The Story of Africa


- World War I


- The aftermath


- Nationalism and vision


- Socialism


- Newspapers


- Radio and writing


- Air and road


- Women


- World War II

Nationalism and Vision


Early nationalism and unrest


Haile Selassie
The period between the World Wars saw a huge increase in political activity in Africa, much of it led by the younger generation.

In 1919 in Egypt, demonstrations and strikes were followed by the arrest of the nationalist leader Sa'ad Zaghul. Three years later, the British gave into the strength of nationalist feeling and after some considerable tension granted Egypt independence. Elsewhere there were strikes in different parts of the continent.

Sudan - Tramwaymen On Strike

"There was a lightening strike of tramway men this morning and many official and businessmen were obliged to use other means of transport... This appears to be the first strike of its nature in Sudan and it is all the more regrettable as the tramwaymen seem to have no legitimate grounds for striking." - British-owned Sudan Daily Herald, 19 Dec 1936.

Nigeria - Strikes Of Inspectors Threatened

"Streams of sanitary inspectors were seen early this morning moving to and fro with evident signs of dissatisfaction on their faces. One of their main grievances is reported to be the placing of an untrained and illiterate sanitary inspector to supervise their work. A petition has been addressed to the Senior Resident of the Province. " - Nigeria Daily Times, 2 Dec 1936.

South Africa - Strike At Krugersdorf

Thirty nine natives on shaft sinking contracts at East Champs d'Or, Krugersdorf, refused to start work and tried to prevent others working... they wanted higher pay, although they had signed up to contract." - Rand Daily Mail, 5 Dec 1936.

Political organisations sprung up, often regional in outlook and driven by a determination to have more control in the running of the colonies. One of the most important of these was the National Congress of British West Africa, the NCBWA.

In East Africa, Jomo Kenyatta was already in the 1930s emerging as an immensely articulate and convinced anti-colonialist.

"The African is conditioned, by the cultural and social institutions of centuries, to a freedom of which Europe has little conception, and it is not in his nature to accept serfdom for ever.

He realises that he must fight unceasingly for his own complete emancipation; for without this he is doomed to remain the prey of rival imperialisms, which in every successive year will drive their fangs more deeply into his vitality and strength."
- Jomo Kenyatta, Facing Mount Kenya.


While mining, plantation agriculture and road construction created a wage earning labouring class, the educated, professional classes also expanded. Some went to Europe and America to get further education. The number of doctors and lawyers, although small, increased steadily.

A number of professional and welfare associations were formed, firstly among civil servants and teachers. Cocoa traders also formed their own associations. All these people were ambitious for their children and increasingly insistent that they themselves should be paid the same and treated the same as their European peers.

Africans for Europeans

"It is the policy to appoint Africans to take the place of Europeans, but the real point of disagreement is as to the rate this process should proceed. The government feels this process is too fast. The people, that it is too slow." - Sierra Leone Daily Mail, 3 Dec 1936.

African labels

"...exception was taken to the prefixing of the term 'African' to high appointments held by coloured civil servants. 'African' before Assistant Colonial Secretary, Assistant Colonial Treasurer, Assistant Storekeeper, and Assistant Director of Education is no less a cheapening of the status of the black office holder, than it is an abuse of adjectival function. Even if white subheads of department became officially known as 'European Assistants' thereby leaving no ground for imagining any slight to African subheads, still the offense against standard English would be regrettable." - Sierra Leone Weekly News, 26 Dec 1936.

The range of skilled labour changed. Leather and metal working went into decline, but bicycle repairing and car maintenance increased. The importation of the sewing machine created a huge class of tailors all over the continent. In terms of leisure and fashion, European clothes, films and music were popular. In West Africa, the middle class took what interested them from Western culture and mixed it with African fashion and custom.

French-speaking Africa

Political movements in French-speaking Africa tended to ally themselves with radical movements. This was the case in Paris. For example, in 1924 the Ligue Universelle pour la Defense de la Race Noire was founded by Dahomean lawyer Prince Kojo Tovalou Houeou. The Comite de la Defense de la Race Negre, under the leadership of Tiemoho Garan-Kouyate, followed.

In Senegal the principle figure championing the rights of Africans was Blaise Diagne who was elected to the French Chamber of Deputies in 1914. Later he ws criticised for serving the interests of the French at the expense of the Africans.

In Dahomey, Louis Hankerin was a key political figure during the early twenties when prices for palm kernels were low and taxes were high. Hankerin wrote in the American as well as French press and set up local branches of the Ligne des Droits de L'Homme and the Comite de la Defense de la Race Negre.

The people and the kings

The European colonial rulers and their officials were not the only group opposed by the new political movement. In some areas there was considerable dissatisfaction with African rulers.

For example, in Basotholand (modern Lesotho) a Council of Commoners was formed in 1919, influenced by the South African Communist Party. It criticised the chiefs for driving round in big cars and taxing the people.

In Uganda, The Young Baganda Association turned against the Baganda Kabaka (king) and chiefs, accusing them of being disorganised and immoral. Three of its leading lights were imprisoned in 1922 for publishing an attack against the king.

