Home Facts History Meet The Golden Generation Who Fought For African Independence In The 1900s

Meet The Golden Generation Who Fought For African Independence In The 1900s

Africa’s independence was a hard battle on many fronts of the continent. The battle had many brave African liberators, and numerous European colonizers and enemies, who wanted to rule African for eternity.

Africa’s encounter with Europeans started way before slavery. And from the inception of Africa’s relationship with the Caucasians, it has been one turmoil to the other. It has been a painful and regrettable meeting.

Portugal and the rest of Europe started to take slaves from Africa in the 15th century. And by the end of the 19th century, they had abolished the evil slave trade of Africans and entered a new phase in their exploitation of Africa’s people and kingdoms.

In the last 1800s, as Africa was nursing the wounds of the Transatlantic and Arab slavery, Europeans were concluding their plans to invade Africa and set up governments and empires, to further exploit Africans and their resources.

After the Berlin Conference, the British, French, German, Belgian, Spanish, Portuguese, and other European nations set up camp in Africa and started what we know today as colonialism.

Colonialism came with the most brutal and devilish atrocities the world had ever seen. It came with genocides and extermination of African peoples. It came with looting and stealing of Africa’s resources, and the suppression of her people in their own lands.

It was this suppression and enslavement of Africans in their own lands that led to the many campaigns and fights for independence. African men and women stood up to the challenge and booted the Europeans out of Africa. The various struggles towards independence cost Africa human lives and resources. But it was a noble and worthwhile file.

In this article, we want to celebrate and teach of the various men and women who stood their ground, demanded, and fought for independence in Africa. This list is in no particular order and is not conclusive.

Nnamdi Azikiwe of Nigeria

Nnamdi Azikiwe

Nnamdi Azikiwe, popularly called “Zik of Africa”, was one of the figureheads in the independence struggle in Nigeria. He was hailed all over the world as the “father of Nigerian Nationalism“, because of fierce and firm role in kicking out the British from Nigeria.

Nnamdi Azikiwe was from the Igbo ethnic nationality and was born in Zungeru, in present-day Niger State, of Northern Nigeria, on the 16 of November 1904. Nnamdi was considered to be a complete Nigerian because he spoke the three major languages. He learned the Hausa language while he lived in Northern Nigeria as a young boy. 

He would later move to the East, to live with his aunty in Onicha, where he learned his mother tongue, Igbo, properly. And then later he moved to Lagos in the West, where he learned the Yoruba language. His exposure to these three languages and culture would eventually aid him in his campaign for independence across the regions.

He went to school in the United States and returned to Africa in 1934. Nnamdi Azikiwe was introduced to the teachings of Marcus Garvey while he was studying in the United States, and the philosophies of Garvey formed the foundation of his political thought towards Africa.

He began work as a journalist in the Gold Coast, which is present-day Ghana. From there he started his advocacy for Nigerian and African nationalism and independence. He would later grow into a strong activist, politician, and force to reckon with. His agitations with the likes of Awolowo from the Yoruba ethnic nationality and other notable Nigerians led to the independence of Nigeria.

Nnamdi Azikiwe later became Nigeria’s prime minister when Nigeria got her independence in 1960.

Kwame Nkurumah Of Ghana

Kwame Nkurumah

Kwame Nkurumah is hailed as the father of pan Africanism in Africa. He was born in 1909 in Nkroful, a town in the South-Western part of Ghana.

He was a Black African Statesman and political activist who led the fight for Ghana’s independence from the colonial British. He was a powerful voice in the struggle and was respected by the people.

Nkurumah schooled in Accra, at the Achimota College, and later moved to the United States, where he schooled and graduated from the Lincoln University with a Bachelor’s degree in Economics and sociology.  He later earned a theology degree from the Lincoln Theological Seminary in 1942, and also received a master’s degree in education and philosophy from the University of Pennsylvania in 1942 and 1943.

It was during his studies in the United States of America that Nkurumah gained interest in the philosophies of Karl Marx, the German political philosopher. He was also influenced by the teachings of German economists, Friedrich Engels, and another Russian revolutionary leader called Vladmir Lenin.

