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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.


Ethiopian Campaign
Burma Campaign


The Ethiopian Campaign

     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 the Allies.2

     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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The Burma Campaign

     Many Africans who fought in the East Africa Campaign went on to fight in the Burma Campaign, many as part of the Gideon Force under Wingate.  All of the African troops that served in the Burma campaign were “black troops from British East Africa and British West Africa.”  In fact, the “British” troops that fought in this campaign were almost entirely colonial forces rather that British regulars.4  This gave African troops the chance to interact with troops from India.  These Indian troops opened the eyes of many African troops to what “British freedom” really was -- little more than a sham.  Many of these African troops returned to their native countries with a new sense of the world and the desire for true independence for their nations.  The new sense of the world Africans gained because of their participation in World War II went a long way to furthering the movement for independence in Africa.







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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.