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Decolonisation (or decolonization) refers to the undoing of colonialism, the establishment of governance or authority through the creation of settlements by another country or jurisdiction. The term generally refers to the achievement of independence by the various Western colonies and protectorates in Asia and Africa following World War II. This conforms with an intellectual movement known as post-colonialism. Decolonization can be achieved by attaining independence, integrating with the administering power or another state, or establishing a "free association" status. The United Nations Special Committee on Decolonization has stated that in the process of decolonization there is no alternative to the principle of self-determination. Decolonization may involve peaceful negotiation and/or violent revolt and armed struggle by the native population. It may be intramural or it may involve the intervention of foreign powers or international bodies such as the League of Nations.

Although examples of decolonization can be found from ancient times forward, in modern times there have been several particularly active periods of decolonization. These are the breakup of the Spanish Empire in the nineteenth century, of the Austrian and Ottoman Empires at around the time of World War I, of the British, French, German, Italian and American Empires in the wake of World War II, and of the Russian Soviet Empire following the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.


Methods and stages

Decolonization is a political process, frequently involving violence. In extreme circumstances, there is a war of independence, sometimes following a revolution. More often, there is a dynamic cycle where negotiations fail, minor disturbances ensue resulting in suppression by the police and military forces, escalating into more violent revolts that lead to further negotiations until independence is granted. In rare cases, the actions of the native population are characterized by non-violence, with the Indian independence movement led by Mahatma Gandhi being one of the most notable examples, and the violence comes as active suppression from the occupying forces or as political opposition from forces representing minority local communities who feel threatened by the prospect of independence. For example, there was a war of independence in French Indochina, while in some countries in French West Africa (excluding the Maghreb countries) decolonization resulted from a combination of insurrection and negotiation. The process is only complete when the de facto government of the newly independent country is recognized as the de jure sovereign state by the community of nations.

Independence is often difficult to achieve without the encouragement and practical support from one or more external parties. The motives for giving such aid are varied: nations of the same ethnic and/or religious stock may sympathize with oppressed groups, or a strong nation may attempt to destabilize a colony as a tactical move to weaken a rival or enemy colonizing power or to create space for its own sphere of influence; examples of this include British support of the Haitian Revolution against France, and the Monroe Doctrine of 1823, in which the United States warned the European powers not to interfere in the affairs of the newly independent states of the Western Hemisphere.

As world opinion became more pro-emancipation following World War I, there was an institutionalised collective effort to advance the cause of emancipation through the League of Nations. Under Article 22 of the Covenant of the League of Nations, a number of mandates were created. The expressed intention was to prepare these countries for self-government, but are often interpreted as a mere redistribution of control over the former colonies of the defeated powers, mainly Germany and the Ottoman Empire. This reassignment work continued through the United Nations, with a similar system of trust territories created to adjust control over both former colonies and mandated territories administered by the nations defeated in World War II, including Japan.

In referendums, some colonized populations have chosen to retain their colonial status, such as Gibraltar and French Guiana. There are even examples, such as the Falklands War, in which an Imperial power goes to war to defend the right of a colony to continue to be a colony. Colonial powers have sometimes promoted decolonization in order to shed the financial, military and other burdens that tend to grow in those colonies where the colonial regimes have become more benign.

Decolonization is rarely achieved through a single historical act, but rather progresses through one or more stages of emancipation, each of which can be offered or fought for: these can include the introduction of elected representatives (advisory or voting; minority or majority or even exclusive), degrees of autonomy or self-rule. Thus, the final phase of decolonisation may in fact concern little more than handing over responsibility for foreign relations and security, and soliciting de jure recognition for the new sovereignty. But, even following the recognition of statehood, a degree of continuity can be maintained through bilateral treaties between now equal governments involving practicalities such as military training, mutual protection pacts, or even a garrison and/or military bases.

There is some debate over whether or not the The Americas can be considered decolonized, as it was the colonist and their descendants who revolted and declared their independence instead of the indigenous peoples, as is usually the case. Scholars such as Elizabeth Cook-Lynn (Dakota) and Devon Mihesuah (Choctaw) have argued that portions of the United States still are in need of decolonization[citation needed]. Furthermore, included in this list of states where "decolonization" has not occurred as per the ideas reflected above are Australia, New Zealand. Interestingly enough Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the US refused to endorse the ratification of the Declaration of Indigenous Peoples rights created at the UN level.

Decolonization of the Americas

Decolonization of Ottoman lands in the Nineteenth century

A number of peoples conquered by the Ottoman Empire were able to achieve independence in the nineteenth century, a process that peaked at the time of the Ottoman defeat in the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78.



In the wake of the French Invasion of Egypt led by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1798, and the subsequent expulsion of the French in 1801 by Othmaneien, Mamalek, and British forces, the commander of the Albanian regiment, Muhammad Ali (Kavalali Mehmed Ali Pasha) was able to gain control of Egypt. Although he was emerged acknowledged by the Sultan in Istanbul in 1805 as his pasha (viceroy), Muhammad Ali was in reality monarch of a sovereign state.


The Greek War of Independence, (1821–1829,) was fought to liberate Greece from a centuries-long Ottoman occupation. Independence was secured by the intervention of a combined British-French fleet at the Battle of Navarino.


