Struggle For Independence In East Africa

Nationalism refers to the rise of consciousness and love for ones country. In Africa, it was the desire for independence, self determination and common hatred to all evils associated with colonial rule.
In East Africa, nationalism was characterized mainly by rise or formation of political parties (UPC, DP, and in Uganda, KANU, KADU in  KENYA, and TANU in Tanzania) and the popular demand for independence.

Characteristics of African Nationalism in East Africa

Nationalism in East Africa was characterized by a number of features which included:-
It was characterized by rise of political parties. These included Uganda National Congress (which later became- Uganda Peoples’ Congress (U.P.C), Democratic Party (DP)  and Kabaka Yekka (KY)  all in Uganda, Tanganyika African National Union (TANU in Tanganyika , KADU ( Kenya African Democratic Union) as well as KANU ( Kenya African National Union) in Kenya, among others.

Nationalism in East Africa was led by the few educated Africans such as Julius Nyerere, Milton Obote, Mayanja Nkangi, Jomo Kenyatta, Tom Mboya, and others.

Most of the nationalist activities were centered in towns like Nairobi, Mombasa, Dar es Salaam, Dodoma, Kampala and Entebe.

Violent groups were formed to engage the colonialists by force. The most important of these was Mau Mau in Kenya ( 1952-1956)

There were constant arrests and detention of nationalists’ leaders. Kenyatta was imprisoned in 1953, Obote forced out of Makerere College, Nyerere and many others too were detained several times.

Nationalism in East Africa had some Africans supporting the whites and hence opposed to ideas like granting independence to Buganda.

The cold war conflict remained clear among the East African nationalists. Nyerere for instance adopted the socialist ideology through his popular Ujamaa policy.

The press became a key tool of nationalism in East Africa. News papers like MUNNO, Ngabo ( Uganda), radio stations, magazines were used in the spread of nationalist ideas.

Negotiations also characterized African nationalism in east Africa. Constitutional reforms were carried out such as the new constitutions in Kenya like the Lennox-Boydconstitution.

Trade unions were formed to call for workers rights. For example the Young Kikuyu Association in Kenya in 1921.


The colonial policies led to the growth of African nationalism in East Africa. Evils of colonialism such as forced labor, over taxation, land alienation, racial discrimination and forced growing of cash crops etc. made the people of East Africa hate the colonial masters.

Western education led to the rise and growth of African nationalism. The few Africans who went to schools like King’s college Budo acquired a common language – English. This made communication very easy between the nationalists of different races.

The Second World War also encouraged African nationalism. This war which started in 1939 and ended in 1945 trained some East Africans on how to use guns,  exposed them to military weakness of the whites and also exposed Africans to ideas of democracy from American soldiers.

The rise of two new super powers in the world promoted African nationalism. USA and USSR started supporting political parties like UPC, TANU and KANU struggling for independence.

The formation of the United Nations in 1945 favored African nationalism. UNO put pressure on Britain to grant independence to Tanganyika, Uganda and finally to Kenya.

The Atlantic charter of 1941 helped nationalism in East Africa. W. Churchill (Britain) and F. Roosevelt (USA) called for the respect of people’s rights to choose a government of their will. This increased desire for independence in East Africa.

The 1945 Manchester Pan African conference helped African nationalism. Delegates including Nkrumah etc called for states to use all means to fight against colonialism.

The formation of political parties also encouraged nationalism in East Africa. Parties like KANU, KADU (KENYA) TANU (TZ) UNC UPC, DP, and KY (Uganda) mobilized the people in demanding for independence.

The Mau Mau uprising of 1952 – 56 in Kenya encouraged nationalism in East Africa. The courage of the Kikuyu and other fighters against the British had attracted more demand for independence even in Tanzania and Uganda.

The rise of able and charismatic leaders such as Jomo Kenyatta , Julius Nyerere, Milton Obote, Abu Mayanja and others. These led the masses in popular demonstrations and rallies demanding for independence

The development of the press

Emergence urban centers such as Kampala, Nairobi, Entebe etc.


Contribution Of Dr. Julius Nyerere To The Struggle For Tanzania’s Independence

Julius Kambarage Nyerere was born in 1922 at Butiaba near the lake Victoria shores. His father was a village chief. He attended a Roman Catholic primary school before joining the government secondary at Tabora and diploma in Education at Makerere College in Uganda before finally attaining university education in universities outside Africa including Edinburgh University in Scotland.

Nyerere taught in several schools in Tanzania between 1945 and 1952. This spread literacy, which was needed in the struggle for independence.

He joined TANU (Tanganyika African National Union) in 1955 where he seriously campaigned for Tanganyika’s independence.

He addressed the U.N.O’s (United Nations Organization) trusteeship council in New York, where he expressed Tanganyika’s wish for independence.

Organized TANU to elect a representative to the Legislative council (LEGCO).

Nyerere became Tanganyika’s first prime minister in 1961 when Tanzania gained her independence.

He encouraged the unity between Tanganyika and Zanzibar in 1964. This resulted into the establishing of the republic of Tanzania.

Emphasized Swahili language to be the common language Tanzanians were to use. This united them in the demand for independence.

