• Colonialism or Colonization is a process of acquiring lands, regions, or territories outside of its borders by a parent (mother) country. The Parent country can have a direct rule or it can also be a protectorate i.e. local leader may be appointed to carry on the governance in name of the parent country.
  • The historical phenomenon of colonization is one that stretches around the globe and across time. It increased after the Industrial revolution as European countries expanded their territories in search of both markets and raw materials for their newly setup industries. Relatively backward Asian, African and American countries became victims of these expansions.
  • Colonialism was exploitative and thus had to end some or other day. The removal of colonial power or the parent country from the colony and setting of independent local governments in these colonies is called Decolonisation.
European control in 1939 the year the Second World War began
Africa Colonialism 1945 Map

Reasons for Decolonisation

  • One might think that although colonies provided many benefits to the mother countries then why did they decide to de-colonise them? There were several reasons behind the fact that European countries ultimately lost their colonies. Some of them are as under:

Nationalist Movements in Colonies

  • European powers claimed that they brought the benefits of western civilization to their colonies. However, the reality was opposite as the colonies were being exploited by the European powers.
  • Imperialists’ took most of the profits from their unequal partnership with the colonies. They withheld the development and prosperity of the colonies and forced colonial peoples to live in poverty. Consequently, the discontent grew and took form of Nationalist movements in the colonies.
  • Nationalists are a group of people who have a natural desire to make their country independent from the foreign rule and to form a government which is run by the people of their own nationality. These people carry out various types of protests, either peaceful or violent, in order to put forward their resistance to foreign governments. For Example,
    • In India – Indian National Congress Party had been agitating against British rule since 1885.
    • In south-east Asia, the Vietnamese nationalists began to campaign against French rule during the 1920s.

Effects of the 2nd World War

  • The World War II was helpful in multiple ways to catalyse the process of decolonisation in the colonies.
  • Japanese Victory: Defeat of European powers at the hands of an Asian power provided a lot of confidence to the colonial people across the world. This was evident in case of people of Indo-China, Dutch East Indies, etc.
  • Awareness: Because of participation in the war, colonial people became politically and socially aware. They got experience to govern small areas. For example, Ahmed Sukarno (Indonesia) used his Japanese interactions to learn how to administer area and used his intellect by creating a platform for himself to spread nationalist ideas to the Indonesian population.
  • European Policies: Atlantic Charter of 1941 which said nations should not expand by taking territory from other nations and all peoples should have the right to choose their own form of government.
  • European Powers Became Militarily and Economically Weak: They were not in a state to carry the burden of colonies and the civil wars therein. They knew that the national aspirations can be halted but not stopped.
Africa 1945

Pan Africanism

  • Pan-Africanism was a theory which was developed in the twentieth century by the African students from the British colonies. According to this theory, all people of African descent, irrespective of the place they lived, were united by the same cultural and spiritual heritage.

Benefits of Pan-Africanism

  • (a) Encouragement to ambitions for independence.
  • (b) Few leaders thought that the ultimate goal after independence must be to abandon the artificial frontiers set up by the Europeans and have a federal United States of Africa along the same lines as the United States of America.

Leaders like Kwame Nkrumah were a strong believer in pan-Africanism. However, there was opposition from countries like Ethiopia which forced them to settle for a much weaker Organisation of African Unity (OAU). The Pan-Africanism had not been totally irrelevant and had an important influence on the rise of nationalist movements in former African colonies.

Pressure from US and UN

  • US: During war, President Roosevelt proposed Atlantic Charter. After the end of the World War II, President Truman pressurised Britain to abandonthe colonies. One of the reasons for the US support was that it feared that if independence is delayed, the countries may move towards communism. Also, the Americans believed that the newly independent countries will be a potential markets for its goods.
  • UN: It firmly opposed imperialism and colonialism. USSR also supported this cause.

India Gets Independence

  • India had been a British colony for around 200 years. It was the most important colony not only in terms of resources and revenue, but also because of its strategic location in the Indian Ocean. It made the British dominant in the whole world. The independence of India from the British rule is the turning point in the era of imperialism. It inspired and motivated the colonies for Independence.
  • But the process was neither easy nor quick. Indian freedom movement was unique. It was a long, protracted and mostly, a non-violent struggle. Despite being a nonviolent movement, the end was not peaceful and easy. It all ended in partition of the country on communal lines.
  • The mismanagement of the event by British authority led to mass riots in various pockets of the country. Indian freedom struggle started right from revolt of 1857, also called as the first war of Indian independence, and continued till 1947. A significant role was played by the Indian National Congress (INC) and its leaders. The most important personality of India’s struggle for independence is M. K. Gandhi He used his unique technique of satyagraha to mobilise the masses to demand independence from the colonial British rule.
  • However, the British policy of Divide and Rule created fissures in the Indian National movement. They cleverly introduced certain policies to divide Indians on different grounds, including on religious grounds, to ensure longer British rule in India. Moreover, Morley Minto reforms (1909) provided for separate electorate to Muslims. They also supported the communal groups like Hindu Mahasabha and Muslim League during Round table conferences. These events ultimately culminated with the partition of India into India and Pakistan in 1947.

