B: Elements of Nonviolent Resistance to Colonialism After 1945
compiled by April Carter, Howard Clark and Michael Randle
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Section B: Elements of
Nonviolent Resistance to Colonialism After 1945
- B. Elements of Nonviolent Resistance to Colonialism After 1945
Most anti-colonial struggles in Africa took place after India had become independent, and movements in British colonies were often influenced by the Indian example. The fact that Britain had in principle indicated willingness to dismantle its empire also created a context relatively favourable to nonviolent struggle (compared for example to Portugal, ruled internally by a dictatorship and committed – until after the 1974 internal revolution – to keeping its colonies). But Britain, until brought under pressure from both nonviolent and violent popular movements, expected to grant independence in stages, gradually increasing African representation in government. Moreover, where there were large numbers of white settlers there was counter-pressure to enshrine white dominance. The process of decolonization was, therefore, by no means always smooth. Britain responded to the (limited) anti-settler violence in the Mau Mau rebellion of the 1950s with ruthless military force and detained over 70,000 suspects in appalling conditions.
The nature of African resistance to colonial policies varied between countries, even within the British imperial sphere. In Uganda, for example, the opposition to British plans for a federation of East African countries was led by the traditional ruler of Baganda, Kabaka Mutesa II, who was deported by the Governor. In Tanganyika, however, a modernizing nationalist movement was created by TANU, supported by up to a million members by 1960 and with an extensive network of local organizations and youth and women’s groups. Because of British government responses to events in neighbouring countries, TANU, led by Julius Nyerere, did not need to launch a major independence struggle. It won all but one seat in the 1960 elections and Tanganyika became independent in 1961. There was however earlier peasant resistance in the 1940s-50s to attempts at agricultural reform, land seizures and local government reorganization. See:
85. Spear, Thomas, Mountain Farmers: Moral Economics of Land and Agricultural Development in Arusha and Meru, Oxford, Nairobi and Berkeley, James Currey, Mkuku na Nyota and University of California Press, 1997, Chapter 11.
For useful brief surveys of decolonization see:
Birmingham, David, The Decolonisation of Africa, London, UCL Press, 1995, pp. 109 (Introductions to History series).
Charts the processes of nationalism, liberation and independence in the various countries of Africa between 1922, when self-government was restored to Egypt, and 1994, when a non-racial democracy was established in South Africa.
Hargreaves, John, Decolonization in Africa, London, Longman,  1996, pp. 298, 2nd edition.
There was a lively debate in Africa about the case for violence or nonviolence and some movements chose predominantly nonviolent tactics. There was also a close link between anti-colonialism and resistance to apartheid in South Africa, where Gandhi’s influence was still significant (see section D.I.1). A survey of the debates and of some of the movements can be found in:
86. Sutherland, Bill and Matt Meyer (eds.), Guns and Gandhi in Africa: Pan African Insights on Nonviolence and Armed Struggle and Liberation in Africa, Trenton NJ, Africa World Press, 2000, pp. 279.
Reflects range of views of those actively involved in the anti-colonial struggle and resistance.
87. Kaunda, Kenneth, On Violence, ed. Colin Morris, London. Collins, 1980, pp. 184.
Kaunda, President of Zambia and an advocate of nonviolence, wrestles with problems of violence and nonviolence, giving his reasons for ultimately accepting the case for armed struggle in neighbouring Zimbabwe.
The Central African Federation, embracing Nyasaland, Northern and Southern Rhodesia, was created in 1953, and its chief architect, Roy Welensky, was Prime Minister until 1963. Africans feared that this move was intended to cement the permanent dominance of the 250,000 white settlers in Southern Rhodesia (Africans were to be allotted only one third of the seats in the new Federal Assembly) and bitterly opposed federation from the outset. Further concessions to the white settlers by the British, such as the promise in 1957 not to amend Federal Acts, and the 1958 Electoral Act ensuring white supremacy, together with rumours that the Federation would be granted Dominion status, prompted major unrest in Nyasaland. But British governments became increasingly uneasy after 1959 about imposing white rule in the face of African resistance and settler repression. Malawi and Zambia gained their right to secede and become independent African states in 1964.
In Southern Rhodesia there was also an upsurge of mass politics in the 1940s-50s, intensified in 1960-61, including strikes, marches and rural resistance to destocking policies. See:
88. Ranger, Terence, ‘African politics in twentieth-century Southern Rhodesia’, in Ranger (ed.), Aspects of Central African History, London, Heinemann, 1968, pp. 210-45.
