The Decolonisation of Africa, 1940–1960

  • Bill Freund


Two related watersheds divide the twentieth-century history of Africa: the great depression and World War II. Neither had African causes; the second was fought only tangentially in tropical Africa. Both, however, brought about fundamental shifts in world political economy that deeply touched material life and ultimately initiated far-reaching social, political and economic change.


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  1. Only recently has this period been treated as a historical one, deserving analytical discussion. There is a lot of material from the 1960s but it has dated badly and now looks mainly like journalism of varying quality. A number of surveys present the main facts, such as Rudolf von Albertmi, Decolonisation: The Administration and Future of the Colonies (Doubleday, 1971).Google Scholar
  2. John Hargreaves, The End of Colonial Rule in West Africa (Macmillan, 1979) is suggestive and serious.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Thomas Hodgkin, Nationalism in Colonial Africa (New York University Press, 1956) is a classic that set the tone for later assessments and still bears re-reading.Google Scholar
  4. Jack Woddis, Africa: The Lion Awakes (Lawrence & Wishart, 1961), is journalistic but very useful as a survey of the labour insurgency of the post-war era that liberal and nationalist writers have often conveniently forgotten. There are several relevant sections on the already cited collection of Gutkind,Google Scholar
  5. Cohen and Copans, African Labour History (Sage, 1978), that touch on this period.Google Scholar
  6. For an introduction to the great Malagasy rising of 1947–8, Jacques Tronchon, L’Insurrection Malgache de 1947 (Maspéro, 1974) is stimulating. On the UCP rebellion in Cameroun the standard work isGoogle Scholar
  7. Richard Joseph, Radical Nationalism in Cameroun (Oxford University Press, 1977). There is a large bibliography on Mau Mau. Two major introductions can be found in Rosberg and Nottingham, The Myth of Mau Mau, cited earlier, andGoogle Scholar
  8. Robert Buitenhuys, Mau Mau Twenty Years After (Mouton, 1973). Several primary accounts by participants are available: Waruhiu Itote, Mau Mau General (EAPH, 1971);Google Scholar
  9. J.M. Kariuki, Mau Mau Detainee (Oxford University Press, 1963) andGoogle Scholar
  10. Donald Barnett and Karari Njama, Mau Mau From Within (Monthly Review Press, 1966). Mau Mau was the subject of a special issue of the Kenya Historical Review, V(2), 1977 and the important articles of Frank Furedi, ‘The African Crowd in Nairobi’, JAH, XIV (1973) and ‘The Social Composition of the Mau Mau Movement in the White Highlands’, Journal of Peasant Studies, I (1974). See also Sharon Stichter, ‘Workers, Trade Unions and the Mau Mau Rebellion’, CJAS, IX (1975).Google Scholar
  11. On particular countries, the reader should look at previous lists of general histories cited earlier. For British West Africa, two particular studies carry special weight: Martin Kilson, Political Change in a West African State (Harvard University Press, 1966), which highlights the peasant struggles in ruralCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Sierra Leone and K. Post and G. Vickers, The Price of Liberty (Cambridge University Press, 1973), a biography of Adegoke Adelabu that powerfully conveys the realities of nationalist politics in Nigeria.Google Scholar
  13. The standard sources on Nigeria are informative and so far still to be replaced: James Coleman, Nigeria: Background to Nationalism (University of California Press, 1958);Google Scholar
  14. Richard Sklar, Nigerian Political Parties (Princeton University Press, 1963);Google Scholar
  15. CS. Whitaker, The Politics of Tradition: Continuity and Change in Northern Nigeria (Princeton University Press, 1970, best of the lot);Google Scholar
  16. B.J. Dudley, Parties and Politics in Northern Nigeria (Cass, 1968), and on the economic background,Google Scholar
  17. Gerald Helleiner, Peasant Agriculture, Government and Economic Growth in Nigeria (Richard Irwin, 1966). A brief corrective is Segun Osoba, ‘The Nigerian Power Élite, 1952–65’ in the Gutkind and Waterman reader cited previously.Google Scholar
