If you are not familiar with Africa’s history over the last hundred years, you may not know why many countries celebrate their independence in almost the same year around 1960.
Most African Countries have taken the date they gained independence from their colonial ruler as their National Day. Some however, take an important happening at a later date as their National Day. There are others, who followed much later like in the middle 70s or even later early 90s. See the full list below.
Before 1870, only 10 percent of Africa was under European countries’ control. These territories were mostly around the more accessible ports and coastlines established by merchant sailors and explorers in the 15th and 16th century mostly Portuguese and Dutch, later joined by British, German, Spanish and French.
In 1526, the Portuguese completed the first transatlantic slave voyage from Africa to the Americas. The despicable Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade that followed in which countries like Britain, Portugal, Spain, France and the then Dutch Republic participated did not end till 1863.
What is called the “Scramble for Africa” was the occupation, division, and colonization of African territory by European powers during the period of New Imperialism, between 1881 and 1914. It is also called the Partition of Africa and by some, the Conquest of Africa. The earlier mentioned 10 percent of Africa under European control had increased to almost 90 percent of the continent by 1914, with only Ethiopia (Abyssinia), the Dervish state (present-day Somalia) and Liberia still being independent.
The Berlin Conference of 1884, which regulated European colonization and trade in Africa, is usually referred to as the starting point of the Scramble for Africa. Consequent to the political and economic rivalries among the European empires in the last quarter of the 19th century, the partitioning, or splitting up of Africa was how the Europeans avoided warring amongst themselves over Africa. The latter years of the 19th century saw the transition from “informal imperialism” (hegemony), by military influence and economic dominance, to direct rule, bringing about colonial imperialism.
African Countries, their Independence Days and their colonial rulers
Algeria – July 5th, 1962 – France
Angola – November 11th, 1975 – Portugal
Benin – August 1st, 1960 – French
Botswana – September 30th, 1966 – Britain
Burkina Faso – August 5, 1960 – France
Burundi – July 1st, 1962 – Belgium
Cameroon – January 1st, 1960 – French-administered UN trusteeship
Cape Verde – July 5th, 1975 – Portugal
C.A.R – August 13th, 1960 – France
Chad – August 11th, 1960 – France
Comoros – July 6th, 1975 – France
Congo – August 15th, 1960 – France
Congo DR – June 30th, 1960 – Belgium
Cote d’Ivoire – August 7th, 1960 – France
Djibouti – June 27th, 1977 – France
Egypt – February 28th, 1922 – Britain
Eq. Guinea – October 12, 1968 – Spain
Eritrea May 24th, 1993 – Ethiopia
Ethiopia – over 2000 years, Never colonized (formerly) Kingdom of Aksum
Gabon – August 17th, 1960 – France
Gambia – February 18th, 1965 – Britain
Ghana – 6 March 1957 – Gold Coast – Britain
Guinea – October 2nd, 1958 – France
Guinea Bissau – 10 September 1974
24 September 1973 – Portugal
Kenya – December 12th, 1963 – Britain
Lesotho – October 4th, 1966 – Britain
Liberia – July 26th, 1847 – American colonization Society
Libya – December 24, 1951 – Italy
Madagascar – June 26th, 1960 – France
Malawi – July 6th, 1964 – Britain
Mali – September 22nd, 1960 – France
Mauritania – November 28th, 1960 – France
Mauritius – March 12th, 1968 – Britain
Morocco – March 2nd, 1956 – France
Mozambique – June 25th, 1975 – Portugal
Namibia – March 21st, 1990 – South African mandate
Niger – August 3rd, 1960 – France
Nigeria – October 1st, 1960 – Britain
Rwanda – July 1st, 1962 – Belgium administered UN trusteeship
Sao Tome Principe – July 12th, 1975 – Portugal
Senegal – April 4th, 1960 – France
Seychelles – June 29th, 1976 – Britain
Sierra Leone – April 27th, 1961 – Britain
Somalia – July 1st, 1960 – British Somaliland
– Italian Somaliland – Britain – Italy
South Africa – 11 December 1931,
– April 1994 (end of apartheid) – Union of South Africa – Britain
Sudan – January 1st, 1956 – Egypt, Britain
South Sudan – July 7, 2011 – Sudan
Swaziland – September 6th, 1968 – Britain
Tanzania – April 26th, 1964 – Britain
Togo – April 27th. 1960 – French administered UN trusteeship
Tunisia – March 20th, 1956 – France
Struggle for independence
Although it looks like independence was granted almost ‘wholesale’ to 16 countries in 1960 and nine more in the following ten years, it was often after a political and even violent struggle. The colonial ‘owners’ felt it hard to let go of their power, regretting loss of economic benefit, but also often having paternalistic feeling even convictions.
In this column I can only mention some pertinent examples of the struggle for independence of Africans to become a nation instead of a mere colony under a European power.
To start with, the Algerian War almost forgotten, except in Algeria and France, erupted in 1945 and ended in 1962, pitting the French against the Algerian National Liberation Front (FLN). It was a particular bloody war with massacres and retributions on both sides even after independence targeting those who had been auxiliaries with the French army. More than 900,000 European-Algerians fled to France, which was ill prepared for this influx.
Portugal’s decision to preserve its old African possessions by rebranding them as “Overseas Provinces” proved to be a temporary measure. Given the times it brought on a Cold War conflict in Mozambique with Marxist-Leninist and Maoist ideologies, backed by countries like the Soviet Union and People’s Republic of China propping up the liberation movement FRELIMO.
In Angola it was the MPLA with its charismatic leader Agostino Neto being recognized in 1967 by the then OAU, which had taken upon itself to the decolonisation of Africa.
Eritrea which came under British Military Administration when the Italians were defeated as Asmara was captured in 1941. In 1952 the UN General Assembly federated Eritrea to Ethiopia, which however annexed it in 1962, giving rise to a 30-year war for independence.
Kenya finally gained its independence in 1963 after a period of political nationalism and guerrilla war by the infamous Mau Mau. Jomo Kenyatta who led the Kenya national Union (KANU) became its first president.
Ghana was the first country in Sub-Saharan Africa to gain dependence with the strongly Pan- Africanist Kwame Nkrumah as its first president. Ghana is now considered as the most stable democratic country in West Africa with its chequered past of military coups all but forgotten.
Due to the limited space I can’t mention that some countries or peoples struggle for independence like the Western Sahara and recently the Southern Cameroons are still ongoing.
The famous quote: “The wind of change is blowing through this continent. Whether we like it or not, this growth of national consciousness is a political fact.” was part of the speech by British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan to the Parliament of South Africa, on 3 February 1960 in Cape Town. It proved to be prophetic as in the next decades most African countries gained their independence. Many are now already of soon celebrating their Golden Jubilee and looking back over their political but even more important economic and social development.
*Ato Bob is a former Dutch Diplomat who now consults with various NGO’s on African issues. He lives in Rotterdam and may be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org