African History 5: Colonial Africa in WWII

If you thought that Europe was done using Africa for stuff by the 1900s, boy were you wrong. They kinda-sorta even got Africa involved with starting a war. Seriously. They mucked things up pretty bad back then.

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World HistoryAfrican History

Transcript

00:23

See, the British were pretty neurotic about their precious little Suez Canal.

00:28

They freaked out whenever anyone got near it, like a dog with its favorite chew toy. [Dog with a bone and man holding stop sign]

00:32

By locking down colonial control over Libya and Ethiopia, Italy was getting near it in

00:37

a big way.

00:39

The British were one missed teatime from declaring war and taking Italian East Africa for themselves. [British man drinking tea]

00:45

And Italy's fascist leaders knew it.

00:48

Italy knew it needed some allies to back it up.

00:51

When they invaded Ethiopia, Germany was the only other nation that had their backs. [Italy running and Germany standing behind them]

00:55

So in late 1935, Italy and Germany became BFFs.

01:00

We bet they even traded creepy friendship bracelets.

01:03

This alliance was a major reason that Germany felt confident enough to attack Poland in [Germany points gun at Poland]

01:07

1939, starting World War II.

01:11

After the war began, Africa became super important.

01:15

France and Belgium had been invaded and conquered.

01:18

Hm... wonder if that made them feel bad about the African lands they’d invaded and conquered…

01:22

Yeah, right.

01:24

What happened instead was the formation of the Free French and Free Belgian forces.

01:29

While officially headquartered in London, they sucked most of their resources and manpower [Man uses vacuum on resources]

01:33

from African colonies.

01:35

Between 65 and 90 percent of these supposedly Free Forces were actually conscripts, who

01:40

were forced to fight.

01:41

So really they should’ve been called the…Free If You’re White Forces. [Man holding up cup]

01:45

But…that doesn’t have the same ring to it.

01:48

French, Belgium, and British forces teamed up to resist fascist expansion in Africa.

01:53

It was like The Avengers…well, if the Avengers forced other heroes to go fight aliens and [Hulk and Captain America appear and man shoots villains]

01:59

evil robots.

02:00

It’s not too hard to understand why Africans had to be forced to fight. [African soldiers firing guns]

02:05

One of the Allies, Belgium, had recently committed the worst genocide in African history.

02:12

Even the comparatively kinder and gentler Britain and France operated governments that

02:17

oppressed, starved, and exploited their own people.

02:20

“Fight for your overlord”…didn't make for a great recruitment slogan. [African people look at advertisement board]

02:26

That said, it isn’t true that every single African who fought in World War II was totally

02:30

forced to do it.

02:31

Italy's conquest of Ethiopia was like going up to every Pan-Africanist in the world and

02:35

punching them right in the kidneys. [Italy punching Africa]

02:38

So…many Africans were looking for some payback.

02:40

To keep up morale, the British, French, and Belgians told African soldiers that they were

02:44

important and valuable citizens of their empires. [French, British and Belgian man in meeting with African soldier]

02:47

Many African soldiers, even those forced to fight, started to believe in the dream that,

02:51

through military service, they could be seen as able citizens who deserved basic rights.

02:57

But after the Allies won, this dream got popped like a… sad birthday balloon.

03:03

For one, their contributions to the war effort were completely ignored. [Africa firing a rifle]

03:06

And…surprise surprise...the ones who made it home were once again treated horribly by

03:11

the British, French, and Belgian colonial regimes. [French, Belgian and English men mistreating Africa]

03:14

The colonial response?

03:15

They laughed it off, doing the 1940s equivalent of texting…

03:19

…U MAD BRO?