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date: 25 April 2019

African Military History and Historiography

Summary and Keywords

African military history is more than just the study of “tribal warfare,” imperial conquest, military coups, and child soldiers. Moving beyond conventional questions of strategy, tactics, battles, and technology, historians of precolonial Africa are interested in the role of armies in state formation, the military activities of stateless societies, and armed encounters between Africans and foreign visitors and invaders. Scholars working in the 19th and 20th centuries are similarly focused on the role and influence of African soldiers, military women, and veterans in society. In this sense, African military history is part of a larger effort to recover the lived experiences of ordinary people who were largely missing from colonial archives and documentary records. Similarly, Africanist historians focusing on the national era are engaging older journalistic and social science explanations for military coups, failed states, and wardlordism. The resulting body of literature productively offers new ways to study military institutions and collective violence in Africa.

Keywords: military history, armies, soldiers, warfare, state formation, slavery, imperialism, military coups

African Military History

Throughout much of the 20th century, military historians did not pay much attention to Africans. This is scarcely surprising given that most Western historians accepted the colonial-era canard that Africans had no history. African combatants therefore usually appeared in conventional military histories as tribal warriors or anticolonial insurgents. Concerned primarily with strategy, tactics, and battles, conventional military historians tended to dismiss African armed actions as tribal wars, slave and cattle raids, or warlordism. Western-style armies in the Anglo-South African, World War I, and World War II fought the only “real” wars in Africa. Authentically African conflicts were part of the less advanced but supposedly endemic tribal violence that hindered the political and economic development of pre-conquest Africa. These alleged deficiencies prevented Africans from keeping pace with the Western military revolution and industrialization of warfare in the 19th century, thereby providing an overly simplistic explanation for the European conquest of Africa during the new imperial era.

The acceptance of the study of the African past as a legitimate topic for historical investigation in the 1960s did not lead to an immediate reconsideration of these assumptions. Scholars of the Atlantic slave trade still tended to view slave raiding as the primary inspiration for warfare and, to a lesser degree, state formation in coastal regions, including the northern edge of the West African savanna.1 Military technologies, horses and guns specifically, figured prominently as historians, influenced by anthropologists such as Jack Goody, argued that these “means of destruction” fueled the trade in human captives by facilitating the rise of centralized slave-raiding states.2 Those who endeavored to write the history of stateless societies were similarly inclined to continue to see Africans who engaged in armed conflict as non-professional “warriors” whose military activities were part of their socialization into adulthood and engagement in the larger civil and political life of their communities.3

Initially, Africanist historians on Western university campuses generally avoided military history because they equated it with the Vietnam War and the militarism that plagued the African continent in the decades after independence. Apart from a focus on documenting African “primary resistance” to the new imperialism, the study of African soldiers and armies was largely the province of sociologists and political scientists who tended to be most concerned with explaining and predicting coups and the “failure” of African nation-states. This started to change in the 1990s when social historians began to explore the role and influence of African soldiers and veterans in society as part of a larger effort to recover the lived experiences of farmers, workers, artisans, women, and other sorts of ordinary people who were largely missing from colonial archives and documentary records. While the resulting works provided a more nuanced understanding of the African colonial experience, Africanists are just beginning to incorporate these social history methodologies into the study of what Western scholars would recognize as military history.

Africa from the 15th to the 19th Century

The methodological strengths and limitations of African history dictate the scope and parameters of African military history. This is particularly true for the precolonial era when most travelogues, merchant accounts, religious commentaries, bureaucratic records, and other textual sources on African military practices were produced by visitors to the continent or Africans who had converted to Islam or Christianity. The same is largely true for oral traditions. Reflecting the Africanist aversion to military topics, Jan Vansina’s groundbreaking Oral Tradition as History makes passing reference to memorable battles in his analysis of stories that are preserved over the generations, but he offers no guidance on how to use these stories to better understand the military activities of African kings and states.4 Similarly, the richly detailed West African griot accounts are also state focused, which is understandable given that these oral tradition specialists made their living in royal courts teaching “kings the history of their ancestors.”5 While historical archaeology has the potential to compensate for the limits of these textual and oral sources, Africanist archaeologists have also not paid much explicit attention to African soldiers and military institutions.6

For the West African savanna and Atlantic coastal regions, the picture that emerges from these fairly limited sources is that warfare played a key role in state formation and empire building. Guns, horses, and slaves figure prominently in these narratives, with the common theme being that guns and horses were expensive and easily monopolized military assets that facilitated slave trading. In turn, the lucrative sale of human captives financed the purchase of more guns and horses, thereby allowing for more slave raiding. But these horse-gun-slave cycles overprivilege the political and social influence of military technologies, and the prevalence of horses and guns in West African military narratives may reflect the interests and biases of the foreigners who provide most of the textual accounts of African states and military practices during this period.

In the Sahel, powerful states such as Ghana, Mali, and Songhay were primarily cavalry powers that built empires from the 11th to 19th centuries by subjugating the small but culturally distinct polities scattered throughout the region. These were self-professed Muslim states whose wealth and influence stemmed from their control of the lucrative trade in gold, slaves, and salt through the Sahara. Many historians single out horses as the key factor in determining the balance of power in the Sahel. Cavalrymen had an advantage over foot soldiers in the open terrain of the desert edge and savanna grasslands. However, the region was not entirely healthy for horses, particularly the wetter areas near the Niger River and the edge of the southern forests. The best mounts had to be imported at great expense, and cavalry formations therefore largely comprised subordinate elites who served in return for state support. The profits from slave raiding were most likely a key means of supporting large cavalry formations. By the 16th century, the army of Songhay had a core of professional cavalrymen supported by royal estates and on extended campaigns the Askiyas (emperors) augmented these mobile units with mass levies and slave soldiers.

The lucrative Saharan trade, which supported these large armies, made the Sahel a place of legendary wealth in the Muslim and Christian worlds. Arab historians record that the 14th-century Malian emperor Mansa Musa distributed so much gold on his pilgrimage to Mecca that the resulting glut depressed its value in Cairo for over a decade. This affluence predictably attracted invaders along the shortest and most accessible northwestern Saharan trade routes. Ibn Khaldoun attributed the demise of the first great Sahelian empire of Ghana in the 11th century to incursions by Berber Almoravids from Morocco. There are no details of this “invasion,” which some contemporary historians suggest did not happen, but the Moroccan Sultan Mulay Ahmad al-Mansur’s victory over a much larger Songhay army at the battle of Tondibi in 1591 is well documented.7 Most accounts attribute the Moroccan victory to the superiority of the guns used by the Sultan’s small and mostly mercenary army. This may well have been a factor in the rout of the poorly organized Songhay forces, but the Moroccans’ initial advantages evaporated during their failed twenty-year war of occupation. The Moroccan artillery was only useful in dry and open grasslands, and both soldiers and horses fell ill and died when the fighting shifted to swampier regions near the Niger River.

The diversion of lucrative long-distance trade from the Saharan networks to new commercial entrepôts on the Atlantic coast following the maritime revolution of the late 15th century was most likely a cause and consequence of the Moroccan invasion. The resulting loss of revenue from this shift meant that there were no further Sahelian empires on the scale of Songhay, and political tensions resulting from the diminished affluence led to a wave of strife that swept through the savanna in the late 17th century. Militantly reformist Islamic clerics justified armed revolt by accusing the established savannan Muslim rulers of apostasy and tyranny. Many of these revolutions fizzled out, but some were transformative. In 1804, the Fulbe shaykh Usman dan Fodio launched the most successful of the jihads against the emirs of the Hausa city states. Leading an army of cavalrymen and foot soldiers armed with bows, he and his followers created the Sokoto Caliphate by overthrowing one emir after another. The widespread fighting through the savanna during this jihadist period generated large numbers of captives, which the victors profitably sold into the Saharan and Atlantic slave trades.

Warfare played an equally significant creative and destructive role in the West African forests, particularly after the maritime revolution integrated the region into the wider Atlantic world. As in the Sahel, military prowess facilitated political centralization as the victors in battle turned small states into empires by first raiding and then conquering their neighbors. The slave merchant John Barbot, who visited the forest Kingdom of Benin in the late 17th century, observed that it was perpetually at war with its neighbors. According to Barbot, the King of Benin had a thirty-thousand-strong standing army that could be expanded to a hundred thousand foot soldiers and cavalrymen in wartime.8

Horses were less of a factor in this part of Africa because of their vulnerability to tse-tse fly–borne trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness). Along the rivers of the Senegambia region, and in the forests of the Gold and Slave coasts, bows and arrows, javelins, and later firearms were the weapons of choice in dispersed and close-quarter fighting. Horse-born soldiers were more effective further south in the forest “gap” where the savanna grasslands reached the coast. Centered in contemporary western Nigeria, cavalry formations allowed the Oyo city-states to build a powerful empire in the 17th and 18th centuries.

One of the greatest confrontations in West African military history was the ongoing wars between Oyo and the Kingdom of Dahomey. Initially a relatively minor tributary of the Kingdom of Allada, Dahomey became a major power in the mid-18th century when it conquered the entire Slave Coast (the maritime regions of modern Benin and Togo). The Oyo cavalry checked its further expansion, and successive victories forced the Dahomeans to pay tribute to the Oyo Empire. But the inability of horses to survive in wetter regions meant that Oyo could not actually occupy and rule its coastal rival.

