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Decolonisation of Africa

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Decolonisation of Africa

African countries in order of independence

The decolonization of Africa followed World War II as colonized peoples agitated for independence and colonial powers withdrew their administrators from Africa.[1]

The only two world powers to officially and actively support African decolonization through the entire 20th century were the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China — all others varied their opinions from the strong and stubborn defense of colonialism to a half-hearted support to fait-accompli situations.


During the Scramble for Africa in the late nineteenth century, Western European powers divided Africa and its resources into political partitions at the Berlin Conference of 1884-85. By 1905, control of almost all African soil was claimed by Western European governments, with the only exceptions being Liberia (which had been settled by African-American former slaves) and Ethiopia (which had successfully resisted colonization by Italy). Britain and France had the largest holdings, but Germany, Spain, Italy, Belgium, and Portugal also had colonies. As a result of colonialism and imperialism, Africa lost not only its sovereignty, but also control of its natural resources like gold and rubber. Europeans often justified this using the concept of the White Man's Burden, an obligation to "civilize" the peoples of Africa.

Critics say that the process of African decolonization from the 1950s to the 1970s turned what were relatively well-ordered and peaceful territories administered by the efficient bureaucracies and legal traditions of the Western European empires into violent, inefficient and corrupt socialist dictatorships or right-wing family dictatorships with little regard for international rule of law and human rights and riddled with civil-turf wars, barbaric political purges, mass refugee crises, famines and ethnic conflict.[2]


World War II saw the British African colonies support the Allies against the Axis powers, but with no mention of independence for African nations. German wartime propaganda had a part in this defiance of British rule. Imperial Japan's conquests in the Far East caused a shortage of raw materials such as rubber and various minerals. Africa was therefore forced to compensate for this shortage and greatly benefited from this change. Another key problem the Europeans faced were the U-boats patrolling the Atlantic Ocean. This reduced the amount of raw materials being transported to Europe and prompted the creation of local industries in Africa. Local industries in turn caused the creation of new towns, and existing towns doubled in size. As urban community and industry grew so did trade unions. In addition to trade unions, urbanization brought about increased literacy, which allowed for pro-independence newspapers.

On February 12th, 1941, United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill met to discuss the postwar world. The result was the Atlantic Charter. It was not a treaty and was not submitted to the British Parliament or the Senate of the United States for ratification, but it turned to be a widely acclaimed document.[3] One of the provisions, introduced by Roosevelt, was the autonomy of imperial colonies. After World War II, the US and the African colonies put pressure on Britain to abide by the terms of the Atlantic Charter. After the war, the British still considered their African colonies as "children" and "immature"; they introduced democratic government only at the local levels.

By the 1930s, the colonial powers had cultivated (sometimes inadvertently) a small elite of leaders educated in Western universities and familiar with ideas such as self-determination. These leaders, including leading nationalists such as Jomo Kenyatta (Kenya), Kwame Nkrumah (Gold Coast, now Ghana), Julius Nyerere (Tanzania), Léopold Sédar Senghor (Senegal), and Félix Houphouët-Boigny (Côte d'Ivoire), came to lead the struggles for independence.


