Spain was the first country to become an imperial power and then many European countries started the process of colonization. Soon, almost all of the world came under colonial rule and most of the countries of the other continents experienced some form of colonial subjugation.
With European colonial rule, came the ideas of new age. With passage of time, these new ideas of liberty, equality, democracy and nationalism found currency in these colonies. These ideas had very strong impact in the colonies of Africa, Asia and Latin America and nationalist movements started in almost every colonized country in these continents against oppressive and unjust colonial rule.
These nationalist movements were different from each other in their character and objectives but had a common character and that was opposition of colonial rule and demand of self-determination. These nationalist movements eventually resulted in the decolonization which means freedom of countries from imperial subjugation.
By the early years of the twentieth century movements for national liberation had begun to emerge in parts of Asia, notably in India, Indo-China, Indonesia, and the Philippines.
The British had firmly established their colonial rule over Indian subcontinent by nineteenth century. With them, came the modern ideas of the enlightenment and modern western education. These modern ideas of the age inspired the people to demand equality, justice, liberty and right to self-determination from their colonial masters.
People of Indian subcontinent first demanded that British colonial rule should treat their Indian subjects as British subjects having same rights and liberty as British citizen in Britain had.
They also demanded same parliamentary form of governance in India as Britain had it. But later, when British colonial rule did not heed to popular demands and when understanding of native population about colonial regime increased, the nationalist movements started demanding complete independence from colonial control.
After a long drawn struggle, India finally achieved independence from British colonial rule in August, 1947. Indian national movement is characterized by mass participation and largely non-violent struggle for independence.
In the 19th century, China was ruled by Manchu dynastybut the rule of this dynasty was weak and ineffective. Under the pressure from foreign powers, China had to concede several commercial concessions to foreign powers which was seen as national dishonor by Chinese nationalists.
Later, China was defeated by Japan in 1895 and Japan also got some concessions from Chinese government. All these events not only displayed weak situation of Chinese government but also gave rise to nationalist forces which wanted to create a modern and powerful China.
In China, a number of revolutionary organizations emerged during this period which later consolidated to form the Chinese Revolutionary League. The president of this League was Dr. Sun Yat-sen, who played the leading role in the national awakening of the Chinese people and uniting the various revolutionary groups together.
This League was guided by three principles: nationalism, democracy, and livelihood (sometimes referred to as land reform) as enunciated by Dr. Sun Yat-sen. In specific terms, these principles meant the ending of the imperial, weak and ineffective rule of the Manchu dynasty which had been ruling China since the middle of the seventeenth century, and in the place of the rule of a king, the establishment of a democratic republic with equitable distribution of land among the people.
In 1911, revolution swept the Southern China and on 1 January 1912, China was proclaimed a republic with its headquarters at Nanjing (Nanking) (but consolidation of this new China was yet to be achieved and effective control of this republic was limited to some southern area only). Dr Sun Yat-sen was made the President of the republic.
Situation in the northern China was different and some steps had been taken to introduce constitutional monarchy in China, with General Yuan Shih-Kai as the Prime Minister. There was every chance of escalation of conflict between these two groups but to avoid a conflict between the governments in control of northern and southern China, a compromise was reached. The Manchu ruler was forced to abdicate and Yuan Shih-Kai was recognized as the president. Yuan Shih-Kai was entrusted with the task of calling the parliament. Yuan Shih-Kai had support of foreign powers.
Although in 1913 Yuan Shih-Kai called the parliament but he soon dismissed it.He wanted to declare himself as the emperor. In the meantime, Dr Sun Yat-sen had formed the Kuomintang or the National Party in 1912 and had given a call for a “second revolution”. Yuan was able to suppress the Kuomintang, which was banned, and Dr Sun Yat-sen was sent to exile.
In 1916, Yuan died and China came under the rule of warlords, who controlled different parts of the country. The main hope for survival of unified China now lay with the Kuomintang, or National People’s Party. Under his leadership, Kuomintang was able to establish a government at Canton in southern China in 1917.
