I hear all the time that Africans fought wars for European nations when they had no business being involved in these wars. What is that about?
That is correct. After the colonization of Africa by the West, many of Africa's fore-fathers were recruited and trained to serve as policemen protecting Western administrators and their arbitrary administrative units in the colonies, or as soldiers who were used by the colonialist to fight and subdue other Africans and their territories. These soldiers were also made to fight for the colonial nations during major European wars such as WWI and II. It must be remembered that these wars were called "World Wars" because the battles were fought almost all over the world and not because the whole world was involved in them, nor were all those fighting from different parts of the world perpetrators or stakeholders in the wars. The first shots of World War I, for example, were fired in the Anglo-French invasion of Togo, which began thereafter; the subsequent surrender of the German forces on August 26, 1914, was the first allied victory. What had the Africans to do with this war, and why was it being fought on African soil? According to John Reader,
A survey of the First World War and its consequences in Africa concluded that more than 2.5 million Africans, or nearly 2 per cent of the population of the continent, were involved in war work of some kind. 'The slave trade at its height never reached a tenth of the numbers involved in any one year.' It was a war that Africa had done nothing to provoke and from which Africa had nothing to gain. For every African that was directly involved with the war, another dozen of his kin — men, women, and children — were affected by it. (607 emphasis mine)
Even within the colonies, these African regiments were used in suppressing other ethnic groups resisting colonial infiltration. In other words, Africans were used to kill other Africans in the name of fighting for kings and queens, or for some other bogus cause. In this case, the commanding officers were from the colonizing country whereas members of the rank and file were "natives" whose death, the numbers notwithstanding, meant nothing to the colonizing country. The native units were brainwashed to think and believe they belonged to the empire, in the case of Britain, and that they were answerable to the queen. Accordingly, during the world wars, they fought on the side of the colonizing nation and died, unacknowledged, in their numbers. In Martin Meredith's words,
Thousands of African troops were recruited for war service. From British territories, some 374,000 Africans served in the British army. African units helped to defeat the Italians in
Ethiopia and to restore Emperor Haile Selassie to his throne. African regiments were sent to India and fought with distinction in Burma.. From French Africa some 80,000 troops were shipped to France to fight against the Germans. (8-9)
Janice Hamilton is more specific in authenticating this fact: "During World War I, (1914-1918), Nigerian troops fought in German held Cameroon" (26). She later on adds that "Nigerian troops proved their worth again during World War II (1939-1945), fighting alongside the British in East Africa and Burma" (26). So Africans fighting wars for Western nations from which they benefitted nothing, nor had they anything to do with the starting of the war, only goes a long way to complete the picture of the exploitation of Africa in the name of civilization.
How has colonialism affected Africa?
To answer this question satisfactorily calls for the writing of another book. However, briefly, and generally speaking, colonialism, overall, has had very negative effects on Africa in spite of what some writers and propagandists would love the world to believe. In fact, contrary to what former colonizing nations claim, colonialism was Africa's death sentence, given the number of conflicts brewing in Africa today because of colonialist activities on the continent. First of all, colonialism deprived Africans from exploring their potentials and developing according to their needs—that is naturally. Colonialism, mindful of the fact that their native European countries were the main concern of the colonialists, immediately attempted halting everything African in an effort to replace these things with European values; this has made Africa almost entirely dependent on the West today. Leon E. Clark elaborates on this same point:
Colonialism is usually given the credit for bringing modern technological culture to Africa. It is true, of course, that the Europeans built modern schools and hospitals, introduced scientific techniques of agriculture and industry, improved communications and transportation, and in general infused modern Western culture into traditional societies. But is it true that Africa needed colonialism in order to get these things? A number of scholars today would say no. They argue that
Africa would have modernized anyway through normal trade contacts with Europe, which had gone on for centuries. In fact, these scholars argue, Africa would have developed naturally, and with its own interests in mind. As it turned out, under colonialism, Africa modernized according to European plans, which seldom put the interests of Africa first. (1:131)
African languages, for example, were often suppressed to the point of being declared illegal in certain circumstances and venues. To further prepare Africa as a market for finished European goods, African products that had European alternatives suddenly became illegal; this was typical of consumer products such as drinks and cigarettes. In Ferdinand Oyono's The Old Man and the Medal, for example, one reads how the locals struggle to have a sip of their local brew "arki" (6-9), which had been declared illegal, and in its stead imported and more expensive Western gin introduced.
A more vicious effect of colonialism has to do with what was done to the African mind during this period—the colonialists transformed Africans almost into zombies as they fed them all kinds of disturbingly misleading ideas about the white man being better and superior to the black person. It took generations of brave Africans to repair this damage significantly, the side-effects of which are still lingering on today. There are still some Africans who, for example, will prefer a white high school dropout carrying out a certain responsibility to a black person who is better qualified. This amounts to that perfect example of what Kevin Kertscher describes as Africa's version of racism, which surprised him, but he is quick to point out that it is a leftover of the colonial mentality. It must be pointed out, however, that even besides the "racism" Kertscher is referring to, most African cultures have a hospitable manner of relating to strangers in their midst. This hospitable disposition might be confused with this kind of "racism," as it also amounts to giving the stranger the best that can be afforded, as that is what Africans do to their guests.
