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From Shackles To Sovereignty: Inspirational African Leaders In The Fight Against Colonialism

Feb 23, 2024 12:00PM ● By Okechukwu Nzeribe

Image Credit: Paul Weinberg via Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain, Public Domain.

The scramble for Africa among European nations at the Berlin Conference of 1884-1885 gave birth to the spread of colonialism in Africa which profoundly shaped the continent's trajectory. While there remains the continued academic argument on the merits and demerits of colonialism, there remains the harsh reality that during this period African nations were victims of exploitation and oppression.

Self-determination became a uniting decimal among many inspirational leaders all across Africa. Leaders such as Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya, and Nelson Mandela of South Africa, not only felt the weight of the foreign domination had become too overbearing but also sought to bring it to an end and pushed for sovereignty for their people and all of Africa.

Let us explore the lives and legacies of these remarkable African leaders.

Nelson Mandela

“When a man is denied the right to live the life he believes in; he has no choice but to become an outlaw.”

― Nelson Mandela

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela fondly referred to as Madiba was the first Black democratically elected President of South Africa from 1994-1999. Before becoming President, Nelson Mandela was a strong critic and activist in the fight against the apartheid system that was in place in South Africa.

This institutionalized racial discrimination and oppression experienced by his people influenced his drive to be part of the formation of the African National Congress Youth League.

The ANCYL which was later absorbed into the parent party had put up a program of action that advocated for mass action which included civil disobedience, strikes, boycotts, and other forms of nonviolent resistance (a policy mirroring the Natal and Transvaal Indian Congresses’ Passive Resistance campaign of 1946).

Always leaning on the side of justice, Mandela’s commitment to equality to his people led to his imprisonment on Robben Island. Despite his incarceration, his popularity and influence continued to garner international recognition and calls for his release and an end to apartheid.

After his release, Mandela became a figure of reconciliation and healing. His famous quote “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn't leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I'd still be in prison” was a testament to his capacity to forgive his enemies and a commitment to ending apartheid and playing an essential role in the transitioning of South Africa to democracy.

Through his remarkable life, Nelson Mandela exhibited the importance of equality, justice, human dignity, and forgiveness as worthy ideals in defeating the bane of colonialism and apartheid.

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Julius Nyerere

Julius Nyerere. Public Domain

“No nation has the right to make decisions for another nation; no people for another people.”

― Julius Nyerere

Julius Kambarage Nyerere, fondly known as Mwalimu (meaning teacher in Swahili), was
the first Prime Minister of Independent Tanganyika (now renamed Tanzania). Before his nomination, Julius Nyerere had been on the frontlines of the liberation struggle from colonialism.

As the first Tanganyikan graduate of History and Economics from the University of Edinburgh, he developed a deep sense of social justice and a hunger to achieve self-determination for his people. 

Eager to achieve emancipation, he became a member of the Tanganyika African Association where he rose to become President. In 1954, he changed the association’s previous name to the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU) which became a political platform that advocated against tribalism and championed independence from British colonial rule.

Julius Nyerere’s philosophy of Ujamaa (meaning fraternity in Swahili) which was rooted in socialism gave rise to the Arusha Declaration which emphasizes self-reliance, equality, and collective ownership of resources. The eradication of poverty, and corruption and ensuring equitable distribution of wealth. The declaration also emphasized education, healthcare, and land reforms to empower Tanzanians and foster national unity

Nyerere remains one of Africa’s remarkable leaders.

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Kwame Nkrumah

Kwame Nkrumah. Public Domain

“All the fair brave words spoken about freedom that had been broadcast to the four corners of the earth took seed and grew where they had not been intended.”

― Kwame Nkrumah

Kwame Nkrumah was a nationalist leader who was at the forefront of the drive for Gold Coast’s (now renamed Ghana) Independence. He, like many other inspirational leaders, became President after the country was granted independence in 1957.

An advocate for self-determination and liberation, Nkrumah held a socialist view rooted in Pan-Africanism an idea that espouses that people of African descent have common interests and should be unified.

This view became the driving behind his ability to galvanize and mobilize support not only among his people but all across Africa in the quest for independence from colonial domination.

His efforts paid off as Ghana became the first West African nation to gain independence in 1957. The result of Ghana’s independence created a ripple effect as more African countries began to push towards self-determination for their people.

As a socialist, Kwame Nkrumah was keen to consolidate the new nation’s sovereignty and push out policies that promoted economic development and social progress to improve areas like infrastructure, healthcare, and education.

Despite the opposition he faced as a result of his socialist policies, Kwame Nkrumah remains one of the remarkable leaders whose push for self-determination was a trigger to the quest for independence in many other African countries.

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 Okechukwu Nzeribe works with the Onitsha Chamber of Commerce, in Anambra State, Nigeria, and loves unveiling the richness of African cultures.  [email protected]

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