The Decolonisation of Africa 1959-1964

To what extent was Britain able to retain control over decolonisation in Africa between 1959 and 1964? By 1959 decolonisation in British Africa was well under way, for example, the Gold Coast in West Africa had become independent in 1957, Nigeria and Sierra Leone were well on their way to independence, and agitation and advances towards independence were already taking place in Kenya and Tanganyika in Eastern Africa.

By 1964 this had spread throughout Britain’s African territories and many more had either become independent or started their journey and development towards independence, as the “political face of the continent was transformed”[1]. This essay will examine what it was that led to this huge change in policy towards Africa, from a time at the beginning of the 1950s when no one expected any of Britain’s colonies to become independent within a generation, let alone within a decade, to a time in the mid-1960s when Britain’s colonial possessions in Africa were severely dwindling and there was a clear line of policy towards decolonisation there.

Even in 1959, as Hemming recognises, “a conference of East African governors agreed that the likely timetable of independence would be: Tanganyika in 1970, Kenya in 1975 and Uganda somewhere between the two”[2]. In fact Tanganyika gained independence in 1961, Kenya in 1963 and Uganda in 1962. As Hemming identifies, “a fifteen year timetable had been reduced by 80 percent”[3]. This essay will look at such questions as: How can we judge if Britain was in control? ; Was Britain in control of the pace, or the actual process of events of how independence came about? ; Was Britain in control of who to transfer power to?

This essay will attempt to answer these questions by examining all of the various problems, and pressures with which Britain was faced regarding its African colonies, which can been seen to have taken the control of decolonisation in Africa between 1959 and 1964 out of Britain’s hands. It will look at whether Britain really wanted to maintain control of its colonial territories, or whether, once Britain had decided not to keep its colonies, it actually did not want to remain in control of decolonisation in Africa. In some cases did it actually make it easier for

Britain to allow control of African decolonisation **** out of its hands. This essay will examine whether it is certain that once the ‘wind of change’ of African nationalism began spreading through Africa, that Britain was not entirely in control, and, will examine the extent to which Britain did retain control, if it did at all. It will look at the pressures the British government had to deal with, for example, pressures from the UN to end British imperialism, pressures from the US, and pressures from other members of the Commonwealth, as well as from the rest of Europe.

It will examine the strength of colonial nationalism and the extent to which this took the control of decolonisation in Africa away from Britain, or at least forced the British government to change and adapt its policy in order to cope and deal with this threat. This essay will look at pressures at home in Britain, from members of the government and those in opposition as well as British public opinion, and the extent to which this affected Britain’s policy over decolonisation.

It will also look at the impact and influence that the process of decolonisation being pursued by other European imperial powers in Africa had on Britain’s decolonisation policy. It will look at how much the desire of Britain to maintain its role as a world power, and maintain, for example, the special relationship with America, and its position in the Commonwealth, had on British policy over decolonisation and whether this desire led to Britain pursuing a policy direction which it otherwise would not have done.

Finally, having examined all these pressures and events which affected Britain’s decolonisation policy in Africa, this essay will attempt to examine to what extent Britain was, or was not, able to retain control over this process, and affect it in a way which was acceptable to Britain. It will then try and make an assessment, whether or not Britain did retain control over decolonisation in Africa in the period from 1959 to 1964, and, if Britain was in control, the extent of this control.