If one's mind is tampered with to the point where one cannot have confidence in oneself, now that is damage big time. This game on the African mind is going on even today, as black people all over the world are made to think they are capable of nothing good. Africa has been carefully manipulated into the position of the world's laughing stock and to further this portrait, it is being suggested that globalization should pass Africa by, while everyday one hears of the West's favorite cliché - "Aid for Africa." Can anyone tell why today the West that is so altruistic and willing to do all for this limping continent charges exorbitant flight fares to Africa which is closer to the West than Australia is, while flights to Australia cost far less comparatively speaking? The average flight to an African country today is about $2500.00 round trip, whereas to Australia it is about $1500.00, or to China barely $800.00 (Fluctuating gas prices today have made these rates highly unstable), yet the trip to Africa is only about half the time it takes to get to Australia or to most Asian destinations. Forget about that old and worn out excuse of these African routes being less traveled; not the case any longer, nor are these routes necessarily daily routes. One encounters similar disparities in the charges levied for phone calls to Africa as opposed to other Western and Asian destinations. How it is that the West came in to Africa, exploited her wealth and carted away her sons and daughters, only to leave Africa in debt to the West, one cannot help wondering. In most simplistic terms, think of somebody who claims to be visiting; he makes use of his host's buildings for shelter, he uses his host's surround sound system for his entertainment, uses his boiler for his comfort, sells flowers and fruits from his host's gardens and orchards for his financial upkeep, uses his host's horses and servants to run his errands, his host's sons as forced labor, and his host's wife and daughters for sexual comfort, only to leave and claim his host is indebted to him. Yet that is Africa's plight today and it is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the devastating effects of colonialism on the continent of Africa.
Were there good things brought about by colonialism? I can hardly see them as such, for most things that might appear good today were done as a process towards facilitating the draining of Africa's wealth while at once destroying her culture and not because Westerners truly cared for Africa or for the African. As Peter Schwab rightly points out:
The fascism of the colonial experience entailed removing the colonized from history by denying that they were subjects of history; usurping any role the colonized may have wished to play, negating their objective political and personal importance by destroying their humanity; socializing the colonized to internalize their inferiority; manipulating the occupied peoples to accept the fact that they were 'out of the game'. (16)
Schwab is later to conclude:
Overall, then, colonialism was a terribly destructive force. It vanquished societies and individuals. It created African elites, functionally removing them from traditional society, but refusing to permit them to assimilate; the result was a new culture of Africans who fit comfortably in neither one community nor the other.....
The colonial experience is emblematic of man's inhumanity to man and woman. (20)
Are Africans angry at the results of colonialism?
It is only right to claim that Africans are angry because of all that colonialism has done to them. It almost deprived Africans of their identity while their wealth was, and is still being, carted away to the West by people who presented themselves as friends and visitors, only to turn extortionists overnight. Africans are therefore bitter about the effects of the experience—colonialism had the peoples of Africa divided into strange groups that the West thought they could call states; it forced upon the people foreign languages and values such as English, French, and Portuguese on the one hand, and Western religious, legal, marital, and trading practices; it brought about tension and battles between people who had lived side by side for generations, in some cases with little or no problems. This becomes more obvious when it is remembered that colonies were formed with little regard for the boundaries of existing traditional societies. As a result, people within a single community found themselves ruled by more than one European administrator, while others were suddenly required to share power with different groups—sometimes their old enemies (Moss and Wilson xxiii). The gun and gun powder was then supplied to keep the problems simmering even until today, while these perpetrators appear to stand back and with all good intentions, supposedly, wonder at Africa's ostensible incapability to manage herself.
Isn't it true that there was slavery in Africa before the coming of Europeans?
Very true, there was slavery in Africa before the coming of Europeans. This, however, is a very weak excuse often used by those trying to shirk the full blame of slavery from the shoulders of Westerners who did not only perpetrate such evil but raised it to industrial proportions. Those who posit this view fail to let out the whole truth, which is that slavery before the invasion of Africa by the West was not only an African but a universal phenomenon. And the slaves being referred to here, more often than not, were persons defeated in battle and taken as captives who were then expected to serve their conquerors and in the process could gain their freedom and become full members of the ethnic group that had conquered them in battle. The point here, in any cases, is the fact than Westerners transformed slavery to what it was not before, by industrializing it. Edward Bever observes accordingly: "Slavery was common in ancient and medieval Africa, just as it was in Europe, Asia, and America. When an army took prisoners in a war, the captors had the captives at their mercy. They could kill them if they wanted; they could let them go if they felt like it (or for a ransom); or they could put them to work" (23). According to George S. Fichter, in the case of Africa, these slaves could eventually become free by work and being of good conduct; they also got their freedom if they married a member of the tribe holding them captive (3). So, although there was slavery in Africa before the coming of Westerners, the latter raised it to an unprecedented level of notoriety as they left the victims no chance of earning their freedom while treating them as beasts.