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Africans in World Wars I and II  

Joe Lunn

World Wars I and II were very probably the most destructive conflicts in African history. In terms of the human costs—the numbers of people mobilized, the scale of violence and destruction experienced--as well as their enduring political and social impact, no other previous conflicts are comparable, particularly over such short periods as four and ten years, respectively. All told, about 4,500,000 African soldiers and military laborers were mobilized during these wars and about 2,000,000 likely died. Mobilization on this scale among African peasant societies was only sustainable because they were linked to the industrial economies of a handful of West Central European nation states at the core of the global commercial infrastructure, which invariably subordinated African interests to European imperial imperatives. Militarily, these were expressed in two ways: by the use of African soldiers and supporting military laborers to conquer or defend colonies on the continent, or by the export of African combat troops and laborers overseas—in numbers far exceeding comparable decades during the 18th-century peak of the transatlantic slave trade—to Europe and Asia to augment Allied armies there. The destructive consequences of these wars were distributed unevenly across the continent. In some areas of Africa, human losses and physical devastation frequently approximated or surpassed the worst suffering experienced in Europe itself; yet, in other areas of the continent, Africans remained virtually untouched by these wars. These conflicts contributed to an ever-growing assertiveness of African human rights in the face of European claims to racial supremacy that led after 1945 to the restoration of African sovereignty throughout most of the continent. On a personal level, however, most Africans received very little for their wartime sacrifices. Far more often, surviving veterans returned to their homes with an enhanced knowledge of the wider world, perhaps a modicum of newly acquired personal prestige within their respective societies, but little else.


Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army  

Tim Allen

Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) emerged in northern Uganda when Alice Lakwena’s Holy Spirit Movement was also active (see entry for Lakwena, Alice). The groups had much in common, including spirit possession by their leaders. They were a response to the upheavals in the Acholi region following the seizing of political power in Uganda by Yoweri Museveni’s National Resistance Army in 1986. However, while Lakwena’s forces were defeated in 1987, the LRA proved to be extraordinarily resilient. It has been more orientated to guerrilla tactics and acts of terror, including child abduction. LRA activities, combined with oppressive anti-insurgency operations by Museveni’s government, resulted in forced displacement of over a million people. In 2003, the situation was recognized as one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world by the United Nations Under Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, and, in 2005, arrest warrants were issued for Joseph Kony and four other LRA commanders by the International Criminal Court. Peace negotiations began in 2006 but failed in 2008. The LRA then became active outside Uganda, in South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and the Central African Republic (CAR). Hundreds of local people were massacred, and thousands forced to flee their homes in 2008 and 2009. From 2008, the United States supported Ugandan military operations against the LRA, and US support was significantly increased from 2011. The scale of LRA violence declined from 2010, and in 2015, Dominic Ongwen, the only surviving LRA commander wanted by the International Criminal Court apart from Kony, was handed over for trial in The Hague, after being taken into custody by US forces. US and Ugandan forces were withdrawn in 2017, but Kony’s subsequent efforts to reinvigorate the LRA were unsuccessful. While Kony remained at large, Dominic Ongwen’s trial proceeded at the International Criminal Court. In February 2021, Ongwen was found guilty of sixty-one crimes (comprising crimes against humanity and war crimes). The judgment was a landmark ruling in terms of the successful prosecution of forced marriage and forced pregnancy. By 2020, Kony was living with a small band of followers, in a disputed territory between South Sudan and Sudan, bordering the Central African Republic, surviving by farming, and trading in local markets. He has reportedly abandoned his aim to overthrow the Ugandan government.



Daria Trentini

The city of Nampula is the capital of Nampula Province, an agricultural region situated in the Nacala Development Corridor connecting Malawi and Zambia to the coastal port of Nacala. Founded at the beginning of the 20th century by the Portuguese army, Nampula was located at the crossroads of trading and migration routes that had connected the interior of Southern Africa to the Indian Ocean for centuries. Under colonial occupation, Nampula served as a military garrison for launching military operations to subdue and occupy the interior of northern Mozambique, the last undefeated region of the Portuguese empire. The subsequent construction of infrastructure and the advent of commercial agriculture transformed Nampula into the main economic and administrative hub of the northern region of Mozambique. Following independence in 1975, the demographic and territorial expansion of Nampula was informed by socialist governance as well as by a prolonged civil war that brought thousands of refugees from the surrounding rural areas. The economic liberalizations in the 1990s and the mineral discoveries in the northern region of Cabo Delgado in the 2010s consolidated the role of Nampula as a commercial and trade center for national and international capital. The economic boom—alongside increasing rural poverty and ongoing internal and external conflicts—has continued to attract migrants from the rural regions, as well as from across the country and continent, making Nampula the third-largest city in Mozambique, with a population of 743,125 and an area of 404 square kilometers.


Uganda–Tanzania War  

Charles Thomas

The Uganda–Tanzania War was a military conflict between Idi Amin’s regime in Uganda and Julius Nyerere’s Tanzania. The roots of the conflict can be traced back to Amin’s seizure of power in Uganda in a coup against Nyerere’s ally Milton Obote in 1971. Their mutual animosity was then cemented by Nyerere’s approval of an invasion of Uganda by armed exiles the following year. The two countries continued to have strained relationships, leading to border disputes and faltering regional relations. Finally, in October 1978, Amin’s military invaded Tanzania and declared the annexation of all territory north of the Kagera River. This invasion convinced President Nyerere that Amin must be dealt with once and for all. Following a period of mobilization, the Tanzanian military forced the retreat of the Ugandan forces and prepared an invasion of Uganda. The Tanzanians then won a series of battles in southern Uganda, routing Amin’s military forces and their Libyan allies. Nyerere and the Ugandan exiles then focused on taking Kampala and installing representative government. These goals were accomplished in April of 1979 and the Tanzanians completed the removal of Amin loyalist forces in June, marking an end to the war. The Kagera War shaped much of the future for both countries. For Tanzania the war was seen as a unifying patriotic struggle. However, the economic strain of the war combined with the challenges of demobilization undermined President Nyerere’s struggling ujamaa villagization efforts. For Uganda the removal of the Amin regime was a welcome change, but not one that brought peace. The elected government of Godfrey Binaisa was removed in a coup and the return of Milton Obote to power led to a series of rebellions. The chaos released in the postwar period would only end with Museveni’s seizure of power in 1986.