Life in Africa after Independence

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  • 0:01 Independence!
  • 0:40 The Impact of WWII on Africa
  • 3:35 African Decolonization
  • 5:20 The Impact of African…
  • 6:45 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Nate Sullivan

Nate Sullivan holds a M.A. in History and a M.Ed. He is an adjunct history professor, middle school history teacher, and freelance writer.

In this lesson, we will learn about African independence in the aftermath of World War II. We'll explore key figures, examine the factors that resulted in African independence, and highlight major events and developments.

Independence!

Surely everyone out there knows what we celebrate every year on July 4th. We celebrate our independence from Great Britain! July 4th, 1776 was the day our Declaration of Independence was ratified, and so it represents the foundation of our nationhood. But other countries throughout the world have not been independent quite so long. In Africa, most of the nation-states are actually fairly young. Many of these states did not become independent until after World War II. In this lesson, we will be looking at African independence movements in the wake of World War II.

The Impact of WWII on Africa

By the outbreak of World War II, Great Britain and France controlled the largest sections of Africa, with countries like Portugal, Belgium and Italy controlling lesser sections. In the aftermath of World War II, political, economic and social factors created perfect conditions for widespread decolonization. Think about it: while World War II raged in Europe, countries like Great Britain and France had bigger things to worry about than the smooth operation of their colonies. Sure, in some cases, it was necessary for these countries to protect their colonial holdings, but quite often, troops stationed in African colonies were needed to fight in Europe.

With less governing authority in place, national independence movements throughout Africa gained momentum during the war and thrived afterwards. Ethnic and regional leaders became increasingly aware that the European powers could not hold on to their colonies forever. Some European governments even supported a free Africa and invested in African industry, education and other areas necessary for African self-governance.

The problem, however, was that not all areas were ready for self-determination. The Western democracies were particularly concerned that relinquishing their colonies would only plunge the region into civil war, chaos or dictatorships. After all, there was much in-fighting between various African ethnic and regional groups. It was a very complex issue.

In August 1941, Great Britain and the United States drafted the Atlantic Charter. In essence, the Atlantic Charter set forth Allied plans for postwar reconstruction. The charter emphasized self-determination for all peoples and other themes in line with the American view of democracy. The provisions of the Atlantic Charter further gave hope to African nationalist leaders yearning to shake off the shackles of foreign rule.

There was some reluctance on the part of Great Britain to go along with the goals outlined in the Atlantic Charter. After all, Great Britain had ruled an extensive global empire for hundreds of years. Nevertheless, with pressure applied by the United States, Great Britain gradually let go of its African empire throughout the postwar era. France and other states did the same. In the aftermath of World War II, it was obvious Africa was destined to become free. How could countries like Great Britain and France claim to fight a world war in the name of liberty and against tyranny, while still oppressing Africans?

African Decolonization

Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, a number of Africans received education at Western universities and returned to their homeland as independence leaders. Jomo Kenyatta and Kwame Nkrumah are two of the better known nationalist leaders. Jomo Kenyatta helped bring about Kenyan independence in 1963, while Kwame Nkrumah was an independence leader in Ghana and a sort of spokesman for African independence movements in general.

Another very well-known figure related to postwar Africa is Nelson Mandela. Mandela was an anti-apartheid revolutionary who was imprisoned for 27 years before being elected the first black president of South Africa. Mandela served as president of South Africa between 1994 and 1999.

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