The 'Wind of Change': British Decolonisation in Africa, 1957-65

Carl Peter Watts estimates the importance of the different reasons for British withdrawal.

President Julius Nyerere's portrait on the Tanzanian 1000 shilling noteUnlike other empires in history – such as the Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman, or Habsburg – the collapse of the British Empire was remarkably rapid. This was especially true of the British Empire in Africa, which was largely dismantled in the years 1957-1965. Historians continue to disagree on the importance of metropolitan, colonial and international causes of this withdrawal. This article will argue that colonial nationalism and an increasingly hostile international environment contributed to the timing of independence in British Africa, but these influences must also be understood against a background of changing metropolitan circumstances and the deliberate calculations of British policy-makers. This causal interlock will be demonstrated in relation to several episodes of decolonisation between 1957 and 1965, including the Gold Coast in West Africa, the East African territories of Tanganyika, Uganda, and Kenya, and the collapse of the Central African Federation.

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