Decolonisation of Africa

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An animated map shows the order of independence of African nations, 1950–2011
Order of independence of African nations, 1950–2011

The decolonisation of Africa was a series of political developments in Africa that spanned from the mid-1950s to 1975, during the Cold War. Colonial governments gave way to sovereign states in a process often marred by violence, political turmoil, widespread unrest, and organised revolts. Major events of decolonisation of Africa include the Mau Mau rebellion, the Algerian War, the Congo Crisis, the Angolan War of Independence, the Zanzibar Revolution, and the events leading to the Nigerian Civil War.[1][2][3][4][5]


Scramble for Africa Africa in the years 1880 and 1913, just before the First World War

The "Scramble for Africa" between 1870 and 1914 was a significant period of European imperialism in Africa that ended with almost all of Africa, and its natural resources, claimed as colonies by European powers, who raced to secure as much land as possible while avoiding conflict amongst themselves. The partition of Africa was confirmed at the Berlin Conference of 1885, without regard for the existing political and social structures.[1][2] Almost all the pre-colonial states of Africa lost their sovereignty. The only exceptions were Liberia, which had been settled in the early 19th century by formerly enslaved African-Americans and was recognized as independent by the United States in 1862,[3] but was viewed by European powers as being in the United States' sphere of influence, and Ethiopia, which won its independence at the Battle of Adwa[4] but was later occupied by Italy in 1936.[5] Britain and France had the largest holdings, but Germany, Spain, Italy, Belgium, and Portugal also had colonies.[6] By 1977, 50 African countries had gained independence from European colonial powers.[7][better source needed]

External causes[edit]

European control in 1939, the year the Second World War began

The early twentieth century was a time of rising nationalism throughout the world. The end of the First World War saw the breakup of the German, Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires according to the principles espoused in Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points. Though many anti-colonial intellectuals saw the potential of Wilsonian Internationalism to advance their aims, Wilson had no intention of applying the principle of self-determination outside the lands of the defeated Central Powers. The independence demands of Egyptian and Tunisian leaders, which would have compromised the interests of the victorious Allies, were not entertained. Though Wilsonian ideals did not endure as the interwar order broke down, the principle of an international order based on the self-determination of peoples remained relevant. After 1919, anti-colonial leaders increasingly oriented themselves toward the Soviet Union's proletarian internationalism.[8]

Many Africans fought in both World War I and World War II. In the First World War, African labor was essential on the Western Front, and African soldiers fought in the Egypt and Palestine campaigns. Many Africans were not allowed to bear arms or serve on an equal basis with whites. The sinking of the SS Mendi in 1917 was a particularly tragic incident for Africans in the war, with 607 of the 646 crew killed being Black South Africans.[9] In the Second World War, Africans fought in both the European and Asian theatres of war.[10] Approximately one million sub-Saharan Africans served in European armies in some capacity. Many Africans were compelled or even forced into military service by their respective colonial regimes, but some voluntarily enlisted in search of better opportunities than they could find in civilian employment.[11] This led to a deeper political awareness and the expectation of greater respect and self-determination, which went largely unfulfilled.[12] Because the victorious allied powers had no intention of withdrawing from their colonial holdings at the end of the war, and would instead need to rely on the resources and manpower of their African colonies during postwar reconstruction in Europe, the colonial powers downplayed Africans' contributions to the allied victory.[11]

On February 12, 1941, United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill met to discuss the post-war world. The result was the Atlantic Charter.[13] 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 out to be a widely acclaimed document.[14] Clause Three referred to the right to decide what form of government people wanted, and to the restoration of self-government.

Prime Minister Churchill argued in the British Parliament that the document referred to "the States and nations of Europe now under the Nazi yoke".[15] President Roosevelt regarded it as applicable across the world.[16] Anticolonial politicians immediately saw it as relevant to colonial empires.[17] The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, three years after the end of World War II, recognised all people as being born free and equal.[18]

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 Britons considered African colonies childish and immature; British colonisers introduced democratic government at local levels in the colonies. Britain was forced to agree but Churchill rejected the universal applicability of self-determination for subject nations.

Italy, a colonial power, lost its African empire, Italian East Africa, Italian Ethiopia, Italian Eritrea, Italian Somalia and Italian Libya, as a result of World War II.[19] Furthermore, colonies such as Nigeria, Senegal and Ghana pushed for self-governance as colonial powers were exhausted by war efforts.[20]

The United Nations 1960 Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples stated that colonial exploitation is a denial of human rights, and that power should be transferred back to the countries or territories concerned.[21]

Internal causes[edit]

Colonial economic exploitation involved diverting resource extraction (such as mining) profits to European shareholders at the expense of internal development, causing significant local socioeconomic grievances.[22] For early African nationalists, decolonisation was a moral imperative around which a political movement could be assembled.[23][24]

In the 1930s, the colonial powers had cultivated, sometimes inadvertently, a small elite of local African leaders educated in Western universities, where they became familiar with ideas such as self-determination. Although independence was not encouraged, arrangements between these leaders and the colonial powers developed,[6] and such figures as Jomo Kenyatta (Kenya), Kwame Nkrumah (Gold Coast, now Ghana), Julius Nyerere (Tanganyika, now Tanzania), Léopold Sédar Senghor (Senegal), Nnamdi Azikiwe (Nigeria), Patrice Lumumba (DRC) and Félix Houphouët-Boigny (Côte d'Ivoire) came to lead the struggles for African nationalism.

