The decolonization of Africa was almost as fast as the more famous Scramble to colonize Africa had been. Between 1956 and 1963, 29 African states gained their independence, and seventeen of those countries became independent in the electric year of 1960. How can we account for this rapid flight from Empire?
1. World War II
The cataclysm of World War II exhausted Europe economically and socially. While Britain were among the victors of the war, they would endure rationing until 1950, and much of Europe was receiving aid from the United States.
This did not mean they were ready to renounce imperialism – far from it. The war had once again proven to Europe the vital importance of colonies, but as the difficulties mounted, Britain, France, and Belgium would find the financial and political costs of imperialism to be too high.
During the war, Britain had also signed the Atlantic Charter – a document drafted in opposition to Nazi Germany’s conquests that proclaimed the rights of people to self-determination. After the war, anti-colonial nationalists quickly seized upon these clauses demanding that Britain respect its own declaration. Finally, many colonized Africans had served in the war, and the veterans who returned home to unemployment and colonial racism soon joined the voices calling for decolonization.
2. Anti-Colonialism and the Anti-Imperial Superpowers
The growing anti-colonialism in Africa was part of a global push for decolonization. In 1947, India and Pakistan achieved their independence, and from that point forward, the days of empire were numbered – or at least, the years of modern European imperialism were numbered. Nationalists across Southeast Asia and Africa were pushing for greater autonomy and soon, freedom.
These movements gained strength from each other, and together wore down European will and means.
The new superpowers of the world, the United States and the United Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R) were also anti-imperialist – at least in theory. Both countries were arguably empires themselves, but both were undeniably guided by anti-imperialist ideologies and would eventually oppose the overseas empires of Europe.
3. African Nationalists and Revolutionaries
For decades, African nationalists had been pushing for a greater role in colonial governance, and their efforts paved the way for decolonization, particularly in several British and French colonies.
Independence though also owed much to violent revolutionaries and anti-colonial warfare. Two of the more famous examples are the Mau Mau Uprising in Kenya and the Algerian War of Independence. Wearied by warfare from World War II, European voters were increasingly uneasy with the brutal force needed by that point to hold onto colonies, and suppression was also expensive. Wars and uprisings made the colonial governments far more willing to work earnestly with moderate nationalists to find a way forward.
More cynically, the growing willingness of France, Britain, and Belgium to entertain thoughts of decolonization was also tied to the realization that there would be many ways to profit from these territories even after independence. As the push for decolonization grew, the imperial powers began looking to a future when they could still wield economic power in their formal colonies without formally ruling them.
The crisis moment came, though, on July 26, 1956, when the President of Egypt, Gamal Abdel Nasser, nationalized the Suez Canal. France and Britain tried to invade the already independent state, but after a few skirmishes with the Egyptian army, they were forced to retreat, largely due to pressure from the U.S.S.R. and the United States – as nationalists everywhere looked on. The process of decolonizing Africa had begun.
source: about education