The balance of power on the West African coast shifted in 1823 when the Dahomean King Ghezo defeated the Oyo Empire. Deemed a “black Sparta” by European visitors, Ghezo’s Dahomey boasted a well-trained standing professional army that included a corps of female musketeers, whom Westerners predictably labeled “Amazons.” Introduced by European merchants and mercenaries in the 16th century, firearms enabled small well-trained bodies of men, and women in the case of the Dahomeans, to win wars in forest regions where mobility was limited. These same elite formations, which were sometimes made up of specially trained slaves, could also be used against domestic political enemies, thereby facilitating the creation of larger centralized states. Brodie Cruickshank, who visited Ghezo’s court in the 1840s, reported that the Dahomeans earned the staggering equivalent of $300,000 per year through the slave trade, which dwarfed the $2,000 annual allowance that the British offered as inducement to embrace the abolitionist cause. Clearly not intimidated by his visitors, Ghezo explained that his army and state would collapse without the necessary revenues from the slave trade.9

It it would be unwise, however, to place too much emphasis on the transformative nature of a gun-driven “military revolution” in West Africa. While firearms undoubtedly played a central role in slave raiding and state formation, muskets and cannons were not necessarily always superior to more conventional weapons. They were bulky, inaccurate, and had a slow rate of fire, which left musketeers vulnerable to attack by swift, lightly armed skirmishers on an open battlefield. The limited effectiveness of guns versus horsemen helps to explain Oyo’s advantage over Dahomey in battles fought in the forest gap. A more realistic assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of early modern firearms also helps to correct anachronistic assumptions of Western superiority in confrontations between Europeans and coastal Africans. While European mercenaries participated in many of the region’s wars, the major European merchant powers did not establish trading stations on the Slave and Gold coasts through force of arms but by paying rent to local rulers.

The limitations of early modern European military technologies and tactics are most evident in the grinding hundred-year war that the Portuguese fought in Central Africa. After arriving in the late 15th century, the Portuguese established strong relationships with local powers. King Nzinga a Nkuwu of the Kongo, who converted to Christianity to become Joao I, used Portuguese military support to dispatch his rivals, but Portuguese slave raiding undermined the authority of his son Alfonso I and eventually plunged the kingdom into civil war. To the south, in contemporary Angola, similar Portuguese meddling and aggressive slave raiding led to open warfare with the Kingdom of Ndongo. Working largely with Portuguese records, John Thornton provides an incisive analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of an early modern European army in Central Africa. While Portuguese artillery, muskets, and cavalry could be devasting against a stationary foe, there were few opportunities to exploit these advantages against the highly mobile Ndongolese forces. Frustrated Portuguese generals eventually realized that the only way to cope with these formations and tactics was to copy them, and when the conflict reached a stalemate in the 1680s, the Portuguese armies consisted largely of allied Angolan troops fighting in the local Angolan style.10

The fragmentary sources available for eastern and southern Africa that pre-date or coincide with the maritime revolution contain hints of armies and violent conflict that pre-date Western contact. In the Cape Colony, Dutch officials warned against selling iron to a once-powerful Khoikhoi chiefdom that could field three thousand soldiers before it was crippled by disease.11 Seven hundred years earlier, the 9th-century geographer and traveler al-Masudi described a non-Muslim “Zanj” kingdom on the East African coast that possessed an army of three hundred thousand horsemen.12 While this was surely an exaggeration, the mass revolt of “Zanj” African slaves in Iraq during roughly the same period suggests a high-volume trade in captives between East Africa and the Middle East. The enslavement of so many people was most likely the result of considerable warfare or organized slave raiding.

On the other hand, the demilitarized nature of Indian Ocean trade meant none of the extremely wealthy Swahili coastal trading cities were extensively fortified. While walls were an unnecessary expense when everyone was unarmed, these entrepôts were extremely vulnerable when the Portuguese burst into the Indian Ocean in the late 15th century. In sharp contrast to their troubles with the Kingdom of Ndongo in the west, the German Hans Mayr detailed how a twenty-ship Portuguese fleet easily defeated and plundered Kilwa and Mombasa in 1505.13 In this case, the Portuguese raiders’ primary advantage was their aggression, not their technology.

Finally, there is the question of how stateless societies fit within narratives of precolonial African military history. By Philip Curtin’s estimate, one quarter of the population of Africa at the turn of the twentieth century lived in societies where there was no single site or institution of concentrated political authority.14 Historians of West Africa have noted that slave raiding led to “defensive centralization” by compelling stateless people to band more closely together to fight off aggressive neighboring powers like Dahomey, but apart from that focus most textual sources from that period are focused primarily on states. Consequently, most information on the military structures and capabilities of stateless societies comes from oral traditions and European anthropological accounts produced at the beginning of the colonial era at the turn of the twentieth century.

These narratives suggest that “warriorhood” was a stage in life for most young men in stateless societies. In this sense military skills were acquired as part of a social process of maturation rather than through professional training. Beginning as youthful play, honed through hunting and apprenticeships, and tested in battle, martial prowess was a means of affirming masculinity and thus a path to adulthood.15 The details of these militaristic social institutions are difficult to uncover, particularly as the original European ethnographers viewed their subjects through simplistic tribal stereotypes. Later generations of social historians developed innovative research strategies to compensate for the ahistorical nature of such evidence. Jeffrey Fadiman, for example, convinced Meru elders to teach him about the military capabilities of precolonial age cohorts by recruiting young Meru informants to form in initiation group, which Fadiman then joined to receive the information. The picture that emerges from these oral traditions was that Meru communities, which lived on different ridge tops on the western slopes of Mount Kenya, often raided each other for glory and bride price cattle but could also join together to confront a common external enemy.16

The Turbulent 19th Century

By most accounts, the nineteenth century was a particularly violent period in African history. This stemmed in part from the greater integration of all regions of the continent, including the interior, into the wider global economy. This integration was sometimes peaceful, as in the case of West African palm oil and cocoa growers who found profitable overseas markets for their products, but the expanding ivory hunting frontier in East Africa showed that it could also be violently disruptive. At the end of the century, forced globalization took place at gunpoint when the European imperial powers conquered and partitioned the continent. Firearms and slave raiding also figure prominently in explanations for the violence of this period. Despite the anti-slave trading treaties and the formal abolition of slavery in most of the West Indies, the brutal trade in human captives continued in West and Central Africa and actually spread to the interior of East Africa. Increased imports of inexpensive mass-produced European muskets and rifles made it easier to capture slaves, prey upon stateless societies, and overthrow established states.17

Here again it would be unwise to attribute this widespread violence entirely to foreign influence. In southeastern Africa, Chaka built his powerful Zulu empire in the first two decades of the 19th century without guns. Instead, his victories came from the overall militarization of Zulu society, which was most likely inspired by competition for resources resulting from population pressure, drought, and indirect pressure from the Cape Colony and the Portuguese in Mozambique. Under Chaka’s aggressive and ruthless leadership, age sets became intensely drilled regiments that lived apart in gender-segregated barracks. Armed with hide shields and short stabbing spears (assegais), these disciplined, highly mobile regiments outflanked and crushed their opponents. The survivors had the choice of death or accepting assimilation into one of the Zulu regiments.18 This aggressive Zulu empire building touched off a military revolution in southeastern Africa as neighboring states and communities had to either flee or copy Chaka’s tactics. Successful imitators such as the Swazi launched their own expansionist wars. Chaka’s generals, who risked death if they returned home in defeat, further drove the militarization of the region by striking out northward to carve out their own states. The economic and social devastation resulting from these mfecane (“crushing”) wars left the weakened Zulu heartland unprepared to confront the heavily armed Afrikaaner settlers who pushed into the region in the 1830s. It would be interesting to know what would have happened had these Trekboers arrived a decade earlier when the Zulu empire was at the height of its power.

The mfecane also had profoundly disruptive consequences for East Africa because the northward expansion of “Zulu-ized” war bands that were offshoots of the mfecane coincided with the expansion of ivory hunting into the interior highlands. The ivory caravans were usually financed by Zanzibar-based South Asian merchants, led by Swahili-speaking Afro-Arabs, and armed with imported new guns that had enough killing power to bring down an elephant. Professional porters carried the caravans’ necessary supplies inland because sleeping sickness ruled out pack animals, and the need for massed labor to carry the heavy tusks back to the coast was an inducement for slave raiding. In the first half of the 19th century these captives could be profitably sold to coastal plantation owners or exported to Brazil and Cuba, where slavery remained legal until the 1880s.

The ivory caravans thus spread violence and political instability. They also touched off lethal epidemics by introducing smallpox, cholera, and malaria into previously isolated highland communities. By mid-century, marauding gun-carrying bands of caravan deserters, runaway slaves, refugees, and generally rootless young men menaced any community that did not have significant military capabilities. These threats were most likely a causative factor in the militarization of age sets among Rift Valley pastoral communities.19

Throughout the region, guns provided the means to control lucrative trade routes and concentrate political authority. The Kingdom of Buganda and other established states in the great lakes region tapped into the slave and ivory trade to acquire guns and expand their military capabilities. Further south, enterprising merchants and caravan leaders used their access to firearms to build private armies, which enabled some of them to establish new states. Two of the most famous, or perhaps infamous, of these strongmen were Tippu Tib, the son of a Zanzibari merchant and grandson of an elite Nyamwezi family (who carved out an empire in the eastern Congo) and Mirambo, a relatively minor Nyamwezi trader whose aggressive empire building at the head of an army of seven thousand men led Henry Morton Stanley to refer to him as an “African Bonaparte.”20 In the Horn of Africa, a similarly ordinary regional chieftain named Kassa became Emperor Tewodros II after using the new military resources to vanquish his rivals and establish centralized authority over the Ethiopian highlands in 1855.