During the Second World War, some local African industries and towns expanded when U-boats patrolling the Atlantic Ocean impeded the shipping of raw materials to Europe.[7][better source needed]

Over time, urban communities, industries, and trade unions grew, improving literacy and education, and leading to the establishment of pro-independence newspapers.[7][better source needed]

By 1945, the Fifth Pan-African Congress demanded the end of colonialism, and delegates included future presidents of Ghana, Kenya and Malawi among other nationalist activists.[25]

Economic legacy[edit]

An extensive body of literature has examined the legacy of colonialism and colonial institutions on economic outcomes in Africa, with numerous studies showing disputed economic effects .[26]

Modernisation theory posits 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 local capital accumulation.[27] 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.[28] Despite this continued reliance and unfair trading terms, a meta-analysis of 18 African countries found that a third of them experienced increased economic growth post-independence.[27]

Social legacy[edit]


Scholars including Dellal (2013), Miraftab (2012) and Bamgbose (2011) have argued that Africa's linguistic diversity has been eroded.[full citation needed] Language has been used by western colonial powers to divide territories and create new identities which have led to conflicts and tensions between African nations.[29]


In the immediate post-independence period, African countries largely retained colonial legislation. However, by 2015 much colonial legislation had been replaced by laws that were written locally.[30]

Transition to independence[edit]

Following World War II, rapid decolonisation swept across the continent of Africa as many territories gained their independence from European colonisation.

In August 1941, United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill met to discuss their post-war goals. In that meeting, they agreed to the Atlantic Charter, which in part stipulated that they would, "respect the right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they will live; and they wish to see sovereign rights and self-government restored to those who have been forcibly deprived of them."[31] This agreement became the post-WWII stepping stone toward independence as nationalism grew throughout Africa.

Consumed by post-war debt, European powers could no longer afford to maintain control of their African colonies. This allowed African nationalists to negotiate decolonisation very quickly and with minimal casualties. Some territories, however, saw large death tolls as a result of their fight for independence.

Historian James Meriweather argues that American policy towards Africa was characterized by a middle road approach, which supported African independence but also reassured European colonial powers that their holdings could remain intact. Washington wanted the right type of African groups to lead newly independent states, in other words communist and not especially democratic. Meriweather argues that nongovernmental organizations influenced American policy towards Africa. They pressured state governments and private institutions to disinvest from African nations not ruled by the majority population. These efforts also helped change American policy towards South Africa, as seen with the passage of the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986.[32]

African countries that have gained independence
Country[a] Colonial name Colonial power[b] Independence date[c] First head of state[d] Independence won through
Ethiopian Empire Ethiopian Empire N/A N/A N/A Yekuno Amlak Never Colonized[33]

Occupied by Italy briefly

 Liberia Liberia  United States 26 July 1847[e] Joseph Jenkins Roberts[f]
William Tubman
Liberian Declaration of Independence
 South Africa[g] Cape Colony
Colony of Natal
Orange River Colony
Transvaal Colony Transvaal Colony
 United Kingdom 31 May 1910[h] Louis Botha South Africa Act 1909
Remained under white minority rule until 1994.
 Egypt[i] Sultanate of Egypt 28 February 1922[j] Fuad I[k] Egyptian revolution of 1919
Emirate of Cyrenaica British Military Administration  United Kingdom 1 March 1949 Idris
United Kingdom of Libya British Military Administration
Fezzan-Ghadames Military Territory
Emirate of Cyrenaica
 United Kingdom
France France
Emirate of Cyrenaica
24 December 1951 Western Desert campaign
 Libya[l] Italian Libya[m] Kingdom of Italy Italy
 United Kingdom
24 December 1951 Idris Treaty of Peace with Italy, 1947
U.N. General Assembly Resolution 289[35]
 Sudan Anglo-Egyptian Sudan  United Kingdom[n]
1 January 1956[o] Ismail al-Azhari[p] [q]
 Tunisia[r] Tunisia French Tunisia  France
 United Kingdom
20 March 1956 Muhammad VIII al-Amin
Habib Bourguiba
 Morocco Morocco French Morocco
Tangier International Zone
Spanish Morocco
Spanish West Africa
2 March 1956[t]
7 April 1956
10 April 1958
4 January 1969
14 November 1975
27 February 1976
Mohammed V Ifni War
 Ghana[u]  Gold Coast  United Kingdom 6 March 1957[v] Kwame Nkrumah[w] 1956 Gold Coast general election
 Guinea  French West Africa  France 2 October 1958 Ahmed Sékou Touré 1958 Guinean constitutional referendum
 Cameroon Kamerun
French Cameroon
British Cameroon
 German Empire
 United Kingdom
4 March 1916
1 January 1960[x]
1 October 1961
Karl Ebermaier
Ahmadou Ahidjo
John Ngu Foncha
 Togo French Togoland


