DECOLONIZATION AND WESTERN REMINISCENCE


Nehru and Africa

Image Credits: The Nation


The term Decolonization in its literal sense refers to the process whereby the colonized countries gained independence from their respective colonist countries or empires. This process of liberation largely occurred in the 20th century when, after World War II was over, the colonist countries of Europe dealt with the harsh reality of disturbing economic and political balance that could no longer withhold their dominance over the vast regions of Asia and Africa along with the increasing nationalism in those regions.

This could be understood by the case of the British Empire as author John Darwin in his book Britain and Decolonisation: The Retreat from Empire in the Post-War World (Making of 20th Century) argues, “The engines of empire- the great staple industries of cotton, coal, and engineering- were running down. Britain's legendary financial resources were devastated by the costs of war and the ravages of depression. Her naval supremacy was abandoned. The subject peoples of the empire became more recalcitrant and in some places, their resistance was more effective.1 This process was slow and gradual and although it seemed a very peaceful transference of power to the newly independent states, it cost a lot of bloodshed, exploitation, and economic and political breakdown in those states over many years. As author Dane Kennedy argues in his book Decolonization: A Very Short Introduction ,


“this epochal transformation was punctuated by a series of traumatic events that shook the political landscape. Even in places where the transfer of power was peaceful- as it was in a number of colonies- the choices made there cannot be divorced from the speculations, calculations and concerns that arose from the broader struggle for independence.”2


The procedure of decolonization could be argued as the counter-point to Colonization and Imperialism, wherein swaths of territories in Africa and Asia were under the direct dominion of a few European polities like the Portuguese, French and the British. As a result of it or as Darwin points out “The hallmark of decolonization became the surrender of political sovereignty over the peoples of Africa and Asia and the emergence of independent nation-states where once European administrators and settlers had ruled supreme.”3 The emergence of nation-states post-colonization were in hundreds, however, it wasn’t the only option that was prevailing around 20th century nonetheless, “the establishment of nation-states that ostensibly offered their populations the right of self-determination. However problematic its execution, this seductive and subversive idea took a powerful hold on the political imaginations of people around the world.”4


Decolonization in many ways changed the whole working of the world. This could be understood by the concept of nation-states. After the formation of colonized territories into independent nation-states, where “the 'third world' replaced the 'colonial world'”5, many of these had gained the power to participate in the process of ‘worldmaking’, a collective work for the re-transformation of the world per the norms of modernity.


These newly formed nation-states, who were once part of Imperialism and later Colonialism were now at par with the countries who just half a century ago governed them, in world-scale organizations such as the United Nations Organization. This could be seen during the year of Africa, as Adom Getachew in her book Worldmaking After Empire: The Rise and Fall of Self-Determination posits, “Just three years after Ghana achieved independence, seventeen African states joined the United Nations, marking the high point of decolonization in the Black Atlantic world. In what would come to be called the year of Africa, the newly constituted African bloc in the United Nations successfully led the effort to secure passage of General Assembly resolution 1514, titled “Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples.”6


The 17 African Countries Which Attained Independence in 1960, The year of Africa

Image Credits: Ethiosports


Decolonization paved the way to reshape and reorder the entire global mechanism, not just through the concept of the nation-state. The main thing about it is that it does not belong to the creation of independent nation-states. Decolonization encompasses different connotations which prevailed long before nation-states were formed. As discussed above, it was only evident that the Imperial colonist rule was to be transferred into a more systematic and un-colonized structure post World War II. Getachew argues, “Indeed, well before the rapid decline of the British Empire, interwar metropolitan intellectuals and elites coined and adopted the term decolonization to reconcile their imperial past and present with what they believed was an inevitable post imperial future.”7 To the Imperial authorities, the era of decolonization came in as a point where they had two options available to hold on to their colonial possessions, that were conciliation and coercion,8 as Kennedy mentions.


