Decolonisation of Africa

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Dates of independence of African countries

The Decolonization of Africa followed World War II, when colonised people agitated for independence and colonial powers withdrew their administrators from Africa.[1]


Areas of Africa controlled by European colonial powers in 1913, shown along with current national boundaries.

The ‘scramble for Africa’ between 1870-1900 ended with almost all of Africa being controlled by European states. Racing to secure as much land as possible, but wanting to avoid conflict amongst themselves, without regard to local differences leaders divided up the continent, formalising it in the Berlin Agreement in 1885.[2][3] 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).[4] 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 polices surfacing around local economies led to the failing of local economies due to an exploitation of resources and cheap labor.[5] Progress towards independence was slow up until the mid-20th century. By 1977, 54 African countries had seceded from European colonial rulers.[6]


External Causes

During WWI and WWII, African soldiers were conscripted into imperial militaries.[7] This led to a deeper political awareness and the expectation of greater respect and self-determination, which was left largely unfulfilled.[8] 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.[6]

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.[9] 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.[10] 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.[6]

Furthermore, colonies such as Nigeria, Senegal and Ghana pushed for self-governance as colonial powers were exhausted by war efforts.[11]

Internal Causes

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.[12]

Colonial economic exploitation led to European extraction of Ghana’s mining profits to shareholders, instead of internal development, causing major local socioeconomic grievances.[13] Nevertheless, local African industry and towns expanded when U-boats patrolling the Atlantic Ocean reduced raw material transportation to Europe.[6] In turn, urban communities, industries and trade unions grew, improving literacy and education, leading to pro-independence newspaper establishments.[6]

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.[5] 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).[citation needed]

Economic legacy

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.[14] 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.[15] 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.[14]

Effects of debt

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.[16] 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.[17] This is exacerbated by interest and principal arrears which made up over 27% of total external debt for sub-Saharan nations in 1998.[17] 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.[18]

Social legacy


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.[19] 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.[20]


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.[21][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.[22] 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.

Difficulties in transition

The transition to independence in many postcolonial countries is often fraught with political and ethnic tensions. In Rwanda and neighbouring Burundi, the move from colonial to independent rule led to violence.[23] Racialised policies under colonial rule led to rivalries between ethnic groups and was a major contributor to the 1994 Rwandan Genocide. The first Presidential election in Rwanda, 1962 was won by Grégoire Kayibanda, leader of the Parti du Mouvement de l'Emancipation du Peuple Hutu (Party for Hutu Emancipation) which sustained the backbone of his government policy.[24] Following this, many Tutsis left the country as they became increasingly ostracised in Rwandan society. There had always been tensions between the Hutus and Tutsis, but the animosity between them grew substantially under Rwanda’s transition to independence and many serious Hutu-Tutsi conflicts ensued.


This table is the arranged by the earliest date of independence in this graph; 58 countries have seceded.