At the end of the Russo-Turkish War, 1877-1878, in which the Russian army together with a Romanian expeditionary force and volunteer Bulgarian troops defeated the Ottoman armies, the Treaty of Berlin (1878) established a Bulgarian state in Moesia and the region of Sofia. Alexander, Prince of Battenberg, was created Prince of Bulgaria.


Romania fought on the Russian side in the Russo-Turkish War and in the 1878 Treaty of Berlin, Romania was recognized as an independent state by the Great Powers.[1][2]


Decades of armed and unarmed struggle ended with the recognition of Serbian independence from the Ottoman Empire at the Congress of Berlin in 1878.


The independence of the Principality of Montenegro from the Ottoman Empire was recognized at the congress of Berlin in 1878.

Decolonization after 1918

Western European colonial powers

Czechoslovak anti-colonialist propaganda poster: "Socialism opened the door of liberation for colonial nations."

The New Imperialism period, with the scramble for Africa and the Opium Wars, marked the zenith of European colonization. It also marked the acceleration of the trends that would end it. The extraordinary material demands of the conflict had spread economic change across the world (notably inflation), and the associated social pressures of "war imperialism" created both peasant unrest and a burgeoning middle class.

Economic growth created stakeholders with their own demands, while racial issues meant these people clearly stood apart from the colonial middle-class and had to form their own group. The start of mass nationalism, as a concept and practice, would fatally undermine the ideologies of imperialism.

There were, naturally, other factors, from agrarian change (and disaster – French Indochina), changes or developments in religion (Buddhism in Burma, Islam in the Dutch East Indies, marginally people like John Chilembwe in Nyasaland), and the impact of the depression of the 1930s.

The Great Depression, despite the concentration of its impact on the industrialized world, was also exceptionally damaging in the rural colonies. Agricultural prices fell much harder and faster than those of industrial goods. From around 1925 until World War II, the colonies suffered. The colonial powers concentrated on domestic issues, protectionism and tariffs, disregarding the damage done to international trade flows. The colonies, almost all primary "cash crop" producers, lost the majority of their export income and were forced away from the "open" complementary colonial economies to "closed" systems. While some areas returned to subsistence farming (British Malaya) others diversified (India, West Africa), and some began to industrialise. These economies would not fit the colonial straight-jacket when efforts were made to renew the links. Further, the European-owned and -run plantations proved more vulnerable to extended deflation than native capitalists, reducing the dominance of "white" farmers in colonial economies and making the European governments and investors of the 1930s co-opt indigenous elites — despite the implications for the future.

The efforts at colonial reform also hastened their end — notably the move from non-interventionist collaborative systems towards directed, disruptive, direct management to drive economic change. The creation of genuine bureaucratic government boosted the formation of indigenous bourgeoisie. This was especially true in the British Empire, which seemed less capable (or less ruthless) in controlling political nationalism. Driven by pragmatic demands of budgets and manpower the British made deals with the nationalist elites. They dealt with the white Dominions, retained strategic resources at the cost of reducing direct control in Egypt, and made numerous reforms in the Raj, culminating in the Government of India Act (1935).

Despite these efforts though, the British Government continued to slowly lose their control of the Raj. The end of WWII allowed India, in addition to various other European colonies, to take advantage of the postwar chaos that had began to exist in Europe during the mid 1940's. Mahatma Gandhi, India's independence movement leader, realized the advantage in conducting a peaceful resistance to the British Empire's attempts to retake control of their "crown jewel." By becoming a symbol of both peace and opposition to British Imperialism, many Indian citizens began to view the British as the cause of India's violence leading to a new found sense of nationalism among its population. With this new wave of Indian nationalism, Gandhi was eventually able to garner the support needed to push back the British and create an independent India in 1947.[3]

Africa was a very different case from Asia between the wars. Tropical Africa was not fully drawn into the colonial system before the end of the 19th century, excluding only the complexities of the Union of South Africa (busily introducing racial segregation from 1924 and thus catalyzing the anti-colonial political growth of half the continent) and the Empire of Ethiopia. Colonial controls ranged between extremes. Economic growth was often curtailed.[citation needed] There were no indigenous nationalist groups with widespread popular support before 1939. However Black Nationalism began to gain strength in the early 1900's with the emergence of Marcus Garvey (1887-1940) who advocated that U.S. blacks seek repatriation in Africa. Kwame Nkrumah (1909-1972) who was inspired by the works of Garvey led Ghana to independence from colonial rule. Bob Marley (1945-1981) used music to bring blacks to the cause with songs such as "Get Up Stand Up" urging Africans to stand up for their rights and to continue to fight for them.

United States

The United States had almost no role in the late 19th century imperalism as practiced by Europe and Japan. For instance, when the aforementioned countries sought to divide up China into spheres of influence at the end of the 19th century, the U.S. did not participate and instead urged an open door policy (a policy similar to free trade). Rather than seeking a mercantilist economic advantage or the exploitation of natural resources, U.S. imperalist ambitions that did exist focused on national defense. At the end of the Spanish-American War in 1898, the United States seized from Spain two of its former colonies, the Philippines and Puerto Rico. The United States viewed both as strategic assets and did not seriously seek to colonize either country; both countries had grown unhappy with Spanish rule. The Philippines in particular were seen as part of a wider naval policy to project U.S. power into the Pacific. This policy eventually created a buffer between the United States and the expansionist Japanese Empire. Though the U.S. had fought to suppress local "insurgencies" there, such as in the Philippine-American War, the U.S. had promised the Philippines independence so by the 1930s their policy changed toward the direction of eventual self-government. Following the defeat of a combined US and Philippine force, Japan took control of the islands during World War II. Three years later the U.S. returned and with the aid of local Filipino forces liberated the islands. The Philippines gained independence peacefully from the United States in 1946.