In West Africa, the Asante Empire inflicted defeats on British forces in 1823 and 1863 as part of their struggle to assert their authority over the Fante Confederation, which was nominally allied with Britain. At this point, there was no significant technological disparity between the British and Asante forces, although the British deployed Congreve rockets to drive the Asante out of Fante territory in 1826. To the north, powerful jihad leaders in the savanna such as Umar Tal and Samori Ture followed Usman dan Fodio’s example by waging expansionist wars in the name of reformist Islam.21

Many historians, with some justification given the brutality of the period, refer to these state-building entrepreneurs as warlords. Yet, at mid-century, the new militarism appeared to empower existing states such as the Asante, and the savanna jihads had the potential to lay the groundwork for the establishment of larger political entities. It is impossible to know how many of these new states would have remained viable after the death of their founders because most all collapsed in defeat during the wars of the “new imperialism.”

There are multiple (and often conflicting) explanations for the apparent ease with which a few European powers partitioned the continent in the late 19th century. Advances in Western military technology certainly made imperial conquest feasible and affordable. Breechloading rifles, soft-pointed “dum dum” bullets, rapid-firing maxim guns, and highly portable light artillery pieces that fired fragmenting shells allowed small groups of soldiers, many of whom were in the employ of private chartered companies, to slaughter opponents by the thousands. In contrast, most African armies still relied on spears, arrows, and outdated smooth-bore flintlock muskets. Where earlier generations of foreign merchants had been willing to sell relatively advanced weaponry, in 1890 the major Western powers ratified an international convention that banned the sale of breechloading rifles to Africans. Probably the most striking example of the consequences of the resulting technological imbalance was the British massacre of eleven thousand Sudanese “dervishes” at Omdurman in just five hours during the conquest of the Sudan in 1898.22

Mindful of the consequences of their dependence on foreign suppliers for firearms, African rulers such as Samori Ture tried to establish their own arms industries. But African gunsmiths struggled to forge sufficiently strong iron rifle barrels, and there was simply no matching the output of European arms factories. Menelik II of Ethiopia solved this problem by using diplomacy and guile to acquire advanced weaponry, but most African armies were now at a significant disadvantage when facing a European foe. In 1874, a British expeditionary force compelled the Asante Empire to renounce its claims to the coast and pay an indemnity of fifty thousand ounces of gold. Similarly, the French prevailed over Samori Ture and Umar Tal’s Tukulor Empire at minimal cost in the 1890s, particularly because neither of these regimes received much support from their newly conquered African subjects.

The advanced weaponry that enabled such decisive victories led European observers to attribute their success to their cultural superiority over supposedly “primitive” peoples. In fact, the military advantages that made the new imperialism possible were the result of a short-term global technological disparity that disappeared relatively quickly in the twentieth century. The new imperialism was not a globalizing progressive engine of “modernization.” Private chartered companies, which were anachronistic vestiges of early modern mercantilism, financed and carried out most of the new imperial conquests. In the West African savanna, freelancing French army officers sought promotion and personal glory by pursuing their own private wars with the new Muslim empires without much direction at all from Paris. As one enterprising French general candidly put it: “Once in the Sudan I can thumb my nose at everybody and it will take a brave man to stop me from doing whatever I think is best.”23

It is definitely unwise to link military victory to cultural achievement, particularly as the bulk of the soldiery in the conquering imperial armies were Africans. These were either men in uniform or “native levies” that the imperial powers recruited by taking sides in local conflicts. Western troops were too expensive to be used in speculative African ventures, particularly when France, Britain, Germany, and Italy had much more pressing strategic needs for their regular forces in Europe. The European conquest of Africa would therefore not have been possible without African participation, but this does not mean that these African soldiers were traitors to some larger pan-Africanist cause. The Ghanaian historian A. Adu Boahen objected to nationalist historians’ stigmatization of African rulers who cooperated with the imperial powers as “collaborators.” In Boahen’s view, this characterization was both inaccurate and Eurocentric, and the same could be said for the foot soldiers who filled out the conquering armies.24 The most important thing that an African rifleman in the Gold Coast Corps, the Uganda Rifles, the paramilitary British South Africa Company Police, Belgium’s Force Publique, and France’s Tirailleurs Senegalais had in common was that they were either ex-slaves, refugees, former soldiers in defeated African armies, or similarly marginalized people.

These disaffected and often desperate men had no nation or polity to betray through collaboration and therefore had few reservations about using military force against strangers or elite members of their own communities. John Lonsdale thus had good reason to call the French conquest of the savanna a “creeping slave revolt.”25 The French practice of rachat entailed buying slaves to serve a period of indenture to the military before earning their freedom, and boys “rescued” from slavery by British and Egyptian forces in Uganda and the southern Sudan lived in the barracks until they were old enough to become soldiers.26 Women were also an integral part of these early colonial armies. Many were abducted by soldiers as “spoils of war,” but European officers also noted that many “wives” were formidable women who had considerable influence in the military families that evolved in the camps and barracks.27

Finally, better guns did not always guarantee victory. In 1879, a Zulu army consisting of roughly twenty thousand men armed with outdated muskets and assegais wiped out a force of six regular British Army companies and two companies of “Natal native infantry” at the battle of Isandlwana. Nearly two decades later, Menelik’s investment in European weaponry paid off when his large well-equipped army defeated the Italian invasion of Ethiopia at the 1896 battle of Adwa. The relatively conventional Western-style Anglo-South African War (1899–1902) between the British Empire and the Orange Free State and Transvaal republics, which might have appeared to have been a foregone conclusion give that it matched two hundred thousand imperial troops against only forty-five thousand Afrikaners, also had an unexpected outcome. The British imperial forces prevailed eventually, but their victory in what evolved into a guerrilla war cost twenty-two thousand imperial casualties and £230 million.28

Thus, the imperial powers’ ability to win battles did not lead to immediate political control. This was particularly true in the case of West African stateless societies that had no central authority or standing armies that could be forced to surrender after a defeat. Consequently, it took the British and the French decades to conquer the Tiv people of southern Nigeria and the Baule in the Cote d’Ivoire. In the later case, the French prevailed by using scorched earth tactics to starve the Baule into submission. Evasion was also an effective tactic. Both Samori Ture and Umar Tal’s son Amadu shifted their centers of rule and bases of operation out of French-controlled territory after suffering military reverses, and the highly mobile forces of Muhammad Abdallah Hasan (whom the British slandered as the “Mad Mullah”) fought a successful insurgency against both British and Italian pursuers in the Horn of Africa until after World War I.

The Colonial Era

After the new imperial era, Africa appears in conventional military histories of the first half of the 20th century as a site of military campaigns and battles during the world wars. Most Africanist historians, alternatively, focus on the role of colonial militaries in suppressing African dissent. In both narratives, African soldiers and African military institutions tended to treated as peripheral. This is unfortunate and misleading. The chronically underfunded colonial regimes were precarious institutions that depended on African participation to govern effectively. African soldiers were some of the most important of these intermediaries because they made the colonial rule of Africa cost effective. Although they are largely missing from conventional military history narratives, African women played a central role in the creation of colonial armies. Military officers linked access to women with good discipline and went to great pains to supply their men with “wives.” In the early days of European rule this usually meant turning a blind eye to abduction and rape, but after World War I there were “married quarters” in most barracks, and British officers often went so far as to pay the bride price for their men. On active service, French units had access to formal military brothels, while the British authorities often tacitly allowed individual officers to make similar arrangements. These “military women” were often disruptive and independent minded, but they also provided essential domestic labor.29 The inexpensiveness of colonial soldiers, both in terms of their pay and their lives, explains why the European powers recruited hundreds of thousands of Africans for service in foreign wars and overseas counter-insurgency operations. In this sense they helped make empire affordable on a global scale.

Colonial African armies were born of the stopgap improvised forces that chartered companies and military adventurers recruited during the conquest phase of the new imperialism. France was the most aggressive of the imperial powers in raising a large African army. Established in 1857 by Napoleon III, the Tirailleurs Senegalais (Senegalese sharpshooters) were the colonial army for all of French sub-Saharan Africa.30 While the French abandoned the practice of purchasing slave soldiers in the 1880s, French generals unapologetically relied on conscription to impress tens of thousands of men from across French West and Equatorial Africa on the grounds that their African subjects had an obligation to defend metropolitan France in return for the civilizing benefits of French rule. Mindful of their humiliating defeat in the Franco-Prussian War, the primary reason for raising these force noire (black forces) was to augment the regular French Army in the looming confrontation with Germany in Continental Europe.

Britain’s colonial forces reflected the more decentralized and diverse nature of its African empire. In contrast to French practice, there was no single British colonial African army. In West Africa, the Colonial Office ordered the amalgamation of the Lagos Constabulary, the Royal Niger Company Constabulary, the Niger Coast Protective Force, the Gold Coast Constabulary, and the Sierra Leone Frontier Police into the West African Frontier Force (later the Royal West African Frontier Force or RWAFF) in 1897 in the name of efficiency and cost effectiveness and to create a counterweight to the growing French military presence in West Africa. Similar concerns in East Africa led to consolidation of the Central African Rifles (recruited in Nyasaland), the Uganda Rifles, and the East African Rifles (Kenya) into the King’s African Rifles (KAR) in 1902. After World War I, British-ruled Tanganyika also contributed troops to the KAR. In addition to these large federated inter-territorial formations, single territory units included the Sudanese Defence Force, the Northern Rhodesian Regiment, the Rhodesian African Rifles, and the Somaliland Camel Corps (which was replaced by the Somali Scouts after the Camel Corps mutinied during World War II). These African forces were usually sufficient to defend colonial civil authority, but British strategists could call on battalions from the regular British and Indian armies in times of crisis. Finally, the Union of South Africa, which was never willing to tolerate a force of armed Africans, raised its own all-European Union Defence Force in 1912.