Country[25] Colonial name Colonial power[26] Independence date[27] First head of government Independence won through
South Africa Union of South Africa Cape Colony
Colony of Natal
Orange River Colony
Transvaal Colony Transvaal Colony
 United Kingdom 31 May 1910[28] Louis Botha South Africa Act 1909
 Kingdom of Egypt[29] Sultanate of Egypt 28 February 1922[31] Fuad I Egyptian Revolution of 1919
Emirate of Cyrenaica British Military Administration 1 March 1949 Idris I Western Desert Campaign
United Kingdom of Libya British Military Administration
Military Territory of Fezzan-Ghadames
Emirate of Cyrenaica
 United Kingdom
 French Fourth Republic
Emirate of Cyrenaica
24 December 1951
Republic of Sudan Anglo-Egyptian Sudan  United Kingdom[33]
Republic of Egypt
1 January 1956 Ismail al-Azhari Egyptian Revolution of 1952
Kingdom of Tunisia French Protectorate of Tunisia  French Fourth Republic 20 March 1956 Muhammad VIII al-Amin
Habib Bourguiba
 Morocco French Protectorate in Morocco
Tangier International Zone
Spanish Protectorate in Morocco
Spanish West Africa
 French Fourth Republic
 Francoist Spain
2 March 1956[35]
7 April 1956
10 April 1958
4 January 1969
Mohammed V Ifni War
Ghana  Gold Coast  United Kingdom[36] 6 March 1957 Kwame Nkrumah -
 Guinea  French West Africa  French Fourth Republic 2 October 1958 Sékou Touré Guinean constitutional referendum, 1958
 Cameroon French Cameroons
British Cameroons
 United Kingdom
1 January 1960[37]
1 June 1961
1 October 1961
Ahmadou Ahidjo -[38]
 Togo French Togoland  France 27 April 1960 Sylvanus Olympio -
Mali French West Africa 20 June 1960[39] Modibo Keita -
 Senegal Léopold Senghor -
Malagasy Republic French Madagascar 26 June 1960 Philibert Tsiranana
Republic of the Congo  Belgian Congo  Belgium 30 June 1960 Patrice Lumumba Belgo-Congolese Round Table Conference
Somali Republic  British Somaliland
Trust Territory of Somaliland
 United Kingdom
26 June 1960
1 July 1960[40]
Aden Abdullah Osman Daar -
Republic of Dahomey  French West Africa  France 1 August 1960 Hubert Maga -
 Niger 3 August 1960 Hamani Diori -
 Upper Volta 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
British Cameroons
 United Kingdom 1 October 1960
1 June 1961
1 October 1961[41]
Nnamdi Azikiwe -
 Mauritania  French Equatorial Africa  France 28 November 1960 Moktar Ould Daddah -
 Sierra Leone Colony and Protectorate of Sierra Leone  United Kingdom 27 April 1961 Milton Margai -
 Tanganyika[42] Tanganyika Territory 9 December 1961 Julius Nyerere -
 Kingdom of Burundi Ruanda-Urundi  Belgium 1 July 1962 Mwambutsa IV of Burundi -
Republic of Rwanda Grégoire Kayibanda Rwandan Revolution
 Algeria French Algeria  France 3 July 1962 Ahmed Ben Bella Algerian War
Uganda Protectorate of Uganda  United Kingdom 9 October 1962 Milton Obote -
Kenya Colony and Protectorate of Kenya 12 December 1963 Jomo Kenyatta Mau Mau Uprising
Sultanate of Zanzibar[42] Sultanate of Zanzibar 10 December 1963 Jamshid bin Abdullah -[43]
 Malawi  Nyasaland 6 July 1964 Hastings Kamuzu Banda -
 Zambia  Northern Rhodesia 24 October 1964 Kenneth Kaunda -
The Gambia Gambia Colony and Protectorate 18 February 1965 Dawda Kairaba Jawara -
 Southern Rhodesia 11 November 1965
17 April 1980[44]
Ian Smith
Robert Mugabe
Rhodesia's Unilateral Declaration of Independence
Lancaster House Agreement
 Botswana Bechuanaland Protectorate 30 September 1966 Seretse Khama -
Kingdom of Lesotho Territory of Basutoland 4 October 1966 Leabua Jonathan -
Mauritius Mauritius 12 March 1968 Veerasamy Ringadoo -
 Swaziland Swaziland 6 September 1968 Sobhuza II -
Republic of Equatorial Guinea Spanish Territories of the Gulf of Guinea  Francoist Spain 12 October 1968 Francisco Macías Nguema -
 Guinea-Bissau Overseas Province of Guinea  Portugal 24 September 1973 Luís Cabral Guinea-Bissau War of Independence
People's Republic of Mozambique State of Mozambique 25 June 1975 Samora Machel Mozambican War of Independence
Republic of Cape Verde Overseas Province of Cape Verde 5 July 1975 Aristides Pereira Guinea-Bissau War of Independence[45]
Union of the 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 -
People's Republic of Angola State of Angola 11 November 1975 Agostinho Neto Angolan War of Independence
Republic of Seychelles Seychelles  United Kingdom 29 June 1976 James Richard Marie Mancham -
Djibouti Republic of Djibouti France French Territory of the Afars and the Issas France French Fifth Republic 27 June 1977 Hassan Gouled Aptidon Afars and Issas independence referendum, 1977
 Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic[47] Spanish Sahara
Southern Provinces
 Francoist Spain
27 February 1976
independence not yet effectuated
El-Ouali Mustapha Sayed
Mohamed Abdelaziz
Western Sahara War
Western Sahara conflict