Puerto Ricans have held U.S. citizenship since 1917, and only some residents there pay federal income taxes[4] (though all residents must pay all other federal taxes[5]), but do not have the right to vote in federal elections, nor do they have voting representation in the U.S. Congress.[6] Puerto Rico achieved self-government in 1952 and became a commonwealth in association with the United States. Puerto Rico was taken off the UN list of non-sovereign territories in 1953 through Resolution 748, however, the nature of Puerto Rico's political relationship with the U.S. continues to be the subject of ongoing debate in Puerto Rico, the United States Congress[7], and the United Nations.[8] Some authorities, such as Trias Monje,[9] call it "the world's oldest colony."[10] In 1967, 1993 and 1998, Puerto Rican voters rejected proposals to grant the territory statehood or independence. Nevertheless, the island's political status remains a central issue in Puerto Rican politics as well as in the United Nations as "the United Nations still debates whether Puerto Rico is a colony."[11]

Hawaii (and Alaska, an older possession) became constituent states of the United States, on an equal basis with the others - as had the American conquests in the Mexican-American War. Despite the existence of an Alaskan Independence Party, their status is not a matter of serious debate.


Japan had gained several substantial colonial concessions in east Asia such as Taiwan and Korea. Pursuing a colonial policy comparable to those of European powers, Japan settled significant populations of ethnic Japanese in its colonies while simultaneously suppressing indigenous ethnic populations by enforcing the learning and use of the Japanese language in schools. Other methods such as public interaction, and attempts to eradicate the use of Korean, Hokkien, and Hakka among the indigenous peoples, were seen to be used. Japan also set up the Imperial university in Korea (Keijo Imperial University) and Taiwan (Taihoku University) to compel education.

World War II gave the Japanese Empire occasion to conquer vast swaths of Asia, sweeping into China and seizing the Western colonies of Vietnam, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Burma, Malaya, Timor and Indonesia among others, albeit only for the duration of the war. An estimated 20 million Chinese died during the Second Sino-Japanese War (1931-1945).[12] Following its surrender to the Allies in 1945, Japan was deprived of all its colonies. Japan further claims that the southern Kuril Islands are a small portion of its own national territory, colonized by the Soviet Union.

French Decolonization

After World War I, the colonized people were frustrated at France's failure to recognize the effort provided by the French colonies (resources, but more importantly colonial troops - the famous tirailleurs). Although in Paris the Great Mosque of Paris was constructed as recognition of these efforts, the French state had no intention to allow self-rule, let alone grant independence to the colonized people. Thus, nationalism in the colonies became stronger in between the two wars, leading to Abd el-Krim's Rif War (1921-1925) in Morocco and to the creation of Messali Hadj's Star of North Africa in Algeria in 1925. However, these movements would gain full potential only after World War II. The October 27, 1946 Constitution creating the Fourth Republic substituted the French Union to the colonial empire. On the night of March 29, 1947, a nationalist uprising in Madagascar led the French government headed by Paul Ramadier (Socialist) to violent repression: one year of bitter fighting, in which 90,000 to 100,000 Malagasy died. On May 8, 1945, the Sétif massacre took place in Algeria.

In 1946, the states of French Indochina withdrew from the Union, leading to the Indochina War (1946-54) against Ho Chi Minh, who had been a co-founder of the French Communist Party in 1920 and had founded the Vietminh in 1941. In 1956, Morocco and Tunisia gained their independence, while the Algerian War was raging (1954-1962). Similarly, a decade earlier, Laos and Cambodia achived independence in order for the French to focus to keeping Vietnam. With Charles de Gaulle's return to power in 1958 amidst turmoil and threats of a right-wing coup d'État to protect "French Algeria", the decolonization was completed with the independence of Sub-Saharan Africa's colonies in 1960 and the March 19, 1962 Evian Accords, which put an end to the Algerian war. The OAS movement unsuccessfully tried to block the accords with a series of bombings, including an attempted assassination against Charles de Gaulle.

To this day, the Algerian war — officially called until the 1990s a "public order operation" — remains a trauma for both France and Algeria. Philosopher Paul Ricœur has spoken of the necessity of a "decolonization of memory", starting with the recognition of the 1961 Paris massacre during the Algerian war and the recognition of the decisive role of African and especially North African immigrant manpower in the Trente Glorieuses post-World War II economic growth period. In the 1960s, due to economic needs for post-war reconstruction and rapid economic growth, French employers actively sought to recruit manpower from the colonies, explaining today's multiethnic population.

The Soviet Union and anti-colonialism

The Soviet Union sought to effect the abolishment of colonial governance by Western countries, either by direct subversion of Western-leaning or -controlled governments or indirectly by influence of political leadership and support. Many of the revolutions of this time period were inspired or influenced in this way. The conflicts in Vietnam, Nicaragua, Congo, and Sudan, among others, have been characterized as such.

