Africa’s Year of Independence Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The colonial era in Africa drew to a close during the 1960’s. In one year alone, 1960, seventeen countries obtained independence.

Summary of Event

Africa’s “year of independence” was greeted with much fanfare and high expectations in the continent and around the world. In all, seventeen nations—Benin (Dahomey), Burkina Faso, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, Ivory Coast (Côte d’Ivoire), the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Madagascar, Mali, Mauretania, Niger, Nigeria, the Republic of Congo, Senegal, Somalia, and Togo—emerged as independent entities as the global community witnessed the dramatic transformation of Africa from a theater of colonies to a continent of independent states, seemingly overnight. African independence movements World War II (1939-1945)[World War 02];African impact Postcolonialism;Africa Anticolonial movements;Africa Nationalism;Africa Year of Africa (1960) Postcolonialism;Africa [kw]Africa’s Year of Independence (1960)[Africas Year] [kw]Independence, Africa’s Year of (1960) African independence movements World War II (1939-1945)[World War 02];African impact Postcolonialism;Africa Anticolonial movements;Africa Nationalism;Africa Year of Africa (1960) Postcolonialism;Africa [g]Africa;1960: Africa’s Year of Independence[06370] [g]Benin;1960: Africa’s Year of Independence[06370] [g]Burkina Faso;1960: Africa’s Year of Independence[06370] [g]Upper Volta;1960: Africa’s Year of Independence[06370] [g]Cameroon;1960: Africa’s Year of Independence[06370] [g]Central African Republic;1960: Africa’s Year of Independence[06370] [g]Chad;1960: Africa’s Year of Independence[06370] [g]Congo, Republic of the;1960: Africa’s Year of Independence[06370] [g]Congo, Democratic Republic of the;1960: Africa’s Year of Independence[06370] [g]Gabon;1960: Africa’s Year of Independence[06370] [g]Ivory Coast;1960: Africa’s Year of Independence[06370] [g]Madagascar;1960: Africa’s Year of Independence[06370] [g]Mali;1960: Africa’s Year of Independence[06370] [g]Mauretania;1960: Africa’s Year of Independence[06370] [g]Niger;1960: Africa’s Year of Independence[06370] [g]Nigeria;1960: Africa’s Year of Independence[06370] [g]Senegal;1960: Africa’s Yearof Independence[06370] [g]Somalia;1960: Africa’s Year of Independence[06370] [g]Togo;1960: Africa’s Year of Independence[06370] [c]Independence movements;1960: Africa’s Year of Independence[06370] Keita, Modibo Maga,Hubert Ahidjo, Ahmadou Dacko, David Tombalbaye, François Houphouët-Boigny, Félix[Houphouet Boigny, Felix] Lumumba, Patrice M’ba, Léon[Mba, Leon] Daddah, Moktar Ould Diori, Hamani Azikiwe, Nnamdi Senghor, Léopold Olympio, Sylvanus Tsiranana, Philibert Yaméogo, Maurice Daar, Aden Abdullah Osman Youlou, Fulbert

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As expected, Africans’ response to this transformation was euphoric: Independence promised renewed hope and determination, as Africans perceived opportunities to achieve the political as well as economic freedom that had eluded them for so long. Everywhere on the continent, bugles, drums, and chimes of music, accompanied by pomp and pageantry, could be heard as masses of citizens turned out in large numbers to celebrate the opportunity for self-governance and economic prosperity. In public stadiums in most cities and in the countryside, various activities were organized to commemorate independence. Schoolchildren and young adults participated in these ceremonies and sang joyfully the new national anthems that were quickly adopted to mark sovereignty. As a new cadre of leaders took center stage, they made promises of good governance, economic growth, and political stability. Africa’s mass majority could not help but look into the future with high hopes and determination.

The extinction of the colonial system in the years leading up to and following Africa’s “independence year” can be attributed to three factors: the rise of African nationalism, the nature and objectives of political parties and nationalist movements, and the actions of the colonial authorities. Three European colonial powers—Britain, France, and Belgium—were involved in this wave of decolonization. They took different approaches and were motivated by different circumstances that compelled them to grant independence when they did. For most of the newly independent nations, the decision to grant independence was preceded by a well-articulated policy that was considered most exigent in the wake of rising African nationalism and pressure from the Soviet Union and the United States.

