Decolonisation: Africa





During the 15 years period of 1950- 1965, people in the European colonies in Africa freed themselves from the foreign rule. The education system imposed by the Europeans was alien to them. Ironically, African leaders were trained in this alien educational system and their education had introduced them to American Independence Struggle, French Revolution, and Nationalism. African people became aware of 'Nationalism' and national pride. After the Second World War nationalism got a further boost. England and France gradually began to grant more rights to the Africans in their colonies. This strengthened the independence movements in African nations.

1. Bandung Conference:

 India called the first conference of Asian countries in 1947. Representatives of 25 Asian countries were present for the conference. In this conference, the concept of Asian regionalism was shaped. The issues like common problems faced by Asian people, the social, economic, and cultural problems of the Asian countries, and the need of mutual co-operation among Asian countries were discussed in this conference. This conference was followed by the first conference of Asian and African countries held in 1955 at Bandung in Indonesia. This is known as the ‘Bandung Conference’. In this conference, the problems of Afro-Asian countries were discussed and it was decided to focus on world peace and mutual co-operation.

2. Concept of African Unity:

H.S. Williams was the first person to think of African Unity. He formed an organisation while in London, called ‘African Association’ (later called as Pan-African Association). He organised its first conference in 1900. W.E.B. Du Bois, an American sociologist of African origin was present in this conference. In 1919, the second conference of African leaders and thinkers was held at Paris, known as the 'Pan- African Congress'. Thereafter, W.E.B. Du Bois and his associates called a series of Pan-African congresses at various places. This resulted in the idea of Pan-African unity taking deep roots in Africa. The 5th Pan-African Congress held at Manchester in 1945 by people of African origin living in Manchester.

3. Decolonisation in the African Continent:

The First World War began in 1914. At that time except for Liberia and Ethiopia, the entire African continent was ruled by European powers. European colonies in Africa, i.e. almost the entire continent, got involuntarily involved in the war. Soon after the onset of the war England and France began to attack the German colonies in Africa. After the defeat of Germany in the war, allied nations began to compete with each other for occupying German colonies in Africa.

The American President, Woodrow Wilson, considering the situation, suggested that the victorious European nations should act as trustees of the erstwhile German colonies and administer them only as protectorates. It was necessary to give the colonies internal autonomy. Hence, the 'League of Nations' decided with the mutual understanding that England, France, and Belgium should divide the colonies among themselves. A Committee of 11 members was appointed by the ‘League’ to supervise the administration of the colonies.

The four British colonies, namely, Cape Colony, Natal, Orange Free State, and Transvaal were amalgamated and the state of South Africa was created in 1920. However, the dominance of white people continued unchanged. Egypt got its independence before the end of the Second World War. Following it Libya, Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, and Ghana became independent one after another. At about the middle of the twentieth century in all 12 French colonies, such as the Ivory Coast, Madagascar, Mali in central Africa became independent. Along with it, Cameroon, Somalia, and other colonies under the care of the League of Nations, and also other European colonies became independent, one by one.

Algeria had to give a tough fight to get its freedom. Finally, in 1962, it became independent by conducting a plebiscite. In 1964, Tanganyika and Zanzibar were amalgamated and the independent state of ‘The United Republic of Tanzania’ came into existence.

In the late 19th century, Germany conquered the regions that are now Tanzania (minus Zanzibar) and incorporated them into German East Africa (GEA). The Supreme Council of the 1919 Paris Peace Conference awarded all of GEA to Britain on 7 May 1919, over the strenuous objections of Belgium. The British colonial secretary, Alfred Milner, and Belgium's minister plenipotentiary to the conference, Pierre Orts, then negotiated the Anglo-Belgian agreement of 30 May 1919 where Britain ceded the north-western GEA provinces of Ruanda and Urundi to Belgium. The conference's Commission on Mandates ratified this agreement on 16 July 1919. The Supreme Council accepted the agreement on 7 August 1919. On 12 July 1919, the Commission on Mandates agreed that the small Kionga Triangle south of the Rovuma River would be given to Portuguese Mozambique, with it eventually becoming part of independent Mozambique. The commission reasoned that Germany had virtually forced Portugal to cede the triangle in 1894. The Treaty of Versailles was signed on 28 July 1919, although the treaty did not take effect until 10 January 1920. On that date, the GEA was transferred officially to Britain, Belgium, and Portugal. Also on that date, "Tanganyika" became the name of the British territory.

During World War II, about 100,000 people from Tanganyika joined the Allied forces and were among the 375,000 Africans who fought with those forces. Tanganyikans fought in units of the King's African Rifles during the East African Campaign in Somalia and Abyssinia against the Italians, in Madagascar against the Vichy French during the Madagascar Campaign, and in Burma against the Japanese during the Burma Campaign. Tanganyika was an important source of food during this war, and its export income increased greatly compared to the pre-war years of the Great Depression Wartime demand, however, caused increased commodity prices and massive inflation within the colony.

In 1954, Julius Nyerere transformed an organisation into the politically oriented Tanganyika African National Union (TANU). TANU's main objective was to achieve national sovereignty for Tanganyika. A campaign to register new members was launched, and within a year, TANU had become the leading political organisation in the country. Nyerere became Minister of British-administered Tanganyika in 1960 and continued as prime minister when Tanganyika became independent in 1961.

Prior to the Second World War, Italy had taken over Ethiopia and Libya and annexed it to the Italian empire. During the Second World War, Mussolini, the dictator of Italy had used these two regions for launching attacks on Egypt and other British colonies in Africa.

The African battlefield in the Second World War had spread from Morocco and Libya in the north to Ethiopia and Somali Land on the eastern border of Africa. The British empire in Africa was in danger because of the aggressions of Italy and the German General Erwin Rommel. Indian soldiers in the British army fought with great resilience. With their help, the British could compel the combined armies of Italy and Germany to retreat. Italy and Germany had to lose their colonies in Africa at the end of the Second World War in 1945.

The end of the Second World War created an environment in which the process of decolonisation gained momentum. The Asian and African continents were filled with a heightened spirit of independence movements. The awareness about these movements spread rapidly. Many countries in both continents obtained their freedom. However, developments in these countries were also being watched by America and Russia, the superpowers. Each of them was trying to attract maximum countries on its side.

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