However, Zimbabwean leaders looked to British government intervention and tried compromise policies until the banning of the African National Congress in 1959. Its successors, the National Democratic Party, and subsequently the Zimbabwe African People’s Union, both led by Joshua Nkomo, were banned in 1961 and 1962 respectively. A more militant breakaway party, the Zimbabwe African National Union was formed in 1963 under Ndabaningi Sithole and Robert Mugabe. After the intransigent white government of Ian Smith declared unilateral independence from Britain in November 1965, and the British Labour government failed to quell the rebellion, both ZAPU and ZANU resorted to bitter guerrilla warfare (ZAPU assisted by independent Zambia). The two parties came together as the Patriotic Front, under pressure from the Frontline states, to negotiate with Ian Smith’s regime in 1979, but split up again before the national elections in 1980, when Robert Mugabe became the first President.
89. Alport, Baron Charles James MacCall, The Sudden Assignment, London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1965, pp. 255.
Alport was appointed High Commisioner to the Federation from 1961-63, and gives an official British perspective on these contentious years.
90. Rotberg, Robert I, The Rise of Nationalism in Central Africa: The Making of Malawi and Zambia: 1873-1964, Cambridge MA, Harvard University Press, 1967, pp. 360.
Chapter 8 ‘Discovering their voice: the formation of national political movements’ (pp. 179-213) goes up to 1948; chapter 10 ‘The Federal dream and African reality’ (pp. 253-302) charts growing resistance from 1953; and chapter 11 traces ‘The triumph of nationalism’ (pp. 303-16). Gives some detail on protests and indexes ‘non-violent resistance’. Includes detailed bibliography.
91. Wood, J.R.T., The Welensky Papers: A History of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, Durban, Graham Publishing, 1983, pp. 1329.
Account based on Welensky’s perspective, stressing top level negotiations and relations with successive British colonial secretaries.
The Nyasaland African Congress, led by Dr. Hastings Banda, launched in 1958 a major campaign of nonviolent resistance, including tax refusal, against the Central African Federation, prompting fears among white settlers and repressive measures by the Federal government: 1300 Africans were detained and 51 killed. The British government appointed the Devlin Commission to look into the situation. Devlin (Report of the Nyasaland Commission of Enquiry, London, Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, 16 July 1959, pp. 147) criticized the police state measures and reported majority African opposition to Federation. His report led to the Monckton Commission, set up in July 1959, to review the Federation, signalling its likely demise.
92. Baker, Colin, State of Emergency: Crisis in Central Africa, Nyasaland, 1959-1960, London, Tauris Academic Studies, 1997, pp. 299.
Detailed account of period.
93. Clutton Brock, Guy, Dawn in Nyasaland: The Test Case in Africa, London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1959, pp. 192.
Clutton Brock, a member of the African National Congress, worked with a village cooperative in Southern Rhodesia. His book puts the political and economic case against the Federation. Clutton Brock justifies strikes and ‘disorderly conduct’ in Nyasaland, because 20 years of constitutional tactics had been unsuccessful. Postscript on Devlin Report, and includes chronology of political events in Nyasaland from 1859 (coming of Livingstone) to proposed conference on constitution of Federation in 1960.
94. Short, Philip, Banda,
London, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1974, pp. 357.
Biography which includes the early years of Hastings Banda, who intended to be a medical missionary but became a central figure in Malawi’s independence struggle, and later the increasingly autocratic president of his country. Banda’s role in the struggle against the Federation is covered pp. 55-172.
See also: Rotberg, The Rise of Nationalism in Central Africa, and Wood, The Welensky Papers (see esp. chapter 22 on the Nyasaland emergency, chapter 27 on the Monckton Report, and chapter 34 on ‘The right to secede’ and the 1962 decision on Nyasaland).
There had been signs of resistance to white rule from the 1930s, notably growing trade union activism in the copper belt. The campaign for an end to the Central African Federation (and later for independence) included strikes, boycotts of racist shops and of beer halls imposing a colour bar, sit-ins and political noncooperation, which took place periodically from 1953 until independence. Women were prominent in the boycott campaigns. The use of nonviolent methods was influenced by Kenneth Kaunda, who emerged as the main leader of the independence struggle. Kaunda admired Gandhi and developed his own version of ‘positive action’, although many of those taking part in the struggle did not accept nonviolence in principle and dealt harshly with those who did not join the resistance. There was also extensive sabotage of government property during the 1961 civil disobedience campaign.
