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date: 25 April 2019

Colonial History and Historiography

Summary and Keywords

The colonial condition in Africa has been revisited by all of the main historiographic currents of thought, from a heroizing, highly political and military history of colonization primarily considered from the colonists’ standpoint, to a much more complex and rich history integrating the colonized perspective. This history has been enhanced by contributions from Postcolonial Studies and Subaltern Studies as well as from New Imperial History and perspectives opened by its global interconnected history.

At the intersection of these issues and methods, colonial studies offers an innovative reinterpretation of various facets of colonial Africa, such as the factors and justifications for colonial expansion; conquests and colonial wars; processes of territorial appropriation and border demarcation; and the organization and control of the colonies. In these fundamentally inegalitarian societies, accommodation and social and cultural hybridization processes were also at work, as well as multiple forms of resistance or subversion that paved the way for African states to win their independence. In addition to the role played by the First and Second World Wars, the emergence of nationalist and separatist movements helps to clarify the multifaceted nature of these independences, when approached from a political as well as a cultural and social perspective, while questioning the durability of the legacy of the colonial phase in African history.

Keywords: Colonial Africa, decolonization, Subaltern Studies, postcolonial studies, colonial studies, methods, sources, and historiography in African history

The African Chapter of European Colonial Empires

After the Europeans carved out colonial empires mainly in what they then called the East or West Indies, they ventured, at various times in the 19th and 20th centuries, to colonize Africa. The surge of liberalism in the 19th century called into question a socio-economic configuration marked by mercantilism, according to which the wealth of nations relied on trade and exclusivity. The colonies had to trade solely with their metropole and charter companies, such as the British East India Company, founded in 1600, to which the states granted a trading monopoly within vast geographic areas. The abolition of the black slave trade (in 1807 for the British and in 1815 for signatories of the Congress of Vienna) and of slavery (in 1833 in the British colonies and in 1848 in French colonies) made it pertinent to develop colonial projects on the African mainland rather than to deport the population as slave labor to the American or Indian Ocean colonies.

Forts and trading posts had already been built along the African coasts, for example, in Saint-Louis and Gorée Island on the coasts of Senegal for France, in Luanda and Benguela in Angola, and in Lourenço Marques in Mozambique for Portugal. Some territories were created to accommodate freed slaves, such as Freetown in 1808 in Sierra Leone, and Liberia in 1822. From the 1840s on, the expansion of colonial settlements became more evident. The objective of taking Algiers in 1830 was to divert attention from a domestic political crisis at the end of the reign of Charles X and to establish the position of France—Great Britain’s rival—in the Mediterranean, thereby settling the “Eastern Question.” By the end of that decade, the decision was made to conquer the entire Algerian territory. Emir Abd el-Kader, Commander of the Faithful, who led the resistance to French colonization, was defeated in 1847.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, the French began settling in Gabon in 1842; Libreville was founded in 1849. Faidherbe, the governor of Senegal, had his crews travel up the Senegal River to build forts along its shores in 1855; Dakar was established in 1857. The British took possession of Lagos in Nigeria in 1861 and advanced further inland in West Africa. Lawful slave trading developed, based on importing from Africa ivory, gum arabic, and particularly peanut oil or palm nuts, as well as oilseeds, for consumption or for soap production and industrial uses. Slave plantations multiplied in Africa to meet this demand for goods, which encouraged further European colonial expansion in Africa.

Acceleration of Territorial Conquests

The pace of conquests accelerated between the 1870s and the early 1880s. The Germans seized Togo, Cameroon, and South West Africa in 1884. The Berlin Conference of 1884–1885 established the rules for future conquests: each colonial power had to notify the other signatory powers whenever it signed a new treaty with an African ruler; “actual occupation” of claimed territories was compulsory; and the free movement of ship traffic was to be maintained on major rivers. The scramble to divide up Africa intensified from the 1880s to the 1890s, extending from the coastlines inland. The British managed to establish a north–south axis from Cairo to the Cape of Good Hope. The French, who sought to create an east–west junction from Dakar to Djibouti, were forced to withdraw from Fachoda in 1898. However, they had accumulated an almost continuous line of conquered areas that stretched from North Africa to the federations of French West Africa and French Equatorial Africa. The Portuguese were no more successful in establishing an east–west junction between Angola and Mozambique than the Germans were in attempting the same thing between their South West African colony and the one Germany had on Africa’s eastern coast. The Italians, who had settled in Eritrea and Somalia in 1889, gained a foothold in Cyrenaica and Tripolitania in 1911. Except for Liberia and Ethiopia, on the eve of World War I nearly all of the African territories had been divided among the European powers, at least on paper.

In the 1950s, historians thus regarded the Seven Years War (1756–1763) as laying the foundations for a second British Empire.1 By the early 21st century, historians argued that yet another empire formed between 1780 and 1830,2 and a “British world system,” which this time included Africa, is deemed to have been created after 1840.3 In Portuguese historiography, the colonization of Africa in the 19th and 20th centuries is associated with the formation of a third empire centered on Angola and Mozambique. Spain, on the other hand, lost its last large colonies in America and Asia in 1898 and possessed only the Rif and Western Sahara in Africa. For France, African colonization marked the constitution of a second colonial empire from the 19th century on. For the more recently created or unified states such as Belgium, Germany, and Italy, the conquest of African territories, from the 1880s on, was their first colonial experience.

To shed more light on the multifaceted aspects of colonization in Africa at various periods, we first recall how Africa’s colonial history as a whole played a part in large-scale historiographic recurrences; then we consider how key points of African colonial history have thus been profoundly revisited as a result of research.

From Colonial History to a History of Africa at the Forefront of Historiographic Research

From the “Colonial Gesture” to the History of Africa’s Entry into a Long-Term Colonial Situation

From the start of the colonial period, colonizers wrote a history of their colonization, showcasing primarily the exploits of soldiers, colonial administrators, and key “colonial figures.” It is a political, event-oriented, and very traditional history—one that, all in all, conforms to the historiography prevalent during the late 19th century and first half of the 20th century.4 The sources for it are limited, mainly written, and archives produced by the colonizers predominate. It is thus a very Eurocentric history, exemplifying the era’s belief in the superiority of white people and largely ignoring the colonized viewpoint. Africa—particularly Sub-Saharan Africa—was deemed to be without a history, supposedly because it had not been written down. Historic works were less developed than those of other social science disciplines, such as ethnology or anthropology, which at the time seemed more suited for this territory’s specificities and were supported by dedicated institutions.

However, during the interwar period, some colonizers with field experience, often amateur historians, took an interest in oral sources and traditions as well as in archeology and, to compensate for the scarcity of written sources, attempted to produce a more detailed history of Africa. They did not restrict themselves to the colonial period, and they also began taking into account the point of view of those colonized, even though their works received little recognition at the time.5 Metropole historiographies also evolved, notably in the British Empire. As early as in 1947, a chair in African history was created in London and entrusted to Roland Oliver, who would later head the African History Seminar at the School of Oriental and African Studies, where he would train a generation of African historians. More importantly, in 1948, a chair at the University College of the Gold Coast, in Legon, was entrusted to John Donnelly Fage. In 1960, these two researchers founded the Cambridge Journal of African History.

