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Colonialism in 1945

Decolonization (or decolonisation) 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 protectorate 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 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

Decolonisation 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 Hemispheremarker.

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 mandate 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 Germanymarker 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 Gibraltarmarker and French Guianamarker. 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 .

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 Istanbulmarker 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 Navarinomarker.


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


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.


Decades of armed and unarmed struggle ended with the recognition of Serbianmarker 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 Burmamarker, Islam in the Dutch East Indiesmarker, marginally people like John Chilembwe in Nyasalandmarker), 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 capitalist, 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 Egyptmarker, 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.

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. There were no indigenous nationalist groups with widespread popular support before 1939.

The 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 Spainmarker two of its former colonies, the Philippinesmarker 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, but do not pay federal taxes and as such do not vote in federal elections. 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. 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 of local politics.

Hawaiimarker (and Alaskamarker, 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 Taiwanmarker and Koreamarker. 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 Empiremarker occasion to conquer vast swaths of Asia, sweeping into Chinamarker and seizing the Western colonies of Vietnammarker, Hong Kongmarker, the Philippinesmarker, Burmamarker, Malaya, Timormarker and Indonesiamarker among others, albeit only for the duration of the war. An estimated 20 million Chinese died during the Second Sino-Japanese War (1931-1945). Following its surrender to the Allies in 1945, Japan was deprived of all its colonies. Japan further claims that the southern Kuril Islandsmarker are a small portion of its own national territory, colonized by the Soviet Unionmarker.

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 Parismarker 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). 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 Vietnammarker, Nicaraguamarker, Congomarker, and Sudanmarker, 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 Cubamarker in Angolamarker, and the Soviet Union (as well as the People's Republic of Chinamarker) in Vietnammarker.

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 Indonesianmarker president, Tito the Communist leader of Yugoslavia, and Nasser, head of Egyptmarker 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 Vietnammarker, the 1955 Bandung Conference gathered Nasser, Nehru, Tito, Sukarno, the leader of Indonesiamarker, 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 Belgrademarker (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 systemmarker, 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 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 Mexicomarker first, then Argentinamarker and Brazilmarker, 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. Decolonization is an admirable step in the direction of freedom, made by those who think for themselves and have taken the initiative to create their own world, not governed by their countries particular laws and social order.

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. 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.

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 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 Unionmarker 1954
Organization of Ibero-American States 1991
Community of Portuguese Language Countriesmarker 1996
Russia Commonwealth of Independent States 1991
United States Commonwealths 1934
Freely Associated States 1982
The 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 Statesmarker from the granting of independence to the Philippinesmarker 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 Britainmarker. Dutchmarker economists calculated that the economic effect from the loss of the great Dutch empire in Indonesiamarker 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 Algeriamarker 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 Zimbabwemarker, 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 Islandsmarker, the Russian population of Kazakhstanmarker, the Chinese population of Singaporemarker 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 Unionmarker.

18th Century to World War I

Year Colonizer Event
1776 Great Britainmarker The 13 original colonies of the United Statesmarker declare independence a year after their insurrection begins.
1783 Great Britainmarker The British Crown recognizes the independence of the United States.
1803 Francemarker Via the Louisiana purchase, the last French territories in mainland North America are handed over to the United Statesmarker.
1804 Francemarker Haitimarker declares independence, the first non-white nation to emancipate itself from European rule.
1808 Portugalmarker Brazilmarker, 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 Spainmarker United Provinces of the River Plate and Chilemarker. First declaration of an autonomous government within the Spanish Crown. Full independence would be finally achieved in 1816. (see below)
1813 Spainmarker Paraguaymarker becomes independent.
1816 Spainmarker Chilemarker and the United Provinces of the River Plate (former Argentinamarker and Uruguaymarker) declare independence. The latter would then secede and gain independence in 1828 after periods of Brazilian occupation and of federation with Argentina)
1818 Spainmarker Second and final declaration of independence of Chilemarker
1819 Spainmarker New Granada attains independence as Gran Colombia (later to become the independent states of Colombiamarker, Ecuadormarker, Panamamarker and Venezuelamarker).
1821 Spainmarker The Dominican Republicmarker (then Santo Domingomarker), Nicaraguamarker, Hondurasmarker, Guatemalamarker, El Salvadormarker and Costa Ricamarker all declare independence; Venezuelamarker and Mexicomarker both achieve independence.
1821 Ottoman Empire Greecemarker declares independence. After a long struggle independence is finally granted by the Treaty of Constantinople in July 1832.
1822 Spainmarker Ecuadormarker attains independence from Spain (and independence from Colombiamarker 1830).
1824 Spainmarker Perumarker and Boliviamarker attain independence.
1836 Mexicomarker Texasmarker attains independence, Texas would be annexed by the United Statesmarker in 1845
1847 United Statesmarker Liberiamarker becomes a free and independent African state.
1865 Spainmarker The Dominican Republicmarker gains its final independence after four years as a restored colony.
1868 Spainmarker Cubamarker declares independence but is reconquered.
1877 Ottoman Empire Romaniamarker declares independence. Its independence is finally recognised in July 1878.
1878 Ottoman Empire Bulgariamarker, Montenegromarker and Serbiamarker achieve independence. Bosnia and Herzegovinamarker is placed under the administration of Austria-Hungary.
1898 Spainmarker Cubamarker and Puerto Rico are taken by the United Statesmarker after the Spanish-American War. The Philippinesmarker declares independence but is taken by the United Statesmarker in 1899; governed under U.S. military and then civilian administration until 1934.
1902 United Statesmarker Cubamarker achieves independence. Guantanamo Bay is leased perpetually to and becomes a US Naval base.
1912 Ottoman Empire Albaniamarker declares independence. Recognized in Treaty of London.

