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Differing perspectives

Decolonization generates debate and controversy. The end goal tends to be universally regarded as good, but there has been much debate over the best way to grant full independence.

Decolonization and political instability

Some say the post-World War II decolonization movement was too rushed, especially in Africa, and resulted in the creation of unstable regimes in the newly independent countries. Thus causing war between and within the new independent nation-states.

Others argue that this instability is largely the result of problems from the colonial period, including arbitrary nation-state borders, lack of training of local populations and disproportional economy. However by the twentieth century most colonial powers were slowly being forced by the moral beliefs of population to increase the welfare of their colonial subjects.

Some would argue a form of colonization still exists in the form of economic colonialism carried out by U.S owned corporations operating across the globe.

Economic effects

Effects on the colonizers

John Kenneth Galbraith (who served as US Ambassador in India) argues that the post-World War II decolonization was brought about for economic reasons. In A Journey Through Economic Time, he writes, "The engine of economic well-being was now within and between the advanced industrial countries. Domestic economic growth - as now measured and much discussed - came to be seen as far more important than the erstwhile colonial trade… . The economic effect in the United States from the granting of independence to the Philippines was unnoticeable, partly due to the Bell Trade Act, which allowed American monopoly in the economy of the Philippines. The departure of India and Pakistan made small economic difference in Britain. Dutch economists calculated that the economic effect from the loss of the great Dutch empire in Indonesia was compensated for by a couple of years or so of domestic post-war economic growth. The end of the colonial era is celebrated in the history books as a triumph of national aspiration in the former colonies and of benign good sense on the part of the colonial powers. Lurking beneath, as so often happens, was a strong current of economic interest - or in this case, disinterest."7 Galbraith takes the view that the main drive behind colonial expansion was economic - colonies were a "rich source of raw materials" and "a significant market for elementary manufactured goods." Once "domestic economic growth" became a priority as opposed to "colonial trade," the colonial world became "marginalized," so "it was to the advantage of all to let it go." 8Galbraith says that combined with the cost of waging war to retain colonies, the shift in economical priority meant that the "practical course was to let the brothers go in peace." It was thus somewhat incidental that "erstwhile possessions" also had "a natural right to their own identity" and "to govern themselves." 9

Part of the reason for the lack of economic impact felt by the colonizer upon the release of the colonized was that costs and benefits were not eliminated, but shifted. The colonizer no longer had the burden of obligation, financial or otherwise, for their colony. The colonizer continued to be able to obtain cheap goods and labor as well as economic benefits (see Suez Canal Crisis) from the former colonies. Financial, political and military pressure could still be used to achieve goals desired by the colonizer. The most obvious difference is the ability of the colonizer to disclaim responsibility for the colonized.

Effects on the former colonies

Settled populations

Decolonization is not an easy adjustment in colonies where a large population of settlers live, particularly if they have been there for several generations. This population, in general, may have to be repatriated, often losing considerable property. For instance, the decolonization of Algeria by France was particularly uneasy due to the large European and Sephardic Jewish population (see also pied noir), which largely evacuated to France when Algeria became independent. In Zimbabwe, former Rhodesia, president Robert Mugabe has, starting in the 1990s, targeted white farmers and forcibly seized their property. In some cases, decolonization is hardly possible or impossible because of the importance of the settler population or where the indigenous population is now in the minority; such is the case of the British population of the Cayman Islands and the Russian population of Kazakhstan, as well as the settler societies of North America.

