The colonies of France
African decolonization did not take place until the late 1950s. This was mainly because African colonies had been crucial for the economic recovery of most European powers in the intermediate postwar era. France profited immensely from the vast oil reserves of Algeria. Belgium, meanwhile, controlled the mining industry of the Congo. But rising national consciousness in the colonies finally prompted Europe to acknowledge African sovereignty. Although the transfer of power was relatively smooth, there were instances where the very issue of decolonization led to violence and guerilla warfare.
The presence of substantial and influential white settler communities in Algeria resulted in terrorist acts committed by the National Liberation Front (FNL). The attempts of the pro-Belgian Moise Tshombe to transform the copper-rich province of Katanga into a separate nation triggered the Congo Crisis (1960-1966). After World War II, France launched a desperate bid to hold on to its African colonies. During the war, it lost control of its colonies in Indochina to Japanese invaders. After the war, a brief constitutional compromise achieved by Ho Chi Minh granted partial independence to Vietnam in 1946.
This accomplishment, in turn, encouraged several French colonies in Africa to seek independence as well. In Madagascar, for instance, Malagasy nationalists staged an uprising against the French on March 29, 1947. France retaliated by brutally crushing rebellious African nationalists and increasing its military force in the continent. But these measures proved to be disastrous, especially in the case of Algeria. Most of the French, including left-wingers, considered the idea of Algerian independence as inconceivable.
Shortly before Algeria attained sovereignty in 1962, there were about 1 million French settlers who have been living in the country for at least a generation. They saw themselves not as Frenchmen and women living in a colony of France but as “the French of Algeria. ” Many native Algerians, however, regarded these pioneers as oppressors. This sentiment stemmed from the fact that wealthy European settlers dominated Algeria’s politics and economy. Native Algerians were not allowed to participate in the higher administration of their own nation and majority of them were landless peasants.
As a result, the National Liberation Front (FLN), a militant organization that called for Algerian independence, massacred French settlers and native Algerians having even a remote connection with the French colonial government. The number of those who were killed was estimated to have reached between 30,000 and 150,000 – entire families, including children, were not spared. The debilitating situation in Algeria caused serious political instability within France itself because it virtually divided the French government and people between those who supported Algerian independence and those who were against it.
General Charles de Gaulle’s initial attempts at reform – according the Algerians political equality and recognizing their right in principle to self-determination – merely infuriated French right-wingers. The Organization of the Secret Army (OAS), a group of French settlers and sympathizers opposed to Algerian independence, made several attempts on de Gaulle’s life. The OAS likewise caused violent riots on the streets of Paris throughout 1961 – one episode left more than 100 dead. To end the political chaos in France, de Gaulle signed the Evian Accord in Evian-les-Bains in 1962.
Akin to France, Belgium struggled to maintain its hold over its African colonies. Nationalist Patrice Lumumba became the first prime minister of the Congo, a former Belgian protectorate that possessed immense mineral wealth. Upon assuming power, he nationalized the Congo’s mining industry and forged close ties with the Soviet Union. Belgium, along with France, Great Britain and the United States, responded to these by accusing Lumumba of “selling the country to the Soviet Union. ”
Realizing that Lumumba was a hugely popular leader (he led the Congolese pro-independence movement), Belgium knew that a direct attempt to overthrow him would be futile. It instead backed his biggest political rival, the lackey politician Tshombe. Tshombe was the president of CONAKAT, a pro-West political party that dominated the copper-rich region of Katanga. Influenced by Belgium and other Western powers, CONAKAT led Lumumba’s opponents in calling for secession of the provinces from the central government. Tshombe used a July 1960 coup as an excuse for declaring the autonomy of Katanga.
He argued that the secession of the region from the central government would protect it from the disruptive effects of the aforementioned coup. On July 11, 1960, despite objections from some Belgian leaders, Tshombe declared Katanga as a fully sovereign province. The Belgian government, in turn, provided his fledgling regime with strong political, economic and military support. Lumumba, meanwhile, appealed to the United Nations for help in countering Tshombe. But some speculate that the UN undermined Lumumba’s government because it collaborated with Belgium and the US.
Sensing the lukewarm reaction of the UN to his calls for help, Lumumba threatened to seek assistance from the Soviet Union. Unfortunately for him, the Soviet Union did not have enough resources and manpower to come to his aid. Isolated and powerless, Lumumba was finally assassinated in a Belgian-backed plot on January 17, 1961. Colonies are the traditional sources of wealth and power for many Western nations. Thus, it is no longer surprising if Western colonizers did everything it could to prevent their respective territories from attaining independence.
Sovereignty, after all, could mean the nationalization of a major industry that brings huge profit to a colonizer. Worse, it could also mean a progressive leader who will not allow any foreign power to intimidate his or her country into submission. This is where neocolonialism comes into the picture. Neocolonialism gives former colonizers the assurance that the independence of their earlier colonies would only be a political formality. Simply put, they would continue to wield tremendous influence over the political and economic affairs of their former colonies.
Indeed, sovereignty that is freely granted is not genuine sovereignty. Bibliography Beit-Hallahmi, Benjamin. The Israeli Connection: Who Arms Israel and Why. Covent Garden, London: I. B. Taurus & Co. , Ltd. , 1988. Birmingham, David. The Decolonization of Africa. New Fetter Lane, London: Routledge, 2003. Grenville, John Ashley Soames. A History of the World from the 20th to the 21st Century. 2nd ed. New York, New York: Routledge, 2005. Leonard, Thomas M. Encyclopedia of the Developing World. New York, New York: Taylor & Francis Group, 2006. Ndikumana, Leonce, and Kisangani F. Emizet.
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