While he was still in the United States, he formed an African student’s organization and gained popularity from his speeches and advocacy about African liberation from the grip of European colonialism.

In 1947, Nkurumah returned to Ghana (then called Gold Coast) and was made the Secretary-General of the nationalist party, UGCC. In his capacity as Secretary-General, he went around the Gold Coast campaigning and making speeches to seek the support of their people and nobles for the fight toward independence.

The British arrested Nkurumah and several other UGCC leaders and threw them into prison. They were later released. But that did not deter Nkurumah and his comrades from their agitation. They would later lead the entire Black people of the Gold coast to a nationwide strike, that almost crippled the economy, and that was bad business for the British. This was in 1950, and the British arrested Nkurah and others and locked them up.

The continuous strikes and rebellions by the people, made it clear to the British, that it was time to leave the Gold Coast. So, they started to prepare for Ghana’s independence.  While he was still in prison, Nkurumah won the central Accra seat by a landslide victory. He was then released by the British governor of the Gold Coast and appointed leader of government business.

The following year, Nkurumah was named Prime Minister, and he led Ghana to independence in 1957. He continued to preach his gospel of pan-Africanism across Africa and influenced the independence struggle of other African nations.

Jomo Kenyetta of Kenya

Jomo Kenyatta

Jomo Kenyatta is the father of Kenyan independence. He was an anti-colonial activist and politician.  He was Kenya’s prime minister from 1963 to 1964, and then later became her president from 1964 to his death in 1978.

Jomo Kenyatta’s story is an inspiring one. He was born in Kiambu district of the then British East Africa, to parents who were from the Kikuyu ethnic nationality.

He received his first education at a mission school and then moved to London in 1929. His mission in London was mainly to lobby and agitate for the land affairs of the Kikuyu people. He went further to study at Moscow’s Communist University of the Toilers of the East, University College London, and the London School of Economics.

While he was still in Europe, he was influenced by the pan- Africanist and anti-colonialist ideas of his friend George Padmore. He grew so much in these ideologies that he was among the organizers of the 1945 Pan-African Congress in Manchester, United Kingdom.

In 1946, Jomo returned to Kenya, to start off as the principal of a school. He was later elected the President of the Kenyan African Union. And while in that position, he used his influence to campaign against colonialism and lobby for the independence of Kenya from British rule. His agitation gained him tremendous support from the Kenyan people, and at the same time, made him an Enemy of the European colonists.

In 1952, he and five others led an uprising against the British, which was called the Mau Mau Uprising. They were arrested, and imprisoned at Lokitaung, for 7 years, and in 1959, they were exiled to Lodwar, a North-West city of Kenya. They were kept in exile until 1961 when they were released.

After his release, he continued his agitation for the independence of Kenya. He then became the president of Kenya’s leading political front called KANU. He led his party to win the 1963 general elections and was made the Prime Minister of Kenya. As Prime Minister, he solidified the march of Kenya towards independence, and in 1964, he became the first President of an independent Kenya.

Julius Nyerere Of Tanzania

Julius Nyerere

Julius Nyerere is known as the father of Tanzanian independence, and he was also one of the greatest supporters of African rebellion and freedom fights for the independence of many African nations.

He was born on the 13th of April 1922, in Butiama village, close to Lake Victoria, in Tanganyika. His father was a chief named Nyerere Burito. Julius too had his first education in the mission schools and later studied Education at the Makere University College, Uganda. He would later get a bachelor’s degree in 1946, and a master’s degree in history and economics in the Edinburg University, Scotland, United Kingdom.

After he returned from Scotland in 1952, he became a high school level teacher in Pugu, near Dar es Sallam. At Pugu Nyerere joined the Tanganyika African Association, which later became the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU), the nationalist party.

Through the party, Julius campaigned and lobbied for Tanganyika’s independence. He was elected the president of the TANU party in 1954, and in 1958, he was made a legislative councilor. In that position, he continued in his pan-Africanist and anti-colonialist ideologies and agitations. He was made prime minister in the May of 1961.

