Armed means using war weaponry.

Struggle in this context means a fight.

Armed struggle refers to the state of waging war involving the coercive use of weapons. It was a method used by some African countries when Africans took up arms against the colonial governments, in a bid to fight for their independence


Armed struggle is the struggle for freedom through the use of weapons. It was the way which were applied by some African countries during the struggle for independence.

African countries like Kenya, Zimbabwe (Southern Rhodesia), Algeria and the former Portuguese colonies like Mozambique, Guinea Bissau and Angola got their independence through armed struggle.

Armed struggle took place

In some British colonies like

  • Zimbabwe (Southern Rhodesia)
  • Namibia (a trusteeship territory)
  • Kenya

In some French colonies like

  • Algeria

But mostly in the Portuguese colonies such as

  • Mozambique
  • Angola
  • Guinea Bissau
  • Cape Verde Islands
  • Dao Tome and Principe Islands



Africans in Mozambique started their anti-colonial moves early in 1920’s. Like in other countries the movements began as associations with the aim to reform colonialism and not to remove it. In 1920 there was Associacao Africano, founded to protect African rights.

In the early 1930’s another African movement which opposed the colonial rule was  the Institute Negrofilo (The Institute of Negro Friends). It later changed its name to the Centro Associativo Dos Negros de Mozambique. This also was another kind of semi-political movement.

The sense of mass nationalism came after the WW2 in 1950’s. The Portuguese, however, placed a stubborn stand against political parties and trade unions. By 1960’s, it was obvious that unlike other colonialists, the Portuguese were not willing to prepare their colonies for independence. This is when the African nationalists resorted to the use of arms.

In 1952, the coalition of nationalist movements in exile formed a political organization called Front for the Liberation of Mozambique (FRELIMO), in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, under the leadership of Eduardo Mondlane. Mondlane was killed on 3rd February 1969 by using a parcel bomb, in Dar es Salaam, by supposedly his enemies.

In 1970’s FRELIMO was led by Samora Machel. FRELIMO was backed up by Tanzania in its armed struggle, and Tanzania was its main base of the struggle.

There was another leader called Lazaro Nkavandame who formed his organization called the Makonde African National Union (MANU) in 1968. This later changed to Mozambique African National Union. They fought for separate independence of the Makonde in Mozambique. Lazaro had to join FRELIMO for effective struggle.

The pressure the Portugal got from her allies to grant Mozambique her freedom, and from guerilla war waged by FRELIMO made the Portuguese agree to hold talks with FRELIMO in Lusaka, Zambia in September, 1974. It was agreed that Mozambique would become independent on 25th June, 1975.

A provisional government was formed with six ministers from FRELIMO and three from Portugal. Joachim Chisano was appointed the prime Minister and the Portuguese appointed a high commission to monitor the transitional government.

The Portuguese settlers tried to resist the independence move to no avail. Mozambique attained her independence eventually on 15th June, 1975, and Samora Machel was the President.


Like Mozambique, Angola was also a Portuguese colony. The colonial oppression and exploitation led to the political struggle mainly after WW2. Before embarking on armed struggle, the Angolans tried constitutional means of forming political parties.

In 1955 the Angola Communist Party (P.C.A) was formed by elites against colonialism and aimed at protecting African culture and dignity.

In 1956 Partido de Luta dos Africanos de Angola (PLUA) after P.C.A joined with other radical groups. This party insisted on the struggle for independence.

In December, 1956 Movement Popular de Liberacao de Angola (MPLA) after merging PLAU with other smaller groups. The party advocated for universal suffrage and equal rights for all Africans regardless of race, ethnicity or creed. MPLA consisted of members from the privileged assimilados living in urban areas. It was led by Augustino Neto, and was highly supported by OAU and the Soviet Union.

In 1957 Uniao Das Populacaoes do Norte de Angola (UPNA) was formed to resist forced labour and struggled for the restoration of the Kingdom of Congo. It was largely supported by the Bakongo. Latr the party changed its name to Uniao Das Populacaoes de Angola (UPA) to struggle for independence under Holden Roberto.

