Real Lives: Independent African

Historian feature

Joe Wilkinson, last updated: 16th August 2019

The Reverend John Chilembwe

Joe Wilkinson explores a little-known colonial revolt in 1915 in Nyasaland (modern day Malawi) led by an African pastor which was a precursor for ‘The Winds of Change’ but at the time was doomed to failure.

Mention ‘Decolonisation of Africa’ and what names roll off the tongue? Nkrumah? Kenyatta? Lumumba? Nyerere? Maybe even Milton Obote? Undoubtedly these people deserve their place in history but a name that probably wouldn’t be on most people’s list when it comes to those who tried to remove Europeans from Africa is the Reverend John Chilembwe.

John Chilembwe led one of Africa’s least-known uprisings, which took place on 23 to 24 January 1915, in the south of Nyasaland (modern day Malawi), aiming to remove European rule. On the face of it, the uprising was not very successful; poor planning and bad luck meant that Chilembwe ended up dead on the 3 February, riddled with bullets as he tried to flee. However, he is still seen as a hero to many people, a ‘necessary martyr in a development he knew would come later.’...

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