African resistance to the imposition of colonial rule

Whereas  some  African  societies  collaborated   with  the colonialists,   some  others  resisted. Resistance  was either by a particular  personality  or by united  community.  These  societies include  Bunyoro,   Nandi,  and  Hehe  in East  Africa.  In  West  Africa  there  was  Mandika empire and Asante while in the Central Africa was the Ndebele  under chief Lobengula.

The personalaies  which resisted include Kabaka Mwanga  of Buganda,  Jaja of Opobo  in the Niger  Delta  states,  Menelike   II  of  Ethiopia,   Urabi  Pasha  of  Egypt  (Urabist   rebellion). Mohammad  Ahmed  of Sudan  (Mahdist  revolt),  chief  Lobengula  of Ndebele,   Koitaleh  of Nandi,  Mkwawa  of Hehe  and Kabalega  of Bunyoro.  It should  be noted  that some  of the t,;esistance wars had very few followers  and nearly  all of them were defeated  by colonialists txcept  in Ethiopia Menelik  against  Italians  in 1896.


1.       Need for preservation  of self independence:-

The major  reasons  for resistance  against  colonial  rule was  a desire  to maintain  political independence  and  such societies  which  resisted  thought  that the colonialists   had come  to erode their independence.

It should  be noted  that they also wanted  to preserve  their  integrity  e.g. in 1870s Kabalega had just  become  a king and  had  formed  a formidable  army  called  "Abarusura'    which  he wanted  to put on test by challenging  the interests of the British in his kingdom.

Kabalega   had  just   grabbed   power   after   crushing   his  brother   Kabigumire    in  a  fierce succession  war. This instilled  confidence  in him and hoped to defeat colonialists  as well.

Samoure  Toure  had just  formed  his empire  through  wars of conquests   He had proved  his military  might by staging a long resistance  (7 years) against  the French which gained him a lot of prestige  worldwide.  This, therefore,  makes  it difficult  to distinguish  between  resistors and  collaborators   since  they  both  acted  to  a specific  response  or  due  to  circumstances prevailing  in their territories.

2.       Desire to preserve  social and traditional  values:-

Africans  resisted   in order  to preserve   their  social  and  traditional   cultures.   It should  be recalled   that   this  was  the  time   when   missionaries    were   engaged   in  the  spread   of Christianity  and western  civilisation  and therefore  they had a lot to do with the destruction of African cultures  and yet Africans were not prepared  to see their culture being eroded.

This resistance  became more difficult  especially  in areas where  Islam was already  adopted as the main kind of belief and culture.  in West Africa,  northern  Nigeria  regarded  European Christian  as infidels.  This is why Britain  had to militarily  occupy  West  African  states  e.g. Hausa  state,  Sokoto  caliphate,  etc.  some  African  societies  resisted  because the whites advocated    for  monogamous    marriages    against     polygamy   and  even discouraged the drinking  of alcohol.

3.       Need to preserve their economies.

At  the time  of colonisation,    most  African  countries   had  been  participating   in the  long distance  trade and had  accumulated  a lot of wealth  from  the lucrative  trade.  Some chiefs had formed huge empires  out of such trade. Such chiefs  were not ready to lose their wealth to colonalists  moreover  the colonialists  intended to abolish  slave trade which  was a blood stream of African v. ealih.

Africans  were unwilling  to lose such  kmd of trade c.g. Jaja of Opobo  ill West Africa  told the whiteman who first contacted  rum that,

"My word is that the country belongs to me, slave trade must be carried out because our ancestors  lived by it and I don't  want domrnance  of any foreigners".

Therefore  some societies  resisted because they wanted  to preserve  their economy.

4.       Traditional  interstate rivals:-

Apart from the desire  to protect  African social, political  and economic  independence  some societies  resisted simply  because  of their existing  poor relationships  with each other. Long standing  conflicts would  compel  one state to resist or collaborate   In case the rival state had done the reverse e.g. the Banyoro resisted partly because  the Baganda  had collaborated,  the Fante collaborated  because  the Asame had resisted.

5.      The pre-colonial  interstate  friendship

This would force some African  societies  to react in a similar  way.  In case of resistance  by one  of  its friends  the  other  would  join  hands  to  mount   formidable   resistance   against colonial  rule  e.g.  Jaja  of Opobo  allied  with  hrs old  friends  namely  Alobo  and  Onaba  to resist  the  British  colonialists    in the  Niger  Delta  states.   Indeed  these  good  neighbours assisted him very much  although  he lost the struggle In the process.

