Effects of the two World Wars on the African Continent

Essay, 2011

9 Seiten



The period between the world wars was a time of intense political and intellectual change for people in Africa. For Europeans, it was a time of consolidation, during which they tried to build up a more effective colonial administration. The urban population in Africa began to call for more say in how things were run. To make their voices heard new movements and associations were formed. But the political activity engendered by World War One had no sooner built up momentum than a second world war was on the horizon. The people of Africa put aside their objections and once more made a crucial military contribution since African soldiers fought and men were being recruited by force to serve as carriers and to supply European armies on the battle field. When the war ended, people felt that having fought for freedom in Europe; they were entitled to it for themselves.[1]

As far as world wars are concerned, it is evident that they raised a number of consequences on the African continent and it is better to say something on these consequences after having a brief introduction on how these wars occurred and countries involved.

II. PART I WORLD WAR I(1914-1918)

The world war I broke out in August 1914, and was fought between two camps, that is, triple entente, which included Britain, France, Russia, Belgium, Romania, Serbia, USA and later Italy against Triple alliance that consisted of Austria, Hungary, Germany, Turkey and Bulgaria. World War I did not only involve the above countries but the whole world, where even the African countries were involved in fighting on behalf of their colonial masters. This world war resulted from the tension which had mounted over a long period of time and make the world explosive by 1914-1935.


It was evident that the World War I was the result of leaders' aggression towards other countries which was supported by the rising nationalism of the European nations. Economic and imperial competition and fear of war prompted military alliances and an arms race, which further escalated the tension contributing to the outbreak of war.

Firstly, Economic imperialism among European countries led to conflicts that led to world war I, an example is the Moroccan crisis of 1906, was a crash between France and Germany, where Kaiser Williams II visited Tangier, a town in Morocco in 1905, which resulted in the conference of 1906 where European countries voted for Germany to be out of Morocco, eventually creating hostility and mistrust between France and German that led to the world war I.

Secondly, arms race led to the World War I, the growth of militarism between France and Germany brought a lot of suspicion and fear among powers, arms race made countries arrogant and reckless in dealing with international affair, and gain powers which had manufactured weapons waited for an opportunity to test them, which was after Sarajevo Incident.

Thirdly was the growth of Nationalism also contributed to the world war I, the 19th century was characterized by emergency of nationalistic movements in Europe, as early in 1871, Italy and German emerged as strong states , which changed European balance of power, that eventually led to the formation of strong alliances for defensive purposes. There was also the Great Serbian movement, which resulted in the Sarajevo incident, leading to the World War I.

Fourthly ,the role of the mass media played a big role in the outbreak of World War I, That is TV, radios, newspapers, did not only publicize the preparation of the war but even increasing arms race, but also when the war began . It could not be stopped because of over dramatizing of war situation in the press.

Fifthly, the Triple Alliance also led to the First World War, two years after Germany and Austria Hungary concluded their agreement, Italy was brought into the fold with the signing of the Triple Alliance in 1881. Under the provisions of this treaty, Germany and Austria-Hungary promised to assist Italy if she were attacked by France, and vice versa: Italy was bound to lend aid to Germany or Austria-Hungary if France declared war against either. Finally, should any of the three determine to launch a 'preventative' war, the others would remain neutral. One of the chief aims of the Triple Alliance was to prevent Italy from declaring war against Austria-Hungary, towards whom the Italians were in dispute over territorial matters.[2]

Last but not least, was the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary? In June 1914, a Serbian nationalist assassinated him and his wife while they were in Sarajevo, Bosnia which was part of Austria-Hungary. This was in protest to Austria-Hungary having control of this region. Serbia wanted to take over Bosnia and Herzegovina. This assassination led to Austria-Hungary declaring war on Serbia. When Russia began to mobilize due to its alliance with Serbia, Germany declared war on Russia. Thus began the expansion of the war to include all those involved in the mutual defense alliances.[3]

It was regarded as the First World War because almost all countries of the world participated some directly others indirectly and even because the effects of the war were faced worldwide like economic depression of 1929 that was characterized by unemployment, low income, low aggregate demand, low investment and economic activities.


As briefly explained how the two world wars occurred, it left a number of consequences be it on All countries that directly participated but also a number of consequences observe on the African continent economically, socially and politically as explained below;


Firstly, Africa experience the consequence through the exclusion of Germany from trade and since Germany was regarded as the large partner of tropical Africa on the commercial aspect before the first world war, it was completely excluded from the continent and the goods that belonged to the Germans and merchandise got confiscated by the winners and this broke the link of German to African merchandise thus a decline in exports to foreign countries.

Secondly, World War I had a general negative influence on the trade and development of Africa. Considering the fact that the price of all commodities went up in Africa following the war, the economy stalled, and the poverty rate became worse than ever. The Pan African Congress stated that “The shabby treatment of African and Caribbean people in Britain prompted a large number to return home, disaffected, but also politicized and radicalized.” The Great War caused trading to cease with many countries, including Germany, one of Africa’s main trading partners at the time.[4]

Thirdly, the war needed enough food to feed the armies on war, therefore African populations were supposed to search for the food to stand the armies on the battle field , thus living African populations with shortage of food that decreased level of living and death due to food insecurity in African societies due to the War.

Fourthly, is that not since the American War of Independence, when 14,000 slaves and freemen fought as black loyalists alongside the British had such a huge number of people of African descent been involved in fighting for Europeans and very few were combatants. They were recruited to carry heavy weapons and supplies which affected their body and badly paid and given food which was either of poor quality or entirely foreign to them. While travelling through new territories for them, they often fell sick and were affected by different types of malaria thus causing death to many numbers of African people.

The war needed to raise troops and carriers on the one hand, to produce crops of export on the other hand, caused the shortage of manpower in several parts of the African continent. For example, the recruitment of the carriers from Katanga for the campaign of Eastern Africa led to decrease in domestic incomes that were incurred by the Men and women who used to work for themselves and they were taken to war to play a role of carriers and food suppliers.


First, on the social point of view the world war gave rise to a crucial change in the relationship between Europe and Africa. Over two million people in Africa made huge sacrifices for the European Allies. 100,000 men died in East Africa and 65,000 men from French North Africa and French West Africa lost their lives others disabled as a result of war, destruction of infrastructure, devastation and diseases.

Second, through the combats experience and social cohesion with the Europeans the African peasants soldiers discovered the concrete realities of the European society and gave confidence to Africans to play a role in their administration of colonies In the territories, which had contributed heavy shares to the effort of war in men and material, the population hoped for social and political reforms by themselves and an a live example was in Senegal, for example, the reforms promised by France to Blaise Diagne were not applied after the war which led its partisans to withdrew their confidence in him.

Third, the First World War marks a clear evolution of the international opinion with regard to colonialism. Before the war, the colonial powers did not have to report to anybody. Afterwards, in 1919, the conference of Versailles examined the colonial past of Germany and considered it not quite in conformity with the new rules of morality, which were to govern the administration of the colonial people. It is one of the reasons, which made it that they withdrew the colonies from it.


[1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/africa/features/storyofafrica/index_section13, consulted on 27th July 2011

[2] http://www.firstworldwar.com/origins/causes.htm, consulted on 27th July 2011

[3] http://americanhistory.about.com/od/worldwari/tp/causes-of-world-war-1.htm, consulted on 25th July 2011

[4] http://www.hyperhistory.net/apwh/essays/comp/cw30wwiafricalatamerpacific.htm, consulted on 26th July 2011

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Effects of the two World Wars on the African Continent
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Kiiza B. Joseph (Autor:in), 2011, Effects of the two World Wars on the African Continent, München, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/183276


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