5 Anti-Colonial Resistance Movements Which Occurred In Africa

5 Important Anti-Colonial Wars

The following 5 Anti-Colonial Resistance Movements occurred in Africa in response to the attempts by European Powers to conquer several powerful African States that already dominated different parts of the African Continent before the arrival of Colonialism in Africa

The Battle Of Adwa

The Battle of Adwa was one of the most important African Anti-Colonial resistance movements which occurred in Africa that represents one of the few African victories against the forces of Colonial Expansion.

More importantly, unlike other victories such as the Zulu victory against the British at Isandlwana, the defeated Italian Imperialist Army did not follow up the defeat with a more decisive military campaign that would eventually achieve the objective of Colonization.

The Battle of Adwa was therefore not just a temporary setback to the Italian conquest of Ethiopia but it resulted in Italy’s withdrawal from Ethiopia, and the establishment of Ethiopian Independence.

The Berlin Conference of 1884-85 designated Ethiopia as an Italian Zone of influence.

The Italians were determined to consolidate their position in the Region due to the strategic importance of the Red Sea Coast which had seen the Italians fortify their position at the Red Sea Port of Massawa in 1885, and by 1890 they had established the Colony of Eritrea. 

Meanwhile Menelik II had risen above the internal rivalries within Ethiopia and claimed the Ethiopian Throne following the death of Emperor Yohannes IV in 1889.

In 1889 Menelik II concluded the Treaty of Wuchale with Italy in terms of which in exchange for money, 30 000 Muskets and 28 Cannons, Menelik granted the area now forming modern day Eritrea to the Italians.

Unbeknownst to Menelik, Clause 17 of the Italian version of the Treaty subordinated Ethiopia’s Diplomatic and Foreign Policy to Italy.

When Menelik discovered this, he addressed the Italians on this aspect of the Treaty calling it a humiliation on his Kingdom.

As a result, Ethiopia repudiated the Treaty of Wuchale.

Menelik II’s repudiation of the Treaty gave the Italians a pretext for War, and an expedition to invade Ethiopia under the command of General Baratieri was composed and dispatched.

The Italians began invading from the North and, Menelik II began a counteroffensive from the Southern Provinces gathering Troops in every Province as he proceeded North to enage the Italians.

Menelik’s forces numbered 100, 000 men, and they were well equipped and trained in the use of the modern rifles and artillery that had been acquired from the Italians.

When the two Armies met, there was a brief stalemate as each waited for the other to  commence the attack.

Menelik II And The Ethiopian Victory At The Battle Of Adwa

In the end, under pressure from Colonial Government Officers in Italy, Baraitieri initiated the attack with an advance towards Menelik’s camp.

However, the advance was poorly co-ordinated, and soon confusion wreaked havoc in the Italian ranks.

As a result, Menelik II’s well equipped and trained forces were able to overwhelm and route the Italian Army in 3 separate engagements as the defensive line of the desperate Italian forces collapsed.

Panicked and disoriented the Italins began a hasty retreat towards Eritrea.

Conclusion: Legacy Of The Battle Of Adwa

Menelik II’s monumental victory at Adwa was significant in that it led to the international recognition of Ethiopia as a sovereign State at the height of the scramble for Africa.

In addition, Ethiopia was unified under Menelik’s rule as Emperor.

Perhaps most importantly, Ethiopia made Africans realize that Colonialism was not inevitable, and it served as inspiration for the anti-Colonial Nationalist resistance movements that would eventually undo the Colonial conquest of Africa.

The Mandinka Resistance

The Mandinka Resistance War is another Anti-Colonial Resistance Movement which occurred in Africa.

The roots of the Mandinka Anti-Colonial movement resistance war lay in the partitioning of Africa at the Berlin Conference of 1885.

After the Berlin Conference, France began to enter West Africa more aggressively until they reached the Sudan and the Border of Samori Toure’s Mandinka Empire.

Samori Toure responded intelligently to the French threat by equipping his Army with modern British weapons and expanding into modern day Liberia in order to evade the French.

A series of initial military encounters with the French were indecisive, and Samori was victorious at the Battle for the control of the Bure Goldfields, initially repelling the French despite their superior firepower and excellent Military organization.

The French persisted with their incursion into the Mandinka Empire planting themselves at the centre of the Mandinka Empire after siezing the City of Kankan, and despite a series of evasive manouvres by Samori Toure, the French finally succeeded in capturing his Capital at Bissandungu in 1892.

This would not spell the end of Samori Toure’s resistance however which continued until 1898 when he was eventually captured in the Ivory Coast after eluding the French by implementing a Scorched Earth Policy which successfully delayed the French pursuit to capture him as he moved his Empire from the captured Capital at Bissandungu deeper into the African interior.

