• Decolonisation is the undoing of colonialism, the latter being the process whereby a nation establishes and maintains its domination of foreign territories, often overseas territories
    • It is the process by which colonies become independent of the colonizing country
  • When the United Nations was founded in 1945, some 750 million people, nearly a third of the world’s population, lived in Territories that were dependent on colonial Powers.
    • Today, there are 17 Non-Self-Governing Territories remaining and fewer than 2 million people live in them
  • The fundamental right to self-determination is identified by the United Nations as core to decolonization
  • Decolonisation involves either nonviolent revolution or national liberation wars by pro-independence groups


Decolonisation: Stages

  • There are five proposed stages to decolonisation, as follows:
    • The first is called rediscovery and recovery, where a colonized or previously colonized region actively rediscovers its roots in order to reclaim the superiority of its own culture, history and traditions of its own particular region
    • The second stage is labelled as the stage of mourning, where people as a community process and understand any victimization that the colony may have experienced. This is often expressed in the form of frustration and protest
    • The third stage of decolonisation, often labelled as the most crucial, is the process of building the future of the proposed independent colony. This takes place most commonly through debate or consultation where discussions involve the future of the colony, the governing procedures and body and the reestablishment of culture
    • The fourth stage is about commitment to a single decided cause and direction for the colony. This stage is a collection of all of the people’s voices that are unified in a direction so clear cut that the colony can proceed to the final stage
    • The fifth and most commonly final stage of decolonization is the action towards said unified goal, which can express itself in a variety of ways, namely through violence and reclaiming what was once a colony. The process of the previous four stages sometimes cannot be afforded to a colony if they are under serious threat, in which case the fifth stage tends to manifest itself faster.


Reasons for Decolonisation

  • The Second World War dealt a serious blow to the colonial powers, depriving them of their former prestige.
    • The Netherlands, Belgium and France had been defeated and occupied, while the United Kingdom was seriously depleted.
    • The people under colonial rule, often employed to fill the ranks of Allied armies in wartime, were determined to break the ties that still bound them to Europe, now ruined and stripped of its resources.
  • Furthermore, the emergence of two anti-colonialist superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union, and the new international climate after 1945 encouraged the colonies to make a bid for independence
    • Being aware of the new favourable international context in which they found themselves, colonised peoples began their fight for independence

The Below map provide an idea of Decolonisation stages post 1945 years:



Aspects of Decolonisation in various regions of the World

  • ASIA
    • The colonised peoples of South-East Asia were the first to demand the departure of the Europeans and to claim independence. In the space of a few years, all the colonies, except the Portuguese possessions of Goa and Timor, became independent.
Country/Region Brief
India ·         In 1947, the British decided to leave India

·         Few months later, India gained its independence

·         In 1948, the United Kingdom also granted independence to Burma and Ceylon, and in 1957 to Malaya

Indonesia ·         Indonesia endured four years of military and diplomatic confrontation with the Netherlands before the Dutch Government recognised the independence of the Dutch East Indies in December 1949
  • Emergence of Third World
    • The independence movement led to the emergence of a series of countries that did not belong to the Western bloc or the Soviet bloc.
    • These countries had various features in common, including underdevelopment and rapid demographic growth, and they became known collectively as the ‘Third World’
    • In the 1950s, five newly independent Asian countries (India, Pakistan, Ceylon, Burma and Indonesia) took the initiative to rally the Third-World countries to form a united front against colonisation.
    • On 17 April 1955, the first Afro–Asian Conference was held in Bandung in a bid by Third-World countries to consolidate their position on the international stage.
  • Suez Crisis
    • The Suez Crisis directly threatened the interests of France, the United Kingdom and Israel, leading to a trial of strength that culminated in a joint military operation by the three countries against the former British protectorate in October 1956.
    • The Bandung Conference and the Suez Crisis led to the second phase of decolonisation, which chiefly took place in Africa.
    • In North Africa, France had to face a serious crisis which began in Algeria with the uprising of the National Liberation Front in 1954.
      • The war then spread to Morocco and Tunisia and eventually even threatened the French Republic itself.
      • The protectorates of Morocco and Tunisia were granted independence in March 1956 without any armed struggle.
      • Algeria, on the other hand, was considered to be an integral part of France, and events took a different turn. It was only after a painful eight-year-long war, which lasted from the 1954 insurrection to the Évian Accords of March 1962, that Algeria became an independent state
    • From 1957 onwards, it was the turn of the former British, French, Belgian and Portuguese possessions in sub-Saharan Africa to gradually gain independence.
  • United Nations Trust Territories
    • When the United Nations was formed in 1945, it established trust territories.
    • These territories included the League of Nations mandate territories which had not achieved independence by 1945
    • In this process, by 1990 all but one of the trust territories had achieved independence, either as independent states or by merger with another independent state
  • Europe
    • Italy had occupied the Dodecanese islands in 1912, but Italian occupation ended after World War II, and the islands were integrated into Greece
    • British rule ended in Cyprus in 1960, and Malta in 1964, and both islands became independent republics.
    • The Republics of the Soviet Union become sovereign states—Armenia, Azerbaijan, Byelorussia (later Belarus), Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan by the 1990s


Challenges associated with Decolonisation

  • State-building
    • After independence, the new states needed to establish or strengthen the institutions of a sovereign state – governments, laws, a military, schools, administrative systems, etc.
    • The amount of self-rule granted prior to independence, and assistance from the colonial power and/or international organisations after independence, varied greatly between colonial powers, and between individual colonies
    • Except for a few absolute monarchies, most post-colonial states are either republics or constitutional monarchies. These new states had to devise constitutions, electoral systems, and other institutions of representative democracy
  • Language policy
    • Linguistic decolonization” entails the replacement of a colonizing (imperial) power’s language with a given colony’s indigenous language in the function of official language
    • With the exception of colonies in Eurasia, linguistic decolonization did not take place in the former colonies-turned-independent states on the other continents
  • Nation-building
    • Nation-building is the process of creating a sense of identification with, and loyalty to, the state
    • Nation-building projects seek to replace loyalty to the old colonial power, and/or tribal or regional loyalties, with loyalty to the new state
    • Elements of nation-building include creating and promoting symbols of the state like a flag and an anthem, monuments, official histories, national sports teams, codifying one or more Indigenous official languages, and replacing colonial place-names with local ones
  • 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.
      • These population, in general, had to be repatriated, often losing considerable property
    • Example: A large Indian community lived in Uganda – as in most of East Africa – as a result of Britain colonizing both India and East Africa
  • Economic development
    • Newly independent states also had to develop independent economic institutions – a national currency, banks, companies, regulation, tax systems, etc.
    • Many colonies were serving as resource colonies which produced raw materials and agricultural products, and as a captive market for goods manufactured in the colonizing country. Many decolonized countries created programs to promote industrialization
    • Some nationalized industries and infrastructure, had to engage themselves in land reform to redistribute land to individual farmers or create collective farms

Post-colonial organizations

  • These were created by the former colonial powers, to loosely associate themselves with 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
Former Colonial Power Organisation Founded
United Kingdom Commonwealth of Nations 1931
France French Union 1946
France French Community 1958
Spain & Portugal Organisation of Ibero-American States 1991
Portugal Community of Portuguese Language Countries 1996
Russia Commonwealth of Independent States 1991
United States Commonwealths 1934

On the whole, a 2019 study found that “democracy levels increased sharply as colonies gained internal autonomy in the period immediately before their independence. However, conflict, revenue growth, and economic growth did not systematically differ before and after independence.”