Dates of independence of African countries
Country[4] Colonial name Colonial power[5] Independence date[6] First head of state Independence won through
Libya Italian Libya; Allied Military Administration Italy
United Kingdom
December 24, 1951 King Idris I Western Desert Campaign
Egypt British Egypt United Kingdom 1922/1936/1952[7] Sarwat Pasha, Farouk, 1952 Egyptian revolution[7]
Sudan Anglo-Egyptian Sudan United Kingdom[10]
1 January 1956 Ismail al-Azhari Condominium ended
Tunisia French protectorate of Tunisia France March 20, 1956 Muhammad VIII al-Amin -
Morocco Protectorate of Morocco France
April 7, 1956[11] Mohammed V Rif War, Ifni War
Ghana Gold Coast United Kingdom[12] Britain March 6, 1957 Kwame Nkrumah -
Guinea French Guinea (part of French West Africa) France October 2, 1958 Sékou Touré -
Cameroon Cameroun France
United Kingdom
January 1, 1960[13] Ahmadou Ahidjo UPC rebellion
Togo French Togoland France April 27, 1960 Sylvanus Olympio -
Mali French Sudan (part of French West Africa) France June 20, 1960[14] Modibo Keita -
Senegal part of French West Africa France June 20, 1960[14] Léopold Senghor -
Madagascar Malagasy Protectorate France June 26, 1960 Philibert Tsiranana Malagasy Uprising
Democratic Republic of the Congo Belgian Congo Belgium June 30, 1960 Joseph Kasa-Vubu and Patrice Lumumba Congo Crisis
Somalia[15] British Somaliland
Italian Somaliland
United Kingdom
June 26, 1960
July 1, 1960
Muhammad Haji Ibrahim Egal
Aden Abdullah Osman Daar
Benin French Dahomey (part of French West Africa) France August 1, 1960[16] Hubert Maga -
Niger Colony of Niger (part of French West Africa) France August 3, 1960 Hamani Diori -
Burkina Faso French Upper Volta (part of French West Africa) France August 5, 1960 Maurice Yaméogo -
Côte d'Ivoire Ivory Coast (part of French West Africa) France August 7, 1960 Félix Houphouët-Boigny -
Chad French Chad (part of French Equatorial Africa) France August 11, 1960 François Tombalbaye -
Central African Republic Ubangi-Shari (part of French Equatorial Africa) France August 13, 1960 David Dacko -
Republic of the Congo French Congo (part of French Equatorial Africa) France August 15, 1960 Fulbert Youlou -
Gabon part of French Equatorial Africa France August 17, 1960 Léon M'ba
Nigeria British Nigeria United Kingdom October 1, 1960 [17] Nnamdi Azikiwe -
Mauritania part of French West Africa France November 28, 1960 Moktar Ould Daddah -
Sierra Leone Sierra Leone United Kingdom April 27, 1961 Milton Margai -
South Africa Union of South Africa United Kingdom 1910/1931/1961[18] James Barry Munnik Hertzog -
Tanzania[19] Tanganyika
United Kingdom December 9, 1961
December 10, 1963
Julius Nyerere
Jamshid ibn Abdullah
Rwanda part of Ruanda-Urundi Belgium July 1, 1962 Grégoire Kayibanda - [20]
Burundi part of Ruanda-Urundi Belgium July 1, 1962 André Muhirwa -
Algeria French Algeria France July 3, 1962 Ahmed Ben Bella Algerian War of Independence
Uganda Uganda Protectorate United Kingdom October 9, 1962 Milton Obote -
Kenya Kenya Colony United Kingdom December 12, 1963 Jomo Kenyatta Mau Mau Uprising (debated)
Malawi Nyasaland Protectorate United Kingdom July 6, 1964 Hastings Kamuzu Banda -
Zambia Northern Rhodesia United Kingdom October 24, 1964 Kenneth Kaunda -
The Gambia Gambia Colony and Protectorate United Kingdom February 18, 1965 Dawda Kairaba Jawara -
Botswana Bechuanaland Protectorate United Kingdom September 30, 1966 Seretse Khama -
Lesotho Basutoland United Kingdom October 4, 1966 Leabua Jonathan -
Namibia South West Africa South Africa October 27, 1966 (De jure)[21]
March 21, 1990 (De facto)
Sam Nujoma Namibian War of Independence
Mauritius United Kingdom March 12, 1968 -
Swaziland Swaziland United Kingdom September 6, 1968 Sobhuza II -
Equatorial Guinea Spanish Guinea Spain October 12, 1968 Francisco Macías Nguema -
Guinea-Bissau Portuguese Guinea Portugal September 24, 1973 Luís Cabral Guinea-Bissau War of Independence/Portuguese Colonial War
Mozambique Portuguese East Africa Portugal June 25, 1975 Samora Machel Mozambican War of Independence/Portuguese Colonial War
Cape Verde Portugal July 5, 1975 influenced by Guinea-Bissau War of Independence
Comoros French Madagascar, French Comoros France
July 6, 1975 -
São Tomé and Príncipe Portugal July 12, 1975 -
Angola Portuguese West Africa Portugal November 11, 1975 Agostinho Neto Angolan War of Independence/Portuguese Colonial War
Seychelles United Kingdom June 29, 1976 James Richard Marie Mancham -
Djibouti French Somaliland France June 27, 1977 Hassan Gouled Aptidon -
Zimbabwe Southern Rhodesia United Kingdom April 18, 1980[22] Canaan Banana Lancaster House Agreement
Sahrawi Republic[24] Spanish Sahara;
Moroccan Sahara
February 27, 1976;
Independence not effectuated over most of the territory
El-Ouali Mustapha Sayed;
Mohamed Abdelaziz
Western Sahara War;
Saharawi Intifada