The independences won by the Belgian, British, and French colonies in the 1960s amplified this impetus to reconsider and decolonize African history. The issue for historians was no longer to view colonization as heralding “the entry of Africa into history,” but rather to know whether this constituted merely a parenthetical period in Africa’s millennia-old trajectory. Oral sources acquired their own prestige, and during the 1960s and 1970s, research done on Africa, preferably covering longer time periods, was given precedence over endeavors narrowly focused on colonial history, which by then had been deemed outdated.6 Two African history chairs were created in Paris: one in 1961 for medieval history, attributed to Raymond Mauny; the other in 1962 for contemporary history, held by ex-governor Hubert Deschamps. Above all, historic African schools were spreading, notably in Ibadan, fostered by the likes of Kenneth Dike, whose 1940 dissertation in London focused on the Niger Delta in the 19th century, or Ade Ajayi, an expert on the Yoruba people and religious missions. In East Africa, anglophone historians from Dar-es-Salam were also pioneers who shaped a first generation of African historians in the mid-1950s, and in West Africa, “l’École de Dakar” began to scientifically and politically contribute to the national construction project in ways similar to the work undertaken by African historians of the University of Abidjan in the 1970s through 1980s.7 As a sign of this vitality in African history, UNESCO thus had the opportunity to supervise the publication, between 1964 and 1999, of a history of Africa in eight volumes, written for the most part by African historians.

The History of Colonial Africa as the Key Issue in the Revival of Imperial and Postcolonial Historiographies

The colonial period of African history thus tends to be both an integral part of a longer-term history and one approached on a broader imperial scale. Opening up new historiographic perspectives removed the history of colonized Africa from the field of colonial hagiography and inscribed it in the field of great revivals specific to this discipline. During the interwar period, an imperial history developed in Great Britain, but one founded on a clear distinction from British domestic history, in which limited space was devoted to Africa. After World War II, two Socialist British historians, Ronald Robinson and John Gallagher, who held the imperial history chairs at Oxford and Cambridge, revived the concept. They interpreted the main colonial expansion movement initiated from the 1870s on as the passage from an informal empire—founded on financial investments and trade relations (including in Africa, such as the Gold Coast in the mid-19th century)—to a formal empire, through a process of colonial territorialization. They stressed the pivotal role of the imperial peripheral, rather than central, forces.8 Economic and social history were also at the center of the approaches developed in francophone historiography, notably the dependency theory, which nonetheless assigned the decisive influence to metropolises and the West, to the detriment of the fringes.

In the 1970s and 1980s, the proliferation of anglophone postcolonial studies—supported by literary approaches to colonial narrative that became more interdisciplinary—contributed to the swift emergence of a history of colonial empires that was not only political and economic but also cultural. The seminal work by Edward Said, Orientalism, argues that the West created an imaginary East, and that those cultural representations played a key role in colonial expansion.9 At issue was deconstructing—and thus, decolonizing—the frame of reference and manner of writing history inherited from the colonial period, and from a relationship based on domination. In the francophone sphere, Postcolonial Studies was circulated later, and with greater difficulty. As had happened in the 1960s and 1970s, the organization of research into cultural areas had a tendency to relegate African studies to a relatively minor status compared to the history of the West. Yet its circulation also promoted historical, social, and cultural approaches situated in colonial African territories from the 1970s through the 1980s.

The contribution of the Indian journal Subaltern Studies, rooted in a historian’s approach and based on archives, is essential to African colonial history. From 1982 on, several Indian historians led by Ranajit Guha—who was himself inspired by the “bottom-up social history” type of research promoted by Edward Palmer Thompson—became interested in rural Indian societies and lost interest in the nationalist elite. They emphasize the fact that a subaltern position is not a necessary attribute of a given social category, but the product of a relationship between actors, which, even in a context of strong domination, is capable of “agency” initiative. This implied taking a fresh look at colonial archives to interpret their colonized strategies, as well as taking an interest in the vernacular literature. These works resonated with some of the social history research conducted in the 1980s in the francophone sphere, and constituted a fertile source of inspiration for historians.10 The findings of Subaltern Studies, published in the 1990s, lead back to the difficulties of Postcolonial Studies and the critique of Western history, which has yet to be “provincialized,” The Subaltern Studies Group also took an interest in religious and gender issues.11 Emphasis was placed on the processes of hybridization, miscegenation, and creolization, which made it possible to take into account the complex interactions between the colonizers and the colonized, as well as the original invention and creation processes. Postcolonial Studies has, however, been the subject of numerous criticisms because its approach was centered on texts and representations, which can lead to decontextualizations, anachronisms, or even an essentialization of the West, of colonization, and of the colonized, in a form of alterity, without taking into account the specific historic situations. It could well overlook the analysis of power relationships in context, as well as that of social struggles.12

Colonial and postcolonial studies are also being significantly updated by some new ways of viewing the history of empires. According to John MacKenzie, after having investigated sources of social and cultural history more closely associated with popular culture, the British seem to him to be especially concerned about the imperial phenomenon, which has been the focus of propaganda conveyed by numerous actors.13 For Bernard Porter, the propaganda primarily concerned some elites, while workers had a much vaguer awareness of the empire.14 The debate remains open. The New Imperial History research focused on a wide variety of social and cultural historic themes, closely examining the two-way relationship between the metropoles and colonies, and placing national and imperial histories under the same scope. The most recent historiographic research considers some trans-imperial, as well as transnational, approaches: in the early 19th century, the trading and traffic between colonies of different empires increased, sometimes beyond relations between metropoles and colonies. That was the case, for example, with labor migrations such as the coolie trade, which provided cheap labor to the plantations of Madagascar or Southern Africa in a post-slavery context, or the movements of miners, as between Mozambique and South Africa. The most recent research tends to be both global and connected: using varying scales of thought, it compares colonies and empires, and examines movements between these territories as well as between the colonies and metropoles. They highlight the role of empires in the process of worldwide economic and cultural globalization since the 19th century.15 By giving form to this history of globalization, the research on connected history deals with the specific points of contact between these territories and societies at various levels.16 All of these great historiographic movements have spanned the research on Africa in a colonial situation and renewed the way of addressing various aspects of this history.

A Revived History of Colonial Africa

Factors and Justifications of the Colonial Expansion in Africa

The industrialization of Europe in the 19th century, the boom in production, the spectacular growth in trade, and the emergence of crises caused by economic overproduction induced European powers to seek raw materials to fuel their activity, and to find new outlets for their industrial production. In the early 20th century, analysts thought that the accumulation of substantial savings by the elites (British in particular) was a sign of transition into financial capitalism, the corollary of which was the expansion of colonization, a theory taken up by Lenin in 1917.17 A century later, this type of analysis was expanded further, backed by numerous empirical data. Debates dealt with the links between colonial expansion and capitalism. In 1984, historian Jacques Marseille pointed out that in the French case, the situations varied greatly from one colony to the next and according to the scales used, and that colonial imperialism had not necessarily benefited capitalism. The theory of the link between financial capitalism and colonial expansion was reworked in the 1990s, underscoring the key role of metropolitan financial capitalism associated with political aristocracy in imperial expansion, but points of contention remained.18 The colonial expansion of Portugal and Italy, moreover, was attributed to demographic and political factors, which were also essential in accounting for the German colonization of Africa.

