The Story of Africa


- World War I


- The aftermath


- Nationalism and vision


- Socialism


- Newspapers


- Radio and writing


- Air and road


- Women


- World War II

World War II


Social Impact

African troops in Burma
The Second World War was sparked off by the territorial ambitions in Europe and Africa of Germany's Chancellor, Adolf Hitler. Africa was drawn in at a number of levels. Hitler wished to regain the German colonies which had been confiscated after the First World War. Hitler's ally, Mussolini, the Italian leader, had invaded Ethiopia in 1935, arousing much indignation.

"Sin-possessed and intoxicated with authority, Mussolini, the Fascist Dictator with his "smash and grab" doctrine of civilisation has announced his East Africa spoils to the world. He is also said to be having his hands in the Spanish mists. This is as should be expected of a child of darkness...

There by him we find his brother Hitler, the German dictator, dreaming his usual daydreams - a German Empire, with Russia as his armrest; France as his footstool, England as his manufacturing nation, and the colonies as labourers to work in his Nazi vineyard. His continuous dream is of world subjugation..."
- The Comet, 5 Dec 1926.


As in the First World War, the colonial powers needed African manpower. This time African troops (with the exception of those from South Africa who were not allowed to bear arms) were to play a much more combatant role both in and outside Africa. Half a million Africans fought for the French and the British during the war.



Recruiting policies were much more sophisticated than they had been in the First World War. Anti-fascist propaganda was broadcast on the radio and disseminated through newspapers and poster campaigns, with dramatic cartoons and drawings depicting what life might be like under German rule.

On the whole people rallied to the war effort, angered by the invasion of Ethiopia.


Enlistment to the armed forces was supposed to be voluntary. However, a good deal of pressure was also employed through local chiefs, and forced labour was used in mining and agricultural areas.


Despite a generally cooperative mood, there were some dissenting voices, notably that of ITA Wallace Johnson, Editor of the African Standard and tireless critic of the British in Sierra Leone. They responded by interning him for the duration of the war. He saw the war as simply serving the interests of capitalism and colonialism:

Enlist today!

Enlist today!
Your country needs you!
Not for learning how to shoot the big howitzers
Or how to rat tat tat the machine guns
Or how to fly o'er peaceful countries
Dropping bombs on harmless people
Or how to fix a bayonet and charge at
The harmless workers of another clime

Your country needs you
For the rebuilding of your shattered homeland -
Your homeland ruined by exploitation
By the tyrants of foreign nations
Who would use you as their catspaw
While they starved you to subjection

- African Standard, 28 July 1939.

Effects of war

With access to Asian markets cut off, African commodities assumed great importance during the war. So in Liberia rubber production increased. The Belgian Congo was relied on for key minerals.

Britain tried to increase tin mining production in Nigeria to offset losses in the Far East. Workers were forced to work in the mines in appalling conditions and production rose only slightly. The scheme was abandoned in 1944. In 1945 there was a General Strike in Nigeria.

In 1941 miners in the Belgian Congo went on strike because of the high cost of living. The strike was broken by the army, and seventy strikers were killed.

Many imports were under license and food prices increased. Sea ports in Cape Town, Freetown, Mombasa, and Takoradi, as well as landing facilities for planes, were upgraded. Once America entered the war in 1942, Robertsfield Airport was built for B47 bombers to refuel, giving Liberia the longest runway in Africa to this day.

Areas of Conflict

Conflict began in 1935 when Italy invaded and then occupied Ethiopia. The Emperor went into exile in Britain. This invasion led to a widespread willingness on the part of people in Africa to fight fascism. By 1941 with the help of African soldiers from west, east and South Africa the Italians were defeated in Ethiopia. Emperor Haile Selassie was then restored to his throne.

North Africa was the other main theatre of war in Africa. Here the allies came very close to defeat at the hands of the Germans. But by 1943 Germany's Afrika Corps had surrendered. In the same year African troops joined with American and British troops to invade Italy.

Africa and France

French colonies in West Africa
French West Africa (A.O.F. Afrique Occidental Francaise):

Bourkina Faso

French Equatorial Africa (A.E.F. Afrique Equatorial Francais):

Central African Republic
Congo Brazzaville
Britain was never invaded by the Germans. But France was occupied in 1942. There was a Free French government in exile led by Charles De Gaulle. African colonies had to choose with whom to side. In Chad the black governor, Felix Eboue, originally from French Guyana in South America, made a bold and swift decision to support the Free French. The Governors of other French Equatorial territories fell in behind him. The capital of the French Congo, Brazzaville, became a temporary capital for Free France.

By contrast governors in French North Africa and French West Africa declared their loyalty to Marshall Petain's puppet regime in France (the Vichy Government) which cooperated with the German occupation. When in 1942 the allies regained control of North Africa, the West African colonies abandoned their Vichy loyalties and declared for Free France.

Africa and the Far East

In 1942 African troops from the Gold Coast and Kenya fought in Burma against the Japanese. The conditions were very hard and African troops were crucial in the campaign. The route to Burma went through India. Here nationalist leaders were already preparing for independence. This made a huge impression on African soldiers.




End of war

When the war ended African troops were left with experiences which changed their lives. They also felt, more than ever, that European colonial powers owed them a great deal for the sacrifice they had made. Many men found themselves out of work when they returned home, and still, of course, under the rule of Europeans. As it was after the First World War, there was a feeling of disappointment, and a sense of being let down.


In Britain some hotels and restaurants still operated a colour bar. In 1948, for example, Tom Boatin, a West African lecturer at London University, was refused service at Rules Restaurant in Maiden Lane. The management was forced to apologise after intervention by the Minister of Food.

The same year there were racist riots in Liverpool with members of the predominantly black sea faring community. At one point, a crowd of 2,000 attacked a hostel where black seamen lodged. But by this time the movement for independence was beginning to gather momentum.


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