Case Studies: Five African Nations

Making accurate generalizations about Africa is difficult. Every nation is different. Some nations have rich resources to help finance progress. Others are poor in resources. Each has its own set of problems and its own history. To gain a better understanding of the process of nation-building in Africa, we will examine the histories of five important nations.


In 1957, Ghana was the first African nation south of the Sahara to win independence. Britain had called this colony Gold Coast, for its rich mineral resources. Under independence leader Kwame Nkrumah, it took the name Ghana, after the ancient West African kingdom.

As president, Nkrumah supported socialism and government ownership of major industries. He backed the building of a huge dam to provide electric power, but the project left Ghana with massive debts. Nkrumah's government became increasingly corrupt and dictatorial. In 1966, Nkrumah was toppled by the first of several military coups.

In the 1980s, Jerry Rawlings, a military officer, took power in a coup. He strengthened the economy and moved Ghana toward democracy. In 1992, Rawlings allowed multiparty elections and was chosen president. Other elections followed. Although the economy suffered from falling prices for its main exports of cocoa and gold, Ghana made progress toward improving life for its people. The recent discovery of offshore oil raised hopes for more economic growth.

Photo of two armed soldiers keeping a group of African men and boys crouched in the center of a village.

In this image, British troops search a village in Kenya seeking people who participated in the Mau Mau Rebellion.


While Ghana made a peaceful transition to freedom, Kenya faced an armed struggle. Under colonial rule, white settlers carved out plantations on lands once occupied by the Kikuyu (kee KOO yoo), Kenya's largest ethnic group. White Kenyans then passed laws to ensure their domination over the black majority. Nationalist leader and Kikuyu spokesman Jomo Kenyatta called for nonviolent resistance to end oppressive laws.

In the 1950s, some black Kenyans turned to guerrilla warfare, attacking and killing white settlers. The British called them Mau Mau. Claiming that he was a secret leader of the Mau Mau, the British imprisoned Kenyatta. Both sides committed terrible atrocities during this period, and thousands of Kikuyu were killed. In 1963, the British finally withdrew, and Kenyatta became the first president of an independent Kenya.

Kenyatta and his successor dominated the country for decades. They limited freedom of expression and suppressed other parties. Unrest and international pressure forced Kenya to restore multiparty rule in the 1990s.

Since then, Kenya has faced many challenges from high unemployment to periodic droughts. Corruption and disputed elections have sparked violence and ethnic unrest. With its many national parks and game reserves, tourism is a major industry in Kenya, so any conflict hurts this vital source of income. In 2013 the country held tense but largely peaceful elections.


Like Kenya, French-ruled Algeria had a large population of European settlers who saw the country as their homeland. France, too, had come to see Algeria as part of their country. From 1954 to 1962, a long, costly war of liberation raged in Algeria.

Algerian nationalists set up the National Liberation Front, which used guerrilla warfare to win freedom. France, which had just lost Vietnam, was unwilling to retreat from Algeria. As the war dragged, both sides suffered huge casualties. Finally, French public opinion turned against the war, and Algeria won independence.

After independence, Algeria suffered periods of military rule and internal conflict. During the 1990s, a civil war erupted between the military and Islamist militants after the government rejected an election won by an Islamist party. Islamists are people who want a government based on Islamic law and beliefs.

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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments