The African Toll of the Great War, in Song and Shadows


Though only some of this year’s centenary commemorations have acknowledged it, the European armies fighting in the trenches comprised more than Europeans alone. World War I was also fought by African, Asian, Caribbean and Polynesian troops, who came to the Western Front by choice or conscription. Even less acknowledged is the death toll of soldiers, laborers and civilians on the African continent, whose fatalities probably exceeded one million, according to the International Encyclopedia of the First World War. From Namibia to Morocco, Cameroon to Tanzania, Africans served, fought and succumbed to violence or disease — and when it was over, the powers signing the peace treaty in Versailles gave them nothing at all.

The South African artist William Kentridge has turned to this shamefully…

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