African Nationalism, Battlefield Borne

1101530209_400After the 1950’s, Africans had participated alongside whites in global conflicts such as World War I and II. From their participation, many realized their human equality.

The black African was, for all purposes, the same human being as the whites they soldiered alongside, whether in the trenches of Europe during the First World War, or the deserts of Algeria.

In addition, many of these senseless and bloody conflicts awakened them to the notion that many people are oppressed, besides just themselves.

Proven to themselves, most importantly, that they were men, just as much as their white colonizer, blacks gained a broader awareness of the institutional nature of their oppression. As Accra, in Ghana and Lagos, Nigeria began to develop and urbanize, bringing masses of people together to spread ideas and organize around issues. Global Pan-Africanism—the concern for a prosperous, independent Africa by her diaspora and fair-minded geo-politicians—had rooted long ago, beginning with the likes of Jamaican Marcus Garvey, and his message of black equality[1]. This notion spread among many on the continent and would influence the Gold Coast/Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah—the most famous Pan-Africanist—to work for and achieve, in 1951, ‘self-rule’ for the country in addition to his personal freedom[2].

The first Pan-African Conference of 1901, though it was convened and attended by mostly progressive whites, the labor movement, and non-Africans, would help to catalyze the issue.  Future Congresses that would be put on by the first black Harvard graduate, W.E.B DuBois would organize and galvanize the notion of African independence and participation in this cause.  DuBois felt that “the problem of the 20th century is the problem of the color line,” and redressing it would bring self-rule and the promise of democracy to Africa.  The 1945 Conference issued demands of self-determination, while urging African elites to organize the masses. [5]

As Africans had continually made the journey to urban centers in search of work an education, ethnic mixing occurred; this is evident in places like Nigeria where the Ibo, Hausa, and Yoruba would find themselves in Lagos, in search of opportunity, as they do today.  This helped to foster a national identity in colonies with disparate ethnic groups. It created a change in value systems away from traditional, into the modern and western mold. This would see the and the beginnings of national sentiment. Though not immediately politically focused, they addressed and petitioned what they saw as social problems in their surroundings.  In that sense, Nationalism in the African countries is a “reaction to racism and legal disability.”[6]

The colonial system and its racist roots were the proverbial chains which bound the African. Addressing the issue would lead to finding the ideas of Garvey and DuBois, and incline one to gravitate towards the message of Nkrumah. Those finding the Pan-Africanist message were likely to have been brought to it when they arrived at an urban center, from their rural homes, in search of education or other opportunity.[7]  The urbanization and education of politically minded Africans would awaken many to their collective problems and provide the chance to share their thoughts on socio-political matters in their country. They brought forth petitions for their grievances, and as these demands were met or quashed, it was the impetus for the creation of modern political parties, who would eventually advocate for majority representation, self-rule, and complete independence. The Convention People’s Party, of Ghana and Nkrumah were one such organization, and the model for other nations, upon their 1951 and subsequent success by way of the ballot box.[8]

In all, a workable model of transformation was presented in Nkrumah’s model. While it didn’t fit every situation, and nor could it bring immediate change everywhere in such important examples as South Africa or Zimbabwe, or Guinea-Bissau, it indeed influenced the organizer’s struggle in those countries, and brought them, eventually, a template for pursuing and acquiring self-governance. Urban opportunity created the notion of Ghanaian, or Nigerian, among ethnic groups that were once pitted against each other. Ultimately, nationalism has confronted—in thought, practice, and especially legally—the racial barriers of the colonial state.

[1] BBC Historic Figures. “Marcus Garvey.” (accessed December 12, 2013).

[2] Success of Nkrumah’s party prompted his release from jail.

[4] Amii Omara-Otunnu. UNESCO Chair, Prof. University of Connecticut), class notes, Oct. 8, 2013.

[5] DuBois organized 5 Pan-African Congresses.

[6] Amii Omara-Otunnu. UNESCO Chair, Prof. University of Connecticut), class notes, Sept. 24, 2013.

[7] Davidson, Basil. “The Rise of Nationalism.” Africa-A Voyage of Discovery. Episode 7.

[8] The Convention People’s Party. “Our Party.” (accessed December 12, 2013).

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