95. Hall, Richard, Zambia 1890-1964: The Colonial Period, London, Longman, 1976, pp. 202.
Chapter 3, ‘Colonialism and the roots of African nationalism’ covers early copperbelt strikes; chapter 4 ‘Federation – genesis and exodus’, includes extensive information on developing resistance to the colour bar, to the building of the Kariba dam and eviction of local farmers, and to the Federation itself. Chapter 5 ‘The creation of Zambia’ examines final stages of resistance and political developments. His earlier book,
Zambia, Pall Mall Press, 1965, pp. 375, also covered the evolving struggle in chapters 5-7.
96. Kaunda, Kenneth, Zambia Shall Be Free, London, Heinemann, 1962, pp. 202.
97. Macpherson, Fergus, Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia: The Times and the Man, Lusaka, Oxford University Press, 1974, pp. 478.
98. Makasa, Kapasa, Zambia’s March to Political Freedom, Nairobi, Heinemann, 1985, 2nd edition, pp. 199. (Originally published as March to Political Freedom, 1981).
Personal account by an activist prominent in the independence struggle of political events from the 1940s to 1963.
99. Mwangilwe, Goodwin B., Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula: A Biography of the Old Lion of Zambia, Lusaka, Multimedia Publications, 1982, pp. 157.
Nkumbula was the first major exponent from the 1940s of African resistance to white dominance and federation, and led the Northern Rhodesian African National Congress. But in the later 1950s he moved towards gradual reform policies and stood for a seat in the 1959 elections, whilst
Kapepwe and Kaunda opted for further resistance and founded their own separate party.
See also books on the Central African Federation listed above, and Olson, ‘World Peace Brigade’ (A.4.).
Ghana was the first African country south of the Sahara to gain its independence from colonialism. Small steps towards African representation had begun in the 1920s, and under the post-World War II constitution African parties were allowed to contest elections. But the British tended to favour cooperation with conservative African chiefs, who no longer represented the people as a whole, and a small intellectual elite. Kwame Nkrumah, as leader of the Convention People’s Party founded in 1949 and drawing support from the urban population, encouraged a nationalist movement demanding immediate independence. He was imprisoned after protests in 1950, won the 1951 elections from jail, and was soon after released. He became the first prime minister of newly independent Ghana in 1957. Nkrumah had led a campaign of nonviolent ‘positive action’ influenced by Gandhi, which was one element in the political processes which led to early independence, though its significance is disputed by some historians.
100. Agbodeka, Francis, African Politics and British Policy in the Gold Coast, 1868-1960: A Study in the Forms and Forces of Protest, London, Longman, 1971, pp. 206.
101. Austin, Dennis, Politics in Ghana, 1946-1960, London, Oxford University Press,  1970, pp. 459.
Regarded as classic account of this period.
102. James, C.L.R., Nkrumah
and the Ghana Revolution, London, Alison and Busby, 1977, pp. 227.
Frequent references to strikes and nonviolent resistance, but see especially chapter 7, ‘Positive action’.
103. Nkrumah, Kwame, The Autobiography of Kwame Nkrumah, Edinburgh, Thomas Nelson, 1957, pp. 310.
See especially chapters 10 and 11.
See also Miller, Nonviolence, chapter 19 (A.1.).
A large white settler population occupying much of the best land made the transition to independence in Kenya more bitter than in other East African countries. African opposition to white rule began to emerge in Kikuyu political organizations in the 1920s. Jomo Kenyatta became leader in
1928 of the Kikuyu Central Association, which started in the 1930s to represent Africans more generally until banned in 1940. After the war the British began to allow very limited African representation on the legislative council and then the Governor’s Executive Council, but settler resistance encouraged African support for the new Kenyan
African National Union, which agitated on issues of representation, land and racial discrimination. The Mau Mau violent uprising began in 1952 and continued until 1956, and the British government imposed an emergency until 1959, during which Kenyatta and other Kikuyu leaders were detained (although they denied direct involvement with Mau Mau) along with 70,000 others. The shock of Mau Mau and revelations about deaths and ill treatment in the camps speeded up transfer of power to Africans, despite problems caused by the settlers and by divisions between African parties. Kenya achieved independence in December 1963.