Partition of India

  • The religious hostility increased after poor performance of Muslim League in 1937 elections. The Muslim League leader, M.A. Jinnah, demanded a separate Muslim state of Pakistan, and adopted as his slogan’ Now or Never; Are We to Live or Perish Forever?’.
  • All compromise attempts failed as violence broke out in 1946 when the viceroy Wavell invited the Congress leader, Jawaharlal Nehru, to form an interim government, Nehru formed a cabinet which included two Muslims But Jinnah was convinced that the Hindus could not be trusted to treat the Muslims fairly. He called for a day of ‘direct action’ in support of a separate Pakistan. Fierce rioting followed in Calcutta, where 5000 people were killed, and it soon spread to other parts of Bengal Putting India into crisis.
  • Taking note of the situation, the newly sent Governor General Lord Mountbatten decided to partition India. The British government, realizing that they lacked the military strength to control the situation, announced early in 1947 that they would leave India no later than June 1948. The idea was to try to shock the Indians into adopting a more responsible attitude.
  • Within six weeks, Mountbatten worked out a plan for dividing the country and for the British withdrawal. This was accepted by Nehru and Jinnah, although M. K. Gandhi, known as the Mahatma (Great Soul), who believed in nonviolence, was still hoping for a united India. Afraid that delay would cause more violence, Mountbatten brought the date for British withdrawal forward to August 1947.
  • Partition plan was not successful, as Pakistan which was envisaged could not remain united and in 1971 Eastern part of Pakistan got independent with the name of Bangladesh. Till date, there is hostility between India and Pakistan and both nations are considered as brother enemies.

Decolonization of Malaya Peninsula

  • The history of British involvement in Malaya goes back to 1786, when the East India Company established a trading post on Penang Island. Sir Stamford Raffles founded a British settlement on the island of Singapore in 1819 and by 1830 the British Straits Settlements also included Malacca. From the 1870s the sultans of the small Malay states began accepting British ‘advisers’, who were effectively rulers.
  • Britain exercised its power in Malayan state through the “The Resident” they installed in respective states. They acted as an advisor to the rulers, but in reality, except for the religious and cultural matters, they wielded the real power. In 1895, the government of states namely, Negeri, Sembilan, Pahang, Perak and Selangor were combined as the Federated Malay States, headed by a Resident General based in Kuala Lumpur.
  • However, they failed to gain control of other states (five such states) in adjoining areas for a long time. It was not before 1914, when Johor was the last state to fall down to British pressure to complete the control of Britain over the Malay Peninsula. These five states, which were not a part of Federated Malay States, came to be known as the Unfederated Malay States.
  • It was ruled in this manner (federated and unfederated) until World War II broke out and was completely occupied by the Japanese force with the fall of Singapore when the Allied forces surrendered at Singapore in 1942. Hence, for a time being dominance of Britain Empire was ended and the Japanese remained in occupation until their surrender to the Allies in 1945.
Malay Archipelago

Post World War II

  • Prior to the Second World War, British Malaya consisted of three groups of polities:
    • The protectorate of the Federated Malay States,
    • Five protected Unfederated Malay States and
    • The crown colony of the Strait Settlements
  • People of Malay state had fought against the Japanese occupation in the World War II. Despite being the British subject, they were not helped by Britain in a way they deserved as citizens of the Kingdom. This war had not only given confidence to the people of Malay states but also made them determined to knock off the rule of the existing British Empire. Same Malayan Anti-Japanese People’s Army started resisting the re-occupation by the British.
  • As it was a norm in post-World War II eras, entire rebel struggle was claimed to be communist and its rebellious expression was seen as a threat to the religious faith of the people of Federated Malay State. Idea was to suppress the popularity among the masses and reflect the rebellion as anti-Malayan people. Other factors also contributed that sparked the anti-Britain activity, of which most important was the formation of the Malayan Union.
  • Things changed after World War II and in 1946 when the Federated Malay States and the Unfederated Malay States, together with two of the Straits Settlements, Penang and Malacca, were combined to form the Malayan Union which was headed by a British Governor. It was the successor to British Malaya form of state structure and was claimed as a step for simplifying administrative inconveniences.
  • The Sultans of Malay States in order to escape dethronement, as threatened by Britishers, conceded all their powers to the British Crown except in religious matters. Until then, the “Resident Rule” was used by Britain to control few policies in Federated or Unfederated Malay states. With the formation of the Union, formal colonial period under the crown of Britain was initiated. British Resident replaced Sultans as the head of state councils, thus compromising not only with their political power but also traditional privileges.
  • This was not acceptable to nationalists, who could not accept this humiliation. The United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), was formed to refute the treatment met to Sultans and for widespread opposition to bring down the Union form of governance. The British had recognized the threat that was increasing unrest and civil disobedience posed to their existence in the peninsula, especially in the backdrop of Indian experience, which got independence in August 1947. They decided to amend the constitution and hence, the Malayan Union was finally dissolved and replaced by the Federation of Malaya in 1948, comprising 11 peninsular states, was established.
  • Sultan was again made the head of state, though holding only a symbolic position. Even after the partial devolution of power to Sultans, nationalist didn’t stop revolting. They wanted complete independence and just superfluous power distribution would not suffice. Also, people of different ethnicity had disparate demands which were very hard to align. It became a big challenge for the British to maintain peace in the state. British tried their best to control civil unrests, attempted extensively to stabilize the political situation and reduce racial tensions.
  • However, the British government had to finally cede full autonomy to the Federation of Malaya on August 31, 1957 and the country achieved independence to be included in the Commonwealth group. Therefore, it terminated the British protectorate (controlled by “resident”) over nine Malay states and the end of British colonial rule in two Straits Settlements, Malacca and Penang. Penang and Malacca became states of the Federation. Tengku (prince) Abdul Rahman, leader of the independence movement, became Prime Minister.
  • The Malaysia Agreement, under which North Borneo, Sarawak and Singapore (but not Brunei) would become states in the new Federation of Malaysia, was signed in 1963 by the UK, Malaya, North Borneo, Sarawak and Singapore. The Federation of Malaysia came into being on 16 September 1963. In 1965, by mutual agreement, Singapore left the Federation and became an independent state.
  • Problems faced by British Empire post 1945 once they started trying to re-establish their dominance until they completely left the state were:
  • Complexity in Reorganizing the Region: Before it was converted into Malayan Union, it consisted of nine states each ruled by Sultans, two British settlements in Malacca and Penang and Singapore, a small island less than a mile from the mainland. It was not easy to bring them under one rule.
  • Multi-Racial: It was a multi-racial and a highly diverse region having presence of people from several regions. From Malays, Chinese to Indians and Europeans, all had different way of life and the differences were not easy to accommodate in one form of governance.
  • Communist Revolts: Chinese guerrillas led by Chin Peng started revolting against the Britain -a capitalist imperial force and wanted to establish Communist regime. To tackle their guerrilla tactics and suppress them aggressively, Britain imposed emergency in 1948. Britain suspected Chinese influence in fomenting communism in Malayan state and was apprehensive of communist control post its withdrawal.
  • Chinese Influence: In order to keep Chinese influence at bay, Britain tried to divide people on racial basis, putting Malayans against the Chinese and convincing Malayan people to remain averse to villages occupied by people of Chinese ethnicity. Malayan was asked to be pro-British and discard communism in all its form in order to hasten their independence.
  • Post-independence Fear of Civil War in the Federation: Inability to govern due to existence of great diversity among people of Federated States was another point projected by the British to not grant independence immediately. Just to counter this logic, the Malay Party under the rule of Tengku Abdul Rahman was formed which later allied with the Chinese and Indian groups to form the Alliance party. It won massive majority in the next election and British were assured of political stability post-independence.
  • In 1961, then Prime Minister Tengku Abdul Rahman decided to integrate other British colonies in adjacent region to form Federation of Malaysia. Britain did not object against this proposition, possibly, because the new form of rule i.e. ‘neo-colonialism’ had gained its ground and Britain wanted to maintain good relationship with the commonwealth countries.
  • The United Nationsco-operated to conduct referendum in Singapore, North Borneo (Sabah), Brunei and Sarawak as they were finally merged with the Federation of Malay to form the Federation of Malaysia.
  • The rulers served as constitutional heads of their states with the state executive powers exercised by state governments elected by the people. The rulers elected among themselves, a federal head of state, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, with the federal executive powers exercised by an elected federal government. The form of constitutional monarchy was retained when Malaysia was formed in 1963.