UPA formed a government in exile with Roberto as its president and Jonas Savimbi the foreign minister. UPA received help from Zaire and America to oppose MPLA which had a socialist approach.

In 1962 Partie de Democratic Angola (PDA) united with UPA to form Fente National de Liberatacao de Angola (FNLA). FNLA formed an exile government in Kinshasa, Zaire. OAU tried to unite MPLA and FNLA but it withdrew its support to FNLA after realizing that the party had tribal elements.

In 1966, Uniao Nacional Para Independencia Total de Angola (UNITA)  was formed by Jonas Savimbi, after his resignation as prime minister from UPA in 1964. UNITA was supported by USA and the Boer government of South Africa.

Intensive armed struggle was carried out by MPLA and FNLA. They also carried out negotiations under OAU initiatives. The negotiations led to the formation of the Supreme Council for the Liberation of Angola in December 1972. Holden Robert was the president of the council and Augustino Neto was the vice president.

In July, 1974, MPLA and FNLA met in Bukavu and adopted a common stand in the liberation struggle. In January, 1975 MPLA, FNLA and UNITA met in Mombasa, Kenya in a meeting chaired by Jomo Kenyatta. They agreed to stop hatred among themselves and evil propaganda which caused disunity.

After the Mombasa meeting, the three groups met the Portuguese to discuss about the formation of a transitional government. A cease-fire accord was made and Angola was to be independent in November 11th 1975.

In January 1975 the transitional government was formed with three representatives from each group and the Portuguese minister for overseas territories included.

Disagreement, however, persisted among the three groups. The Portuguese left Angola without solving the problem.

MPLA was the strongest of the three groups. It was helped by Cuban revolutionary troops to defeat the opposing groups. By June, 1976 MPLA held state power in Angola under Augustino Neto.


Originally, Zimbabwe was ruled by the British South Africa Company (BSACo) led by Cecil Rhodes (hence the name Rhodesia. The company encouraged the settlement of the white settlers and there was massive exploitation and oppression of the Africans. By 1922 64% of land was expropriated by settlers.

Discrimination based on race took place as the white settlers claimed higher wages than the Africans, and skilled jobs were for whites and unskilled for Africans. The African hatred of the whites started growing roots here.

When the company started ruling Zimbabwe, it wanted to join Rhodesia wit South Africa, but the settlers wanted their own autonomy and independence. In October, 1922 the settlers were granted the so-called Responsible Government, and Rhodesia became a self-government with its own parliament, army and police force.

After the formation of the government Land Apportionment Act was made in 1930, and allocation of land on the basis of race began. In 1934 the Industrial Conciliation Act was passed to prevent the Africans from the formation of trade unions. In the same year the settlers formed the United Party (UP), and later the Rhodesian Front (RF) in 1962.

Under the oppressive situations the Africans started forming their nationalist movements (political parties).

The United Federal Party (UFP) was formed in 1950’s by settlers with the aim of forming the Central African Federation of Zimbabwe, Zambia and Nyasaland (Malawi).

The white men formed Dominion Party (DP) in 1950’s to suppress the Africans in Zimbabwe.

The Africans in turn formed their party based in Bulawayo, the African National Congress, in 1955 to demand for independence.

In the same year (1955) The City Youth League was formed in Salisbury (Harare). This later changed to African National Youth League (ANYL). The aim was the same. The liberation of Zimbabwe.

ANC and ANYL united in 1957 to form a stronger organization with nationwide impact. They formed SRANC, with Joshua Nkomo the president. The party threatened the settlers and it was banned in 1959.

The settlers also worked hard to disunite the Africans in terms of tribe, e.g. the Washona and Ndebele. They also went ahead with their aim to make the federation of South Rhodesia, Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland in order to frustrate the liberation movements.

In 1960, the Africans formed another party, National Democratic Party (NDP), which was also banned the following year. Meanwhile, the Afruicans had formed another party called Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU), which was also banned in 1963.

The Africans then realized that they could never reach their objectives through the constitutional means of mass nationalism. In 1963, a three African liberationists, Ndabaningi Sithole, Robert Mugabe and Herbert Chitepo broke away from ZAPU and formed another party called Zimbabwe African National Union.