 France 27 April 1960 Sylvanus Olympio
 Mali French West Africa 20 June 1960[z] Modibo Keïta
 Senegal Léopold Sédar Senghor
 Madagascar[aa] French Madagascar 26 June 1960 Philibert Tsiranana [ab]
 Democratic Republic of the Congo[ac]  Belgian Congo  Belgium 30 June 1960 Joseph Kasa-Vubu Belgo-Congolese Round Table Conference[ad]
 Somalia[ae]  British Somaliland
Trust Territory of Somaliland
 United Kingdom
26 June 1960
1 July 1960[af]
Muhammad Haji Ibrahim Egal
Aden Adde
Benin Republic of Dahomey Benin Republic of Dahomey
Portugal Fort of São João Baptista de Ajudá
France France
Portugal Portugal
1 August 1960
31 July 1961[37]
Hubert Maga
 Benin[ag]  French West Africa  France 1 August 1960 Hubert Maga
 Niger 3 August 1960 Hamani Diori
 Burkina Faso[ah] 5 August 1960 Maurice Yaméogo
 Ivory Coast 7 August 1960 Félix Houphouët-Boigny
 Chad  French Equatorial Africa 11–12 August 1960 François Tombalbaye
 Central African Republic 13 August 1960 David Dacko
 Republic of the Congo 14–15 August 1960 Fulbert Youlou
 Gabon 16–17 August 1960 Léon M'ba
 Nigeria Colonial Nigeria
British Cameroon
 United Kingdom 1 October 1960
1 June 1961
1 October 1961[ai]
Nnamdi Azikiwe
 Mauritania  French West Africa  France 28 November 1958
28 November 1960
Moktar Ould Daddah
 Sierra Leone Sierra Leone Colony and Protectorate  United Kingdom 27 April 1961 Milton Margai
 Tanganyika[aj]  Tanganyika Territory 9 December 1961 Julius Nyerere
 Burundi[ak]  German East Africa
1 July 1919
1 July 1962
Mwambutsa IV of Burundi
 Rwanda Yuhi V Musinga
Grégoire Kayibanda
Rwandan Revolution
 Algeria French Algeria  France 5 July 1962 Ahmed Ben Bella[al] Algerian War
Évian Accords
 Uganda Protectorate of Uganda  United Kingdom 9 October 1962 Milton Obote
 Kenya British East Africa 12 December 1963[am] Jomo Kenyatta[w] [an]
Sultanate of Zanzibar[aj] Sultanate of Zanzibar 10 December 1963 Jamshid bin Abdullah [ao]
 Malawi  Nyasaland 6 July 1964[ap] Hastings Banda[w]
 Zambia  Northern Rhodesia 24 October 1964 Kenneth Kaunda
 The Gambia Gambia Colony and Protectorate 18 February 1965[aq] Dawda Jawara[w]
 Southern Rhodesia 11 November 1965[ar] Ian Smith Rhodesia's Unilateral Declaration of Independence
 Botswana Bechuanaland Protectorate 30 September 1960 – 1966[as] Seretse Khama
 Lesotho Basutoland 4 October 1966 Leabua Jonathan[at]
 Mauritius Mauritius 12 March 1968 Seewoosagur Ramgoolam
 Eswatini Swaziland 6 September 1968 Sobhuza II
 Equatorial Guinea Kamerun
French Cameroon
 French Equatorial Africa
British Cameroon
Spanish Guinea
 German Empire
 United Kingdom
4 March 1916
1 January 1960
16–17 August 1960 [au]
1 October 1961
12 October 1968
Karl Ebermaier
Ahmadou Ahidjo
Léon M'ba
John Ngu Foncha
Francisco Macías Nguema
 Guinea-Bissau Portuguese Guinea  Portugal 24 September 1973
10 September 1974 (recognised)
5 July 1975[av]
Luís Cabral
João Bernardo Vieira
Aristides Pereira
Pedro Pires
Guinea-Bissau War of Independence
 Mozambique[aw] Portuguese Mozambique 25 June 1975 Samora Machel Mozambican War of Independence
 Cape Verde Portuguese Cape Verde 5 July 1975 Aristides Pereira[ax] Guinea-Bissau War of Independence[ay]
 Comoros French Comoros  France 6 July 1975 Ahmed Abdallah 1974 Comorian independence referendum
 São Tomé and Príncipe Portuguese São Tomé and Príncipe  Portugal 12 July 1975 Manuel Pinto da Costa
 Angola[az] Portuguese Angola 11 November 1975 Agostinho Neto Angolan War of Independence
 Seychelles Crown Colony of the Seychelles  United Kingdom 29 June 1976 James Mancham
 Djibouti French Territory of the Afars and the Issas  France 27 June 1977 Hassan Gouled Aptidon 1977 Afars and Issas independence referendum
 Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic[ba] Spanish Sahara
Morocco Southern Provinces
Mauritania Western Tiris
Mauritania Mauritania
27 February 1976
independence not yet effected
El-Ouali Mustapha Sayed
Mohamed Abdelaziz
Western Sahara War
Western Sahara conflict
 Namibia  South West Africa  South Africa October 27, 1966 (de jure)[39]
21 March 1990
Sam Nujoma U.N. Security Council Resolution 269

South African Border War

 Eritrea Kingdom of Italy Italian Eritrea
Ethiopian Empire Eritrea Province
Kingdom of Italy Italian Empire
Ethiopian Empire Ethiopian Empire
September 15th 1952
(Federated with Ethiopia)[40]
May 24th 1993
Isaias Afwerki Eritrean war of Independence

Modern colonialism[edit]

World empires and colonies in 1550
World empires and colonies in 1800

Colonialism in the colonial era, mostly refers to Western European countries' colonisation of lands in the Americas, Africa, Asia, and Oceania. The main European countries active in this form of colonization included Spain, Portugal, France, the Tsardom of Russia (later Russian Empire), the Kingdom of England (later Great Britain), the Netherlands, Belgium[41] and the Kingdom of Prussia (now mostly Germany), and, beginning in the 18th century, the United States. Most of these countries had a period of almost complete dominance of world trade at some stage in the period from roughly 1500 to 1900. Beginning in the late 19th century, Imperial Japan also engaged in settler colonization, most notably in Hokkaido and Korea.

