Decolonization

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Colonialism in 1945
Colonialism in 1945

Decolonization 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. A particularly active period of decolonization occurred between 1945 to 1960, beginning with the independence of Pakistan and India from Great Britain in 1947 and the First Indochina War. National liberation movements, however, had often already been created before the war (the Indian National Congress was created in 1885; Philippine-American War). Decolonization could be achieved by attaining independence, integrating with the administering power or another state, or establishing a "free association" status. The United Nations (UN) 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.

Contents

Methods and stages

Decolonization is a political process, frequently involving violence. In extreme circumstances, there is a War of Independence sometimes following on 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, India being an example of this, 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 difficult to achieve without 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 (e.g. the American 1823 Monroe doctrine for the entire Western hemisphere).

As world opinion became more pro-emancipation following World War I, there was an institutionalized 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 the reality was merely a 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 referenda, some colonized populations have chosen to retain their colonial status, e.g. Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands. Equally, some colonial powers have 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.

Empires have expanded and contracted throughout history but, in several respects, the modern phenomenon of decolonization has produced different outcomes. Now, when states surrender both the de facto rule of their colonies and their de jure claims to such rule, the ex-colonies are generally not absorbed by other powers. Further, the former colonial powers have, in most cases, not only continued existing, but have also maintained their status as Powers, retaining strong economic and cultural ties with their former colonies. Through these ties, former colonial powers have ironically maintained a significant proportion of the previous benefits of their empires, but with smaller costs — thus, despite frequent resistance to demands for decolonization, the outcomes have satisfied the colonizers' self-interests.

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 decolonization 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 United States (US) and Latin America 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 passionately that the United States, in particular, still needs decolonization.

Decolonization in broad sense

Stretching the notion further, internal decolonization can occur within a sovereign state. Thus, the expansive United States created territories, destined to colonize conquered lands bordering the existing states, and once their development proved successful (often involving new geographical splits) allowed them to petition statehood within the federation, granting not external independence but internal equality as 'sovereign' constituent members of the federal Union. France internalized several overseas possessions as Départements d'outre-mer.

Even in a state which legally does not colonize any of its 'integral' parts, real inequality often causes the politically dominant component - often the largest and/or most populous part (such as Russia within the formally federal USSR as earlier in the czar's empire), or the historical conqueror (such as Austria, the homelands of the ruling Habsburg dynasty, within an empire of mainly Slavonic 'minorities' from Silesia to the shifting Ottoman border) - to be perceived, at least subjectively, as a colonizer in all but name; hence, the dismemberment of such a 'prison of peoples' is perceived as decolonization de facto.

To complicate matters even further, this may coincide with another element. Thus, the three Baltic republics - Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania - argue that they, in contrary with other constituent SSRs, could not have been granted independence at the dismemberment of the Soviet Union because they never joined, but were militarily annexed by Stalin, and thus had been illegally colonized, including massive deportations of their nationals and uninvited immigration of ethnic Russians and other soviet nationalities. Even in other post-Soviet states which had formally acceded, most ethnic Russians were so much identified with the Soviet 'colonization' that they were made to feel so unwelcome that they migrated back to Russia.

Between the World Wars and during World War II (1918-1945)

Western European colonial powers

Czechoslovak anti-colonialist propaganda poster:
Czechoslovak anti-colonialist propaganda poster: "Socialism opened 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 strait-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).

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 catalysing the anti-colonial political growth of half the continent) and the Empire of Ethiopia. Colonial controls ranged between extremes. Economic growth was often curtailed. There were no indigenous nationalist groups with widespread popular support before 1939.

The Soviet Union

In accordance with the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, the Soviet Union was able to annex Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Galitsia and parts of Finland, incorporating them into the national territory of the Soviet Union by either making them new constituent Soviet republics or adding the territory to existing ones. Many Russians migrated to some of these regions, so that by 1990, natives made up only about 50% of the population of the Baltic States.

Following World War II, Germany lost its territories east of Oder and Neisse rivers to Poland, which gained Pomerania, Silesia and West Prussia, Czechoslovakia, which regained Sudetenland and the Soviet Union, which took East Prussia. Local Germans were expelled, while the population of the respective countries colonized the areas.

The United States

At end of the Spanish-American War, at the end of the 19th century, the United States of America held several colonial territories seized from Spain, among them the Philippines and Puerto Rico. Although the U.S. had initially embarked upon a policy of colonization of these territories (and had fought to suppress local "insurgencies" there, such as in the Philippine-American War), by the 1930s, the U.S. policy for the Philippines had changed toward the direction of eventual self-government. Following the invasion and occupation of the Philippines by Japan during World War II, the Philippines gained independence peacefully from the United States.