Nyerere advocated for peaceful means in the struggle for Tanzania independence. This scared Tanzania of the destruction that happened to states that used violence to achieve independence.

Nyerere as president of Tanganyika African Association transformed (IAA) into TANU (Tanganyika African National Union) in 1954.

Nyerere called for adult voting rights voting rights in Tanganyika other than the earlier restriction on to only those who were earning 75 pounds per year or those who were literate.

Nyerere assured the Asians, whites and other foreigners in Tanganyika that they had a future in Tanganyika. This won some foreigners sympathy towards the independence movement.

Brought TANU close to the UN Trusteeship Council. It’s this that was later to put pressure on Britain to decolonize Tanganyika.

Nyerere stood down after being elected to the Legico (Legislative Council) complaining of lack of progress in the move to Tanganyika’s independence.

Reasons for Tanganyika’s early independence
1.The formation of political clubs/ associations such as Tanganyika African  
   Association (TAA), Tanganyika African National Union ( TANU).

2.The spirit of unity that came as a result of the existence of an all embracing Political party- TANU.

3.The personality of the colonial governors favored Tanzania’s early independence. Governor Richard Turnbull for example encouraged preparations for Tanzania’s Independence.

4.The United Nations, supervised preparations for independence in Tanganyika through its Trusteeship Council.

5.Racial or tribal differences were greatly limited in Tanganyika unlike in both Uganda and Kenya. This gave Tanganyikans a united stand in the call for independence.

6.Political activities were not much restricted by the authority in Tanganyika as was in Kenya and Uganda. Party activities for instance would be left free.

7.Tanganyika’s adoption of Kiswahili as a common language promoted unity in the call for independence.

8.The able leadership of men like Julius Nyerere who mobilised all Tanganyika’s without discriminating based on race.


Between 1945 and 1949, several protests and uprisings were organized especially in Uganda’s towns like Kampala. These were mainly in opposition to the monopoly of Asians in the cash crop trade, land alienation among other grievances.
Such action resulted into formation of earlier political associations such:-

Bataka party (1946)

Abaganda  Abakopi and Uganda African Farmers’ Union (1947)

Buganda African Motors Driver Union(BANU)

Although all these parties were silenced one by one by the colonialists, and their leaders arrested, the message of resistance and desire for independence had been expressed already.

The Kabaka crisis of 1953 -55.

Following the British introduction of the idea of the East African Federation Kabaka Mutesa II decided to mobilize the Baganda to reject the Federation. He also went ahead to demand for the independence of Buganda alone.
This prompted the British colonial governor Andrew Cohen to deport him into Britain on the 30 Nov 1953.

Causes of the crisis

The idea of the East African federation led to the crisis. The Baganda feared that they might loose their land in the federation as had happened in Kenya.

Mutesa I‘s failure to cooperate with the colonial administrators encouraged the crisis. According to the 1900 agreement, the Kabaka was expected to work (cooperate) with the colonial administration in areas of tax collection, law and order e.t.c.

Mutesa’s demand for Buganda’s independence also led to the crisis.

Kabaka Mutesa’s desire to adjust some terms of the Buganda agreement led to the crisis. Kabaka hated the clauses that limited his authority in Buganda.

The rising sense of superiority among the Baganda encouraged the crisis under Mutesa I. Buganda increasingly proud of themselves that decided to reduce cooperation with the colonialist.

Withdraw of support from the Kabaka by the Lukiiko also encouraged the crisis.

The transfer by the colonial governor of the nomination of Buganda’s representatives to the Legico (Legislative council). This decision to give powers to the Lukiiko to nominate representative to the legico provoked Mutesa II much.

The religious conflicts with in Buganda also increased the tension. The Catholics conflicted with the Protestants and Christians combined against Muslims. This drew in the colonial administration to take sides.

The new political parties such as Uganda National congress (1952) violently opposed the East Africa Federation idea. This further promoted the government to exile the king.

Effects of the 1953 Kabaka crisis.

Created a sense of unity among the Baganda as they combined efforts to demand for the return and restoration of Kabaka Mutesa II.

Led to the signing of the Namirembe agreement. This cleared way for the return of the Kabaka while also reducing the king’s powers more.

Demonstrations were carried out in Buganda areas like Nakulabye. Men vowed never to shave off until their king in back.

The colonial government appointed more Africans to the colonial administration.

Encouraged the growth of nationalism in the whole of Uganda. The crisis had showed Ugandans the determination of colonialists to stay on hence more demands for independence.

Led to formation of new political parties which began by demanding of the return of Kabaka and finally for independence.

The crisis and the Namirembe agreement affected the position of the Kabaka. His reduced powers as we approached independence laid ground for his eventual over throw in the 1966 crisis with Obote .M.

The idea of East African Federation was completely ruled out after the crisis.

Increased the popularity of the Kabaka especially among the Baganda as well as other areas of Uganda.

Political parties in Uganda after 1950.

A number of political parties were formed or old ones revised after 1950. These were to lead the way towards Ugandan’s independence by 1962. Such parties included

Uganda National Congress (UNC) 1952.

