Nonviolent Resistance in Sub-Saharan Africa

Nonviolent Resistance in Sub-Saharan Africa

1. Ghana: Nonviolent Resistance in the Independence Movement, 1890s-1950s  (Gail Presbey)
2. Zambia: Nonviolent Strategies Against Colonialism, 1900s-1960s (Jotham C. Momba and Fay Gadsden)
3. Mozambique: Liberation Myths and Resistance Strategies, 1920s-1970s (Matt Meyer)

1. Ghana: Nonviolent Resistance in the Independence Movement, 1890s-1950s — Gail Presbey

The chapter follows the history of anti-colonial movements in the Gold Coast, later renamed Ghana. It chronicles the first struggles against the British, which involved the creation of societies that worked to find alternatives to British rule, and the development of local autonomous institutions, including newspapers that spread political ideas and helped build a movement. Other nonviolent precursors to the liberation struggle—such as the cocoa boycott in the 1930s, together with the Ex-servicemen movement, the new trade unions and societies, and the influence of the Fifth Pan African Congress—made important contributions to the national cause and popularized and encouraged the use of nonviolent methods in order to gain independence. Kwame Nkrumah, who later became Leader of Government Business, Prime Minister, and the first President of independent Ghana, played an important role in organizing a widespread strike to put pressure on the British and called for “Positive Action” to further undermine British authority and legitimacy. Ghana became the first sub-Saharan African country to gain its independence from colonial rulers, and this achievement was done for the most part without violence and through the use of nonviolent methods of struggle.


2. Zambia: Nonviolent Strategies Against Colonialism, 1900s-1960s — Jotham C. Momba and Fay Gadsden

Zambia achieved independence without recourse to armed resistance. The authors argue that after the first unsuccessful localized attempts to resist the imposition of colonial rule, resistance was predominantly nonviolent. During the 1930s workers from the copper mines mobilized to improve their working conditions and organized strikes, demonstrating an African pan-tribal unity. In the same period, Western-educated men established welfare associations to improve the economic and social conditions of the population. These associations laid important foundations for the development of a nationwide political organization—the Northern Rhodesia African National Congress which was established in 1948. It was based on democratic principles and worked for a gradual, constitutional devolution of power. Congress and subsequent nationalist parties were committed in their constitutions to nonviolent strategies. White settler demands for self-government and the threat and subsequent imposition of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland united African opposition in the struggle for independence. Strategies against the Federation included sending delegations to London, petitions, meetings and marches. Pamphlets and newspapers were published and urban boycotts of Asian and European shops that practiced segregation were organized.  Younger nationalists formed the Zambia African National Congress (ZANC) led by Kenneth Kaunda. ZANC organized a successful election boycott in 1958, and a campaign of widespread civil disobedience in two provinces leading to violence perpetrated by the security services. In the face of this opposition the British government accepted that Zambia should become an independent country.


3. Mozambique: Liberation Myths and Resistance Strategies, 1920s-1970s — Matt Meyer

Contrary to the prevalent view that the road to Mozambican independence was predominantly violent, this chapter uncovers narratives of civil resistance. Often going back for decades before independence and armed resistance, grassroots, non-military, collective initiatives and actions played a significant role in mobilizing and empowering people, setting up strong civic institutions, building civil society, and influencing and consolidating common identity among Mozambicans. This nonviolent organizing also laid down the groundwork for creating, strengthening, and defending successful governmental institutions in liberated areas once the armed movement advanced. To understand the Mozambican struggle for independence one cannot ignore the practice and impact of nonviolent means of struggle.

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