Of the lesser imperial powers, Belgium’s Force Publique had the distinction of being the largest peacetime standing army in colonial Africa with a strength of roughly twenty-five thousand men. It was, however, arguably the least disciplined. Composed primarily of mercenaries, ex-slaves, and the remnants of the eastern African slave-raiding armies, its officers were a rag-tag mix of European adventurers who sought their fortunes in King Leopold’s Congo Free State. The Force Publique’s pay rates were so low before World War I that its soldiery had implicit permission to “live off the land” by preying on the local populace.31

The German Schutztruppe (Protection Force), by comparison, was the smallest and best-disciplined colonial army of the pre-WWI era. Numbering only 6,500 men in 1914, it owed its efficiency to a much higher percentage of professional European officers and non-commissioned officers than was the norm for most colonial African armies.32 But this did not mean that it treated African civilians any better than the Force Publique. In German East Africa, askaris (African soldiers) also had the privilege of seizing women and resources from local communities.33

The quality and discipline of the Italian and Portuguese colonial forces fell between the Belgian and German extremes. Italy’s Regio Corpo Truppe Coloniali [the Royal corps of colonial troops], was a largely Eritrean force that numbered roughly four thousand men at the beginning of World War I. Portugal, as noted, had an imperial presence in Africa dating to the late 15th century, but it was a marginal power during the new imperial era. After undergoing reorganization at the turn of the 20th century the Exército Ultramarino [Overseas army], sometimes known as the Exército Colonial [Colonial army], consisted of regular units, comprising African and locally recruited settlers, augmented by irregular “tribal” forces. In 1914, Portuguese regulations called for the conscription of twenty-five thousand African soldiers, which were to constitute 44 percent of all Portuguese forces in Africa.34

“Defense” was the primary mission of all colonial military units in peacetime. This meant the defense of the colonial regime’s interests, which in practice entailed the subjugation of African populations. Such operations included the suppression of open rebellions such as the 1905 Maji Maji revolt in German East Africa, the final overthrow of stubbornly independent states such as the Wadai Empire in French West Africa (1909–1911), and the compulsion of ordinary people to accept more direct rule as was the case in the Sierra Leonian Hut Tax War in 1898. Military operations sometimes had a more sinister agenda in removing resisting populations that stood in the way of further European settlement. This was the case with the Southern Rhodesian Matabele Wars in the 1890s, and most notoriously the 1903 German campaign to exterminate the Herero people in German South West Africa. The imperial powers often referred to these operations as “pacification campaigns,” which belied the often-lethal nature of their outcomes. By the 1920s, however, European rule in Africa was sufficiently secure that the main internal security role of colonial armies was intimidation rather outright aggressive action.

As mentioned above, France’s main motive for raising a large African army was to counter Germany’s military manpower advantage. During World War I, authorities in French West and Equatorial Africa conscripted roughly 135,000 men into the Tirailleurs Senegalais. Most were impressed in 1917 when the French became desperate for troops on the Western Front. Blaise Diagne, the Senegalese representative in the French Chamber of Deputies and Captain Abdel-Kader Mademba (a grandson of Umar Tal) assisted in the mass levy in exchange for the promise of greater political rights and benefits for African veterans after the war. This conscription dragnet produced mass revolts in the French West African savanna regions, but some the recruits were volunteers. Joe Lunn tells the story of Kande Kamara, the son of a Susu aristocrat, who chose to join the Tirailleurs for masculine honor, adventure, and to preserve his family’s elite status.35 These African units, which French generals often deployed as shock troops in trench warfare in the later stages of the war, constituted approximately 3 percent of the entire French army fighting in Europe. They also suffered some twenty-five thousand casualties.

The Tirailleurs Senegalais also took part in the Allied occupation of Togoland and Kamerun, but British colonial forces played the greatest role in dismantling Germany’s African empire. While neutralizing German ports and wireless stations protected Allied shipping, imperial expansion was the primary reason why World War I came to Africa. To this end, the Union government seized German Southwest Africa and contributed troops to operations in German East Africa with an eye to creating a “greater” South Africa. After the 1914 invasion of the German colony by settler militias from the East African Protectorate and Indian Army units floundered, imperial strategists launched a new campaign to seize the German colony in 1916 that included troops from the regular British Army, the South African Defence Force, the King’s African Rifles, the Rhodesian Native Regiment (a temporary wartime unit), and even the Royal West African Frontier Force. These forces vastly outnumbered the German Schutztruppe, but General Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck’s highly mobile force deftly avoided a pitched battle and held out until the end of the war. High casualty rates suffered by European troops resulting from disease led their governments to withdraw most of them, which made the East African campaign a largely African conflict in the final years of the war. While the British authorities claimed that their African combat troops were all volunteers, in reality most were conscripted by chiefs and other local authorities who had to meet set manpower quotas or face dismissal.36

World War I also marked the first use of specialized African military labor units. The South African and metropolitan British governments both feared the consequences of giving subject Africans advanced military training. Hoping to keep World War I a “white man’s war,” they created the South African Native Labour Contingent (SANLC) to free up European manpower for combat formations by taking support roles behind the lines. Some twenty-one thousand members of the SANLC, most of whom were conscripts, served in Europe during the war.37 While African porters were an integral part of all colonial armies during the conquest era, the huge logistical problems faced by campaigning African armies in inhospitable areas during World War I required the mass conscription of men and women to carry their supplies. In East Africa, British authorities calculated that each operational infantryman had to be supported by four “carriers.” In all, the East African governments conscripted roughly half a million men into the Carrier Corps during the war, of which at least forty thousand (perhaps many more) died from combat wounds, disease, or malnutrition.38

The imperial powers would have preferred to have kept their colonial subjects out of the fighting in World War II lest they expect political and social concessions in return, but as in World War I, their larger strategic interests brought the conflict to Africa. The Italians followed their 1935 invasion and occupation of Ethiopia with an attack on British Somaliland in 1940. The British campaign that drove them out of the Horn of Africa in 1941 relied primarily on units from the Sudan Defence Force, the South African Defence Force, the King’s African Rifles, the Royal West African Frontier Force, and (despite the Nazi occupation of Belgium) the Force Publique. They faced a two-hundred-and twenty-thousand-strong Italian army that was 75 percent Eritrean and Ethiopian, which made the East African Campaign a largely African conflict. Similarly, the 1942 British invasion of Vichy-controlled Madagascar pitted the King’s African Rifles against the Tirailleur Senegalais.

The profound threat that the Axis powers posed to Britain and its empire forced British imperial strategists to make far more extensive use of African troops in World War II than they had in World War I. Putting aside their earlier opposition to deploying colonial units outside Africa, they raised new military labor units, known as the African Auxiliary Pioneer Corps and the South African Military Labour Corps, for the North Africa Campaign and sent the equivalent of four divisions of African infantry to take part in the 1944 imperial reoccupation of Burma. Once again, official British propaganda claimed that all combat troops were volunteers and that only military laborers were conscripts, but, as in World War I, chiefs and district officers met strict manpower quotas by compelling men to enlist for every branch of the colonial army.

The French were not so particular and made no apologies for conscripting men into the Tirailleurs Senegalais. Where African troops constituted 3 percent of the French army on the Western Front in World War I, the roughly one hundred thousand Tirailleurs facing the German invasion of 1940 represented 9 percent of the total French force. As many as forty-eight thousand of these men were missing in action after the French capitulation, with only fifteen thousand accounted for in German prisoner-of-war camps. After the French collapse, both the Vichy and Free French regimes continued to conscript Africans to fill out their armies, and Charles de Gaulle simply impressed the Vichy Tirailleur units after Marshall Petain’s government collapsed. In 1944, one in five of his Free French forces were North or sub-Saharan Africans.39

The colonial military authorities were notoriously poor record keepers, but it is likely that about one million Africans served in World War II.40 Critics of the colonial militaries worried about the consequences of giving so many colonial subjects military training, particularly when African soldiers became more aggressive in making claims for better benefits and living conditions. Mutinies and strikes embarrassed the military authorities, so they tended to cover up as much wartime unrest as possible. But the most serious incidents survive in the historical record. These include mass insubordination by the men of the Twenty-Fifth (East Africa) Brigade to secure home leave after the end of the East African Campaign in 1942, a December 1944 mutiny by non-commissioned officers in the Force Publique over poor treatment by the Belgians, and most significantly, a mass protest by over twelve hundred unarmed Tirailleurs (many of whom were ex-POWs) at the Senegalese town of Thiaroye that same month. This last incident, which was largely over unpaid wages, led to a violent clash with French troops that resulted in at least thirty-five deaths among the striking African soldiery.

