The State of Africa


1. Introduction

 Scramble for Africalate 19th Century – whole content ruled by European powers. Nearly ½ the national boundaries drawn were straight lines. Little knowledge; the Europeans knew only the coastal African regions previously. Territories did not fit the criteria for nationhood: common culture, language, heritage, religion. Africa’s resources traded and bartered. These were the building blocks of African nationhood. Many of those who resisted Western control were brutally dealt with (e.g. the Naba tribe who lost 50% of their population under German administration). Often prolonged missions e.g. British 3 year war involving ½ million troops against the Afrikaans people of Transvaal and theOrange Free State. Behaviour largely responsible for strong nationalism prevalent inSouth Africa.

Little short term economic gain from much of control. Little emphasis placed on good governance. Thin layer of control across most of the continent, e.g. 9 adminstrators and army of 3000 controlling populaton of 10 million in Nigeria. Heavy reliance on local chiefs. Arbitarily choosen. New class of interlockers paid to transmit government orders. Missionaries ensured education became introducted through Sub-Saharan Africa. Nationalism not particularly prevalent: nations were divided and did not seek unity. “Nigeriais not a nation, it is a mere geographical expression”. WW2 brough a rigour never before seen on the continent, with heavy investment in infrastructure allowing trade routes to open. 374,000 Africans served in the British army. Many of them served in Burma/India and witnessed nationalist movements rebelling against European control, or witnessed a nation on the brink of collapse in France. Corresponded to the rise in status of the Soviet Union & USA – both anti-colonial. Roosevelt described Gambiaas a ‘hell-hole’ to Churchill. The newly educated youth, the masses of slum-dwelling, urban poor united in their search for employment and the returning service-men who had tasted post-colonial freedom generated a new mood in many parts of Africa. Britainonly colonial power to ever even contemplate self-government. Invested heavily in education, health, transport and agriculture (self-interest/enlightened post-colonial mood). Mostly in western colonies; eastern colonies demand placed on Britainfor greater power for white settlers (e.g. 33,000 whites in Southern Rhodesia). The French regarded their colonies as more la plus grande France and not independent territories. Cold War introduced a new factor into the equation; in 1948 Prague fell to Communism. Western governments became convinced of a global Communist conspiracy. In Britain’s ‘model colony’, the Gold Coast – political grievances culminated in rioting. Britain responded by conceding political power and granting the nation impendence. It was an experiment that could be carefully monitored for some, for others ‘like laying a track in front of an oncoming express’.


 2. The Gold Coast Experiment – a path to freedom.

Following a period in which the Gold Coast was granted partial independence under control of Nkrumah, difficulties arose for the new president and following a dispute between theAsantepeople over the price of cocoa, an election was held. After a victory for Nkurmah’s Convention of People’s Party,Britaindecided to grant full independence on 6 March 1957. The prospects were bright for the newly namedGhana(the name of a previous empire) which had highly talented politicians, a prospering middle class, was the world’s largest cocoa supplier and also supplies of gold, timber and bauxite. Nkurhmah mixed well in the circles of the international political elites and had a particularly good relationship with Queen Elizabeth. However, his main focus wasAfrica. “Our independence in meaningless unless it is linked up with the total liberation of the African continent”. He co-ordinated the All-African People’s Conference, a meeting of various trade unions, political parties and student groups from across the continent. Africa must be free, scram fromAfrica.