The fnendly  Shona and Ndebele  (target  friends)  did put up the dramatic  resistance  against the imposinon  of colonial  rule in centraJ Africa in the famous  Shona-Ndebele  (Chnnureng) rebellion of 1896-97.

6.       Adventurism  in war against  whites'

Some  SOCIeties resisted   because   they  were  adventurous    warmongers   and  often-hostile societies  which  had just  formed  formidable   armies  and  wanted  to put  them  to test  e.g. Bunyoro of  East Africa that had formed its "Abarusura"  army and Samoure.Tourc  of West A frica. Such societies  felt so proud of the status  they bad acquired  and they were ready to defend it at any cost.

7.    Others  resisted  because  they  were  ignorant  about  the  European   military  might.  Actually leaders   like  Kabalega   did  not  recognise   tbat  there   existed   stronger   forces   than   his Abarusura.  Chief Machembe  of the Yao in central Africa also believed that his forces could defeat  'host  of the Germans  in Southern  Tanganyika  e.g. Governor  Wissman  asked him to surrender  his power and he replied that;

"I have listened to all your words but I see no reason why I should obey you. You are the Sultan there in your land and I'm  the Sultan here in my

land. If you feel you are strong enough, come and fetch me".

This represents  a strong example  of gross underestimation  of European  power as Wissman fetched him without  any resistance.

8.  Many  African  chiefs  who  resisted  didn't   have  any  opportunity   to collaborate.   They  found themselves     in  hostilities    with   Europeans    because    of  pre-conceived     poor   reports   by imperialists    that  created  a sharp  bias  against   specific  African   societies   e.g.  KabaJega  of Bunvoro    had  no problem    with   the  British   except   that  the  defeat  of  Samuel  Baker  by king KabaJega created  a bad impression  about Bunyoro  by the  British government.  Samoure  Toure also attempted  to ally with the British against the French but he was let down by the British.

9.   Closely  connected  to the above  is that Africans  were scared  into submission  of therr leaders by fear that their  traditional  gods would  kill them  if they didn't  resist  the white  man. Natural calamities  like drought,  famine etc were blamed  on the cornmg of Europeans. Afncans  were promised  victory  and  an end to the natural  calamities  if they  resisted.  This  is why with  the promises  of their  traditional  gods many  African  societies  chose to resist  against  the colonial rule e.g. religion  played a very big role in both the Shona-Ndebele  and Maji-Maji  uprisings.

10. Some wars of resistance  were inspired by other wars e.g. the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71 which  led to the defeat  of France  in Europe  inspired  the rising  up of Algerian  revolution  in

1872 led by Ali  Ibn Ghadahim,   similarly  the  failure  of Jameson   raid  of  1895 inspired  the rising  up of the Shona-Ndebele   rebellion  of  1896 basically  because  the Ndebele  people  felt they would  defeat  the British  the same way the Boers  had done to the Bntish  in the Jameson raid.


The following are important observations one  can  draw   from   the  above   types   of resistances.

Most societies  which  militarily  resisted  colonial  rule received  a forceful  reaction  from the white men e.g Banyoro,  Hebe and Ndebele.

Economies   of  such  resisting   countries   were  greatly   disrupted   by  war  and  hence  their economy  remained  backward  the infrastructural  development  differences  between  Buganda and Bunyoro  can be explained by the nature of response  in colonial  rule.

It is against  this background  that some societies  who chose to resist the whites  are referred to  as  "Backward     looking"    and   collaborators     as  "traitors"    without    considering    the circumstances  which  made them to collaborate  while others  have named  resisters  as heroes and yet they had lost these wars.

Whether  they lost in material  terms,  the resisters  certainly  had reasons  for such a response at least  they managed  to preserve  their  independence   much  longer  than collaborators   and they expressed  the spirit of nationalism  to Africans,  which  still exists to date.

However, it must  be  noted  that  both  collaborators    and  resistors   had  similar  objectives basically  to preserve  their independence.  Unfortunately.   neither  of them became successful because by  1914 almost the whole  of Africa with the exception  of Liberia  and Ethiopia  had

been   colonized