Behind the unrelenting resolve to kick out the intruders was a force of resolute African leaders who, in their own small ways, stood firm against the colonizers and ensured the continent was free again.
Here are the top five African leaders who played a critical role in ending colonialism:
Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana
Astrong believer in Pan-Africanism, Kwame Nkrumah was a founding member of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) and the first President of Ghana. He was born in September 1909 in Nkroful, Gold Coast (now Ghana), where he spent most of his childhood in the bush and on the nearby sea.
Nkrumah joined politics in the early 1930s after graduating from Achimota – a government training college in the capital Accra. At the time, he was working as the headmaster of Axim, a Catholic primary school in Elmina. He would later spend 12 years abroad pursuing higher education and developing his political ideologies.
Upon his return to Gold Coast in the 1940s, Nkrumah formed the convention People’s Party, which negotiated the independence of the West African nation. He was appointed Prime Minister in 1952, a position he retained until 1960 when he became President. Ghana gained independence from Britain in 1952.
Nelson Mandela, South Africa
Born in Mvezo, Cape Province, South Africa, Nelson Mandela was a revolutionary politician and philanthropist, who served as the first black president of South Africa between 1994 and 1999. Mandela, a professional lawyer, was detained by the apartheid regime for 27 years because of his firm stance on colonialism and African nationalist politics.
For fear of a racial civil war, the then-President of South Africa F.W. de Klerk released Mandela from prison in 1990 and agreed to negotiate an end to apartheid. In 1994, South Africa held the first multiracial general election in which Nelson Mandela was declared the first black President.
His administration was focused on reconciling the rainbow country through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. He also encouraged the establishment of land reforms, expansion of healthcare services and eradication of poverty.
Jomo Kenyatta, Kenya
Jomo Kenyatta was born in 1890 in a small village in Gatundu, central Kenya. He went to school at the Church of Scotland Mission School in Thogoto, Kenya, before travelling to London in 1929 to negotiate for Kikuyu tribal land affairs. While in the United Kingdom, Kenyatta studied political tactics at Moscow’s Communist University of the Toilers of the East, phonetics at University College London.
He returned to Kenya in 1946 to advance his anti-colonial ideologies. In 1947, he was elected President of the Kenya African Union (KAU), through which he pushed for Kenya’s independence. In 1952, Kenyatta was arrested together with five other Kenyans and charged with plotting the Mau Mau revolt against the British.
He remained in prison until 1959 and then exiled in Lodwar until 1961. He was elected President of Kenya African National Union (KANU) in 1963 when Kenya gained its independence. In December 1964, he became the first President of Kenya.
Julius Nyerere, Tanzania
Also known as “Mwalimu Julius Kambarage Nyerere”, Julius Nyerere was a Tanzanian anti-colonial activist, political theorist and politician, who governed Tanganyika (now Tanzania) as its Prime Minister from 1961 and 1963, and then president from 1964 until 1985.
Born in Butiama, Tanganyika in in 1922, Nyerere studied at Makerere College in Uganda and at Edinburgh University in Britain. Before joining politics, the young Nyerere served as a primary school teacher in a local mission school. In 1954, he led the Tanganyika African National Union to obtaining independence for Tanganyika.
Samora Moises Machel, Mozambique
Born in 1975 in Gaza Province, Portuguese Mozambique, Samora Moises Machel was the son of a successful local farmer. He attended a mission elementary school but he never finished his secondary education.
He was inspired to join the anti-colonial movement while working at Miguel Bombarda hospital in Lourenco Marques, where he protested against the oppression of black nurses who were paid less than whites for doing the same job.
Mache later moved to Tanzania where he joined a rebel group calling itself the FRELIMO guerillas. While in Tanzania, he obtained military training and rose through the ranks to become the group’s prominent commander. The FRELIMO rebels, most of who were from neighboring countries, helped Machel to kick the Portuguese settlers out of Mozambique in 1975. He later declared the country’s first President.
It is because of the great sacrifices made by these heroes that we are free and independent today. We should therefore be courteous enough to ensure that their vision of a united Africa is not watered down by our selfish interests.