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Impact of Decolonisation on the Structure of World Politics

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Wordcount: 2530 words Published: 13th May 2019

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Evaluate how the process of decolonisation changed the structure of world politics

The purpose of this is assignment to evaluate how the process of decolonisation changed the structure of world politics. According to Duara, (2004) decolonisation refers to the process whereby colonial powers transferred institutional and legal control over their territories and dependencies to indigenously based, formally sovereign, nation-states. According to various authors decolonisation started after the World War II, this is supported by Duara, (2004) who states that the political search for independence often began during the inter-war years and fructified within fifteen years of the end of World War II in 1945. Birmingham (1995) also backs this information and states that the decolonization started after the World War II as colonized people agitated for independence and colonial powers withdrew their administrators from Africa. Post-war era saw the colonised nations begin the process of decolonisation, this process enabled the nations to regain their freedom from their European colonisers. Fraser, (1994) supports this as she states that Decolonization marked a phase in the globalization of politics that ended the intellectual and political legitimacy of colonial rule and eroded the hierarchies of race that underpinned the centuries-old colonial order.

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However not all colonised nations gained their independence from Europe, many like Africa went through the imperialism which transitioned into colonisation of the African continent for most of the nineteenth century through military influence and economic dominance. Imperialism is “the creation and or maintenance of an unequal economic, cultural, and territorial relationship, usually between states and often in the form of an empire, based on domination and subordination” (Johnston, 2000). In its simplest form Farah et al, (2001) describes imperialism as one country’s domination of the political, economic and social life of another country. During this period, many European countries travelled to African to claim their African territory during the new imperialism period was between 1880’s to the start of the world war, this was known as the scramble of Africa (Newworldencyclopedia.org). The colonisation of Africa would benefit European as they were being able to exploit the African people for their own commercial interests by controlling the means of production. Roughly around 1870 to 1914, imperialist gain control over much of the world. 

Although the colonisation process of Africa and Asia began at the end of the eighteenth century. By 1853, Europeans had marked their territory on most of north-western Africa. These Europeans included the British, French and Spanish.  Late 1870’s the Europeans had Algeria which was held by France, the Cape Colony and Natal known as South Africa was held by Britain and Angola by Portugal. I will evaluate the decolonisation of the continent of Africa and how this changed the structure of what politics was when the continent was controlled and the present-day effects the Europeans still have on Africa.

Historically we can see that during this period, the slave trade had been abolished in 1807, however during the period of slavery the Europeans took more than 11 million people from West Africa to America and Europe (reference). Nonetheless, less than 65 years later the Europeans found reason to return to Africa to claim territory on what they had begun prior during the late 18th century however due to the failure of previous attempts it was particularly important that this attempt would be successful and lucky for the Europeans technology had advanced in terms of weaponry. Esler et al (2009) reports that also superior technology including riverboats and telegraph, as well as improved medical knowledge also played a part.

As a result of colonialism and imperialism, Africa suffered long the term effects, such as the loss of important natural resources like gold and rubber, economic devastation, cultural confusion, geopolitical division, and political subjugation(Mentan,2010). Europeans wanted more power and even took the land from the people. The scramble for Africa divided the continent into nation states ruled by European colonial powers. Economist such as Michalopoulos (2015) have released papers showing how the decisions of borders have affected war and civil unrest in Africa especially amongst ethnic groups examples of these divides include the Anyi of Ghana and the Ivory Coast. George Peter Murdock studied the African conflict of the post-independence period finding that often civil conflicts are higher in the historical homeland of partitioned ethnicities suggesting that when the Europeans begun their scramble for Africa they only paid attention to the size and resources like water of the nation as opposed to the cultural aspects or social elements that define nation states. 

On the other hand, other, contributing issues that have impacted decolonisation include socio-cultural factors like language. African countries colonised by the British Empire were influenced with the English language and educational system of the British as many colonisers had intended to settle in the many of the countries they had colonised, an example of this would be for Southern Africa. Colonial powers used education as a tool for both political and economic reasons. Moreover, for colonizers education was a means to win converts to their religion (Windel, 2009).

The British were keen on maintaining and establishing the duty to civilise Africa, this theory of civilising Africa was held by Britons like David Livingstone. These viewed were also supported by many Europeans and discussed during the Berlin Conference of 1884-85 (Appiah, A. and Gates, H. 2010), an idea that as European and the superior race Africa needed the support of the Europeans to become civilised civilians, arguably this view may have been far from the truth, the Europeans went into the continent of Africa and created separation and divisions in the scramble of Africa which resulted in many border wars, they also create disarray between the nation people as they exploited the resources they needed. Amongst all of this the British Empire for example installed many aspects of their own culture language being the main aspect much of Africa and Asia still use the English language as a staple language in their countries but during colonisation it removed the barrier between the people and the colonisers which can be viewed to be ignorant as they had invaded a nation and demanded that the people would learn their language. Still even after decolonisation for many of these countries English remains the main language which shows the present influence colonial power continues to have. 

