The decolonisation of Africa took place in the mid-to-late 1950s, very suddenly, with little preparation. There was widespread unrest and organized revolts in both Northern and sub-Saharan colonies, especially in French Algeria, Portuguese Angola, the Belgian Congo and British Kenya.
The "Scramble for Africa" between 1870 and 1900 ended with almost all of Africa being controlled by European states. Racing to secure as much land as possible while avoiding conflict amongst themselves, the partition of Africa was confirmed in the Berlin Agreement of 1885, with little regard to local differences. 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 colonisation 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, a majority of Africa lost sovereignty and control of natural resources such as gold and rubber. The introduction of imperial policies surfacing around local economies led to the failing of local economies due to an exploitation of resources and cheap labor. Progress towards independence was slow up until the mid-20th century. By 1977, 54 African countries had seceded from European colonial rulers.
During WWI and WWII, African soldiers were conscripted into imperial militaries. This led to a deeper political awareness and the expectation of greater respect and self-determination, which was left largely unfulfilled. During the 1941 Atlantic Conference, the British and the US leaders met to discuss ideas for the post-war world. One of the provisions added by President Roosevelt was that all people had the right to self-determination, inspiring hope in British colonies.
On February 12, 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. 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, some British considered African colonies to be childish and immature; British colonisers introduced democratic government at local levels in the colonies. Britain was forced to agree but Churchill rejected universal applicability of self-determination for subject nations. He also stated that the Charter was only applicable to German occupation states, not to the British Empire.
For early African nationalists, decolonization was a moral imperative. In 1945 the Fifth Pan-African Congress demanded the end of colonialism. Delegates included future presidents of Ghana, Kenya, Malawi and national activists.
Colonial economic exploitation led to European extraction of Ghana's mining profits to shareholders, instead of internal development, causing major local socioeconomic grievances. Nevertheless, local African industry and towns expanded when U-boats patrolling the Atlantic Ocean reduced raw material transportation to Europe. In turn, urban communities, industries and trade unions grew, improving literacy and education, leading to pro-independence newspaper establishments.
Indeed, in 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. In some cases where the road to independence was fought, settled arrangements with the colonial powers were also being placed. These leaders came to lead the struggles for independence, and included leading nationalists such as Jomo Kenyatta (Kenya), Kwame Nkrumah (Gold Coast, now Ghana), Julius Nyerere (Tanganyika, now Tanzania), Léopold Sédar Senghor (Senegal), Nnamdi Azikiwe (Nigeria), and Félix Houphouët-Boigny (Côte d'Ivoire).
The economic legacy of colonialism is difficult to quantify but is likely to have been negative. Modernisation theory emphasises that colonial powers built infrastructure to integrate Africa into the world economy, however, this was built mainly for extraction purposes. African economies were structured to benefit the coloniser and any surplus was likely to be 'drained', thereby stifling capital accumulation.Dependency theory suggests that most African economies continued to occupy a subordinate position in the world economy after independence with a reliance on primary commodities such as copper in Zambia and tea in Kenya. Despite this continued reliance and unfair trading terms, a meta-analysis of 18 African countries found that a third of countries experienced increased economic growth post-independence.
The debts of African economies are external and one-sided. While the USA and the UK have gross external debts of 95% and 400% respectively, these debts are balanced by the countries being major lenders. This is not the case for African nations which do not own as many assets or debts to balance the burden. The debt situation in sub-Saharan Africa means that the world's poorest countries were transferring $3 billion US dollars to developed countries between 1995 and 2000. This is exacerbated by interest and principal arrears which made up over 27% of total external debt for sub-Saharan nations in 1998. This causes two main problems: firstly, servicing the debt means less money is available for importing goods, secondly debt creates uncertainty and risk which puts off investors and reduces business confidence.
Over 2,000 distinct languages are spoken in the continent. Along with Africa's indigenous dialects - Afro-Asiatic, Kordofanian and Khoisan languages, many colonial languages are spoken today. For example, English is spoken in Ghana, Gambia and Kenya, French in Benin, Burkina-Faso and Cameroon, and Portuguese in Guinea-Bissau, Angola, São Tomé and Príncipe. Scholars including Dellal (2013), Miraftab (2012) and Bamgbose (2011) have argued that Africa's linguistic diversity has been eroded. Language has been used by western colonial powers to divide territories and create new identities which has led to conflicts and tensions between African nations.
