African Nations' Post-WWII Struggle for Independence

Updated on December 20, 2016
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Rebecca Graf is a seasoned writer with nearly a decade of experience and degrees in accounting, history, and creative writing.

Africa Crucial to WWII

During World War II, Europe looked to Africa for labor to defeat the enemy. Slavery took a different look as labor resources were pulled, not for plantation labor, but for military service. They risked their lives yet still found themselves under the control of European powers with no change in status.

The Second World War also brought a new relationship between Europe and Africa as the bonds “appeared to be tightening rather than loosening” as Europe needed more from Africa as in produce, rubber, labor, and more. This brought about the unrest that started during the war and continued afterwards. The Africans began to voice their feelings and Europe was beginning to hear it loud and clear. Change was demanded.

No Self-Reliant Plans

Three nations were independent at the end of the war: Ethiopia, Liberia, and Egypt. Despite three nations of their own people achieving freedom, it was India that Africans saw as an example and were “inspired by the vision of a new society free of European control.” Britain and France were not eager to let their territories loose. After World War II, there was no plan to develop “African self-reliance in preparation for economic and political independence from Europe.” This did not mean they were not willing to step back and let the nations be relatively independent as Europe found itself in dire need of rebuilding after the war.

France and Britain desired a gradual move toward a rule that would be mostly done by the Africans but still remain part of their extended empires, but they were quick to learn that “they could no longer dictate the pace of political change in Africa.” The dissatisfaction of the African people was not to be pushed back to the way it used to be. National independence was moving from a silent whisper to a loud shout. Europe began to worry that Communism would take over Africa as the increase in “powerful, though non-violent nationalist movements” were seen across the continent. The conflicts were proving too much for war-torn Europe. The only option was to give independence though this realization did not hit each power at the same time. It began with Britain releasing the Gold Coast, Ghana, in 1957. The rest of Africa began to cheer and move to follow in Ghana’s steps.

Freedom Was Not a Rose Garden

Gradually, other nations began to obtain their independence, but it was to be a fight even after they got what they desired. The obtained freedom was not enough. Just a decade after becoming a free Ghana, a military coup d’état occurred giving way “only to the ‘no party states’ of military dictatorships” as Nigeria found itself in a civil war that lasted several years. Independence was not turning out to be as positive as the Africans had hoped. This dissatisfaction began as soon as the Europeans began to partition the continent.

Africa was sliced and diced into segments that did not make sense to the natives. Tribes were torn apart and forced to become one entity with rival tribes. In addition to that, the people were now not in control of their own lives. They were at the dictates of the European powers who had moved in and changed everything. A new form of slavery was instituted in their own homes.


Unfamiliar with Self-Rule

It was made worse by the fact that many of the nations were not familiar with politics or self-rule. As stated earlier, Britain’s territories were more developed for independence as they tried to keep local rulers in place. France and others preferred to rule the area themselves thus leaving the natives at a severe disadvantage once they found themselves free and forced to fend for themselves. In addition to these challenges, the African nations were not well developed with infrastructure to compete on a global stage. They had been kept virtually in the dark as the rest of the world moved forward using the very resources they harvested such as rubber to move forward.

Africa was faced with having to catch up with no knowledge or foundation to use.

Nature Didn't Help

Everything was made worse by nature as “drought and famine destroyed agricultural production” and internal strife put a halt to political and economic activities that were designed to move the nations forward. Everything was changing too fast for the Africans. The positive outlooks many had when obtaining independence were quickly fading away as economic improvements such as manufacturing could not move forward and new currencies went through long periods where they could not “be converted into Western currencies.”

Life was not getting better on the African continent. It was getting worse. The result was a “steady migration” of Africans heading to Europe who they had obtained independence from or to America where they once had been forced to go to in chains.


At a Disadvantage

Africa was finding itself at a severe disadvantage being on its own. Colonialism by Europe had left damages that could not be fixed simply giving the areas independence. Even what Europe brought to the continent was part of the shackles to keep them weak and unable to stand on their own. An identity was taken from the tribes. They were now just Africans.

This was fueled by the education that Europe gave the Africans attempting to show it as a benefit. What was not realized for many years was how that same benevolent educational system added to their handicap in being an ‘adult’ nation on the world stage. European education was not “rooted in African culture” which meant that the education was not for the setting it was taught. Nothing about Africa was taught. Nothing that would benefit future leaders was presented including any “technological base and therefore antithetical to real or industrial development.” Europe gave the continent education but just limited enough to keep them chained and suppressed.


James Giblin. “Issues in African History.” University of Iowa.

Guisepi, R. A., ed. “African Societies, Slavery, and the Slave Trade”. Africa And The Africans In The Age Of The Atlantic Slave Trade.

Iliffe, John. Africans: The History of a Continent. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

Ocheni, Stephen and Basil C. Nwankwo. "Analysis of Colonialism and its Impact in Africa." Cross - Cultural Communication 8, no. 3 (2012): 46-54.

Parker, John and Richard Rathbone. African History: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.

Shillington, Kevin. History of Africa, 2nd Edition. New York: Macmillan, 2005.

“The Berlin Conference: The General Act of Feb. 26, 1885”. African Federation

“The Story of Africa: Independence”. BBC.



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