However, other U.S. colonies, such as Puerto Rico, did not gain full independence, despite active independence movements and occasional insurgencies. Puerto Rico achieved self-government in 1952 and became a commonwealth associated to the US. Puerto Rico was taken out of the UN list of non-sovereign territories in 1953 through resolution 748. Still, Puerto Rico is not a sovereign state and has a recognized right to self-determination.

Japan

As the only Asian nation to become a colonial power during the modern era, 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 and Taiwanese 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 Japan occasion to conquer vast swaths of Asia, sweeping into China and seizing the Western colonies of Vietnam, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Burma, Malaya and Indonesia among others, albeit only for the duration of the war. 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.

The emergence of the Third World (1945-)

Czechoslovak anti-colonialist propaganda poster:
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, 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 benefitted the leading states which had created it, and remained in force until after the 1973 oil crisis. 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 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 nationalized 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, whom 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.

The 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 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 led 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). With Charles de Gaulle's return to power in 1958 amidst turmoil and threats of a right-wing coup d'Etat 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. Because so many of these wars of independence expanded into general Cold War conflicts, the U.S. 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.

Assassinated anticolonialist leaders

A non-exhaustive list of assassinated leaders would include:

  • Ruben Um Nyobé, leader of the Union of the Peoples of Cameroon (UPC), killed by the French army on September 13, 1958
  • Barthélemy Boganda, leader of a nationalist Central African Republic movement, who died in a plane-crash on March 29, 1959, eight days before the last elections of the colonial era.
  • Félix-Roland Moumié, successor to Ruben Um Nyobe at the head of the UPC, assassinated in Geneva in 1960 by the SDECE (French secret services).[1]
  • Patrice Lumumba, the first Prime minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, was assassinated on January 17, 1961.
  • Burundi nationalist Louis Rwagasore was assassinated on October 13, 1961, while Pierre Ngendandumwe, Burundi's first Hutu prime minister, was also murdered on January 15, 1965.
  • Sylvanus Olympio, the first president of Togo, was assassinated on January 13, 1963. He would be replaced by Gnassingbé Eyadéma, who ruled Togo for nearly forty years; he died in 2005 and was succeeded by his son Faure Gnassingbé.
  • Mehdi Ben Barka, the leader of the Moroccan National Union of Popular Forces (UNPF) and of the Tricontinental Conference, which was supposed to prepare in 1966 in La Habana its first meeting gathering national liberation movements from all continents — related to the Non-Aligned Movement, but the Tricontinal Conference gathered liberation movements while the Non-Aligned were for the most part states — was "disappeared" in Paris in 1965.
  • Nigerian leader Ahmadu Bello was assassinated in January 1966.
  • Eduardo Mondlane, the leader of FRELIMO and the father of Mozambican independence, was assassinated in 1969, allegedly by Aginter Press, the Portuguese branch of Gladio, NATO's paramilitary organization during the Cold War.[2]
  • Pan-Africanist Tom Mboya was killed on July 5, 1969.
  • Abeid Karume, first president of Zanzibar, was assassinated in April 1972.
  • Amílcar Cabral was murdered on January 20, 1973.
  • Outel Bono, Chadian opponent of François Tombalbaye, was assassinated on August 26, 1973, making yet another example of the existence of the Françafrique, designing by this term post-independent neocolonial ties between France and its former colonies.
  • Herbert Chitepo, leader of the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU), was assassinated on March 18, 1975.
  • Óscar Romero, prelate archbishop of San Salvador and proponent of the Liberation theology, was assassinated on March 24, 1980
  • Finally, Dulcie September, leader of the African National Congress (ANC), who was investigating on arms trade between France and South Africa, was murdered in Paris on March 29, 1988, a few years before the end of the apartheid regime.

Many of these assassinations are still unsolved cases as of 2006, 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 US have refused to declassify files they acknowledge having in their possession[3] The Phoenix Program, a CIA program of assassination during the Vietnam War, should also be named.

Post-colonial organizations

Four international organizations whose membership largely depends on the breakup of old empires.
Four international organizations whose membership largely depends on the breakup of old 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/L'Union Française 1946
French Community 1958
Francophonie 1970
Spain & Portugal Latin Union 1954
Organization of Ibero-American States 1991
Community of Portuguese Language Countries 1996
United States Commonwealths 1934
Freely Associated States 1982
European Union ACP countries 1975

Differing perspectives

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

Decolonization and political instability

Some say the post–World War II decolonization movement was too rushed, especially in Africa, and resulted in the creation of unstable regimes in the newly independent countries.

Others argue that this instability is largely the result of problems from the colonial period, including arbitrary nation-state borders, lack of training of local populations and disproportional economy.

