The First World War: In Action
The First World War gave rise to a crucial change in the relationship between
Europe and Africa. Over two million people in Africa made huge sacrifices for
the European Allies. 100,000 men died in East Africa and 65,000 men from French
North Africa and French West Africa lost their lives.
Not since the American War of Independence, when 14,000 slaves and freemen fought
as black loyalists alongside the British, had such a huge number of people of
African descent been involved in fighting for Europeans. Very few were combatant,
most of them were used as porters. They were recruited to carry heavy weapons
and supplies. They were badly paid and given food which was either of poor quality
or entirely foreign to them. While travelling through new territories for them,
they often fell sick and were affected by different types of malaria.
THEATRES OF WAR
On the continent of Africa, there was action
along the coast. In the West and South the Allies attacked Germany's African
ports. They attacked Lome (in Togo), Douala (in Cameroun), Swakopmund
and Luderitz Bay (in South West Africa).
In the East, German-held Dar Es Salaam was bombarded. In the North, the main
concern of the British was to safeguard the Suez Canal.
German South West Africa was brought under allied control in the first few months.
Cameroon took longer to capture. The East Africa campaign took even longer,
with the Germans led by brilliant German General von Lettow-Vorbeck. African
troops from French West Africa saw action in Western Europe, but the British
never took African soldiers out of the continent.
MUTINIES AND UPRISINGS
Where there were political tensions and frustrations
the war only made them worse. In Nysaland (now modern Malawi), the American-trained
missionary John Chilembwe led an uprising. It was religious as well as anti-colonial
in character. Importantly, it was triggered by the high level of forced military
recruitment of Nysas, many of whom were subsequently killed in large numbers
in the first few weeks of fighting.
south, a number of Afrikaners, sympathetic to Germany and hostile to the Allies,
tried to raise an armed rebellion. This was put down by the British educated
Afrikaner leader General Smuts, who went on to play a key military role against
the Germans in the First World War and in the settlement afterwards.
In the Niger Delta, Farrick Braide, also known as Elijah II, preached that the
beginning of the First World War marked the end of British rule.
In Kenya, the Mumbo cult rejected Christianity and predicted Europeans would
disappear from the African continent. Resistance to taxation also continued
throughout the war, as in Yorubaland where there were riots in 1916.