Home HISTORY Why African Resistance against the imposition of colonialism Failed?

Why African Resistance against the imposition of colonialism Failed?


Why African Resistance against the imposition of colonialism Failed?

African  societies  did  not  keep  silent  at   time  of  imposition  of  Colonial  rule. Africans reacted  differently  and vigorous  to  the  imposition  of  colonial  rule. There  were  three  forms  of  African  reactions ( responses)  towards  imposition  of  colonial  rule.


Resistance  refers  to  an  opposition  or  disagreement  of  a  certain  matter.

African  resistances  refers to  different  oppositions of reactions  that  were  taken  by  African  Society  towards  the  imposition  of  colonial  rule  in their  localities.

Many  African  resistances  historically  occurred during  the establishment  of colonial  rule  after  the  Berlin  Conference. But  these  resistances ( reactions) took place  in  three  forms:

  1. Active Resistance
  2. Passive Resistance
  3. Adaptation (Collaboration)



This was a response where the Africans resisted actively by showing of military opposition. In this form, Africans took their weapons  to  fight  against  colonial  encroachment  in  their  localities. However, active  resistances  were  divided  into  two  groups

  1. Small – Scale Resistance
  2. Large – Scale Resistance


This refer  to  the  resistance  whereby  the  local  community  armies  or  traditional  leaders  of a  certain  ethnic  group resisted  against  colonial  rule. In  other  words, it  was  an  active  resistance  that  covered  a  small  area  involving one  tribe  or  two

. A  good  example of  Small  Scale  Resistance  included Nyamwezi  Resistance, Hehe Resistance, Samore Toure  Resistance, Yao  Resistance, Nandi  Resistance  etc.


It was  a resistance  which  involved  more  than  one  ethnic  group ( tribe). This  is  where  ethnic  groups  joined  together  to  fight  against  Colonial  rule. A  good  example was Majimaji resistance  in  Tangayika, Nama and  Herero  resistance  in  Namibia, Shona  and Ndebdele ( Chimurenga Uprising)  in  Zimbabwe etc.

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Sometimes, this type  of  resistance  is named  as  Secondary  resistance. This  type  of  active  resistance  was   common  among  societies  which  accommodated  colonialism  at  the  beginning  but  later  decide  to resist  after  being  subjected  to  colonial  exploitation  and  oppression.


This  was  the  type  of  resistance  where  Africans  did not  involve  the  use  of  arms  to  fight  and  did  not  cooperate  with  the  colonizers. In  other  words, Africans  did  not  do  anything ( to  resist  or  cooperate) with  the  colonizers. What  these  Africans  did, was  to  resist  to  participate  in  the  colonial  activities  and payment  of  taxes  but  not  imposition of  Colonial  rule  in  their  areas.

This  was  done  by  most  of  the  smaller  societies  in  Africa  which  could  not  unite  and  oppose  the Encroachment  of  colonial  rule.


In this  type  or  response, since  African  chiefs  welcomed  the  Europeans, assisted  them  to  consolidate their  colonial  rule and  sometimes  they  allied  with  the  colonizers  to  conquer  the  neighboring  societies. A  good  example  of  African  Chiefs  who  collaborated  with  the  Colonizers  includes: Chief  Lewanika  of  Rwozi  Kingdom, Chief  Mareale  of Kilimanjaro, Mumia  of  Kenya, Semei Kakunguru  in  Uganda,

Why African Resistance Failed?

It is true that many societies resisted against Europeans invaders but most of those resistance failed and African were defeated. The failure of Africans reactions was associated with the numbers of factors such as;

Disunity among the African rulers. The Africans failed to unite together to fight for their enemy. Example in West Africa, Tanganyika, Angola, Namibia and Central Africa.

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Internal political factions in some Africa states contributed towards the defeat. Due to the disarray of many African states there was no time for cohesion to be against the enemy.

Military and modern technology superiority of Europeans. Due to industrial revolution in Europe they were able to manufacture superior firearms which were used during the war against the Africans who most of them were using poor weapons.

A disciplined and well-organized army helped to defeat African. The colonial armies were better trained and more experienced in strategy and tactics.

The Europeans wanted to maintain and preserve their new acquired economic positions and that made them fight at all costs, ruthlessly and untiringly.

Instability and public misery of Africans. Most of Africans were fought with bitterness which culminate into greater devastation, villages were burnt, farmland destroyed and animals looted. This ended up with gross loss of property, fear and famine.

Religious division created serious problems for African unity. Religious disunity poisoned the cohesion of Africans. E.g. antagonism existed between Tijaniyya and Quidirrija brother in Algeria facilitated failure of resistance against the French.

The unpopularity of some African leaders to their subjects led European victory.

Natural calamities such as famine, drought and epidemic made it difficult for Africans to maintain stiff resistance.


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