This paper proposes rethinking nationalism as a political ideology and force in Africa outside the boundaries of the postcolonial African state. It argues against national histories and for histories of the construction of African nationalisms. In analysing the anti‐colonial basis of nationalism globally, it argues that the basis for African nationalism is similar to and not distinct from dominant nationalist processes elsewhere. The paper analyses the problematic historiography of African nationalism, arguing that the focus on political outcomes – the independent nation‐state – has distorted and distracted from a necessary historical focus on process, best understood as involving competing and contested nationalisms before and after national independence. Having identified a wave of recent literature that analyses such competing nationalisms across the continent, the paper sets out a research agenda for systematic historical analysis of African nationalism.