Most Soviet leaders expressed the Marxist-Leninist view that imperialism was the height of capitalism, and generated a class-stratified society. It followed, then, that Soviet leadership would encourage independence movements in colonized territories, especially as the Cold War progressed. Though this was the view expressed by their leaders, such interventions can be interpreted as the expansion of Soviet interests (establishing the Iron Curtain), not just as aiding the oppressed peoples of the world. Because so many of these wars of independence expanded into general Cold War conflicts, the United States also supported several such independence movements in opposition to Soviet interests.

During the Vietnam War, Communist countries supported anti-colonialist movements in various countries still under colonial administration through propaganda, developmental and economic assistance, and in some cases military aid. Notably among these were the support of armed rebel movements by Cuba in Angola, and the Soviet Union (as well as the People's Republic of China) in Vietnam.

The emergence of the Third World (1945-)

Czechoslovak anti-colonialist propaganda poster: "Africa - fighting for freedom".

The term "Third World" was coined by French demographer Alfred Sauvy in 1952, on the model of the Third Estate, which, according to the Abbé Sieyès, represented everything, but was nothing: "...because at the end this ignored, exploited, scorned Third World like the Third Estate, wants to become something too" (Sauvy). The emergence of this new political entity, in the frame of the Cold War, was complex and painful. Several tentatives were made to organize newly independent states in order to oppose a common front towards both the US's and the USSR's influence on them, with the consequences of the Sino-Soviet split already at works. Thus, the Non-Aligned Movement constituted itself, around the main figures of Nehru, the leader of India, Sukarno, the Indonesian president, Tito the Communist leader of Yugoslavia, and Nasser, head of Egypt who successfully opposed the French and British imperial powers during the 1956 Suez crisis. After the 1954 Geneva Conference which put an end to the French war against Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam, the 1955 Bandung Conference gathered Nasser, Nehru, Tito, Sukarno, the leader of Indonesia, and Zhou Enlai, Premier of the People's Republic of China. In 1960, the UN General Assembly voted the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples. The next year, the Non-Aligned Movement was officially created in Belgrade (1961), and was followed in 1964 by the creation of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) which tried to promote a New International Economic Order (NIEO). The NIEO was opposed to the 1944 Bretton Woods system, which had benefited the leading states which had created it, and remained in force until 1971 after the United States' suspension of convertibility from dollars to gold. The main tenets of the NIEO were:

  1. Developing countries must be entitled to regulate and control the activities of multinational corporations operating within their territory.
  2. They must be free to nationalize or expropriate foreign property on conditions favourable to them.
  3. They must be free to set up associations of primary commodities producers similar to the OPEC (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, created on September 17, 1960 to protest pressure by major oil companies (mostly owned by U.S., British, and Dutch nationals) to reduce oil prices and payments to producers.); all other States must recognize this right and refrain from taking economic, military, or political measures calculated to restrict it.
  4. International trade should be based on the need to ensure stable, equitable, and remunerative prices for raw materials, generalized non-reciprocal and non-discriminatory tariff preferences, as well as transfer of technology to developing countries; and should provide economic and technical assistance without any strings attached.
The UN Human Development Index (HDI) is a quantitative index of development, alternative to the classic Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which some use as a proxy to define the Third World. While the GDP only calculates economic wealth, the HDI includes life expectancy, public health and literacy as fundamental factors of a good quality of life.

The UNCTAD however wasn't very effective in implementing this New International Economic Order (NIEO), and social and economic inequalities between industrialized countries and the Third World kept on growing through-out the 1960s until the 21st century. The 1973 oil crisis which followed the Yom Kippur War (October 1973) was triggered by the OPEC which decided an embargo against the US and Western countries, causing a fourfold increase in the price of oil, which lasted five months, starting on October 17, 1973, and ending on March 18 1974. OPEC nations then agreed, on January 7, 1975, to raise crude oil prices by 10%. At that time, OPEC nations — including many who had recently nationalised their oil industries — joined the call for a New International Economic Order to be initiated by coalitions of primary producers. Concluding the First OPEC Summit in Algiers they called for stable and just commodity prices, an international food and agriculture program, technology transfer from North to South, and the democratization of the economic system. But industrialized countries quickly began to look for substitutes to OPEC petroleum, with the oil companies investing the majority of their research capital in the US and European countries or others, politically sure countries. The OPEC lost more and more influence on the world prices of oil.

The second oil crisis occurred in the wake of the 1979 Iranian Revolution. Then, the 1982 Latin American debt crisis exploded in Mexico first, then Argentina and Brazil, which proved unable to pay back their debts, jeopardizing the existence of the international economic system.

The 1990s were characterized by the prevalence of the Washington consensus on neoliberal policies, "structural adjustment" and "shock therapies" for the former Communist states.

Modern approaches to decolonization

As stated, decolonization is the process by which an oppressed country or group is self-determined enough to demand its own liberation. It is, in essence, the force of the people to claim their own future, deciding the way they live their lives, from how they expend their efforts, to how they care for themselves, and how they as individuals express the right and need to be free. Many different cultures have spawned throughout the globe, so we see there are many different ways to live. We see there is not one way to live that will fit all.