While some European colonisation focused on shorter-term exploitation of economic opportunities (Newfoundland, for example, or Siberia) or addressed specific goals such as settlers seeking religious freedom (Massachusetts), at other times long-term social and economic planning was involved for both parties, but more on the colonizing countries themselves, based on elaborate theory-building (note James Oglethorpe's Colony of Georgia in the 1730s and Edward Gibbon Wakefield's New Zealand Company in the 1840s).[42] In some cases European colonization appeared to be primarily for long-term economic gain, as in the Congo where Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness described life under the rule of King Leopold II of Belgium in the 19th century and Siddharth Kara has described colonial rule and European and Chinese influence in the 20th and 21st centuries.[41]

World empires and colonies in 1936

Colonisation may be used as a method of absorbing and assimilating foreign people into the culture of the imperial country. One instrument to this end is linguistic imperialism, or the use of non-indigenous colonial languages to the exclusion of any indigenous languages from administrative (and often, any public) use.[43]

British Empire[edit]

British Empire by 1959


On 6 March 1957, Ghana (formerly the Gold Coast) became the first sub-Saharan African country to gain its independence from European colonisation.[44] Starting with the 1945 Pan-African Congress, the Gold Coast's (modern-day Ghana's) independence leader Kwame Nkrumah made his focus clear. In the conference's declaration, he wrote, "We believe in the rights of all peoples to govern themselves. We affirm the right of all colonial peoples to control their own destiny. All colonies must be free from foreign imperialist control, whether political or economic."[45]

British decolonisation in Africa. By 1980 all were decolonised.

In 1948, three Ghanaian veterans were killed by the colonial police on a protest march. Riots broke out in Accra and though Nkrumah and other Ghanaian leaders were temporarily imprisoned, the event became a catalyst for the independence movement. After being released from prison, Nkrumah founded the Convention People's Party (CPP), which launched a wide-scale campaign in support of independence with the slogan "Self Government Now!"[46] Heightened nationalism within the country grew their power and the political party widely expanded. In February 1951, the CPP gained political power by winning 34 of 38 elected seats, including one for Nkrumah who was imprisoned at the time. The British government revised the Gold Coast Constitution to give Ghanaians a majority in the legislature in 1951. In 1956, Ghana requested independence inside the Commonwealth, which was granted peacefully in 1957 with Nkrumah as prime minister and Queen Elizabeth II as sovereign.[47]

Winds of Change[edit]

Prime Minister Harold Macmillan gave the famous "Wind of Change" speech in South Africa in February 1960, where he spoke of "the wind of change blowing through this continent".[48] Macmillan urgently wanted to avoid the same kind of colonial war that France was fighting in Algeria. Under his premiership decolonisation proceeded rapidly.[49]

Britain's remaining colonies in Africa, except for Southern Rhodesia, were all granted independence by 1968. British withdrawal from the southern and eastern parts of Africa was not a peaceful process. Kenyan independence was preceded by the eight-year Mau Mau Uprising. In Rhodesia, the 1965 Unilateral Declaration of Independence by the white minority resulted in a civil war that lasted until the Lancaster House Agreement of 1979, which set the terms for recognised independence in 1980, as the new nation of Zimbabwe.[50]


Equestrian statue of Leopold II of Belgium, the Sovereign of the Congo Free State from 1885 to 1908, Regent Place in Brussels, Belgium

Belgium controlled several territories and concessions during the colonial era, principally the Belgian Congo (modern DRC) from 1908 to 1960 and Ruanda-Urundi (modern Rwanda and Burundi) from 1922 to 1962. It also had a small concession in China (1902–1931) and was a co-administrator of the Tangier International Zone in Morocco.

Roughly 98% of Belgium's overseas territory was just one colony (about 76 times larger than Belgium itself) – known as the Belgian Congo. The colony was founded in 1908 following the transfer of sovereignty from the Congo Free State, which was the personal property of Belgium's king, Leopold II. The violence used by Free State officials against indigenous Congolese and the ruthless system of economic extraction had led to intense diplomatic pressure on Belgium to take official control of the country. Belgian rule in the Congo was based on the "colonial trinity" (trinité coloniale) of state, missionary and private company interests. During the 1940s and 1950s, the Congo experienced extensive urbanization and the administration aimed to make it into a "model colony". As the result of a widespread and increasingly radical pro-independence movement, the Congo achieved independence, as the Republic of Congo-Léopoldville in 1960.

Of Belgium's other colonies, the most significant was Ruanda-Urundi, a portion of German East Africa, which was given to Belgium as a League of Nations Mandate, when Germany lost all of its colonies at the end of World War I. Following the Rwandan Revolution, the mandate became the independent states of Burundi and Rwanda in 1962.[51]

French colonial empire[edit]

The French Community in 1959
Geographic distribution of Europeans and their descendants on the African continent in 1962.[52]
  Over 100,000

The French colonial empire began to fall during the Second World War when the Vichy France regime controlled the Empire. One after another, most of the colonies were occupied by foreign powers (Japan in Indochina, Britain in Syria, Lebanon, and Madagascar, the United States and Britain in Morocco and Algeria, and Germany and Italy in Tunisia). Control was gradually reestablished by Charles de Gaulle, who used the colonial bases as a launching point to help expel the Vichy government from Metropolitan France. De Gaulle, together with most Frenchmen, was committed to preserving the Empire in its new form. The French Union, included in the Constitution of 1946, nominally replaced the former colonial empire, but officials in Paris remained in full control. The colonies were given local assemblies with only limited local power and budgets. A group of elites, known as evolués, who were natives of the overseas territories but lived in metropolitan France emerged.[53][54][55]

