Africa’s ‘Agitators’

Militant Anti-Colonialism in Africa and the West, 1918-1939

October 2008 9781850659372 496pp
Temporarily out of stock
October 2008 9781850659365 496pp


The period between the two World Wars were the peak years of the colonial empires, but they were not unchallenged. Individuals and organisations called for major reforms and an end to white supremacy and colonial rule, contributing first to local unrest and protest and then to anticolonial activity not only in Africa but the United States and Europe as well.

In this compelling history, Jonathan Derrick recounts the opposition to British and French rule practised both by Africans living on the continent and by European anticolonialists and members of the Black Diaspora. He covers campaigns waged by an early incarnation of the ANC and other groups in South Africa who fought against legal and other aspects of white minority rule. He also analyses the Kikuyu protests against the settler regime in Kenya; Marcus Garvey’s African American movement and its role in sparking interest in Africa; the Étoile Nord Africaine, formed mainly by Algerians in France, that called for the independence of French North Africa; protests led by European critics against forced labour in Kenya and French Equatorial Africa; and the activity of small militant groups like the Ligue de Défense de la Race Nègre (LDRN) in France and George Padmore’s International African Service Bureau (IASB) in Britain.

Derrick also examines the role of the Comintern and Western Communist parties that were opposed to Western colonialism and ready to support militant action against it. He shows that, although colonial rulers greatly feared the spectre of Communism in Africa, actual Communist activity was in fact quite small. The onset of the Second World War pushed colonial issues to the background, but as Derrick argues, in the long term the anti-colonialists of the interwar era helped pave the way for later decolonisation.


CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title for 2009

‘This is an impressive and scholarly synthesis of a huge amount of historical data that succeeds in presenting a strong narrative of African agitation against colonial rule at the height of European imperialism. As such, this project makes a novel contribution to knowledge.’ – Dr Robert Shilliam, Oxford University

‘This is a work that not only synthesises a great deal of information, but also unearths new material from the archives. Many years in preparation, it marks a substantial contribution to historical knowledge.’ — Stephen Ellis, Afrika-Studiecentrum, Leiden

‘A brilliant study of the relationships between African nationalists and socialist and communist movements both in Africa and in the diaspora. Derrick has traced a very wide range of primary sources, and the book is roughly evenly balanced between an examination of agitation relating to British colonies and French colonies, with considerable attention given to South Africa. … I learned more about socialist and nationalism across Africa than from reading dozens of standard single country histories. This is a fascinating study and one that was enjoyable to read.’ — The Chartist

‘[Done] with such thoroughness and skill that, henceforth, this work will have to be the foundation reading for anyone beginning to venture into the field of African nationalism and modern politics.’ — Choice

‘Derrick’s background as a scholar and journalist is evident in this book . . .This survey is a valuable addition to the scholarship on the anticolonial movements in Africa and Europe.’ — Journal of World History

Africa’s Agitators covers a remarkably wide range of personalities and events. There is a lot to absorb here, but it is a book well worth reading.’ — Charles Cobb Jr., African Studies Review

‘a richly detailed, well-researched study of African political activism between the two World Wars … an important contribution to an under-explored period in African history. Derrick presents a study that is valuable for both its breadth of information and the arguments it raises for the role of Africa in global anti-imperialism during the first half of the twentieth century.’ — Benjamin Talton, International Journal of African History Studies


Jonathan Derrick is a freelance editor and scholar who served twenty years on the editorial staff of West Africa magazine. He has authored several scholarly articles on African history, and Africa’s ‘Agitators’: Militant Anti-Colonialism in Africa and the West, 1918-1939 and Africa, Empire and Fleet Street, both published by Hurst.

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