Though the term "decolonization" is not well received among donors in international development today, the root of the emerging emphasis on projects to promote "democracy, governance and human rights" by international donors and to promote "institution building" and a "human rights based approach" to development is the same concept to achieve decolonization.

In many independent, post-colonial nations, the systems and cultures of colonialism continue.[citation needed] Weak Parliaments and Ministerial governments (where Ministries issue their own edicts and write laws rather than the Parliament) are holdovers of colonialism since political decisions were made outside the country, Parliament were at most for show, and the executive branch (then, foreign Governor Generals and foreign civil servants) held local power. Similarly, militaries are strong and civil control over them is weak; a holdover of military control exercised by a foreign military. In some cases, the governing systems in post-colonial countries could be viewed as ruling elites who succeeded in coup d'etats against the foreign colonial regime but never gave up the system of control.

In many countries, the human rights challenges are to empower women and reverse the legacy of proselytism that promoted patriarchy and to empower individuals and civil society through changes in education systems that were set up by colonial governments to train obedient servants of colonial regimes.

Often the impact of colonialism is more subtle, with preferences for clothes (such as "blue" shirts of French officials and pith helmets), drugs (alcohol and tobacco that colonial governments introduced, often as a way to tax locals) and other cultural attributes remain.

Some experts in development, such as David Lempert, have suggested an opening of dialogues from the colonial powers on the systems they introduced and the harms that continue as a way of decolonizing in rights policy documents for the UN system and for Europe. First World countries often seem reluctant to engage in this form of decolonization, however, since they may benefit from the legacies of colonialism that they created, in contemporary trade and political relations.[citation needed]

Assassinated anticolonialist leaders

A non-exhaustive list of assassinated leaders would include:

Many of these assassinations are still unsolved cases as of 2007, but foreign power interference is undeniable in many of these cases — although others were for internal matters. To take only one case, the investigation concerning Mehdi Ben Barka is continuing to this day, and both France and the United States have refused to declassify files they acknowledge having in their possession[16] The Phoenix Program, a CIA program of assassination during the Vietnam War, should also be named.

Post-colonial organizations

Five international organizations whose membership largely follows the pattern of previous colonial empires.

Due to a common history and culture, former colonial powers created institutions which more loosely associated their former colonies. Membership is voluntary, and in some cases can be revoked if a member state loses some objective criteria (usually a requirement for democratic governance). The organizations serve cultural, economic, and political purposes between the associated countries, although no such organization has become politically prominent as an entity in its own right.

Former Colonial Power Organization Founded
Britain Commonwealth of Nations 1931
Commonwealth Realms 1931
Associated states 1967
France French Union 1946
French Community 1958
Francophonie 1970
Spain & Portugal Latin Union 1954
Organization of Ibero-American States 1991
Community of Portuguese Language Countries 1996
Russia Commonwealth of Independent States 1991
United States Commonwealths 1934
Freely Associated States 1982
Netherlands De Nederlandse Taalunie 1980

Differing perspectives

There is quite a bit of controversy over decolonisation. The end goal tends to be universally regarded as good, but there has been much debate over the best way to grant full independence.

Economic effects

Effects on the colonizers

John Kenneth Galbraith 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."

In general, the release of the colonized caused little economic loss to the colonizers. Part of the reason for this was that major costs were eliminated while major benefits were obtained by alternate means. Decolonization allowed the colonizer to disclaim responsibility for the colonized. The colonizer no longer had the burden of obligation, financial or otherwise, to their colony. However, 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. Thus decolonization allowed the goals of colonization to be largely achieved, but without its burdens.

Effects on the former colonies

Settled populations

Decolonization is not an easy matter in colonies where a large population of settlers lives, 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 decolonisation 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, decolonisation 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, the Russian population of Kazakhstan, the Chinese population of Singapore as well as the immigrant communities of USA and Canada.

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. For such details, see each national history.

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

18th Century to World War I

Year Colonizer Event
1776 Great Britain The 13 original colonies of the United States declare independence a year after their insurrection begins.
1783 Great Britain The British Crown recognizes the independence of the United States.
1803 France Via the Louisiana purchase, the last French territories in mainland North America are handed over to the United States.
1804 France Haiti declares independence, the first non-white nation to emancipate itself from European rule.
1808 Portugal Brazil, the largest Portuguese colony, achieves a greater degree of authonomy 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.
1810 Spain United Provinces of the River Plate and Chile. First declaration of an autonomous government within the Spanish Crown. Full independence would be finally achieved in 1816. (see below)
1813 Spain Paraguay becomes independent.
1816 Spain Chile and the United Provinces of the River Plate (former Argentina and Uruguay) declare independence. The latter would then secede and gain independence in 1828 after periods of Brazilian occupation and of federation with Argentina)
1818 Spain Second and final declaration of independence of Chile
1819 Spain New Granada attains independence as Gran Colombia (later to become the independent states of Colombia, Ecuador, Panama and Venezuela).
1821 Spain The Dominican Republic (then Santo Domingo), Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and Costa Rica all declare independence; Venezuela and Mexico both achieve independence.
1821 Ottoman Empire Greece declares independence. After a long struggle independence is finally granted by the Treaty of Constantinople in July 1832.
1822 Spain Ecuador attains independence from Spain (and independence from Colombia 1830).
1824 Spain Peru and Bolivia attain independence.
1836 Mexico Texas attains independence, Texas would be annexed by the United States in 1845
1847 United States Liberia becomes a free and independent African state.
1865 Spain The Dominican Republic gains its final independence after four years as a restored colony.
1868 Spain Cuba declares independence but is reconquered.
1877 Ottoman Empire Romania declares independence. Its independence is finally recognised in July 1878.
1878 Ottoman Empire Bulgaria, Montenegro and Serbia achieve independence. Bosnia and Herzegovina is placed under the administration of Austria-Hungary.
1898 Spain Cuba and Puerto Rico are taken by the United States after the Spanish-American War. The Philippines declares independence but is taken by the United States in 1899; governed under U.S. military and then civilian administration until 1934.
1902 United States Cuba achieves independence. Guantanamo Bay is leased perpetually to and becomes a US Naval base.
1912 Ottoman Empire Albania declares independence. Recognized in Treaty of London.