“All of the imperial powers experimented in varying degrees with new constitutional and political structures after World War II to gain or reclaim allegiance of colonial subjects.”9 He exemplified his argument with the attempts made by the French, Portuguese, Dutch and the British. In the case of the French, they re-branded their empire into the French Union in 1946, “which established the new constitutional relationship between metropolitan France and its colonial possessions.”10 “The purpose of the Union was to stitch the various components of the French empire together as a grand federation, founded on the liberal promise that it would evolve into an association of genuine partners.”11 In the case of the Portuguese, the empire pretty much followed the strategies of that of the French, reclassifying their colonies as “overseas provinces” in 1951. The Dutch developed a postwar scheme to give their empire a constitutional makeover as well.12


As far as the British were concerned, Kennedy argues that The British adopted a somewhat different strategy to maintain their empire.13 The most striking efforts to restructure the British empire were the plans to consolidate colonies into regional federations.14 The idea for federations was stemmed from their previous successful strategy of transforming the colonies such as Canada, Australia and New Zealand into constitutional monarchies. Different federations were formed during the 1940s, 50s and 60s, the most notable being the ill-fated Malayan Union, which sought to balance the political interests of the territory’s Malay, Indian and Chinese communities15 followed by the federation that incorporated Malaya, North Borneo, Sarawak and Singapore in 1963.16 Other regional federations plans promoted by the British included the South Arabian Federation, the Central African Federation, the East African Federation, and the West Indies Federation. 17


Apart from conciliation strategies, the European imperialists also adopted coercion methods in order to keep a check on their authority over the colonies. Kennedy writes that “Despite the hardships of the postwar era, European governments channeled a surprisingly substantial portion of their scarce economic resources into rearmament. The onset of the cold war provided one rationale for the development, but another important purpose was to maintain control of their colonies.”18 The best example that shows the coercion strategy comes from the National Service Act in 1948 which required all young men to complete two years of active military service: nearly 1.5 million did so. Many of them were sent to colonial hotspots.19


Srilanka Independence

Image Credits: Daily News


Decolonization varied from country to country in the case of the colonized as some territories were granted full transference of power and were actively engaging in the global order, while some territories found themselves discombobulated by the aftermath of decolonization such as the struggles for obtaining citizenship in newly formed South Asian countries during the 1940s and 1950s. Sunil Amrith highlights the very predicament in the book The Postcolonial Moment in South and South East Asia as he writes, “In Ceylon, preparations for independence failed to address the question of who could become a citizen of the new state...the Ceylon Citizenship Act (1948), the Indian and Pakistani Residents Act (1948), and the Ceylon Parliamentary Elections Amendment Act (1949) denied citizenship to the estate Tamils—approximately 12 percent of the population...over 800,000 Indians in Ceylon took their chances and applied for citizenship; though the applicants were more likely to be urbanized and educated, nevertheless only 16 percent of applications received before the 1951 deadline were approved. For decades afterwards, there remained a strong collective memory on Ceylon’s estates of application forms “lost” in the mail, of intimidation and bureaucratic obstacles placed in the way of those with legitimate claims.20


A similar problem occurred in Burma where the migrants and their descendants struggled to stake their claims to belonging.21 Other consequences were in the form of postcolonial civil wars in countries like Angola, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Rwanda, Somalia, Sudan and Uganda22 in Africa while Malaya, Indonesia, and Vietnam in Asia.


Another technique that decolonization offered in order to re-establish world order could be understood through the lens of the Cold War that broke out soon after the Second World War. The two countries of the U.S.A and the U.S.S.R were constantly engaged in a rift to become the only superpower during the 20th century. With hundreds of nation-states formed that were no longer dependent, USA and USSR were relentlessly trying to recruit as many nations as they could to elevate their status in the global order.


This came in as both an opportunity and a matter of conflict, as for the former scenario, many newly independent countries sought an alliance with either of the two components to establish, and/or bolster their economic and political interests while for the latter scenario, many countries like India believed in the notion that aligning with either of the two would jeopardize its relationship with the other, as both were equally lucrative options for it. Amidst this tension, countries such as India, Pakistan, Ceylon, Burma and Indonesia (collectively known as the Conference of South-East Asian Prime Ministers or Colombo Powers)23 sponsored the Bandung conference which was attended by 29 independent countries.24 The highlight of the conference was “influencing the position of the newly independent ‘Third World’ in the Cold War by delegitimizing US-sponsored collective defence pacts and laying the foundation of the global Non-Aligned Movement (NAM)”25 It also laid the foundation of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) that aimed at diminishing the influence of both India and China and paving the way for the emergence of a regionalism led by the weaker states of South-East Asia.26


