Independence & Nation-Building


A wide variety of circumstances related to the second World War helped contribute to the end of European colonial power: 1.) The financial cost of war made it difficult for many colonial powers to meet the costly budget of maintaining infrastructure in colonial territories as they needed to invest in rebuilding and reconstruction of war-devasted areas, 2.) The atrocities committed by the Nazi regime seriously called to question colonial policies and practices in light of racial pseudo- science and new ideas about universal rights, and 3.) Many colonized people were recruited or forced to participate as soldiers on behalf of the colonial power, and the war experience exposed the weaknesses and shortcomings of their imperial oppressor.

Post-colonial Nation-building

During the second half of the 20th century, most European colonies achieved independence and were faced with the daunting task of building a nation while recoperating from the consequences of long-term social, political, economic and cultural occupation. Although each post-colony is characterized by its own unique social and historical circumstances, political anthropologists organize post-colonies into three general categories: settler countries, non-settler countries, and mixed countries (Kottak 2012). Settler countries consist of large numbers of European descendents and sparser native populations such as Canada and Australia. Nonsettler countries are comprised of large indigenous populations and relatively few European descendents such as Jamaica, India and Nigeria. Mixed countries consist of a population of indigenous people and European descendents such as Zimbabwe and Algeria.

In many cases, post-colonial governments carried on the policies and practices of the former colonial regime. National boundaries often reflected the former colonial borders that intersected linguistic and cultural social groups. Residents continued to identify themselves according to the hegemonic ethnic groupings created by the ‘divide and conquer’ policies of the former colonial regime, and this laid the foundation for ethnic violence such as the acts of genocide committed in Rwanda in late twentieth century. In some cases, tyrannical dictators received economic and military support from former colonial rulers while implementing harsh policies and practices, while many ‘independent’ governments maintained close-ties with former colonial powers and carried out the same colonial policies, such as the policy of apartheid in countries such as South Africa.

Apartheid is an institutional framework that relies on ‘Inhumane acts of a character … committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime’ (Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court – 2002). To learn more about the struggle for independence, watch the film The scramble for Africa – Africa… States of Independence – Al Jazeera English.

Post-colonial Studies

Post-colonialism refers to the interactions between European nations and former colonies and the outcomes of the colonial experience, and several disciplines in the social sciences and humanities include post-colonial studies within the curriculum. A central concern in post-colonial studies is the way that euro-centric hegemonies continue to operate within the social, economic, political and cultural mechanisms within contemporary post-colonial societies. This was apparent in the ‘Fair & Lovely’ commercial’ we viewed in the previous lesson.  Although the colonial occupation ended, colonial policies, practices, and ideologies remained intact. This is a key factor in the upcoming lesson when address Africa in the Modern World System and the Global Economy.

For Discussion: Watch and discuss the documentary, States of Independence, above. Relate the information in the film and lesson to the circumstances experienced by your selected country’s independence. Describe notable resistance movements and people who were instrumental in achieving independence in your selected country. Does the current government maintain political or economic ties with the former colonizer? If so, describe how and why. When you complete the discussion, move on to the Development lesson.