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The 20th century: a century too short for too rapid decolonization?


For many historians and chroniclers, this century would have lasted only the time of human life: 75 years, from the start of the First World War, in 1914, to the fall of the Berlin Wall, in 1989. Previously, the Belle Period at the beginning of the century would only have extended a long nineteenth century, marked by the rise of the bourgeoisie, winning out of social and economic revolutions until the end of the First World War. After 1989, we entered the century of globalization under the hegemony of a single superpower.




The history and the future of decolonization lie in the evolution which has just been described. It begins at the end of the short 18th century (from the death of Louis XIV and the end of absolutisms of divine right to the French Revolution) with the independence of the United States of America, followed quickly by that of the Latin American countries. The result, not resentment of grudges against the former rulers, but the three solidarities from the language community: Anglo-Saxon, Hispanic and Portuguese, which overlap with the Francophonie and Zionism the "civilizational" categories from Huttington. These first decolonizations contradictorily consolidate colonizations carried out at the cost of eliminating indigenous cultures


President Wilson, Consular Independence, and Mandates


Thus the first message of President Wilson (1913) and his Fourteen Points (1918), the fifth of which provided for the consensual settlement between administrators and administered of colonial problems, closely followed the relegation to Reserves of the last surviving Indians of the conquest of the 'West (1890). The contradiction escaped the President. For him, the ideas of the Philanthropists and Humanitarianism of the end of the 18th century, who had inspired the Declaration of Independence of the United States, were inherent in American culture, which could assert itself as exclusive in its New World since the Indian problem was settled.


In the meantime, moreover, hadn't the British forced the Boers of South Africa into the Grand Trek by forcing them to shut themselves up in these sorts of white ethnic reserves that were the States of Orange and Transvaal?


The creation of the Mandates by the League of Nations (1919) was, therefore, part of the consensual decolonization recommended by President Wilson. In the butchering of the Ottoman Empire, Egypt, Iraq, and Syria quickly become independent by mutual agreement with the mandatory power, Great Britain, followed rather unwillingly in France by Lebanon, who anticipate the decline of his influence in the Arab countries.


But in Palestine, self-determination is not left to the Palestinians: they will have to accept the establishment of large Jewish settlements and, ultimately, the creation of a State of Israel, and thus bear the consequences of the Shoah and all the anti-Semitisms of East and West.

In the debris of the German Empire in Black Africa, Togoland, Cameroon, Ruanda-Urundi, East Africa, Namibia, whose political maturity seemed less advanced, the agents will have the task of making them evolve towards self-determination.


The absurdity already apparent in the Middle East is confirmed in Africa when the mandated territories can be governed in fact according to the same rules and by the same administrations as the neighboring colonies, while their legal status and their destinies were in principle different.


From the Atlantic Charter to Bandoeng


The movement continues with the Anglo-American Atlantic Charter (1941), the independence of India, Ceylon and Burma negotiated between Great Britain and its Asian colonies, without any international settlement on the status of dependent territories. The obligations and control of agents are simply strengthened. In Africa, the mandate is transformed into trusteeship, which underlines its temporary nature, and the obligation to quickly lead the governed to adulthood, while nothing similar is planned for the colonies to which these territories are attached. From there will be born later the problem of Namibia which South Africa will consider as coming under its sovereignty.


As we have seen, only the contradictory interpretations of the San Francisco Charter on Human Rights will emerge: for Western countries, this resulted in the obligation to pursue policies of self-determination, which became independent after the Bandoeng non-aligned conference (1955), and on the Soviet side the maintenance and strengthening of the Stalinist empire.


France will prefer to consensual independence "association" agreements with Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia and, concerning Black Africa, the Brazzaville Conference heralding a Franco-African community: it thus maintains hegemony in its former colonial empire at what it imagines to be the lowest price. But the Independences negotiated according to the Anglo-Saxon pattern continue in Sudan, Jordan, Libya and the Horn of Africa.


The wars of independence, 1960 and the anti-colonialist complex


The reluctant attitudes of the Netherlands and France provoke the wars of independence of Indonesia, Vietnam, and Algeria. Willingly, unwillingly, and under pressure from more or less violent protests, France is negotiating with Morocco and Tunisia, while peaceful processes are continuing in the British colonies.


Belgium wants to stay away until 1955, does not wake up to the colonial problem until after Bandoeng, and engages until the riots of 1959 in a hesitant policy: on both sides, between Congolese and Belgians, we speak of self-determination, of Belgian-Congolese community around the person of King Baudouin, before the word "independence" is pronounced by the Belgian Sovereign. Independence 'negotiated' at the Round Tables, according to the Belgian thesis, 'conquered' according to the Congolese nationalists.

1960 will be the year of chain independence, generally negotiated on the British side, more or less willingly granted by France and Belgium.

Consequence: the anti-colonialist complex will develop especially in these two countries, which had however worked the most for the benefit of the indigenous populations, while this trauma will be avoided with the English and the Anglo-Saxon community which had eliminated them in America and Australia: good conscience on their side, self-guilt on the other.

The ensuing chaos in the Third World and its impoverishment were the counterparts of the disorder of ideas and the anarchic enrichment of developed countries at the end of the short twentieth century.


To read on the subject:

Eric F. Hobsbawn, The Age of Extremes - History of the Short 20th Century
Samuel Huttington, The Clash of Civilizations
Francis Fukuyama, The End of History
Henri Grimal, Decolonization

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