Post-Merger in 1963

  • Flowever, some of them seceded to form independent states later, like Singapore left in 1965 to form a separate republic and Brunei got independent in 1984.

British Exit From Africa


West Africa

Gold Coast (Ghana)

  • Nationalist Leader: Kwame Nkrumah formed the Convention People’s Party (CPP) in 1949.
  • In 1950, there was a general strike in which people boycotted European goods. It was a violent demonstration. This forced British to agree for a new constitution which included voting for all adults; an elected Assembly; and an eleven-man Executive Council, of which eight were chosen by the Assembly.
  • In the 1951 elections, CPP majority and Kwame Nkrumah was invited to form self-government and became the Prime Minister in 1952. Finally, in 1957, Ghana became fully independent.
  • Thus, the colony of Gold Coast or Ghana became the first African State to gain independence.


  • Largest of all Britain’s African colonies
  • Regional Differences: North (Musiims-Hausa and Fulani tribe), West (Yorubas tribe), East (Ibos)
  • Nationalist Leader: Namadi Azikiwe popularly known as Zik.
  • In 1945, a general Strike organised under the leadership of Namadi Azikiwe, showcased the British colonial government about the gravity of anti-colonial struggle.
  • The 1951 constitution gave the balance of power to Nigerians. In 1954, Nigeria became a federation and in 1957 Eastern and Western regions gained internal self-government and Northern Nigeria two years later in 1959).
  • Country as a whole became independent in 1960.

Sierra Leone and Gambia

  • Sierra Leone and Gambia got independence in 1961 and 1965 respectively without any serious incident.

East Africa

Tanzania (Tanganyika + Zanzibar)

  • Nationalist Leader: Julius Nyerere. He was educated at University of Edinburgh.
  • His moderate stance convinced the British power of peaceful secession and liberal and non-divisive form of polity in future. This was one of the most important reasons for the easy grant of independence.
  • Nationalist campaign was conducted by Tanganyika African Nationalist Union (TANU). This led to independence of Tanganyika in 1961. In 1964, Zanzibar was united with Tanganyika and the country was named Tanzania.


  • The independence was delayed because of tribal issues. Ruler of Buganda was opposed to the introduction of democracy. Some power was granted to Buganda under the federal form of democracy, eventually leading to independence in 1962.


  • Nationalist Leaders: Jomo Kenyatta (Kikuyu Tribe), Oginga Odinga and Tom Mboya.
  • Organisations: Kenya African Union (KAU) later on Kenya African National Union (KANU).
  • The white minority government was not ready to accept the black majority rule. Black people were not allowed to do farming on the most fertile lands of highland Plateau. There was resentment regarding discrimination.
  • In 1952, there was Mau Mau rebellion organised by Kikuyu tribe. Kenyatta was jailed for six years. Operation Anvil was launched to curb the Mau Mau rebellion and the rebellion was brutally crushed. The atrocities by British forces were condemned worldwide.
  • While Kenyatta was in jail, the leadership was taken by two other prominent leaders Tom Mboya and Oginga Odinga belonging to the second largest tribe – the Luos, next only to the dominant tribe of kikuyus. They formed KANU (Kenya African National Union) which was successful in uniting these two dominant tribes and demanded a centralised form of government.
  • However, other smaller group of tribes were sidelined in nationalist fight dominated by the Luos and kikuyus. Led by Ronald Ngala, they formed a rival party, the Kenya African Democratic Union (KADU) and demanded a federal form of government. However they failed to achieve their objective post-independence.
  • The Nationalist upsurge and the high expenses against the rebellions forced the British Government to grant independence to Kenya in 1963. Kenyatta was made the president of Kenya.

