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Decolonization – Part 2

The Netherlands

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

The first challenge to Dutch imperialism came from the valuable East Indies, even before the war. The Dutch used to grow crops for export and did nothing for improving the living standard of the natives. In 1930s there was a rise in nationalist groups. The nationalist leaders like Sukarno were arrested.

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

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

The United States of Indonesia was formed in 1949 with Sukarno as President. Sukarno also agreed to a Netherlands-Indonesia Union but he broke off from it later and asked for the West Irian territoty which had been left out of Indonesia. Eventually, the Dutch allowed West Irian to become a part of Indonesia in 1963.

Belgium

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

The Belgians had denied any education to the Africans to preserve their control. They also tried to play off different tribes against each other to keep their dominance. They would use a person of one tribe to control people of other tribes to enhance the rivalries. But the nationalist idea spilled over from the british and French colonies.

The Belgian Congo

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

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

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

Ruanda-Urundi

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

Spain

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

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

It was in the Spanish Sahara that Franco resisted longer because of the presence of valuable phosphates. Franco died in 1975 and the new government agreed to release Sahara but they instead of handing the country to the nationalist party, the Polisario Front, Sahara was distributed to Morocco and Mauretania. Mohamed Abdelazia, the leader of the Polisario Front declared the Democratic Arab Republic of Sahara in 1976 which was recognized by Algeria, Libya, India and many communist states. Algeria and Libya even sent help. In 1979, Mauretania withdrew which made it easier for Sahara to struggle against Morocco.

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

Portugal

Portuguese had two big territories Angola and Mozambique and a small west African colony of Portuguese Guinea. Portugal government was ruled by right wing Salazar who ignored nationalist developments in Africa. For many years Portuguese colonioes were silent, as they were mainly agricultural, and entirely illiterate. Any nationalist group was insignificant even in late 1950s. But by 1960 huge number of African states started winning their independence. Unfortunately, Salazar had learnt nothing from the mistakes of his contemporaries and stated devising repressive policies which made nationalist further resolute.

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

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

Italy

As Italy supported Hitler and lost in the second world war, its colonies were given to French and Britain for administration until UN can decide their future.

Ethiopia was handed back to the rule of the Emperor Haile Selassie, who had been forced into exile when the Italians invaded Ethiopia (Abyssinia) in 1935. Eritrea was made part of Ethiopia (1952) but it was to have a large measure of self-government within a federal system. Libya was given independence under King Idris in 1951 and Italian Somaliland was merged with British Somaliland to form the independent state of Somalia in 1960.

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

Posted in World History

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