Which country has Ghana colonized

Europe between colonialism and decolonization

Prof. Dr. Gabriele Metzler

Prof. Dr. Gabriele Metzler

is Professor of the History of Western Europe and Transatlantic Relations at the Institute for Historical Studies at the Humboldt University in Berlin and Director of the Affiliated Institute Center Marc Bloch.

Her main research areas are: Change in statehood since 1945; State and Terrorism as well as the History of Western European Societies in the Experience of Decolonization.

Even in World War II, the non-European world is a bone of contention, a theater of war and an object of exploitation for the warring powers. The post-war period is characterized by the East-West conflict and decolonization. Many countries in the global south achieve their independence and have to find their place in the world of states.

In Abyssinia, today's Ethiopia, the Second World War began as early as 1935. The Italian invasion army also used poison gas during their war of aggression. Photo of a London newspaper from August 31, 1935. (& copy akg-images / De Agostini / Biblioteca Ambrosiana)

The experiences of the Second World War, which the Allies - also - led to their ideas of law and freedom, questioned and weakened the dominance of the European colonial powers. In Asia, where Japan had risen to regional supremacy during the war, they could not resume their old position after 1945. This is where decolonization began with all its might, even before the Near and Middle East and Africa also became independent.

However, the consequences of colonial experiences were felt everywhere, in crises and conflicts, some of which continue to have an impact today. This does not only apply to the former colonies, but also to the Europeans themselves. They had to reorient themselves. European unification after World War II was part of this reorientation. But traces of the colonial legacy remained recognizable in the European Communities that were now emerging. The idea that the Europeans or the West had a special civilizing task in the world remained tenacious and only slowly lost its importance.

The Second World War and the illusion of colonial unity

Did World War II begin on October 3, 1935? African historians in particular have pleaded for this date and not September 1, 1939, the day of the German invasion of Poland, to be set as the beginning of the war. Much speaks for its interpretation: On October 3, 1935, troops of fascist Italy marched into Ethiopia without prior declaration of war. A real war of extermination began, the Italian troops used poison gas, incendiary and fragmentation bombs in disregard of the existing international law and directed their attacks against the African civilian population. Although they were able to quickly play their superiority against the Ethiopian troops, Mussolini's military was powerless against the armies and the navy of Great Britain, against which Italy declared war in 1940; only a year later the Italians had to give up Ethiopia.

The unusual dating of the beginning of the war - 1935 instead of 1939 - draws attention to the fact that the Second World War was fought hard and mercilessly in the colonies as well. And they were not only the scene of armed conflict, but also an object of prey, because the fascist powers Italy, Germany and Japan were blatantly pursuing plans for conquest in Africa and Asia. In September 1939 they divided up large parts of the two continents on paper.

The National Socialist rulers, who had for a long time postponed their main goal of securing Germany's "living space in the east" of Europe, saw colonial conquests as a good opportunity after their victory over the European colonial powers France and Belgium in 1940 to extend their rule to Africa. Behind this were the strategic considerations, this way Britain and his Empire to sustainably weaken and to secure its own demand for raw materials and colonial products in Africa.

Colonies as a field of planning and action for the persecution of Jews
For two years, the Nazi regime intensified its colonial initiatives, which at times were intertwined with the genocide of European Jews that it promoted. The island of Madagascar, located off the coast of East Africa, was temporarily considered as a destination for the deportation of around four million European Jews, where the overwhelming majority of them, due to the climatic and economic conditions of the tropical island, most certainly not would have survived. The naval war against Great Britain prevented the implementation of this project. In 1939/40 the government in London considered the British colony of Guyana in order to open up safe terrain for the Jews persecuted by the National Socialists. None of these plans came to fruition.

Through the collaboration with the French Vichy regime, which remained heavily dependent on the German Reich after the military defeat of France on June 16, 1940, the German policy of the extermination of the Jews also reached North Africa. Anti-Jewish laws were passed there, people of Jewish origin were deported or obliged to do forced labor.

The Germans also often found willing support from Arab actors, as they defended themselves against the increasing Jewish settlement in Palestine. The Islamic clergyman and Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Mohammed Amin al-Husseini, played a leading role. Of course, it also happened that Arabs actively campaigned for the persecuted. The Muslim Tunisian Khaled Abdul-Wahab granted several Jewish families refuge on his parents' farm.

Colonies as a reservoir for important war goods
The main interest of German politics was the oil deposits in the Near and Middle East as well as the war-important mineral resources of Africa. With the start of projects to build atomic bombs, the uranium deposits in the Congo became interesting not only for the Germans, but also for their allied opponents of the war.

The colonies were of central importance for the war effort of the Allies. In addition to mineral resources, food, textiles and other important war goods were demanded from them; and France and Great Britain also used slave labor in the colonial war economy - alongside hundreds of thousands of soldiers who were recruited in the colonies and deployed in all theaters of war.

