African collaboration was a pillar of European colonialism in Africa because collaborators were the nexus between the colonizers and the colonized. The position of chief surpassed all other forms of collaboration; it offered the holder more opportunities to acquire wealth, prestige and power. On the other hand, the chiefs made colonial rule less costly because they were poorly remunerated functionaries.
The issues of resistance and collaboration have dogged the writing of African history since the start, and always prove controversial. This post is more of a look at the historiography behind resistance. Actual discussion of events will happen soon, though.
African resistance and collaboration has been a focus of significant interest across the years, as attitudes to race and culture have changed as well as new evidence having come to light. Only from the 1960s onwards did the old-fashioned images of Africans as “passive Barbarians” begin to be seriously challenged, and this has allowed historians to rid their work of the resistor/collaborator dichotomy. Some African rulers, it is true, were manipulated by Europeans – but more often than not they pursued clear purposes of their own for the elimination of their rival and for personal financial gain.
Afrocentrist historians argue that African initiative, adaptation and choice played a dominant role in both resistance and collaboration during the Scramble and subsequently. Early colonial resistance in Mozambique suggests that this analysis is mostly sound, so long as we understand the capitalist context within which it occurred.
Resistance to imperialism, especially at the time of the Scramble for Africa was only one of several options open to African people in response to the arrival of the coloniser. Historiographically, there has been a tendency to overlook collaboration, and the resultant analysis has often lead to the suggestion that all Africans fought to maintain or regain independence. This is simply not true.
There was considerably territorial dispute between African groups during the period of the Scramble, and the result of this was often that oppressed or smaller groups/tribes/ethnicities turned to collaboration with the Europeans in order to ‘win’ some of their independence back or to quash the opposition. This tended to protect them against future incursions, as well as placing them favourably in the eyes of the Europeans.
Negotiating with Europeans from a position of strength was common: African expansionist ideals had as much influence on the Scramble as European ones.
The study of resistance in Africa tends to be relatively elitist: rebellions, it is often argued, tended to be lead from above, by the great thinkers, and those with educations. The way Africa turned out after independence is a clear indicator of why this is believed, although there were several forms of resistance which don’t fit this criterion. Marxist historians such as Davidson suggest that workers’ rebellions were more common than people believe; but they also argue for the influence of the Russian revolution on African struggles for freedom. This, it seems fair to say, is simply an exaggeration, despite the fact that it is true that the history of resistance tends to be shown through “great men” histories.
African resistance also tends to be studied in a fairly homogenous way, which, again, is ridiculous: Africa is a vast place with many differences in society, and to therefore suggest that all Africans rebelled in the same way for the same reasons is crazy. The lack of homogenous society in Africa also essentially illegitimises the idea that leaders started rebellions and the people followed blindly, because this cannot have been true in all circumstances as the people will not always have been inclined to follow their leader (leader, leader, follow the leader, oh!).
In fact, many leaders actively sought to avoid armed resistance, and engaged in collaborative relationships with Europe instead.
Unlike in the pre-colonial or Scramble periods, resistance once colonialism was established 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. To this end, there are numerous (unverified) reports of indigenous peoples in the Rhodesias simply hopping across territorial borders when they saw tax collectors coming. Labourers often refused to turn up for work if specific conditions regarding their rights to work were met. Localised resistance tended to be directed against specific grievances rather than the exploitative system which produced them.
Non-violent forms of resistance are still resistance, whatever you might see some historians saying. The fact of the matter is that the cumulative impact of these various forms of resistance against the colonial regime often caused such imposition as to be serious issues for the imperial powers. That said, so long as the person engaging in resistance did so with the express aim of getting in the way of processes of the colonial state, their resistance was genuine.

Collaboration with colonial rule is often ignored in older historiographical work because of the bias of certain historians and historical processes: at the time of independence, the idea of collaboration did not fit in with the ideas of the ascendant independent African states, and as such as often been written out of conventional historical wisdom. But just as there were recurring patterns of resistance, so too were there patterns of collaboration.
The rulers of several African societies recognised that alliances with Europeans could assist with their own territorial aspirations.However, Europeans often selected those they wished to collaborate with; for example which chiefs would work for the, etc, and often those Africans who had already got a history of mission education and Western Christianity were often favoured because of the belief that they shared the same aspirations to modernity as the coloniser.
Leaders were not the only collaborators. The oppressed sometimes aided colonial forces, too, in order to help free themselves from their former oppressors, gaining some political ascendancy with the incoming forces at the same time.
However, economic incentives often proved to be the greatest reason for collaboration. Numerous treaties were signed between African leaders and European colonisers in which financial assistance was promised; or else Africans collaborated in the knowledge that this would extent their trading networks, particularly in societies that had an existing history of trade with the West.

• Boardman, The Greeks Overseas, Penguin, Harmondsworth 1973 (1964) p. 114
• Boardman op. cit. p. 151f
• Boardman op. cit. p. 208
• Harden, Donald, The Phoenicians, Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1971 (1962) pp 163–168
• Scullard, H.H. From the Gracchi to Nero, Methuen, London, 1976 (1963) pp. 37, 150, 216
• Khapoya, Vincent B., The African Experience, Prentice Hall, 1998 (1994) p. 112
• Khapoya, op. cit. p. 114
• Khapoya op. cit. p. 115f
• David Bensoussan, Il était une fois le Maroc
• Khapoya, op. cit. p. 126f
• Shillington, Kevin, History of Africa, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1995 (1989)
• Shillington, Kevin, op. cit. p. 340f
• Khapoya, op. cit. p. 131
• ibid
• Khapoya, op. cit. pp. 134–143
• Lovejoy, Paul E. (2012). Transformations of Slavery: A History of Slavery in Africa. London: Cambridge University Press.
• Ferguson, Niall (2003). Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World. London: Allen Lane.
• Khapoya, op. cit. p. 148f
• Khapoya, op. cit. p. 177f
• Shillington, op. cit. p. 380f
• Shillington, op. cit. p. 385f
• Shillington, oop. cit. p. 391f


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