By the end of World War I, most of Africa had been effectively colonized. European colonialists had managed to quell the efforts by Africans to resist the establishment of colonial rule. The next two decades, the period historians call the inter-war years, were relatively quiet years in colonial Africa. This relative quiet, however, did not indicate that the colonized people of Africa were happy with colonial rule-that there was no opposition to colonialism.
During the inter-war years opposition to colonialism was expressed in one of the following forms: Demands for opportunity and inclusion: Many Africans at this time accepted the reality of colonial rule but they did not accept the harsh discrimination and the lack of opportunity that was a central part of the colonial experience. Opposition to these aspects of colonialism was particularly strong among educated Africans.
Educated Africans believed that “all humans are created equal. Discriminatory colonial policies and practice restricted economic opportunities and participation in the political process. During this period, educated Africans formed organizations to promote their interest for an end to discriminatory policies and for an increase in opportunities. However, these organizations had limited membership, and they did not make radical demands for the end of colonial rule. The South African National Congress and the West African National Congress (Nigeria/Ghana) are examples of elite African organizations.
Religious opposition: A number of the early anti-colonial up-risings featured in the last section were led by religious leaders. The Chimurenga (Zimbabwe) and Maji-Maji (Tanganyika) uprisings were led by African priests who were strongly opposed to colonial rule. This tradition of religious opposition to colonialism continued throughout the 20th century. However, unlike the earlier acts of religious resistance, the new opposition was led by African Christians.
African Christians took seriously the Christian teachings on equality and fairness-values that were not practiced by colonial regimes. By the 1920s, some African Christian leaders were forming their own churches, sometimes called African Independent Churches. These churches that were formed in Southern, Eastern, Central and West Africa, provided a strong voice for justice. One of many examples is the Kimbaguist Christian Church formed in the Congo by Simon Kimbangu in the 1920s.
In spite of Kimbangu’s imprisonment for many years by the Belgians, the Kimbanguist church grew rapidly. When the Congo became independent in 1960, the church had a membership of over one million. Economic opposition: During this time period economic opposition was often not well organized. However, there were attempts in the 1920s and 1930s by mine workers in southern Africa and port workers in West and East Africa to organize into unions. While important, these activities had little impact on the majority of African peoples.
Of greater impact were the less organized but more widespread efforts of African farmers to resist colonial demands on their labor and their land. Module Nine: African Economies provides an example of how small scale African farmers in Mali quietly, but effectively, resisted the attempts by colonial officials to control the production of cotton. Mass protests: During the inter-war era, there were few mass protests against colonial policies. One of the most important and interesting exceptions was the Aba Women’s War that took place in southeastern Nigeria in 1929.
Ibo market women were upset with a number of colonial policies that threatened their economic and social position. In 1929, the women staged a series of protests. The largest protest included more than 10,000 women who had covered their faces with blue paint and carried fern-covered sticks. The women were able to destroy a number of colonial buildings before soldiers stopped the protest, killing more than fifty women in the process. Not surprisingly in contemporary Nigeria, the Aba Women are considered to be national heroes!