Introduction to African History

Topics: Africa, Colonialism, Nationalism Pages: 7 (2384 words) Published: April 26, 2012
Kathryn Randall Curtis - 227649|
Was there any such thing as African ‘nationalism’ before c.1960?| |
Introduction to the History of Africa - 154800228|
Word Count: 2027|

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Was there any such thing as African ‘nationalism’ before c.1960?
The question of whether African nationalism was present before c.1960 has been highly debated among historians. As highlighted by John Iliffe there has been profound disagreement among historians over the entire colonial period; the fact that the colonial impact varied greatly from place to place also makes the question arguably more complex to approach. In the first half of the twentieth century there were many obstacles to nationalism in Africa; cultural and linguistic diversity within imposed colonial boundaries meant that there was very little organic cohesion on which to base nationalism. However despite obvious challenges to nationalism it seems that nationalist movements were indeed emerging by the late 1930’s, international developments like World War One and World War Two, and internal developments such as increasing western education undoubtedly affected the appearance of nationalist movements. Nationalist elites sought to broaden their appeal by harnessing popular discontent and creating or reinforcing national identities; however many historians still question just how much mass support many of these movements really had. It is also important to make the distinction between genuine ‘nationalism’ and ‘anti-colonialism’. Nationalist movements in Africa arguably faced many more obstacles than nationalism did in other localities such as India. As Iliffe notes, the majority of early twentieth-century Africans saw their immediate local area as the ‘relevant political arena’; this kind of localised attitude made the development of nationalism challenging to say the least. Cultural and linguistic divisions within ‘territories’ arguably made forming people into one united nation a highly complex task; as Bill Freund explores, the nationalist guerrilla campaigns such as those co-ordinated by the Land Freedom Army in Kenya were weakened by a lack of unity between people. Bruce Berman and John Lonsdale also note how the various conflicting ‘ethnic nationalisms’ in Kenya resulted in violent politics and confusions of ideology. However Enocent Msindo argues that ethnicity in some circumstances actually ‘complemented nationalism’. He claimed that not only did ethnic groups provide prominent nationalist leaders but pre-colonial ethnic histories and monuments actually ‘sparked the nationalist imagination’. Cultural and linguistic divisions arguably remained a challenge to nationalism. Iliffe highlights a common language as the ‘normal base of nationality’; in Africa a common language seldom exists to unite a whole country. Another fundamental obstacle to the development of nationalism in Africa is arguably the fact that territorial boundaries drawn up by European colonial governments were ‘quite artificial’; they divided linguistic groups and peoples and barely took into consideration the natural geography of the continent. Hugh Seton-Watson notes that a major problem for early African nationalists came in establishing a ‘unit’ to form the base of the nationalist ideology. However despite these many obstacles to nationalism by the late 1930s various nationalist movements seemed to be emerging. Ghana is a good example of African nationalism prior to 1960. Frederick Cooper highlights how Britain viewed the Gold Coast as the most politically advanced area in British West Africa; whilst the British official view may have claimed that elite leaders were ‘manipulating unthinking masses’ there is no point denying that nationalism...
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