African and Indian Independenceby Rit Nosotro
Describe patterns and results of decolonization in Africa and India.
Ed. Note: The following essay contains an unsupported thesis and makes generalized statements which lacks citation. Reader comments are solicited. (For a related essay that meets course standards see: Europe's Colonization of Africa.)
In 1947, Indians who wished to cut all ties beyond, perhaps, alliance with Britain officially succeeded. Britain handed over India completely to its native people, freeing India from years of British rule. Just three years later, Benin, the first of a huge wave of African nations to shake off European rule and become free nations, earned its independence. By 1990, the whole of the African continent was free of European rule. While each independence movement in Africa certainly had its own twists and each was somewhat unique, it was a rather general movement, so it can be discussed as a relative whole. The purpose of this essay is to compare the path to independence of India to that of Africa, noting similarities and differences in how each case occurred.
It is important to note the differences in how each location came under colonial rule, however. Britain had ruled India for many years before a definite independence movement began. Britain's rule of India was a very calculated, comparatively well-planned endeavor. The discontent with British rule came not as much out of maltreatment by British soldiers or unfair laws as one might think. The main reason for India's press for independence was its lack of Indian officials in powerful government positions. For the most part, Indians did not hate Britain for its rule; they were discontent that they had none of their own countrymen in the government. This is not to say unfair laws did not exist. For example, Gandhi's peaceful protests by refusal to pay taxes resisted unfair tax laws, however, this was not the primary reason India pressed for independence.
Britain attempted, to an extent at least, to listen and satisfy the Indians' requests. With the Government of India Act, passed in 1919, Britain gave opened up governmental positions to Indian officials that had not previously been available. Unfortunately for Britain, this did not do enough, and the Indians realized it. It left power directly in the hands of the British governors, and did little to change the desire for Indians to be governed at least primarily by their own people. As the 20th century wore on, the desire for complete separation from Britain only grew stronger.1
In Africa, however, there was no such calculation and well-planned execution. Quite simply, the colonization of Africa was an ill-planned power rush that left Europe in high tension and Africa in shambles. During the 1880s, European powers ceased to squabble with each other over territory and trade in Europe itself and look abroad. The so-called 'wild' lands of Africa seemed to be a good place to develop colonies. Every European power realized this, and all of a sudden in the 1880s the storm broke loose, and European nations rushed to gobble up as much territory in Africa as they could. Their lack of regard to the customs and traditions of the African nations led to the division of old African tribes and left the African people angry. This division of tribes would lead to serious problems when Africa did regain its independence, as rival tribes fought and still fight for the right to rule the relatively new nations.
Essentially, India was a calculated, well-planned endeavor by the British Empire to extend its wealth and power. Britain, while not treating the Indians as complete equals, did at least respect and consider the requests of the Indians. However, the European nations, which included Germany, France, and Britain, among others, had no respect for Africans. They ruthlessly disrupted hundreds of years of tribal traditions, carved up the African continent with no respect for its former inhabitants, and essentially made themselves vastly superior to the African natives.
This comparison became obvious as the 1900s rolled forward. World War I severely shook Europe, and weakened its ability to maintain colonies and territories thousands of miles from the motherland. During this time, Mahatma Gandhi began his movement for a peaceful resistance to Britain. After World War II crippled Europe entirely and left Germany, France, and Britain in no position to hold on to anything, India's independence path neared its end. In 1945, Britain relinquished a large part of its hold on India to the country's native people. In 1947, Britain officially granted full independence to India.2 Outside of a few events in which British soldiers fired on Gandhi's peaceful protestors and several riots, India achieved independence rather peacefully.
Unfortunately, the picture was not so pretty with Africa. Partially inspired by India's independence just a few years before, African nations began a series of more or less bloody uprisings that led, one by one, to their independence. Benin was the first of the era, joining already free nations Liberia, Egypt, and South Africa. Libya followed a year later, and five years later Morocco and Sudan were free. In 1960, the floodgates opened, and thirteen countries achieved independence in that year.3 None were as peaceful as India's.
This difference between India and Africa stems directly from the way each was colonized in the first place. Britain's relative respect to Indians allowed it to let India go in comparative peace. The lack of European respect for Africa caused bloody uprisings of Africans against the weakened European countries. Unable to reinforce beleaguered garrisons, the European nations had no choice but to withdraw and give Africa their independence. Unfortunately the ill-planned carving of Africa, with no regard to previous tribal boundaries, left Africa ignorant as to how to govern itself and with much rivalry among tribes.
Despite the fact that Africans were certainly treated far worse than Indians, perhaps the biggest similarity between the independence of both locations is that the desire for independence stemmed from discontent over maltreatment. This is the case with every drive for independence in history. Cruelty and oppression by the ruler leads to discontentment among the ruled. If this discontent reaches a high enough level, the ruled rebel and strive to rule themselves. While their methods for doing this were different, there is no exception to the above pattern with India and Africa. In both cases, discontent over laws or cruelty or disrespect or oppression led to rebellion, both peacefully and violently, and eventually freedom.
From the above comparisons, it can be seen that while India and Africa both achieved, or began to achieve, independence around the same time, many differences separated the two locations. In Africa, the lack of respect by their European rulers and the disruption of tribal boundaries and traditions was a main factor for their discontent. This, added to how Africans had been treated all throughout history; the slave trade, for example, and Africa was certainly ready to form its own nations, recognized by not only Africans but by Europeans and Americans, and the rest of the world. In India, it was discontent over laws that put only British in the power positions of government that ultimately led to independence. However diverse their differences, however, Africa and India's paths to independence followed the general outline of all movements for independence in history; discontent will ultimately lead to rebellion, which, if carried on long enough, will lead to independence. It has been like this in all of history, and will continue to be, regardless of how many differences separate one independence movement from another.
1. When was the Government of India Act passed?
2. In what decade did the European powers make a colonization blitz into Africa?
3. All of the following nations gained their independence in Africa in BEFORE
d) South Africa
4. In the pattern toward independence described, discontent over four things
can lead to rebellion. Which is NOT one of those four?
a) unjust laws
b) disrespect toward native people
c) low wages and long work hours
d) oppression by the conqueror
1. Kingfisher History Encyclopedia
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