Colonialism and its Direct Effect on the Rise of Nationalism in African Culture
In America, today, the struggles of Africans over the course of history have gone widely unnoticed, with the exception of slavery in the America. Africa is a diverse group of people of many different backgrounds and languages. This is due to the colonization of Africa by Europeans, which was followed by many struggles to regain their independence as their own people. To fully understand, a person must take a closer look at colonialism and its direct effect on the rise of Nationalism in African culture.
Colonialism is defined as a policy by which a nation maintains or extends its control over foreign dependencies, or in more realistic terms an exploitation by a stronger country of weaker one; the use of the weaker country’s resources to strengthen and enrich the stronger country (dictionary.com). A broad historical understanding of direct European colonial influence on the African continent dates back at least to the spread of the Roman Empire to North Africa. The more contemporary era of European colonialism, that was consecrated by the Berlin Conference of 1884-85, was preceded by a gradual process of European expansion into Africa over roughly four-hundred and fifty years (Schraeder 50-1).
Beginning in 1434, Portuguese explorers under the leadership of Prince Henry the Navigator began sailing the West African coastline with intent of spreading Christianity and to enhance Portuguese political-military power. The steady advance of Portuguese explorers marked the beginning of what is commonly called in the West the age of exploration (the charting and mapping of lands previously unknown to European powers, before the ultimate imposition of colonial rule). One of the most devastating aspects of
increasing foreign influence in Africa at the end of the fifteenth century was the global perception that slavery was a legitimate and necessary tool of political-military and economic expansion (51).
Many slave trade routes appeared with the overwhelming acceptance of slavery by the world outside of Africa. The most prominent was the Atlantic slave trade, also called the European slave trade, which primarily shipped slaves to the Western Hemisphere (52). The Atlantic slave trade began during the fifteenth century and was dominated by the European powers. Slaves were sought as cheap labor to work the colonial plantations in the Americas that produced a variety of products that were exported to Europe.
For Africans, the slave trade era sowed the seed of nationalism as Europeans divided and separated families, taking the most able people to work in the Western Hemisphere as slaves. Taking the most abled Africans slowed development in the rest of Africa, and the slaves were kept in the poorest conditions no animal, let alone human
being, should suffer through. Often many Africans chose death, by jumping in the shark infested water, rather than continue to live their lives as a slave. While the slave trade sowed the seed of nationalism, the application of the nation-state system sprouted further growth.
The origins of the nation-state system lie in the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia, which ended the Thirty Years’ War in Europe. The treaty marked the beginning of the nation-state system, in which sovereign political entities independent of any outside authorities exercised control over peoples residing in separate territories with officially marked boundaries. The imposition of the European nation-state system created a series of artificial states that, unlike their counterparts in Europe, did not evolve gradually according to the wishes of local African peoples. They instead were constructed by European authorities with little concern for local socioeconomic or political-military conditions. Another impact of colonialism was the division of African ethnic groups among numerous colonial states (62).
The Somali people of the Horn of Africa are a notable example. Previously united by a common culture but lacking a centralized authority, this classically segmented political system was subjugated and divided among four imperial powers: Britain, France, Italy, and an independent Ethiopia. The problem with division of one people among many states is irredentism, or the political desire of nationalists to reunite
their separated peoples in one unified nation-state (63). Another problem with the nation-state system is the opposite of the division of one people among many states.
A third impact of European colonialism was the incorporation of previously separate and highly diverse African peoples in one colonial state. Britain’s creation of Nigeria illustrates this colonial practice and its consequences. Nigeria is composed of over two-hundred and fifty different ethnic groups. Only three of those ethnic groups comprises roughly sixty-six percent of the total population and primarily reside in three different areas of Nigeria (64).
There are many problems associated with the collection of diverse groups that were never under the same rule until the arrival of colonialism and the nation-state system. It leads to language barriers that will slow the development of the nation-state as a whole. It causes clashes between political cultures. For example, Britain chooses a specific ethnic group residing in Nigeria to be in power. This leads to feuding among the rest of the tribes and ethnic groups because they all believe they should be the elites. The biggest impact that the nation-state system had among the African people was its division of families and friends, which is a vital in every Africans life. The nation-state system imposed boundaries right in the middle of villages, dividing the people among different countries that will have rule over them such as Britain and France. Each country kept strict control of who enters and leaves, making it hard for families and friends to stay in touch, often leading to a total loss of touch with a person’s family.