A central feature of the study of African veterans of both world wars is the question of their influence in colonial society. This was more straightforward in French Africa given the greater numbers of ex-Tirailleurs and the concessions secured by Blaise Diagne in return for his assistance in the mass levy of 1917. These African World War I veterans were exempt from forced labor and the head tax and were eligible for vocational training, health benefits, and preference in government jobs. The most decorated men from the four communes of Senegal received French citizenship. All World War II veterans, in turn, had the franchise, which made them 5 percent of the African electorate in 1946. This gave them significant political influence in postwar politics.41

The British, by comparison, once again followed a policy of “retribalization” that sought to return African veterans to their rural communities with a minimum of social disruption. Seeking to avoid the creation of a privileged “African military caste,” colonial administrators argued that former soldiers should receive no special treatment apart from their accumulated pay, disability payments, and service benefits. While the ex-servicemen bitterly resented this treatment, retribalization largely succeeded in ensuring that they had minimal political influence in British Africa. The one significant exception was the leadership role that Gold Coast veterans played in organizing the 1948 mass protests over slow political change and postwar inflation.42 The role of African veterans of World War II in the Mau Mau revolt has been considerably overstated.43

Fearing that colonial military veterans may become a political threat, civil officials and European settlers preferred to return to the prewar practice of keeping colonial African armies relatively small. But British and French strategists considered African soldiers inexpensive and effective assets at a time when their empires were under threat from the Eastern Bloc powers and militant anticolonial nationalists. In the decade after World War II, the Tirailleurs Senegalais garrisoned an increasingly restive Algeria, played a central role in crushing the 1947 anti-French revolt in Madagascar, and saw heavy combat in Vietnam during the First Indochina War.44 In the British case, the War Office raised a ten-thousand-man East African Pioneer Corps to keep the Suez Canal Zone bases running after the Egyptian government renounced the 1936 Anglo-Egyptian Treaty and withdrew all civilian laborers from the massive military complex in 1951. Battalions from the King’s African Rifles, Northern Rhodesian Regiment, and the Rhodesian African Rifles fought Communist rebels in Malaya, and, despite the increasingly anti-imperial sentiments of individual African soldiers, KAR battalions served equally effectively against the Kenya Land Freedom Army during the Mau Mau Emergency.45

The National Era

While the Tirailleurs Senegalais, King’s African Rifles, and Royal West African Frontier Force evolved into relatively advanced formations by the 1950s, there was no military solution to African nationalism and the inherent problems of empire. The anticolonial revolts in Vietnam, Madagascar, Kenya, and Algeria drove this lesson home to the metropolitan British and French governments. With the resulting transfer of power in the 1960s, the main military question in Africa was how to turn colonial military units into national armies. This was particularly challenging given that the Tirailleurs, KAR, and RWAFF were recruited across multiple colonies. National independence entailed sorting out these federated military formations, with the battalions recruited in a particular colony becoming its national army. The aim was to create as ethnically uniform a force as possible to conform to the ideal of a homogenous nation-state.

With nationally minded historians in new African universities focused on telling the stories of heroic resistance to imperialism, African soldiers and military institutions became the primary concern of journalists and social scientists. Their expectation was that new armies would promote national unity by becoming modernizing “schools for citizenship” on the Israeli model. Just as service in the Israeli military supposedly taught Jews from around the world to be Israelis, the new African armies would turn diverse “tribesmen” into citizen soldiers.46

This was wishful thinking. The primary reason that African soldiers accepted military discipline in colonial armies was not because they were ignorant tribesmen, collaborators, or mercenaries but because the colonial authorities used a combination of coercion and privilege to keep them isolated from the rest of society. These men were not particularly enthusiastic imperial subjects, nor did they have larger allegiances to the territories in which they served. Their loyalties were to their home communities, which were invariably rural and not particularly well educated. These imperial recruiting practices, which Cynthia Enloe called the “Gurkha Syndrome,” date to Roman times, and as Kenneth Grundy noted in the case of the Africans who served in the apartheid era South African Defence Forces, were largely successful in producing “soldiers without politics” who did not directly challenge the dominant political order.47

Thus, colonial military service was entirely incompatible with the ideals and practices of national armies where rank-and-file soldiers were citizens and not imperial subjects. In the aftermath of grand independence ceremonies marking the transfer of power, ceremonies in which they usually played a starring role, many of these men became frustrated and insubordinate upon realizing how little had changed under the new nationalist regimes. While their uniforms bore national symbols, the failure of the imperial powers to produce sufficient numbers of African officers with the qualifications to run modern armies meant that most new nations had no choice but to retain former colonial officers as expatriate advisors. Pay and benefits, which were relatively generous in colonial times, now failed to keep pace with inflation.

The inability of the new African nationalist regimes to manage the difficult balance of privilege and coercion that disciplined colonial armies resulted in a wave of mutinies and coups in the decades after independence. The most notorious of these was the 1960 mutiny by the Force Publique just days after the Congo received its independence. According to reports, the Belgian commander, who remained in charge of the now national army, sparked the revolt by writing “before independence—after independence” on a barracks blackboard.48 In 1963, the first successful military coup in Africa took place in Togo when former Tirailleurs, who were angered by their loss of status, overthrew President Sylvanus Olympio. Three years later, President Azikiwe of Nigeria and Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana suffered the same fate at the hands of their national armies. It took British military action to keep Jomo Kenyatta, Julius Nyerere, and Milton Obote in power when the former soldiers of the King’s African Rifles mutinied almost simultaneously in the last week of January 1964. The French were even more aggressive in intervening in coups and revolutions to prop up pro-French regimes.

In some nations the seizure of power by soldiers amounted to little more than a change in government, but in others military interventions led to civil war by upsetting precarious political arrangements left in place by the departing colonial powers. This was the case in the Congo where the Force Publique’s mutiny opened the way for the Katanga succession, which in turn made the country a venue for a proxy war between the Cold War powers. In the Sudan, the Sudanese Defence Force’s mutiny at independence in 1955 reflected deep cultural and religious divisions in the new country and set in motion a civil war that ran hot and cold for decades until the Southern Sudan finally became a separate nation in 2011. Similarly, the 1966 military coup in Nigeria was both the result of the unworkable federal system left behind by Britain at independence and the cause of its demise. The breakdown of civil authority inflamed regional and ethnic tensions that led to the disastrous Biafran War of succession one year later. The ensuing conflict, which had the distinction of being the first war in Africa fought under exclusively African leadership, killed more than a half a million people.49

By the 1970s, social scientists had understandably ceased to see African armies as schools for citizenship and instead sought explanations for the propensity of African soldiers to intervene in politics. One study estimated that 90 percent of all African states experienced at least one coup or coup plot between 1960 and 1985.50 Most social science explanations for this instability focused on structural problems. These included lack of economic diversification, insufficient economic growth, political inexperience, dependency on foreign aid, “tribalism,” and corruption. One ambitious study went so far as to claim that a statistical analysis of these quantified variables could predict the possibility of future coups with the same level of accuracy as “weather forecasting with its probabilities of tomorrow’s rainfall.”51 An alternate, more Africa-focused theory rejected the argument that military service was modernizing and held that African soldiers were “traditionalizers” whose incomplete integration into post-colonial society left them alienated from the new class of political elites and thus more prone to intervene in civil affairs.52 In hindsight, postcolonial military interventions were a legacy of the authoritarian nature of Western imperial rule in Africa. It was unrealistic to imagine that the privileged but isolated colonial soldiery could be transformed into citizen soldiers with the stroke of a pen at independence.

But at least there was little initial violence in the transfer of power in British and French Africa. The wars of liberation in southern Africa in the 1960s and 1970s were much bloodier. Unable and unwilling to follow the blueprint of the peaceful transfer of power to majority African regimes because they had staked their futures in Africa, South African whites and the settlers in Rhodesia and Portuguese Africa sought to thwart African nationalism through military means.

In the 1960s, Portugal’s African colonies were too important to metropolitan Portugal to surrender. They supplied nearly a quarter of its budget and were home to almost four hundred thousand settlers. While the Portuguese made token efforts to end racial discrimination in their empire, African nationalists in Mozambique, Angola, and Guinea Bissau embraced armed revolt as the surest path to self-determination. In South Africa, the African National Congress established a paramilitary arm in 1961 (the Umkhonto we Sizwe, or “Spear of the Nation”) in response to the South African security forces’ murder of hundreds of unarmed protestors at Sharpeville the year before. The ANC’s counterparts in Rhodesia adopted similar guerrilla tactics after Ian Smith’s Rhodesian Front government responded to British pressure to reach an accord with the nationalists by declaring its unilateral declaration of independence in 1965.

The resulting guerrilla wars pitted nationalist armies, backed by the Organization of African Unity’s Liberation Committee, Cuba, and various Eastern Bloc powers, against the better equipped forces of the settler regimes. The Portuguese initially drew strength from their membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, but embargoes and sanctions denied the Rhodesians and South Africans international support. Ironically, recruiting inexpensive and expendable African troops from subject populations was an effective means of compensating for this isolation. Initially, Portuguese commanders were reluctant to rely on African soldiers, but mounting losses forced them to be pragmatic. And by the end of the conflicts roughly half of their troops were Africans.53 The Smith regime similarly expanded the Rhodesian African Rifles to three full battalions by the late 1970s. The South Africans’ larger European population gave them the luxury of keeping the South African Defence Force largely white, but they too recruited African units. These included the all-Khoisan (Bushman) 31 Battalion, who served as scouts and trackers.54

Recognizing they could not win a decisive victory on the battlefield, the African insurgents prevailed by making the counter-insurgency wars too expensive in terms of manpower and resources. Portugal was the first to capitulate. The loss of approximately thirteen thousand men in more than a decade of fighting was a factor in the 1974 military coup that brought down the Portuguese government and ended the Portuguese Empire in Africa. Six years later, similar pressures forced Ian Smith to accept a power-sharing arrangement with the two main Zimbabwean nationalist factions. The ANC’s Umkhonto we Sizwe, by comparison, was never a significant military force; however, its guerrilla activities, which included bombings and other acts of terrorism, contributed to the isolation that led the apartheid regime to accept majority African rule. Unfortunately, the end of settler colonialism did not bring peace to southern Africa. After the Portuguese retreat from Angola and Mozambique in 1974 the various rival factions continued to fight on for almost two more decades, abetted and encouraged by South Africa and the cold war powers, over the spoils of independence.