The settlers did not only ban both the parties but also detained the leaders in 1964. They then declared their independence on 11th November 1965, led by Ian Smith.

This is when the patriots resorted to preparing themselves for the armed struggle, with their bases being in exile.

The real offensive began before the end of 1966. The war was fought fiercely to the extent of making the settlers totally confused. Some of them started forsaking their farms, seeking safety in towns. A good number of them fled to South Africa. The remaining ones pledged to sit down with the patriots for talks. This was between 1978 and 1979.

Some Africans were tricked by Ian Smith to accept the so-called internal agreement which led to the appointment of the puppet Abel Muzorewa to be the prime minister.

The patriots took up arms again after realizing the trick. Armed struggle resumed again more fiercely.

In 1979, Ian Smith with his puppets agreed to hold talks with the leaders of ZAPU and ZANU. A cease-fire was passed, elections were arranged with Britain and some Common Wealth countries as overseers.

In the elections, ZANU, led by Robert Mugabe, emerged the winner, and Mugabe became the Prime Minister. Zimbabwe was declared independent on 18th April 1980.


KANU (Kenya African Union)

Was formed in 1944 by Eliud Mahu a member of Legco. It demanded increase of African representatives in legco; then Harry Thuki became the chairman but handled over the leadership to James Gichuru in 1945.

In 1946 Kenyatta became the presalient of the party. The party was mainly Kikuyu and had no strength beyond the central province. It was not possible for KANU to mobilize many people who were not literate and European hated many people who were not literate also European hated the party. The party was burned in 1952.

MauMau was armed struggle against the White settlers in Kenya in 1952-1960 aimed at bringing independence quickly. The group was stated by KAU extreme must and ex-soldiers by the colonial government so African fought to remove such oppressive actions over them.

Aims of MauMau Movement

  • To kill all Europeans and Africans who support them.
  • To bring Kenya independence as soon as possible.
  • To speed up writing of a just constitution.
  • Ending alienation among the Kikuyu.

Participants in MauMau Movement

Leaders –Waritiu Otote –General China

Dedan Kimathi

Jomo Kenyatta

Others were; Kikuyu waged laborers, ex-soldiers from WWII and other dissatisfied groups.


Land alienation: Colonial government alienated African land and gave it to the European settlers for production of cash crops and settlement. This made Africans to fight for the lost land.

Forced labour; Africans were forced to work in settler’s farms colonial government ensured constant supply of African labour by passing various labour ordinances e.g. Native master relation labor ordinance of 1921 which required African to carry identity –Kipande system to show completion of a task in settler’s farm. This annoyed Africans.

Taxation imposed on African led to the outbreak of MauMau. The people were highly taxed and those who failed were punished British learnt a lesson that their administrative created grievance and discontent among the African.


Depopulation More than 13,000 people- Asians, civilians, Europeans and freedom fighter lost their lives.

Many people were forced into reserves and detention camps where they suffered harsh treatments and bad living conditions.

It created fear and worries of being killed especially in the central province where most fighting took place.

MauMau forced the British to speed up independence to other colonies e.g., Tanganyika.

It brought high costs amounting to pounds 50,000 to Kenya colonial government and the British as underground movement in Nairobi in 1946.

The MauMau group was annoyed by slow pace of constitutional change and the settler declaration in 1950 that “we are here to stay and all races must accept that and all it implies”.


Most of the Africans nationalists resorted to the use of armed struggle after seeing that the diplomatic means would not help. The reasons for the struggle can be generally explained using the following points:

The colonial reluctance to grant the Africans their independence. While the other colonial powers had granted their colonies their independence, the Portuguese were not ready to do so as they depended solely on the colonies for their economic growth.

The presence of settlers. The settlers posed a great challenge for the granting of independence to Africans since they had already invested a lot in the African lands. They thus sought to cling to their occupation of lands. The Africans wanted to reoccupy the lands from which they were alienated. The use of armed force was the only way to drive the whites away.