De Gaulle assembled a major conference of Free France colonies in Brazzaville, in central Africa, in January–February 1944. The survival of France depended on support from these colonies, and De Gaulle made numerous concessions. These included the end of forced labour, the end of special legal restrictions that applied to natives but not to whites, the establishment of elected territorial assemblies, representation in Paris in a new "French Federation", and the eventual representation of Sub-Saharan Africans in the French Assembly. However, Independence was explicitly rejected as a future possibility:

The ends of the civilizing work accomplished by France in the colonies excludes any idea of autonomy, all possibility of evolution outside the French bloc of the Empire; the eventual Constitution, even in the future of self-government in the colonies is denied.[56]


After the war ended, France was immediately confronted with the beginnings of the decolonisation movement. In Algeria demonstrations in May 1945 were repressed with an estimated 20,000-45,000 Algerians killed.[57] Unrest in Haiphong, Indochina, in November 1945 was met by a warship bombarding the city.[58] Paul Ramadier's (SFIO) cabinet repressed the Malagasy Uprising in Madagascar in 1947. French officials estimated the number of Malagasy killed from as low as 11,000 to a French Army estimate of 89,000.[59]

In Cameroun, the Union of the Peoples of Cameroon's insurrection which began in 1955 headed by Ruben Um Nyobé, was violently repressed over two years, with perhaps as many as 100 people killed.[60]


French involvement in Algeria stretched back a century. Ferhat Abbas and Messali Hadj's movements marked the period between the two wars, but both sides radicalised after the Second World War. In 1945, the Sétif massacre was carried out by the French army. The Algerian War started in 1954. Atrocities characterized both sides, and the number killed became highly controversial estimates that were made for propaganda purposes.[61] Algeria was a three-way conflict due to the large number of "pieds-noirs" (Europeans who had settled there in the 125 years of French rule). The political crisis in France caused the collapse of the Fourth Republic, as Charles de Gaulle returned to power in 1958 and finally pulled the French soldiers and settlers out of Algeria by 1962.[62][63] Lasting more than eight years, the estimated death toll typically falls between 300,000 and 400,000 people.[64] By 1962, the National Liberation Front was able to negotiate a peace accord with French President Charles de Gaulle, the Évian Accords[65] in which Europeans would be able to return to their native countries, remain in Algeria as foreigners or take Algerian citizenship. Most of the one million Europeans in Algeria poured out of the country.[66]

French Community[edit]

The special territories of the European Union c. 2011

The French Union was replaced in the new Constitution of 1958 by the French Community. Only Guinea refused by referendum to take part in the new colonial organisation. However, the French Community dissolved itself amid the Algerian War; almost all of the other African colonies were granted independence in 1960, following local referendums. Some colonies chose instead to remain part of France, under the status of overseas départements (territories). Critics of neocolonialism claimed that the Françafrique had replaced formal direct rule. They argued that while de Gaulle was granting independence, on one hand, he was creating new ties with the help of Jacques Foccart, his counsellor for African matters. Foccart supported in particular the Nigerian Civil War during the late 1960s.[67]

Robert Aldrich argues that with Algerian independence in 1962, it appeared that the Empire practically had come to an end, as the remaining colonies were quite small and lacked active nationalist movements. However, there was trouble in French Somaliland (Djibouti), which became independent in 1977. There also were complications and delays in the New Hebrides Vanuatu, which was the last to gain independence in 1980. New Caledonia remains a special case under French suzerainty.[68] The Indian Ocean island of Mayotte voted in referendum in 1974 to retain its link with France and forgo independence.[69]


The Swedish are invited by the Akan King of Futu to erect a "stony house" for the purpose of trade.

Sweden temporarily controlled several settlements on the Gold Coast (present Ghana) from 22 April 1650 to 20 April 1663, when Fort Carlsborg and the capital Fort Christiansborg were seized by Denmark.

Cape Coast[edit]

In 1652, the Swedes took Cape Coast (in modern Ghana) which had previously been under the control of the Dutch and before that the Portuguese. Cape Coast was centered on the Carolusburg Castle which was built in 1653 and named after King Charles X Gustav of Sweden but is now known as the Cape Coast Castle.

United States[edit]

Colony of Liberia[edit]

The Colony of Liberia, later the Commonwealth of Liberia, was a private colony of the American Colonization Society (ACS) beginning in 1822. It became an independent nation—the Republic of Liberia—after declaring independence in 1847.

Countries that have gained independence from United States
Country Colonial name Colonial power Independence date First head of state Independence won through
 Liberia Liberia  United States 26 July 1847[bb] Joseph Jenkins Roberts[bc]
William Tubman
Liberian Declaration of Independence

Acquisition of sovereignty[edit]

