Home The Map as History > Decolonization after 1945
Authors : Claudine Guiard, University of Provence, UMR Telemme
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Before the Second World War broke out, a large proportion of the world population was living under the sovereignty of a colonial power, for the most part European.
European domination in Africa was particularly impressive.
Myths such as the invulnerability of colonial powers and white supremacy were seriously challenged by the outbreak of the Second World War.
Following the Second World War, the colonial system was subject to growing unrest and many countries quickly acquired their independence.
Clement Attlee, the Labour Prime Minister who replaced Winston Churchill in July 1945, soon realised that independence for India was inevitable, but disagreements among the Indian politicians made the negotiations very difficult.
Burma and Ceylon (later Sri Lanka) obtained their independence soon after India but, in Malaysia, the situation was more complex.
A direct consequence of Japanese occupation of the Dutch East Indies during the Second World War was the emergence of Indonesian nationalism. Nevertheless, at the end of the war, the Netherlands was opposed to independence.
The Communist Party led by Ho Chi Minh took advantage of the Japanese occupation of Indochina during the Second World War to launch the Viet Minh Independence Movement.
The failure to create an Indochinese federation in 1946 as part of the French Union led to a long war of independence.
Independence for Italy’s African colonies (Ethiopia, Libya, Eritrea, Somalia) came as a direct consequence of Italy’s downfall during the Second World War.
In Africa, the United Kingdom launched the process of decolonization in the early 1950s. Some countries achieved independence peacefully. Others, however, became embroiled in inter-community rivalries or faced with opposition from the British colonial settlers.
French North Africa covered three territories: the Protectorates of Morocco in the west and Tunisia in the East, with Algeria in the centre.
Algeria was considered by France to be an extension of its national territory and only obtained its independence after a long drawn-out conflict lasting 8 years.
Independence in Africa was introduced in phases.
Most of the French colonies in Black Africa became independent in 1960.
The immense Belgian Congo was one of the richest colonies in Africa. After bloody riots in 1959, the Belgian Government quickly yielded to demands for independence in 1960.
Portuguese colonies in Africa gained their independence only after the “Carnation Revolution” which took place in Lisbon in April 1974.
Spain had few colonies on the African continent.
North of Morocco, Spanish Guinea and Western Sahara gained their independence from Spain during the period 1956 to 1975.
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