Political and geopolitical motives behind the assertion of prestige and power also played a powerful role in the last quarter of the 19th century. They assumed ideological agendas more in keeping with the era, such as the so-called mission of “civilizing” populations perceived as backward—or even savage—belonging to a “black race” allegedly inferior to the “white race,” which supposedly had reached the peak of human evolution. There are multiple aspects to this “civilizing” mission, starting with the freeing of slaves. In reality, colonial authorities closed their eyes to the practice of slavery for several decades, and it was not abolished in French West Africa until 1905. The main goal, at least in discourse, was to educate the Africans, as if they had not already developed their own learning and knowledge transmission systems. Investments in their education nonetheless remained very limited, and literacy and schooling rates very low. In Mozambique, less than 1 percent of school-age children were schooled in the 1930s. In Algeria, the 10 percent threshold of the population being schooled was achieved only in 1937, while in West Africa, it was not until 1945 that the rate increased to 15 percent of the children. Surveys based on first-hand accounts show that Western schooling was, in fact, viewed in French West Africa as a cultural disruption and desocializing factor. Student enrollment was often thought of as a means to requisition laborers or soldiers. The desire to obtain an education in order to improve one’s condition and gain prestige only began to emerge after 1945.

In non-Muslim areas, the civilizing mission very often meant Christianizing the populations, as summarized by the “three C’s” of the British plan: Colonize, Christianize, and Commercialize. Missionary activity was perceived as complementing that of the colonial authorities as part of the supervision of the populations, even though missionaries had their own goals and strategies. Health care was also part of the “civilizing” mission assigned to colonization. Although many medical providers worked under difficult conditions for philanthropic reasons, the challenge for colonial authorities was, to put it more cynically, to have access to a large workforce in good physical condition to exploit Africa’s resources. The “civilizing” mission thus took multiple forms that varied according to the time periods, needs, and interests of the colonial authorities. Throughout the colonization process, the imperial powers would reiterate their ideological justification motives. The civilization process would thus promote work, which was thought to inculcate in Africans the values of effort, order, and foresight. Public authorities even found in that a justification for the requisitions of laborers and forced labor.19 Africans were therefore supposed to work on “enhancing” their own lands, even though a large portion of the profit ultimately ended up in the hands of the colonial powers.

Conquests and Colonial Wars

In addition to the list of conquered territories and exploits of colonial military leaders that were the focus of a colonial historiography, what began drawing the attention of many researchers were the specific forms of the colonial wars. As early as 1896, Charles Calwell defined “small wars” as wars between a regular army and irregular forces. This asymmetric view made it possible to justify the colonial forms of war from a tactics standpoint—such as scorched earth—as well as the use of unconventional forms of violence that were exempt from the laws of war, such as Bugeaud’s fumigation of some of the population trapped in caves during the conquest of Algeria.20

Troops comprised of indigenous auxiliaries played a major role in the conquest of colonized territories. For example, the Senegalese sharpshooter corps was created as early as 1857. Colonial hierarchies were established between ethnic groups or “races” reputed to be somewhat “belligerent.” Dismantling these stereotypes became a subject for research, as did the strategies of social groups who, not being burdened by a specific condition or reputation of belonging to families descending from slaves, could seek to enroll in the colonial armies to secure a salary, a future—even a career—and the guarantee of improving their social status, particularly after their demobilization and return to their village.21 Beyond the rejection that they may have faced from certain colonized societies unknown to them, such as was the case for the Senegalese sharpshooters called upon to repress the Malagasy uprising of 1947, the paths and representations of the colonized populations enrolled in colonial armies, and the acculturation thus defined, still constitute a vast field of research.

Particularly abhorrent was the construction of concentration camps in South Africa during the Boer War (1899–1902), or in German South West Africa to detain the Nama and Herero, as well as their genocide (1904–1908), which opened up a debate on the colonial genealogy of genocides.22 Could a historic filiation be established between the order to annihilate these populations enacted by General von Trotha—in order to ultimately replace them on their lands by German colonists without implicating state involvement in carrying out this genocide—and the Shoah? Debate ensued, yet failed to define colonialism as what is essentially an extermination process.23

Borders and Territories

The spatial and territorial dimension of colonial expansion led to reconsidering the notion of “borders” in colonial situations. More than limits arbitrarily traced with a ruler at the Berlin Conference based on then-current but inadequate maps, at first colonial borders seemed to be moving spaces, pioneer fronts that always needed to be pushed further back into a hinterland before being set, without ever being permanent. They were the object of negotiations, tensions, and transactions.24 On-site border demarcations were subject to negotiations and the marking and remarking of boundary lines until the 1920s. Field surveys showed that the setting of boundary lines could take into account local farming practices, user rights to wells, and so on, on a highly localized scale. Vernacular know-how has also played a crucial role in the demarcation of territories.25 Moreover, borders varied according to the purpose assigned to a territory by the colonial authorities. That of the Upper Volta, designed to be a labor pool, was simply split among the riverside colonies between 1933 and 1947.

Not the least of such paradoxes is the fact that nationalist commitments gave substance to some colonial territorial entities—regardless of whether their borders were the result of socio-historic legacies or were clearly more artificial—by endowing them with a new political purpose, the struggle for independence.26 Colonization thus helped to draw the borders of the independent states that appropriated them. By 1963, the Organization for African Unity had already acknowledged the intangibility of these borders, which were then fully integrated into the construction of national identities.

Inside the colonial or imperial boundaries, far from the large, flat, red- or pink-colored maps of that time, the colonial presence turned out to be discontinuous, concentrated in particularly urban enclaves or islets, and some colonial cities were built from scratch.27 Urbanization increased rapidly in the 1940s and 1950s. Research conducted since the 1980s on land-related, not just economic, issues, pointed out colonization’s spatial impact by showing how selective land appropriation really was. Colonial authorities awarded large territorial concessions to companies that would ensure their exploitation, and the colonizers resorted to expulsions or receiverships to secure the best lands for themselves. The whole territorial organization ended up being “totally redrawn” by colonization, with ports, and some coastlines, predominantly polarizing the space, to the detriment of inland territory.28

Organizing and Controlling the Colonies

Conquered territories experienced different situations and statuses: some charter companies took possession of the territories themselves, such as the British South Africa Company (founded by Cecil Rhodes in 1889), which took over Southern Rhodesia before handing it over to the Colony’s institutions in 1923. The Congo Free State, King Leopold’s personal property, was attributed by lots to concessionary companies for the purpose of extracting rubber and other mineral resources from 1891 on. The scandals surrounding their abuses of populations were such that the Belgian Parliament made this colony a territory in 1908. In the most recently acquired territories of that era, the military often took over administrative duties, as in southern Algeria, where “Arab bureaus” were maintained in the Sahara until 1914, a model that was reproduced in some West African inner circles before being replaced by civilian administrators. By contrast, as of 1881 in protectorates such as Tunisia, or British East Africa between 1895 and 1920, the metropole left local political authorities in place, though closely monitored, as they could be advised by an appointed on‑site resident, and the metropole reserved for itself external relations and the armies. After World War I, the Société des Nations (SDN; League of Nations) assigned a mandate over the former German colonies to France (Togo, Cameroon) and to England (East Africa and part of Cameroon). Their prospects for autonomy remained very remote.