Central Africa

  • Number of White settlers in these countries were huge.
  • Number of well-educated Africans were much lesser than in West Africa and the White minority was not in favour of black majority rule.

Nayasaland and Northern Rhodesia

  • The Monckton Commission (1960) recommended votes for Africans, an end to the racial discrimination and the right of territories to leave the Federation.
  • The new constitution was hence provided with the arrangement of federation in 1961-62 to ensure their rule without interference.
  • However, this arrangement even failed to satisfy their core demand of independence and finally, an independent Zambia (Northern Rhodesia) and Malawi (Nyasaland) was formed in 1963.

Southern Rhodesia

  • Struggle was complicated for Southern Rhodesia because the Rhodesia Front, a right wing white racist party was adamant to never surrender control to black African rule.
  • The white minority requested the British government to grant independence but the government in Britain made a condition that it would transfer power only when one-third of the seats are reserved for black people.
  • Ian Smith, Prime Minister of Southern Rhodesia, rejected this proposal. And in 1965, independence was declared for Southern Rhodesia from the British rule.
  • This unilateral declaration of independence (UDI) by Southern Rhodesia brought economic sanctions from Britain and trade embargo from UN.
  • But the spirit of these sanctions was reduced by
    • White Minority government in South Africa and Portuguese rule in Mozambique was also helpful in neutralising the effects of sanctions.
    • USA – brought cheap chrome and made the sanctions ineffective.
  • The nationalists with the support of African neighbouring nations, socialist countries and NAM, started an armed revolt against the government of Ian Smith.
  • In 1970, Rhodesia declared itself a republic, and the rights of black citizens were gradually suppressed.
  • The two prominent organisations involved against the government in Rhodesia were Zimbabwe African People Union (ZAPU) and Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU).
  • Robert Mugabe- the leader of guerrilla wing of ZANU was an aggressive faction of this organisation. In 1976 Geneva Conference, when ZAPU and ZANU came together loosely in the Patriotic Front (PF), the reason put forward by Smith of divisive faction among the blacks also lost its weight.
  • Backed by mass support, these two organisations presented unified front and continued incessant guerrilla attacks, until 1979, when smith had to finally submit to popular demand.
  • British called the Lancaster House Conference in London (1979), to chalk out its Constitution and decide on the general the form of polity.
  • Zimbabwe (Southern Rhodesia) officially became independent in April 1980, with Robert Mugabe as the Prime Minister.

End of French Empire

  • The main French possessions at the end of the Second World War were:
    • Middle East: Syria (from which they withdrew in 1946)
    • West Indies: Islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique.
    • South America: French Guiana
    • South-East Asia: Indo-China
    • Africa:
      • Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria (together known as the Maghreb);
      • French West Africa:
      • French Equatorial Africa;
      • Madagascar off the south-east coast of Africa.


  • French had direct rule over Saigon (Ho Chin Minh City) and had protectorate over Tonkin, Annam, Laos and Cambodia.
  • During the World War II, the whole area was under the occupation of Japanese Army. During the war, Ho Chin Minh, a communist leader, organised resistance against the Japanese. After the war, Ho Chin Minh declared the independence of Vietnam.
  • French government could not accept this and an armed struggle began between the communists and French soldiers for eight years. Finally, in 1954, at the Geneva conference, the new government in France accepted the demand of people and granted independence to Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.
Indo China


  • Nationalist Group – New Destour (Leader – Habib Bourguiba)
  • In 1952 guerrilla war was organised by New Destour .
  • French group was under pressure because at the same time they had to tackle the outburst in Indochina region and Morocco.
  • Also, Habib Bourguiba was a moderate leader and this gave chance to the French to leave the country on good terms.
  • Finally, Tunisia attained independence in 1956 under the leadership of Bourguiba.


  • Nationalist group – Istiqlal (meaning Independence)
  • King Mohammad was opposed to French. The guerrilla war started and Morocco got independence in 1956.


  • Nationalist Group – National Liberation Front – FLN (led by Ben Bella)
  • Here, the problem was because of significant population of French settlers (popularly known as Pieds Noirs, ‘black feet’). They controlled Algeria. They exported most of the products cultivated on fertile lands which created food security issue for the Algerians.
  • The resentment grew stronger. Initially, the protest was peaceful but later it became extremist and violence started as FLN (National Liberation Front) launched guerrilla war in 1954.
  • France considered Algeria to be unlike its other colonies. Number of settlers were huge and quick and massive military mobilisation from France mainland had assured them of perpetual security against any anti-government movement. However, the fate met by them in some of the African countries and in Indo- China region had divided the nation about the future of France in Algeria. This division took shape of, almost a civil war in France itself .
  • To secure the position in Algeria, generals In Algeria decided to promote General de Gaulle as the new head of government in France, considering him to be the staunch believer of Algeria, as an extension of French empire. They hatched a plan – codenamed Resurrection which was about airlifting troops from Algiers into Paris, where it was intended that they should occupy government buildings and eventually lead to the establishment of Gaulle’s government.
  • De Gaulle, agreed to become prime minister on condition that he could draw up a new constitution. This turned out to be the end of the Fourth Republic (government of the French Republic from 1946 to 1958). He was able to draw upon the new Constitution, giving the President much more power, and he was elected president of the Fifth Republic (December 1958), a position be held until his resignation in April 1969. Thus, Algerian war of Independence had a direct impact on France domestic polity too.
  • He knew the practicality of the negotiation with FLN as outright military victory was out of the question. This brought the generals in Algeria completely against him and he was being targeted by the group ‘Organisation de I’Armee Secrete (OAS) established by generals in Algeria.
  • A peace talk with Ben Bella, in Evian was envisaged to discuss the future of Algeria. Before this could take place, OAS seized power in Algeria. Later on, this organisation was denounced by Gaulle, thus diminishing its authenticity in Algeria.
  • It was agreed that Algeria should become independent in July 1962, and Ben Bella was elected as its first president the following year.