Today, 93% of South Africa's land is still owned by 'descendants of white settlers' despite the political negotiation of the Native Land Act in 1913.[dubious ] King (1990) argued that 'space' is a mode of segregations, creating forms of inclusions and exclusions. Evidence is represented through different architecture designs, and distinct segregation of spaces (Zonification) in cities are still a feature in the colonial present. For example, the new development of the business improvement district in Cape Town portrays a similar image of the colonial era with embedded struggles in class, race, ethnicity and hierarchical differences.Decolonization marks one of the historical moments in which African countries increased its autonomous status from the impetus Western colonial powers. Echoes of the colonial past are still visible in the African society today because Ferguson (2006) stated there are still widespread social stigmas associated with the continent such as phrases of 'darkness' and 'troubled'. The representation of Africa, therefore, reveals the continual Western legacies of the colonial past and the struggles embedded in the countries.
Following World War II, rapid decolonization swept across the continent of Africa as many territories gained their independence from European colonization.
In August 1941, United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill met to discuss their post-war goals. In that meeting, they agreed to the Atlantic Charter, which in part stipulated that they would, "respect the right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they will live; and they wish to see sovereign rights and self government restored to those who have been forcibly deprived of them." This agreement became the post-WWII stepping stone toward independence as nationalism grew throughout Africa.
Consumed with post-war debt, European powers were no longer able to afford the resources needed to maintain control of their African colonies. This allowed for African nationalists to negotiate decolonization very quickly and with minimal casualties. Some territories, however, saw great death tolls as a result of their fight for independence.
Starting as early as the 1945 Pan-African Congress, Gold Coast's American-educated, independence leader Kwame Nkrumah made his focus clear. In the conference's declaration, he wrote, "we believe in the rights of all peoples to govern themselves. We affirm the right of all colonial peoples to control their own destiny. All colonies must be free from foreign imperialist control, whether political or economic."
Four years later in 1949, the conflict would ramp up when British troops opened fire on African protesters. Riots broke out across the territory and while Nkrumah and other leaders ended up in prison, the event became a catalyst for the independence movement. After being released from prison, Nkrumah founded the, Convention People's Party (CPP), which launched a mass-based campaign for independence with the slogan 'Self Government Now!'" Heightened nationalism within the country grew their power and the political party widely expanded. In February of 1951, the Convention People's Party gained political power by winning 34 of 38 elected seats, including one for Nkrumah who was imprisoned at the time. While the movement started with violence, it would end with political cooperation.
In Algeria, anti-colonialism sentiment grew following World War II until it reached a boiling point. Unlike many territories that gained their independence through a smooth transition, France believed the African colony was important and never met their promise of self-governance in Algeria. As a result the Front de Liberation Nationale (FLN) began a guerrilla-style attack to win their freedom. Lasting more than eight years, the estimated death toll typically falls between 300,000 and 400,000 people. By 1958, the FLN was able to negotiate peace accord with French President Charles de Gaulle and nearly 90% of all Europeans had left the territory.
This table is the arranged by the earliest date of independence in this graph; 58 countries have seceded.
|Country[a]||Colonial name||Colonial power[b]||Independence date[c]||First head of state[d]||Independence won through|
|Liberia||Liberia||United States||26 July 1847[e]||Joseph Jenkins Roberts[f]||Liberian Declaration of Independence|
|South Africa[g]|| Cape Colony
Colony of Natal
Orange River Colony
|United Kingdom||31 May 1910[h]||Louis Botha||South Africa Act 1909|
|Egypt[i]||Sultanate of Egypt||28 February 1922[j]||Fuad I[k]||Egyptian revolution of 1919|
|Eritrea||Italian Eritrea||Italy[l]||10 February 1947[m]||Haile Selassie[n]||-|
