Decolonization of Africa

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African countries in order of independence

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

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


Main article: Scramble for Africa

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

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


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

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

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


Dates of independence of African countries
Country[4]Colonial nameColonial power[5]Independence date[6]First head of stateIndependence won through
Libya LibyaItalian Libya; Allied Military AdministrationItaly Italy
United Kingdom United Kingdom
France France
December 24, 1951King Idris IWestern Desert Campaign
Egypt EgyptBritish EgyptUnited Kingdom United Kingdom1922/1936/1952[7]Sarwat Pasha, Farouk,1952 Egyptian revolution[7]
Sudan SudanAnglo-Egyptian SudanUnited Kingdom United Kingdom[10]
1 January 1956Ismail al-AzhariCondominium ended
Tunisia TunisiaFrench protectorate of TunisiaFrance FranceMarch 20, 1956Muhammad VIII al-Amin-
Morocco MoroccoProtectorate of MoroccoFranceFrance
Spain Spain
April 7, 1956[11]Mohammed VRif War, Ifni War
Ghana GhanaGold CoastUnited Kingdom United Kingdom[12] BritainMarch 6, 1957Kwame Nkrumah-
Guinea GuineaFrench Guinea (part of French West Africa)France FranceOctober 2, 1958Sékou Touré-
Cameroon CameroonCamerounFrance France
United Kingdom United Kingdom
January 1, 1960[13]Ahmadou AhidjoUPC rebellion
Togo TogoFrench TogolandFrance FranceApril 27, 1960Sylvanus Olympio-
Mali MaliFrench Sudan (part of French West Africa)France FranceJune 20, 1960[14]Modibo Keita-
Senegal Senegalpart of French West AfricaFrance FranceJune 20, 1960[14]Léopold Senghor-
Madagascar MadagascarMalagasy ProtectorateFrance FranceJune 26, 1960Philibert TsirananaMalagasy Uprising
Democratic Republic of the Congo Democratic Republic of the CongoBelgian CongoBelgium BelgiumJune 30, 1960Joseph Kasa-Vubu and Patrice LumumbaCongo Crisis
Somalia Somalia[15]British Somaliland
Italian Somaliland
United Kingdom United Kingdom
Italy Italy
June 26, 1960
July 1, 1960
Muhammad Haji Ibrahim Egal
Aden Abdullah Osman Daar
Benin BeninFrench Dahomey (part of French West Africa)France FranceAugust 1, 1960[16]Hubert Maga-
Niger NigerColony of Niger (part of French West Africa)France FranceAugust 3, 1960Hamani Diori-
Burkina Faso Burkina FasoFrench Upper Volta (part of French West Africa)France FranceAugust 5, 1960Maurice Yaméogo-
Ivory Coast Côte d'IvoireIvory Coast (part of French West Africa)France FranceAugust 7, 1960Félix Houphouët-Boigny-
Chad ChadFrench Chad (part of French Equatorial Africa)France FranceAugust 11, 1960François Tombalbaye-
Central African Republic Central African RepublicUbangi-Shari (part of French Equatorial Africa)France FranceAugust 13, 1960David Dacko-
Republic of the Congo Republic of the CongoFrench Congo (part of French Equatorial Africa)France FranceAugust 15, 1960Fulbert Youlou-
Gabon Gabonpart of French Equatorial AfricaFrance FranceAugust 17, 1960Léon M'ba