In hindsight, it is debatable whether African nations actually needed conventional armies because African militaries themselves were often the main threat to civilian rule. There have in fact been only a few conventional cross-border wars between African nations since independence: Somalia versus Ethiopia (1977), Uganda versus Tanzania (1978), Rwanda versus the Congo (1996), and Eritrea versus Ethiopia (1999). The huge sums of money (most of it borrowed) spent on military expansion and advanced hardware contributed to the debt crises that bedeviled many African nations in the 1980s. The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the ensuing end of the Cold War reduced the flow of military aid by eliminating the need for African clients and proxies. Forced austerity brought on by the neoliberal structural adjustments that the Western powers made a condition for continued aid further reduced the funding available for African armies.

Unfortunately, these developments did not reduce civil-military tensions, nor did they bring greater overall security to Africa. The collapse of governmental authority in Somalia, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Rwanda, and the Congo brought a return to the chaos of the late 19th century by allowing militias, private armies, and other armed non-state actors to prey on civilian populations. The events in the Congo have been the most tragic. Touched off in 1997 by the Rwandan invasion in pursuit of remnants of the Hutu regime complicit in the Rwandan genocide three years earlier, the demise of Mobutu Sese Sekou’s rule led to an African “great war” in which Uganda, Rwanda, Zimbabwe, Angola, and Namibia backed various rebel groups in an effort to monopolize the country’s vast mineral wealth. The conflict is ongoing, but casualty estimates for the 1990s alone number over three million.55

Most journalistic accounts and social science studies of African military matters during this period attribute this kind of irregular warfare to state failure. From a historical perspective, it is hard to argue that the states inherited at the transfer of power were ever viable or “successful” in the first place, but there can be little question that the fighting that has afflicted certain parts of Africa since the end of the Cold War has blurred the boundary between combatant and civilian non-combatant. There are several reasons for this. The disinclination of the international community to recognize victorious rebel regimes as legitimate has removed a key incentive for seizing power through military coups and conventional insurgencies. Secondly, significant revenue losses resulting from corruption and forced austerity have made the capture of state institutions less appealing. Consequently, ordinary people became targets.

Once central governments could no longer enforce their monopoly on the use of violence and collective force, new forms of military institutions emerged. In the absence of centralized authority, militaristic entrepreneurs sought to control informal commercial networks (which were often illegal) and natural resources like diamonds and timber that fetched high prices in the global economy by mobilizing bands of young and untrained fighters.56 Many of these foot soldiers were conscripted children, a recruiting practice that hearkens back to the purchase of boys in savanna slave markets by colonial military officers in the late 19th century. One study estimated that there were some one hundred twenty thousand child soldiers in Africa in 2002, mostly fighting in militias in Sierra Leone and Liberia and with Joseph Kony’s millenarian Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda.57

It is important to keep in mind, however, that the violence resulting from this new kind of warfare does not extend to the entire continent of Africa. While the military capabilities of some countries have unquestionably degraded since the end of the Cold War, not all African states have failed. Moreover, the international community’s hesitancy to become involved in supposedly intractable regional and ethnic conflicts have led the African Union, in cooperation with states such as Nigeria and South Africa that retain robust militaries, to develop its own peacekeeping capabilities.58 The effectiveness of African-led peacekeeping operations in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Lesotho, and the Horn of Africa has admittedly been limited, and the expansion of militant Islamicist groups in the West African savanna and Somalia in recent years threatens to once again draw Africans into larger global conflicts.

Discussion of the Literature

Most of the works on warfare and military matters in the precolonial era reflect the overall interest of Africanists in slave raiding, firearms, horses, and states. John Thornton’s Warfare in Atlantic Africa, 1500–1800 is a comprehensive and accessible survey that stands out as one of the few explicit works of military history focusing on this period.59 Warfare and Diplomacy in Pre-Colonial West Africa by Robert Smith is a slightly more dated but still useful regional study that covers some of the same ground.60 For more detailed studies see Robin Law’s The Oyo Empire, c.1600–c.1836, David Robinson’s The Holy War of Umar Tal: The Western Sudan in the Mid-Nineteenth Century, Richard Reid’s War in Pre-Colonial Eastern Africa, and Carolyn Hamilton’s Terrific Majesty: The Powers of Shaka Zulu and the Limits of Historical Invention.61 African Military History, edited by John Lamphear, is a compilation of some of the most influential articles relating to the precolonial era in key Africanist journals.62

The conquest and partition of Africa in the late 19th century figures in many conventional military history narratives and soldiers’ memoirs, but in most of these studies Africans usually play the role of savage tribesmen. Bruce Vandervort’s Wars of Imperial Conquest in Africa, 1830–1914 is a well-balanced and welcome exception.63 One of the most useful English-language works on France’s imperial African wars is A. S. Kanya-Forstner’s The Conquest of the Western Sudan: A Study in French Military Imperialism, and for those who read French there is Yves Person’s Samori: une Révolution Dyula.64 Good examples of the early postcolonial literature on African “primary resistance” to imperialism are Michael Crowder’s edited collection of essays West African Resistance: The Military Response to Colonial Occupation and War and Society in Africa: Ten Studies edited by Bethwell Ogot.65 For the Anglo-South African War, see Bill Nasson’s The South African War for a useful overview and his Abraham Esau’s War: A Black South African War in the Cape, 1899–1902 for a uniquely African perspective on what is conventionally seen as a conflict between two European armies.66 Much of the literature on the conquest era is state focused, but John Lamphear’s The Scattering Time: Turkana Responses to Colonial Rule is one of the few studies of a stateless society at war.67

Works on the military history of the colonial era fall into two categories: narratives of African roles in the world wars and social histories of African soldiers. The pioneering edited collections in the first category are Melvin Page’s Africa and the First World War and Richard Rathbone and David Killingray’s Africa and the Second World War.68 Albert Grundlingh’s Fighting Their Own War: South African Blacks and the First World War is a comprehensive study of the South African Native Labour Corps, while Ashley Jackson provides a holistic look at how Bechuanaland experienced World War II in Botswana 1939–1945: An African Country at War.69

Myron Echenberg’s Colonial Conscripts: The Tirailleurs Senegalais in French West Africa, 1857–1960 is the pioneering social history of the Tirailleurs. It can be usefully read in tandem with Anthony Clayton’s France, Soldiers and Africa.70 For two exceptional examples of the effective use of oral sources in African military history, see Joe Lunn’s Memoirs of the Maelstrom: A Senegalese Oral History of the First World War and Nancy Lawler’s Soldiers of Misfortune: Ivoirien Tirailleurs of World War II.71 Native Sons: West African Veterans and France in the 20th Century by Gregory Mann covers the post-military lives of the Tirailleurs.72 There are no corresponding social histories of African service in the Royal West Africa Frontier Force, but see Timothy Parsons’s The African Rank-and-File: Social Implications of Colonial Service in the King’s African Rifles, 1902–1964 for the King’s African Rifles and Timothy Stapleton’s African Police and Soldiers in Colonial Zimbabwe for the Rhodesian African Rifles.73 Violent Intermediaries: African Soldiers, Conquest, and Everyday Colonialism in German East Africa by Michelle Moyd is the definitive English-language study of the German Schutztruppe.74

Most historical studies of African soldiers and military institutions ended with the transfer of power. This, to a large degree, was due to restrictions on the archives of the late colonial era under thirty-year closure rules and the overall dearth of governmental records relating to military matters after independence. Therefore, the Country Studies series produced by the American government’s Federal Research Division is one of the best sources for detailed information on African armies. For example, in 1963 the twenty-six-hundred-man Senegalese national army comprised five battalions, had a French army colonel as its chief of staff, and still used outdated French equipment and uniforms.75

Limitations on conventional archival evidence, coupled with African historians’ association of African soldiers with colonial armies, meant that social scientists and journalists provided most of the accounts of the founding of national African armies and the subsequent intrusion of soldiers into the political sphere. Colin Legum was one of the most astute observers of African politics and wars during this period, and his Congo Disaster is a snapshot of the chaos following the Force Publique mutiny.76 Similarly, Basil Davidson provides a useful perspective on the guerrilla war in Portuguese Guinea in The Liberation of Guiné: Aspects of an African Revolution.77 J. M. Lee’s African Armies and Civil Order is a representative sample of African civil military relations from the early national period, and Samuel Decalo’s Coups and Army Rule in Africa: Studies in Military Style provides the same for the 1970s, the decade when military coups were most prevalent.78 While political scientists tended to shift their attentions to explaining African “state failure” in the following decades, William Reno’s Warfare in Independent Africa is an excellent historically grounded study of armed conflict in postcolonial Africa.79

New Directions in African Military History

Most Africanist historians are now more inclined to accept that studying soldiers, military institutions, and armed conflict does not entail an embrace of militarism. Consequently, scholars of the precolonial period have begun to follow Richard Reid’s admonition to study “African dynamic[s] in the use of force and violence in the continent’s deeper history.”80 This approach promises new insights into state formation, slavery, and armed confrontations between Africans and foreign visitors. For the colonial period, studies of the lived experiences of African soldiers expose the contradictions of colonial state, thereby helping to explain why the new imperialism was never viable in the long term. Similarly, historical studies of the evolution of colonial armies into national armies and the various uses of these forces in armed conflicts can provide a more nuanced understanding civil-military relations. These can productively call into question simplistic explanations for praetorianism and “state failure” in the independence era.