Country Date of acquisition of sovereignty Acquisition of sovereignty
 Algeria 3 July 1962 French recognition of Algerian referendum on independence held two days earlier
 Angola 11 November 1975 Independence from Portugal
 Benin 1 August 1960 Independence from France
 Botswana 30 September 1966 Independence from the United Kingdom
 Burkina Faso 5 August 1960 Independence from France
 Burundi 1 July 1962 Independence from Belgium
 Cabo Verde 24 September 1973
10 September 1974 (recognised)
5 July 1975[bd]
Independence from Portugal
 Cameroon 1 January 1960 Independence from France
 Central African Republic 13 August 1960 Independence from France
 Chad 11 August 1960 Independence from France
 Comoros 6 July 1975 Independence from France declared
 Democratic Republic of the Congo 30 June 1960 Independence from Belgium
 Republic of Congo 15 August 1960 Independence from France
 Djibouti 27 June 1977 Independence from France
 Egypt 28 February 1922 The UK ends its protectorate, granting independence to Egypt
 Equatorial Guinea 12 October 1968 Independence from Spain
 Eritrea 1 June 1936
5 May 1941
19 May 1941
10 February 1947
19 February 1951
15 September 1952
Abyssinian campaign Independence from Ethiopia declared
 Eswatini 6 September 1968 Independence from the United Kingdom under the name Swaziland
 Ethiopia 5 May 1941 Abyssinian campaign
 Gabon 17 August 1960 Independence from France
 Gambia 18 February 1965 Independence from the United Kingdom
 Ghana 6 March 1957 Independence from the United Kingdom
 Guinea 2 October 1958 Independence from France
 Guinea-Bissau 24 September 1973
10 September 1974 (recognised)
5 July 1975[be]
Independence from Portugal declared
 Ivory Coast 4 December 1958 Autonomous republic within French Community
 Ivory Coast 7 August 1960 Independence from France
 Kenya 12 December 1963 Independence from the United Kingdom
 Lesotho 4 October 1966 Independence from the United Kingdom
 Liberia 26 July 1847 Independence from American Colonization Society
 Libya 24 December 1951 Independence from UN Trusteeship (British and French administration after Italian governance ends in 1947)
 Madagascar 14 October 1958 The Malagasy Republic was created as autonomous state within French Community
26 June 1960 France recognizes Madagascar's independence
 Malawi 6 July 1964 Independence from the United Kingdom
 Mali 25 November 1958 French Sudan gains autonomy
24 November 1958
4 April 1959
20 June 1960
20 August 1960
22 September 1960
Independence from France
 Mauritania 28 November 1960 Independence from France
 Mauritius 12 March 1968 Independence from the United Kingdom
 Morocco 7 April 1956 Independence from France and Spain
 Mozambique 25 June 1975 Independence from Portugal
 Namibia 21 March 1990 Independence from South African rule
 Niger 4 December 1958 Autonomy within French Community
23 July 1900
13 October 1922
13 October 1946
26 July 1958
20 May 1957
25 February 1959
25 August 1958
3 August 1960
8 November 1960
10 November 1960
Independence from France
 Nigeria 1 October 1960 Independence from the United Kingdom
 Rwanda 1 July 1962 Independence from Belgium
 São Tomé and Príncipe 12 July 1975 Independence from Portugal
 Senegal 25 November 1957
24 November 1958
4 April 1959
4 April 1960
20 August 1960
20 June 1960
22 September 1960
18 February 1965
30 September 1989
Independence from France
 Seychelles 29 June 1976 Independence from the United Kingdom
 Sierra Leone 27 April 1961 Independence from the United Kingdom
 Somalia 20 July 1887
26 May 1925
1 June 1936
3 August 1940
19 August 1940
8 April 1941
25 February 1941
10 February 1947
1 April 1950
26 June 1960
1 July 1960
Union of Trust Territory of Somalia (former Italian Somaliland) and State of Somaliland (formerly British Somaliland)
 South Africa 11 December 1931 Statute of Westminster, which establishes a status of legislative equality between the self-governing dominion of the Union of South Africa and the UK
31 May 1910 Creation of the autonomous Union of South Africa from the previously separate colonies of the Cape, Natal, Transvaal and Orange River
 South Sudan 9 July 2011 Independence from Sudan after a civil war.
 Sudan 1 January 1956 Independence from Egyptian and British joint rule
 Tanzania 9 December 1961 Independence of Tanganyika from the United Kingdom
 Togo 30 August 1958 Autonomy within French Union
27 April 1960 Independence from France
 Tunisia 20 March 1956 Independence from France
 Uganda 1 March 1962 Self-government granted
9 October 1962 Independence from the United Kingdom
 Zambia 24 October 1964 Independence from the United Kingdom
 Zimbabwe 11 November 1965 Unilateral declaration of independence by Southern Rhodesia
18 April 1980 Recognized independence from the United Kingdom as Zimbabwe