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Within Africa, to date Nigeria and South Africa are the richest countries with GDP’s of $594.257 for Nigeria and $341.261 for South Africa (www.worldstopmost.com). The GDP’s of both the countries make up almost a half of the GDP for sub-Saharan countries. Both of these countries are rich in natural resources that help maintain their stability and economy. Nigeria producing crude oil which makes up for around 10% of the country’s GDP they also have been able to flourish with their aircraft parts exports, tobacco and vinegar exports. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimated Nigeria to become the biggest economy in Africa as of 2016 and as of 2017 they have over taken second places South Africa to become the richest economy in Africa and holds the 21st position globally, in this case it shows that a country once a colony of the British Empire have been able to sustain their economy and rebuild after decolonisation to become an influential country economically but additionally socially much of Nigeria economy is also made up of entertainment industry with Nollywood being the second largest film industry before Bollywood and after Hollywood  (www.worldstopmost.com) and South Africa having gold and diamonds, the World Bank and IMF have considered South Africa as an upper middle income economy with its economy thriving off exports such as gold, diamonds, minerals and machinery as well as the added tourism that came along with South Africa hosting the World Cup which increased the revenue for the country and also introduced foreign investments from the Chinese and other countries. Once again, like Nigeria as a country once ruled under the colonial powers of the British Empire South Africa have been through a series horrendous events and great division as a nation with Apartheid, the Dutch and British colonising the country they have managed to maintain a growing economy which unfortunately for many African countries they have not been able to recover from separation of their colonisers which have resulted in many civil wars and poverty

Since the 1960’s sub-Saharan African countries have not been able to fully develop successfully this is because from 1974 to mid 1990’s Africa had a negative GDP growth rate which was contributed by corruption, famine, drought, poverty, aids, civil wars that hindered the growth of African economies (www.nber.org). It is unfortunate because unlike most European countries most sub-Saharan countries have beneficial natural resources, however these resources become an internal conflict for the countries due to corruption and continuance interference from the West. For sub-Saharan Africa corruption has proven to be one of the main problem that have slowed down the growth of the African economy and the influence it has on the global political stage. A quote from economist Hanson (2009) says “corruption in Africa ranges from high level political graft on the scale of millions of dollars to low level bribes” This high level of corruption allows powerful elites within the government to control the resource of the state as it benefits them, an example of a African leader such as Idi Amin who brought their countries economy to a decline due to an increase in military expenditure used to remove all Indian and Pakistani citizens in 1927, the economic decline would last decades.

After the United Nations was established in 1945 nearly a third of the world’s population lived in territorial ruled countries that were dependent on colonial power. Chapter XI, articles 73 and 74 of the Charter of the United Nations established the principles that now continue to guide the United Nation on its effects on decolonisation(Un.org). After the defeat of the League of Nation and the formation of the United Nations more than 80 former colonies have gained their independence and with only 17 non-self-governing territories remaining. However, for a large governing body like the United Nations with a great number of newly independent states it may have been difficult for the superpowers to work alongside and understand the cultural difference but with great diversity also comes along a unique direction in which today’s global politics had taken. It is understandable that superpowers like Britain and France would have initially found it difficult to understand and cooperate with countries they once ruled and felt superior to but this did not decrease the influence many Asian and African countries obtained on the global political stage, especially the influence culturally these countries began to have on the world. This would also result to a breakdown of the old super powers.

During the inter-war period an emerged anti-colonialism took of high influence among countries that had been once under European colonisation, this influenced an independence movement around Africa and Asia which would ultimately result to the collapse of the colonial powers. For most of the anti-colonial movements throughout Africa and Asia they were attached to a form of socialism and the revolutionary Marxist view which suggested that imperial powers were weakened by WW2 and the ideas that newly independent states had found new markets to exploit. In February 1960 Harold Macmillan made a famous speech to the South African parliament stating, “The wind of change is blowing through this continent and, whether we like it or not, this growth of national consciousness is a political fact” (academic.oup.com). This can be argued to be an official statement that supported the rapid decolonization of the British Empire in Africa.


  • Birmingham, David (1995). The Decolonization of Africa. Routledge. ISBN 1857285409.
  • Duara, P. (2004). Introduction: The decolonization of Asia and Africa in the twentieth century. In P. Duara, Decolonization: Perspectives from now and then (pp. 1-18). London: Routledge.
  • Esler, A and Ellis, E (2009) World History. USA: Prentice Hall
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  • Johnston, Ronald John (2000). The Dictionary of Human Geography (4th ed.). USA: Wiley-Blackwell
  • Nber.org. (2017). The Economic Decline in Africa. [online] Available at: http://www.nber.org/digest/jan04/w9865.html
  • Internationalreportingproject.org. (2017). Stories – Corruption in Sub-Saharan Africa — International Reporting Project. [online] Available at: https://internationalreportingproject.org/stories/view/corruption-in-sub-saharan-africa
  • Mentan, Tatah, (2010) The State in Africa: An Analysis of Impacts of Historical Trajectories of Global Capitalist Expansion and Domination in the Continent. African Books Collective, – Political Science – 417 pages
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  • Anon, (2017). [online] Available at: https://www.usnews.com/news/best-countries/articles/2016-02-29/inside-nigerias-prolific-film-industry
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  • Appiah, A. and Gates, H. (2010). Encyclopedia of Africa. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Un.org. (2017). The United Nations and Decolonization – History. [online] Available at: http://www.un.org/en/decolonization/history.shtml


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