The colonies themselves were directly governed by a colonial administration with its own hierarchy. In the early 20th century, as the colonial presence became more established, their organization strengthened. A few federations were formed within the French Empire: French West Africa in 1895 and French Equatorial Africa in 1910. The colonies’ organization, and the statutes and rights of the colonized, differed from those of the metropole. Although the colonial authorities widely promoted a narrative based on their own colonial style, reflecting their political aspirations, it would have been overly simplistic to counter that with a direct French-style administrative model whose aim was to assimilate the colonies, and an indirect administration that would leave in place the majority of the structures, with the colonizer positioning itself at the top of the power pyramid, as theorized by Lord Lugard.29 Such an alternative did not take into account the complexity of the local situations in which the colonial authorities—including the French—had to cooperate with the local authorities, inasmuch as they did not have enough colonial agents to maintain a presence in all of the territories. The colonial authorities also stirred up rivalries between the indigenous powers to their advantage, elevating or lowering one or the other according to their best interests—including in the British colonies.30 The study of colonial domination transitioned from an understanding based on the major systems modeled after Marxist approaches—mainly in the 1960s and 1970s—to efforts to grasp the diversity of its forms based on studies rooted in specific territories and time periods supported by archives, oral sources, and the analysis of its spatial dimensions. Current research focuses more on the legal pluralism characteristic of colonial inequities. In the French Empire, the indigenous populations were not citizens, with few exceptions (such as the inhabitants of “the Four Communes” of Senegal: Saint-Louis, Gorée, Dakar, and Rufisque), but subjects not entitled to the same civil and political rights, and governed, in the French colonies, by the Code of the Indiginate until 1946. Specific laws and regulations were applied in the colonies that differed from those enforced in the metropole. Algeria’s organization as a settler colony more closely corresponded to the assimilation model; however, it was the governor who issued decrees, and not metropolitan laws, that applied there. The 1946 departmentalization legislation was inadequate. A “Master and Servant” labor law abolished in England in 1875 continued to be enforced in Kenya until the 1950s. This distinction was still being made between assimilados (the assimilated) and indigenous peoples in Portuguese colonies until 1961. The natives were not considered to be as “civilized” as the citizens.

Beyond the highly propagandist colonial narrative, the limits for practice of colonial domination were also highlighted: many territories, particularly those furthest away from the littoral administrative centers, were only rarely in direct contact with the colonists or the colonial authorities’ representatives, which reopened opportunities for negotiation—and for subversion of—this domination, whose unique colonial nature also needed to be examined.

Knowledge and Powers in the Colonial Situation

In order to more effectively control resources as well as populations, the colonial authorities sought to rely on bodies of knowledge deemed most useful in establishing dominance, as well as on applied sciences. At the same time that physical anthropology started to flourish in the second half of the 19th century, and ethnography was describing African populations, the latter were being categorized in an increasingly narrow way. The history of anthropology and ethnology reveals the uses made of these categories in a colonial situation, irrespective of the complexity of the scientific research. In the English-speaking world, social science research on “race” was particularly developed. In the work of French researchers, because of the debunking of race as a pertinent biological concept after World War II, the term “ethnic group” was more frequently used. Ethnologists and anthropologists, particularly in the 1980s, demonstrated the naturalization processes of social and cultural distinctions, as well as the ways in which they were used to form colonial constructs. Research was significantly expanded on the history of science and knowledge in the colonial situation,31 particularly with regard to the British Empire, where universities and research institutions were opened rather precociously, such as Fourah Bay College in 1827 or the Rhodes-Livingstone Institute in 1938, and where major surveys were undertaken, such as Lord Hailey’s, published in 1938.32 The links between anthropology, ethnology, knowledge, and colonialism were most ambiguous. The pivotal and most original research findings remained difficult to access or were deemed of little interest by colonial authorities, who, in attempting to justify colonization, relied more on what was often a racially oriented and racist vulgate, notably in the field of physical anthropology. For the previous 20 years, the uses of scientific terminology had tended to become more uniformly focused on the study of the sociocultural processes of ethnicization or racialization of social relationships in a colonial situation. Yet questions about class relations and their connection with “race” relations in colonies that seemed to be conservatories of past social customs were not ruled out.33 For its part, exploitation of natural resources led to experimentation on how to acclimatize new species, and an ecological awareness of the tropical environment, which could also become the subject of a conservation policy by the creation of natural parks, disrupting the habitat and local societal customs.34

Colonial authorities wished to rely on knowledge that could also be used to transform colonized societies, their territories, and their environment by way of a modernizing form of social engineering. Research was thus less focused on means of domination than on highly authoritarian ways to transform the societies and the environment with its reconfigurations, until the development paradigm emerged with the interwar period. The latter led to the adoption, by Great Britain, of the Colonial Development and Welfare Act of 1940, the post-1945 creation of institutions such as the Fonds interministériel de Développement économique et social (FIDES; Investment Fund for Economic and Social Development) in the French colonies, for example, or the Fondation de l’Université de Liège for scientific research in the Congo and in Ruanda-Urundi (FULREAC), which was endowed with an experimental village. Both the French and British met at the end of the war to coordinate their efforts to modernize the colonies. The Belgians, Portuguese, South Africans, and Rhodesians took part in these meetings until 1949, and in 1950, in London, a Commission pour la coopération technique au Sud du Sahara (CTCA; Commission for Technical Cooperation in Africa South of the Sahara) was created. African participation in these scientific or development institutions was still limited and was a field of research yet to be explored.

Economic Assessment of Colonization in Africa and Impact on the Latter’s Development

As for the assessment of the role of colonization both in the economic growth of European metropoles and in the underdevelopment of the territories thus exploited, it is still subject of controversy due to the great variety of the colonial and imperial situations involved. With regard to colonial Africa, until World War I, it appeared to be a privileged outlet for the productions of the First Industrial Revolution, unlike goods typical of the Second Industrial Revolution, and an essential supply source of tropical products. The empire became the leading economic partner of the French metropole in 1928. With the advent of the Great Depression, the empires became a fallback space for metropolitan economies, a process which, according to certain authors, triggered an apathy that slowed down the modernization of the metropoles’ economic system, thereby contributing to the deterioration of their production apparatus.35 For others, this was not caused by the colonial market so much as by a strategy pursued by certain French economic sectors as well as public investment levels that remained inadequate. The development gaps between the metropoles and the colonies, which were increasingly wide in the case of Great Britain, France, and Belgium, attest to the empires’ economic interest. As for Portugal, which did not have the same investment options or access to foreign investments, historiography questioned the role of the empire in delaying the metropole’s development. The issue links between colonization and (under)development were explored in the 1960s and 1970s, particularly in a third-world context. Although eclipsed in the 1980s by the increasing focus on Postcolonial Studies and Subaltern Studies, which tended to focus more on political, social, and cultural aspects, the question resurfaced in the 1990s. These economists were focusing on the initial environmental, social, and economic characteristics of the colonies considered, rather than on those of the metropole, which later helped to more clearly account for the disparity of the colonial situations. This approach, already the subject of experiment in America, had yet to be applied to Africa.