Other Colonies of France in Africa

  • De Gaulle, when he rose to power in 1958, presented a set of conditions for existing colonies .It included terms of providing self government in 12 colonies with their parliament and would receive aid from France. They would collectively form French community of which taxation and foreign affairs will be handled by France.
  • They were allowed to hold referendum to accept or reject this plan, with the option of even seceding completely from French empire, on contingency of receiving no French aid. This plan was put to vote in 12 nations of West and Equatorial Africa which were colonies of France. 11 countries supported the plan. Only Guinea didn’t vote against the plan. This led to independence of Guinea in 1958 but all French aids were stopped.
  • This motivated other 11 nations and in 1960 all 11 got independence but neo-colonialism by France didn’t stop in these 11 nations. Cameroon, Togo and Madagascar also got independence in 1960.

Other Colonial Powers

  • Apart from major colonial powers like Britain and France, there were some other European countries which had colonies in Africa, Asia and Latin America. These were Netherland (Dutch), Portugal, Spain, Italy, etc. Let us take a look at decolonisation process in the colonies of these countries.


East Indies

  • The major occupation was in East Indies:
    • Sumatra,
    • Java,
    • Celebes,
    • West Irian (part of New Guinea) and
    • Two third part of Borneo.
  • During the Second World War, Japanese invaded these territories and handed over the administration to Ahmed Sukarno. Japanese also promised independence once the war was over. But after their defeat, Sukarno considering that Dutch will not interfere, declared the Indonesian independence. But the Dutch had sent troops and the war continued till 1949 when the Dutch recognised the independence of United States of Indonesia excluding West Irian.
  • Sukarno was elected as the president. He also agreed to a Netherlands-lndonesia Union under the Dutch crown, and Dutch troops were withdrawn under the impression of long term relationship with the rest of Indonesia. However, soon after, this Union lost its importance and the west Irian was merged with rest of Indonesia in 1963, thus putting an end to the Dutch rule in Indonesia.
  • Later on, when Sukarno became too close a friend to communist bloc, US organised a coup to overthrow Sukarno and bring the government under, non-communist regime.

Other Colonies

  • Surinam got independence in 1975 and some West Indian islands were given autonomy in internal affairs but they were not guaranteed independence.


Belgium Congo

  • A riot broke out in its capital Leopoldville, against unemployment and poor living conditions. Not ready to deal with this situation, Belgian government announced to leave the country in six months, so as to prevent its expenditure against guerrilla war and protect the lives of Belgian forces still deputed there. Also, the civil war that will unfold after the withdrawal will divide the nation and make them weak, thus expecting Belgian help to resolve the issues. This way, Belgium could maintain its long term interest in Congo.
  • The Congolese National Movement (CNM) was formed under leadership of Patrice Lumumba. The movement under him, finally won Congo the independence from Belgium in 1960 with Lumumba as Prime minister. Its name is Democratic Republic of Congo.


  • They got independence as two separate countries Rwanda and Burundi in 1962. The countries still face problems of violence between the Tutsi and Hutus tribes.


  • General Franco, the right-wing dictator who ruled Spain from 1939 until 1975 had very little interest in the colonies. So, when the nationalist movements developed, he did not resist long.

Spanish Morocco

  • When the French gave independence to French Morocco in 1956, Franco followed suit and Spanish Morocco was given independence. It became part of Morocco.


  • It had to wait a bit longer. It was allowed to join Morocco lately in 1969.


  • It became independent as Equatorial Guinea in 1968.


Guinea, Mozambique and Angola

  • The war of independence got new source energy from following factors.
    • By 1960, many other African states got independence, which motivated the struggle of independence in these colonies too.
    • Salazar’s right wing government took to repressive measures to curtail nationalist passion, which on contrary strengthened it, even more.
    • Agostinho Neto’s MPIA (People’s Movement for Angolan Liberation,) was the main nationalist movement in Angola in 1961.
    • Communist nation provided indirect help to rebel group against the government.
    • Guerrilla war was costing too many lives and money to the Portuguese government.
    • People in Portugal found Salazar regime to be dictatorial and hence a military coup evicted him from the power.
    • Soon after this coup, all three colonies were granted independence.
  • Guinea became independent in 1974. It changed its name to Guinea-Bissau and in next year, i.e., 1975, Mozambique and Angola also became independent.

East Timor

  • It is half of an island in East Indies. After the independence of Indonesia in 1949, Indonesia wanted to keep East Timor with them. East Timor Nationalist movement (FRETILIN) wanted to remain with Portuguese government. But, Indonesia objected to it and there was civil war in East Timor.
  • USA also supported Indonesia and termed the uprising as Marxist. With involvement of UN, providing help to conduct referendum, East Timor gradually moved towards its independence. After fighting for more than a quarter of century, East Timor got independence in 2002.


  • Ethiopia got independence in 1942. It was invaded by Italy in 1935.
  • Libya: hot independence in 1951.
  • Eritrea was made part of Ethiopia in 1952.
  • Somaliland: Italian Somaliland merged with British Somaliland to form independent Somaliland in 1960.

