Our October speaker made clear how changing attitudes in Africa and at home led to Britain’s rapid disengagement from colonialism after the Second World War, writes Lionel Cartlidge
Peter Docking gave us a fluent and fascinating explanation of the reasons why in a few short years in the 1960s virtually all of Britain’s colonies in Africa gained their independence. The speed of the change was remarkable and much of the impetus arose from the impact of the Second World War, to which Africa had made a significant contribution. The war encouraged the development of several confident and powerful African leaders, sometimes educated in and cultivated by Britain. Men like Jomo Kenyatta (Kenya), Julius Nyerere (Tanzania) and Kwame Nkrumah (Ghana) were able to press the case for independence.
In a few cases Britain had been dragged into debilitating and costly conflicts, such as the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya. The war had changed attitudes towards colonialism and there was little enthusiasm in Britain for retaining formal control over costly colonies where resentment was growing at their treatment, especially over the taxation levied after the war. African leaders also were encouraged by the examples of the independence of India and especially that of the Gold Coast (Ghana) in 1957.
At the same time that domestic attitudes were changing similar post-war views became prevalent internationally. The founding of the United Nations in 1945 led to a reassessment of colonialism and the growth of opposition on the world stage.
The philosophy of authoritarianism and dominance was in retreat. By 1970 the Empire was effectively gone and red had been washed from the world map.
Pragmatic imperialism had won the day, with the substitution of economic and political influence aided by the creation of the British Commonwealth of Nations.
Although most of us had lived through the period of change, I think that few will have a clear and comprehensive recall of such important events, and we are grateful for the clear explanation of our recent history that Peter provided.