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British recruitment methods in the colonies

Before the war, Aziz Brimah was the son of a wealthy kola nut dealer in Accra, the capital of the Gold Coast. His family had benefited from colonial rule, so he felt obliged to the British King George and volunteered for the army.
"I thought it was also in our own interest. The Germans wanted to conquer the whole world. If we didn't oppose them, they would come to Africa too." British propaganda did its best to motivate young men to do military service. In the West African colonies, the British authorities distributed leaflets: one half showed Britain’s way - black judges, teachers, nurses and policemen - and promised England would "gradually teach Africans to look after their own country and make good laws themselves". The other half of the leaflet showed Germany’s way: coarse stormtroopers draped with swastikas who flogged and shot their African victims.

But Africans were also systematically forcibly recruited in many areas of the Empire. [...]
In British East Africa, 15-year-old Jackson Mulinge, who would later be in command of the Kenyan army, went shopping for "chickens and a school uniform" with his sister at the market in his village of Machakos when there was a recruitment process. "I had never met white people before and pushed myself forward to get a better view. So they ordered me to step forward. A little later they threw me onto a truck and took me to a training center in Uganda." In all colonies the village chiefs had to chiefsto participate in recruiting. The village chiefs were integrated into the British administration as part of the colonial system of rule. [...]

Bildad Kaggia, a member of the Kenyan liberation movement after the war, worked in the recruiting office when the war broke out when the British district commissioners took over chiefs called for a certain number of young men to be recruited every month. To accomplish the quota, the leaders used all possible methods, "from conviction to coercion. Although the Africans had no interest in this war, many volunteered because they could not find work in civilian professions. The army offered them jobs. (...) Others were conscripted, and the chiefs used conscription to get rid of unwanted people. "Because it was becoming increasingly difficult to find recruits and because many conscripts deserted, the British introduced general conscription in some colonies such as the Gold Coast. [...]

Even most of the so-called volunteers did not join the army out of loyalty to the colonial powers, but to earn a living. After all, they received more than twice as much for unskilled work as in other jobs. Most of the recruits came from the countryside, were illiterate and unskilled migrant workers. They hoped for a steady income and social recognition. The Kenyan Robert Kakembo, who rose from a student to one of the few African sergeants, observed that the military service significantly improved the prestige of East African men: "A man leaves his village, disappears for 18 months and comes back completely changed. He is well fed, strong, clean and clever; he can tell a lot and spend a lot of money. The young girls adore him; the young men follow him every step of the way (...) In other words: he does the best publicity for the army. "

[...] The army turned poor, malnourished, neglected work slaves into obedient infantrymen. They had to change their identity, remove their tribal symbols and deny their indigenous language. The King’s African Rifles should become their new identity. Specialists also found a livelihood in the military. Africans trained as technicians, paramedics, radio operators, artillerymen or drivers of the special forces were even better paid than European privateers and therefore ranked between British and African soldiers in the military hierarchy. At the lower end of the ranking, however, were the African unskilled workers in the British troops. [...]

Rhenish journalist office, "Our victims don't count". The Third World in World War II, ed. v. Research International e. V., 4th unchanged. Ed., Berlin / Hamburg: Association A 2012, p. 69 ff.



They all experienced discrimination, from lower wages and poorer opportunities for advancement through miserable treatment in captivity to degrading inferior treatment for veterans after the war. As early as December 1944, Senegalese soldiers rioted in a camp near Dakar, who demanded the intended pay for the period of their captivity from which they had just returned. Instead of paying them off, the French military administration brutally put down the revolt, the number of Senegalese soldiers killed is estimated between 35 and 300.

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Successful resistance by East African Askaris

[...] The largest resistance action during the Second World War was organized by East Africans Askaris February 1942. An infantry brigade, several thousand men, refused to board a ship for Ceylon.
Most of the soldiers had already fought for two years without home leave in Ethiopia and lost contact with their families; some wanted to go home to the circumcision ceremonies of their descendants. In fact, General Jonas Mansfield had promised Platt "a short break before further fighting". But while the British officers flew to Nairobi for a short vacation, they sat Askaris in the Eritrean port of Massawa. In any case, home leave for East African soldiers had been cut from three months to 20 days a year during the war.

