In the late 19th century European nations began to change their approach toward Africa from on of trading to exploitation and outright domination and political control. By the end of World War I, most of Africa had been effectively colonized. European colonialists had managed to quell the efforts by Africans to resist the establishment of colonial rule with one exception. Menelik II, emperor of Ethiopia, led his army to accomplish this unique feat in March 1896, defeating General Oreste Baratieri's Italian army and its Eritrean allies at the Battle of Adwa. Like Menelik II, Samory Touré, who created a large Mandinka empire in West Africa between the 1860s and the 1890s. This was the unique example of successful African resistance to colonialism.
For the most part colonialization was successful throughout most of sub-Saharan Africa. Once colonialism was established resistance tended to be more directly aimed against the imposition of capitalism on African societies. Day-to-day resistance, which often included action such as tax avoidance, tended to be common, as direct confrontation was never usually viewed as a viable strategy. Many African people had no initial reaction to colonialism. This was because the early years colonialism had little impact on the lives of many rural African peoples. This situation changed as the impact of colonialism became more widespread and resistance increased and became more intense in the middle decades of the 20th century.
There were a number of armed rebellions against colonial rule all across Africa in the periods following each of the World Wars. For example in South Africa:
John Chilembwe organised an armed rebellion against the colonial government. On the 23 January 1915, an armed group of men attacked the Livingstone Estate while another group attacked the Bruce Estate. A third group was sent to attack the Blantyre armoury in a bid to obtain weapons for an armed revolt on the capital, Zomba, to overthrow the colonial government. Although the first two attacks were successful, the attack on the Blantyre African Lakes Corporation Armoury was not and the final revolt failed.
In 1951 the South African government introduced a new law called the Bantu Authorities Act enabling it to control chiefs in rural areas. Chiefs were no longer accountable to their own people but to the government. The people began to see their chiefs as collaborators with the government who were no longer listening to their problems. In Pondoland and Tembuland people attacked chiefs who collaborated with the apartheid government and created their own traditional local assemblies to reject the Bantu Authorities Act.
The 1958 Sekhukhuneland revolt did not attempt to overthrow the colonial government. The aim of the revolt was to protect the land of the Pedi from being taking away by the government and thus safeguard the integrity of the Pedi kingdom. Migrant workers attacked people suspected of collaborating with the government.
Great changes were taking place in the immediate post war period. European colonies in Asia demanded and earned independence from Europe. Of particular importance was the independence of India and Pakistan from Britain in 1947. Many Africans looked at India as an example of what was politically possible for their own countries.
In the late 1940s and early 1950s, new mass-based political parties were formed in almost every African colony. Unlike earlier political organizations, these parties were not restricted to the educated elite. They wanted and needed mass support for their cause. The cause went beyond the demand for more opportunity and an end of discrimination. The central demand was for political freedom, for end of colonial rule!
Libya (1951) and Egypt (1952) were the first African nations to gain independence. Ghana (Gold Coast) in 1957 was the first country south of the Sahara to become independence. 1960 was the big year for African independence. Fourteen African countries gained their independence in 1960. By 1966, all but six African countries were independent nation-states. Most of the countries that won their independence by 1966, the struggle was mainly non-violent. Unfortunately, this was not the case for the six remaining African colonies (Year they gained independence in parenthesis); Angola (1976), Guinea-Bissau/ Cape Verde(1975), Mozambique (1975), Namibia (South West Africa) (1990), South Africa (1994), and Zimbabwe (1980). All of which gained their independence only after years of active rebellion.