The colonial legacy has had an impact on development capacities. According to the New Institutional History, it seems that in the former mixed colonies, in which some minority European settlers took over the wealth and institutions, the Africans found it more difficult to appropriate the foundations of the postcolonial states and economic structures.

Fundamentally Inegalitarian Societies

Colonial societies were fundamentally inegalitarian. They were constructed on both racial and social discriminations that placed European demographic minorities in a dominant position. Settlers represented only a small percent of the total population and were concentrated in cities. In the so-called settler colonies such as Algeria, their proportion was increasing, though it still comprised less than 10 percent of the total population, except in the cities like Oran, where they were in the majority. During the Fascist era, Italian colonization relied on the massive migrations of Italians into Africa in order to reduce the demographic surplus in southern Italy. As a result, Asmara, in Ethiopia, was home to 48,000 Italians compared to 36,000 Africans in 1939. Similarly, as of 1940, the Portuguese colonies, Estado Novo (Second Republic), also encouraged massive migrations from the metropole to the colonies in order to better control the territories. In the 1950s, half of Portuguese migrants headed for the colonies. Africans did not have access to the same educational opportunities as the Europeans, and their professional prospects were also very limited. They remained restricted to lower-level or auxiliary positions. However, a change occurred in the interwar period—particularly in the 1930s—against a backdrop of economic crisis and a fallback on the empires, when the metropoles realized that they could no longer exploit their colonies so brutally. The Front populaire in France sought to reform its colonial policy by taking greater interest in the colonized populations. However, Europeans in the field continued to occupy most of the positions of responsibility, while the Africans remained confined to subordinate or auxiliary jobs. On the Gold Coast in the 1920s, the governor launched a plan to promote Ghanaian agents, and 27 auxiliaries were thus reassigned to command posts reporting to the British administration in 1925. Yet this initial impulse scarcely had any effect. The auxiliaries increased to 31 in 1933, and it was only in 1948 that Ghanians occupied 98 out of 1,300 positions of responsibility.36

Population movements, not just those between metropoles and colonies but also from one colony to another or between empires, have also given rise to recent research, including on gender issues.37 Laborer movements were particularly intense because of indentured labor and the coolie trade, which constituted an alternative to the abolition of slavery in the second half of the 19th century. The flow of free Indian laborers was also substantial, leading to the establishment of Indian and Chinese communities in Southern Africa and Madagascar. Trans-colonial free or forced labor migrations—as in all of West Africa to meet the demands of plantations and infrastructures, and in French Equatorial Africa (FEA) for the construction of the Congo-Ocean railway, or trans-imperial migrations—created extremely large labor flows, such as those heading from Portuguese Angola or Mozambique to the South African mines, within the framework of agreements concluded between the colonial authorities. The interests served by these complex displacements, whether seasonal or spanning several years, called into question the piecemeal nature of traditional colonial or imperial approaches.

Accommodations and Transactions

Beyond the instances of undeniably harsh domination, the updated Subaltern Studies, part of the Postcolonial Studies, and the Etudes colonial (Colonial Studies) highlight the need to closely examine societies in a colonial situation in order to better grasp the phenomena of colonizer imitations, hegemonic adhesion, or transactions leading to hybridization processes without which the colonial powers would not have been able to sustain themselves. From the colonized standpoint, it meant taking into account their leadership capacity and their own strategies for taking optimal advantage of a situation of asymmetric power. It also meant looking into appropriation or recreation opportunities, and ultimately into ways to invent social and cultural practices. Such processes showed that colonizers and the colonized could not be confined within two rigid categories without interaction that would be assigned very definite roles on the empires’ stage. Colonial cities could thus be explored both as architectural showcases of the colonial authorities’ power and as a form of Western modernity, with portions of metropolitan territories transplanted into the colonies, and occasionally adapted to the indigenous people’s architectures along with an ethno-racialization of the territories’ functional and social zoning. However, on a local scale, research was finding that among contrasting, if not segregated, districts, some complex flows and interactions were taking place between the colonizers and the colonized. Multiple social and cultural history findings related flows and representations of city-based domestics, merchants, craftsmen, and employees—and, more globally, the diversity of social and cultural practices—with feedback in the metropole, forging the pluralistic concept of “empire cultures.”38 They also shed light on all of the space that could be allotted to the direct or indirect expression of colonization’s subversions or protests.

Rebellions and Protests

Colonial peace largely remained a myth propagated by colonizing powers to give credence to the idea that their presence was a boon for local populations. Despite the brutality of the conquest and repressions, anti-colonial uprisings multiplied until the 1920s, such as the 1905–1907 Maji Maji uprising in Tanganyika, whose repression cost over 100,000 lives; the Zulu rebellion in Natal from 1906 to 1908 or the peasant uprisings against troop requisitions during World War I. From 1854 to 1916, there were at least 160 military campaigns in Mozambique. Numerous insurrections occurred there until 1917, the year of the uprising in Zambezi against forced conscription, as well as in Portuguese Guinea until the early 1920s. There were many different reasons for these uprisings associated with a worsening colonial situation, such as the increased requisitions of agricultural and mining raw materials, a growing tax burden, land evictions, particularly iniquitous court orders, and labor and troop requisitions. The rebellions continued during the interwar period, though in fewer numbers. The Rif War in Morocco defied Spanish and French authorities from 1921 to 1926. In Burundi, the Inamujandi revolt in 1934 caused problems for Belgian colonizers, and in 1941, the Portuguese intervened against the Herero in southern Angola.39

From the very start, nationalist historiographies idealized the rebellions and resistance to colonization by treating a few key figures like heroes, such as Lat Dior or Samory in West Africa—major actors whose trajectories were often more complex. For example, the latter, a military and political leader, signed some treaties with the French and English in the late 1880s. In certain cases, anti-colonialist historians developed a teleological view of the resistance phenomena, interpreting the earliest rebellions as proto-nationalist movements.40 Certain rebellions were deemed archaic, because they were rooted in a rural context, often with religious overtones: the Maji Maji rebellion in Tanganyika was named after a reputedly magic potion absorbed by the insurgents to protect themselves from German bullets. These rebellions, whose sole aim was to restore a precolonial way of life, were ultimately, and brutally, crushed. These archaic rebellions were allegedly followed by identity movements with a strong cultural dimension, possibly associated with messianic movements, which also took on a political significance. In 1921, Simon Kimbangu, for example, preached in the Belgian Congo about the coming of a black messiah who would save the Bakongo from the whites’ colonial order. He was arrested, sentenced to death, then kept in prison until the end of his life in 1951, in the remote province town of Elisabethville. His numerous disciples were severely repressed from 1924 on. After that, explicitly nationalistic movements were said to have emerged. This ternary and chronological perspective of protest movements, however, did not accurately consider their ongoing nature and the complexity of their objectives and terms.