The Psychology of dependence and decolonizing the mind

Critics of the continued dependence of many former colonies on the developed world sometimes offer this as a defense of colonialism, or of neocolonialism as a necessary evil. The inability of countries in the former colonial empires to create stable, viable economies and democratic systems is blamed on ancient tribal animosities, congenital inability to order their affairs and on a psychology of dependency. In response, others point to how the artificial creation of boundaries, together with the way in which colonial powers played different communities off against each other to justify their rule maintaining peace, as the causes of tension, conflict and authoritarian responses. They point out that the way in which Africa and Africans are depicted in works of fiction, too, perpetuates stereotypes of dependency, primitiveness, tribalism and a copy-cat rather than creative mentality. Those who argue that continued dependency stems in part from a psychology that informs an attitude of racial, intellectual or cultural inferiority are also speaking of the need to decolonize the mind, an expressed used by Ngugi wa Thiong'o. He argued that much that is written about the problems of Africa perpetuates the idea that primitive tribalism lies at their root:

The study of the African realities has for too long been seen in terms of tribes. Whatever happens in Kenya, Uganda, Malawi is because of Tribe A versus Tribe B. Whatever erupts in Zaire, Nigeria, Liberia, Zambia is because of the traditional enmity between Tribe D and Tribe C. A variation of the same stock interpretation is Moslem versus Christian, or Catholic versus Protestant where a people does not easily fall into 'tribes'. Even literature is sometimes evaluated in terms of the 'tribal' origins of the authors or the 'tribal' origins and composition of the characters in a given novel or play. This misleading stock interpretation of the African realities has been popularized by the western media which likes to deflect people from seeing that imperialism is still the root cause of many problems in Africa. Unfortunately some African intellectuals have fallen victims-a few incurably so-to that scheme and they are unable to see the divide-and-rule colonial origins of explaining any differences of intellectual outlook or any political clashes in terms of the ethnic origins of the actors… 10

The Future of the Nation State

Since 1945 and the establishment of the United Nations, the nation-state has been accepted as the ideal form of political organization. In theory, each nation state regardless of size is equal, thus all states have one vote in the United Nations General Assembly. Privilege, however, was built into the UN system as a safeguard by the great powers after World War II, who gave the victors permanent membership and a veto in the United Nations Security Council. Inevitably, the Permanent Five have often acted in their own interests. Non-permanent member states, too, often vote to protect their own interests. Arguably, only a world in which all people regard their interests as inseparable from those of others will be able to overcome injustice, end poverty, war and inequality between people. Few have stopped to ask, as new nation states gained their independence and joined the UN, whether becoming a nation-state was really in their peoples' best interests. Some very small states have been formed. Might some states be more economically viable in partnership with others within con-federal associations. Should some nation-states have been formed in the shape and form they have taken, often a legacy of colonialism when little attention was given to issues of community cohesiveness or traditional community identities or boundaries? Some suggest that only a type of world government-in which the interests of humanity, of the planet, of its ecology and of its non-human inhabitants are considered-can hope to solve the problems that confront the world globally and people locally where they live. Devolution of governance downwards might create more participatory, sustainable communities; devolution upwards to supra-national agencies might overcome the problem of self-interest that causes nations to perpetuate their wealth and power at the expense of others.

A Religious perspective

Some Christians believe that God's intent for the world is a single-nation, into which the wealth, wisdom-but not the weapons-of the many nations will flow, based on an interpretation of Revelations 21: 26. Then the Messianic era of peace and justice promised by such passages as Isaiah 11 and 65 will finally dawn. From a neo-conservative political perspective, Francis Fukuyama has argued that what he calls the "liberal society" is the apex of human achievement. In and between such societies, he argues, war will diminish and eventually fade away. This represents the maturation of human consciousness. Central to Fukuyama's scenario is the concept of thymos which may be described as "an innate human sense of justice," as the "psychological seat of all the noble virtues like selflessness, idealism, morality, self-sacrifice, courage and honorability"11 In Plato, it was linked with "a good political order".12 Thymos enables us to firstly assign worth to ourselves, and to feel indignant when our worth is devalued then to assign "worth to other people" and to feel "anger on behalf of others."13 As an essential feature of what he means by "liberal societies," thymos would result in the end of global injustice, inequality and violent resolution of disputes. Indeed, history as we know it, which mainly comprises the story of wars between and within states, would end; thenceforth, international relations would deal with "the solving of technological problems, environmental concerns and the satisfaction of sophisticated consumer demands."14 This converging of religious and non-religious thinking about what type of world humans might succeed in constructing suggests that the human conscience will ultimately not tolerate the perpetuation of injustice, the continuation of violence and of inequality between people.

