History of WASU


Founded in London August 1925 by Ladipo Solanke and Herbert Bankole-Bright, a member of the National Congress of British West Africa, the West African Students’ Union (WASU) became the key political, social and cultural organisation for West Africans in Britain and the main African organisation in the country for over thirty years.

The WASU developed out of the activities of earlier student organizations such as the Union of Students of African Descent and the Nigeria Progress Union, established by Ladipo Solanke and Amy Ashwood Garvey in London in July 1924.

The WASU campaigned against racism in Britain and against colonialism and for independence in West Africa. Its activities included producing a journal, Wasu, and founding four hostels in London to provide lodgings and a ‘home from home’ for West African students and other African visitors at a time when as a result of racism and the ‘colour bar’ it was difficult or impossible for them to secure accommodation.

The WASU acted as a training ground for future West African politicians and from the late 1930s established branches and distributed its journal throughout West Africa and internationally. Through its branches and individual links it was a major influence on the anti-colonial movements in Nigeria, the Gold Coast, Sierra Leone and Gambia. Its members included individuals who would play key roles in the anti-colonial struggles in West Africa, not least Kwame Nkrumah who led the Gold Coast/Ghana to independence in 1957.

In Britain the WASU maintained links with a host of organisations from the League of Coloured Peoples to the Communist Party and had its own parliamentary committee of MPs through whom it lobbied on African concerns in the House of Commons. It was one of the most important political organisations in Britain from the 1920s until the 1960s.

26   Comments

  1. This is a wonderful project and one I hope that grows not only to successfully archive and commemorate the actions of those pioneers who led the way, but also to inspire a new generation into organising to provide similar support and safe spaces for those dedicated to Pan African progress.

    Thank you all for undertaking this important work.

  2. The history of this organisation is truly amazing, and a reminder to us all just what can be achieved through education and collective action. An important part of British history, well documented as always. Keep up the good work!

    • A significant part of West Africa’s history too, illustrating that some of this history took place outside the African continent.

  3. Are there similar organisations to be found in America and France etc.?

  4. There certainly were similar organisations such as the African Students’ Association in the US and the Fédération des étudiants d’Afrique noire en France which both had links with the WASU

    • Did they have the same sort of significance in terms of their role in the development of Pan-Africanism?

      • All made their contribution but the WASU in Britain was significant not only for its contribution to the development of Pan-Africanism but also its significant role in political life in Britain and West Africa. It was the WASU in London that first called for self-government in Britain’s West African colonies. Its influence seems to have been very widespread. We have, for example, recently been informed that one of Solanke’s articles was published in Brazil.

        • Perhaps a page of links, to the other unions, for example (if they have websites), and other relevant organisations/resources, would be a good addition to the website?

  5. Congratulations on this initiative! This is very exciting and I hope lots of former WASU members (or their children and grandchildren) will be able to make their private records available to this project. I hope all of of us will reach out to people we know who may have been involved to let them know of this and encourage them to get in touch.

    Good luck and thanks for undertaking this!

  6. The stories being collected and shared through this documentary will be of great interest to those of us with an interest in history and especially the history of Africa and the Diaspora. Too little is known about many of the experiences of those people who were involved in the Pan-Africanist movement and how their struggles have shaped much of what came to past in the years following. I look forward to seeing this. Best of luck in your endeavours.

  7. This is a great initiative and very informative. Thank you!

  8. The stories and the work of the WASU will now be available to be shared with generations of youngsters and the families of those who played a role in shaping and encouraging change. Having documentaries like this available is not just important for recording what has happened, but hearing stories directly from those people still with us who were involved. Audio visuals capture something extra and you truly feel and see the emotions from those who lived during that time. Having these primary sources of information to document is so very important, before we loose them. Good work , this is very pleasing and exciting.

  9. Hi Hakim,
    Great website and fascinating project. I enjoyed the interactive map.
    Looking forwarding to the film,
    Hugo

  10. Hi Hakim a very engaging piece of historical research. You have really brought WASU’s story to life in an interactive way. The story is well documented and clearly written. It is great to have sight of the original photos of the group. The story of WASU needs to be incorporated in UK history curricula from KS3 to hisory degrees

  11. Phoebe Flanigan
    March 13, 2012 at 10:39 pm

    I’m so excited about this website– it is wonderful to see the WASU be recognized in this way, and I’ll be very interested to follow the histories that emerge as this project continues to unfold!

  12. Makeda Coaston
    March 20, 2012 at 1:40 pm

    This is valuable historical information that will now be more widely shared, nationally and internationally, due to this project. WASU demonstrates the legacy of struggle and solidarity that was achieved in the UK Black community from this early period; shedding light on how African people worked together in spite of hard and trying circumstances. We will be reminded that ‘we stand on the shoulders of those who came before us’ who refused to close their eyes to oppression and injustice.

  13. Abiodun Akiwumi
    May 3, 2012 at 5:23 pm

    Hello. This is a superb effort to preserve an important part of our heritage.

    I believe that my grandfather was one of the 21 founding members of WASU. He was a law student who became a judge in Abeokuta in Nigeria. His name was Abiola Akiwumi and he apparently wrote at least one article in the first and second WASU publication. He was a contemporary of Adetokunbo Ademola (mentioned in the video?). Unfortunately he died at a young age and my relatives who could have told me a lot about him are also dead and I’m finding it hard to get information about him from other sources. Can anybody help me in this quest?

    Thank you in anticipation 🙂

  14. Onyekachi Wambu
    July 25, 2013 at 8:13 am

    Hakim – thanks for this amazing work. Hope it grows and we are able to fully capture the impact of this group on black and African politics

  15. Reading this I have learnt a lot which has enhanced my studies

  16. Mario E. E. S. Brito
    December 16, 2014 at 11:52 am

    Hello Hakim,
    I’m from Brazil and I would like to thank you for this project. But I didn’t find any credits of the photos: where, when, who did take them. I would like to know about those things.
    Thanks!

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