|Libya[o]|| British Military Administration[p]
Military Territory of Fezzan-Ghadames
| United Kingdom
|24 December 1951||Idris||-|
|Sudan||Anglo-Egyptian Sudan|| United Kingdom[q]
Republic of Egypt
|1 January 1956||Ismail al-Azhari||-|
|Tunisia[r]||French Protectorate of Tunisia||France||20 March 1956||Muhammad VIII al-Amin
|Morocco|| French Protectorate in Morocco
Tangier International Zone
Spanish Protectorate in Morocco
Spanish West Africa
|2 March 1956[t]
7 April 1956
10 April 1958
4 January 1969
|Mohammed V||Ifni War|
|Ghana[u]||Gold Coast||United Kingdom||6 March 1957[v]||Kwame Nkrumah[w]||Gold Coast legislative election, 1956|
|Guinea||French West Africa||France||2 October 1958||Sékou Touré||Guinean constitutional referendum, 1958|
|Cameroon||French Cameroons||France||1 January 1960[x]||Ahmadou Ahidjo||-[y]|
|Togo||French Togoland||France||27 April 1960||Sylvanus Olympio||-|
|Mali||French West Africa||20 June 1960[z]||Modibo Keita||-|
|Madagascar[aa]||French Madagascar||26 June 1960||Philibert Tsiranana||-[ab]|
|Democratic Republic of the Congo[ac]||Belgian Congo||Belgium||30 June 1960||Patrice Lumumba[ad]||Belgo-Congolese Round Table Conference[ae]|
|Somalia[af]|| British Somaliland
Trust Territory of Somaliland
| United Kingdom
|26 June 1960
1 July 1960[ag]
|Aden Abdullah Osman Daar||-|
|Benin[ah]||French West Africa||France||1 August 1960||Hubert Maga||-|
|Niger||3 August 1960||Hamani Diori||-|
|Burkina Faso[ai]||5 August 1960||Maurice Yaméogo||-|
|Ivory Coast||7 August 1960||Félix Houphouët-Boigny||-|
|Chad||French Equatorial Africa||11 August 1960||François Tombalbaye||-|
|Central African Republic||13 August 1960||David Dacko||-|
|Republic of the Congo||15 August 1960||Fulbert Youlou||-|
|Gabon||17 August 1960||Léon M'ba||-|
|Nigeria|| Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria
|United Kingdom||1 October 1960
1 June 1961
1 October 1961[aj]
|Mauritania||French West Africa||France||28 November 1960||Moktar Ould Daddah||-|
|Sierra Leone||Colony and Protectorate of Sierra Leone||United Kingdom||27 April 1961||Milton Margai||-|
|Tanganyika[ak]||Tanganyika Territory||9 December 1961||Julius Nyerere||-|
|Burundi[al]||Ruanda-Urundi||Belgium||1 July 1962||Mwambutsa IV of Burundi||-|
|Rwanda||Grégoire Kayibanda||Rwandan Revolution|
|Algeria||French Algeria||France||5 July 1962||Ahmed Ben Bella[am]||Algerian War|
|Uganda||Protectorate of Uganda||United Kingdom||9 October 1962||Milton Obote||-|
|Kenya||Colony and Protectorate of Kenya||12 December 1963[an]||Jomo Kenyatta[w]||-[ao]|
|Sultanate of Zanzibar[ak]||Sultanate of Zanzibar||10 December 1963||Jamshid bin Abdullah||-[ap]|
|Malawi||Nyasaland||6 July 1964[aq]||Hastings Banda[w]||-|
|Zambia||Northern Rhodesia||24 October 1964||Kenneth Kaunda||-|
|The Gambia||Gambia Colony and Protectorate||18 February 1965[ar]||Dawda Jawara[w]||-|
|Southern Rhodesia||11 November 1965
17 April 1980[as]
|Rhodesia's Unilateral Declaration of Independence|
Lancaster House Agreement
|Botswana||Bechuanaland Protectorate||30 September 1966[at]||Seretse Khama||-|
|Lesotho||Territory of Basutoland||4 October 1966||Leabua Jonathan[au]||-|
|Mauritius||Mauritius||12 March 1968||Veerasamy Ringadoo||-|
|Swaziland||Swaziland||6 September 1968||Sobhuza II||-|
|Equatorial Guinea||Spanish Territories of the Gulf of Guinea||Spain||12 October 1968||Francisco Macías Nguema||-|
|Guinea-Bissau||Overseas Province of Guinea||Portugal||10 September 1974[av]||Luís Cabral||Guinea-Bissau War of Independence|
|Mozambique[aw]||State of Mozambique||25 June 1975||Samora Machel||Mozambican War of Independence|
|Cape Verde||Overseas Province of Cape Verde||5 July 1975||Aristides Pereira[ax]||Guinea-Bissau War of Independence[ay]|
|Comoros||French Comoros||France||6 July 1975||Ahmed Abdallah||Comorian independence referendum, 1974|
|São Tomé and Príncipe||Overseas Province of São Tomé and Príncipe||Portugal||12 July 1975||Manuel Pinto da Costa||-|
|Angola[az]||State of Angola||11 November 1975||Agostinho Neto||Angolan War of Independence|
|Seychelles||Seychelles||United Kingdom||29 June 1976||James Richard Marie Mancham||-|
|Djibouti||French Territory of the Afars and the Issas||France||27 June 1977||Hassan Gouled Aptidon||Afars and Issas independence referendum, 1977|
|Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic[ba]|| Spanish Sahara
|27 February 1976
independence not yet effectuated
|El-Ouali Mustapha Sayed
|Western Sahara War|
Western Sahara conflict
The Atlantic Charter was a joint declaration released by U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill on August 14, 1941 following a meeting of the two heads of state in Newfoundland.
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