There were a variety of responses on the part of African peoples to colonial rule. Supporters of colonialism in Europe claimed that the average African person welcomed colonialism. Colonialism, they argued, brought the end of slavery in East and Central Africa and brought a stop to inter-kingdom warfare in parts of West Africa. While there is some truth to the claim that colonialism brought peace to a few areas in Africa, and that there were some peoples who were initially thankful for an end to violence in their areas, the historical evidence does not support the claim that there was widespread support for colonial rule.
Indeed, there is also considerable evidence of strong resistance to colonial rule. By the beginning of World War I in 1914, all of Africa, with the exception of Liberia and Ethiopia, had been colonized, and initial African resistance had been overcome by the colonial powers. Over the next decades as colonial rule became institutionalized, African resistance to colonialism became more focused and intense.
By the 1950s, there were organized nationalist parties that demanded political independence in almost every colony in Africa. In this final section of this module, we will look at four phases of African reaction to colonial rule: early resistance, demand for equity and inclusion, nationalism/mass movement, and struggle for national liberation. Early (Primary) Resistance to Colonialism Early African reaction to European intrusion into Africa in the late 19th century was not uniform.
A few groups that had suffered from long-term warfare or slave raiding (such as in parts of East Africa) gave an uncertain welcome to European presence in their regions in hope that there would be peace. Other groups strongly resisted the coming of European political control. However, many people had no initial reaction to colonialism. This was because the early years colonialism had little impact on the lives of many rural African peoples. This situation changed as the impact of colonialism became more widespread and intense in the middle decades of the 20th century.
Throughout the period of the Scramble for Africa, European colonizers faced stiff resistance in many parts of Africa. It would take up too much time and space to present information on all instances of resistance. The map below identifies seven examples of early resistance to colonial rule from across Africa. The numbers in the list below correspond to those on the map. By clicking on a number from the list, you will receive information on that particular expression of resistance.