His effort to form an alliance against the French with the Asante was unsuccessful, and weakening African resistance in other French territories enabled the French to focus their efforts on capturing Samori Toure and dealing a final blow to the Mandinka Empire.

After his capture in 1898, Samori was exiled to Gabon where he died in captivity after suffering from Pneumonia.

Why The Mandinka Resistance War Failed

In addition to facing technologically advanced French artillery and tactics, Samori was also faced with African disunity when his efforts to form alliances with other African Kingdoms like the Asante failed.

Furthermore, the progressive weakening of surrounding African States enabled the French to mount a focused and consistent attack on the Mandinka Empire which eventually led to its annihilation and Samori Toure’s capture.

Nevertheless, Samori Toure remains an inspiring figure of the Colonial resistance, and in a fitting honour,his great-grandson, Ahmed Toure, was appointed the first President of Guinea when Guinea gained independence.

The Zulu At The Battle Of Isandlwana

The Battle of Isandlwana which represents Zulu Anti-Colonial resistance is another Anti-Colonial resistance movement which occured in Africa. 

In the Battle Of Isandlwana, the Zulus armed with traditional weaponry such as assegai spears and Cowhde shields faced off against a British Army equipped with modern Rifles and artillery.

In 1878 the British started an expedition across the Tugela River and into the Zulu heartland with the aim of invading and occupying Zululand. 

The British Army dispatched 3 different units or Columns.

In response, the Zulu King Cetshwayo summoned 24, 000 Troops to counter the British offensive.

In January 1879, the main British Column arrived at Isandlwana Hill, setting the stage for a confrontation with the Zulu regiment that had been dispatched to intercept the British. 

On the 22nd of January 1879, the Zulus and the British made contact as the main Zulu force descended on Isandlwana.

Despite their superior firepower, the British were ountnumbered and a series of poor tactical decisions left the British vulnerable to the experienced Zulu Military machine.

The British failed to form a proper denfensive line or ‘laager’ and were devastated by the Zulu ‘Cowhorn’ formation attack which destroyed the poorly protected British flanks.

As the British ran low on ammunition, the British camp was overrun and the invading force virtually wiped out after a series of desperate last stands.

Legacy Of The Battle Of Isandlwana Resistance

The Battle of Isandlwana demonstrated that African Armies had the capacity to resist technologically superrior invading European Armies, and it was the worst defeat suffered by the British against a local African force.

Nevertheless, the Battle Of Isandlwana would prove only to be the opening salvo in the Ango-Zulu War which would culminate in the conquest and destruction of the Zulu Empire under King Cetshwayo in 1879.

The Zulu victory at Isandlwana will always stand out as an example of successful African military resistance to Colonial rule.

The spotlight turns to Zimbabwe’s First Chimurenga resistance War in the latest African Colonial Resistance Movements entry.

Fought on the Matebeleland and Mashonaland fronts against the British South Africa Company (BSAC), it represents an important chapter in Southern Africa’s response  to Colonialism.

Zimbabwe’s First Chimurenga Resistance War

The British Colony of Rhodesia was in the region once occupied by the Monomotapa Kingdom and its Chimurenga Resistance to British Colonial rule is a significant Anti-Colonial resistance movement which occurred in Africa.   

The Shona word Chimurenga means ‘Revolutionary Struggle’, and from 1896-97, the Shona and Matebele people mounted a resistance to British Imperialism caused by the need to recover land and cattle lost through conquest and Concessions, the introduction of the Colonial Economy and accompanying wage labour system which all disrupted the structure of Shona and Matebele Societies by negatively impacting on the status and welfare of the Shona and Matebele people.

The last straw was the misfortune of drought, rinderpest and locusts which was interpreted as a sign from the Ancestors to expel the British invaders.

african colonial resistance zimbabwe chimurenga

In Matebeleland, the Spiritual leader or Mlimo, encouraged the people to revolt against the British in March 1896 promising an end to the drought, locusts and rinderpest if the British were expelled from Matebeleland.

The Ndebele were particularly motivated to recover lands, cattle and wives that had been lost to British encroachment.

In Mashonaland, the resistance broke out in June 1896 under the leadership of two powerful Spirit Mediums, Mbuya Nehanda Nyakasikana and Sekuru Kaguvi.

After some sucsessful attacks on Farms, Mines and Colonial infrastructure by both the Shona and Matebele, the British were successful in putting down the Matebele rebellion first, and thereafter the Mashonaland revolt was also suppressed.

In 1898 Mbuya Nehanda and Sekuru Kaguvi were caught and executed, but Mukwati successfully avoided  capture, dying from natural causes some years afterwards.

Ultimately, the rebellious Shona and Matebele armies were no match for superior British firepower such as the Maxim Gun.

Legacy Of The First Chimurenga Resistance War

The Chimurenga resistance resulted in the consolidation of British control in what later became Rhodesia.