Kuomintang was not a communist party but was prepared to cooperate with the communists. During the initial stages, the new Russian government also provided help and guidance for the KMT in the hope that nationalist China would be friendly towards communist Russia (at that time western capitalist countries had not recognized the communist Russia and communist’s government of Russia also had to fight civil war in Russia).
Another significant development of the period was the formation of the Chinese Communist party in China in 1921. The Chinese Communist Party at first consisted mostly intellectuals and very little military strength. During initial years, it worked in tandem with KMT. After the death of Dr. Sun Yat-Sen in 1925, Kuomintang came under the control of General Chiang Kai-shek.
General Chiang Kai-Shek was not in favour of cooperation with Communists and under his leadership KMT-CCP breach happened. CCP had to face five ‘extermination campaigns’ from Chiang led KMT between 1930 and in October 1934, to survive ongoing extermination campaign, CCP set out on ‘Long March’ and covered about 6000 miles in 368 days.
The Kuomintang government under Chiang Kai-Shek proved to be a great disappointment for the majority of the Chinese people. He relied on the support of the wealthy landowners and hence, no significant moves were made towards real democracy and land reforms. Kuomintang gradually started losing support to the Communist Party of China.
When KMT armies were defeated by the Japanese forces, most of the eastern China was occupied by the Japanese. This enabled the communists, undefeated in Shensi, to present themselves as patriotic nationalists, leading an effective guerrilla campaign against the Invading barbaric Japanese forces. This won them massive support among the peasants and middle classes, who were appalled at Japanese arrogance and brutality.
When Japanese were defeated in 1945 and World War II ended, the Americans helped the KMT to take over all areas previously occupied by the Japanese, except Manchuria, which had been captured by the Russians before the war ended. Russians obstructed the KMT in Manchuria and allowed CCP guerrillas to move in. In January 1949, the communists took Beijing. Later in the year Kuomintang government fled to the island of Taiwan which left the mainland China for the communists to control.
In October 1949, the People’s Republic of China was proclaimed by CCP after their victory over KMT under the great leadership of Mao Zedong.
Philippines was under the Spanish control since the 1560s. With the passage of time, Filipino nationalism emerged as a reaction to oppressive Spanish colonial rule. But natives there were not able to oust Spanish rule even after many attempts to do so.
Finally, when USA-Spanish war started over the Cuban issue in 1898, USA also came to Philippines and successfully supported Filipino nationalists against the Spanish colonial rule.
Thus, Spanish rule in Philippines came to an end after more than three centuries but USA was not ready to grant Philippines independence. Filipinos rose in revolt in February 1899 and three-year war was ensued in which US forces emerged victorious and American control over Philippine was firmly established. A parliamentary form of government was established in Philippines and natives were involved in administration of their country.
Finally, Philippines got her independence after the Second World War in 1946. However, the United States continued to maintain a significant military presence on the Philippines islands till November 1992, when the last American soldiers were withdrawn.
Indo-China refers to area comprising the modern countries of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. The colonization of Vietnam by the French brought the natives of the country into conflict with the French colonizers in all areas of life. French dominated Vietnam in military and economic sphere. French also built a system through education and religious missionaries that tried to reshape the culture of the Vietnamese society.
All these efforts of French colonizers were taken as deliberate efforts of foreigners to deprive Vietnamese from whatever is dear to them-their freedom, their resources, their culture and traditions. As a reaction against French occupation and their designs, nationalism in Vietnam emerged through the efforts of different sections of society to fight against the French and all they represented.
Vietnam was colonized by the French in second half of the nineteenth century. French troops first landed in Vietnam in 1858 and in 1864, they formally declared southern Vietnam, Cochinchina, as French territory. By the mid-1880s, they had established a firm grip over the northern region also. After the Franco-Chinese war (1884-85), the French assumed control of Tonkin and Annam regions of the Vietnam (Vietnam had three regions: Tonkin, which was northern most region, Annam, which was centrally located and Cochinchina, which was the southernmost region).
