The subject of decolonisation is one of ‘intense scholarly interest’. 1 There is a vast amount of literature written on the subject. However, what is possibly more interesting, and the topic of this essay, is the postcolonial era, where an investigation of how the former colonies handled their new independence can be undertaken. Throughout the 1940’s, 1950’s, 1960’s and 1970’s all of the former imperial powers carried out the process of decolonisation. Indeed, Holland generalises that by 1964 ‘the great age of European decolonisation had already passed its peak’2.
However decolonisation was a process that pleased no one, ‘it was too hastily done for some, too slowly carried out for others, and too incomplete in effect for most. ‘3 This is where the origins of the post-colonial problems lie, as different expectations, hopes and beliefs were apparent amongst all of the parties concerned. Formal independence was granted, however it is widely accepted that this did not lead to a decline of Western influence. Neo-colonialism is the term that has been coined to describe the ‘continuation of practices of domination after independence by the old colonial powers.
This neo-colonialism aimed to achieve similar levels of control that had been apparent during colonial rule. Direct military and political control was abandoned in favour of indirect methods of control, such as through economic and cultural influences. Economic dominance became evident in one of two ways; initially through the ‘aid’ which was given to the former colonies with the expectation of repayment at a high rate of interest, and secondly through the involvement of large corporations who exploit and monopolise the economy for their own gains with no profits being reintroduced to the local area.
Former ruling nations continue to dominate their ex-colonies culturally, through the favourable use of the media, education and language. The media is dominated due to the importation of films, television programmes and books from wealthier nations due to the newly independent states lack of finances and skills to create media of their own. Linguistic control continues due to the fact that the official language is often English of French and not the spoken language. This also implements on education.
Former colonies are seen as the victims of domination, serving international capitalism, forced to do so by their former rulers and other world superpowers. For Great Britain the post colonial world they envisaged was one of a ‘Commonwealth’ whereby colonies would still be linked and loyal to the crown, particularly in terms of military support. 5 This is exemplified in the views of traditionalists such as Winston Churchill wanted to hold onto the empire for both calculated and sentimentalist reasons. However Britain could not hold onto her colonies forever nor impose polices which did not please the local inhabitants. Protests were endemic and in the post World War Two climate Britain, no longer a superpower with the finances or prestige to impose her wishes, formally at least, gave up her colonial assets.
France was one of the countries that was most reluctant to let go of her empire and tactically attempted to prevent colonies from demanding independence with threats such as the fact that independence would mean the withdrawal of all economic aid. However France, like Britain, had emerged from world war two in debt, and thus dependant on American support. And reluctantly was left with no other option than to give autonomy to the colonies. Although France did maintain a close hold on its former colonies through ‘military agreements and financial controls’. 8 Also many of France’s former colonies continued to look culturally to France, and many shared a common currency.
The Cold War between the United States intensified the concept of neo-colonialism even further, due to the fact that colonies, when granted independence were expected to forge an allegiance with either the Communists or the Capitalists. 9 The Americans saw themselves as the ‘patrons of decolonisation’, however they to exploited the former colonies economically, through deals that gave them cheap access to raw materials and through the increasing infiltration and dominance of American ‘big businesses’.
One of the principal causal factors in the Americans demands for the European nations to decolonise was the fact that they realised this would undermine European power even further. Betts regards the United States as ‘the very citadel of neo-colonialism’. 11 In India formal independence came on the fifteenth of August 1947, and this after a lengthy series of discussions, marked the beginning of the end of European Empires. 12 This was the first of the major retreats and thus the imperial powers had little experience of how to handle the situation.
Although neo-colonialism was to a certain degree evident in India I have chosen it as an example to discuss, due to the fact that fundamentally India has developed into a truly independent nation, with its ‘growth and consolidation making it a stable entity after 1947’ especially when compared to the other example I shall discuss, Africa. 13 This is due to many factors, one of the most obvious reasons being the fact that during the time of colonial rule ‘the British ruled with the help of local notables’. 4 This meant that when negotiations took place for the partition Indian leaders were in a position to negotiate on their terms. This trend was further accelerated by the generous role that the Indians had had in the allied war effort against the Nazis.