Inter-War Period

Year Colonizer Event
1916 United States Passage of the Philippine Autonomy Act of 1916.
1917 Russian Empire Finland declares its independence.
1918 Russian Empire Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania declare independence in 1918. The three Baltic states are subsequently occupied by the Soviet Union (1940-1941, 1944-1991). The three Baltic nations re-declare their independence between 1990 and 1991, and their independence is recognized by the Soviet Union on September 6, 1991.
1918 Austria-Hungary Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and Poland become independent.
1919 United Kingdom End of the protectorate over Afghanistan, when Britain accepts the presence of a Soviet ambassador in Kabul.
1921 China The China 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. Recognition of Mongolia is recognized in 1945.
1922 United Kingdom In 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.
1923 United Kingdom End of the de facto protectorate over Nepal which was never truly colonized.
1930 United Kingdom The United Kingdom returns the leased port territory at Weihaiwei to China, the first episode of decolonisation in East Asia.
1931 United Kingdom The 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.
1932 United Kingdom Ends League of Nations Mandate over Iraq. Britain continues to station troops in the country and influence the Iraqi government until 1958.
1934 United States Establishes the Philippine Islands into a Commonwealth under the provisions of the Philippine Independence Act. Abrogates Platt Amendment, which gave it direct authority to intervene in Cuba.
1941 France Lebanon declares independence, effectively ending the French mandate (previously together with Syria) - it is recognized in 1943.
1941 Italy Ethiopia, Eritrea & Tigray (appended to it), and Italian Somaliland are taken by the Allies after an uneasy occupation of Ethiopia since 1935-36, and no longer joined as one colonial federal state; the Ogaden desert (disputed by Somalia) remains under British military control until 1948.
1944 Denmark Following a plebiscite, Iceland formally becomes an independent republic on June 17, 1944.
1945 Japan After surrender of Japan, North Korea is occupied by the Soviet Union and South Korea is occupied by the United States.
Japan The government of Republic of China flees to Taiwan and becomes the de facto government of that island.
France Vietnam declares independence, but France does not recognize it until 1954.
Netherlands Indonesia declares independence, which the Netherlands does not recognize until December 1949.