In 1887, French Indo-China was formed which comprised all three regions of Vietnam and Cambodia. Laos was added to French Indo- China in 1893 (Capital was shifted to Hanoi from Saigon in 1902 and to Da Lat ( Annam) in 1939. It was again moved back to Hanoi in 1945).
In the decades following their establishment of French Indo-China, the French sought to consolidate their position, and people in Vietnam began reflecting on the nature of the loss that Vietnam was suffering. Nationalist resistance developed out of this reflection.
In the late nineteenth century, resistance to French domination was very often led by Confucian scholar – activists. In twentieth century, there were different nationalist groups operating in different regions of the Vietnam. In February 1930, Ho Chi Minh brought together these different nationalist groups to establish the Vietnamese Communist Party, which was later renamed as the Indo-Chinese Communist Party. Ho Chi Minh was inspired by European communist parties and success of the Russian Revolution. In 1940, Japan occupied Vietnam, as part of its imperial designs to control Southeast Asia.
After the fall of France during the Second World War, the French Indo-China was administered by the Vichy France but under Japanese supervision. So, nationalists now had to fight against the Japanese as well as the French. The League for the Independence of Vietnam, which came to be known as the Vietminh, also fought the Japanese occupation and recaptured Hanoi in September 1945 (Japanese had assumed full control of Vietnam in March 1945). After recapturing Hanoi, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam was formed and Ho Chi Minh became the Chairman. But the challenges were far from over for the new republic. After the end of the Second World War, the French tried to regain control by using the emperor, Bao Dai, as their puppet.
France again sent their armed forces to regain control over the Vietnam and Viet Minh began a guerrilla campaign against the French occupational forces. After eight years of fighting, the French were defeated in 1954 at Dien Bien Phu. On 7 May 1954, the Viet Minh annihilated and captured more than 16,000 soldiers of the French expeditionary Corps. The entire commanding staff, including a general, 16 colonels and 1,749 officers, were taken as prisoner.
In July 1954, war came to an end and ceasefire was declared. In the subsequent peace negotiations in Geneva after the French defeat, the French Indo-China was declared as dissolved, but the Vietnamese were persuaded to accept the division of the country. North and south were split: Ho Chi Minh and the communists took power in the north while Bao Dai ’s regime was put in power in the south. Laos and Cambodia also became independent in 1954.
Division of Vietnam into two parts set in motion a series of events that turned Vietnam into a battlefield. It resulted in death and destruction for people of Vietnam as well as for its environment. The Bao Dai regime of Southern Vietnam was soon overthrown by a coup led by Ngo Dinh Diem. Diem built a repressive and authoritarian government in southern Vietnam. Any voice of discontent was labelled as communist and was jailed and killed. Diem retained Ordinance 10, a French law that permitted Christianity but outlawed Buddhism. His dictatorial rule came to be opposed by a broad opposition united under the banner of the National Liberation Front (NLF). With the help of the Ho Chi Minh government in the north, the NLF fought for the unification of the country.
The US watched this alliance with fear.Worried about communists gaining power in Vietnam, the US decided to intervene decisively, sending in troops and arms. US entry into the war marked a new phase that proved costly to the Vietnamese as well as to the Americans. Civilians also died in large numbers. The war grew out of a fear among US policy-planners that the victory of the Ho Chi Minh government would start a domino effect and communist governments would be established in other countries in the area. Earlier communists already had been able to gain power in China and USA wanted to contain spread of communism in every part of the world.