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One of the most remarkable developments leading to independence in most of the newly created states was the willingness of the new elite to collaborate across ethnic lines in efforts to forge a common nationalist front for the attainment of independence. This celebration of brotherhood, in contrast to the previous failure of colonial authorities to give any consideration to ethnic differences, brought a breath of fresh air and hope for the future.

Benin. Benin, independence of In the Republic of Benin (formerly Dahomey), the movement toward independence was similar to those in many other former French colonies. In 1946, Dahomey was granted the status of an overseas territory with its own parliament and representation in the French national assembly. In 1958, it was granted an autonomous status within the French Community. On August 1, 1960, Dahomey attained full independence. The first president was Hubert Maga, whose main support came from Parakou, ethnic groups from the north, and an alliance with other regional leaders.

Cameroon. Cameroon, independence of Cameroon also took a zigzag route to independence from its colonial days of domination by Germany. Following Germany’s defeat in World War I, the League of Nations gave the French a mandate over 80 percent of the area (1922-1946), and the British received jurisdiction over the 20 percent of the country adjacent to Nigeria. The country eventually attained self-government after World War II, when in 1946 it came under a U.N. trusteeship. The Cameroon People’s Union subsequently emerged as the dominant party by campaigning for reunification of French and British Cameroon and for independence. France declared Cameroon as an autonomous state in 1957, and the following year its legislative assembly voted for independence. On January 1, 1960, under President Ahmadou Ahidjo, the nation achieved full independence.

Central African Republic. Central African Republic, independence of The Central African Republic also had to extricate itself from a larger political organ established by France. As early as 1910, it was joined with Gabon and the Middle Congo to become French Equatorial Africa. As the local population intensified efforts to gain autonomy after World War II, the French succumbed in 1946. In 1958, the territory voted to become an autonomous republic within the French Community, and on August 13, 1960, President David Dacko proclaimed the republic’s independence from France. Dacko moved the country politically toward greater collaboration with the People’s Republic of China. In 1965 Dacko’s administration was overthrown in a coup, by Colonel Jean-Bédel Bokassa, the army’s chief of staff.

Chad. Chad;independence of The territory now known as Chad was also a part of the colony of French Equatorial Africa before it sought self-government. It became an autonomous republic within the French Community in 1946. An independence movement led by the first premier and president, François Tombalbaye, was able to secure the nation’s independence on August 11, 1960, by building a coalition between labor unions and traditional rulers in the north and south to consolidate enough political support to isolate the opposition of conservative Muslim leaders in the central region.

Democratic Republic of Congo. Congo, Belgian;independence Formerly Zaire, the Democratic Republic of Congo exemplified the extent to which domestic traumas exacerbated by colonialism could escalate to full-scale domestic hostilities and war. Following King Leopold II’s brutal colonial exploitation, Belgium’s parliament finally decided to wrest the colony from Leopold’s private possession and granted the Democratic Republic of Congo independence in June 30, 1960. The fragile peace later deteriorated into violent conflict. Patrice Lumumba of the leftist Mouvement National Congolais briefly became prime minister and Joseph Kasavubu of the Association des Bakongo (ABAKO, a party that had emerged in the 1950’s to oppose Belgian colonial rule) became head of state.

Gabon. Gabon, independence of Like other French colonies, Gabon was first granted autonomy within the French Community after World War II and then became a fully independent republic on August 17, 1960. In the first postindependence election, held under a parliamentary system, neither of the two major political parties was able to win a majority. Then the Bloc Démocratique Gabonais (BDG), led by Léon M’ba, obtained support from three of the four independent legislative deputies, and M’ba was named prime minister.

Ivory Coast. Ivory Coast, independence of Also known as Côte d’Ivoire, Ivory Coast emerged from the Federation of French West Africa. In December, 1958, Ivory Coast became an autonomous republic within the French Community as a result of a referendum that brought Community status to all members of the old Federation of French West Africa except Guinea, which had voted against association. Ivory Coast became independent on August 7, 1960, and permitted its Community membership to lapse. Ivory Coast’s independence struggle can be attributed to the political savvy and coalition-building skills of Félix Houphouët-Boigny, president of the republic and leader of the Parti Démocratique de la Côte d’Ivoire (PDCI).