Cold War

Year Colonizer Event
1946 United States The treaty of Manila is signed effectively ending over 350 years of foreign domination in the Philippines. United States military bases continued to be stationed in the islands.
United Kingdom The former emirate of Transjordan (present-day Jordan) becomes an independent Hashemite kingdom when Britain relinquishes UN trusteeship.
1947 United Kingdom The British government leaves British India, which is partitioned into the secular Republic of India and the Muslim state of Pakistan (the eastern half of which will later become independent as Bangladesh).
1948 United Kingdom In the Far East, Burma and Ceylon (Sri Lanka) become independent. In the Middle East, the state of Israel is formed less than a year after the British government withdraws from the Palestine Mandate; the remainder of Palestine becomes defacto part of the Arab states of Egypt ( Gaza strip ) and Transjordan ( West bank ).
United States Republic of Korea is established in the southern part of the Korean peninsula.
Soviet Union Democratic People's Republic of Korea is established in the northern part of the peninsula.
1949 France Laos becomes independent.
Netherlands The Netherlands recognises the sovereignty of Indonesia following an armed and diplomatic struggle since 1945.
1951 Italy Libya becomes an independent kingdom.
1952 United States Puerto Rico in the Antilles becomes a self governing Commonwealth associated to the US.
1953 France France recognizes Cambodia's independence.
1954 France Vietnam's independence recognized, though the nation is partitioned. The Pondichery enclave is incorporated into India. Beginning of the Algerian War of Independence
United Kingdom The United Kingdom withdraws from the last part of Egypt it controls: the Suez Canal zone.
1956 United Kingdom Anglo-Egyptian Sudan becomes independent.
France Tunisia and the sherifian kingdom of Morocco in the Maghreb achieve independence.
Spain Spain-controlled areas in Morocco become independent.
1957 United Kingdom Ghana becomes independent, initiating the decolonisation of sub-Saharan Africa.
United Kingdom The Federation of Malaya becomes independent.
1958 France Guinea on the coast of West-Africa is granted independence.
United States Signing the Alaska Statehood Act by Dwight D. Eisenhower, granting Alaska the possibility of the equal rights of statehood
United Kingdom UN 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'état).
1959 United States Hawaii becomes the fiftieth state in the United States.
1960 United Kingdom Nigeria, British Somaliland (present-day northern Somalia), and most of Cyprus become independent, though the UK retains sovereign control over Akrotiri and Dhekelia.
France Benin (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.
Belgium The Belgian Congo (also known as Congo-Kinshasa, later renamed Zaire and presently the Democratic Republic of the Congo), becomes independent.
1961 United Kingdom Tanganyika (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 its self a republic.
Portugal The former coastal enclave colonies of Goa, Daman and Diu are taken over by India.
1962 United Kingdom Uganda in Africa, and Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago in the Caribbean, achieve independence.
France End of Algerian War, Algeria becomes independent.
Belgium Rwanda and Burundi (then Urundi) attain independence through the ending of the Belgian trusteeship.
New Zealand The South Sea UN trusteeship over the Polynesian kingdom of Western Samoa (formerly German Samoa and nowadays called just Samoa) is relinquished.
1963 United Kingdom Kenya becomes independent.
United Kingdom Singapore, together with Sarawak and Sabah on North Borneo, form Malaysia with the pensinsular Federation of Malaya. Singapore was evicted from Malaysia by Kuala Lumpur two years later.
1964 United Kingdom Northern Rhodesia declares independence as Zambia and Malawi, formerly Nyasaland does the same, both from the United Kingdom. The Mediterranean island of Malta becomes independent.
1965 United Kingdom Southern Rhodesia (the present Zimbabwe) declares independence as Rhodesia, but is not recognized. Gambia is recognized as independent. The British protectorate over the Maldives archipelago in the Indian Ocean is ended.
1966 United Kingdom In the Caribbean, Barbados and Guyana; and in Africa, Botswana (then Bechuanaland) and Lesotho become independent.
1967 United Kingdom On the Arabian peninsula, Aden colony becomes independent as South Yemen, to be united with formerly Ottoman North Yemen in 1990-1991.
1968 United Kingdom Mauritius and Swaziland achieve independence.
Portugal After nine years of organized guerrilla resistance, most of Guinea-Bissau comes under native control.
Spain Equatorial Guinea (then Rio Muni) is made independent.
Australia Relinquishes UN trusteeship (nominally shared by the United Kingdom and New Zealand) of Nauru in the South Sea.
1971 United Kingdom Fiji and Tonga are given independence; Bangladesh achieves independence from Pakistan with the military help of India.
United Kingdom Bahrain, 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.
1973 United Kingdom The Bahamas are granted independence.
Portugal Guerrillas unilaterally declare independence in the Southeastern regions of Guinea-Bissau.
1974 United Kingdom Grenada in the Caribbean becomes independent.
Portugal Guinea-Bissau on the coast of West-Africa is recognized as independent by Portugal.
1975 France The Comoros archipelago in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Africa is granted independence.
Portugal Angola, 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.
Netherlands Suriname (then Dutch Guiana) becomes independent.
Australia Released from trusteeship, Papua New Guinea gains independence.
1976 United Kingdom Seychelles archipelago in the Indian Ocean off the African coast becomes independent (one year after granting of self-rule).
Spain The 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.
1977 France French Somaliland, also known as the French Territory of the Afars and the Issas (after its dominant ethnic groups), the present Djibouti, is gains independence.
1978 United Kingdom Dominica in the Caribbean and the Solomon Islands, as well as Tuvalu (then the Ellice Islands), all in the South Sea, become independent.
1979 United States Returns the Panama Canal Zone (held under a regime sui generis since 1903) to the republic of Panama.
United Kingdom The 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.
1980 United Kingdom Zimbabwe (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.
1981 United Kingdom Belize (then British Honduras) and Antigua & Barbuda become independent.
1982 United Kingdom Canada Gains full independence from the British parliament with the Canada Act
1983 United Kingdom Saint Kitts and Nevis (an associated state since 1963) becomes independent.
1984 United Kingdom Brunei sultanate on Borneo becomes independent.
1986 United Kingdom Australia and New Zealand become fully independent with the Australia Act 1986 and The New Zealand Constitution Act 1986.
1990 South Africa Namibia becomes independent from South Africa.
United States The 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.
1991 Soviet Union Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Ukraine, Moldova, Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Turkmenistan become independent from the Soviet Union.

Post-Cold War era

Year Colonizer Event
1991 United States U.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.
1994 United States Palau (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.
1997 United Kingdom The British dependent territory of Hong Kong is given to People's Republic of China.
1999 Portugal Macau is given to People's Republic of China. It is the last in a series of coastal enclaves that militarily stronger powers had obtained through treaties from the Qing Empire which ruled China. Macau, like Hong Kong, is not organized into the existing provincial structure applied to other provinces of the People's Republic of China, but is guaranteed an autonomous system of government within the People's Republic of China as a "Special Administrative Region" or S.A.R.
2002 Indonesia East Timor formally achieves independence after a transitional UN administration, three years after Indonesia ended its quarter-century occupation of the former Portuguese colony.