A different typology of the resistance phenomena can be offered, based on their forms. For example, alongside the violent rebellions and insurrections, a complex array of “low-key” protests unfolded in the form of temporary avoidance strategies: fleeing into the bush or the forest during tax collections, forced labor or troop conscriptions, or even migrating to a neighboring colony where the laws were comparatively less stringent. Some peasants fled to the Gold Coast during bouts of forced troop requisitions in the Ivory Coast. At times, that could include peasants who had been forced off their lands but continued to farm them or let their herds graze on them, as in Algeria. Resistance could even be very subtle, as in the incorrect use of the colonizer’s language or by pretending not to understand it. Interpreters therefore played a key role in translating and reformulating statements according to the best interest of this or that party in the conversation.

Nonetheless, tracking these practices remained difficult because of the lack of archives on the subject, which conversely tended to tally the repression of attitudes and practices, indicative of attempts not so much to subvert colonial domination as to perpetuate social customs that upheld colonial norms. Certain ancestral hunting practices in the Belgian Congo were considered to be poaching, a defiance of colonial order, and thus were punished as such.41 Were these acts of resistance specific to each colony? Bottom-up social history research in rural environments, or subaltern approaches to these movements, pointed out the universality of the forms of resistance to domination. However, the pluralistic way in which the legal system differentiated between the colonizers and the colonized undoubtedly shaped the repression of these forms of protest, imposing laws upon indigenous peoples that were unique to the colonies and without equivalent in the metropoles.

Moving Toward an Independent Africa

How Two World Wars Contributed to Emancipation Movements

During both world wars, conflicts took place in Africa, causing the empires’ borders to be redefined, as tracked by traditional historiography. More importantly, these two wars brought about an escalation of colonial domination and a maturing of resistance and political emancipation movements. The metropoles also heavily drained Africa’s resources. In the colonies, requisitions of raw materials—cotton, rice, millet, cocoa, rubber, oleaginous crops, and so on, as well as of forced labor, intensified in a war economy context. This led to shortages for local populations, a diversion of crops to the benefit of such requisitions and to the detriment of subsistence crops, and higher prices for essential goods. The tax burden also increased by 30 percent in French West Africa (FWA) during World War I. Male requisitions did not subside (see Tables 1 and 2): although the Germans were reluctant to recruit black troops, the conscription of colonial troops met with resistance, notably a major rebellion in Upper Senegal and Niger from November 1915 to July 1916.

Table 1. Mobilization of French African colonial troops during World War I.
















% of fatalities








Data from Jacques Frémeaux, Les colonies dans la Grande Guerre, Paris, Editions 14–18 (2006); and Marie-Albane de Suremain, Jean-François Klein, Pierre Singaravélou, Atlas des empires coloniaux (XXIe–XXe siècle) (Paris: Autrement, 2012).

Table 2. Mobilization of African colonial and British dominion troops.

West Africa

East Africa

South Africa





% of fatalities




Data from Jacques Frémeaux, Les colonies dans la Grande Guerre: Combats et épreuves des peoples d’outre-mer (Paris: 14–18 éditions, 2006); and Marie-Albane de Suremain, Jean-François Klein, and Pierre Singaravélou, Atlas des empires coloniaux (XXIe–XXe siècle) (Paris: Autrement, 2012).

Certain colonized people were also mobilized under guard in metropole factories or fields, such as the Malagasy or Kabyles during World War I, to replace the workers or peasants who had gone to war. The colonial troops’ participation in the defense of the metropoles, the “blood money” paid for the latter, constituted a key argument for the colonized in gaining recognition of their political rights. President Wilson’s Fourteen Points, and the founding principles of the League of Nations, provided many more arguments supporting their demands for emancipation, but they were scarcely heard until shortly after World War II.

During the Second World War, there were even more colonial troops. The British mobilized 410,000 South Africans and Indians to fight in East Africa. In 1940, in Metropolitan France, Africans represented nearly 9 percent of the French Army, even though they made up scarcely 3 percent of this force in the period from 1914 to 1918. German armies were particularly harsh with black soldiers, executing several thousand of them. The majority of the soldiers who rallied around de Gaulle and France libre were Africans from FEA. They fought in Chad and Italy, and comprised 20 percent of the forces that debarked in Provence. They endured the “whitewashing” of the Free France forces in the fall of 1944, with most of them being transferred to camps in the south of France, then taken back to Africa to be demobilized there. In December 1944, in Camp de Thiaroye (the Camp at Thiaroye), near Dakar, dozens of soldiers who wanted to collect their back pay before returning to their villages were massacred. During World War II, pressures from the war economy were keenly felt. Shortages were widespread in Algeria. Ruanda-Urundi experienced a famine from 1942 to 1944, yet the colonial authorities had still not recognized the magnitude of the African contribution. The weakening of the metropoles during World War II and the enlistment of Africans in their defense nonetheless constituted a milestone in the emergence of nationalist movements.

From Protests against Colonial Authorities to Demands for Independence

In the course of comparing political as well as sociocultural approaches to history, researchers extensively studied the emergence of nationalist movements as an example of the reversal of the colonizers’ political weapons, yet the role of women had not been fully explored. At the start of the interwar period, the worsening living conditions associated with the global crisis boosted trade union involvement, particularly in urban areas, which thus became another way to challenge colonial authorities. In 1930, the British authorized the unionization of English-speaking Africans. In the French colonies, only holders of a certificat d’études (basic school-leaving qualification) had the right to join a trade union as of 1937, reserving trade unionism for an elite. It was not until 1952 and the establishment of a Code du travail (Labor Law) that union rights became a reality. In the Belgian Congo, only Africans’ right to strike was recognized in 1946. In colonies with a high proportion of white populations, such as in Algeria or South Africa, the union movements that emerged during the interwar period did not include Africans, but were still part of a distinction process. Situations varied in the case of Communist parties. The Communist Party of South Africa was similar in approach to that of the African National Congress, founded in 1912 and inspired both by Christianity and Garveyism, which defends the rights of Africans. The Parti communiste algérien (Algerian Communist Party) split away from the Parti communiste français (PCF; French Communist Party) to become more Algerian. In Tunisia, after the major strikes of 1936, the nationalists took over the Tunisian Confédération générale de travail (CGT; a labor union) and the authorities cracked down on them until 1938. Migrant workers in metropoles also constituted a breeding ground for political activists, as evidenced by the creation of Étoile Nord-Africaine (North African Star) in France in 1926.

Generally speaking, elite scholars played a major role in the emergence of nationalist political parties. The few Africans who managed to pursue higher education in metropoles were over-represented among these leaders, such as Habib Bourguiba, Leopold Sedar Senghor, and Kwame Nkrumah, who, in 1936, was the vice-president of the West African Students Union (WASU), which was founded in 1925 in London and had 1,300 members in 1945.