One of the most promising developments in the military history of Africa and Africans in recent years has been the blurring of distinctions between conventional military history and Africanist social history. There is now a Journal of African Military History whose editorial philosophy reflects this shift, and social historians are becoming more interested in how military institutions and armed conflict influence other aspects of African history.81 Conversely, the social historians’ emphasis on class and gender usefully upends conventional depictions of military institutions as ordered, hierarchical and exclusively male. We have also now gotten to the point where Africanists can ask more conventional military history questions, as Michelle Moyd does in Violent Intermediaries, about how individual Africans, including women, experienced violence, organized warfare and actual battles.82 Far from celebrating militarism, the most promising new directions in African military history recognize that the best way to contain violence is to better understand its origins, manifestations, and institutional applications.

Primary Sources

While oral traditions associated with powerful states like the Epic of Sundiata provide some information on African military activities, foreign visitors’ accounts are the main primary sources for the study of armies, soldiers, and warfare in the precolonial era.83 These include Arabic sources on the West African savanna and the Swahili coast, and the observations of European merchants, adventurers, and slave traders. There are some useful published collections of these documents in translation, and the national libraries of Britain, France, Portugal, and Spain are the primary repositories of the original versions of European material relating to precolonial coastal Africa.84 For the colonial era, there are numerous memoirs written by European officers, but published works by African soldiers are extremely rare.85

The national archives of the European imperial powers are the best sources for narratives of the wars of the new imperialism and institutional information on colonial armies. In the French case, the primary archival sites are the Archives nationales in Paris, Archives de la Guerre, Service Historique de l’Armée, Château de Vincennes, Archives nationales, Section d’outre-mer in Aix-en-Provence, Centre militaire d’information et de documentation sur l’Outre-Mer in Versailles, and the Institut de France, Bibliothèque in Paris. The British National Achieves in Kew (a suburb of London) hold most of the substantive archival sources relating to military matters in British Africa, and the Imperial War Museum and National Army Museum in London have useful material as well. The Oxford Colonial Records Project contains written and transcribed oral histories of British officers, which have been usefully summarized by Anthony Clayton and David Killingray in Khaki and Blue: Military and Police in British Colonial Africa.86 The national archives of individual African countries also have material on colonial wars and African military service, but their accessibility, completeness, and state of preservation varies considerably. In the Kenyan case, for example, almost all the records of the colonial Ministry of Internal Security and Defence are missing due to the British policy of secretly “migrating” sensitive files back to Britain before the transfer of power.87

Frustratingly, there are no significant repositories of oral histories relating to African military matters. Moreover, most of the formal African governmental records relating to such topics in the national era are either not open to researchers or they were never created in the first place: nationalist regimes did not share their colonial predecessors’ commitment to bureaucratic record keeping. Therefore, journalistic reports and the observations of foreign diplomats, military advisors, and civilians are once again the main sources of information on postcolonial African military organizations and armed conflict available to researchers.

Further Reading

Aderinto, Saheed. Guns and Society in Colonial Nigeria: Firearms, Culture and Public Order. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2018.Find this resource:

Ajayi, J. F. Ade, and Robert Smith. Yoruba Warfare in the Nineteenth Century. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1971.Find this resource:

Balesi, Charles. From Adversaries to Comrades-in-Arms: West Africa and the French Military, 1885–1918. Waltham, MA: Crossroads Press, 1979.Find this resource:

Brelsford, W.V., ed. Story of the Northern Rhodesia Regiment. Lusaka, Northern Nigeria: The Government Printer, 1954.Find this resource:

Bridgman, Jon. The Revolt of the Hereros. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1981.Find this resource:

Clayton, Anthony. Counterinsurgency in Kenya: A Study of Military Operations Against the Mau Mau, 1952–1960. Manhattan, KS: Sunflower University Press, 1984.Find this resource:

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(1.) The border region between the savanna and the Sahara is known as the sahel or sahil, which means “shore” or “coast” in Arabic.

(2.) Jack Goody, Technology, Tradition and the State in Africa (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1971), 43.

(3.) A. A. Mazrui, ed., The Warrior Tradition in Modern Africa (Leiden, The Netherlands: Leiden University Press, 1977).

(4.) Jan Vansina, Oral Tradition as History (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1985), 15.

(5.) D. T. Niane, Sundiata: An Epic of Old Mali (London, UK: Addison Wesley Longman), 1.

(6.) Nevertheless, key insights into the physical remains of African military practices can be found in works such as Graham Connah, African Civilizations: An Archaeological Perspective, 3rd ed. (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2015).

(7.) Pekka Masonen and Humphrey Fisher, “Not Quite Venus from the Waves: The Almoravid Conquest of Ghana in the Modern Historiography of Western Africa,” History in Africa 23 (1996): 197–198; and Lansine Kaba, “Archers, Musketeers, and Mosquitos: The Moroccan Invasion of the Sudan and the Songhay Resistance, 1591–1612,” Journal of African History 22 (1981): 457–475.

(8.) John Barbot, “Benin, 1680,” in Western African History: Text and Readings, ed. Robert O. Collins (New York, NY: Markus Wiener, 1990), 182.

(9.) “The King of Dahomey and the Slave Trade,” Chambers Edinburgh Journal 292 (August 4, 1849): 70.

(10.) John K. Thornton, “The Art of War in Angola, 1575–1680,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 30 (1988): 374–377.

(11.) “Extracts of a Memorandum Left by Commander Z. Wagenaar,” in Central and Southern African History: Text and Readings, ed. Robert O. Collins (New York, NY: Marcus Wiener), 159.

(12.) Al-Masudi, “The Ivory Trade,” in The East African Coast, ed. Freeman-Grenville (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1962), 15.

(13.) Hans Mayr, “The Sack of Kilwa and Mombasa: An Eye Witness Account,” in The East African Coast, ed. Freeman-Grenville (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1962), 105–111.

(14.) Philip Curtin, Steven Feierman, Leonard Thompson, and Jan Vansina, African History: From Earliest Times to Independence, 2nd ed. (Edinburgh, UK: Pearson Education, 1995), 71.

(15.) Dent Ocaya-Lakidi, “Manhood, Warriorhood and Sex in Eastern Africa,” in The Warrior Tradition in Modern Africa, ed. Ali Mazrui (Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1977), 146, 152.

(16.) Jeffrey Fadiman, When We Began, There Were Witchmen: An Oral History from Mount Kenya (Los Angeles: University of California, 1993), 94–98.

(17.) Alternatively, it is also worth considering that the 19th century may appear to have been more violent than previous eras simply because we have better textual records and oral traditions from this period.

(18.) For a European account of Chaka’s court see: Nathaniel Isaacs, “King Shaka Converses with European Visitors, 1822,” in From the South African Past: Narratives, Documents and Debates, ed. John Williams (Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 1997), 85–86. The Sotho author Thomas Mofolo wrote an illuminating fictional account of Chaka’s rise and fall that dates from the turn of the 20th century: Thomas Mofolo, Chaka, Daniel Kunene trans. (Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1989).

(19.) Juhani Koponen, “War, Famine and Pestilence in Late Precolonial Tanzania: A Case for Heightened Mortality,” International Journal of African Historical Studies 21 (1988): 652–655; and John Lamphear, “Aspects of ‘Becoming Turkana’: Interactions and Assimilation Between Maa- and Ateker-Speakers,” in Being Maasai, ed. Richard Waller and Thomas Spear (Oxford, UK: James Curry, 1993), 94–95.

(20.) Richard Reid, War in Pre-Colonial Eastern Africa: The Patterns and Menas of State-Level Conflict in the Nineteenth Century (Nairobi, Kenya: British Institute in Eastern Africa, 2007), 34–37.

(21.) Yves Person, Samori: Une Révolution Dyula (Dakar, Senegal: I. F. A. N, 1968); and David Robinson, The Holy War of Umar Tal: The Western Sudan in the Mid-Nineteenth Century (Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press, 1985).

(22.) Daniel Headrick, The Tools of Empire: Technology and European Imperialism in the Nineteenth Century (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1981), 118.

(23.) Quoted in A. S. Kanya-Forstner, “The French Marines and the Conquest of the Western Sudan, 1880–1899,” in Imperialism and War, ed. J. A. de Moor and H. L. Wesseling (Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1989), 132–133.

(24.) A. A. Boahen, African Perspectives on Colonialism (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins Press, 1987), 41.

(25.) John Lonsdale, “The European Scramble and Conquest in African History,” in The Cambridge History of Africa, vol. 6, ed. Roland Oliver and Neville Sanderson (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1985), 723.

(26.) Douglas Johnson, “The Structure of a Legacy: Military Slavery in Northeast Africa,” Ethnohistory 6 (1989): 77–78; and Myron Echenberg, Colonial Conscripts: The Tirailleurs Senegalais in French West Africa, 1857–1960 (Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1991), 8.

(27.) J. A. Meldon, “Notes on the Sudanese in Uganda,” Journal of the African Society 7 (January 1908): 129; and J. Malcom Thompson, “Colonial Policy and the Family Life of Black Troops in French West Africa, 1817–1904,” International Journal of African Historical Studies 23 (1990): 423–425.

(28.) The Afrikaners suffered forty-five thousand losses, while there were an estimated fifteen thousand “native and coloured” casualties. Iain Smith, “The Origins of the South African War (1899–1902): a Reappraisal,” South African Historical Journal 22 (1990): 26.

(29.) Timothy H. Parsons, “All Askaris are Family Men: Military Families in the King's African Rifles, 1918–1963,” in Guardians of Empire, ed. David Killingray and David Omissi (Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 1999), 167; Sarah Zimmerman, “Mesdames Tirailleurs and Indirect Clients: West African Women and the French Colonial Army, 1908–1918,” International Journal of African Historical Studies 44 (2011): 303; and Michelle Moyd, Violent Intermediaries: African Soldiers, Conquest, and Everyday Colonialism in German East Africa (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2014), 123.