But USA underestimated the power of Vietnamese nationalism and their desire for independence. This spirit of nationalism moved people to action, inspired them to sacrifice their home and family, live under horrific conditions, and fight for their independence. Due to this reason, even after employing most advanced technologies in the warfare, victory remained elusive for the USA. The prolongation of the war created strong reactions in US. With passage of time, it became clear that the US had failed to achieve its objectives. The Vietnamese resistance had not been crushed and the support of the Vietnamese people for US action had not been won (USA had thought that natives will support USA against Vietnamese communist forces). The widespread questioning of government policy strengthened moves to negotiate an end to the war. A peace settlement was signed in Paris in January 1974. This ended conflict with the US but fighting between the Saigon regime and the NLF continued. The NLF occupied the presidential palace in Saigon on 30 April 1975 and unified Vietnam.
Indonesia was under the Dutch colonial rule. Dutch came, like many other Europeans, as traders and established their control over modern Indonesia gradually. For most of the colonial period, Dutch rule over Indonesian archipelago was somewhat weak . It was only in twentieth century that the Dutch colonial territories achieved their maximum extent and direct Dutch colonial rule was exerted. East Timor remained under the rule of Portuguese and Dutch never established their control over it. It was in early years of twentieth century that Dutch started facing organized nationalist movements directed against their colonial rule.
Dutch responded with repressive measures. Communist Party of Indonesia was formed in 1924 and Dutch repression contributed to the growth of the Communist party of Indonesia. In 1926-27, there were Communists led revolts against Dutch colonial rule but they were repressed brutally by the Dutch colonial regime. Japanese invasion and occupation of Indonesia during the Second World War ended the Dutch colonial rule there and many nationalists actively supported Japanese against the Dutch colonial rulers. After the defeat of Japan in 1945, Indonesia was declared as an independent nation on 17 August 1945 by Indonesia leader Sukarno.
Dutch tried to re-establish their control over Indonesia after the end of the Second World War and a bitter armed struggle ensued. Within four years, Dutch were able to regain almost all of their colonial possessions back but guerrilla resistance persisted. After four years of fierce fighting and facing UN criticism for her actions against nationalist aspirations of the Indonesians, the Netherlands officially recognized the independence of the Indonesia on 27 December, 1949. On 17 August 1950, again exactly after five years, Republic of Indonesia was proclaimed was a sovereign independent nation.
Africa was the last inhabited continent to be colonized by European colonial powers. In Berlin Congress (1884-85), European powers divided Africa between themselves. After the end of the Second World War and the defeat of the axis powers, most of the Africa was under French and British control. Soon after the end of the Second World War, nationalist movements gained momentum in different parts of the world and Africa was no exception.
Many Africans took part in the Second World War and now they were providing valuable services to their motherland in an attempt to be made free from foreign colonial rule. Formation of the United Nations and the ongoing cold war also played its part. Newly independent nations supported these ongoing nationalist movements in Africa on United Nations’ platform.
Due to the cold war rivalry, the USSR also extended her support to the African nations against the European colonial powers and the USA in efforts to grant independence to the African colonies.
In some places in Africa, the transition to independent nation was a peaceful one, but some transitions were more violent, depending on the value of that colony for its colonial master and desire of colonial power to not let go colonies completely out of their control, even if political independence was to be granted to these colonies. Despite all the efforts of colonial powers, in the end spirit of nationalism proved victorious and by the end of the 1960’s almost all African nations were free from the colonial rule.
Libya is situated in northern Africa and had a long coastline facing Mediterranean Sea.
Libya have rich oil reserves that is why it was coveted by colonial powers. Libya was one of the major battle grounds of North Africa during the Second World War and was taken over by Italy during the war. But Allies won it back from Italy and after the war, the colonial powers could not decide about the fate of Libya.
Finally, in 1949, the United Nations decided that because of the sacrifices Libya made during the war, it should become independent and in 1951 Libya became an independent country under King Idris.
Thus, peaceful transition to independence was achieved by Libya after the end of the Second World War.
Gold Coast (Ghana)
Gold Coast (Ghana) is situated on Western Africa’s Gulf of Guinea. As the name suggests, the Gold Coast was one of the richest colonies in Africa and since 1874, had been part of the extensive British colonial Empire.