Nigeria NigeriaBritish NigeriaUnited Kingdom United KingdomOctober 1, 1960 [17]Nnamdi Azikiwe-
Mauritania Mauritaniapart of French West AfricaFrance FranceNovember 28, 1960Moktar Ould Daddah-
Sierra Leone Sierra LeoneSierra LeoneUnited Kingdom United KingdomApril 27, 1961Milton Margai-
South Africa South AfricaUnion of South AfricaUnited Kingdom United Kingdom1910/1931/1961[18]James Barry Munnik Hertzog-
Tanzania Tanzania[19]Tanganyika
United Kingdom United KingdomDecember 9, 1961
December 10, 1963
Julius Nyerere
Jamshid ibn Abdullah
Rwanda Rwandapart of Ruanda-UrundiBelgium BelgiumJuly 1, 1962Grégoire Kayibanda- [20]
Burundi Burundipart of Ruanda-UrundiBelgium BelgiumJuly 1, 1962André Muhirwa-
Algeria AlgeriaFrench AlgeriaFrance FranceJuly 3, 1962Ahmed Ben BellaAlgerian War of Independence
Uganda UgandaUganda ProtectorateUnited Kingdom United KingdomOctober 9, 1962Milton Obote-
Kenya KenyaKenya ColonyUnited Kingdom United KingdomDecember 12, 1963Jomo KenyattaMau Mau Uprising (debated)
Malawi MalawiNyasaland ProtectorateUnited Kingdom United KingdomJuly 6, 1964Hastings Kamuzu Banda-
Zambia ZambiaNorthern RhodesiaUnited Kingdom United KingdomOctober 24, 1964Kenneth Kaunda-
The Gambia The GambiaGambia Colony and ProtectorateUnited Kingdom United KingdomFebruary 18, 1965Dawda Kairaba Jawara-
Botswana BotswanaBechuanaland ProtectorateUnited Kingdom United KingdomSeptember 30, 1966Seretse Khama-
Lesotho LesothoBasutolandUnited Kingdom United KingdomOctober 4, 1966Leabua Jonathan-
Namibia NamibiaSouth West AfricaSouth Africa South AfricaOctober 27, 1966 (De jure)[21]
March 21, 1990 (De facto)
Sam NujomaNamibian War of Independence
Mauritius MauritiusUnited Kingdom United KingdomMarch 12, 1968-
Swaziland SwazilandSwazilandUnited Kingdom United KingdomSeptember 6, 1968Sobhuza II-
Equatorial Guinea Equatorial GuineaSpanish GuineaSpain SpainOctober 12, 1968Francisco Macías Nguema-
Guinea-Bissau Guinea-BissauPortuguese GuineaPortugal PortugalSeptember 24, 1973Luís CabralGuinea-Bissau War of Independence/Portuguese Colonial War
Mozambique MozambiquePortuguese East AfricaPortugal PortugalJune 25, 1975Samora MachelMozambican War of Independence/Portuguese Colonial War
Cape Verde Cape VerdePortugal PortugalJuly 5, 1975influenced by Guinea-Bissau War of Independence
Comoros ComorosFrench Madagascar, French ComorosFrance France
Madagascar Madagascar
July 6, 1975-
São Tomé and Príncipe São Tomé and PríncipePortugal PortugalJuly 12, 1975-
Angola AngolaPortuguese West AfricaPortugal PortugalNovember 11, 1975Agostinho NetoAngolan War of Independence/Portuguese Colonial War
Seychelles SeychellesUnited Kingdom United KingdomJune 29, 1976James Richard Marie Mancham-
Djibouti DjiboutiFrench SomalilandFrance FranceJune 27, 1977Hassan Gouled Aptidon-
Zimbabwe ZimbabweSouthern RhodesiaUnited Kingdom United KingdomApril 18, 1980[22]Canaan BananaLancaster House Agreement
Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic Sahrawi Republic[24]Spanish Sahara;
Moroccan Sahara
Spain Spain;
Morocco Morocco
February 27, 1976;
Independence not effectuated over most of the territory
El-Ouali Mustapha Sayed;
Mohamed Abdelaziz
Western Sahara War;
Saharawi Intifada

