A History of World Societies,
Asia and Africa in the Contemporary World
Among the most significant series of events in the post-World War II world
have been the vast political changes created by independence movements throughout
the globe, particularly in Africa and Asia. This process can be broken down
into three stages. Stage one, from the late 1940s through the late 1950s,
saw the independence of South Asia, Southeast Asia, the League of Nation mandate
territories in Southwest Asia, and a few countries of Africa. Stage two involved
the independence of most of Africa, portions of Oceania, and the Caribbean
during the 1960s. The struggle for power between Africans and the descendants
of European settlers in the white settler colonies of South Africa, Zimbabwe,
and Namibia between 1980 and 1994 constitutes the most recent stage. The following
Internet activities will analyze each stage and explore the promises and problems
associated with the recent independence of most states in Africa and Asia.
- You may want to begin by printing this page. As you explore different
sites, use the printout to refer back to the instructions and questions
detailed in each activity.
- On many web sites you can increase the size of the images by clicking
on them. Whenever possible, use the larger images to examine fine details
- The most well-known instance, to Westerners, of national liberation during
the twentieth century is the case of India and its independence leader,
Mahatma Gandhi. For further insight, see India
Timeline. According to this timeline, what were some of the problems
associated with independence in India? For example, did religious diversity
create tensions? Did any regional rivalries emerge?
- Despite these problems, the independence of India was a catalyst for liberation
movements everywhere. By the time of Indian independence, there were already
many nascent nationalist movements in other regions of the world that were
dominated by Western powers. Ghana was the first nation of Sub-Saharan Africa
to gain independence in 1957. Many nations of Southwest Asia also gained
independence in this period, such as Syria. Southeast Asia nations such
as Vietnam also gained independence. By and large, this period was characterized
by peaceful transitions from colonial governance to indigenous administration.
Yet there were significant exceptions, like Vietnam, as Cold War tensions
came to tear some regions apart. For further information on this process,
While examining these sources, consider the following questions. How did
India's independence act as a catalyst for other independence movements?
What was the relationship between World War II and independence in Africa
and Asia? Why was Ghana the first independent nation of black Africa?
- The second stage of independence involved most of Africa and portions
of Oceania and the Caribbean. This stage was from roughly 1960 until the
late 1970s. Most of French- and British-speaking Africa became independent
at this time. A few British Caribbean territories, such as Jamaica, Trinidad,
Tobago, and Barbados, also gained independence. Many Oceanic colonies, often
forgotten in world history, also became independent during this time such
as in the case of Fiji. Among the bloodiest of independence wars were those
that took place in the Portuguese colonies of Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique,
and Angola. To analyze this second stage, go to Cote
and answer the following questions. Why were some transfers of power in
Africa peaceful whereas others were prolonged violent conflicts? What were
the various paths of independence? For example, which ones were violent
and which were peaceful?
- Stage three, from 1980 to 1994, involved the white settler colonies of
Africa, namely, Zimbabwe, Namibia, and South Africa. The story of South
Africa is well-known, but the battle for equality, enfranchisement, and
self-determination was a hard-fought and bloody affair in all three nations.
Go to Zimbabwe
Contradictions of Apartheid, Limited
Reforms, and Dismantling
Apartheid. Why did it take Africans so long to gain majority rule in
South Africa and Zimbabwe? What role did the international community play
in this development? What role did Africans themselves play?
- Nationalist movements were not without their problems. The ethnic and
religious differences of many new nations tore them apart. The common enemy
of colonialism had provided these new nations with unification for the sake
of expediency, but after independence the people of these nations often
turned against each other. Well covered in McKay, A History of World
Societies (Sixth Edition), are the cases of Palestinian-Israeli conflict
in Palestine/Israel and Muslim-Hindu conflict in South Asia.
- There were certainly many other cases as well. The series of civil wars
between the Muslim north and Christian south in the Sudan have left the
nation, and region, destabilized since the country's independence. Violence
between Muslims and Christians has also grown in the last decade in many
West African states, notably Nigeria. Fiji has had to contend with tensions
between the native Fijian population and that of its South Asian population.
Because of the poor economic condition of these states, resources remain
scarce and competition will likely remain fierce until poverty and resource
allocation are competently addressed. For one example, go to Sudan: a political
and military history. In what ways have religious difference and conflict
interfered with nation-building in Sudan? What has been the relationship
of the military and politics there?
- After completing Activities One through
Four, analyze the legacy of independence in Africa and Asia. What were the
goals of the independence movements? To what extent have they been achieved?
What problems have plagued the governments in these new nations as they
have attempted to create strong and viable nations in the postcolonial world?
Summarize your answers in a three- to four-page essay. Use specific references.