In December of that same year, Tanganyika gained its independence from the British, and in 1962, Julius Nyerere was elected as the president of an independent Tanganyika. He led the nation to unify with Zanzibar to become the United Republic of Tanzania.

Julius Nyerere had an inspiring passion for Africa and was determined in his campaign for a Unified Africa. Together with Kwame Nkurumah, he masterminded the creation of the Organization of African Union (OAU), which is today called the AU (African Union).

During those days of independence struggles, he opened his country as a safe zone for the African Freedom Fighters. He supported the armed rebellion of the people of Mozambique, South Africa, Namibia and others against oppressive European colonialist governments.

Patrice Lumumba Of Congo

Patrice Lumumba

If there is one part of Africa which was victimized the most by European colonialists, it is the Congo. The Belgians killed over 10 million Africans in the Congo between 1885 and 1912.

Till date, the Congo is still a delicate place, as it is prone to crisis and civil wars which are engineered by the Belgians, and other Europeans.

Patrice Lumumba was the greatest activist and fighter for Congo independence. He is hailed as the father of Independent Congo. He was born on the 2nd of July 1925, in the village of Onalua in the Kasai province of Congo. He was from the Batetela ethnic group.

He attended a protestant mission school just like some of the other African independence fighters. He later went to further his studies in Kindu-Port-Empain, where he grew in his passion for politics and activism. He became a writer and started to write political essays for the Congolese journals.

He went ahead to become the regional president of a purely Congolese trade union, in 1955. This trade union was not affiliated with the Belgian trade-union federations. He would later travel to Belgium on a study under a program be the minister of colonies.

When Lumumba returned from Belgium, he was arrested for charges of corruption and was imprisoned by the Belgians for 12 months. There are still many who think, these allegations were false and was used by the Belgian officials to mar his image and frustrate his growing political activities.

After he was released, he became fiercer with political activism and launched the Congolese National Movement (Mouvement National Congolais; MNC), together with other Congolese leaders in the October of 1958.

In December of 1958, Lumumba traveled to Ghana for the first All-African People’s Conference, where he was opportune to meet and share ideas with some of Africa’s foremost freedom fighters. From that moment onward, Lumumba’s political ideologies turned into that of a militant activist.

The agitation towards independence was hitting up, and the Belgians planned to exit Congo, but also elect puppets whom they can control and keep ruling the Congolese by proxy. The elections were supposed to hold in December 1959, but Lumumba and the nationalist parties announced a boycott of the elections. This really angered the Belgian authorities, and they responded with repression. Violence followed, and it led to the death of 30 people. The Belgians blamed Lumumba for the clash and imprisoned him.

After his arrest, his party, the MNC then decided to join in the elections. They won with a landslide victory. After the elections, the Belgian authorities arranged a meeting with the Congolese political parties in Brussels, to discuss the change in power but the MNC refused to attend without Lumumba.

Lumumba was then released and was flown to Brussels for the meeting. At the meeting, they agreed for the date of independence to be June 30th. The elections held in May of the same year 1960. Lumumba won, and after the Belgians failed to rig him out and prevent him from leading the Congo, he was asked to form the first government.

A few days later trouble broke out in the Congo, and a rebel faction declared independence of the Katanga region. This was mainly inspired and supported by the Belgians. This rebellion and the chaos that followed claimed the life of Patrice Lumumba.

Lumumba was captured on December 2nd by the Kasavubu forces and delivered on January 17, 1961, to the secessionist regime in Katanga, where he was assassinated. His death caused a shock throughout Africa, and even his enemies proclaimed him a “national hero.”

Just recently, the Belgian government has apologized for their role in the assassination of Patrice Lumumba.


Like we said at the beginning of this article, this piece is not conclusive.

All over Africa, men and women stood up and resisted the oppressive European colonialists. Their works and deeds are ones which we are most proud of. We will continue to expand this list till we have fully covered the acts of valor and greatness of these African warriors who sacrificed their blood and sometimes lives to make sure Africa was truly free.

Feel free to contribute to this piece, by sending us a unique account of your country’s independence struggle. We will be most glad to add it to the body of this article. Send to libertywritersafrica@gmail.com .

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