Decolonisation – An Analysis

  • Imperialist powers exploited the colonies and used the revenue generated from the colonies to boost the economy of mother countries. They deprived the development and welfare of colonies. Barring few countries, like Kenya, decolonization was not peaceful as the pain of such transition is still being felt by these countries.
  • It started the Neo-colonialism as these countries were continued to be exploited. It made the entire third world poor and deprived. The health statistics, literacy level, infrastructure development, technological advancement all have been at the backseat.

Problems Created by Decolonisation

  • European Powers were not willing to decolonise and thus it took a long time before the colonies could achieve their independence. The end of World War II was a landmark event in terms of hastening the process.
  • Except Britain, other European Powers could not handle the process of decolonization properly and thus it led to cases of civil wars and mass violence.
  • Post-independence traumatic experiences of people in terms of migration due to improper decolonisation process flared communal violence and started long drawn civil wars in many countries including India and Pakistan.
  • Colonialism ended but new phase of colonialism commenced i.e., Neo-colonialism. European countries were not willing to lose control on resources of Africa. For Example, cocoa of Ghana, oil of Nigeria, copper of Zaire (now called by the name of Congo) and Sugar of Cuba. This led to asymmetrical economic development (more development to developed countries and less to developing countries) .
  • West led financial institutions like International Monetary Fund (IMF) provided loan on strict conditions, mostly not in favour of these countries . Strict conditions imposed by them did not let them invest appropriately and simultaneously liberalisation demands made them more vulnerable to western trade. This often led to the debt accrual, with high interest rate adding to their indebtedness . The 3rd world countries often failed to utilise this opportunity and barely any growth was made. This often led to the food security issues in these countries .
  • Population of these countries was kept growing at around 2%, reducing the per capita availability of food grains. Also, their agricultural production was dominated largely by commercial crops, creating artificial shortages of food grains.
  • Giving independence in unprepared conditions led to civil war in many colonies .
  • States were not reorganised on factors like geographical continuity , cultural similarity , economic and administrative viability. Instead, they were organised as per negotiations between the colonial powers.
  • Industrialisation of Africa was almost lacking as no genuine attempts were made to grow their economy in real sense . Colonial masters just wanted to exploit the resources of the continent and use the continent as a market for the goods produced in these countries .
  • There was very little or no emphasis on governance and local development in these colonies.
  • They used the manpower and revenues from colonies to fight wars in which there was no interest of the colonies. Colonies were dragged in the cold war rivalry between two superpowers , The United States and the USSR .
  • Civilising mission and White man’s burden: The belief of the whites that they are a superior race started discrimination in the colonies based on race and colour in these colonies.

Despite all these difficulties, the third world countries are working towards development. Decolonisation was necessary and it provided the much needed self -respect and recognition to all the colonies.

Problems Common to African States

  • The independence from foreign rule didn ’t bring peace and stability to the region. There were many problems in the continent . Some of the common problems to all countries can be listed down as:
  • Tribal Differences: Great diversity present in African countries often led to the mutual clashes among the tribes . Just for the sake of independence, somehow they worked towards the common goal of independence against the colonial power . However , post-independence, there was much to divide them than to unite them and this difference often came to surface in form of civil wars. In Nigeria, Congo (Zaire), Burundi and Rwanda , tribal differences became so intense that they led to civil war .
  • Economically Under-developed: Exploited at the hands of colonial masters, the economy of colonies was shattered . After independence, they generated revenue through the export of few range of commodities , largely from primary sector . These products were of low value compared to imported finished manufactured products.
  • When the global demand was slow, they had to suffer . Let us take example of Nigeria. The country depended heavily on its exports which produced about 80 percent of its annual income. There was a shortage of capital and skills of all kinds and the population was growing at a rate of over 2 per cent a year . It took loans from abroad for development and paid the debt from the earning of exports.
  • This made African nations heavily dependent on western European countries and the USA . This enabled those countries to exert some control over African governments (neo-colonialism) .
  • Political Problems: Colonial rulers imposed the parliamentary system of government. The tribal people were not familiar with this type of system. Also , during the guerrilla warfare, the nationalist leaders came under the influence of the Communist system and considered it more suitable to them . This was the case for Kenya and Tanzania. There were incidents of military coup . For example, in 1996, President Nkrumah was removed after a military coup.
  • Economic and Natural Disaster : In 1980s, there was economic recession and this led to crash in prices of oil . African countries suffered huge loss and were unable to pay up the loans. Also, to make the condition worse , there was drought in 1982 which led to famine.
  • International Monetary Fund ( IMF) prescribed to carry out Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (ESAP). According to this , countries had to cut down subsidies and devalue currency . This led to increase in food prices at the time when there was massive unemployment. Austerity measures forced to cut the spending on Education, Health and other social sectors.
  • After considering the problems in general now let us take some examples of the countries from the African continent where the magnitude of the problems cannot be understood without a proper elaboration.

Specific Problems


  • It gained independence in 1957 . Kwame Nkrumah, a popular figure, ruled the democracy and carried out many reforms. But, in 1966, he was removed in a military coup.

Reasons for Removal of Nkrumah

  • He wanted quick industrialisation of the country. For that he borrowed vast amount of loans from abroad. He thought that he would repay the debt by export of cocoa. But steep fall in price of cocoa led to balance of payment crisis. Smelting point , financed by US companies was a disappointment because American companies decided to buy bauxite from abroad.
  • But the major reason was his gradual shift from democracy towards one party system and ultimately towards dictatorship. Dissent against the government was not allowed as opposition members were arrested and imprisoned .
  • Accusations that he had amassed a personal fortune through corruption was a big enough reason for the army to remove him from the rule. Also, his increasing closeness with communist country like China made CIA to support army in the process of coup . But his dismissal did not bring peace and stability for Ghana . There were transitions from military government to civil government. But here also the role of army was predominant.
  • J. J. Rawlings, one of the important leaders, took Ghana towards growth and prosperity. He was one of the rare military rulers, who wanted power to improve the conditions of country.
  • In 1991, he called the assembly for drawing up a new constitution and promised elections in 1992. His party National Democratic Congress (NDC) won the elections.
  • He was head of state as well as Commander in Chief of the Armed forces for two terms.