The demands of the nationalist associations, leagues, and parties were quite varied. Some of them wished to remain rooted in traditions and promote the return to what they felt was the original culture. That was true of the Association of Algerian Muslim Ulema, founded in Algeria in 1931, whose slogan is “Arabic is my language, Islam is my religion, Algeria is my country.” The defense of ancestral lands, in terms of both land ownership and religion, was central to the strengthening of nationalist demands in Madagascar. Other parties such as the North African Star, which became the Parti populaire algérien (Algerian People’s Party) in 1937, had more radical demands. Supported in its earliest years by the French Communist Party, it split away from the latter under the leadership of Messali Hadj, whose demands were both revolutionary and Islamist. The WASU also became more radical during World War II, advocating a revolutionary break with colonialism in 1946, and formulating a pan-African ideology inspired by Afro-American William E. B. Du Bois, who organized several international congresses such as in Paris in 1919, and others in London and Brussels. Marcus Garvey added a black nationalist dimension to them. A Pan-African Federation was created in 1944, spearheaded by George Padmore, a non-Communist Marxist.

The defeats of the colonial powers against the Axis powers in World War II—at least until 1942—weakened their authority, though more moderately in Africa than in the Japanese-occupied Far East. The Atlantic Charter of August 14, 1941, which recognized the right of all people to choose their government, and the anti-colonial statements of Roosevelt, who, with the support of the British, liberated Africa in 1942, helped to undermine colonial legitimacy. The meeting of the American chief of state Roosevelt with the Sultan of Morocco, in January 1943 raised a great deal of hope, and the Istiqlal, or Independence Party, was created in January 1944. Colonial authorities, however, were slow to keep pace. The British considered that the Atlantic Charter solely concerned the territories liberated from the Nazis, and the French failed to invite any African to the Brazzaville Conference in January 1944. The first article of the United Nations Charter, signed on June 26, 1945, by 50 states at the San Francisco Conference, may have stipulated the “principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples,” but the hour of decolonization had not yet come for the metropoles, whose rights were also guaranteed by this same charter. That moment had arrived only for the mandates, and in a new Cold War context, the United States was soon preoccupied with standing up to the growing power of the Soviet Union, by relying on their allies—even the colonizers. The metropoles merely changed their policy by increasing support of their colonies’ development.

Maintaining colonial rule—even a reformed version—fostered the emergence of nationalist demands. For the colonized, these claims constituted a tool to contest this domination and to build a fully shared project for the future. The process leading to independence was far from unfolding smoothly and peacefully according to an overly stereotypical scheme that contrasted the negotiated paths to African independences with insurrectional movements and the decolonization wars in Asia. At the end of World War II, mass mobilizations against the colonial authorities multiplied and became better organized, on the union and political fronts, even though Africans scarcely had any political rights. By then, they were better informed. In 1944, in Nigeria, Nnamdi Azikiwe created a party that would become a mass organization, the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons. Strikes broke out in Douala (Cameroon) and in Nigeria in 1945, in 1947 in Dakar, and even among miners and railway workers in the Gold Coast, occurring in conjunction with an urban boycott of European and Syrian-Lebanese products. Many nationalist leaders, such as Kwame Nkrumah and other militants of the Convention People’s Party, learned their skills as union activists. In Algeria, in Northern Constantine, demonstrations celebrating May 8, 1945, also called for independence. The crackdown set off an insurrection that lasted several weeks in the regions of Sétif and Guelma, and was very harshly quelled by mass massacres, ending in a death toll that may have exceeded 10,000.42 During the night of March 29–30, 1947, in Madagascar, spontaneous rebellions broke out, mainly in the Moramanga region. The insurrection extended over a vast 480-mile region skirting the east coast, and over 120 miles inland, to include the cities of Tamatave and Fianarantsoa, until December 1948. The army methodically repressed the rebels until 1950. Some of them took refuge in the forests and also died from the ensuing hardships. Although very difficult to assess, historians estimated the death toll to have reached 30,000 to 40,000. That particular insurrection left a lasting imprint on the Malagasy’s collective memory. In Cameroon, the situation turned insurrectionary in the mid-1950s. Following the Douala riots, colonial authorities outlawed the Union des peuples camerounais (UPC; Union of Cameroonian Peoples), a revolutionary party founded in 1948 by Ruben Um Nyobé, which was in favor of the reunification of French and British Cameroon, and independence. Activists formed a clandestine resistance group in the forest, and an insurrection broke out in Bassa country in December 1956. It was harshly repressed, which strengthened the ranks of the UPC, and the crackdown lasted until 1957. In Kenya, the Mau-Mau Uprising that erupted in 1950 took a particularly dramatic turn. It brought together various groups (the Kikuyu, Meru, Kamba, Embu, etc.) who were sharing the experience of being reduced to misery in reserves whose perimeters were too narrow for a population of 1 million in 1948, and who had virtually no representation. The sole aim of this grassroots rebellion, which was both rural and urban, was to restore the precolonization situation. Lands were taken back from the Europeans, and churches were burned. In 1952, a state of emergency was declared; the trade unions and political parties dissolved; and nationalist leaders, such as Jomo Kenyatta, arrested. In 1953, the number of rebels was estimated at 20,000. The rebellion was crushed in 1955, leaving 15,000 dead among African civilians (fewer than 100 among the Europeans), and 80,000 prisoners, but the unrest persisted until 1960.

A Kaleidoscope of Independences

The scenarios leading up to the independences vary by time and region within the same empire. In the British Empire, each territory was expected to evolve at its own pace, and the colonial authorities initially counted on extremely slow changes. In the Gold Coast, a local government was considered, but autonomy was seen as a long way off. After the 1947 strikes, demonstrations were repressed through bloodshed. The United Gold Coast Convention raised the autonomy issue, but its leaders, including Kwame Nkrumah, were arrested. The more popular Convention People’s Party (CPP) was then created in support of Nkrumah, who was rearrested in 1949 in the wake of anti-colonial strikes. The CPP managed, however, to win the 1951 general elections. Ultimately, in 1957, the Gold Coast was the first former British colony of Africa to win its independence, which it did under the name of Ghana, derived from the prestigious ancient Sahelian medieval empire. Kenya did not acquire its independence until 1963.

After World War II, France adopted a more federal perspective within the Union française (French Union), created in 1946. After a hardening phase, the Moroccan and Tunisian protectorates at last obtained their independence rather quickly, in 1956, after the military defeat in Indochina that allowed France to focus on Algeria, a settler colony. Algerian nationalists secured its independence by force of arms after more than seven years (1954–1962) of a war that for the former metropole remained nameless and left behind many disturbing memories of the use of torture, the repatriation of a million pieds noirs, and the fate of the Harki.

On the other hand, with its colonies of sub-Saharan Africa, France engaged in a gradual pragmatic decolonization course somewhat reminiscent of the way in which the British handled decolonization. In both cases, however, some violent episodes occurred that contradicted the somewhat too smooth picture of an exclusively peaceful decolonization process. An identical scenario nonetheless occurred in the FWA and FEA colonies: the Defferre Reform Act of 1956 territorialized the administrations by performing transfers from the federal level to that of the colonies, endowing colonial administrators with greater autonomy from the metropole. In 1958, these territories opted by referendum to join the French Community, which succeeded the French Union within the framework of the French Fifth Republic; the only exception was Guinea, which chose independence, and whose leader, Sékou Touré, became the first president. Consequently, all economic relations were broken off with France. The other territories gained their independence by 1960 but were so careful not to sever their close cooperative relationship with the former metropole that the colonial legacy may be considered to have led to neocolonialism. Along with the former Belgian Congo, 18 countries gained their independence in 1960. Yet the process—particularly for the Portuguese colonies—was far from over.