Europeans often imposed their political, judicial, and police systems that were foreign to all Africans, and made them change their social structure to fit the Europeans. Instead of relying on a chief, Privy Council, council of elders, or village assembly, which is what Africans were working with at the time, they had to change their ways of life for the Europeans or face the consequences. Colonialism also imposed a system of a direct export economy. Europeans stripped the lands of Africa for their own benefit and left locals with very little to spare. The hardships that the Europeans imposed developed a sense of identity and pride throughout Africa.
Nationalism is defined as a sense of collective identity in which a people perceives itself as different than (and often superior to) other peoples. Nationalism also implies the existence of a variety of shared characteristics, most notably a common language and culture, but also race and religion. The emergence of European “nations” (or cohesive group identities) generally preceded and contributed to the creation of European “states”. The result was the creation of viable nation-states that enjoyed the legitimacy of their peoples. This process was reversed in Africa. In most cases, the colonial state was created before any sense of nation existed (81).
The idea of freedom, the underdevelopment of Africa, and the development of the concept of Pan-Africanism (feelings of unity) were the reasons why the seed of nationalism that was sowed and sprouted began to fully grow. Adding to the fire was the constant treatment of Africans by Europeans as inferiors, the development on African national unions, rise of Islamic movements, and the rise of the educated class. America
also had a direct effect on African nationalism along with other countries that created examples for Africans to follow. In the Atlantic Charter of 1941, the agreement by Roosevelt and Churchill, promised that Africans could choose independence and self-governance. The development of aid and nationalism in Asia also encouraged Africans (in 1947 India took its independence from Britain). Also, the founding of the UN in 1945 increased the hope of all Africans for complete independence.
A unique aspect of African nationalism was its inherently anti-colonial character. African nationalist movements were sharply divided on political agendas, ideological orientation, and economic programs. Regardless of their differences, however, the leaders of these movements did agree on one point: the necessity and desirability of independence from foreign control. That desire became a reality for the African leaders and people, but not all at once. There are four major waves of independence in the history of Africa (82).
The first wave of independence was marked by peaceful transitions and took place during the 1950s. The wave was led by the heavily Arab-influenced North African countries. Three countries outside North Africa also obtained independence during this period followed by the former French colony of Guinea in 1958. The second wave of independence took place during the 1960s, when more than thirty African countries achieved independence. Most of these countries were former British and French colonies. All three Belgian colonies also acquired independence during this period and were joined by the Republic of Somalia. Aside from some noteworthy exceptions, most
notably France’s unsuccessful attempt to defeat a pro-independence guerrilla insurgency in Algeria and the emergence of the Mau Mau guerilla insurgency in Kenya, the decolonization process of the 1960s was also largely peaceful. The departing colonial powers had already accepted the inevitability of decolonization. Questions simply remained as to when and under what conditions (83).
The third wave of independence began in 1974. A military coup d’etat in Portugal, led by junior military officers, resulted in a declaration that the Portuguese government intended to grant immediate independence to the colonies in Africa. Coup plotters sought to end their stay because of poorly trained and unmotivated Portuguese military forces that repeatedly fought against highly motivated and increasingly adept African guerilla insurgencies. The violent path to independence in the former Portuguese colonies was further complicated in 1975, when Angolan guerrilla groups clashed in what would become an extended civil war over who would lead an independent Angola. The former French colonies of Comoros, Seychelles, and Djibouti, however, achieved independence under largely peaceful terms.
The fourth wave of independence emerged during the 1980s. This wave was directed against the minority white-ruled regimes in Southern Africa. Since 1948, South Africa was controlled by the descendants of white settlers known as Afrikaners. This minority elite established a highly racist system in which blacks and other minorities (roughly eighty-five percent of the population) were denied political rights. The minority white-ruled regimes of Southern Africa were confronted by guerrilla organizations that enjoyed regional and international support. Military struggles were suspended after the white minority regimes agreed to negotiate transitions to black majority rule. Nelson Mandela’s emergence in 1994 as the first democratically elected leader of South Africa signaled the end of the decolonization process and the transition to the contemporary independence era.
Through colonialism, which led to slavery and the application of the nation-state system, Africans developed a sense of Nationalism that sparked their movements toward independence. It is through their own will to be their own people that they achieved their current state of independence.