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Discuss the Causes of British Decolonisation from Any one African State. to What Extent Was This Decolonisation ‘planned’?

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Discuss the causes of British decolonisation from any ONE African state. To what extent was this decolonisation ‘planned’?

The 20th century saw the end of the British empire. Once controlling half of the world, the empire became unsustainable. Riddled with economic strife, nationalist uprising and the loss of its status as the world’s predominant hegemony, empire was by many, considered a burden on the British, resulting in the eventual collapse of the empire through the process of decolonisation. Despite many definitions, decolonisation is generally thought of as ‘the legal constitutional event of a transfer of sovereignty’ (Darwin, 1996). However, this essay will analyse the causes of decolonisation, as well as addressing whether this process was due to factors such as Britain’s waning economy, uprisings against the metropole and Britain’s new position in the world; or whether decolonisation was planned, and if so, to what degree with regards to the African state of Nigeria.

The world wars had proven expensive and with a weakened economy, the desire of maintaining empire had been lost to the British public. Harold Macmillan, when appointed Prime Minister requested an assessment of the cost of the empire. Although an agreement could not be reached amongst his advisors, he considered empire to be an ‘albatross’ (Jeffery, 1999). War is costly, military action is also costly, and the maintenance of an empire would require to a degree, the deployment of military personnel, therefore it is understandable that Macmillan would not see the necessity of colonial empire as a means for furthering British financial standing globally. It was in fact John Maynard Keynes, an influential adviser who stated that ‘We cannot police half the world at our own expense when we have already gone into pawn the other half’ (Louis & Robinson, 2010). This quote, however, does raise the question of whether Britain would have otherwise partaken in the process of decolonisation had its economy not have been in the condition of which it was. The role of finances is clearly of importance as it was the key reasoning for Macmillan’s decision to abandon the preservation of the empire. Britain now owed three billion pounds to India and Egypt in particular, for defence costs, and had become debtors to their own empire (Louis & Robinson, 2010). It’s clear therefore, that the prospect of engaging in full scale military operations would be of too significant a cost for the British at that time. Nationalist movements were on the rise across the colonies and had proven expensive for other European colonisers such as France. From the 1920s, and in particular from the 1940s to 1950s, nationalism started to brew in Nigeria, yet Britain remained against the notion of imperialist intervention on economic grounds. In doing so, Britain believed the soon to be former colony would maintain ties with the metropole, thus leaving Britain with some sphere of influence. This however was not the case. Middle-class national interests were seen as of more importance, and the notion of developing a welfare state had been a higher priority of the citizens of Britain (Ward, 2001), and thus the maintenance of an expensive empire was not of high priority, especially as those who benefitted were the elites of British society. The fruits of the empire’s labour was not for all who resided in the metropole.

Nationalism has begun to sweep over many of the colonial territories during the decline of the British empire. Educated elites, some educated in the UK, were able to galvanise local support against the metropole. One such individual was Obafemi Awolowo. Educated in London, Awolowo returned with a degree in law, and a staunch anti-colonial train of thought (Britannia article). However, it must be stated that the economic downturn of which Nigeria was experiencing is important, and played a large role in the growing sentiment of anti-colonialism. Demonstrations had taken place on a number occasions of which the Nigerian politicians could capitalise upon. Soldiers who had also returned home from fighting on behalf of the empire developed the anti-colonial mentality, for they too had fared better economically while serving in the military, yet jobs at home were now scarce or low-paying.

It was argued that living costs had increased by 200%, and that a 50% wage increase that was demanded was ignored by the metropole (James, 2004). As Ronald Robinson wrote, it was indeed easier for anti-colonial sentiment to gather support than it was for the colonialists.

This growing anti-colonial sentiment materialised in the election of anti-colonial parties, the NPC and the NCNC. The significance of this is that it shows that anti-colonial sentiment was ride within the colony at a time when Britain could not afford to be intervening militarily. It also shows the importance of the economy. Had it not been for the lack of job opportunities for returning soldiers, as well as the disproportionate cost of living against that of real wages, support for the anti-colonial movement may not have been as strong. This is further evidenced by the fact that earlier anti-colonial movements did not enjoy the same success. It could therefore be argued that the unexpected increase in nationalism in Nigeria had a startling effect on the speed of decolonisation, especially as this wave of nationalism brought about strike action in which on one occasion in which suppression by the metropole took place (article about rioting etc), of which was used in tandem with ill-feelings surrounding the economy, raised anti-colonial sentiment. Henri Grimal argued that once colonised people revolted against their colonial masters, nothing would be able to change that momentum of change (Darwin 1996).

Another important aspect when discussing the decolonisation of Nigeria would be the argument of which



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