  18. The equivalent liberal standards for the Gold Coast are: David Apter, The Gold Coast (Ghana in later editions) in Transition (Princeton University Press, 1955) and Dennis Austin, Politics in Ghana, 1946–60 (Oxford University Press, 1964). Most of the work on Nkrumah stresses the independence period. An illuminating exception is Richard Rathbone, ‘Businessmen in Politics: Party Struggle in Ghana 1949–57’, JDS, IX (1973).Google Scholar
  19. John Cartwright, Politics in Sierra Leone, 1947–67 (University of Toronto Press, 1970) is the standard work for its subject.Google Scholar
  20. British East Africa is treated in the third volume of the History of East Africa edited by D.A. Low and Alison Smith (Clarendon Press, 1976). Apart from Mau Mau, other aspects of Kenya are discussed in M.P.K. Sorrenson, Land Reform in the Kikuyu Country (Oxford University Press, 1967); E.S. Atieno-Odhiambo, ‘Seek Ye First the Economic Kingdom: A History of the Luo Thrift and Trading Corporation’, Hadith, V (B. Ogot, ed.) and Clayton and Savage’s labour history already cited. On Tanganyika there isGoogle Scholar
  21. Cranford Pratt, The Critical Phase in Tanzania, 1945–68 (Cambridge University Press, 1976);Google Scholar
  22. G.A. Maguire, Towards ‘Uhuru’ in Tanganyika (Cambridge University Press, 1969);Google Scholar
  23. Lionel Cliffe, ‘Nationalism and the Reaction to Enforced Agricultural Improvement in Tanganyika During the Colonial Period’, in the collection, Lionel Cliffe and John Saul, Socialism in Tanzania (Tanzania Publishing House, 1973) and, on labour,Google Scholar
  24. W.H. Friedland, ‘Co-operation, Conflict and Conscription: TANU-TFL Relations, 1895–64’, in J. Butler and A.A. Castagno, eds, Boston University Papers on Africa, I, 1967.Google Scholar
  25. On British Central Africa, Federation inspired a myriad of rather interchangeable liberal assessments of ‘race relations’ for British consumption. One of the better is Patrick Keatley, The Politics of Partnership (Penguin, 1963). Change on the Copperbelt is studied in an anthropology classic,Google Scholar
  26. A.L. Epstein, Politics in an Urban African Community (Manchester University Press, 1958);Google Scholar
  27. Robert Bates, Unions, Parties and Political Development (Yale University Press, 1971);Google Scholar
  28. Elena Berger, Labour, Race and Colonial Rule (Clarendon Press, 1974) and J.R. Hooker, ‘Role of the Labour Department in the Birth of African Trade Unionism in Northern Rhodesia’, IRSH, X (1965). Among works already cited the reader should turn to Roberts’ general history and Caplan on Barotseland for Zambia. Other works on Zambia includeGoogle Scholar
  29. David Mulford, Zambia: The Politics of Independence, 1957–64 (Oxford University Press, 1967); Ian Henderson, ‘The Economic Origins of Decolonisation in Zambia, 1940–5’, Rhodesián History, V (1974);Google Scholar
  30. Thomas Rasmussen, ‘The Popular Basis of Anti-Colonial Protest’ in William Tordoff, ed., Politics in Zambia (Manchester University Press, 1974) and MacDixon-Fyle, ‘Agricultural Improvement and Political Protest on the Tonga Plateau, Northern Rhodesia’, JÄH, XVIII (1977). For an interesting essay on Malawi in the Roderick Macdonald collection already cited see Roger Tangri, ‘From the Politics of Unionism to Mass Nationalism’. Rhodesia is considered primarily in Chapter 11, but note alsoGoogle Scholar
  31. James Barber, Rhodesia: The Road to Rebellion (Oxford University Press, 1967) and Peter Harris, ‘Industrial Workers in Rhodesia, 1946–72’, JSAS, I (1975).Google Scholar
  32. Ruth Schachter Morgenthau, Political Parties in French West Africa (Clarendon Press, 1964) has long been the introduction to her subject for English language readers. It is, in reality, much stronger on French than on African politics and has little to say on social and economic history.Google Scholar
  33. Jean Suret-Canale, Afrique Noire: de la colonisation à lindependance, 1945–60 (Editions Sociales, 1972) is less successful than the preceding volume on the colonial era. There is some inspired journalism inGoogle Scholar
  34. Georges Chaffard, Les carnets secrets de la decolonisation (Calmann-Levy, 1967). For a recent survey on Equatorial Africa, see ElikiaM’Bokolo, ‘Forces sociales et idéologies dans la décolonisation de l’AEF’, JAH, XXII (1981).Google Scholar
