Definition and Meaning of Nationalism

Nationalism is the desire and struggle for political independence by people belonging to a particular nation. It is the resistance to colonialism and the recognition of the right to self government by a large group of people who share the same culture, history, language, etc.

Proto-nationalism is the early form of nationalism in Africa. It is characterized and noted as the immediate and unorganized reactions to colonial rule by the traditional rulers. Examples of traditional rulers that opposed colonialism are King Jaja of Opobo, Nana of Itsekiri, King Kosoko of Lagos, Oba Ovonramwen of Benin and King Masaba of Nupeland.

The educated elites later replaced the traditional nationalists and continued the resistance to colonialism by establishing an organised nationalist movement. Herbert Macaulay is one of the people that spearheaded the nationalist movement in Nigeria, he is also known as the father of Nigerian nationalism. He formed the first Nigerian political party, Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP) in 1923. He also established a newspaper in 1925, the newspaper known as the Lagos Daily served as the mouthpiece of the political party. Other Nigerian nationalists are Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo, Ahmadu Bello, Anthony Enahoro and Abubakar Tafawa Belewa.

Features of Nationalism before the Second World War.

  • Resistance and opposition by the traditional rulers: Traditional rulers such as king Jaja of Opobo, Nana of Itsekiri etc resisted and opposed the colonial rule over their kingdoms.
  • Demand for constitutional reform: There was demands of constitutional reforms in Nigeria to increase the number of Nigerians participating in governing their affairs.
  • The use of newspapers: The establishment of newspapers provided channels for Africans to criticize colonialism. Such newspapers include: the West African Pilot and the Lagos Daily.
  • Petitions: The African educated elite petitioned against colonial rule and even sent delegates to colonial government headquarters to register their grievances and demands.
  • Riot: Riots were also used to show opposition to colonial rule. An examples is the Aba women riot of 1929.

Factors that brought the rise and spread of nationalism in Africa.

These factors are the events and circumstances that influenced and promoted the growth of nationalism within and outside Africans territories. These factors are divided into two; the internal factors and the external factors. The factors that contributed to the growth of nationalism in and within Africa are the internal factors, while the factors outside the African continent that helped influence the growth of nationalism in Africa are the external factors.

Internal Factors

  • The exploitation of African resources: There was mass exploitation of African human and material resources. The tax impositions, trade imbalance and discrimination between Africans and European gave rise to the demand and the struggle for political independence.
  • Social imbalance and discrimination: Racial discrimination and denial of social services, abuse of human rights, denial of qualitative education led to the rise of nationalism in Africa.
  • The disrespect for African cultures and native institutions: The deposition and imposition of traditional rulers by the colonialists, the disregard for African culture and native institutions and imposition of European culture gave rise to nationalism in West Africa.
  • The growth of political parties and political organizations: The growth of political parties such as NCNC, AG, and NNDP etc also contributed to the rise of nationalism.
  • Pressure groups and mass media: The establishment of newspapers such as the West African Pilot, the Lagos Daily helped in the growth of nationalism in Africa. Also the growth and the activities of pressure groups contributed to the rise of nationalism.
  • The West African Youth League: This organization advocated for the complete independence of African nations. Their activities helped in the growth of nationalism and spread of nationalism across Africa. This organization was formed by T.A Wallace, a Sierra Leonean in 1935.

External Factors

  • First and Second World Wars: The effects of the First World War (1914-1918) and the Second World War (1939-1945) exposed the weakness of the European to African soldiers, this made the African soldiers that fought in the wars to give support for nationalism.
  • Western Education: Africans who had acquired education abroad were exposed to the evil of colonialism which led them to stand against colonialism.
  • The independence of India in 1947: The political independence of India in 1947 weakened the strength of colonialism and encouraged other colonial territories to struggle for their own independence.
  • The Atlantic charter: The 1941 Atlantic Charter which provided that all people have a right to self govermment led to demand for political independence in Nigeria and other African nations.
  • International organization: The pressure from international organisation such as UNO calling for the freedom of the colonies increased the rate of nationalism.
  • West African Student Union: This union was formed in London in 1925 by Ladipo Solanke. The activities of the union contributed to the rise of nationalistic struggle.
  • Pan African conferences: Pan Africanists such as Edward Blyden, W. Du Bois, Marcus Garvey etc organized conferences that led to nationalistic movement. The first conference was organized in Paris in 1918.

Strategies Adopted by African Nationalists in Struggle for Independence

African nationalists in the pursuit of their independence used different types of strategies which includes:

  • Conferences and negotiations: The nationalists in some African countries for example, Nigeria engaged in dialogue with the colonialists for constitutional changes. Nigeria got its independence through gradual and series of constitutional changes.
  • Armed struggle and rebellion: Some other African nationalists organized armed struggle and rebellion against the colonialists. Examples of such countries are Zimbabwe, South Africa and Kenya. These countries got their independence through violent means.
  • Demonstrations and protest: Protests and demonstrations were organized by the nationalists to register their rejection of colonial rule.
  • Petitions: They employed petition and sending of delegates to th the Secretary for the Colony demanding some constitutonal reforms and administrative changes.
  • Boycott and strike by workers: The nationalists also organized and supported national strikes and boycott of work to press home their demands.

Results and Effects of Nationalism.

  • Political IndependenceThe main achievement of the nationalists is political independence. Through pressure for constitutional changes, petition, boycott, strike, armed struggle, dialogue, negotiation etc African nationalists were able to gain political sovereignty. Prominent political parties that fought for its independence in 1960 were NPC, NCNC and AG led by Ahmadu Bello, Nnamdi Azikiwe and Obafemi Awolowo respectively.
  • Higher Education: Nationalism led to the spread of western education via the establishment of higher institutions such as Achimota College in Ghana (1927), Yaba Tech College Lagos, and University of Ibadan (1948).
  • Political enlightenment and Patriotism: Nationalism raised the awareness of Africans about their political and fundamental human rights as people. It educated the people on what their rights was and brought the spirit of Patriotism.
  • Economic changes: Nationalism brought about economic changes which increased the participation of Africans in the economic activities of their country. Africans were finally allowed to participate in sectors such as mining and industry, which were only exclusive to the colonialists.
  • Respect and Recognition of the African Culture: The struggle by the nationalists to preserve African culture brought about the recognition and the respect for African culture. For instance, France was forced to change its policy of assimilation which disregarded the African culture to policy of Association which had respect and recognition for African culture.
  • Constitutional Changes: Nationalism brought about some constitutional changes that eventually led to independence. An example is the elective principles that was introduced in Nigeria under the Clifford Constitution of 1922.
  • Political parties: Nationalism gave rise to the formation of political parties that fought for political independence. For instance, in Nigeria we had NPC, NCNC, AG etc.
  • Newspapers: Nationalism also brought about the establishmernt of newspapers such as the West African Pilot, the Lagos Daily, which contributed immensely to the independence struggle.

Why Nationalist Activities were slow in French West African colonies.

Nationalists activities started late and were slow in French West African colonies because of the following;

  • Assimilation Policy: Policy of assimilation gave African educated elite equal rights with the French citizens and that weakened their opposition to colonialism.
  • Late formation of political parties: In French West African colonies, there was little or no platform for Africans to form political parties that will enable them express their political opinion or participate in decision making.
  • Election of Africans in the legislature: Some Africans were elected deputies into French chambers and this affected their agitation.
  • Indignant policy: This policy gave the colonialists powers to arrest and detain Africans without trial. This affected and limited their nationalistic struggles.
  • Lack of press freedom: This made it difficult for the people to criticize the activities of the colonial government.
  • Restricted education: The citizens were the only people that had access to education.

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