The first foundations of Portuguese trading forts date back to the 15th century. Portuguese colonists settled there, mixing with the local populations in a more prevalent way than in any other of their empires. The Portuguese colonies welcomed new flows of metropolitans after World War II, in a context of economic crisis. Despite the fact that dictator Salazar had no intention of challenging the empire that was fueling Estado novo propaganda, anti-colonial revolts broke out as early as in 1961 in Angola (mainly with Agostinho Neto); in 1963 in Guinea-Bissau, where the struggle was led by Amilcar Cabral; and in 1964 in Mozambique. The 1974 Révolution des œillets (Carnation Revolution) paved the way for the independence of these three countries, as well as that of São Tomé and Príncipe and of the Islands of Cape Verde in 1975.

In view of the staggering chronology, some wars for independence occurred over such a long period of time that they also took on a meaning associated with Cold War conflicts, as in Angola and Mozambique under Portuguese rule. An uprising erupted in Luanda in 1961. Agostinho Neto’s Portuguese Movimento Popular de Libertação (MPLA; the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola); the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), led by Jonas Savimbi and supported by the United States; and the National Front for the Liberation of Angola (FNLA), supported by Mobutu’s Zaire, clashed until the MPLA’s victory and the country’s independence in 1975. In Mozambique, it was the Mozambique Liberation Front (FRELIMO) that prevailed in that same year.

These national independence processes, and even the Balkanization of Africa, thwarted hopes for a pan-African union. Yet certain African and Asian countries found themselves gathering behind the banner of non-alignment with the blocs formed by the United States and the Soviet Union, who were confronting each other in the Cold War. In early 1957, Kwame Nkrumah took the initiative to lead the Conférence du Rassemblement des Peuples Africains (AAPC; All-African Peoples’ Conference) in Accra in 1958, the majority of whose delegates were anglophones. A dozen or so pan-African conferences convened until 1963, and it was during the conference of June 1963 in Addis Ababa that the Organisation de l’unité africaine (OUA; Organization of African Unity) was created, uniting 30 states. Two groups emerged: the so-called and rather moderate “Monrovia Group,” consisting of 30 independent states of sub-Saharan Africa, advocating the federal approach; and the Casablanca Group, which consisted of more revolutionary Afro-Arab states, such as Ghana, Mali, and the Gouvernement provisoire algérien (GPRA; Provisional Government of the Algerian Republic). In 1964, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) was founded. In 1965, this group of 77 members called for the establishment of a new international economic order, converged with the non-aligned movement, and criticized the persistent colonialism in Rhodesia until the end of the 1970s.

The last African states to obtain their independence were Zimbabwe in 1980—Southern Rhodesia’s white colonists had unilaterally won their independence in 1965, and Robert Mugabe overthrew this power in 1980, allowing the country to readopt the name of a great medieval African empire—and lastly Namibia, in 1990. Examined from the standpoint of the colonial legacy’s impact and the reality of the decolonization process, the independences were also explored from a social and cultural historical perspective and from the viewpoint of the colonized: how did the latter experience this major step in the colonial emancipation process, and what memories have they retained from it?43

Further Reading

Bouchene, Abderahmane, Jean-Pierre Peyrouloux, Ouanassa Siari-Tengour, and Sylvie Thenault, eds. Histoire de l’Algérie à la période coloniale. Paris-Alger: La Découverte-Barzakh, 2012.Find this resource:

Cain, Peter, and Anthony Hopkins. British Imperialism: Innovation and Expansion, 1688–1914. Londres, UK: Longman, 1993.Find this resource:

Chakrabarty, Dipesch. Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000.Find this resource:

Cooper, Frederick. Africa since 1940. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2002.Find this resource:

Cooper, Frederick. Colonialism in Question. Theory, Knowledge, History. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005.Find this resource:

Darwin, John. The Empire Project: The Rise and Fall of the British World-System, 1830–1970. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2009.Find this resource:

Dirk Moses, Anthony, ed. Empire, Colony, Genocide: Conquest, Occupation and Subaltern Resistance in World History. New York: Berghahn Books, 2008.Find this resource:

Enders, Armelle. Histoire de l’Afrique lusophone. Paris: Chandeigne, 1994.Find this resource:

Hall, Catherine. Cultures of Empire: A Reader; Colonizers in Britain and the Empire in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 2000.Find this resource:

Hopkins, Anthony G. Globalization in World History. New York: W. W. Norton, 2002.Find this resource:

Parry, Benita. Postcolonial Studies: A Materialist Critique. Londres: Routledge, 2004.Find this resource:

Porter, Bernard. The Absent-Minded Imperialists: Empire, Society and Culture in Britain. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.Find this resource:

Pouchepadass, Jacques. “Les Subaltern Studies ou la critique postcoloniale de la modernité.” L’Homme 156 (2000): 161–186.Find this resource:

Singaravélou, Pierre, ed. Les empires coloniaux, XIXe-XXe siècle. Paris: Le Seuil, 2013.Find this resource:


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(32.) Henrika Kuklick, The Savage Within: The Social History of British Anthropology, 1885–1945 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991).

(33.) David Cannadine, Ornamentalism: How the British Saw Their Empire (London: Penguin, 2001).

(34.) Richard A. Drayton, Nature Government: Science, Imperial Britain and the Improvement of the World (London: Yale University Press, 2000).

(35.) Jacques Marseille, Empire colonial et capitalisme français, histoire d’un divorce (Paris: Albin Michel, 1984).

(36.) Anthony Kirk-Greene, Britain’s Imperial Administrators, 1858–1966 (London: MacMillan Press, 2000).

(37.) Marie Rodet, Les migrantes ignorées du Haut-Sénégal 1900–1946 (Paris: Karthala, 2009).

(38.) Catherine Hall, Cultures of Empire. A Reader: Colonizers in Britain and the Empire in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries (Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 2000).

(40.) Terence O. Ranger, “African Reaction to the Imposition of Colonial Rule in East and Central Africa,” in Colonialism in Africa, 1870–1960, vol. I, The History and Politics of Colonialism in Africa, 1870–1914, ed. Lewis Henry Gann and Peter Duignan (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969), 293–321; and Terence O. Ranger, “Initiatives et résistances face au partage du monde et à la conquête,” in Histoire générale de l’Afrique, vol. VII, ed. Albert Adu Boahen (Paris: Unesco, 1989), 67–86.

(41.) Patricia van Schuylenbergh, “Entre délinquance et résistance au Congo belge, l’interprétation coloniale du braconnage,” Afrique & Histoire 7, no.1 (January 2009): 25–48.

(43.) Odile Goerg, Jean-Luc Martineau, and Didier Nativel, eds., Les indépendances en Afrique. L’événement et ses mémoires, 1957/60–2010 (Rennes, France: Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2013); and Catherine Hall, Cultures of Empire. A Reader: Colonizers in Britain and the Empire in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries (Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 2000).