See also


  1. ^ Birmingham, David (1995). The Decolonization of Africa. Routledge. ISBN 1-85728-540-9. 
  2. ^ "Berlin Conference of 1884-1885". Retrieved 11 January 2015. 
  3. ^ "A Brief History of the Berlin Conference". Retrieved 11 January 2015. 
  4. ^ Evans, Alistair. "Countries in Africa Considered Never Colonized". Retrieved 11 January 2015. 
  5. ^ a b Hunt, Michael (2017). The World Transformed 1945 to the Present. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 264. ISBN 9780199371020. 
  7. ^ [2], The call of the Empire, the call of the war - Telegraph.
  8. ^ Ferguson, Ed, and A. Adu Boahen. (1990). African Perspectives On Colonialism. The International Journal Of African Historical Studies 23 (2): 334. doi:10.2307/219358.
  9. ^ "The Atlantic Conference & Charter, 1941". Retrieved 26 January 2015. 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. 
  10. ^ Karski, Jan (2014). The Great Powers and Poland: From Versailles to Yalta. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 330. ISBN 9781442226654. Retrieved 24 June 2014. 
  11. ^ Assa, O. (2006). A History of Africa. Volume 2. Kampala East Africa Education Publisher ltd.
  12. ^ [3], A ‘Wind Of Change’ That Transformed The Continent | Africa Renewal Online. 2017. Un.Org.
  13. ^ [Boahen, A. (1990) Africa Under Colonial Domination, Volume 7]
  14. ^ a b Bertocchia, G. & Canova, F., (2002) Did colonization matter for growth? An empirical exploration into the historical causes of Africa's underdevelopment. European Economic Review, Volume 46, pp. 1851-1871
  15. ^ Vincent Ferraro, "Dependency Theory: An Introduction," in The Development Economics Reader, ed. Giorgio Secondi (London: Routledge, 2008), pp. 58-64
  16. ^ [4] The Guardian, (2012) A developing world of debt.
  17. ^ a b Fole, A. G.,( 2003). The Historical Origin of African Debt Crisis. Eastern Africa Social Science Research Review, 19(1), pp. 59-89
  18. ^ Geda, A., (2002). Debt Issues in Africa: Thinking beyond the HIPC Initiative to Solving Structural Problems. UNU/WIDER development conference on Debt Relief, Helsinki, 17–18 August 2001, Volume 35.
  19. ^ Locke, Jason (2010). Death at birth: The political, economic and social impact of the decolonization and perpetual, neo-colonial control of Congo.
  20. ^ IMF Country Report No. 17/80 (2017). Article Iv Consultation - Press Release; Staff Report; And Statement By The Executive Director For Nigeria.
  21. ^ Talton, Benjamin (2011). The Challenge of Decolonization in Africa; African & African Diasporan Transformations in the 20th Century
  22. ^ Ezenwe, Uka (1993). The African debt crisis and the challenge of development.
  23. ^ Vandeginste, S, (2014). Governing ethnicity after genocide: ethnic amnesia in Rwanda versus ethnic power-sharing in Burundi. Journal of East African Studies, 8, 263-277
  24. ^ Gascoigne, Bamber (2001). HistoryWorld.
  25. ^ Explanatory notes are added in cases where decolonization was achieved jointly by multiple countries or where the current country is formed by the merger of previously decolonized countries.
  26. ^ Some territories changed hands multiple times, so in the list is mentioned the last colonial power. In addition, the mandatory or trustee powers are mentioned for territories that were League of Nations mandates and UN Trust Territories.
  27. ^ The dates of decolonization for territories annexed by or integrated into previously decolonized independent countries are given in separate notes.
  28. ^ The Union of South Africa was constituted through the South Africa Act entering into force on 31 May 1910. On 11 December 1931 it got increased self-governance powers through the Statute of Westminster which was followed by transformation into republic after the 1960 referendum. Afterwards, South Africa was under apartheid regime until elections resulting from the negotiations to end apartheid in South Africa on 27 April 1994 when Nelson Mandela became president.
  29. ^ Transcontinental country, partially located in Asia.
  30. ^ King, Joan Wucher (1989) [First published 1984]. Historical Dictionary of Egypt. Books of Lasting Value. American University in Cairo Press. pp. 259–260. ISBN 978-977-424-213-7. 
  31. ^ On 28 February 1922 the British government issued the Unilateral Declaration of Egyptian Independence. Through this declaration, the British government unilaterally ended its protectorate over Egypt and granted it nominal independence with the exception of four "reserved" areas: foreign relations, communications, the military and the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan.[30] The Anglo–Egyptian treaty of 1936 reduced British involvement, but still was not welcomed by Egyptian nationalists, who wanted full independence from Britain, which was not achieved until the 1952 revolution. The last British troops left Egypt after the Suez Crisis of 1956.