Democratic party(DP)1954

The Progress Party (PP) 1955

United Congress Party(UCP) 1957

Uganda National Movement (UNM) 1959

Uganda People’s Union (UPU) 1958

Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) 1960

The Kabaka Yekka (KY) 1962.

Role played by political parties in the struggle for Uganda’s independence.

Parties trained leaders who helped to mobilize the masses in the demand for independence.

They sensitized and educated Ugandans on the politics in the country. This aroused political awareness in Uganda.

Called for independence of Uganda raising Massive support to the independence movement.

Organized peaceful demonstrations, against colonial policies like taxation , cash crop growing (forced) etc.

Parties sent representatives in the pre- independence negotiations and last minutes constitutional preparations.

Mobilized funds to finance political activities including campaigns for the pre- independence elections.

Party slogans and songs became a key symbol of attraction for large gatherings. This made flow of information about the struggle very easy.

Recruited the youths into active party service thus training a generation that was to lead Uganda to independence such as Mayanja Nkangi , Ignatius Musaazi .etc.

Violent action organized by the various parties pressurised the colonialists to grant independence. Boycotts, attacks on foreigners and torching (burning) houses all speeded up the process to decolonize Uganda.

Factors which facilitated the attainment of independence in Uganda.

Many factors worked in favour of the rise and growth of nationalism in Uganda. It’s these factors that eventually led to the early independence of Uganda by 1962. They included:

The impact of the Second World War (1939-1945) led to Uganda’s independence. Ex – soldiers came back with military skills and militant ideas leading to violent action like burning of white owned houses.

The rise of labour party into power in Britain in 1945 also forvoured Ugandan’s struggle for independence. This led to the appointment of some Ugandans on the Legico.

The Manchester Conference of 1945 helped nationalism in Uganda. Its call for use for use of all means including force to fight for independence led to use of strikes in demanding for independence.

Western education (especially through missionary schools) trained leaders for the independence movement. Eg Musazi, M. Obote , Mayanja Abu

The roads, railway line and other form of infrastructure proved by the colonial administration helped the struggle. Nationalists like Obote used these to traverse the whole of Uganda for support.

The formation of political parties led to independence. Parties like KY, UPC, DP UNC mobilized the masses in the demand for independence.

The continued exploitation by Asians and whites of Uganda’s resources like copper in Kilembe provoked anger among Ugandans.

The development of urban centers such as Jinja, Kampala favored nationalism in Uganda. These became bleeding grounds for political activities like rallies and demonstrations.

Asian countries like India which had already got independence (1947) helped Uganda too. Some Ugandan nationalist like Abu Mayanja, Bidandi Sali Studied in India or attended conferences there.

The 1952 revolution in Egypt also influenced nationalism in Uganda Nasser , the new president of Egypt assisted Ugandans like Ignatius Musaazi of UNC (Uganda National Congress)

The United Nations organization also put pressure on British to decolonize even Uganda.

The British policy of favoring Buganda more than the rest of Uganda. This made the rest of Ugandan’s unite against the Baganda first and finally the colonialists too.

Ghana’s early independence in 1957 also inspired strong demand for independence in 1957 also inspired strong demand for independence in Uganda too.

Major obstacles in the struggle for Uganda’s independence

The struggle for Uganda’s independence and generally the growth of African nationalism in Uganda was delayed/ disturbed by a number of factors.

The high levels of illiteracy in Uganda affected the struggle. The few educated people Uganda had by 1945- 50 were mainly centered around Buganda only. This left the rest of the regions off the struggle for so many years.

Lack of a common language in Uganda also disturbed the struggle for independence. Luganda ,Acholi and other languages were used by different groups to push for their tribal interests. This promoted the divide and rule policy of the colonialists

Trade Union activities were limited in Uganda. The restrictions by colonialists had discouraged formation of trade unions which would have helped in the demand for independence.

The limitations on the press delayed the struggle. The few news papers such as “Uganda Eyogera” were in Luganda hence only read by Baganda. This isolated the other Ugandan’s from ideas in the paper.

Some of the elites were puppets of the British colonial government and hence could not join political paties like UNC, UPC etc.

The delay to establish contacts between nationalists in Uganda and outside Africa also delayed the struggle. Very few Ugandans had traveled to democratic states like USA to borrow the spirit of freedom and hence few would challenge colonialism as an abuse of human rights.

The formation of political parties too delayed independence. Active party politics did not come until after 1950.

Religious divisions between Protestants and Catholics also affected the struggle. Parties never combined efforts because of the differences in religion.

The common hatred towards the Baganda by nationalist from other parts prevented a united stand against colonialism. The fact that the British had used Baganda chiefs like Semei Kakungulu to speed colonial rule to the East made Baganda a target by others.

The secessionist attempts by Buganda delayed the struggle. With much of the infrastructure, the attempt to break off the rest of Uganda was unacceptable by other nationalist hence preventing a common front against colonial rule.

There were also ideological differences even within the different political parties. Where the DP leaders had capitalist sentiments, UNC and UPC were pro- socialist. They thus never combined efforts against the British because of such differences.