Madagascar. Madagascar, independence of The attainment of independence in Madagascar was anything but peaceful. An organized resistance to French colonization lasted for several decades. A drastic turn of events following conditions precipitated by World War II spread nationalist agitation into both the heartland and the coastal regions, giving rise to the formation of national political parties such as the Mouvement Démocratique pour la Rénovation Malgache (MDRM, the democratic movement for Malagasy renewal). France, under its Loi Cadre (Overseas Reform Act) of 1956, moved Madagascar peacefully toward independence. The Malagasy Republic, proclaimed on October 14, 1958, became an autonomous state within the French Community. A period of provisional government ended with the adoption of a constitution in 1959 and full independence on June 26, 1960, with Philibert Tsiranana as president.

Mali. Mali, independence of Mali underwent a two-step process to full independence. First it attained independence in conjunction with Senegal as the Sudanese Republic in June 20, 1960. In August of that year, the Republic of Senegal broke away from the federation and the Sudanese Republic and then changed its name to the Republic of Mali on September 22, 1960. Modibo Keita, Mali’s first president, as one of the founders of the main political party, pulled together a coalition that absorbed all opposition political parties and labor unions.

Mauritania. Mauritania, independence of Mauritania’s small political elite was divided over whether the country should be oriented more toward Senegal and French-speaking sub-Saharan Africa or toward Arab Muslim Morocco, whose leaders sought to absorb Mauritania. The winning faction chose independence—which the country declared on November 28, 1960—with the support of France. Moktar Ould Daddah, who served as the nation’s first president, was able to secure a fragile peace settlement with miners, students, and tribal leaders.

Niger. Niger, independence of Niger followed the path of other French colonies and in 1958, the voters approved the French constitution and voted to make the territory an autonomous republic within the French Community. The republic adopted a constitution in 1959 but the next year withdrew from the Community and proclaimed its independence. The Niger Progressive Party (PPN), a part of the Rassemblement Démocratique Africain (with branches in most French West African territories), successfully defeated the prominent leftist party (later called Sawaba) in the mid-1950’s. Hamani Diori, the leader of the PPN, became Niger’s first president upon the nation’s attainment of independence on August 3, 1960.

Nigeria. Nigeria;independence Nigeria, the most populous nation in the continent and perhaps the most ethnically divided, managed to gain independence on October 1, 1960, through a fragile coalition of the leading regional political parties. The conservative parties—the Nigerian People’s Congress (NPC), a party dominated by Northerners and those of the Islamic faith, and the Igbo- and Christian-dominated National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC), led by Nnamdi Azikiwe—successfully defeated the opposition party, the liberal-leaning Action Group (AG), which was dominated by Yorubas and led by Obafemi Awolowo. Azikiwe became Nigeria’s first president, and the post of prime minister went to the sarduana of Sokoto, Ahmadu Bello of the NPC. Organized as a loose federation of self-governing states, the independent nation faced the overwhelming task of unifying a country with 250 ethnic and linguistic groups.

Republic of Congo. Republic of Congo, independence of Not to be confused with its much larger neighbor to the east, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Republic of Congo was formed by the former French region of Middle Congo. (The French had competed with the Belgians to dominate the Congo River basin; the Belgians came to dominate what became Zaire and then the Democratic Republic of Congo.) During World War II, French Middle Congo’s capital, Brazzaville, became the symbolic capital of Free France after the Nazi’s installed the Vichy government in Paris. Brazzaville was at the center of the liberalization of French colonial policies, inaugurated during the 1944 Brazzaville Conference, which abolished forced labor and instituted other colonial reforms that paved the way for independence. The 1956 Loi Cadre created partial self-government in preparation for the dissolution of French Equatorial Africa (AEF) in 1958. In 1959, ethnic rivalries in the former AEF sparked riots, but by November Middle Congo had been renamed the Republic of Congo, and formal independence was achieved on August 15, 1960. A former Catholic priest, Fulbert Youlou, served as the nation’s first president for three years but was overthrown in 1963, when he was succeeded by the military-backed Alphonse Massamba-Débat. In 1968, another coup installed a socialist form of government that would dominate the nation until 1992.

Senegal. Senegal, independence of Senegal also went through a two-step process to independence. In January, 1959, Senegal and the French Sudan merged to form the Mali Federation, which became fully independent on June 20, 1960, as a result of the independence and transfer-of-power agreement signed with France on April 4, 1960. The union was short-lived, however, as a result of internal political difficulties. The Federation dissolved on August 20, and Senegal and Sudan (renamed the Republic of Mali) proclaimed separate independence. Léopold Senghor was elected Senegal’s first president in September, 1960.