  32. ^ Robert O. Collins, A History of Modern Sudan
  33. ^ Anglo-Egyptian Condominium Agreement of 1899, stated that Sudan should be jointly governed by Egypt and Britain, but with real power remaining in British hands.[32]
  34. ^ See Tunisian independence.
  35. ^ Cape Juby was ceded by Spain to Morocco on 2 April 1958. Ifni was returned from Spain to Morocco on 4 January 1969.
  36. ^ The British Togoland mandate and trust territory was integrated into Gold Coast colony on 13 December 1956.
  37. ^ After the French Cameroun mandate and trust territory gained independence it was joined by part of the British Cameroons mandate and trust territory on 1 October 1961. The other part of British Cameroons joined Nigeria.
  38. ^ Minor armed insurgency from Union of the Peoples of Cameroon.
  39. ^ Senegal and French Sudan gained independence on 20 June 1960 as the Mali Federation, which dissolved a few months later into present day Senegal and Mali.
  40. ^ The Trust Territory of Somalia (former Italian Somaliland) united with the State of Somaliland (former British Somaliland) on 1 July 1960 to form the Somali Republic (Somalia).
  41. ^ Part of the British Cameroons mandate and trust territory on 1 October 1961 joined Nigeria. The other part of British Cameroons joined the previously decolonized French Cameroun mandate and territory.
  42. ^ a b After both gained independence Tanganyika and Zanzibar merged on 26 April 1964.
  43. ^ The Sultanate of Zanzibar would later be overthrown within a month of sovereignty by the Zanzibar Revolution.
  44. ^ Due the Rhodesia's unwillingness to accommodate the British government's request for black majority rule, the United Kingdom (along with the rest of the international community) refused to recognize the white-minority led government. The former self-governing colony would not be recognized as an independent state until the aftermath of the Rhodesian Bush War, under the name Zimbabwe.
  45. ^ Although the fight for Cape Verdean independence were linked to the liberation movement occurring in Guinea-Bissau, the island country itself saw little fighting.
  46. ^ UN General Assembly Resolution 34/37 and UN General Assembly Resolution 35/19
  47. ^ The Spanish colonial rule de facto terminated over the Western Sahara (then Spanish Sahara), when the territory was passed on to and partitioned between Mauritania and Morocco (which annexed the entire territory in 1979). The decolonization of Western Sahara is still pending, while a declaration of independence has been proclaimed by the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic, which controls only a small portion east of the Moroccan Wall. The UN still considers Spain the legal administrating country of the whole territory,[46] awaiting the outcome of the ongoing Manhasset negotiations and resulting election to be overseen by the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara. However, the de facto administrator is Morocco (see United Nations list of Non-Self-Governing Territories).


  • Ali A. Mazrui ed. "General History of Africa" vol. VIII, UNESCO, 1993
  • Chafer, Tony. The end of empire in French West Africa: France's successful decolonization (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2002).
  • Clayton, Anthony. The wars of French decolonization (Routledge, 2014).
  • Cooper, Frederick. Decolonization and African society: The labor question in French and British Africa (Cambridge University Press, 1996).
  • Michael Crowder. "The Story of Nigeria" Faber and Faber, London, 1978 (1962)
  • Dávila, Jerry. "Hotel Tropico: Brazil and the challenge of African Decolonization, 1950–1980." Duke University Press, 2010. ISBN 978-0822348559
  • Gordon, April A. and Donald L. Gordon, Lynne Riener. Understanding Contemporary Africa (London, 1996).
  • Rothermund, Dietmar. The Routledge companion to decolonization (Routledge, 2006), comprehensive global coverage; 365pp*Kevin Shillington "History of Africa" St. Martin's Press, New York, 1995 (1989)
  • Khapoya, Vincent B. The African Experience (1994)
  • White, Nicholas. Decolonization: the British experience since 1945 (Routledge, 2014).

External links

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