This brief tutorial will teach you the definition, causes, features and achievements of proto-nationalism in British West Africa.
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Note that the four colonies that we normally refer to as British West Africa are The Gambia, The Gold Coast (Ghana), Nigeria and Sierra Leone.
Remember, also, that Liberia, though an English-speaking country, has never been a British colony.
In other words, Liberia was not part of British West Africa.
You may click here to learn more about the founding of Liberia.
Let’s get on with the main topic of this post.
Definition of proto-nationalism
Proto-nationalism is the term used to refer to the attempts made by Africans during the colonial period to secure participation in the government of the colonies.
It was different from radical post-Second World War nationalism which was all about the nationalists’ demand for a complete end to colonial rule.
Thus, proto-nationalism was a feature of the political struggles of Africans before World War II.
Causes of proto-nationalism
Following are the main reasons why the nationalists in British West Africa during the inter-war years wanted to have a say in the government of the colonies.
1. The exclusion of the educated elite from the administration of the colonies
At the time, Africans were almost completely excluded from such important administrative bodies as the Legislative Council and the Executive Council.
2. Unsatisfactory constitutional reforms
In the Gold Coast, for example, the reforms introduced in such constitutions as the Clifford constitution of 1916 and the Guggisberg Constitution of 1925 could not meet the expectations of the educated elite.
To the proto-nationalists, such reforms only served to perpetuate colonial rule.
Let’s now turn our attention to the features of proto-nationalism in British West Africa.
1. They called for African representation on such deliberative bodies as the Legislative and Executive Councils
2. The leading groups included the Aborigine’s Rights Protection Society (ARPS), the National Congress of British West Africa (NCBWA) and the West African Youth League (WAYL)
3. Their methods were mostly characterized by:
- Constitutional and non-violent activities
- Sending of delegations to London
- Sending of dispatches to the colonial office in London.
- Protest newspaper publications.
- Organization of symposia to raise political awareness among Africans.
4. They opposed specific discriminatory practices and bad legislation.
Below are some of the issues that concerned the proto-nationalists who operated mainly before the Second World War.
i. They wanted an end to the monopoly Europeans had in top positions in the civil service
ii. The protonationalists campaigned against the Lands Bill of 1897 in the Gold Coast
iii. They opposed the pricing policies of European merchant companies.
iv. It is important to note that they did not, in any realistic way, seek to undermine the colonial system but were only interested in reforms.
5. The leaders were mostly
- Legal-minded (lawyers, teachers and other professionals)
- Businessmen e.g. J.E. Casely – Hayford (Gold Coast) and Herbert Macaulay (Nigeria)
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The proto-nationalists achieved limited success with regard to the specific issues they they struggled for.
On the whole, however, their efforts yielded some notable results.
2. A good example of the achievements of the proto-nationalist period in British West Africa were key constitutional developments as seen in the introduction (in the Gold Coast) of the elective principle introduced in the Guggisberg Constitution of 1925.
2. Notable also was the expansion in the provision of educational and health infrastructure under Governor Guggisberg.
3. Finally, the activities of the proto-nationalist groups helped in raising the political consciousness of the people. The National Congress of British West Africa (NCBWA) deserves a special mention in this regard.
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