  1. ^ Explanatory notes are added in cases where decolonisation was achieved jointly by multiple countries or where the current country is formed by the merger of previously decolonised countries. Although Ethiopia was administered as a colony in the aftermath of the Second Italo-Ethiopian War and was recognized by the international community as such at the time, it is not listed here as its brief period under Italian rule (which lasted for a little more than five years and ended with the return of the previous native government) is now usually seen as a military occupation.
  2. ^ Some territories changed hands multiple times, so only the last colonial power is mentioned in the list. In addition, the mandatory or trustee powers are mentioned for territories that were League of Nations mandates and UN Trust Territories.
  3. ^ The dates of decolonisation for territories annexed by or integrated into previously decolonised independent countries are given in separate notes, as are dates when a Commonwealth realm abolished its monarchy.
  4. ^ For countries that became independent either as a Commonwealth realm, a monarchy with a strong Prime Minister, or a parliamentary republic, the head of government is listed instead.
  5. ^ Liberia would later annex the Republic of Maryland, another settler colony made up of former African-American slaves, in 1857. Liberia would not be recognized by the United States until 5 February 1862.
  6. ^ Stephen Allen Benson was President on the date of the United States' recognition.
  7. ^ As Union of South Africa.
  8. ^ 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 a republic after the 1960 referendum. Afterwards, South Africa was under apartheid until elections resulting from the negotiations to end apartheid in South Africa on 27 April 1994 when Nelson Mandela became president.
  9. ^ As the Kingdom of Egypt. Transcontinental country, partially located in Asia.
  10. ^ 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 except four "reserved" areas: foreign relations, communications, the military, and the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan.[34] 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 23 July 1952. The last British troops left Egypt after the Suez Crisis of 1956.
  11. ^ Although the leaders of the 1952 revolution (Mohammed Naguib and Gamal Abdel Nasser) became the de facto leaders of Egypt, neither would assume office until September 17 of that year when Naguib became Prime Minister, succeeding Aly Maher Pasha who was sworn in on the day of the revolution. Nasser would succeed Naguib as Prime Minister on 25 February 1954.
  12. ^ As the United Kingdom of Libya.
  13. ^ From 1947, Libya was administrated by the Allies of World War II (the United Kingdom and France). Part of the British Military Administration originally gained independence as the Cyrenaica Emirate; it was only recognized by the United Kingdom. The Cyrenaica Emirate also merged to form the United Kingdom of Libya.
  14. ^ 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.[36]
  15. ^ Before Sudan even gained its independence, on 18 August 1955 the southern area of Sudan began fighting for greater autonomy. After the signing of the Addis Ababa Agreement on 28 February 1972, South Sudan was granted autonomous rule. On 5 June 1983, however, the Sudan government revoked this autonomous rule, igniting a new war for control of South Sudan. (The main non-government combatant of the Second Sudanese Civil War largely claimed to be fighting for a united, secular Sudan rather than South Sudan's independence.) On 9 July 2005, following the Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed on 9 January of that year, the Southern Sudan Autonomous Region was restored; exactly six years later, in the aftermath of the 9–15 January 2011 South Sudanese independence referendum, South Sudan became independent.
  16. ^ Salva Kiir Mayardit became President of South Sudan upon independence. Abel Alier was the first President of the High Executive Council of the Southern Sudan Autonomous Region, while John Garang became its President following its restoration.
  17. ^ Sudan's independence is indirectly linked to the Egyptian revolution of 1952, whose leaders eventually denounced Egypt's claim over Sudan. (This revocation would force the British to end the condominium.)
  18. ^ As the Kingdom of Tunisia.
  19. ^ See Tunisian independence.
  20. ^ Cape Juby was ceded by Spain to Morocco on 2 April 1958. Ifni was returned from Spain to Morocco on 4 January 1969.
  21. ^ As the Dominion of Ghana.
  22. ^ The British Togoland mandate and trust territory was integrated into Gold Coast colony on 13 December 1956. On 1 July 1960 Ghana formally abolished its Commonwealth monarchy and became a republic.
  23. ^ a b c d Originally as Prime Minister; became President upon the monarchy's abolition.
  24. ^ 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.
  25. ^ Minor armed insurgency from Union of the Peoples of Cameroon.
  26. ^ 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.
  27. ^ As the Malagasy Republic.
  28. ^ The Malagasy Uprising was an earlier armed uprising that failed to gain independence from France.
  29. ^ As the Republic of the Congo.
  30. ^ The Congo Crisis occurred after independence.
  31. ^ As the Somali Republic.
  32. ^ 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).
  33. ^ As the Republic of Dahomey.
  34. ^ As Upper Volta.
  35. ^ Part of the British Cameroons mandate and trust territory on 1 October 1961 joined Nigeria. The other part of British Cameroons joined the previously decolonised French Cameroun mandate and territory.
  36. ^ a b After both gained independence Tanganyika and Zanzibar merged on 26 April 1964 as Tanzania.
  37. ^ As the Kingdom of Burundi.
  38. ^ Assumed office on September 27, 1962, as Prime Minister. From the date of independence to Ben Bella's inauguration, Abderrahmane Farès served as President of the Provisional Executive Council.
  39. ^ Abolished its commonwealth monarchy exactly one year later; Jamhuri Day ("Republic Day") is a celebration of both dates.
  40. ^ The Mau Mau Uprising was an earlier armed uprising that failed to gain independence from the United Kingdom.
  41. ^ The Sultanate of Zanzibar would later be overthrown within a month of sovereignty by the Zanzibar Revolution.
  42. ^ Abolished its commonwealth monarchy exactly two years later.
  43. ^ Abolished its commonwealth monarchy on 24 April 1970.
  44. ^ Due to 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. ^ Botswana Day Holiday is the second day of the two-day celebration of Botswana's independence. The first day is also referred to as Botswana Day.
  46. ^ Moshoeshoe II became King upon independence.
  47. ^ 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.
  48. ^ Not celebrated as a holiday. The date 24 September 1973 (when the PAIGC formally declared Guinea's independence) is celebrated as Guinea-Bissau's date of independence.
  49. ^ As the People's Republic of Mozambique
  50. ^ Pedro Pires was sworn in as Prime Minister three days after independence.
  51. ^ Although the fight for Cape Verdean independence was linked to the liberation movement occurring in Guinea-Bissau, the island country itself saw little fighting.
  52. ^ As the People's Republic of Angola
  53. ^ 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 decolonisation 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,[38] 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).
  54. ^ Liberia would later annex the Republic of Maryland, another settler colony made up of former African-American slaves, in 1857. Liberia would not be recognized by the United States until 5 February 1862.
  55. ^ Stephen Allen Benson was President on the date of the United States' recognition.
  56. ^ Not celebrated as a holiday. The date 24 September 1973 (when the PAIGC formally declared Guinea's independence) is celebrated as Guinea-Bissau's date of independence.
  57. ^ Not celebrated as a holiday. The date 24 September 1973 (when the PAIGC formally declared Guinea's independence) is celebrated as Guinea-Bissau's date of independence.