On January 19, 1942, the British officer corps received an anonymous letter stating: "Your government wants to send us into a war far away with which we have nothing to do. Our war in East Africa is over. Our pay is great low, is only 28 shillings. That is extremely little to move to a country so far away. Your masters apparently believe that they can treat us blacks like dogs. But we all, black and white, are creatures of God We cannot refuse their orders, and if they force us we will leave, but we will surrender to the enemy as soon as we meet him, because here too we live like prisoners. " The authors also complained that they had not been told that they were to be relocated from Africa. The unrest among the soldiers in the camp in Massawa increased; some left the barracks without permission and went in search of women and alcohol; others openly refused to obey orders and there were initial attacks on officers. A Askari explained: "You Europeans claim to help us. Do you really do that? In fact, it is us, the blacks, who help you, although we are not Empire that we have to defend. "

Because the British could not disarm and imprison a few thousand men and fear the damage to their image in the event of a violent suppression of the uprising, the mutiny of the Askaris Success. From March 1942, the first trucks drove south from the Eritrean coast, home, because the soldiers refused to board a ship. "Once a ship is at sea - who knows where it will go ?!" The Africans were able to record a success. However, the military secret service later identified some "ringleaders" and tried them before a court martial. The colonial government in British East Africa feared that the resistance would spill over to the "native reservations"; they suppressed all news about the strike and forbade soldiers to tell about it on home leave. Some leaders were discharged from the army, some soldiers deserted, and only one of three East African battalions moved into Burma. [...]

Rhenish journalist office, "Our victims don't count". The Third World in World War II, ed. v. Research International e. V., 4th unchanged. Ed., Berlin / Hamburg: Association A 2012, p. 75 ff.



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Roshan Horabin experienced the Second World War

"[...] When I went to my predominantly European residential area to St. John's Ambulance Brigade wanted to report to a medical unit, they turned me away on the grounds that they only accepted white people and that I should report to the YMCA, which I did.
[…] There, too, I was the only girl with a brown face. After graduating from high school, I wanted to join the Navy's women's division, the Women's Royal Naval Servicebut again it was said that they were not recruiting native girls, which made me very indignant and angry. "

It was only when a munitions ship exploded in the port of Bombay in April 1944 and many British soldiers were killed and injured that the British authorities also called on Indian helpers: "I received a call and was picked up at eight past eight in the morning St. George’s Hospital and was busy there until nine in the evening washing the injured and cleaning their wounds without even being able to drink a cup of tea or eat anything. [...]

At that time a Mrs. Aitkin asked my sister and me to serve tea as waitresses in an officers' mess. There a blonde lady said in a very loud voice: 'We cannot allow Indian women to serve our boys. What are you supposed to be thinking? 'Mrs Aitkin replied,' We are here in Roshan's land and we all know her family. 'In fact, my mother was the director of a charity for the Indian Navy and she spent endless hours making scarves for the Indian Navy Knitting soldiers while my sister made socks and gloves. I also helped out sometimes. Later I took care of returning prisoners of war with a ship named Andes landed. […] Your horrific experiences tormented me in nightmares. "When Roshan married an English soldier named Ivan in July 1945, the British Navy therefore refused him severance pay.

"I wrote to Ivan's father in Cornwall.Furious, he turned to the Supreme Commander in Chief of the Navy and said he would see that this scandal was dealt with in the House of Commons if his son did not immediately receive his full sacking bonus: 'He is an Englishman, born and raised in England but whoever he marries is none of their business. 'The Admiralty reported in Delhi, Delhi reported in Bombay and Ivan received his severance payment. "

Rhenish journalist office, "Our victims don't count". The Third World in World War II, ed. v. Research International e. V., 4th unchanged. Ed., Berlin / Hamburg: Association A 2012, p. 266 f.



The colonial societies experienced the war as a time of enormous privation. In Great Britain, for example, the war cabinet stipulated what quantities of food, raw materials and other goods they had to deliver at what prices. Strict foreign exchange and foreign trade controls further restricted the scope for colonial economic activity. Even many farmers could no longer feed themselves, because instead of products for their own consumption they were now using so-called cash crops, agricultural products produced exclusively for the market, had to be cultivated for delivery to the colonial rulers.

Colonies as a reflection of domestic political lines of conflict?
In contrast, the war propaganda of the Europeans staged an inviolable unity and identity of interests between them and the colonized. European countries that were occupied by German troops, such as Belgium and the Netherlands, tried to stabilize their colonies as a power base. Above all, however, the colonies played a central role for the divided French society, be it that they supported the Vichy regime, which was cooperating with the German Reich, or that they resisted Vichy and the "Free France" under Charles de Gaulle the Germans helped, such as Cameroon and Chad. In the French case, internal political lines of conflict ran across the entire imperial area.

The connection between Great Britain and his was different Empire: The country, a colonial superpower for centuries, suffered a severe defeat with the fall of Singapore in February 1942 and generally through the Japanese challenge in Southeast Asia, which resonated for a long time and undermined British self-confidence. Concessions to the colonies were inevitable to sustain the war effort. India's independence had already been discussed by Great Britain in 1942, also in return for the military service of hundreds of thousands of Indians on the British side.