Charts of the Independences

In this chronological overview, not every date is indisputably the decisive moment. Often, the final phase, independence, is mentioned here, though there may be years of autonomy before, e.g. as an Associated State under the British crown.

Furthermore, note that some cases have been included that were not strictly colonized but were rather protectorates, co-dominiums or leases. Changes subsequent to decolonization are usually not included; nor is the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

Eighteenth and nineteenth centuries

1776Great BritainThe 13 original colonies of the United States declare independence a year after their insurrection begins.
1783Great BritainThe British Crown recognizes the independence of the United States.
1803FranceVia the Louisiana purchase, the last French territories in North America are handed over to the United States.
1804FranceHaiti declares independence, the first non-white nation to emancipate itself from European rule.
1808PortugalBrazil, the largest Portuguese colony, achieves a greater degree of autonomy after the exiled king of Portugal establishes residence there. After he returns home in 1821, his son and regent declares an independent "Empire" in 1822.
1813SpainParaguay becomes independent.
1816SpainArgentina declares independence (Uruguay, then included in Argentina, would achieve its independence in 1828, after periods of Brazilian occupation and of federation with Argentina)
1818SpainSecond and final declaration of independence of Chile
1819SpainNew Granada attains independence as Gran Colombia (later to become the independent states of Colombia, Ecuador, Panama and Venezuela).
1821SpainThe Dominican Republic (then Santo Domingo), Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and Costa Rica all declare independence; Venezuela and Mexico both achieve independence.
1822SpainEcuador attains independence from Spain (and independence from Colombia 1830).
1824SpainPeru and Bolivia attain independence.
1847United StatesLiberia becomes a free and independent African state.
1865SpainThe Dominican Republic gains its final independence after four years as a restored colony.
1868SpainCuba declares independence and is reconquered; taken by the United States in 1898; governed under U.S. military administration until 1902.
1898SpainThe Philippines declares independence but is taken by the United States in 1899; governed under U.S. military and then civilian administration until 1934.

Twentieth century

1919United KingdomEnd of the protectorate over Afghanistan, when Britain accepts the presence of a Soviet ambassador in Kabul.
1921ChinaThe strong empire loses all control over Outer Mongolia but retains the larger, progressively sinified, Inner Mongolia), which has been granted autonomy in 1912 (as well as Tibet), and now becomes a popular republic and, as of 1924, a de facto satellite of the USSR. Formal recognition of Mongolia will follow in 1945.
1922United KingdomIn Ireland, following insurgency by the IRA, most of Ireland separates from the United Kingdom as the Irish Free State, reversing 800 years of British presence. Northern Ireland, the northeast area of the island, remains within the United Kingdom.
1923United KingdomEnd of the de facto protectorate over Nepal which was never truly colonized.
1930United KingdomThe United Kingdom returns the leased port territory at Weihaiwei to China, the first episode of decolonization in East Asia.
1931United KingdomThe Statute of Westminster grants virtually full independence to Canada, New Zealand, Newfoundland, the Irish Free State, the Commonwealth of Australia, and the Union of South Africa, when it declares the British Parliament incapable of passing law over these former colonies without their own consent.
1932United KingdomEnds League of Nations Mandate over Iraq. Britain continues to station troops in the country and influence the Iraqi government until 1958.
1934United StatesMakes the Philippine Islands a Commonwealth. Abrogates Platt Amendment, which gave it direct authority to intervene in Cuba.
1941FranceLebanon declares independence, effectively ending the French mandate (previously together with Syria) - it is recognized in 1943.
1941ItalyEthiopia, Eritrea & Tigray (appended to it), and the Italian part of Somalia are liberated by the Allies after an uneasy occupation of Ethiopia since 1935-1936, and no longer joined as one colonial federal state; the Ogaden desert (disputed by Somalia) remains under British military control until 1948.