The discussions that took place had excellent representatives on both sides, however errors can be seen in Mountbatten’s instruction that a ‘quick decision’ was necessary and also in the British representatives nai?? ve assumption that the new Indian state would be reliant on British assistance. 5 India’s success in achieving a split that was favourable to their terms undoubtedly has to be attributed to the successful negotiation by Gandhi. After his assassination the first Prime Minister of India was Nehru, who paved the way forward for the new state, with his belief that ‘authority rested not solely on domestic procedures of constitutional democracy but also on establishing its sovereignty in the international arena’.
Furthermore Nehru experienced much success in bringing about a social and economic revolution that was not based on assistance from abroad. 7 India’s founding fathers were ‘ visionaries with a competitive streak’. 18 Despite few incidences when there were disputes and interferences, largely ‘India’s foreign, security and economic policies followed a consistent pattern’ throughout the twentieth century. 19 The legacy left by Nehru and Gandhi ensured India was able to develop as an independent and successful economy free from the constraints of neo-colonialism. Hobsbawm even goes as far as to suggest the possibility that India may justify the label of ‘the world’s greatest democracy’. 20 The other example I have chosen to discuss in detail is the decolonisation of Africa.
This is a much more complex process with what are now fifty-six different countries to be considered, each having a different postcolonial experience. 21 For example the Portuguese colonisers were forced out by armed force, in South Africa the culturally diverse population caused problems that are still evident today, and the strength of nationalism in other areas caused the decolonisation process to be speeded up. Whereas India was relatively successful and prospered through its new independence, generally in Africa ‘ the regimes installed at independence became rapidly subject to upsets and uproars’. 2
This was partly due to the fact that decolonisation was rushed due to international demands and internal disturbances. The imperial powers had more experience of decolonisation than they did in 1947 and hence were able to arrange power transfers much more on their own self-centred terms. In Africa colonial rule had been by imperial governors over the ‘inferior’ peoples. The colonies had an extreme lack of education and leaders and negotiators were inexperienced and easily manipulated.
Furthermore Africa was not united in it policies and despite attempts to unite regions through initiatives such as the United Gold Coast Convention, the United National Independence Party and the United Democratic Front, these ultimately failed and the situation in Africa was solved on individual countries basis.
The poorly educated and self-seeking African leaders encouraged the persistence of neo-colonialism by accepting bribes from capitalist leaders, which furthered their personal ambitions, in return for raw materials or greater ability to increase influence. 4 Things do not look good for the development of Africa as a whole, with facts and figures showing a lack of improvement. For example, Africa today owes $227 billion to Western creditors and this crushing debt burden is keeping the continent indigent, also gross national products and amounts of food consumed per person are in fact falling and changes are needed to help Africa out of the economic system it has become locked in. 25 However there is hope, as if Africa outlaws its traditional views and modernises it can break its links with international capitalism.
Despite the lack of economic and political gains that resulted from the granting of independence to African nations, the cultural gains had a wider impact due to a decline of myths of ‘natural white superiority’. 26 However even these were limited due to cultural domination through language and the media. The situation in Africa remains a complicated one, and some aspects of neo-colonialism still existing. Throughout the twentieth century crises have been prevalent, although whether this can solely be blamed on neo-colonial politics is highly debatable.
As famines, poor leadership and African stubbornness can also be seen as causal factors. And although Africa inherited many problems from the colonial era, it also received many gifts. Decolonisation did not represent a decline of western power; the sphere of influence still exists, ‘aid’ is still given with extortionate repayments expected, furthermore the capitalist West’s monopoly of over trade is still prevalent. The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank did little to help, indeed for some countries ‘neo-colonialism has proved worse than colonialism’. 7 Imperial exploitation still existed, just under a ‘new guise’. The key leaders had probably calculated that by hiding behind the benevolent fai?? ade of granters of independence the possibilities for other forms mistreatment were immense.
Furthermore the door was opened for the United States and the Soviet Union to utilize the former colonies to their own ends. However a positive fact is that the current situation is one where the world is moving into an era of “post neo-colonialism”, with former colonies becoming successful global markets with high incomes and improving living standards. 8 With India being an exception to this generalisation, as by and large it avoided the ‘neo-colonial’ phase. Most forms imperialism and colonialism are now ‘historical phenomena’. 29 Although it is impossible to argue that the concept of Western supremacy is not evident, as, for example, the ‘Coca-Cola-ization’ of the world has been assured. 30 Additionally many ‘developing’ countries still feel the burden of the debt repayments and the lack of state owned prospering trades.