Inter-War Period

Year Colonizer Event
1916 United Statesmarker Passage of the Philippine Autonomy Act of 1916.
1917 Russian Empiremarker Finlandmarker declares its independence.
1918 Russian Empiremarker Estoniamarker, Latviamarker and Lithuaniamarker declare independence in 1918. The three Baltic states are subsequently occupied by the Soviet Unionmarker (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 Czechoslovakiamarker, Yugoslavia and Polandmarker become independent.
1919 United Kingdommarker End of the protectorate over Afghanistanmarker, when Britainmarker accepts the presence of a Soviet ambassador in Kabul.
1921 Chinamarker 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 Mongoliamarker is recognized in 1945.
1922 United Kingdommarker In Irelandmarker, 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 Irelandmarker, the northeast area of the island, remains within the United Kingdom.
1923 United Kingdommarker End of the de facto protectorate over Nepalmarker which was never truly colonized.
1930 United Kingdommarker The United Kingdom returns the leased port territory at Weihaiwei to Chinamarker, the first episode of decolonisation in East Asia.
1931 United Kingdommarker The Statute of Westminster grants virtually full independence to Canadamarker, New Zealandmarker, Newfoundlandmarker, the Irish Free State, the Commonwealth of Australia, and the Union of South Africa, when it declares the British parliamentmarker incapable of passing law over these former colonies without their own consent.
1932 United Kingdommarker Ends League of Nations Mandate over Iraqmarker. Britain continues to station troops in the country and influence the Iraqi government until 1958.
1934 United Statesmarker Establishes the Philippine Islandsmarker into a Commonwealth under the provisions of the Philippine Independence Act. Abrogates Platt Amendment, which gave it direct authority to intervene in Cubamarker.
1941 Francemarker Lebanonmarker declares independence, effectively ending the French mandate (previously together with Syria) - it is recognized in 1943.
1941 Italymarker Ethiopiamarker, Eritreamarker & Tigraymarker (appended to it), and Italian Somaliland are taken by the Allies after an uneasy occupation of Ethiopiamarker since 1935-36, and no longer joined as one colonial federal state; the Ogadenmarker desert (disputed by Somaliamarker) remains under British military control until 1948.
1944 Denmarkmarker Following a plebiscite, Icelandmarker formally becomes an independent republic on June 17, 1944.
1945 Japanmarker After surrender of Japan, North Koreamarker is occupied by the Soviet Unionmarker and South Koreamarker is occupied by the United States.
Japanmarker The government of Republic of Chinamarker flees to Taiwanmarker and becomes the de facto government of that island.
Francemarker Vietnammarker declares independence, but France does not recognize it until 1954.
Netherlandsmarker Indonesiamarker declares independence, which Netherlands does not recognize until December 1949.