(30.) The Armée d’ Afrique was recruited in French North Africa.

(31.) Mwelwa Musambachime, “Military Violence Against Civilians: The Case of the Congolese and Zairean Military in the Pedicle, 1890–1988,” International Journal of African Historical Studies 23 (1990): 647–649.

(32.) Woodruff Smith, The German Colonial Empire (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1978), 138.

(33.) Moyd, Violent Intermediaries, 123.

(34.) João Paulo Borges Coelho, “African Troops in the Portuguese Colonial Army, 1961–1974,” Portuguese Studies Review 10 (2002): 133.

(35.) J. H. Lunn, “Kande Kamara Speaks: An Oral History of the West African Experience in France 1914–18,” in Africa and the First World War, ed. Melvin Page (New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press, 1987), 33.

(36.) Timothy H. Parsons, The African Rank-and-File: Social Implications of Colonial Service in the King’s African Rifles, 1902–1964 (Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1999), 62.

(37.) B. P. Willan, “The South African Native Labour Contingent, 1916–1918,” Journal of African History 19 (1978): 61.

(38.) Lt. Col. O. F. Watkins, “Report by Lt Col O. F. Watkins, Director of Military Labour to the BEA Expeditionary Force, 4 August 1914–15 September 1919” (Nairobi, Kenya: typescript, 1919).

(39.) Echenberg, Colonial Conscripts, 88.

(40.) Timothy Parsons, “The Military Experiences of Ordinary African in World War II,” in Africa and World War II, ed. Judith Byfield, Carolyn Brown, Timothy Parsons, and Ahmad Sikainga (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2015), 21.

(41.) Lunn, “Kande Kamara Speaks,” 43; and Echenberg, Colonial Conscripts, 149, 153–156.

(42.) David Killingray, “Soldiers, Ex-Servicemen, and Politics in the Gold Coast, 1939–50,” Journal of Modern African Studies 21 (1983): 525–526.

(43.) Timothy H. Parsons, “Mau Mau’s Army of Clerks: Colonial Military Service and the Kenya Land Freedom Army in Kenya’s National Imagination,” Journal of African History 58 (2017): 285–309.

(44.) Anthony Clayton, The Wars of French Decolonization (New York, NY: Longman, 1994), 74.

(45.) East African Pioneer Corps, Sandfly Instruction No. 1, 23 November 1951, Kenya National Archives (KNA) PC NZA 3/19/11/6a; and Parsons, The African Rank-and-File, 212.

(46.) Lucian Pye, “Armies in the Process of Political Modernization,” European Journal of Sociology 2 (1961): 83; and William Gutteridge, Armed Forces in New States (London, UK: Oxford University Press, 1962), 13–14.

(47.) Cynthia Enloe, Ethnic Soldiers: State Security in a Divided Society (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1980), 26; and Kenneth Grundy, Soldiers Without Politics: Blacks in the South African Armed Forces (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983), ix–x.

(48.) Ilunga Kabongo, “The Catastrophe of Belgian Decolonization” in Decolonization and African Independence, 1960–1980, ed. W. R. Louis and R. Giffard (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1988), 388–389.

(49.) Anthony Clayton, Frontiersmen: Warfare in Africa Since 1950 (London, UK: UCL Press, 1999), 94–98.

(50.) Augustine Kposowa and J. Craig Jenkins, “The Structural Sources of Military Coups in Postcolonial Africa, 1957–1984,” American Journal of Sociology 99 (1993): 126.

(51.) Thomas Johnson and Patrick McGowan, “Analysis of the Causes of Military Coups D’Etat in Sub-Saharan Africa, 1960–1982, Report for Defense Intelligence Agency, U.S. Department of Defense (April 1983).

(52.) Ali Mazrui, “Soldiers as Traditionalizers: Military Rule and the Re-Africanization of Africa,” World Politics 28 (1976): 250; and G. N. Uzoigwe, “The Warrior and the State in Pre-Colonial Africa,” in The Warrior Tradition in Modern Africa, ed. Ali Mazrui (Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1977), 21.

(53.) João Paulo Borges Coelho, “African Troops in the Portuguese Colonial Army, 1961–1974,” Portuguese Studies Review 10 (2002): 130.

(54.) Grundy, Soldiers Without Politics, 210; Robert Gordon, The Bushman Myth: The Making of a Namibian Underclass (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1992), 191; and Timothy Stapleton, African Police and Soldiers in Colonial Zimbabwe, 1923–80 (Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 2011), 177–179.

(55.) Howard French, A Continent for the Taking: The Tragedy and Hope of Africa (New York, NY: Vintage, 2005), 141–143.

(56.) William Reno, Warfare in Independent Africa (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 31.

(57.) Michael Wessells, “Recruitment of Children as Soldiers in Sub-Saharan Africa: An Ecological Analysis,” Comparative Social Research 20 (2002): 239.

(58.) Funmi Olonisakin, “African ‘Homemade’ Peacekeeping Initiative,” Armed Forces and Society 23 (1997): 349–372.

(59.) John Thornton, Warfare in Atlantic Africa, 1500–1800 (London, UK: UCL Press, 1999).

(60.) Robert Smith, Warfare and Diplomacy in Pre-Colonial West Africa, 2nd ed. (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1989).

(61.) Robin Law, The Oyo Empire, c.1600–c.1836: A West African Imperialism in the Era of the Atlantic Slave Trade (Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press, 1977); David Robinson, The Holy War of Umar Tal: The Western Sudan in the Mid-Nineteenth Century (Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press, 1985); Carolyn Hamilton, Terrific Majesty: The Powers of Shaka Zulu and the Limits of Historical Invention (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998); and Richard Reid, War in Pre-Colonial Eastern Africa: The Patterns and Means of State-Level Conflict in the Nineteenth Century (Nairobi, Kenya: British Institute in Eastern Africa, 2007).

(62.) John Lamphear, ed. African Military History (Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2007).

(63.) Bruce Vandervort, Wars of Imperial Conquest in Africa, 1830–1914 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998).

(64.) A. S. Kanya-Forstner, The Conquest of the Western Sudan: A Study in French Military Imperialism (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press 1969); and Person, Samori.

(65.) Michael Crowder, ed. West African Resistance: The Military Response to Colonial Occupation (New York, NY: Africana Publishing, 1972); and Bethwell A. Ogot, ed., War and Society in Africa: Ten Studies (London, UK: F. Cass, 1972).

(66.) Bill Nasson, The South African War (London, UK: Arnold, 1999); and Bill Nasson, Abraham Esau’s War: A Black South African War in the Cape, 1899–1902 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1991).

(67.) John Lamphear, The Scattering Time: Turkana Responses to Colonial Rule (Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press, 1992).

(68.) Melvin Page, ed., Africa and the First World War (New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press, 1987); and David Killingray and Richard Rathbone, eds., Africa and the Second World War (New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press, 1986).

(69.) Albert Grundlingh, Fighting Their Own War: South African Blacks and the First World War (Johannesburg, South Africa: Ravan Press, 1987); and Ashley Jackson, Botswana 1939–1945: An African Country at War (Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press, 1999).

(70.) Anthony Clayton, France, Soldiers and Africa (London, UK: Brassey’s Defence, 1988); and Myron Echenberg, Colonial Conscripts: The Tirailleurs Senegalais in French West Africa, 1857–1960 (Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1991).

(71.) Nancy Ellen Lawler, Soldiers of Misfortune: Ivoirien Tirailleurs of World War II (Athens: Ohio University Press, 1992); and Joe Lunn, Memoirs of the Maelstrom: A Senegalese Oral History of the First World War (Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1999).

(72.) Gregory Mann, Native Sons: West African Veterans and France in the 20th century (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006).

(73.) Parsons, The African Rank-and-File; and Timothy Stapleton, African Police and Soldiers in Colonial Zimbabwe, 1923–80 (Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 2011).

(74.) Moyd, Violent Intermediaries.

(75.) Area Handbook Series, Area Handbook for Senegal (Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 1963), 336–338.

(76.) Colin Legum, Congo Disaster (Baltimore, MD: Penguin, 1961).

(77.) Basil Davidson. The Liberation of Guiné: Aspects of an African Revolution (Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin, 1969).

(78.) J. M. Lee, African Armies and Civil Order (New York, NY: Praeger, 1969); and Samuel Decalo, Coups and Army Rule in Africa: Studies in Military Style (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1976).

(79.) Reno, Warfare in Independent Africa.

(80.) Reid, War in Pre-Colonial Eastern Africa, 9.

(81.); for example, see the various chapters in Byfield, Brown, Parsons, and Sikainga, Africa and World War II.

(82.) Moyd, Violent Intermediaries, 124–127.

(83.) David Conrad, ed., Sunjata: A West African Epic of the Mande Peoples (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 2004).

(84.) G. S. P. Freeman-Grenville, ed., The East African Coast: Select Documents from the First to the Earlier Nineteenth Century (Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press, 1962); Philip D. Curtin, ed., Africa Remembered: Narratives by West Africans from the Era of the Slave Trade (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1967); and J. F. P. Hopkins and N. Levtzion, eds., Corpus of Earl Arabic Sources for West African History (London, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1981).

(86.) Anthony Clayton and Killingray David, Khaki and Blue. Military and Police in British Colonial Africa (Athens: Ohio University Press, 1989).

(87.) David Anderson, “Guilty Secrets: Deceit, Denial, and the Discovery of Kenya’s ‘Migrated Archive,’” History Workshop Journal 80 (2015): 142–160.