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Decolonization – Part 2


1. The Netherlands

The Netherlands used to have a huge empire in the East Indies before the World War II, consisting of areas of Sumatra, Java and Celebes, West Irian and about two-thirds of the island of Borneo. They also owned islands in West Indies and Surinam in South America.

Indeed like any other power, the Netherlands also faced challenges to its authority. The first challenge to Dutch imperialism came from the valuable East Indies, even before the war. The Dutch used to grow crops for export and did nothing for improving the living standard of the natives. In 1930s, there was a rise in the nationalist groups making things difficult for the Dutch. Consequently, the nationalist leaders like Sukarno were arrested.

Furthermore, the Japanese also invaded in 1942. To tackle the Japanese problem, the Dutch administration released the nationalist leaders to take over the governance and promised to grant independence to them after the war. With the Japanese defeat, Sukarno declared Indonesia as an independent republic. It was assumed that Dutch won’t resist as their own country had been occupied by the Germans. However, the Dutch returned and again asked for the control over the erstwhile controlled lands.

The struggle went on with only little success for the Dutch, hence they agreed to negotiate because the prolong war was getting expensive. Moreover, they were getting pressure from UN and countries like US and Australia. They also thought that by making the concessions they would be able to sustain some form of influence.

Image: Indonesia

However, they failed to negotiate with the nationalists and lastly theUnited States of Indonesia was formed in 1949 with Sukarno as its President. He agreed to a Netherlands-Indonesia Union but he broke off from it later and asked for the West Irian territory which had been left out of Indonesia. Eventually, the Dutch allowed West Irian to become a part of Indonesia in 1963.

Image: Dr. Sukarno

2. Belgium

Belgium had two possessions in Africa: The Belgian Congo and Ruanda-Urundi. The decolonization of these countries came with chaos, violence and civil war.

Over the years, the Belgians have denied any education to the Africans to preserve their control. They also tried to play off different tribes against each other to keep their dominance. But the nationalist idea spilled over from the British and French colonies.

2.1 The Belgian Congo

A riot broke out in January 1959 which took Belgians by surprise. The people were protesting against unemployment and the deteriorating living standards.  The Belgians announced to free the country in six months as they did not want expensive guerrilla warfare. But it was a disaster as due to the Belgian policy of keeping people uneducated and inexperienced in administration there were only 17 graduates and no Congolese doctors, lawyers, engineers or army officers.

Further, the Congolese National Movement (MNC) led by Patrice Lumumba was only an year old and six month was too less to prepare for administration.

The independence at last was given on 30 June 1960 with Lumumba as the Prime Minister, but everything went downhill and order could be restored only in 1964.

2.2 Ruanda-Urundi

Rwanda-Urundi was given independence in 1962 as Rwanda and Burundi. Both these country were administered by Tutsi tribe as it was a colonial policy to give Tutsi preference over the Hutu people, this led to the grave Rwandan Genocide of 1994.

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3. Spain

Spain owned the areas of Spanish Sahara, Spanish Morocco, Ifni and Spanish Guinea. During this period, Spain was ruled by General Franco, a right-wing dictator who showed little interest in the colonies.

When French gave independence to French Morocco in 1956, Franco immediately let Spanish Morocco join Morocco. But Ifni was allowed to join Morocco only in 1969 and Spanish Guinea became Equatorial Guinea in 1968.

Image: Spain during 1950s and 1960s

It was in the Spanish Sahara that Franco resisted longer because of the presence of the valuable phosphates in the region. However, Franco died in 1975 and the new government agreed to release the Sahara on the condition of handing over the country to the nationalist party- the Polisario Front. Consequently, Sahara was distributed to Morocco and Mauretania.

After sometime, Mohamed Abdelazia, the leader of the Polisario Front declared the Democratic Arab Republic of Sahara in 1976 which was recognized by Algeria, Libya, India and many other communist states. Algeria and Libya even sent help. In 1979, Mauretania withdrew which made it easier for Sahara to struggle against Morocco.

The communist support extended to Sahara made it suspicious for America and they sent help to Morocco to continue fighting. The war went on through 1980s and in 1990, the UN proposed a referendum which in reality never took place. In the meantime, the Polisario Front became weak. Algeria and Libya became preoccupied with their problems. As a result of the given situations, Sahara remained under Moroccan control and many Moroccan people started settling in whereas many Saharan moved out of the country to live in refugee camps in Algeria.

4. Portugal

Portuguese had two big territories namely, Angola and Mozambique, and a small West African colony of Portuguese Guinea. The Portugal government was ruled by the right wing Salazar who ignored the nationalist developments in Africa. For many years, the Portuguese colonies were silent as they were mainly agricultural and entirely illiterate.

Furthermore, none of the nationalist groups were insignificant even in the late 1950s. By 1960, they grew more popular as with their contributions huge number of African states started winning their independence. Unfortunately, Salazar had learnt nothing from the mistakes of his contemporaries and stated devising repressive policies which made the nationalist further resolute.

Image: MPLA Logo

In Angola, the fight broke out in 1961 with Agostinho Neto’s MPLA (People’s Movement for Angolan Liberation) in the lead. This influenced the violent uprising in in Guinea led by Amilcar Cabral. In Mozambique, Eduardo Mondlane too had organised FRELIMO guerrillas. These nationalists were getting assistance from the communist bloc.

Ultimately, it had become expensive and a gruesome task to suppress the nationalist guerrillas. Even now the government refused to abandon its policy but the public opinion had formed against the suppression and in 1974 Salazar was overthrown by a military coup. And soon the three colonies became independent. In 1974, Guinea became Guinea-Bissau, and in 1975 Mozambique and Angola became independent too.  

5. Italy

As Italy supported Hitler and lost in the Second World War, its colonies were given to French and Britain for administration until and unless the UN can decide their future. On the other hand, Ethiopia was handed back to the rule of the Emperor Haile Selassie, who had been forced into exile when the Italians invaded Ethiopia (Abyssinia) in 1935. Eritrea was made part of Ethiopia (1952) but it was to have a large measure of self-government within a federal system. Libya was also given independence under King Idris in 1951 and Italian Somaliland was merged with British Somaliland to form the independent state of Somalia in 1960.

These arrangements did not prove very successful and they haunt the regional politics even today.

6. Summary

The process of decolonisation was marked by a long drawn struggle which turns out to violent at majority of the places. The period also saw the rise of various nationalist parties which continue to have their presence in the present times, and had played a great role in the awakening of the nationalist sentiments and the very realisation of independence in these states.

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7. Multiple Choice Question

1] The territories such as Java, Sumatra and Celebs form the part of which country?
a) Netherlands
b) Belgium
c) Spain
d) Italy

Show Answer

Ans: a) Netherlands

2] Who was the main leading personality in Indonesia?
a) Nkrumah
b) Joseph Tito
c) Dr. Sukarno
d) Stalin

Show Answer

Ans: c) Dr. Sukarno

3] Why did the French fought for Spain for a longer period of time?
a) Spices
b) Presence of valuable phosphates
c) Handmade goods
d) Oil resources

Show Answer

Ans: b) Presence of valuable phosphates

4] Mozambique and Angola forms the territories of which of the colonisers?
a) Dutch
b) French
c) Portuguese
d) British

Show Answer

Ans: c) Portuguese

5] Why were the people protesting in the Belgian Congo?
a) Unemployment and deteriorating living standards.
b) Authoritarian government
c) Due to large scale famines.
d) Terrorism in the home country

Show Answer

Ans: a) Unemployment and deteriorating living standards

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