From World War II to the present

1945JapanAfter surrender of Japan, North Korea was reigned by Soviet Union and South Korea was reigned by United States.
JapanThe Republic of China possesses Taiwan
FranceVietnam declares independence but only to be recognized nine years later
1946United StatesThe sovereignty of the Philippines is recognized by the United States, which conquered the islands during the Philippine-American War. But, the United States continues to station troops in the country as well as influence the Philippine government and economy (through the Bell Trade Act) until the fall of Marcos in 1986, which allowed Filipinos to author a genuinely Filipino constitution.
United KingdomThe former emirate of Transjordan (present-day Jordan) becomes an independent Hashemite kingdom when Britain relinquishes UN trusteeship.
1947United KingdomThe Republic of India and Muslim State of Pakistan (including present-day Bangladesh) achieve direct independence in an attempt to separate the native Hindus officially from secular and Muslim parts of former British India. The non-violent independence movement led by M. K. Gandhi has been inspirational for other non-violent protests around the world, including the Civil Rights Movement in the United States.
1948United KingdomIn the Far East, Burma and Ceylon (Sri Lanka) become independent. In the Middle East, Israel becomes independent less than a year after the British government withdraws from the Palestine Mandate; the remainder of Palestine becomes part of the Arab states of Egypt and Transjordan.
United StatesRepublic of Korea was established.
Soviet UnionDemocratic People's Republic of Korea was established.
1949FranceLaos becomes independent.
The NetherlandsIndependence of United States of Indonesia is recognized by United Nations and subsequently overthrown by the Republic of Indonesia led by Sukarno
1951ItalyLibya becomes an independent kingdom.
1952United StatesPuerto Rico in the Antilles becomes a self governing Commonwealth associated to the US.
1953FranceFrance recognizes Cambodia's independence.
1954FranceVietnam's independence recognized, though the nation is partitioned. The Pondichery enclave is incorporated into India. Beginning of the Algerian War of Independence
United KingdomThe United Kingdom withdraws from the last part of Egypt it controls: the Suez Canal zone.
1956United KingdomAnglo-Egyptian Sudan becomes independent.
FranceTunisia and the sherifian kingdom of Morocco in the Maghreb achieve independence.
SpainSpain-controlled areas in Morroco become independent.
1957United KingdomGhana becomes independent, initiating the decolonization of sub-Saharan Africa.
United KingdomThe Federation of Malaya becomes independent.
1958FranceGuinea on the coast of West-Africa is granted independence.
United StatesSigning the Alaska Statehood Act by Dwight D. Eisenhower, granting Alaska the possibility of the equal rights of statehood
United KingdomUN trustee Britain withdraws from Iraq, which becomes an independent Hashemite Kingdom (like Jordan, but soon to become a republic through the first of several coups d'états.
1960United KingdomNigeria, British Somaliland (present-day Somalia), and most of Cyprus become independent, though the UK retains sovereign control over Akrotiri and Dhekelia.
FranceBenin (then Dahomey), Upper Volta (present-day Burkina Faso), Cameroon, Chad, Congo-Brazzaville, Côte d'Ivoire, Gabon, the Mali Federation (split the same year into present-day Mali and Senegal), Mauritania, Niger, Togo and the Central African Republic (the Oubangui Chari) and Madagascar all become independent.
BelgiumThe Belgian Congo (also known as Congo-Kinshasa, later renamed Zaire and presently the Democratic Republic of the Congo), becomes independent.
1961United KingdomTanganyika (formerly a German colony under UK trusteeship, merged to federal Tanzania in 1964 with the island of Zanzibar, formerly a proper British colony wrested from the Omani sultanate); Sierra Leone, Kuwait and British Cameroon become independent. South Africa declares independence.
PortugalThe former coastal enclave colonies of Goa, Daman and Diu are taken over by India.
1962United KingdomUganda in Africa, and Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago in the Caribbean, achieve independence.
FranceEnd of Algerian War of Independence, Algeria becomes independent.
BelgiumRwanda and Burundi (then Urundi) attain independence through the ending of the Belgian trusteeship.
New ZealandThe South Sea UN trusteeship over the Polynesian kingdom of Western Samoa (formerly German Samoa and nowadays called just Samoa) is relinquished.
1963United KingdomKenya becomes independent.
United KingdomSingapore, together with Sarawak and Sabah on North Borneo, form Malaysia with the peninsular Federation of Malaya.
1964United KingdomNorthern Rhodesia declares independence as Zambia and Malawi, formerly Nyasaland does the same, both from the United Kingdom. The Mediterranean island of Malta becomes independent.