There were nonviolent protests before independence. A major nonviolent rural campaign involving a mass march on Nairobi was waged in 1938 by the Wakamba (supported by some other tribal groups) against colonial soil erosion policies, which meant economically disastrous enforced destocking. The leaders were arrested. See: Felice
V. Gadsden, ‘Notes on the Kamba destocking controversy of 1938’, International Journal of Historical Studies, vol. 7 no. 4 (1978). There were also frequent strikes, including the 1947 Mombasa dock strike and general strikes in Mombasa and Nairobi, and there was a debate about ‘positive action’ versus violent resistance.
104. Arnold, Guy, Kenyatta and the Politics of Kenya, London, Dent, 1974, pp. 226.
Study of the political figure who was central to the struggle for independence from 1928 and became head of Kenya’s first African government.
105. Bennett, George and Alison Smith, ‘Kenya: from “White Man’s Country” to Kenyatta’s state 1945-1963’, in D.A. Low and Alison Smith (eds.), History of East Africa, vol. 3, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1976, pp. 109-56.
Summary of developing African opposition, including early ‘passive resistance’ and land protests, attempts at unionization, and links with the East African Indian National Congress, as well as role of Mau Mau.
106. Clayton, Anthony and Donald C. Savage, Government and Labour in Kenya, 18951963, London, Frank Cass, 1974, pp. 481.
107. Kenyatta, Jomo, Suffering Without Bitterness: The Founding of the Kenya Nation, Nairobi, East Africa Publishing House, 1968, pp. 348.
108. Mboya, Tom, Freedom and After, London, Deutsch, 1963, pp. 288.
Mboya was a union leader and prominent in Kenya’s independence struggle. His book also covers negotiations with Britain.
109. Odinga, Oginga, Not Yet Uhuru, London, Heinemann,  1984, pp. 323.
Autobiography of a nationalist leader, a rival of Mboya, who in the mid-1960s left the ruling Kenyan African National Union because he disagreed with land resettlement and economic policies, and argued for greater socialism. Includes references to 1938 destocking campaign and to strikes.
The British accepted the principle of African representation through direct election to the legislative council as early as 1922, though on a strictly limited franchise. Signs of African resistance also date back to the 1920s. Significant protests by women against colonial rule took place in 1929, when a local demonstration against a proposed tax sparked a mass movement of tax resistance and a longer term mobilization of women. The trade unions also engaged in politically directed strikes, notably in 1945, and continued to agitate until 1950. In the first years after the war Nigerian politics were more turbulent than in Ghana, but the Administration acted to pre-empt further trouble by proposing a review of the post-war constitution to grant Nigerians a much greater political role. The need for radical action faded as new political opportunities became available. Instead, negotiating an agreement between diverse regions of Nigeria became a central issue. Nigeria became independent in 1960.
110. Ananaba, Wogu, The Trade Union Movement in Nigeria, London, C. Hurst, 1969, pp. 336.
Chapter 7 covers the 1945 general strike.
111. Brown, Carolyn A. ‘We Were All Slaves’: African Miners, Culture and Resistance at the Enugu Government Colliery, Portsmouth, Oxford and Cape Town, Heinemann, James Curey and David Philip, 2002, pp. 354.
Part 2 is on major miners’ strike organized by the militant Zikist movement. The movement became associated with riots and an assassination attempt and was banned in April 1950.
112. Nba, Nina Emma, Nigerian Women Mobilized: Women’s Political Activity in Southern Nigeria, 1900-1965, Berkeley, University of California Institute of International Studies, 1982, pp. 344.
113. Isichei, Elizabeth, A History of Nigeria, London, Longman, 1983, pp. 517.
Chapter 17 ‘Colonialism rejected’ (pp. 396-412) examines workers’ and women’s protests and growing nationalism from the 1920s to 1950.
Click on table of contents below to continue browsing the bibliography
- Foreword by Paul Rogers, Acknowledgements, About the Compilers
- General Introduction
- A: Introduction to Nonviolent Action
- B. Elements of Nonviolent Resistance to Colonialism After 1945
- C. Campaigns for Rights and Democracy in Communist Regimes
- D. Resisting Rigged Elections, Oppression, Dictatorship, or Military Rule
- E. Campaigns for Cultural, Civil and Political Rights
- F. Campaigns for Social and Economic Justice
- G. Nonviolent Action in Social Movements
- H. Bibliographies, Websites and Library Resources
- I. Preparation and Training for Nonviolent Action
- Author and subject index to bibliography - omitted from html version but included in pdf
- Supplement to bibliography, published March 2007
- Ongoing online update to bibliography