3. Revolt on the Nile – the rise of Nasser and Suez Crisis

 Egypt’s Monarch was one of the richest men in the world and viewed my most as part of the imperialism that the British stood for. In Egypt’s army, generals had been plotting a rebellion, organised under the name of the Society of Free Officers and headed by Colonel Gamal Abdel Nasser. “The army’s task is to win the country’s independence”. The plan worked after storming the army headquarters and then taking various other key buildings. The coup set a tone – it was the first time since the Persian conquest 25 centuries previous that Egyptwas ruled by Egyptians. They demanded Britainremove itself from Sudan; their had been long links between Egyptand it’s neighbours, many calling for unity of the NileValley. Sudan itself was not united – there were many differences between the hot, dry, Arabic speaking North which contained ¾ of the population and the green, fertile South that were left with a legacy of bitterness after being ravaged by the North many years before. Following the demands of Nasser, Britaingranted Sudanindependence but negotiations overlooked the South, who were completely ill-prepared for secession. Britainwas a lot more hesitant to give up power from the Canal Zone – one of its most important military bases globally, the nexus of crossroads between Europe, Africa and Asia. 80,00 British troops were stationed there. Britainagreed to withdraw following large levels of unrest and hostility towards the British in the area, under certain conditions (re-entry if global unrest, technicians continue to work there etc.). Nassertightened his control and by 1955 he had taken 3,000 political prisoners. Nassersaw himself as a champion of Arab unity and African liberation. When asked to join an Anti-Soviet alliance, he rejected it and proposed a non-aligned Arab defence group. EU/US saw this neutralism as a cloak for anti-westernism. Britainretaliated by restricting arms supplies. In 1955, Israelattacked 3 Egyptian army bases in the Gazastrip. Nassersaw this as an attack from the West on his government. He responded by doing an arms deal with USSR. The USrefused to fund the Aswan High Dam. On the 4th anniversary of the coup against King Farouk, Nasser announced that he was to nationalise the Suez Canal; this was the connection between Europe and Asian waters used by 12,000 ships a year and probably the world’s most important international waterway. Revenues previously used by the canal would go to the Dam. Britain had a 44% share in the company, although Nassser promised things would continue as normal. The French shared Britain’s anti-Nasser sentiment for similar reasons plus blaming him for encouraging the nationalist rebellion in Algeria. The US favoured economic sanctions; they argued that as ships continued to pass through as usual no military action should be taken. Britain and France were bent on destroying Nasser’s regime and conspired with Israel, who invaded on 29th October 1956. GB/France offered an ultimatum to Nasser to withdraw his forces West of the canal. Nasser declined and they then launched an air attack bombing Egyptian airfields and dropping leaflets over Cairo urging for its people to overthrow the government. Nasser promptly sunk 47 ships and cut off all traffic to the canal. Britain faced a storm of condemnation, a sterling crisis and the prospect of petrol rationing; it was forced into withdrawal and signalled a symbolic end to its super-power status – the time had come for Britain to remove itself from Africa. France however never took this view; Africa was still la plus grande France. The situation propelled Nasser to stardom across the Middle East andAfrica, an anti-imperialist hero. He used every opportunity to mock Western politicians and by the end of the 1950’s, following a deal with the Soviet Union to complete the Aswan High Dam project, became a leading figure in African socialism.

3. Land of the Setting Sunopposition to France’s rule over the Mahgreb.

1st November: guerrillas launched co-ordinated attacks across Algeria and leaflets announced that Front de Liberation Nationale had embarked on a revolutionary struggle and would fight until victory. Areas of Algeria had the same status as districts in France and was considered a tranquil and beautiful place for French citizens to take up residence. 1/3 Algiers population was white. The Muslim population (Arab & Kabyle) were seen as inferior; the French had a monopolised commerce, agriculture, employment and political power. The Algerian population had doubled in the past 50 years. The revolution failed. The French responded brutally. In August 1955, the FLN removed their policy of avoiding white civilian casualties following the murder and incarceration of thousands of civilian Algerian Muslims. The violence escalated. The pied noirs (whites) formed vigilante groups and executed Muslims, the FLN rampaged through white areas. France was forced to readdress its position with respect to the Mahgreb (NW Africa: Tunisia, Morocco & Algeria) where nationalist sentiment was rising, particularly due to the failures of the white populations to concede political reform. The French decided rather than face a large war spread across their territory, they could dispense of Tunisia and Morocco, however Algeria, the centre of French interests and investment needed to be kept. March 1956, Morocco and Tunisia were granted independence. 500,000 men were sent to Algeria to crush the rebellion. They divided the city into sections, patrolling and searching homes for rebel activity – a situation reminiscent of the Nazi occupation of France a few years previous. The French used torture and interrogation centres in their operation to tackle the FLN, which became increasingly successful. The Battle for Algiers was won by the French, as the ring-leaders fled to Tunisia. The discovery of oil gave the French an added incentive to hold on to the nation. France at home was beset by turbulence – general strikes, economic turmoil and international criticism of its conduct in Algeria left the nation despising its politicians. France went for a month without a government. The army, bitter after its defeat in Indo-China and viewing the Battle of Algiers as a war on Communism and defence of Western-values, made an official protest against the leading candidate in upcoming elections who announced that he would enter official negotiations with the FLN. After the execution of 3 French soldiers, the pied noirs and army erupted, taking control of offices and taking office to ensure safety. Meanwhile, in France the war-time hero of Free France, Charles de Gaulle heeded calls to re-enter politics and on 1 June he became Prime Minister. On the 4th June he touched down onAlgeria soil announcing ‘I have understood you!’.

4. L’Afrique Noire

Coming soon.