It is exactly 101 years since the World War I (The Great War) officially ended. Four years into the war which started in 1914, the feuding factions arrived at a truce on November 11, 1918 at 11am.
Since then November 11 has been set aside as the Armistice Day – to mark the pact between the Allies and Germany to halt fighting. The agreement was signed in Compiegne, Northern France.
The World War I was between the Allied Powers comprising France, Russia, Britain and at some point the U.S, and the Central Powers which included Germany, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire, and Bulgaria.
The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand – heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire – and his wife, Sophie, by the Serbian nationalist Gavrilo Princip on June 28, 1914 sparked the war. Princip and other nationalists were keen on ending Austro-Hungarian rule over Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The revolt took a global turn leading to unprecedented carnage and destruction. Over 16 million people made up of nine million soldiers and civilians died during the war with 21 million others getting injured during the four-year global dispute.
In all Germany and France – the two countries which sent 80 percent of their male populations between the ages of 15 and 49 into battle – were the most affected in the Great War.
But how did Africa get involved in the war being fought in far way Europe?
“The First World War had a considerable impact on African colonies because European powers requisitioned their labor and their resources,” said historian Bill Nasson of the University of Cape Town in a Washington Times article.
The end of the war, actually, was the beginning of the end of German colonial rule in Africa. About two million Africans laid down their lives for Europe during the war.
France in particular resorted to the use of African troops, especially Senegalese riflemen during the World War I to fight for the German colony of Togo. They also exploited Senegalese troops to invade places such as Gallipoli which is today’s Turkey.
The Europeans used Africans in labor units during the war as military service was considered risky — stoking fears that blacks “may get ideas beyond their station,” said World War I historian Albert Grundlingh of the University of Stellenbosch.
At a point, Africa became an integral part of the war far away from European battlefields. South Africa fought under the British flag in the scramble for today’s Namibia then known as German Southwest Africa and German East Africa – Burundi, Rwanda and Tanzania. Britain augmented its forces with men from Nigeria, the Gold Coast (now Ghana), Sierra Leone, Gambia, Uganda, Nyasaland (Malawi), Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) and Kenya.
A memorial in honour of Africans who joined in the battle for France stands at Delville Wood, near the town of Longueval, commemorating the Battle of the Somme from July to November 1916.
Germany was a principal player in the global battle, especially in Africa, however, the armistice forced the European country to evacuate countries and territories it had invaded and this dragged on for another two weeks in Africa.
The main architect behind this delay was German commander, Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck, who had been on a guerrilla campaign in East Africa against Britain imperial forces.
Reports say he forced Africans to act as his porters and devastating the economy of the local villages.
“Lettow-Vorbeck had been forced into Portuguese Mozambique by November 1918, but he still had some 3,000 troops under his command and he was still launching raids into Southern Rhodesia when news reached him of the armistice in Europe.
“Unlike the German army in Europe, Vorbeck could regard his own force as undefeated, and he decided to end the African war at a time of his own choosing. He formally surrendered to the British in Northern Rhodesia (modern Zambia) on 25 November, two weeks after the Armistice in Europe,” a report said.