However, the leaders of the resistance like Nehanda and Kaguvi inspired future generations, and Zimbabwe would eventually obtain independence in 1980 after fighting a ‘2nd Chimurenga’ against the Rhodesian State.

The word Chimurenga has since been used to describe monumental shifts in Zimbabwe like the fast-track land reform program under Robert Mugabe in the 2000s dubbed the ‘3rd Chimurenga’.

Spells of Political and Economic volatility have characterised Post-Independence Zimbabwe, and perhaps Zimbabwe is on the path to a ‘final Chimurenga’.

The Anglo-Ashanti Resistance Wars

Last but not least on our list of Anti-Colonial resistance movements which occurred in Africa is the Anglo-Ashanti resistance movement which resisted the imposition of British Colonial rule in modern day Ghana.

Prior to the arrival of the British on the Gold Coast, the Ashanti Empire was already an established power on the African Continent.

Founded in the 17th Century by Osei Tutu, the Ashanti had since developed a strong military and economic base built on the trade in Gold and later Slaves.

Its therefore not a surprise that it would take 5 Wars fought over 75 years between 1823 and 1902 for the British to deal a decisive blow to the Ashanti Empire and thereby consolidate the conquest of the Gold Coast.Anglo Ashanti War Of Resistance

The cause of the Anglo-Ashanti Wars can be found in the abolition of Slavery.

Following abolition, British involvement and interest in the Gold Coast increased as the British sought to gain a foothold on Trade in goods like Palm Oil, Cotton and Rubber from within the African interior.

The British sought to establish Trade in the excess produce of the Industrial Revolution which had prompted the shift from the Slave to the ‘legitimate’ trade based on the new Consumer goods produced by British Industry.

In pursuing this Trade, the British became involved in the internal rivalry between the Asante and Fante over control of trade routes, and they were able to strengthen their position due to the internal African conflicts by forming a Military alliance with the Fante against the Ashanti.

The First Anglo-Ashanti Resistance War was fought in 1823 when the British intervened in a territorial dispute between the Ashanti and Fante.

Thereafter, a series of indecisive bitter Wars were fought until finally in 1900 the War of the Golden Stool broke out after a British representative Sr. Frederick Mitchell Hodgson insulted the Ashanti by sitting on the Golden Stool, the most sacred symbol of the Ashanti State.

The act was viewed as provocative and sacrilegious by the Ashanti, and a fierce rebellion in which the casualty count was higher than in the previous 4 wars occurred.

Despite the fierce revolt, the British subdued the Ashanti and sent the leaders into exile in the Seychelles.

This marked the end of the Ashanti Kingdom and consolidated British control of the Gold Coast.

Why The Ashanti Resistance Failed

The backdrop to the fall of the Ashanti Empire is the shift from the Slave Trade to the trade in European Industrial Consumer commodities.

In search of markets for the excess produced by the Industrial Revolution, the British were able to gain a foothold through the pre-exisiting rivalries and divisions amongst African Kingdoms.

The Fante alliance coupled with British Military superiority and advances in European Medicine provided the British with the benefit of Quinine, a new drug made possible by the Industrial Revolution that provided greater resistance to Tropical diseases like Malaria, and thus boosted British Manpower and resources within the African Interior.

Legacy Of The Ashanti War Of Resistance Wars

As with most African Pre-Colonial Resistance Movements, the Ashanti War of Resistance provided inspiration for Nationalists like Dr Kwame Nkrumah which eventually led to the Independence of Ghana in 1957…Perhaps the reason Ghana was the first independent Country in Africa is a testament to the undying pride instilled by the History and Legacy of the Ashanti Empire, and the bitter War of resistance that it took to dismantle it.

The conquest of the Ashanti is perhaps one of the prime examples of how Colonialism undermined African development as has been argued in works like Walter Rodney’s How Europe Underdeveloped Africa.


The Colonial Conquest of Africa by the various European powers required the subjugation of established African Nations who in the initial period before Colonisation fought multiple Anti-Colonial movement resistance wars against the establishment of Colonial rule.

Colonisation therefore sparked military confrontations in the form of the Anti-Colonial resistance movements which occurred in Africa.

In some cases, such as Ethiopia the Africans were able to resist permanently, in some cases such as the Zulu, victory was only temporary and in the majority of the cases such as the Ashanti and in Zimbabwe, the result was complete defeat.

Nevertheless, despite the conquest of a significant portion of Africa in the 19th Century, by this time Africa’s contributions to world civilization were already significant going back to at least 8 000 BC in the Nile Valley Civilization Culture which had given birth to Nubian Pre-Dynastic Egypt, Dynastic Egypt followed by the era of the African Empires that existed in the era immediately before European Imperialism led to the Colonisation of Africa in the 19th Century.