by Fadekemi Azeezat Sulaiman
Today marks the centenary anniversary of World War I, one of the deadliest battles in history. The 4 year war between August 1914 and November 1918 resulted in the deaths of more than 9 million soldiers.
While the background of the war might sound a bit complicated to Africans and people of non white origins, the notion that people of other ethnicities have no links to the war is not exactly accurate.
Africans and indeed other ethnicities particularly within the commonwealth should be joining in todays activities remembering the fallen heroes who took part in that brutal war because, unbeknownst to many, some of our great grandfathers fought in that war.
For most of the men enlisted to fight, they, like many of us today only knew that there was a threat to the British empire in Europe led by the Germans, (although the history is much more complicated than this as Russia and France and host of other European countries were involved) and being a British colony, Nigerians were amongst the Africans who were drafted in to fight.
Other African countries who sent in troops and in many cases, young black men who were forced to join or lured by the promise of great pay included Egypt, Kenya and Cameroon, Uganda and Senegal all of whom fought gallantly during the war.
Some of the recorded memoirs from those involved in recruiting for the army include that of Buganda chief Samwiri Mukasa.
“This is one of the most important services that I have done for the peace of the protecting government and for the peace of the whole world.
A war against Britain was a war against Buganda, and so, when I was appointed to lead some soldiers, I at once left for Kampala with 5,000 men. There I was told not to go to the battlefield at once, but to wait in my country and do as I was directed. While waiting, these are some of the things I did:
(a) I did all I could to recruit men for the armies.
(b) I sent in a lot of carriers.
(c) I very much encouraged the growing of food…
(d) I encouraged further the growing of cotton…
(e) Because I very much wanted peace I tried my best to get into contact with the British armies for I did not want the enemy to get to our city London.” (source: bbc- The story of Africa)
Although, officially no one was supposed to be forced to join the army, some inevitably were and this was documented in one of the soldiers memoirs:
“We came back one night from our yam farm. The chief called us and handed us over to a government messenger. I didn’t know where we were going, but the chief and the messenger said that the white man had sent for us and we must go. After three days we reached the white man’s compound.
Plenty of others had arrived from other villages far away. And the white man wrote our names in a book. And tied a brass numbered ticket round our necks and gave each man a blanket and food.
Then he told us we were going to the Great War to help the king’s soldiers who were preventing the Germans coming to our country and burning it. We left and marched far into the bush. The government police led the way and allowed no man to stop behind.”
All in all, over 2 million men were said to have been involved in the war although not many of them were actually combatant as most were used as porters to carry soldiers and war supplies. Still, hundreds of thousands lost their lives and those men along with all the other soldiers who laid down their lives for peace are all remembered today even if they aren’t publicly acknowledged like their European counterparts, we remember our heroes.