The Indian independence was not just a significant chapter in the country’s history, but also a defining moment in the 20th century. It had a marked global impact as it served as a catalyst for changing the old order. Many countries, especially in the Asian and African continents, followed India’s example of demanding freedom from colonial rule.
Another result of India gaining its independence was that it signalled a widespread change in the attitude towards colonial rule. In 1960, British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan addressed the South African Parliament in Cape Town where he delivered his “Wind of Change” speech, commenting on the changes in the global order and acknowledging that Black people in Africa were right in demanding the right to rule themselves.
India also inspired political movements which were not strictly anti-colonial, such as the civil rights movement in the United States and the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. Civil rights leader Martin Luther King and anti-apartheid activist Nelson Mandela followed the path of nonviolent resistance laid by Mahatma Gandhi in their respective campaigns.
The overall process of decolonisation was a long and gradual one, and is attributed not just to the efforts of countries advocating for their freedom, but also to external factors, mostly the devastating effects of World War II. The British Empire and much of the rest of Europe lacked the manpower and resources to hold on to their colonies. They also faced a dearth of political support from other countries. Emerging superpowers such as the United States and the Soviet Union were actively opposed to the practice of colonialism.
Though there were a large number of freedom movements across Asia and Africa, following are some of the most notable examples of the varied nature of the struggle against colonialism. While some countries gained freedom through largely peaceful means, others after long years of armed struggle.
One of the first countries to have gained independence after India, Myanmar became a sovereign, independent republic on January 4, 1948. In 1937, Burma had been made into a separate colony from India. During the chaos of World War II, the Japanese promised Burma assistance in gaining independence, but occupied the country in 1942. It declared Burma as a sovereign state in 1943. However, the Japanese army effectively ruled the country. When things started going south for Japan, Burmese leader Aung San joined the Allies against the Japanese. The Japanese in Burma were defeated in 1945. The British administration, exhausted from the war, eventually agreed to Burma’s independence in 1947.
Sri Lanka (1948)
The independence movement in Sri Lanka, or Ceylon as it was known then, was comparatively a more peaceful political process. The agitations for independence had gained momentum after the outbreak of World War II in 1939, especially during strikes by estate workers on the plantations, and more worryingly, during the aborted Cocos Islands Mutiny in 1942. Ceylonese nationalist leaders continued to pressure the British for independence while largely cooperating with them for the war effort. The ‘Free Lanka Bill’ was introduced in 1945, and after the war, the agitations and strikes increased, and in 1947, the British prepared for a transfer of power. The country became the Dominion of Ceylon on February 4, 1948, and went on to become the Republic of Sri Lanka in 1972.
The first major political movement for independence in Ghana was the formation of the United Gold Coast Convention in 1947, which demanded self-government. However, it was Kwame Nkrumah, the Ghanaian nationalist and its future first prime minister and president, who was the most effective. He formed the Convention’s People Party (CPP) in 1949, whose motto was ‘self-government now’. The party, like much of the Indian Independence movement with its principle of non-violence, launched a ‘positive action campaign’. This consisted of policies of non-cooperation and non-violent strikes and protests against British authorities. Nkrumah was imprisoned, but was eventually released and elected to Parliament in 1951, becoming the prime minister in 1952. On March 6, 1957 the Gold Coast, the Northern Territories, and Ashanti were given independence as a single territory within the British Commonwealth, under the name ‘Ghana’.
When the Japanese army invaded Malaya and Borneo during the second world war, it triggered great economic upheaval and conflict within the colonies themselves. When the Allies retook Malaya, the Malays resisted to the British intention of uniting the Malayan administration to the Malayan Union, citing their objection to the ethnic Chinese being granted citizenship. The Malayan Union was dissolved in 1948, and replaced by the Federation of Malaya. Subsequently, the Malayan Communist Party, consisting mostly of ethnically Chinese rebels launched a series of guerilla operations, with the aim of gaining independence from the British. This led to the Malayan Emergency, with Malaya becoming an independent member of the Commonwealth of Nations on August 31, 1957.
Political movements with the aim of ending British rule swept The Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria in the 1920s and 1930s, with The Nigerian Youth Movement demanding dominion status within the British Commonwealth in 1938. These movements became more powerful in the 1940s, and more diverse, including soldiers who had served in World War II, and the media. In fact, political parties and the media were effectively used to mobilise the country against British rule. In 1944, Nnamdi Azikiwe, the future first president of Nigeria, established the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons, comprising of over 40 different groups. The British attempted to keep its hold on Nigeria by providing a Central House of Representatives in 1951. Eventually, these measures proved ineffective, with Nigeria ultimately granting independence on October 1, 1960.
Algeria had been under French rule since the nineteenth century, after France had conquered it in 1830. In the 1930s and 1940s, a series of nationalist parties emerged, and there was an increasing awareness that the country would gain its independence through peaceful measures. In 1954, the French Front de Libération Nationale (FLN) was formed, and established its goal to restore a sovereign Algerian state. This movement soon led to armed conflict, which became known as the Algerian War of Independence, fought between France and the FLN, lasting from 1954 to 1962. After eight years, Algeria gained its independence from France on July 5, 1962.
The struggle for freedom from colonial rule in Kenya was another violent one. In the 1950s, the militant African nationalist movement, the Mau Mau, originated among the Kikuyu people of Kenya. The Mau Mau promoted resisting violently to British rule. In 1950, the British banned the movement, but in 1952 declared a state of emergency in Kenya after exploits attributed to Mau Mau activists. Despite all efforts, it was the Kikuyu resistance that led the independence struggle in Kenya. On December 12, 1963, Kenya was granted its independence, and Jomo Kenyatta, who had been jailed as a Mau Mau leader in 1953, became the first Kenyan prime minister.