In the case of Ethiopia, the Italian invasion in 1935 only served to strengthen the people's loyalty to Emperor Haile Selassie. Unable to resist the Italians, he was forced into exile in 1936. The case of Ethiopia or Abyssinia, as it was then known, provoked a great deal of sympathy.

"Abyssinia Relief Fund (Ondo Branch)... Public meeting convened by the Rev. Canon M.C. Adeyemi, the Rev. T.O. Dedeke, and the Chief Seriki Akinrosotu... the chief object of the meeting was to discuss ways and means of assisting our brothers and sisters who were suffering as a result of the aggressive war waged on them by the Italians... Mr. D.L. Akinola gave a good lead by paying at once into the fund; on the whole, the meeting was very successful." - Daily Times of Nigeria, 5 Dec 1936.

The Pan-African Vision


In Africa, there was a general assumption on the part of colonial powers that Africans must wait patiently for limited political concessions and better career opportunities. Ex-servicemen and the educated urban classes became disillusioned and were only too willing to listen to socialist ideas based on concepts of equality and a new world order.

In London, the Socialist Club attracted a wide audience of people who felt marginalised - Africans, Irish Nationalists and German Jews. Drury Lane was the site of a club exclusively for black soldiers.

"They had been disillusioned with the European war, because they kept on having frightful clashes with English and American soldiers, besides the fact that the authorities treated them completely differently from the white soldiers.

I was working at that time in London in a communist group. Our group provided the club of Negro soldiers with revolutionary newspapers and literature, which had nothing."
- Letter from Jamaican writer and socialist, Claude McKay to Trotsky in 1922.

1919 - The first pan-African congress

Racist treatment reinforced a sense of solidarity within the Diaspora. This found expression in a series of Pan-African meetings. In 1909 the first Pan African Conference was held. In 1919 the first of five Pan-African Congresses was held. This was organised by the African American thinker and journalist, W.E.B. DuBois. Fifty seven delegates attended representing fifteen countries. Its principal task was petitioning the Versailles Peace Conference, then meeting in Paris. Among its demands were:

  • The Allies administer the former German territories in Africa as a condominium on behalf of the Africans who lived there.

  • Africans should take part in governing their countries "as fast as their development permits" until, at some unspecified time in the future, Africa is granted home rule.

1921 - The second pan-African congress

This congress met in several sessions in London, Paris and Brussels. The Indian revolutionary Shapuiji Saklaatvala was introduced. The Ghanaian journalist W.F. Hutchinson spoke. This Congress was considered by some to be the most radical of all the meetings. The London session resulted in the Declaration To The World, also called the London Manifesto.

"England, with all her Pax Britannica, her courts of justice, established commerce, and a certain apparent recognition of Native laws and customs, has nevertheless systematically fostered ignorance among the Natives, has enslaved them, and is still enslaving them, has usually declined even to try to train black and brown men in real self-government, to recognise civilised black folk as civilised, or to grant to coloured colonies those rights of self government which it freely gives to white men." - The London Manifesto.

The one dissenting voice was that of Blaise Diagne who, although African, was effectively a French politician, representing Senegal in the French Chamber of Deputies. He thought the declaration dangerously extreme and soon abandoned the idea of Pan Africanism.

1923 - The third pan-African congress

This congress was held in London and Lisbon. Badly organised, it was also not very well attended. But it repeated the demand for some form of self-rule, defining the relationship between Africa and Europe, as well as mentioning the problems of the Diaspora in a number of ways:

  • the development of Africa for the benefit of Africans and not merely for the profit of Europeans.

  • home rule and responsible government for British West Africa and the British West Indies.

  • the abolition of the pretension of a white minority to dominate a black majority in Kenya, Rhodesia and South Africa.

  • the suppression of lynching and mob law in US.

1927 - The fourth pan-African congress

This was held in New York and adopted similar resolutions to those in the 3rd Pan African Congress.

1945 - The fifth pan-African congress

This was held in Manchester in the north west of England. There were ninety delegates, twenty six from all over Africa. These included Peter Abrahams for the ANC, and a number of men who were to become political leaders in their countries, such as Hastings Banda, Nkrumah, Obafemi Awolowo and Kenyatta. There was also Marcus Garvey's wife and Trinidadian radical George Padmore.

There were thirty three delegates from the West Indies and thirty five from various British organisations including the West African Students Union. W.E.B. DuBois, the man who had organised the first Pan African Congress back in 1919, was there too at the age of 77.

Despite the turnout, this conference scarcely got a mention in British press. There were many resolutions passed, including one calling for racial discrimination to be made a criminal offense. The main resolution decried imperialism and capitalism:


"We are unwilling to starve any longer while doing the world's drudgery, in order to support, by our poverty and ignorance, a false aristocracy and a discredited imperialism.

We condemn the monopoly of capital and the rule of private wealth and industry for private profit alone.

We shall complain, appeal and arraign. We will make the world listen to the facts of our condition. We will fight in every way we can for freedom, democracy and social betterment."


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