1965United KingdomSouthern Rhodesia (the present Zimbabwe) declares independence as Rhodesia, a second Apartheid regime, but is not recognized. Gambia is recognized as independent. The British protectorate over the Maldives archipelago in the Indian Ocean is ended.
1966United KingdomIn the Caribbean, Barbados and Guyana; and in Africa, Botswana (then Bechuanaland) and Lesotho become independent.
1967United KingdomOn the Arabian peninsula, Aden colony becomes independent as South Yemen, to be united with formerly Ottoman North Yemen in 1990-1991.
1968United KingdomMauritius and Swaziland achieve independence.
PortugalAfter nine years of organized guerrilla resistance, most of Guinea-Bissau comes under native control.
SpainEquatorial Guinea (then Rio Muni) is made independent.
AustraliaRelinquishes UN trusteeship (nominally shared by the United Kingdom and New Zealand) of Nauru in the South Sea.
1971United KingdomFiji and Tonga in the South Sea are given independence; South Asia East Pakistan achieves independence with the help of India.
United KingdomBahrain, Qatar, Oman and seven Trucial States (the same year, six federated together as United Arab Emirates and the seventh, Ras al-Kaimah, joined soon after) become independent Arab monarchies in the Persian Gulf as the British protectorates are lifted.
1973United KingdomThe Bahamas are granted independence.
PortugalGuerrillas unilaterally declare independence in the Southeastern regions of Guinea-Bissau.
1974United KingdomGrenada in the Caribbean becomes independent.
PortugalGuinea-Bissau on the coast of West-Africa is recognized as independent by Portugal.
1975FranceThe Comoros archipelago in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Africa is granted independence.
PortugalAngola, Mozambique and the island groups of Cape Verde and São Tomé and Príncipe, all four in Africa, achieve independence. East Timor declares independence, but is subsequently occupied and annexed by Indonesia nine days later.
The NetherlandsSuriname (then Dutch Guiana) becomes independent.
AustraliaReleased from trusteeship, Papua New Guinea gains independence.
1976United KingdomSeychelles archipelago in the Indian Ocean off the African coast becomes independent (one year after granting of self-rule).
SpainThe 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 annexes the entire territory in 1979), rendering the declared independence of the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic ineffective to the present day. Since Spain did not have the right to give away Western Sahara, under international law the territory is still under Spanish administration. The de facto administrator is however Morocco.
1977FranceFrench Somaliland, also known as Afar & Issa-land (after its main tribal groups), the present Djibouti, is granted independence.
1978United KingdomDominica in the Caribbean and the Solomon Islands, as well as Tuvalu (then the Ellice Islands), all in the South Sea, become independent.
1979United StatesReturns the Panama Canal Zone (held under a regime sui generis since 1903) to the republic of Panama.
United KingdomThe Gilbert Islands (present-day Kiribati) in the South Sea as well as Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and Saint Lucia in the Caribbean become independent.
1980United KingdomZimbabwe (then Southern Rhodesia), already independent de facto, becomes formally independent. The joint Anglo-French colony of the New Hebrides becomes the independent island republic of Vanuatu.
1981United KingdomBelize (then British Honduras) and Antigua & Barbuda become independent.
1983United KingdomSaint Kitts and Nevis (an associated state since 1963) becomes independent.
1984United KingdomBrunei sultanate on Borneo becomes independent.
1990South AfricaNamibia becomes independent from South Africa.
United StatesThe UN Security Council gives final approval to end the U.S. Trust Territory of the Pacific (dissolved already in 1986), finalizing the independence of the Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia, having been a colonial possession of the empire of Japan before UN trusteeship.
1991United StatesU.S. forces withdraw from Subic Bay and Clark Air Base in the Philippines ending major U.S. military presence, which lasted for almost a century.
1994United StatesPalau (after a transitional period as a Republic since 1981, and before part of the U.S. Trust territory of the Pacific) becomes independent from its former trustee, having been a mandate of the Japanese Empire before UN trusteeship.
1997United KingdomThe sovereignty of Hong Kong is transferred to China.
1999PortugalThe sovereignty of Macau is transferred to China on schedule. It is the last in a series of coastal enclaves that militarily stronger powers had obtained through treaties from the Chinese Empire. Like Hong Kong, it is not organized into the existing provincial structure applied to other provinces of the People's Republic of China, but is guaranteed a quasi-autonomous system of government within the People's Republic of China.
2002IndonesiaEast Timor formally achieves independence after a transitional UN administration, three years after Indonesia ended its violent quarter-century military occupation of the former Portuguese colony.

