Africa is a vast continent—more than three times the size of the United States—with more than 50 countries and thousands of ethnic groups and societies. African experiences of colonialism were diverse. Nevertheless, there are common themes within the continent’s colonial history and its legacies. Colonization and Independence in Africa explores these themes generally, as well as specifically through four country case studies: Ghana, Algeria, Kenya, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The readings and activities help students consider the perspectives of Africans and the ways in which they responded to European colonialism.
The decolonization of Africa began with Libyan independence from Italy in 1951. Colonial powers employed varying means of control over their colonies, some granting natives representation in the government and cultivating a select few civil servants while others maintained a firm grip with an all-European government. In some countries, nationalist movements were quashed and their leaders killed or jailed while others were able to peacefully achieve independence. In the 1950s, Guinea, Ghana, & North African nations gained independence non-violently with the exception of Algeria, where France violently fought independence movements until 1963. With the establishment and new constitution of France's Fifth Republic in 1958, French West Africa & French Equatorial Africa ceased to exist and, after a brief "community" with France, the countries of these regions gained independence in 1960. By 1970, all but a handful of African nations were independent. The Portuguese bitterly fought to maintain their African possessions until 1975, all but one of whom gained independence through war. Zimbabwe was the last major colony to gain independence, in 1980. In 1990, semi-autonomous Namibia gained independence from South Africa and in 1993, Eritrea separated from Ethiopia following a protracted war. South Africa remained under firm control by its white minority, suppressing its black population under a system called apartheid until 1994. Morocco maintains control over Western Sahara, despite an established independence movement and remains a point of contention between Morocco and Algeria. South Sudan declared independence from Sudan in 2011.
Britain’s eventual retreat from the Middle East, announced in January 1968 and complete by 1971, was, as Wm Roger Louis argues, an economic necessity rather than an intentional act. As he summarises, ‘the decision to end the British presence in the Gulf in a narrow sense was the direct consequence of the collapse in Aden and the simultaneous sterling crisis’, and that ‘The British did not plan to leave the Gulf because they wanted to, or for reasons concerning the Gulf itself.’  The abrupt nature of this policy decision is reflected by the fact that just two months before the announcement of withdrawal, the Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs had travelled to the Middle East to reassure the Rulers of the Trucial States that ‘the British presence would continue as long as it is necessary to maintain peace and stability in the area’.  The devaluation of Sterling by nearly 15% (from $ to $)  necessitated the reassessment of Britain’s global defence commitments, resulting in the realisation that Britain simply could no longer afford to defend the Sheikdoms of the Persian Gulf and so had no choice but to terminate its treaty obligations to them. Put simply by Phillip Darby, ‘ultimately lack of resources rather than intellectual rejection ensured its [Britain’s role East of Suez] abandonment.’  Given its strategic importance for both British defence policy and the desire for energy security, it would be plausible to suggest that the Middle East was the region in which Britain was most reluctant to decolonize.