See also[edit]


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Further reading[edit]

  • Birmingham, David (1995). The Decolonization of Africa. Routledge. ISBN 1-85728-540-9.
  • Brennan, James R. "The Cold War battle over global news in East Africa: decolonization, the free flow of information, and the media business, 1960-1980." Journal of Global History 10.2 (2015): 333+.
  • Brown, Judith M. and Wm. Roger Louis, eds. The Oxford History of the British Empire: Volume IV: The Twentieth Century (2001) pp 515–73. online
  • Burton, Antoinette. The Trouble with Empire: Challenges to Modern British Imperialism (2015)
  • Chafer, Tony. The end of empire in French West Africa: France's successful decolonization (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2002).
  • Chafer, Tony, and Alexander Keese, eds. Francophone Africa at fifty (Oxford UP, 2015).
  • Clayton, Anthony. The wars of French decolonization (Routledge, 2014).
  • Cohen, Andrew. The politics and economics of decolonization in Africa: the failed experiment of the Central African Federation (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2017).
  • Cooper, Frederick. Decolonization and African society: The labor question in French and British Africa (Cambridge University Press, 1996).
  • Gordon, April A. and Donald L. Gordon, Lynne Riener. Understanding Contemporary Africa (London, 1996). online
  • Hargreaves, John D. Decolonization in Africa (2014).
  • Hatch, John. Africa: The Rebirth of Self-Rule (1967)
  • Horne, Alistair. (1977). A Savage War of Peace: Algeria, 1954-1962. Viking Press.
  • James, Leslie, and Elisabeth Leake, eds. Decolonization and the Cold War: Negotiating Independence (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2015).
  • Jeppesen, Chris, and Andrew W.M. Smith, eds. Britain, France and the Decolonization of Africa: Future Imperfect? (UCL Press, 2017) online.
  • Jerónimo, Miguel Bandeira, and António Costa Pinto, eds. The Ends of European Colonial Empires: Cases and Comparisons (Springer, 2016).
  • Khapoya, Vincent B. The African Experience (1994) online
  • Louis, William Roger. The transfer of power in Africa: decolonization, 1940–1960 (Yale UP, 1982).
  • Louis, Wm Roger, and Ronald Robinson. "The imperialism of decolonization." Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History 22.3 (1994): 462–511.
  • Manthalu, Chikumbutso Herbert, and Yusef Waghid, eds. Education for Decoloniality and Decolonisation in Africa (Springer, 2019).
  • MacQueen, Norrie. The Decolonization of Portuguese Africa: Metropolitan Revolution and the Dissolution of Empire (1997) online
  • Mazrui, Ali A. ed. "General History of Africa" vol. VIII, UNESCO, 1993
  • McDougall, James. (2017). A History of Algeria. Cambridge University Press.
  • McDougall, James. (2006). History and the culture of nationalism in Algeria. Cambridge University Press.
  • Meriwether, James Hunter. Tears, Fire, and Blood: The United States and the Decolonization of Africa (University of North Carolina Press, 2021). online review
  • Michalopoulos, Stelios; Papaioannou, Elias (2020-03-01). "Historical Legacies and African Development." Journal of Economic Literature. 58#1: 53–128. online Archived 1 March 2022 at the Wayback Machine
  • Milford, Ismay. African Activists in a Decolonising World: The Making of an Anticolonial Culture, 1952–1966 (Cambridge University Press, 2023). ISBN 978-1009276993
  • Muschik, Eva-Maria. "Managing the world: the United Nations, decolonization, and the strange triumph of state sovereignty in the 1950s and 1960s." Journal of Global History 13.1 (2018): 121–144.
  • Ndlovu‐Gatsheni, Sabelo J. "Decoloniality as the future of Africa." History Compass 13.10 (2015): 485–496. online Archived 15 May 2021 at the Wayback Machine
  • Rothermund, Dietmar. The Routledge companion to decolonization (Routledge, 2006), comprehensive global coverage; 365pp excerpt Archived 19 May 2016 at the Wayback Machine
  • Sarmento, João. "Portuguese tropical geography and decolonization in Africa: the case of Mozambique." Journal of Historical Geography 66 (2019): 20–30.
  • Seidler, Valentin. "Copying informal institutions: the role of British colonial officers during the decolonization of British Africa." Journal of Institutional Economics 14.2 (2018): 289–312. online
  • Strang, David. "From dependency to sovereignty: An event history analysis of decolonization 1870-1987." American Sociological Review (1990): 846–860. online Archived 5 August 2021 at the Wayback Machine
  • Thomas, Martin, Bob Moore, and Larry Butler. Crises of Empire: Decolonization and Europe's imperial states (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2015).
  • von Albertini, Rudolf. Decolonization: the Administration and Future of the Colonies, 1919-1960 (Doubleday, 1971) for the viewpoint from London and Paris.
  • White, Nicholas. Decolonization: the British experience since 1945 (Routledge, 2014).
  • Wilder, Gary. Freedom time: negritude, decolonization, and the future of the world (Duke University Press, 2015). excerpt Archived 7 June 2016 at the Wayback Machine
  • Winks, Robin, ed. The Oxford History of the British Empire: Volume V: Historiography (2001) ch 29–34, pp 450–557. How historians covered the history online
  • Wood, Sarah L. "How Empires Make Peripheries: 'Overseas France' in Contemporary History." Contemporary European History (2019): 1–12. online[dead link]

External links[edit]