Freetown, Sierra Leone and World War II: Assessing the Impact of the War and the Contributions Made

Seminar date: 
17 March 2011
15.30 - 17.00u
Pieter de la Courtgebouw / Faculty of Social Sciences, Wassenaarseweg 52, 2333 AK Leiden
Seminar room: 
1A21 (first floor)

This seminar is a joint initiative of the ASC and the Department of Cultural Anthropology, Leiden University.

Freetown, the capital of the British West-African colony of Sierra Leone, was central to the Allies’ strategy during World War II. It served as a convoy station, with up to 200 cargo and military vessels moving in and out of is well-protected harbour at the height of wartime activities. In 1939, Great Britain introduced a general militarization of the city and the US built installations and stationed officers and troops there.

Freetown’s population doubled in size in less than two years during the war as tens of thousands of men worked on construction sites and the docks or were recruited into military units. African women were affected by the changes too. The authorities used the law, propaganda, cooptation, threats and punishments to gain city dwellers’ consent to war-time demands. Africans made many sacrifices but also went on strike in an attempt to get higher wages and improved living conditions. They protested unfair prices, circumvented controls and challenged racism on the streets and in the barracks.

This case study, using archival and oral records, is part of a project by a group of scholars to assess the impact of global forces on Africa during World War II and to measure Africa’s economic and other contributions to the war. The Freetown study shows that global forces were both realized and buffered through complex processes of coercion, regulation, confrontation, resistance and accommodation.

Additional speaker information: 

Allen M. Howard has recently retired as Professor of African and World History at Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey, US. He has published widely on African cities, ethnicity, trade and traders, and the application of spatial analysis to African history. His recent publications include a co-edited book entitled The Spatial Factor in Africa History: The Relationship of the Social, Material, and Perceptual (Brill, 2005); ‘Nineteenth-Century Coastal Slave Trading and the British Abolition Campaign in Sierra Leone’, Slavery and Abolition, 27 (2006); and ‘Mande Kola Traders of Northwestern Sierra Leone, late 1700s to 1930’, Mande Studies 9 (2007).