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Decolonization of the United Kingdom’s territories in Africa

This map is part of a series of 14 animated maps showing the history of Decolonization after 1945.

In Africa, decolonization of the British Empire’s territories began in the early 1950s.

In West Africa, the Gold Coast was the first colony to become independent, thanks to an organized and united nationalist movement, which forced the British to grant greater autonomy in 1951. Six years later, the Gold Coast was renamed Ghana on Independence Day, 6 March 1957.

In other British territories in West Africa, independence was also the result of a gradual process of emancipation: Nigeria in 1960, Sierra Leone in 1961 and Gambia in 1965.

However, in the years following independence, several ethnic conflicts broke out in the Republic of Nigeria, including a major civil war in Biafra, a region that the Ibo minority wanted to transform into an independent state.

In East Africa, the process towards independence was relatively straightforward in three countries: Sudan, British Somalia and Tanganyika.

The two countries responsible for administering Sudan, the United Kingdom and Egypt, proclaimed its independence on 1 January 1956. This was followed by a long civil war between the mainly Muslim Northern region and the Christian and Animist Southern areas. It was not until 2011, that the Southern areas obtained independence as the Republic of South Sudan.

British Somalia obtained independence in 1960.  It was then merged with the former Italian Somalia in order to create the Somalia Republic.

The independence of Tanganyika was also obtained peacefully in 1961. Three years later, it joined the Island of Zanzibar to establish the United Republic of Tanzania.

In other territories, conflicts erupted due to internal rivalries between ethnic communities or opposition from the British colonials.

For Uganda, negotiations over the future political structures were long and difficult before independence in 1962. The first constitution created a federal state, but could not ensure stability during the years following independence.

Because of Kenya’s agricultural wealth and the presence of a large number of British colonial settlers, the United Kingdom resisted demands for independence for a long time. During the 1950s, this refusal led to the Mau Mau uprising by native Kenyans, which was crushed with bloody reprisals.

Negotiations on Kenya’s future did not begin until 1960 and ended with the proclamation of independence on 12 December 1963.

In Central Africa, European colonials sought to maintain control over Northern and Southern Rhodesia and Nyasaland by merging them into a tripartite federation in 1953 run by white colonists. However, the African tribes were strongly opposed to this move. Trouble broke out in 1959, first in Nyasaland and later in Northern Rhodesia. As the Europeans were in a minority, they were unable to prevent the Africans from taking power. These two countries became independent in 1964 as Malawi and Zambia, respectively.

In Southern Rhodesia, however, the white farmers, more populous than in the other countries, successfully crushed the African revolts and, on 11 November 1965, unilaterally proclaimed their independence, despite opposition from London. They then set up an apartheid regime similar to the system in neighbouring South Africa.

Facing international pressure and embroiled in endless guerrilla warfare with African rebels, the white government was forced to resign in April 1980. Southern Rhodesia was then renamed Zimbabwe.

In Southern Africa, Bechuanaland easily obtained the lifting of the UK protectorate and was granted autonomy in 1965, followed by independence in 1966. The new country was named Botswana.