See also


  1. ^ Birmingham, David (1995). The Decolonization of Africa. Routledge. ISBN . 
  2. ^ Africa 'better in colonial times', BBC News, 22 September 2004
  3. ^ Karski, Jan (2014). The Great Powers and Poland: From Versailles to Yalta. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 330. ISBN . Retrieved 24 June 2014. 
  4. ^ Timeline list arranged according to current countries. Explanatory notes are added in cases where decolonization was achieved jointly or where the current state is formed by merger of previously decolonized states.
  5. ^ Some territories changed hands multiple times, so in the list is mentioned the last colonial power. In addition to it the mandatory or trustee powers are mentioned for territories that were League of Nations mandates and UN Trust Territories.
  6. ^ Date of decolonization for territories annexed by or integrated into previously decolonized independent countries are given in separate notes.
  7. ^ a b On 28 February 1922 the British government issued the Unilateral Declaration of Egyptian Independence. Through this declaration, the British government unilaterally ended its protectorate over Egypt and granted it nominal independence with the exception of four "reserved" areas: foreign relations, communications, the military and the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan.[8] The Anglo–Egyptian treaty of 1936 reduced British involvement, but still was not welcomed by Egyptian nationalists, who wanted full independence from Britain, which was not achieved until the 1952 revolution. The last British troops left Egypt after the Suez Crisis of 1956.
  8. ^ King, Joan Wucher (1989) [First published 1984]. Historical Dictionary of Egypt. Books of Lasting Value. American University in Cairo Press. pp. 259–260. ISBN . 
  9. ^ Robert O. Collins, A History of Modern Sudan
  10. ^ Anglo-Egyptian Condominium Agreement of 1899, stated that Sudan should be jointly governed by Egypt and Britain, but with real power remaining in British hands.[9]
  11. ^ Cape Juby was ceded by Spain to Morocco on 2 April 1958. Ifni was returned from Spain to Morocco on 4 January 1969.
  12. ^ The British Togoland mandate and trust territory was integrated into Gold Coast colony on 13 December 1956.
  13. ^ After the French Cameroun mandate and trust territory gained independence it was joined by part of the British Cameroons mandate and trust territory on October 1, 1961. The other part of British Cameroons joined Nigeria.
  14. ^ a b Senegal and French Sundan gained independence on 20 June 1960 as the Mali Federation, which dissolved a few months later into present day Senegal and Mali.
  15. ^ The Trust Territory of Somalia (former Italian Somaliland) united with the State of Somaliland (former British Somaliland) on July 1, 1960 to form the Somali Republic.
  16. ^ Independent Benin unilaterally annexed Portuguese São João Baptista de Ajudá in 1961.
  17. ^ Part of the British Cameroons mandate and trust territory on October 1, 1961 joined Nigeria. The other part of British Cameroons joined the previously decolonized French Cameroun mandate and territory.
  18. ^ The Union of South Africa was constituted through the South Africa Act entering into force on 31 May 1910. On 11 December 1931 it got increased self-governance powers through the Statute of Westminster which was followed by transformation into republic after the 1960 referendum. Afterwards, South Africa was under apartheid regime until elections resulting from the negotiations to end apartheid in South Africa on 27 April 1994 when Nelson Mandela became president.
  19. ^ After both gained independence Tanganyika and Zanzibar merged on 26 April 1964
  20. ^ See Rwandan Revolution.
  21. ^ UN resolution 2145 terminated South Africa's mandate over Namibia, making it de jure independent. South Africa did not relinquish the territory until 1990
  22. ^ Unilaterally declared independence in 1965 as Rhodesia, followed by attempted Internal Settlement in 1979 as Zimbabwe-Rhodesia; both states were unrecognised by the United Kingdom. British-organised elections were held in early 1980 involving the Zimbabwe African Peoples Union and Zimbabwe African National Union as stipulated in the Lancaster House Agreement.
  23. ^ UN General Assembly Resolution 34/37 and UN General Assembly Resolution 35/19
  24. ^ The Spanish colonial rule de facto terminated over the Western Sahara (then Rio de Oro), when the territory was passed on to and partitioned between Mauritania and Morocco (which annexed the entire territory in 1979), rendering the declared independence of the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic ineffective to the present day (it controls only a small portion east of the Moroccan Wall). The UN still considers Spain as administrating country of the whole territory,[23] awaiting the outcome of the ongoing Manhasset negotiations and resulting election to be overseen by the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara. However, the de facto administrator is Morocco (see United Nations list of Non-Self-Governing Territories).


  • Ali A. Mazrui ed. "General History of Africa" vol. VIII, UNESCO, 1993
  • April A. Gordon and Donald L. Gordon, Lynne Riener. "Understanding Contemporary Africa" London, 1996
  • Dávila, Jerry. "Hotel Tropico: Brazil and the challenge of African Decolonization, 1950–1980." Duke University Press, 2010. ISBN 978-0822348559
  • Diueter Rothermund. "The Routledge Companion to Decolonization" Arlington & New York: Routledge, 2006
  • Kevin Shillington "History of Africa" St. Martin's Press, New York, 1995 (1989)
  • Michael Crowder. "The Story of Nigeria" Faber and Faber, London, 1978 (1962)
  • Vincent B. Khapoya. "The African Experience" Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, NJ, 1998 (1994)

External links

  • Africa: 50 years of independence Radio France Internationale in English
  • "Winds of Change or Hot Air? Decolonization and the Salt Water Test" Legal Frontiers International Law Blog
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