The Political Importance of the Decolonization Process

948 words | 4 page(s)

During the Age of Discovery, in the fifteenth century, European powers set sails for America, Africa, and Asia pursuing economic interests. As a form of protecting said businesses and their trade routes, European countries established their domination over the native population, removing their autonomy and self-rule, turning them into subjects of the European kingdoms. These colonies, unable to self-determine, were unhappy subjects of the colonists who subjugated and relegated them to a second-class citizen state in their own land. Discrimination was paramount in the colonies, and the native population were banned from ruling positions. This called for a movement of independence that changed the paradigm and granted independence to these nations who were still oppressed. Thus, the importance of the decolonization movements comes from the fact it helped countries self-determine and achieved their independence.

After World War I, the need to provide a greater degree of autonomy to these territories, along with the development of separatist movements, called for the independence of most of these colonies. Nevertheless, it was not until the end of World War II, twenty years later, that the process truly began. Simply put, Decolonization refers to the abolition of colonialism, a ruling system when a foreign nation maintains its domination over territories, preventing the original inhabitants from exerting their sovereignty over a specific area.

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Decolonization galvanized the anti-colonial sentiment in the world, helping populations in their self-determination processes. The end of the World War II called for a process of restructuration in Europe. All the countries, some more than others, faced the horrors of the war and were shaken down by its aftermath, particularly due to the influence of Russia, who took Eastern Europe under its wing and closed the so-called ‘Iron Curtain’ around it. At the end of the World War II, however, the rest of the European powers tried to retake control of their colonies and outposts, finding armed resistance and pro-independence movements (Decolonization in a Cold War Climate). For instance, in the Middle East, Arabs shared a Pan-Arab sentiment that allowed them to band and self-determine together in a shared identity.

Similarly, France lost Indochina to separatists who found in their shared identities and the lack of civil rights a flag they used to rally and manifest their sentiments of self-reliance. Indochina was not a peaceful colony; on the contrary, French troops had problems containing the natives, and rebellion, what was only a possibility, became a reality in 1954, when Ho Chi Minh’s militias defeated the French colonial rulers (Indochina, 1954). A few years after the independence of Indochina, a split that resulted in the creation of several small countries such as Laos and Cambodia also gave birth to modern Vietnam, a country that was extensively courted by communist China even before its official formation. Consequently, the Geneva Conference divided Vietnam into two States: one communist in the North and a democratic in the South. After WWII, the tensions between Russia and the United States became almost unbearable, which resulted in many proxy conflicts where warring superpowers often financed or backed up conflicts where they were not directly involved, often pitting communist against democratic nations.

Despite granting independence to many countries, the decolonization process did not ease ethnic and religious disputes, which became a common occurrence. At the end of the World War II, most colonies were disillusioned with the way their rulers treated them and denied them full citizen rights. The end of World War II and the general weakening of the world’s military powers opened a window that allowed Asian and African countries to seek their independence. For instance, India was one of those countries who took the freedom England, now debilitated by the conflict, refused to grant it. Finally, the British caved in and parted ways with India in 1947, splitting it into two countries: India for the Hindus, and Pakistan for the Muslims (The End of Empire in Asia). Despite the apparently good-natured solution, tensions continued escalating to full-blown conflicts where hundreds of thousands of individuals died during the population shifts the proclamation ensued.

Consequently, what these conflicts demonstrated was that these newfangled, recently born nations had to find a way to coexist with the superpowers without being engulfed by them, becoming neo-colonial nations tied not by military force but by commercial ties that were, apparently, beneficial to the small nations. Nevertheless, Middle Eastern nations resisted the impositions of the West, employing their natural resources as lures to the Western powers, negotiating conditions that were beneficial to them, as they were the ones holding the resources (The Struggle for Identity in the Middle East). Likewise, the Jewish citizens, displaced after the Holocaust found themselves in their ancestral lands again, and were determined to hold it against other powers who attempted to subjugate them again. In Palestine, Arabs and Jewish lived tensely, which called for yet another intervention that carved the country into, again, two countries: one Jewish and another Arab. Sadly, much like the conflict between Pakistan and India, hostilities escalated into war; a war that lasted for many years on which Arab countries attacked Israel and the country, backed by the Western powers, defended itself against the invasions.

Ultimately, while the decolonization process brought independence and helped countries self-determining, it also contributed to the destabilization of a world that was already crippled by the conflicts in the past decades. Also, it demonstrated that even if formal colonialism ended, countries still wanted to exert pressure and influence the decisions of the small countries who were struggling to face their internal unrest. On the other hand, most of these nations found the way to weave their destiny without the influence of the European powers, constituting into sovereign states capable of self-rule.

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