Cold War

Year Colonizer Event
1946 United Statesmarker The treaty of Manila is signed effectively ending over 350 years of foreign domination in the Philippinesmarker. United States military bases continued to be stationed in the islands.
United Kingdommarker The former emirate of Transjordan (present-day Jordanmarker) becomes an independent Hashemite kingdom when Britain relinquishes UN trusteeship.
1947 United Kingdommarker The British government leaves British India, which is partitioned into the secular Republic of Indiamarker and the Muslim state of Pakistanmarker (the eastern half of which will later become independent as Bangladeshmarker).
1948 United Kingdommarker In the Far East, Burmamarker and Ceylonmarker (Sri Lanka) become independent. In the Middle East, the state of Israelmarker is formed less than a year after the Britishmarker government withdraws from the Palestine Mandate; the remainder of Palestine becomes part of the Arab states of Egyptmarker ( Gaza stripmarker ) and Transjordanmarker ( West bankmarker ).
United Statesmarker Republic of Koreamarker is established in the southern part of the Korean peninsula.
Soviet Unionmarker Democratic People's Republic of Koreamarker is established in the northern part of the peninsula.
1949 Francemarker Laosmarker becomes independent.
The Netherlandsmarker The Netherlands recognises the sovereignty of Indonesiamarker following an armed and diplomatic struggle since 1945.
1951 Italymarker Libyamarker becomes an independent kingdom.
1952 United Statesmarker Puerto Rico in the Antilles becomes a self governing Commonwealth associated to the US.
1953 Francemarker Francemarker recognizes Cambodiamarker's independence.
1954 Francemarker Vietnammarker's independence recognized, though the nation is partitioned. The Pondicherymarker enclave is incorporated into India. Beginning of the Algerian War of Independence
United Kingdommarker The United Kingdom withdraws from the last part of Egyptmarker it controls: the Suez Canalmarker zone.
1956 United Kingdommarker Anglo-Egyptian Sudanmarker becomes independent.
Francemarker Tunisiamarker and the sherifian kingdom of Moroccomarker in the Maghreb achieve independence.
Spainmarker Spain-controlled areas in Moroccomarker become independent.
1957 United Kingdommarker Ghanamarker becomes independent, initiating the decolonisation of sub-Saharan Africa.
United Kingdommarker The Federation of Malayamarker becomes independent.
1958 Francemarker Guineamarker on the coast of West-Africa is granted independence.
United Statesmarker Signing the Alaska Statehood Act by Dwight D. Eisenhower, granting Alaskamarker the possibility of the equal rights of statehood
United Kingdommarker UN trustee Britainmarker withdraws from Iraqmarker, which becomes an independent Hashemite Kingdom (like Jordan, but soon to become a republic through the first of several coups d'état).
1959 United Statesmarker Hawaiimarker becomes the fiftieth state in the United Statesmarker.
1960 United Kingdommarker Nigeriamarker, British Somaliland (present-day northern Somaliamarker), and most of Cyprusmarker become independent, though the UK retains sovereign control over Akrotiri and Dhekeliamarker.
Francemarker Beninmarker (then Dahomey), Upper Volta (present-day Burkina Fasomarker), Cameroonmarker, Chadmarker, Congo-Brazzavillemarker, Côte d'Ivoiremarker, Gabonmarker, the Mali Federation (split the same year into present-day Malimarker and Senegalmarker), Mauritaniamarker, Nigermarker, Togomarker and the Central African Republicmarker (the Oubangui Chari) and Madagascarmarker all become independent.
Belgiummarker The Belgian Congo (also known as Congo-Kinshasa, later renamed Zaire and presently the Democratic Republic of the Congomarker), becomes independent.
1961 United Kingdommarker Tanganyika (formerly a German colony under UK trusteeship, merged to federal Tanzania in 1964 with the island of Zanzibarmarker, formerly a proper British colony wrested from the Omani sultanate); Sierra Leonemarker, Kuwaitmarker and British Cameroon become independent. South Africa declares independence.
Portugalmarker The former coastal enclave colonies of Goamarker, Daman and Diumarker are taken over by India.
1962 United Kingdommarker Uganda in Africa, and Jamaicamarker and Trinidad and Tobagomarker in the Caribbean, achieve independence.
Francemarker End of Algerian War, Algeriamarker becomes independent.
Belgiummarker Rwandamarker and Burundimarker (then Urundi) attain independence through the ending of the Belgian trusteeship.
New Zealandmarker The South Sea UN trusteeship over the Polynesian kingdom of Western Samoamarker (formerly German Samoa and nowadays called just Samoa) is relinquished.
1963 United Kingdommarker Kenyamarker becomes independent.
United Kingdommarker Singaporemarker, together with Sarawakmarker and Sabahmarker on North Borneo, form Malaysiamarker with the pensinsular Federation of Malayamarker. Singapore was evicted from Malaysia by Kuala Lumpur two years later.
1964 United Kingdommarker Northern Rhodesia declares independence as Zambiamarker and Malawimarker, formerly Nyasaland does the same, both from the United Kingdommarker. The Mediterranean island of Maltamarker becomes independent.
1965 United Kingdommarker Southern Rhodesia (the present Zimbabwemarker) declares independence as Rhodesia, but is not recognized. Gambiamarker is recognized as independent. The British protectorate over the Maldivesmarker archipelago in the Indian Ocean is ended.
1966 United Kingdommarker In the Caribbean, Barbadosmarker and Guyanamarker; and in Africa, Botswanamarker (then Bechuanaland) and Lesothomarker become independent.