  • It got independence in 1960 and was in a better position than other African countries both in terms of resources (oil reserves) and in terms of political experience of the leaders.
  • Despite this, things did not go in a smooth manner. The civilian government was suspended in 1966 after a military coup and then the civil war started in 1967 and continued till 1970. The main reason for the military coup was tribal differences. The north was Muslim dominated (Hausa and Faluni tribes), Yorubas were present in the west and Ibos were dominant in east and south. Apart from these communal differences, economic recession of 1964 had a very strong effect on economic conditions. It led to price rise, massive unemployment and increase in corruption.
  • USSR and France supplied arms to rival groups and aggravated the civil war. It was in 1970 that one of the rival groups – Biafrans surrendered to colonel Yakubu Gowon. It laid the path towards a United Nigeria. But the country remained in the hands of military. There was transition to civilian government in 2000 but violence again started between the tribes. There were also conflicts between the Muslims and Christians.


  • Independent Tanganyika and Zanzibar were united to form Tanzania in 1963 with Dr. Julius Nyerere as the President. Tanzania was one of the poorest states of Africa. It had few industries and very little mineral resources. It was heavily dependent on its coffee production.
  • Nyerere organized the Tanzanian economy on socialist line. His Arusha Declaration on socialistic pattern of society has got him fame throughout the world. He reduced imports and foreign investment to minimum in order to avoid running into debt. But one cannot remain closed for long and the fall in prices of oil and coffee created major problems.
  • After his retirement in 1985, Nyerere’s successor, President Mwinyi retained the one party system. He reduced government control on private enterprise and decided for mixed economy. Later on, in 1992, changed the constitution for a multi-party system polity in the country.
  • Tanzanian economy continued to remain fragile and dependent on foreign aids. For this, they had to carry various structural reforms.


  • Congo had more than 150 different tribal groups. They were not educated and had no experience in running the government. Belgian government, despite knowing the reality,granted independence to Congo without any preparation. Katanga, the copper rich area of Congo and under the influence of Belgian government, demanded separation from Congo.
  • Lumumba, theheadof Congo, requested for UN support and peacekeeping forces were sent. But the inclination of Lumumba towards socialism created much harm. Under influence of the UN, Dag Hammarskjold, secretary general of UN, refused to attack on Katanga.
  • This led Lumumba to turn towards Russia for help. General Mobutu, under the influence of USA and Belgium, arrested Lumumba and later on was murdered. After that Mobutu came to power. But later on, Katanga was invaded by troops from Angola with the support from USSR.
  • However, with the support from USA, Mobutu was able to control this situation. Economic crisis started because of falling copper prices and drought in the country. It necessitated the import of food materials. In 1981, Mobutu brought the Nationality law to support the indigenous people against the immigrants from neighbouring countries. He also allowed multi-party democracy in 1990.
  • Though he ruled for 30 years, there was a growing resentment in people against his rule.
  • In mid 1990s, Laurent Kabila(supporter of Lumumba) organised armed resistance against Mobutu. Mobutu left the country and Kabila became President. He changed name of the country to Zaire. Kabila’s son, who later on became President tried to bring some reforms.

Rwanda and Burundi

  • Both the countries had two tribes, Hutu and Tutsi. In appearance they looked similar and spoke same language. The main occupation of Tutsi was cattle raising (Tutsi means “rich in cattle”) whereas Hutu were mainly farmers (Hutu means “servant”). Hutu were in majority but Tutsi were ruling elites.
  • Hutu and Tutsi were opposed to each other and were not ready for reconciliation. This led to frequent clashes. Belgian rulers granted independence without preparation and this resulted into civil war between the Hutu and Tutsi. It continued till 2002, when the ceasefire was agreed between the two groups.

Apartheid in South Africa

History of Formation

  • The cape of Good Hope was a Dutch colony from 1652 to Dutch were known as Afrikaners or Boers (a word meaning ‘farmers’). In 1795, the Cape was captured by the British. Many British settlers went out to Cape Colony. British government made all slaves free throughout the British Empire in 1838.
  • The Great Trek: The Boer farmers felt that this threatened their livelihood, and many of them decided to leave Cape Colony and moved northwards. There they set up their own independent republics of the Transvaal and Orange Free State (1835-40). Some also moved into the area east of Cape Colony known as Natal.
  • Boer War (1899-1902): British defeated the Transvaal and the Orange Free State. In 1910, they joined Cape Colony and Natal to form the Union of South Africa.
  • The white minority settlers (18% of total population) ruled over the more than 70% of native black Africans. There was extreme form of discrimination prevalent which dominated the social, political and economic sphere. All the manual work was forced upon the black peoples. Africans were forced to live in barracks away from their family. They were not allowed to buy outside lands. Their movement was controlled by pass laws. By a law of 1911, they were forbidden to take skilled jobs.


  • Prime Minister Malan (1948-54) S introduced a new policy called apartheid (separateness). This was continued and developed by his successor.


