African countries that had the bloodiest path to independence

A quick look into the annals of history and one is startled at the number of African countries that experienced particularly violent and tumultuous paths to independence.

The African countries that we are about to explore were forced to take a very bloody path to independence due to a combination of factors including colonial resistance, internal ethnic and political divisions, and Cold War geopolitics.

Below, WHE presents some of the bloodiest paths to independence in Africa:


The Mau Mau Uprising (1952-1960) against British colonial rule was marked by guerrilla warfare, intense violence, and concentration camps. Thousands were killed or detained in brutal conditions.

The state of emergency, coupled with international pressure and changing economic conditions, led the British to consider constitutional reforms.

By 1960, the British had initiated the Lancaster House Conferences, in which African nationalists (including Jomo Kenyatta, who had been released from detention) participated.

As a result, the first multi-racial elections were held in 1961, and by 1963, Kenya achieved internal self-rule with Kenyatta as its first Prime Minister.

On December 12, 1964, Kenya became a republic with Kenyatta as its first President.


The struggle for independence from Portugal began in 1961 and was followed by a long civil war that lasted until 2002. Multiple factions backed by different international powers, including the U.S. and USSR, vied for control of the country. The overall conflict resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths.

Angola officially became independent on November 11, 1975.



The Algerian War of Independence (1954-1962) against the French was one of the most brutal decolonization wars. An estimated one million people died in the conflict. Both sides, the National Liberation Front (FLN) and the French, used intense and sometimes brutal tactics.

READ MORE: Timeline of Algeria


Like Angola, Mozambique’s liberation movement against the Portuguese, led by the Mozambique Liberation Front (FRELIMO), was drawn out and violent, starting in the early 1960s and leading to independence in 1975. This was followed by a prolonged civil war.


The African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC) led a decade-long guerrilla war against Portuguese rule from 1963 to 1974, resulting in thousands of casualties.

The African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC) was founded in 1956 by Amílcar Cabral and others. Cabral, a highly influential anti-colonial leader, emphasized the need for a well-organized, grounded liberation movement.

By 1963, the PAIGC had launched a guerrilla war against Portuguese forces. The movement used both conventional warfare tactics and guerrilla strategies, capturing territory, establishing their own administrative zones, and earning local and international support.

In 1973, Amílcar Cabral was assassinated, a significant blow to the PAIGC. However, the movement continued its fight under new leadership, maintaining the momentum toward independence.

Recognizing the unsustainability of the colonial war and influenced by the revolution at home, Portugal granted Guinea-Bissau independence on September 24, 1974. The country was recognized as separate from Cape Verde, which achieved its own independence the following year.

Congo (DRC)

The path to independence for the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in 1960 was marked by political turmoil, the assassination of its first Prime Minister, Patrice Lumumba, and subsequent conflicts and civil wars that have led to millions of deaths over the decades.

READ MORE: Greatest African Leaders and Their Accomplishments


The armed wing of SWAPO, known as the People’s Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN), launched its military campaign against South African occupation in 1966. The guerrilla war raged until Namibia’s independence in 1990.

Namibia, formerly known as South West Africa, was colonized by Germany in the late 19th century. Germany ruled the territory from 1884 until the end of World War I in 1918.

Following the war, the League of Nations granted South Africa a mandate over South West Africa, allowing it to govern the territory. However, South Africa effectively incorporated the region as a fifth province, defying international calls for independence.

In 1960, the South West Africa People’s Organization (SWAPO) was founded. Initially a political movement, SWAPO gradually adopted an armed strategy to combat South African rule.

On March 21, 1990, Namibia officially became independent, with SWAPO leader Sam Nujoma as its first President.

The country adopted a new constitution that ensured a multi-party system, fundamental human rights, and an independent judiciary.


The Rhodesian Bush War (1964-1979) was fought between black liberation armies and the white-minority government of Rhodesia (modern-day Zimbabwe). It ended with the Lancaster House Agreement and the establishment of Zimbabwe. Canaan Banana served as the nation’s first president while independence fighter Robert Mugabe served as the prime minister. Following the amendment of the country’s constitution 1987, Mugabe was elected president.


In the late 19th century, Germany established the colony of Kamerun after the Berlin Conference. They ruled until the end of World War I.

Following Germany’s defeat in World War I, the League of Nations divided Kamerun between France and Britain as “mandates”.

France got the larger eastern part, while Britain received a smaller western portion adjacent to Nigeria. The two regions were governed differently: the French implemented their policy of assimilation, while the British governed theirs as part of Nigeria.

After World War II, nationalism and the desire for self-rule began to rise in both territories.

Political parties like the Union of the Peoples of Cameroon (UPC) spearheaded the demand for immediate independence in French Cameroon.

French Cameroon underwent a series of political evolutions. In 1957, it became an autonomous republic within the French community.

Facing various pressures, France granted French Cameroon independence on January 1, 1960, with Ahmadou Ahidjo as its first president.

The UPC (Union des Populations du Cameroun) insurrection against French rule, which began in the 1950s, was suppressed with considerable violence. After much bloodshed, the central African nation of Cameroon secured its independence in 1960.

Did you know…?

The Gold Coast was among the pioneering African colonies to achieve independence, emerging as Ghana in 1957. This landmark event set a precedent, inspiring other African nations to pursue their own paths to freedom shortly thereafter.

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