The main exports from the country were gold, diamonds, and cocoa. After the Second World War came to an end, Convention Peoples Party (CPP) and Kwame Nkrumah started nationwide protest and demanded right of self-determination and independence from colonial rule of Britain.
The civil disobedience campaigns were organized all over the country and in 1950 Nkrumah was imprisoned for his activities against the colonial government. Imprisonment of Nkrumah did two things which proved a blessing in disguise and increased problems for the colonial rulers:
It made Nkrumah a national hero, and
It made the public of the gold coast more in favor of independence from the British colonial rule.
As a result, Arden-Clarke, the Governor of the Gold Coast recognized that the CPP embodied popular political aspirations and released Nkrumah. In the election that were held in the following year (1951), the CPP won a thumping majority with 34 out of the 38 seats in the government. Nkrumah soon became the Prime Minister.
Further political and electoral victories led to the Gold Coast becoming Independent in 1957. Later, Nkrumah renamed the new country as Ghana. Thus, power transition in Ghana was also relatively peaceful.
Algeria is a North African country with a Mediterranean coastline. Algeria had been a French colony since 1834 and was considered an integral part of French territory. However, there was growing resentment of French rule in Algeria due to the way French treated its native population. After the Second World War, Arab Nationalism also found strengths and played a crucial role in struggle for independence.
The combination of growing resentment towards French colonial rule, desire to set motherland free from foreign rule and Arab Nationalism led to an attack on the French Military and French citizens by Arab Nationalists in 1954.
However, French were determined to continue their colonial rule in Algeria and these attacks only bred more hatred. Consequently, the Algerian War started between French forces and Arab Nationalists. Guerrilla warfare was fought between Arab Nationalists and the French military for 8 years until the French withdrew from their colony and Algeria became independent in 1962.
The Mau Mau rebellion was an uprising that took place in Kenya in 1952. The Kikuyu, a major tribe in Kenya resembling 20 percent of Kenya’s population started this uprising in order to become independent. The British military put down this uprising in 1955 and there were specific moments of bloodshed.
After the uprising, the British government put members of the uprising in concentration camps. Some of the prisoners were tortured and beaten to death by the British. This went against traditional methods of British colonial rule. The British also imprisoned Kenya’s political leader Jomo Kenyatta.
By 1960, Britain knew that colonial rule was at its end, combined with pressure from the people of Kenya led to the release of Kenyatta. In 1963, Kenya became independent and Kenyatta became president of Kenya.
Spain was the first colonial power to settle and colonize large areas in American continent. Spain subsequently successfully established a vast colonial empire in America. By the mid-sixteenth century, Spain had gained control over vast stretches of land in southern North America, Central America and western South America in addition to its earlier held Caribbean territories.
After the French invasion of the Spain during Europe’s Napoleonic wars, Spanish control over these territories further weakened and people saw it as an opportunity to become free from Spanish control.
The white settlers there were inspired by successful American Revolution in North America by white settlers against British rule. Whites in these territories were aware of the ideas of the enlightenment and wanted political, social and economic independence to look after their own affairs.
These territories already had some experience in self-governance since the control of the Spanish crown was always feeble over these colonies. This experience of selfgovernment, along with the influence of liberalism and the ideas of the French and American Revolutions, brought about a struggle for independence.
The territories freed themselves, often with help from the British Empire, which aimed to achieve political influence and trade without the Spanish monopoly. In South America, Simon Bolivar and Jose de San Martin led the final phase of the independence struggle.
Although Bolivar attempted to keep the Spanish-speaking parts of the continent politically unified, they rapidly became independent of one another as well, and several further wars were fought, such as the Paraguayan War and the War of the Pacific. A related process took place in Spain’s North and Central American territories with the Mexican War of Independence and related struggles. Independence was achieved in 1821 by a coalition uniting under Agustin de Iturbide and the Army of the Three Guarantees. Unity was maintained for a short period under the First Mexican Empire, but within a decade the region had also split into various nations.