Somalia. Somalia, independence of Somalia’s tortuous and long road to independence endured various occupations by the British (from the occupation of Aden in 1839), the French occupation of Djibouti, the Italian settlement in Eritrea, and the Egyptian claim to Turkish rights in the area. By 1920, a British and an Italian protectorate occupied what is now Somalia. The British ruled the entire area after 1941, with Italy returning in 1950 to serve as U.N. trustee for its former territory. By 1960, Britain and Italy had granted independence to their respective sectors, enabling the two to join as the Republic of Somalia on July 1, 1960. Aden Abdullah Osman Daar, in his capacity as president of the Constituent Assembly, proclaimed the independence of the Somali Republic on July 1, 1960.

Togo. Togo, independence of Togo emerged first from Danish domination during the eighteenth century and then from German colonial power, established in 1884. Under the League of Nations mandates after World War I, the region was split between the British and the French into two territories, subsequently administered as U.N. trusteeships. The British portion voted for incorporation with Ghana. The French portion became Togo, which declared its independence on April 27, 1960. Togo’s euphoric celebration of independence was therefore a refreshing moment after decades of domination but was short-lived: Its first democratically elected president, Sylvanus Olympio, was overthrown in 1963.

Upper Volta (Burkina Faso). Upper Volta (Burkina Faso), independence of Burkina Faso—until 1984, Upper Volta—had become a French protectorate in 1897, and by 1903 France had added more ethnic groups to the former Mossi Empire, declaring it a separate colony in 1919. The colony was partitioned in 1932 among Niger, the Sudan, and Ivory Coast, only to be reconstituted in 1947. In 1958, it was declared an autonomous republic within the French Community, and it gained full independence on August 5, 1960, adopting a constitution in 1970. Maurice Yaméogo emerged as president of Upper Volta’s council of colonial government and later the first president of the new Republic of Upper Volta.

Significance

The granting of independence to African nations in 1960 marked a period of dramatic shifts in relations between European colonial powers and African countries while opening new opportunities for the newly independent African nations to participate in global affairs as independent entities. The struggle for independence in most of the former colonies shifted emphasis from tribal and ethnic affiliations as the basis for identity and collective action to national identity, as African peoples began to think of themselves as members of “one nation” and work toward greater national consciousness and nation building. African independence movements World War II (1939-1945)[World War 02];African impact Postcolonialism;Africa Anticolonial movements;Africa Nationalism;Africa Year of Africa (1960) Postcolonialism;Africa

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Berkeley, Bill. The Graves Are Not Yet Full: Race, Tribe, and Power in the Heart of Africa. Reprint. New York: Basic Books, 2002. The author takes his readers through a gripping exploration of some of the worst African atrocities of the last two decades of the twentieth century.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Meredith, Martin. The Fate of Africa: From the Hopes of Freedom to the Heart of Despair. New York: Public Affairs, 2005. The author presents a historical review of modern Africa. The book spans the entire continent and covers the major upheavals, from the promising era of independence to the spate of infamies that plagued Rwanda, Darfur, Zimbabwe, Liberia, and Sierra Leone in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Mwakikagile, Godfrey. Africa After Independence: Realities of Nationhood with Photos. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Continental Press, Pan-African Books, 2006. The author focuses on the early years of independence and the problems African countries faced soon after the end of colonial rule.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Nugent, Paul. Africa Since Independence: A Comparative History. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004. This comparative study of the different trajectories and experiences of independent African states addresses the legacies of British, French, Portuguese, Belgian, and Spanish colonialism as well as the unique qualities of imperial Ethiopia and Liberia.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Reader, John. Africa. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic, 2001. The author uses the power of photographs to chronicle the African landscape and the challenges posed by a history of slavery, colonialism, and tribal warfare.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Wallerstein, Immanuel. Africa: The Politics of Independence and Unity. 2d rev. ed. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2005. Combines into one edition for the first time Africa: The Politics of Independence and Africa: The Politics of Unity. This edition provides some of the earliest and most valuable analysis of African politics during the period when the colonial system began to disintegrate.

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Things Fall Apart Depicts the Destruction of Ibo Culture

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Nyasaland Independence Leader Banda Is Arrested by British Colonials

Rwandan Hutus Overthrow Tutsi Monarchy

Sharpeville Massacre Focuses Global Awareness on Apartheid

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