It was an international war fought between the axis powers (Germany, Italy and Japan) on one side and the allied powers (Britain, France, USA and USSR) on the other side. Africans were recruited by their colonial masters as drivers, cooks and gunmen.
It should be noted that this war inspired political consciousness of Africans and it became a true turning point in the history of Africa for it contributed to the rise and growth of African nationalism in various ways as follows:-
The recruitment of African soldiers and the return of Ex-servicemen, destroyed the white man’s superiority as the ex-servicemen got a chance to see the white man at home and realized that a part from color difference he was a human being just like the African and had human problems like poverty, death among others. They also found out that some of them (whites) were even in worse conditions than Africans. This convinced the Africans that the white man was not a semi-god and the divine respect given to the whites ended. On return they passed on the message to other Africans. Consequently, the Africans were prepared to force the white man to grant them independence without fear.
World war II exposed the military weakness of the Whiteman, at first Africans thought that a Whiteman could not be defeated and feared to make any military challenges to them however, during the war African soldiers witnessed the defeat of European armies by non-Europeans, for example, Japan defeated Britain in Burma, South Eastern Asia and this was witnessed by African soldiers like Ahmed Ben Bella of Algeria and Waruhui Itote (General China) further Ethiopia in 1941 also defeated Italy. Africans saw how whites feared gunfire and bush war. This convinced them that whites would also be defeated in the jungles of Africa hence contributing to the growth of African nationalism.
(Africans got exposed to the entire world as they were sent to fight in North Africa, Asia and Europe. They met very many people with new ideas, for example, they served with Asian nationalists who were in the same struggle against colonial rule, they shared their experiences, skills, tactics which strengthened their nationalism. African soldiers while in Europe were exposed to the world of democratic ideas and governors which made them think more deeply about colonial oppression at home and on coming back they started agitating for independence.
During the war African soldiers came into contact with dirty slums in Europe, unemployed whites, illiterates, criminals and prostitutes in Europe. They shared cigarettes and prostitutes with whites; they also witnessed disunity among Europeans. This experience encouraged them to come back and fight the white man hence contributing to the development of African nationalism.
During the war Africans obtained military skills, they were exposed to modern weapons, they learned how to fire and repair these weapons, they drove military vehicles, threw grenades and bombs. Therefore on return, they were to put this technical know-how and tactics into practice by fighting the white man henceforth leading to the liberation of Africa.
The Second World War exposed Africans to the press and mass media. Africans came to learn English and French, read Newspapers and listened to radio news, they came to learn that Britain and France and other allies were fighting against German and Italian imperialism in Europe and on return to Africa they demanded for an end to colonialism.
The colonial masters made so many promises to the Africans who participated in the war for example the ex-soldiers had been promised reward, a democratic constitution, employment in the civil service, and promotions in the army and therefore they expected to benefit much after helping the colonial masters however apart from the medals they received they came back empty handed and were faced with challenges of unemployment, loss of land like in Kenya, Algeria and Zimbabwe therefore the frustrated ex-soldiers joined other African nationalists in fighting the colonial masters on the African continent.
World War II led to militant nationalism in Africa, when the ex-soldiers reflected about their comrades and friends who died while rescuing Britain and France from German Nazism and Italian fascism they became ready to sacrifice their lives for mother Africa. To them there could be no freedom in Africa without self-sacrifice and determination, old methods of demanding for independence through negotiations became senseless to them hence they formed militant movements to fight for independence for example in Kenya they formed the forty group which later became the Mau Mau and in Algeria, they formed FLN to fight for independence.
The liberation of Ethiopia in 1941 during world war simulated nationalistic feelings. In order to reduce Italian strength Britain helped Ethiopians to fight the Italians in Africa and therefore Italy could not fight two battle at ago, the Italians were defeated and once again Ethiopia became independent, the Africans who fought in World war 11 got political lessons that African liberty had to be fought for. At the end of world war the ex-soldiers and ex-servicemen joined the liberation movements against colonialists as the Ethiopians had done.
