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From Empire to Nationhood

African decolonisation

Rhodesia bookletRhodesia bookletThe pace of post-war decolonisation was felt most keenly in Africa, where in a few short years dozens of nations were granted independence in a dramatic reversal of the nineteenth-century 'Scramble for Africa'.

French disengagement from its North African colonies was overshadowed by the war in Algeria, 1954-1962.

This saw French soldiers engaged in action against Islamic separatists led by the National Liberation Front.

ParadeParadeThe French sought to protect the interests of the large population descended from European settlers, the pieds noirs, who remained French citizens.

The war ended in defeat for France, the evacuation of the pieds noirs and the replacement of the Fourth Republic by the Fifth under General Charles De Gaulle in 1958.

British interests were centred on southern and eastern Africa although its sizeable colonies in West Africa notably included Nigeria.

NairobiNairobiThe experience of independence was mixed, ranging from the suppression of the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya during the 1950s, through to the instability and violence of Ugandan politics leading to the infamous rule of Idi Amin, 1971-1979.

Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) endured a prolonged bush war as ZANU rebels led by Robert Mugabe eventually helped topple the white minority government of Ian Smith in 1979.

With few exceptions, postcolonial Africa was characterised by political instability, ethnic rivalry and unhelpful external intervention including the activity of hired mercenaries.

The growth of the Commonwealth out of the old British Empire after World War Two however, has helped build dialogue and friendship and heal some of the potentially dangerous divisions that were the legacy of colonial rule.

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