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Scholar Ali A. Mazrui reminisced in 1985 about the Second World War,
“It was clear that the grown-ups regarded the contending forces in Europe
partly as soccer teams writ large, and the Africans were placing their bets on
the two European powers at war with each other.”
During World War II, Mazrui was a child growing up in Africa.1
However, despite Mazrui’s juvenile perception of events, World War II
hit Africa in many ways. One of
these ways was a call to arms -- Africans could be soldiers, and could serve in
the war outside their native states, which exposed them to new ideas and new
experiences they otherwise would not have experienced.
In this section of the web site, we explore how and where African served abroad during World War II. Use the table below to select the topic you would like to view.
The Ethiopian Campaign was part of the larger East Africa campaign,
during which the British utilized native troops.
As part of the Gideon Force, which would become more famous after is
participation under General Wingate in the Burma Campaign, Sudanese and
Ethiopian troops fought to free Ethiopia from the Italians.
The SOE (Special Operations Executive) trained these troops, who served
with distinction. After the East
Africa Campaign, many of these native troops went to Burma and fought there for
Serving in the military was often a unique experience for Africans, as it
was a chance for them to gain recognition and status they had never known.
They served alongside of troops from the colonial powers that ruled them,
fought and died along side those same men.
Ali Mazrui writes: “The war humanized white men in the eyes of their
African comrades as they fought together in the Horn of Africa....To witness a
white man scared to death under fire was itself a revelation to many Africans,
who had previously seen white men only in their arrogant commanding postures as
a colonial elite.” Through their
fighting alongside of each other, Africans and Europeans suddenly began to seem
far more equal than Africans had originally believed.3
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All maps courtesy of The World Factbook 2001 published by the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States of America. For the full citation, please click here.