Decolonization was a process of eliminating the political and economic dependency of African and Asian nations after World War II.
The effects of the Second World War, the feelings of national identity in the colonized countries, the influence of the cold war and the change of public opinion in the metropolis ended up promoting the decolonization of Africa and Asia.
This was a big change in the geopolitical terrain. In this article we are going to delve into each of the details of this important decolonization process.
Why did decolonization occur?
At the end of World War II, commercial relations between the metropolises and the colonies that produced raw materials began to break down. The political and economic costs of maintaining a colonial government were high, while national emancipation movements arose.
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Movements arose in Africa and Asia that exalted national identity and traditions. Thus, in Africa there came to be talk of pan-Africanism and in India emphasis was placed on the traditions of Hindu civilization.
In remote places like Indochina, communism and the Russian revolution served as inspiration for Ho Chi Minh, who sought independence for his country from French colonialism.
Local elites also played an important role, as many of their leaders trained in Western universities and, back in their countries, founded important political movements. This is the case of Gandhi and Nehru, who studied at British universities and, extolling the values of Indian traditions, fought for their country’s independence from Great Britain.
Likewise, the Africans Senghor and Nkruman, who had studied in France and the United States respectively, defended the African identity.
Likewise, World War II had left the metropolises disconnected from their colonies, while guerrilla movements emerged, such as the one led by Ho Chi Minh, which openly confronted the colonial powers.
For their part, both the United States and the Soviet Union, the two great powers of the time, were opposed to colonialism. All this without forgetting that the UN proclaimed the right of self-determination of peoples.
Shortly after World War II, in 1947, a conflict-worn Great Britain divested itself of its colonies in India. It was a quick process, forged through an agreement between the British government and the independence movements.
Thus, the British colonies in India were divided in two: the Indian Union was left in the hands of the Hindu majority, with Nehru at the helm. While Muslim-majority Pakistan was ruled by Jinnah.
The partition of the British colonies in India brought with it numerous social, territorial and religious conflicts between Hindus and Muslims. However, not only India gained independence, but also Burma, Malaysia and Ceylon. By contrast, Hong Kong would remain under British colonial rule until 1997.
In Indonesia, the Japanese occupation during World War II favored the development of Indonesian nationalism, with Sukarno as president. After fighting the Dutch between 1947 and 1948, Indonesia gained independence in 1949 and Sukarno rose to power until in 1965, when Suharto staged a coup and took over the government.
In Indochina, Ho Chi Minh’s communist Vietnam fought the French colonizers between 1946 and 1954. After the French military defeat at Dien Bien Phu, Vietnam was split in two, with the communist north and the pro-western south. Later, Vietnam would face the United States between 1965 and 1973. The country would be definitively united after the final defeat of South Vietnam in 1975.
Starting in 1945, there was a process of decolonization in the African colonies of Great Britain, in a stage with little conflict, since Atlee’s Labor government supported the process.
The independence of the colonies was carried out gradually, as in the case of Ghana, which became definitively independent in 1957 with Nrkumah as president. Sierra Leone, Togo, Dahomey and The Gambia followed. However, the case of Nigeria, independent in 1960, was more controversial, since the religious and ethnic diversity was so great that it caused conflicts.
The decolonization process in British East Africa was similar, although in British Southern Africa it was more complex. There, the white population represented a greater volume of population and did not want to lose their political power. In Rhodesia, which became independent in 1980, later renamed Zimbabwe, a government headed by Mugabe was formed and a multiracial constitution was established.
In the Congo, a Belgian colony, there was an abundance of cobalt, diamonds and uranium, but the natives were excluded from all political participation. But, after World War II, Congolese nationalism began to proliferate. Thus, in 1959, the conflict increased and in 1960 the Republic of the Congo was proclaimed, initially governed by Kasavubu and Lumumba.
In the French colonies there were agreed independences around 1956, thanks mainly to the fact that De Gaulle allowed the native population to express their will through a referendum.
The case of Algeria was different, since it was the only territory that was still integrated into the metropolis and where there was also a strong European presence. Communists, Islamists and Democrats joined Ben Bella’s National Liberation Front. After a long and bloody war, in 1959 Algeria’s right to self-determination was recognized and in 1962, France recognized it as a state.
A later process of independence was the one experienced by the Portuguese colonies in Africa. In Angola and Mozambique, Portuguese troops faced a long guerrilla war that began in 1961. Conflicts in Portugal’s African colonies were one of the causes that led to the carnation revolution in 1974 and the fall of the Portuguese dictator Salazar. With the end of the dictatorship in Portugal, a rapid process of independence of the Portuguese colonies in Africa took place.