  1. ^ The Treaty of Berlin, 1878 - Excerpts on the Balkans. Berlin: Fordham University. July 13, 1878. Retrieved 2008-08-31. 
  2. ^ Patterson, Michelle (August 1996). "The Road to Romanian Independence". Canadian Journal of History. Retrieved 2008-08-31. 
  3. ^ Hunt, Lynn, Thomas R. Martin, Barbara H. Rosenwein, R. Po-chia Hsia, and Bonnie G. Smith. The Making of the West Peoples and Cultures. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2008.
  4. ^ All residents of PR pay federal taxes, with the exception of federal income taxes which only some residents of Puerto Rico must still pay
  5. ^ Contrary to common misconception, residents of Puerto Rico do pay U.S. federal taxes: customs taxes (which are subsequently returned to the Puerto Rico Treasury) (See Dept of the Interior, Office of Insular Affairs.), import/export taxes (See, federal commodity taxes (See, social security taxes (See, etc. Residents pay federal payroll taxes, such as Social Security (See and Medicare (See, as well as Commonwealth of Puerto Rico income taxes (See and All federal employees (See, those who do business with the federal government (See, Puerto Rico-based corporations that intend to send funds to the U.S. (See Page 9, line 1.), and some others (For example, Puerto Rican residents that are members of the U.S. military, See; and Puerto Rico residents who earned income from sources outside Puerto Rico, See, pp 14-15.) also pay federal income taxes. In addition, because the cutoff point for income taxation is lower than that of the U.S. IRS code, and because the per-capita income in Puerto Rico is much lower than the average per-capita income on the mainland, more Puerto Rico residents pay income taxes to the local taxation authority than if the IRS code were applied to the island. This occurs because "the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico government has a wider set of responsibilities than do U.S. State and local governments" (See As residents of Puerto Rico pay into Social Security, Puerto Ricans are eligible for Social Security benefits upon retirement, but are excluded from the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) (Commonwealth of Puerto Rico residents, unlike residents of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and residents of the 50 States, do not receive the SSI. See, and the island actually receives less than 15% of the Medicaid funding it would normally receive if it were a U.S. state (See However, Medicare providers receive less-than-full state-like reimbursements for services rendered to beneficiaries in Puerto Rico, even though the latter paid fully into the system (See Another misconception is that the import/export taxes collected by the U.S. on products manufactured in Puerto Rico are all returned to the Puerto Rico Treasury. This is not the case. Such import/export taxes are returned only for rum products, and even then the US Treasury keeps a portion of those taxes (See the "House Report 110-597 - PUERTO RICO DEMOCRACY ACT OF 2007" mentioned above.)
  6. ^ It has also been estimated (See that, because the population of the Island is greater than that of 50% of the States, if it were a state, Puerto Rico would have six to eight seats in the House, in addition to the two seats in the Senate.(See, and [Note that for the later, the offical US Congress database website, you will need to resubmit a query. The document in question is called "House Report 110-597 - PUERTO RICO DEMOCRACY ACT OF 2007." These are the steps to follow: > Committee Reports > 110 > drop down "Word/Phrase" and pick "Report Number" > type "597" next to Report Number. This will provide the document "House Report 110-597 - PUERTO RICO DEMOCRACY ACT OF 2007", then from the Table of Contents choose "BACKGROUND AND NEED FOR LEGISLATION".]).
  7. ^ Keith Bea (May 25, 2005). "Political Status of Puerto Rico: Background, Options, and Issues in the 109th Congress" (PDF). Congressional Research Service. Retrieved 2007-10-01. 
  8. ^ Department of Public Information, United Nations General Assembly (June 13, 2006). "Special committee on decolonization approves text calling on United States to expedite Puerto Rican self-determination process". Press release. Retrieved 2007-10-01. 
  9. ^ Puerto Rico: The Trials of the Oldest Colony in The World. By Jose Trias Monje, Chief Justice of Puerto Rico Supreme Court. Yale University Press. 1998. Retrieved December 3, 2009.
  10. ^ [ Island Paradox. The New York Times. By Thomas Carothers. November 2, 1997.
  11. ^ Puerto Rico: Commonwealth, Statehood, or Independence? Constitutional Rights Foundation. Bill of Rights in Action: Law of Empires. Volume 17, Issue 4. Fall 2001. Retrieved December 3, 2009.
  12. ^ Remember role in ending fascist war
  13. ^ The Poison Pistol, TIME Magazine, December 01, 1961
  14. ^ Jacques Foccart, counsellor to Charles de Gaulle, Georges Pompidou and Jacques Chirac for African matters, recognized it in 1995 to Jeune Afrique review. See also Foccart parle, interviews with Philippe Gaillard, Fayard - Jeune Afrique (French) and also "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" in The National Interest, Fall 1997
  15. ^ See International Relations and Security Network (ISN), Zurich, Switzerland hosted by ETH Zurich University
  16. ^ See Mehdi Ben Barka for further information. 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.

See also

Simple English

When a colony of any country becomes independent, it is Decolonization. Thus, decolonization is opposite of colonization. Sometimes, a colony may not get full freedom, but may become part of other country or even the part of the country which colonized it. This is also decolonization. In some, decolonization may result after non-violent discussion. In a relatively small number of cases, decolonization happens only after armed struggle and revolt. Decolonization is different from the break-up of traditional empires like the Mongol Empire or the Ottoman Empire. Decolonization generally means independence from the European rule. Major decolonization occurred in the 20th century. It began with the independence of Pakistan and India in 1947 from the British Empire. Soon thereafter, many countries of Africa became independent from the rule of many countries of Europe.


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