1967 United Kingdommarker On the Arabian peninsula, Adenmarker colony becomes independent as South Yemen, to be united with formerly Ottoman North Yemen in 1990-1991.
1968 United Kingdommarker Mauritiusmarker and Swazilandmarker achieve independence.
Portugalmarker After nine years of organized guerrilla resistance, most of Guinea-Bissaumarker comes under native control.
Spainmarker Equatorial Guineamarker (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 Kingdommarker Fijimarker and Tongamarker are given independence; Bangladeshmarker achieves independence from Pakistan with the military help of Indiamarker.
United Kingdommarker Bahrainmarker, Qatarmarker, Omanmarker and seven Trucial States (the same year, six federated together as United Arab Emiratesmarker 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 Kingdommarker The Bahamasmarker are granted independence.
Portugalmarker Guerrillas unilaterally declare independence in the Southeastern regions of Guinea-Bissaumarker.
1974 United Kingdommarker Grenadamarker in the Caribbeanmarker becomes independent.
Portugalmarker Guinea-Bissaumarker on the coast of West-Africa is recognized as independent by Portugal.
1975 Francemarker The Comorosmarker archipelago in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Africa is granted independence.
Portugalmarker Angolamarker, Mozambiquemarker and the island groups of Cape Verdemarker and São Tomé and Príncipemarker, all four in Africa, achieve independence. East Timormarker declares independence, but is subsequently occupied and annexed by Indonesia nine days later.
The Netherlandsmarker Surinamemarker (then Dutch Guiana) becomes independent.
Australia Released from trusteeship, Papua New Guineamarker gains independence.
1976 United Kingdommarker Seychellesmarker archipelago in the Indian Ocean off the African coast becomes independent (one year after granting of self-rule).
Spainmarker The Spanish colonial rule de facto terminated over the Western Saharamarker (then Rio de Oro), when the territory was passed on to and partitioned between Mauritaniamarker and Moroccomarker (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 Francemarker French Somaliland, also known as the French Territory of the Afars and the Issasmarker (after its dominant ethnic groups), the present Djiboutimarker, is gains independence.
1978 United Kingdommarker Dominicamarker in the Caribbean and the Solomon Islandsmarker, as well as Tuvalumarker (then the Ellice Islands), all in the South Sea, become independent.
1979 United Statesmarker Returns the Panama Canal Zonemarker (held under a regime sui generis since 1903) to the republic of Panama.
United Kingdommarker The Gilbert Islands (present-day Kiribatimarker) in the South Sea as well as Saint Vincent and the Grenadinesmarker and Saint Luciamarker in the Caribbean become independent.
1980 United Kingdommarker Zimbabwemarker (then [Southern] Rhodesia), already independent de facto, becomes formally independent. The joint Anglo-French colony of the New Hebridesmarker becomes the independent island republic of Vanuatumarker.
1981 United Kingdommarker Belizemarker (then British Honduras) and Antigua & Barbudamarker become independent.
1982 United Kingdommarker Canadamarker Gains full independence from the British parliament with the Canada Act
1983 United Kingdommarker Saint Kitts and Nevismarker (an associated state since 1963) becomes independent.
1984 United Kingdommarker Bruneimarker sultanate on Borneo becomes independent.
1986 United Kingdommarker Australia and New Zealandmarker become fully independent with the Australia Act 1986 and The New Zealand Constitution Act 1986.
1990 South Africa Namibiamarker becomes independent from South Africa.
United Statesmarker 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 Islandsmarker and the Federated States of Micronesiamarker, having been a colonial possession of the empire of Japan before UN trusteeship.
1991 Soviet Unionmarker Estoniamarker, Latviamarker, Lithuaniamarker, Ukrainemarker, Moldovamarker, Armeniamarker, Georgiamarker, Azerbaijanmarker, Kazakhstanmarker, Uzbekistanmarker, Tajikistanmarker, Kyrgyzstanmarker, Russiamarker and Turkmenistanmarker become independent from the Soviet Unionmarker.

Post-Cold War era

Year Colonizer Event
1991 United Statesmarker U.S. forces withdraw from Subic Baymarker and Clark Air Basemarker in the Philippinesmarker ending major U.S. military presence, which lasted for almost a century.
1994 United Statesmarker Palaumarker (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 Kingdommarker The British dependent territory of Hong Kongmarker is given back to People's Republic of Chinamarker.
1999 Portugalmarker Macaumarker is given back to People's Republic of Chinamarker. It is the last in a series of coastal enclaves that militarily stronger powers had obtained through treaties from the Qing Empiremarker which ruled Chinamarker. 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 Indonesiamarker East Timormarker formally achieves independence after a transitional UN administration, three years after Indonesia ended its quarter-century occupation of the former Portuguese colony.


  1. 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.
  2. Remember role in ending fascist war
  3. The Poison Pistol, TIME Magazine, December 01, 1961
  4. 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 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
  5. See International Relations and Security Network (ISN), Zurich, Switzerland hosted by ETH Zurich University
  6. 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

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