliance with the European colonial objectives.

[1] Amii Omara-Otunu, Lecture, University of Connecticut, September 24th, 2013.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Amii Omara-Otunu, Lecture, University of Connecticut, September 26th, 2013.

[4] Ibid.

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