The suppression of political movements. The colonialists had the tendency to suppress the political parties, especially banning them. The Africans therefore saw that the whites did not understand the diplomatic language, thus they resorted to the language of violence through armed struggle.

Political persecution of nationalist leaders. The African leaders were persecuted through detention and assassination. The African saw that the whites were not ready for negotiation or constitutional procedures. So, they resorted to the use of armed struggle to attain their independence.

Empathy by fellow Africans: The African who attained their independence by diplomatic means empathized with their fellow Africans and vowed to give them moral and material support. Many liberationists were welcomed in exile and their training and war bases were there. Tanzania led the five front-line states in the liberation.

Support from revolutionary socialist states. This also was a great force to the nationalist armed struggle. Russia and Cuba played a great role in training as well as equipping the nationalists with weapons to fight against the stubborn colonialists. The nationalists were empowered so they just had to go for armed struggle.

The rise of militant leaders. Some Africans were by their nature militant. They advocated the use of armed struggle since the beginning of nationalism. They were at first not supported by those who advocated peaceful means. When it was proved that constitutional means could not work out, they took the advantage.

A good example of the militant Africans include Dedan Kimathi of Kenya, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Amilca Cabral of Guinea, Samora Machel of Mozambique, and Augustino Neto of Angola.


Armed struggle was very effective in the process of decolonization of the African countries.

It made the Europeans give up the colonies, since they were reluctant when peaceful means were employed.

It proved that Africans could stand up and fight against big powers.

It showed the extent of patriotism of many Africans who sacrificed their life to face the enemy.

It also showed how Africans across the continent could unite against their common enemies. African alliance was demonstrated when other independent states assisted their colonized fellows.

It helped suppress reactionary forces and thus made many reactionaries agree to work together with their fellow Africans to build one nation.


There were some weakness points in the armed struggle, such as:

Regionalism (Disunity).Some revolutionaries were fighting for the interests of particular regions instead of having national interests, e.g., Lazaro Nkavandame with MANU, who fought for separate independence of the Makonde in Mozambique.

Alliances (Ideological differences): Africans were also divided in terms of alignment, as some were backed up by the socialst (USSR) and some by the capitalists (USA). This created a tag of war among themselves.

Lack or shortage of funds.This was a weakness that made the liberationists not to be effective in some cases and times. They sometimes failed to buy good weapons and even foodstuffs for the guerilla fighters. They largely depended on the support from other friendly nations.

Lack of support from other African countries.Some countries did not want to commit themselves in helping the nationalists. Out of all the African countries only five declared to put themselves in the front line to help their fellows. So, a few frontiers were created. This to a large extent delayed the development of armed struggles.

Poor weapons. The fighters mostly used poor weapons compared to the ones used by the Europeans. The enemies had air forces, war tanks and missiles, while the freedom fighters used only guns and infantries.

Settlers’ opposition Nationalistic struggle; settlers opposed nationalistic struggles because they feared that once Kenya became Independent, Africans would grab their land.

Tribalism among the Africans divided Africans in the fight for independence. Political parties such as KANU and KADU were formed in tribal basis.

Personality clashes between leaders in some political parties.

Harassment and imprisonment of nationalist leaders.

Formation of reactionary movements and opposition parties.

African colonial collaborators, e.g., chiefs.

Illiteracy among the majority Africans.

Land vastness. Coordination was difficult due to land vastness, e.g., Nigeria, which was divided into three political regions.

Colonial delaying tactics. They were required to prepare some territories for independence but they deliberately delayed the moves to extend exploitation.


Despite the weaknesses, it was armed struggle that contributed a lot to the decolonization of the African countries that used it.

It was the only means to force the Europeans to accept the final procedures of forming transitional governments and eventually the granting of full independence


1. Why did the Portuguese colonies in Africa engage in armed struggle to liberate themselves?

2. Why Mozambique attained her independence through armed struggle? (Give six points)

3. “FRELIMO, PALGC, MPLA and UNITA were political parties formed for attaining independence in the former Portuguese colonies in Africa.” Explain why the government engaged in guerilla warfare (Six points only).





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