Union Education in Nigeria: Labor, Empire, and Decolonization since 1945

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Union Education in Nigeria

Niq Mhlongo. Clearly, control of the rate of change lay elsewhere outside the command of imperial powers; African nationalists and the global mood dictated decolonization's pace and momentum. With its rhetoric of antiracism, antifascism, political freedom, and self-government, the World War II era marked a turning point during which African agitation for independence not only became more widespread and intense but also could no longer be silenced. The experiences of African servicemen and of those on the home front exposed European hypocrisy regarding racism, imperialism, and European claims to be the bearers of a superior civilization.

Allied propaganda against Nazi Germany and the psychological effects of African participation in the war did much to develop mass consciousness of racism, oppression, and unjust colonial rule. The big lesson for Africans was that they fought and suffered to preserve for others the freedom and self-determination they did not have back home.


Thus, early in , a Nigerian serviceman wrote from India to the prominent Nigerian nationalist leader Herbert Macaulay: "We, overseas soldiers are coming back home with new ideas. We have been told what we fought for. That is 'freedom. Clearly, the war demystified the long-standing claim of European racial superiority, as Africans fought alongside white soldiers and won many battles.

Furthermore, African notions of "whites" as superior beings or demigods were shattered by the war. African serviceman, as Ndabaningi Sithole pointed out, "saw the so-called civilized and peaceful and orderly white people mercilessly butchering one another just as his so-called savage ancestors had done in tribal wars. He saw no difference between so-called primitive and so-called civilized man" , p.

World War II, therefore, exposed serious contradictions in European colonial rule in Africa and helped to sharpen anticolonial sentiments and strengthen nationalist movements. The war's social, economic, and political consequences changed the perspectives of Africans and led to heightened anticolonial militancy.

As Basil Davidson has observed, the effects of the war "upset rural stability" , p. During the war, economic control by Europeans became more stringent than ever before. Increased production of cash crops was brutally enforced to support the war effort. The hardships created by the war were partly responsible for the emergence of several trade labor unions across Africa.

Increased political awareness created by wartime conditions led unions to employ strategies such as strikes and boycotts after the war. The general strike mounted by Nigerian railway, postal, and other government workers in , which almost paralyzed the colonial regime, was one of the largest and most effective of such actions.

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The organizational efficiency and the potency of this strike constituted a serious warning sign for imperial Europe. The solidarity of the strikers, as John Hargreaves argued, "showed how wartime hardships had increased class-conscious militancy" , p. Unexpectedly, the strike produced positive results, as a Commission of Enquiry concurred with the workers' demand for a 50 percent cost-of-living raise.

Such concessions to workers were unprecedented and nationalists were quick to fathom the larger implications, that organized protests would now elicit positive results. International factors also hastened the course of decolonization in the postwar years. The United States opposed colonialism because "it was antithetical to free trade and self-determination—both ideals that the United States had lauded in the Atlantic Charter ," and the Soviet Union attacked colonialism because Marxist-Leninist philosophy described it as the "highest stage of capitalism" Gilbert and Reynolds , p.

Secondly, the United States, which emerged as a global power during World War II, suddenly developed an intense economic and geopolitical interest in the British Empire , including its African components.

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Thus, the superpowers' diplomatic support for decolonization was not necessarily a benevolent gesture aimed at benefiting Africans; indeed, the continent soon became a theater of Cold War superpower conflicts, with dire consequences. Roger Louis and Ronald Robinson argue that as the center of world power shifted from London to Washington and later to Moscow as well , "the British felt the blow to their economy and their colonial position throughout the world.

Thirdly, the anticolonial posture of the United Nations , formed in and dedicated to world peace, was a boon to those seeking decolonization. Article 73 of the U. This article represented a moral and political statement that colonialism was no longer acceptable to the international community, and that all European colonies in Africa and Asia had the right to self-determination. In addition, the U. Fourthly, the Atlantic Charter of adopted by U. Article III of the Atlantic Charter, for instance, declared that signatories must "respect the rights of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they will live" Davidson , p.

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Although Churchill, de Gaulle, and Roosevelt later quibbled over the meaning of "all peoples," the declaration had serious implications for Afro-Asian nationalists, including Nnamdi Azikiwe of Nigeria, who claimed it should "apply to the colonies in the form of responsible self-government" Wilson , pp. The debate about the import of this declaration ultimately aided the nationalists' cause. Both Asian nationalism and the successful attainment of postwar independence by former British and French colonies including India, Pakistan, Burma, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Sri Lanka were quite inspirational.

The Gold Coast nationalist Kwame Nkrumah even adopted Mahatma Gandhi's anticolonial strategies of positive action and passive resistance. If Africans were inspired by these changes, the colonial powers saw in them a warning that Africa might be susceptible to similar revolts. The importance of even the threat of nationalist resistance in shaping colonial policy or prompting retreat can hardly be ignored.

French experiences in Madagascar, Tunisia, Algeria, and Vietnam constituted sufficient lessons that despite their relative weakness, resistance movement present in sub-Saharan Africa by might pose a serious threat to colonial rule. Arguably, then, it would be a mistake to minimize the contribution of African nationalism to the demise of European rule, even if African nationalism was not as forceful in the s as it was in the late s.

The stages of nationalist mobilization varied from one region to another and from one territory to another. As far back as the late nineteenth century, a class of highly educated Africans had begun to emerge in West Africa among the Creoles of Sierra Leone descendants of freed slaves and recaptives , which soon dispersed to other parts of the subregion.

In Nigeria, the Gold Coast , and Sierra Leone , Africans educated in the languages and political ideas of their colonial masters began to formulate political objectives and new methods of attaining them.

However, the mobilization of a critical mass of the African population for the anticolonial struggle required the creation of mass political parties. Almost everywhere in Africa, the sudden and full independence of the Gold Coast in was euphorically received and inspirational; it encouraged the formation and consolidation of mass parties and sharpened the nationalist struggle. African nationalists were drawn from the ranks of a "modern," educated generation.

First trained by mission schools within the continent, most of these elites obtained advanced training overseas in education, medicine, law, journalism, and so on. While they were overseas, many, especially those in the United States, experienced blatant racism and subsequently became intensely influenced by global political concepts of liberation, self-determination, and self-government, as well as the ideas of the Pan-Africanist movement. Upon their return to Africa, they initially sought accommodation within the colonial system only to discover that the system had no place or role for them.

When their attempts to bring about reforms were likewise rebuffed, these elites began to articulate demands for self-government. World War II presented them with the opportunity to gain the masses' support for their campaign for an immediate end to colonial rule. The Pan-Africanist movement, which was founded in by people of African descent in the diaspora, played an important and unique role in the decolonization process.

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Initially Pan-Africanism did not focus on a campaign to end colonial rule in Africa; however, Marcus Garvey 's slogan of "Africa for Africans," and the cultural reawakening of peoples of African descent articulated by W. Du Bois and others, became very inspiring for Africans in their struggle against colonialism.

The Manchester Congress of the Pan-Africanist movement held in was particularly decisive in challenging African elites to dedicate themselves to the total liberation of the continent. Their combined citations are counted only for the first article. Merged citations. This "Cited by" count includes citations to the following articles in Scholar. Add co-authors Co-authors. Upload PDF. Follow this author. New articles by this author. New citations to this author.

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