Economic effects

Effects on the colonizers

John Kenneth Galbraith argues that the post-WWII 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."

Part of the reason for the lack of economic impact felt by the colonizer upon the release of the colonized was that costs and benefits were not eliminated, but shifted. The colonizer no longer had the burden of obligation, financial or otherwise, to their colony. 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. The most obvious difference is the ability of the colonizer to disclaim responsibility for the colonized.

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 decolonization 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, decolonization 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 and the Russian population of Kazakhstan, as well as the settler societies of North America.

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 and 19th centuries

Year Colonizer Event
1776 Great Britain The 13 original colonies of the United States declare independence a year after their armed revolt 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 North America are handed over to the United States. This just means one set of colonial power has replaced another set of colonial powers in the American continent.
1804 France Haiti declares independence, the first non-white nation to emancipate itself from European rule.
1808 Portugal Brazil, the largest Portuguese colony, achieves independence after the exiled king of Portugal establishes residence there. After he returns home in 1815, his son and regent declares an independent "Empire" in 1822.
1813 Spain Paraguay becomes independent.
1816 Spain Argentina declares independence (Uruguay, then included in Argentina, would achieve its 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.
1822 Spain Ecuador attains independence from Spain (and independence from Colombia 1830).
1824 Spain Peru and Bolivia attain independence.
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 and is reconquered; taken by the United States in 1898; governed under U.S. military administration until 1902.
1898 Spain The Philippines declares independence but is taken by the United States in 1899; governed under U.S. military administration until 1934.
Year Colonizer Event
1919 United Kingdom End of the protectorate over Afghanistan, when Britain accepts the presence of a Soviet ambassador in Kabul.
1921 China The weak empire loses all control over Outer Mongolia (retaining 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. Formal recognition of Mongolia will follow 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 decolonization 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 Makes the Philippine Islands a Commonwealth. 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 the Italian part of Somalia are liberated 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.

From World War II to the present

Year Colonizer Event
1945 Japan Korea is independent after 40 years of Japanese rule, but then splits into communist North Korea and capitalist South Korea.
Japan Taiwan returns to the rule under Republic of China.
1946 United States The sovereignity of the Philippines is recognized by the United States, which conquered the islands during the Philippine-American War. But, the United States continues to station troops in the country as well as influence the Philippine government and economy (through the Bell Trade Act) until the fall of Marcos in 1986, which allowed Filipinos to author a genuinely Filipino constitution.
United Kingdom The former emirate of Transjordan (present-day Jordan) becomes an independent Hashemite kingdom when Britain relinquishes UN trusteeship.
1947 United Kingdom India and Pakistan (including present-day Bangladesh) achieve independence in an attempt to separate the officially secular and Muslim parts of former British India.
1948 United Kingdom In the Far East, Burma and Ceylon (Sri Lanka) become independent. In the Middle East, Israel becomes independent less than a year after the British government withdraws from the Palestine Mandate; the remainder of Palestine becomes part of the Arab states of Egypt and Transjordan.
1949 France Laos becomes independent.
The Netherlands Independence of United States of Indonesia is recognized by United Nations and subsequently overthrown by the Republic of Indonesia led by Sukarno
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.
1957 United Kingdom Ghana becomes independent, initiating the decolonization 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).
1960 United Kingdom Nigeria, British Somaliland (present-day 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 independence.
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 of Independence, 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.
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, a second Apartheid regime, 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 guerilla 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 in the South Sea are given independence.
United Kingdom Bahrain, Qatar, Oman and six Trucial States (the same year federating as United Arab Emirates become independent Arab monarchies in the Persian Gulf as the British protectorates are lifted.
1973 United Kingdom The Bahamas are granted independence.
Portugal Guerillas 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.
The 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 Afar & Issa-land (after its main tribal groups), the present Djibouti, is granted independence.
1978 United Kingdom Dominica in the Caribean 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 Caribean 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.
1983 United Kingdom Saint Kitts and Nevis (an associated state since 1963) becomes independent.
1984 United Kingdom Brunei sultanate on Borneo becomes independent.
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 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 sovereignty of Hong Kong is returned to China.
1999 Portugal The sovereignty of Macau is returned to China on schedule. It is the last in a series of coastal enclaves that militarily stronger powers had obtained through treaties from the Chinese Empire. Like Hong Kong, it is not organized into the existing provincial structure applied to other provinces of the People's Republic of China, but is guaranteed a quasi-autonomous system of government within the People's Republic of China.
2002 Indonesia East Timor formally achieves independence after a transitional UN administration, three years after Indonesia ended its quarter-century military occupation of the former Portuguese colony.
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