  • Complete separation of blacks and whites as far as possible at all levels. Separate residential area, separate transport system, and separate schools for their children, and separate churches.
  • Racial classification: Every black and coloured African was given an Identity Card (ID).
  • Marriage between black and white was prohibited
  • Bantu Self-government Act (1959): As per the Act, seven regions called Bantustans, based on the original African reserves were established. In 1969, first such area was to gain independence was Transkei. But here also South African government controlled the economy and foreign affairs. In 1980, Bophuthatswana and Venda, received independence.
  • No political rights were given to the Africans.

Opposition to Apartheid

  • Inside South Africa: South African government suppressed any dissent and protest under Suppression of Communism Act as Africans were forbidden to strike. In spite of this, protests did take place.
  • African National Congress (ANC ) leader , Chief Albert Luthuli, organized a non-violent protest campaign. It restrained itself to boycotts and appealing .
  • In 1955, the ANC formed a coalition with Asian and coloured groups and planned a meeting at Kliptown (near Johannesburg). Here , they announced a charter.
  • According to the charter: ‘South Africa belongs to all who live in it , black and white , and no government can claim authority unless it is based on the will of the people .’
  • Church leader and missionaries opposed Apartheid .
  • Sharpeville Massacre (1960): Police open fired at the protesters in Sharpeville (near Johannesburg) killing 67 people.
  • Nelson Mandela: He was member of Action wing of ANC (Spear of the Nation) , or MK ( UM khonto we Sizwe ) . He was arrested for conducting a campaign to sabotage specific targets . He was sentenced to life imprisonment on Robben Island.

Outside South Africa: Opposition was there from Commonwealth Nations, United Nation (UN ) and Organisation of African Unity ( OAU) . The UN voted to place an economic boycott on South Africa (1962) , but it became useless because not all member states supported it.

End of Apartheid

  • The South African leadership was aware of the simmering discontent among the Blacks and the Prime Minister P. W . Botha ( 1979) decided to reform the system . He provided relaxation in areas like no pass laws for non-whites, sexual marriage and relationships between different races were allowed, blacks were allowed to elect their own leaders in local township elections (but not to vote in assembly election) , etc . But he did not even considered the ANC’s main demands , i .e .the right to vote and to play a full part in ruling the country .
  • In 1986, the commonwealth agreed on applying strong sanctions (no further loans, no sales of oil, computer equipment or nuclear goods to and no cultural and scientific contacts). The US congress also voted in favour of sanctions. In 1989, the new president F.W. de Klerk decided to gradually end the apartheid and allow black Africans to form the government. In 1990 , Nelson Mandela was released from prison after a span of 27 years.
  • In 1993, the transition talks were successful, a general election was held and power was transferred to black people. Nelson Mandela became the first black President of South Africa.

Problems of Africa in 21st Century

  • Let us look at the challenges. The problems of 21st century Africa can be broadly classified into following categories :
  • Poverty: According to World Bank ’s 2014 ‘Global Monitoring Report’, Sub – Saharan Africa is home to 41% of the world ’ s poor.
  • Infrastructure: Transport, power , irrigation and storage is underdeveloped and is estimated to need an additional $48 billion per year for improved infrastructure.
  • Health: Almost all the countries of Africa were suffering in different degrees from the HIV /AIDS pandemic. In recent times, the Ebola virus crisis was worst which affected the West African countries . Around 80 million people in Africa could be at risk of Malaria by 2080.
  • Peace and Security :
    • Ethiopia and Eritrea: Eritrea gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993. But after independence , the situation had remained volatile.
    • Terrorism: In Northern Africa , groups like Boko Haram in Nigeria are a great threat to regional peace and stability.
  • Employment: Recent growth in Africa has not created enough good jobs . In the past decade , Africa ’s labour force grew by 91 million people, but only 37 million of these were in jobs in wage-paying sectors (UNDP 2013 ) . Farming is still the main livelihood for 78% of Africa ’ s extreme poor.
  • Governance: Lack of experience in governance and increasing incidence of corruption in some of the authoritarian countries has led to poor developmental statistics of Africa.
  • Climate Change : The IPCC (Inter- governmental Panel on Climate Change) identified Africa as one of the most vulnerable continents to climate variability and change. Africa faces an increased threat from extreme events such as storms, flooding in its coastal regions, sand dune mobilisation and sustained droughts which impact on food and water security , ecosystems, health, infrastructure and migration . Mount Kilimanjaro ’ s glaciers are in retreat, over 5,000 African plant and animal species and the Karoo biomes are at risk.
  • Food Security: Because of extreme events due to climate change, the countries especially South Africa, Malawi , Lesotho , Mozambique, and Swaziland are facing food shortages .
  • Refugee: Because of civil wars in neighbouring countries, Tanzania had to face influx of thousands of refugees. Similarly in West Africa , Guinea ’ s frontier areas were crammed with refugees from neighbouring Sierra Leone and Liberia.
  • But slowly and steadily , Africa is moving towards development . At a summit conference of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) held in Mauritius in August 2004, a new charter of regulations for the conduct of democratic elections was drawn up. It included allowing a free press, no vote-rigging, no violence or intimidation , etc . In order to instil confidence in democratic systems , the presidents of Tanzania, Mozambique and Namibia indicated that they would be stepping down soon.
  • In order to encourage African internal trade and boost economic development , in 2008 the African Free Trade Zone was set up with 26 members . There has been rise of service industries; mainly telecommunications , retail, transportation , and tourism have increased. Today out of 10 fastest growing economies of the world, seven are from African continent. It is considered as one of major investment destination .
  • If growth continues at current level , three out of every five African countries could become a middle income category country. As per a report in the Economist, Secondary school enrolment grew by 48% between 2000 and 2008.
  • So it can be said that : ‘After a dawn, the bright morning is waiting for Africa as the future looks bright’.

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