  35. On the Belgian Congo, Crawford Young, Politics in the Congo (Princeton University Press, 1965) is a mine of information. There is an eloquent brief assessment inGoogle Scholar
  36. Gerard Althabe, Les fleurs du Congo (Maspèro, 1972).Google Scholar
  37. Thomas Kanza, Crisis in the Congo (Penguin, 1972) is an interesting account from the moderate Left. Also on the crisis of 1960 and its aftermath are:Google Scholar
  38. Catherine Hoskyns, The Congo Since Independence (Oxford University Press, 1965); the impassioned journalism of JulesGoogle Scholar
  39. Chômé, notably La crise congolaise (Editions des remarques congolaises, Brussels, 1960);Google Scholar
  40. Jules Gérard-Libois, Katanga Secession (University of Wisconsin Press, 1966) andGoogle Scholar
  41. Conor Cruise O’Brien, To Katanga and Back (Simon & Schuster, 1962). The American role is revealed inGoogle Scholar
  42. Steve Weissman, American Foreign Policy in the Congo 1960–1964 (Cornell University Press, 1974).Google Scholar
  43. More specialised study can be guided by the numerous volumes of annotated primary source material on the Congo and also Rwanda-Urundi published by the Brussels research centre, CRISP. Among monographs, Herbert Weiss, Political Protest in the Congo (Princeton University Press, 1967), a regional study, is interesting. Finally for the first part of the period covered in this chapter, note B. Jewsiewicki, Kiloma Lema and Jean-Luc Vellut, ‘Documents pour servir à l’histoire du Zaïre: grèves dans la Bas Congo en 1945’, Études d’histoire africaine, V (1973) and Maurice Lovens, ‘La révolte de Masisi-Lubutu (Congo belge, janvier-mai 1944)’, Cahiers du CEDAF 3/4, 1974.Google Scholar
  44. On the ferment of the 1940s in Eritrea see G.K.N. Trevaskis, Eritrea, A Colony in Transition (Oxford University Press, 1960) and Lloyd Ellingson, ‘Emergence of Political Parties in Eritrea, 1941–50’, JAH, XVIII (1977). For the nationalist era in the Sudan the best sources at present areGoogle Scholar
  45. Gabriel Warburg, Islam, Nationalism and Communism in a Traditional Society: The Case of the Sudan (Frank Cass, 1978)Google Scholar
  46. and Peter Woodward, Condominium and Sudanese Nationalism (Collings, 1979).Google Scholar
  47. Many African politicians of the decolonisation era have produced memoirs or political manifestos. A sampling includes: (Kenya) Jomo Kenyatta, Facing Mount Kenya (Seeker & Warburg, 1953);Google Scholar
  48. Bildad Kaggia, The Roots of Freedom (EAPH, 1975);Google Scholar
  49. Tom Mboya, Freedom and After (Little, Brown, 1963);Google Scholar
  50. Oginga Odinga, Not Yet Uhuru (Heinemann, 1967); (Zaïre)Google Scholar
  51. Anicet Kashamura, De Lumumba aux colonels (Buchet-Castel, 1966); (Malawi)Google Scholar
  52. M.W.K. Chiume, Kwacha (EAPH, 1975); (Nigeria)Google Scholar
  53. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Zik: A Selection from the Speeches (Cambridge University Press, 1961), and SirGoogle Scholar
  54. Ahmadu Bello, My Life (Cambridge University Press, 1962). There is a published collection oí Speeches and Writings of Patrice Lumumba (Little, Brown, 1972). Apart from Post and Jenkins the best biographies of African politicians areGoogle Scholar
  55. Jeremy Murray-Brown, Kenyatta (George Allen & Unwin, 1972)Google Scholar
  56. and Philip Short, Banda (Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1974).Google Scholar
  57. African writers of fiction convey the feeling of the period well in certain novels. These include in a short selection James Ngugi (Ngugi wa Thiongo), A Grain of Wheat (Heine-mann, 1967) and Weep Not, Child, (Heinemann, 1964) which powerfully evokes Mau Mau; Ousmane Sembéne’s epic of the great railway workers’ strike in French West Africa, God’s Bits of Wood (Doubleday, English translation, 1962) and the tragicomic fiction ofGoogle Scholar
  58. Chinua Achebe, No Longer at Ease (Obolensky, 1961) and A Man of the People (Heinemann, 1966).Google Scholar

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© Bill Freund 1984

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  • Bill Freund

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