The war led to the signing of the Atlantic Charter in 1941. It was signed between President Franklin Roosevelt of the USA and Prime Minister Churchill of Britain on a Battleship in the Atlantic Ocean being witnessed by Sterlin of Russia. This Charter became a liberation manifesto for it advocated for the right of self-government to all colonized people of the world. Though after the war Churchill argued that it only worked for those colonies that were under Nazi Germany, Nnamdi Azikiwe took a memorandum demanding for the actualization of this Charter; therefore it can be argued that this was nationalism at play.
During the war ex-servicemen had witnessed development in Europe and Asian countries and were annoyed with the slow pace of economic progress and poor living standards in Africa, they learned that some of these developments were made using slave labor in Africa therefore when they returned and witnessed the poverty and under developments, they wondered why Europeans were not developing Africa and therefore helped to force them away so as to stop them from exploiting Africa. This explains the numerous strikes, and demonstrations in Africa after World War II.
World war led to an economic boom in Africa, during and after the Second World War the demand for food and cash crops increased since the Far East which had acted as an alternative source for raw materials had been cut off by Japan. Therefore European industrialists had to turn to African raw materials as an alternative source since Japan had cut off the Far East colonies. As the demand for raw materials increased prices rose and Africans obtained good money, for example, Ground nuts from Senegal, Palm oil from Nigeria, cocoa from Ghana etc. With the money obtained Africans were now in a position to support liberation movements hence independence.
The war led to urbanization in Africa. During the war small scale industries were set up by colonial masters to supply food, clothes, and uniforms to the soldiers, for example, cotton ginning, and fish canning started in West Africa and a number of Africans flocked to towns for jobs but not all could receive employment, even elites and ex-soldiers preferred industrialized zones, so life became hard in these areas due to unemployment, inflation, and discrimination. This situation united all these urban workers, ex-soldiers, and the unemployed against the Whiteman.
World War II led to the victory of the labor party in Britain under clement Atlee in 1945. He argued that, “Britain will not escape the Vagaries of war if it remained with colonies in Africa”. This condemnation of British colonialism in Africa and Asia was a turning point in the minds of Africans who were oppressed and exploited. Clement Atlee criticized Churchill for trying to destroy the 1941, Atlantic Charter, therefore on coming to power Atlee speeded up the pace of events that enhanced the decolonization of Africa.
World War II exposed the weaknesses of the League of Nations that had been formed in 1919 to solve world problems, this led to the formation of the United Nations Organization in 1945, from the start the UN condemned colonialism and advocated for the political rights of all the colonized people of Africa and Asia. It now became a platform for the discontented masses and their sympathizers hence forth instilling a sense of nationalism.
World War II led to the emergency of new superpowers that is USA and USSR which replaced the war-torn and exhausted Britain and France. These new super powers had anti-colonial traditions and exerted diplomatic pressure listened to the problems of African nationalists and supported their struggle for freedom thus contributing to the growth and development of African nationalism.
World War II increased the white population in Africa and this accelerated the grabbing of African land as the white settlers increased in order to escape the poor economic situation in Europe. Such areas affected include Kenya’s highlands and Zimbabwe. Consequently forced labor increased on the plantations and racial discrimination increased. This led to the formation of violent nationalist movements in Africa like the Mau Mau in Kenya, and the MPLA in Angola since Africans were sent to poor conditions in the reserves.
The Brazzaville conference of 1944 was held during the course of the Second World War and organized by Charles De-Gaulle the then-president of France in a bid to prepare the French colonies for independence so as to check against the growing forces of Nationalism in Africa. For France had recognized that colonies were an economic burden especially after World War II had led them to an economic abyss.
World War II led to the calling of the 1945 Pan-African conference held in Manchester. Ever since the Italian attack on Ethiopia Pan Africanism had grown strong amongst Africans in the Diaspora. However, it was World War II that opened unlimited opportunities for the Pan Africans. They, therefore, met in Manchester and resolved to end colonialism using all available means whether peaceful or violent. Africans who attended like Nkrumah from Ghana, Peter Abrahams from S.A, Wallace Johnson of Sierra Leon and these came back very determined to challenge the colonial legacy.
World War II increased students activists in the Diaspora, for Britain the West African students Union criticized Churchill misinterpretation of the Atlantic Charter of 1941, in USA African students association in America and Canada was formed to condemn discrimination and oppression of black man. They formed a monthly magazine that stipulated nationalistic ideas; Nkrumah was a product of the black students’ activities in USA