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Birmingham, David (1995). The Decolonization of Africa. Routledge. ISBN 1-85728-540-9. 
  2. ^ Africa 'better in colonial times', BBC News, 22 September 2004
  3. ^ Karski, Jan (2014). The Great Powers and Poland: From Versailles to Yalta. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 330. ISBN 9781442226654. Retrieved 24 June 2014. 
  4. ^ Timeline list arranged according to current countries. Explanatory notes are added in cases where decolonization was achieved jointly or where the current state is formed by merger of previously decolonized states.
  5. ^ Some territories changed hands multiple times, so in the list is mentioned the last colonial power. In addition to it the mandatory or trustee powers are mentioned for territories that were League of Nations mandates and UN Trust Territories.
  6. ^ Date of decolonization for territories annexed by or integrated into previously decolonized independent countries are given in separate notes.
  7. ^ a b On 28 February 1922 the British government issued the Unilateral Declaration of Egyptian Independence. Through this declaration, the British government unilaterally ended its protectorate over Egypt and granted it nominal independence with the exception of four "reserved" areas: foreign relations, communications, the military and the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan.[8] The Anglo–Egyptian treaty of 1936 reduced British involvement, but still was not welcomed by Egyptian nationalists, who wanted full independence from Britain, which was not achieved until the 1952 revolution. The last British troops left Egypt after the Suez Crisis of 1956.
  8. ^ King, Joan Wucher (1989) [First published 1984]. Historical Dictionary of Egypt. Books of Lasting Value. American University in Cairo Press. pp. 259–260. ISBN 978-977-424-213-7. 
  9. ^ Robert O. Collins, A History of Modern Sudan
  10. ^ Anglo-Egyptian Condominium Agreement of 1899, stated that Sudan should be jointly governed by Egypt Egypt and Britain, but with real power remaining in British hands.[9]
  11. ^ Cape Juby was ceded by Spain to Morocco on 2 April 1958. Ifni was returned from Spain to Morocco on 4 January 1969.
  12. ^ The British Togoland mandate and trust territory was integrated into Gold Coast colony on 13 December 1956.
  13. ^ After the French Cameroun mandate and trust territory gained independence it was joined by part of the British Cameroons mandate and trust territory on October 1, 1961. The other part of British Cameroons joined Nigeria.
  14. ^ a b Senegal and French Sundan gained independence on 20 June 1960 as the Mali Federation, which dissolved a few months later into present day Senegal and Mali.
  15. ^ The Trust Territory of Somalia (former Italian Somaliland) united with the State of Somaliland (former British Somaliland) on July 1, 1960 to form the Somali Republic.
  16. ^ Independent Benin unilaterally annexed Portuguese São João Baptista de Ajudá in 1961.
  17. ^ Part of the British Cameroons mandate and trust territory on October 1, 1961 joined Nigeria. The other part of British Cameroons joined the previously decolonized French Cameroun mandate and territory.
  18. ^ The Union of South Africa was constituted through the South Africa Act entering into force on 31 May 1910. On 11 December 1931 it got increased self-governance powers through the Statute of Westminster which was followed by transformation into republic after the 1960 referendum. Afterwards, South Africa was under apartheid regime until elections resulting from the negotiations to end apartheid in South Africa on 27 April 1994 when Nelson Mandela became president.
  19. ^ After both gained independence Tanganyika and Zanzibar merged on 26 April 1964
  20. ^ See Rwandan Revolution.
  21. ^ UN resolution 2145 terminated South Africa's mandate over Namibia, making it de jure independent. South Africa did not relinquish the territory until 1990
  22. ^ Unilaterally declared independence in 1965 as Rhodesia, followed by attempted Internal Settlement in 1979 as Zimbabwe-Rhodesia; both states were unrecognised by the United Kingdom. British-organised elections were held in early 1980 involving the Zimbabwe African Peoples Union and Zimbabwe African National Union as stipulated in the Lancaster House Agreement.
  23. ^ UN General Assembly Resolution 34/37 and UN General Assembly Resolution 35/19
  24. ^ The Spanish colonial rule de facto terminated over the Western Sahara (then Rio de Oro), when the territory was passed on to and partitioned between Mauritania and Morocco (which annexed the entire territory in 1979), rendering the declared independence of the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic ineffective to the present day (it controls only a small portion east of the Moroccan Wall). The UN still considers Spain as administrating country of the whole territory,[23] awaiting the outcome of the ongoing Manhasset negotiations and resulting election to be overseen by the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara. However, the de facto administrator is Morocco (see United Nations list of Non-Self-Governing Territories).


External links[edit]