Non Alignment Meeting, NAM

Image Credits: India Today


Decolonization, historian Prasenjit Duara writes, is one of the most important political developments of the twentieth century because it turned the world into a stage of history.27 Although there are different perceptions of it and every perception holds right for the overall change that it has brought especially after the 20th century when there was a high insurgence of liberalism and nationalism among the people. It not only gave the tools to establish nation-states from the Imperial colonies but also paved the way for them to act on par with other countries that once ruled over them. It aimed at ending Colonialism all the while creating a strong web of nations who aim for similar political, economical and social goals. Decolonization hasn’t always been on the positive side. Its aftermath has led to many upheavals and it hasn’t always been fair to some ‘minor communities’ per se who have found themselves alienated from the mainstream politics but it has helped shape the modern political globe wherein, constant efforts are being made in order to secure every person’s interest in a rational manner unlike in the Colonial era. It has affected the whole world on a massive scale where each person’s ideas and interests are counted. Decolonization in every sense has offered techniques to reorder the world.

BIBLIOGRAPHY


1. Darwin, John. Britain and Decolonisation: the Retreat from Empire in the Post-War World. Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.p 6

2. Kennedy, Dane Keith. Decolonization: a Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press, 2016.p 47.

3. Darwin, John. Britain and Decolonisation: the Retreat from Empire in the Post-War World. Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.p 6.

4. Kennedy, Dane Keith. Decolonization: a Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press, 2016.p 23.

5. Darwin, John. Britain and Decolonisation: the Retreat from Empire in the Post-War World. Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.p 6

6. Getachew, Adom. Worldmaking after Empire: the Rise and Fall of Self-Determination. Princeton University Press, 2019. p 14.

7. Getachew, Adom. Worldmaking after Empire: the Rise and Fall of Self-Determination. Princeton University Press, 2019. p 17.

8. Kennedy, Dane Keith. Decolonization: a Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press, 2016.p 47

9. Kennedy, Dane Keith. Decolonization: a Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press, 2016.p 47

10. Kennedy, Dane Keith. Decolonization: a Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press, 2016.p 48

11. Kennedy, Dane Keith. Decolonization: a Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press, 2016.p 48

12. Kennedy, Dane Keith. Decolonization: a Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press, 2016.p 48

13. Kennedy, Dane Keith. Decolonization: a Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press, 2016.p 49

14. Kennedy, Dane Keith. Decolonization: a Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press, 2016.p 49

15. Kennedy, Dane Keith. Decolonization: a Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press, 2016.p 49

16. Kennedy, Dane Keith. Decolonization: a Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press, 2016.p 49

17. Kennedy, Dane Keith. Decolonization: a Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press, 2016.p 49 18. Kennedy, Dane Keith. Decolonization: a Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press, 2016.p 50

19. Kennedy, Dane Keith. Decolonization: a Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press, 2016.p 51

20. Prakash, Gyan. The Postcolonial Moment in South and Southeast Asia. Bloomsbury Academic, 2020.p 114.

21. Prakash, Gyan. The Postcolonial Moment in South and Southeast Asia. Bloomsbury Academic, 2020.p 115.

22. Henderson, Errol A., and J. David Singer. “Civil War in the Post-Colonial World, 1946-92.” Journal of Peace Research, vol. 37, no. 3, 2000, pp. 275–299. JSTOR, https://www.jstor.org/stable/425346 . Accessed 10 May 2020. p 280.

23. Acharya, Amitav. “Studying the Bandung Conference from a Global IR Perspective.” Australian Journal of International Affairs, vol. 70, no. 4, 2016, pp. 342–357., doi:10.1080/10357718.2016.1168359.p 343

24. Acharya, Amitav. “Studying the Bandung Conference from a Global IR Perspective.” Australian Journal of International Affairs, vol. 70, no. 4, 2016, pp. 342–357., doi:10.1080/10357718.2016.1168359. P 343

25. Acharya, Amitav. “Studying the Bandung Conference from a Global IR Perspective.” Australian Journal of International Affairs, vol. 70, no. 4, 2016, pp. 342–357., doi:10.1080/10357718.2016.1168359. P 345

26. Acharya, Amitav. “Studying the Bandung Conference from a Global IR Perspective.” Australian Journal of International Affairs, vol. 70, no. 4, 2016, pp. 342–357., doi:10.1080/10357718.2016.1168359. P 345

27. Decolonization: Perspectives from Now and Then. Routledge, 2003.p 1.


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ASHISH MANAV

GUEST WRITER

Ashish Manav is a third-year student of International Relations at Ashoka University

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