John Chilembwe on Why Africans should not be Fighting Europeans’ Wars

John Chilembwe on a 2000 Malawian Kwacha bill

As we have seen previously, during colonization, in Africa, African cities were segregated (European-Only Neighborhoods in African Cities before Independence); Europeans did not see Africans as equals and very often Africans were thrown into forced labor or subject to harsh treatments at the hand of the colonizers. Yet, when World wars I or II came in, suddenly Africans were sought to go fight in Europeans’ wars. As we saw again, upon their return, these men found that the conditions back home with the Europeans had not changed (Thiaroye: A French Massacre in Senegal‘Thiaroye Massacre’ by Ousmane Sembene); whereas during the war they were needed and on the battlefield they were seen as equal or rather as worthy of dying alongside Europeans or as cannon fodder, at home they were not even granted simple rights. One man, the great Pastor John Chilembwe of Nyasaland (modern-day Malawi), an early figure to the resistance against colonialism and a Malawian martyr stated at the end of 1914,

“…In times of peace, everything for Europeans only…But in time of war [we] are needed to share hardships and shed blood in equality…”

We understand that we have been invited to shed our innocent blood in this world’s war….[But] will there be any good prospects for the natives after…the war?” …. “We are imposed upon more than any other nationality under the sun.”

As you know, these wars did not only take place in Europe, but even in Africa where British were fighting Germans, etc, and once again Africans were recruited. Pastor Chilembwe opposed the recruitment of the Nyasan people to fight what he considered to be a war totally unconnected to them in neighboring Tanganyika (modern-day Tanzania) and beyond. In November 1914, following reports of large loss of life during fighting at Karonga, Chilembwe wrote a letter to The Nyasaland Times in Blantyre, explicitly appealing to the colonial authorities not to recruit black troops:

As I hear that, war has broken out between you and other nations, only whitemen, I request, therefore, not to recruit more of my countrymen, my brothers who do not know the cause of your fight, who indeed, have nothing to do with it … It is better to recruit white planters, traders, missionaries and other white settlers in the country, who are, indeed, of much value and who also know the cause of this war and have something to do with it … “