See also


  1. ↑ Daniel Philpott. 2001. Revolutions in sovereignty: how ideas shaped modern international relations. Princeton studies in international history and politics. (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. ISBN 9780691057460), 158.
  2. ↑ Mario Gonzalez and Elizabeth Cook-Lynn. 1999. The politics of hallowed ground: Wounded Knee and the struggle for Indian sovereignty. (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press. ISBN 9780252023545).
  3. ↑ Devon A. Mihesuah, 2003. Indigenous American women: decolonization, empowerment, activism. Contemporary indigenous issues. (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 9780803232273).
  4. ↑ This called for fiscal discipline, the privatization of state owned industries, tax reform, de-regularization and liberalization of trade.
  5. ↑ Kaye Whiteman, 1997. The man who ran Francafrique - French politician Jacques Foccart's role in France's colonization of Africa under the leadership of Charles de Gaulle - Obituary. The National Interest (Fall, 1997). Jacques Foccart, counselor to Charles de Gaulle, Georges Pompidou and Jacques Chirac for African matters, recognized it in 1995. Retrieved August 18, 2008.
  6. ↑ Mehdi Ben Barka (born 1920, the Moroccan politician, led the left-wing National Union of Popular Forces (UNPF). He disappeared on October 29, 1965. France has declassified some of the files, but Ben Barka's family has stated that these have shed no new light on the affair, and that further efforts must be done.
  7. ↑ John Kenneth Galbraith. 1994. A journey through economic time: a firsthand view. (Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 9780395637517), 159. Chapter 17 discusses "Decolonization and Economic Development," 158-167.
  8. ↑ Galbraith, 159.
  9. ↑ Galbraith, 158.
  10. ↑ Thiong'o Ngugi wa. 1986. Decolonizing the Mind. The Swaraj Foundation. Retrieved August 18, 2008.
  11. ↑ Francis Fukuyama. 1992. The End of History and the last man. (New York, NY: Free Press. ISBN 9780029109755, 171.
  12. ↑ Fukuyama, 1992, 169.
  13. ↑ Fukuyama, 1992, 171.
  14. ↑ Fukuyama, 1992, 18.


  • Betts, Raymond F. 1998. Decolonization. The making of the contemporary world. London, UK: Routledge. ISBN 9780415186827.
  • Chinweizu, Onwuchekwa Jemie, and Ihechukwu Madubuike. 1983. Toward the decolonization of African literature. Washington, DC: Howard University Press. ISBN 9780882581224.
  • Duara, Prasenjit. 2004. Decolonization perspectives from now and then. Rewriting histories. London, UK: Routledge. ISBN 9780203485521.
  • Fukuyama, Francis. 1992. The end of history and the last man. New York, NY: Free Press. ISBN 9780029109755.
  • Galbraith, John Kenneth. 1994. A journey through economic time: a firsthand view. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 9780395637517.
  • Gonzalez, Mario, and Elizabeth Cook-Lynn. 1999. The politics of hallowed gro