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Scholar Ali A. Mazrui later reminisced
about the Second World War, "It was clear that the grown-ups regarded the
contending forces in Europe party 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 of their native states.
In this section of the web site, we explore how and where Africans served abroad during World War II. Use the table below to select which topic you would like to view.
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 their participation under General Wingate in the Burma Campaign, Sudanese and Ethiopian troops fought. These soldiers were trained by the SOE (Special Operations Executive) and served with distinction. After the East Africa Campaign, many of the troops went to Burma and fought there for the Allies.2
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The Burma Campaign
Many of the same Africans who fought in the East African Campaign also fought in the Burma Campaign in Asia. Many of these people were part of the Gideon Force under Wingate, but all of the African troops in the campaign were "black troops from British East Africa and British West Africa."3 In fact, the "British" troops that fought in this campaign were almost entirely colonial forces rather than British regulars. Here, though, unlike the Ethiopian campaign, troops fought against the Japanese, not the Germans and Italians as they had in East Africa.4 During the campaign, a total of 71,244 troops on the allied side were casualties. Approximately nine percent of those wounded died.5 The campaign was a failure, however...the Japanese took Burma in 1942.6 The British later retook it and Burma became a free state on 4 January 1948 and is now ruled by a military regime. Its capital is Rangoon.7
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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.