How Did Decolonization Reshape the World?

How did former colonies build their nations?

After achieving independence, postcolonial leaders began the difficult work of setting up new governments. They faced huge decisions: How should their governments be organized? Who would be in charge? And which policies would best ensure safety and stability while propelling economic growth?

The new nations responded to such challenges in different ways.

Political Challenges: Many countries emerged from colonialism with little political experience. The Democratic Republic of Congo had never held an election prior to independence. New administrations dealt with colonial borders, which were drawn without regard for national, political, or economic realities. As a result, the new countries often faced internal division.

Postcolonial leaders used various strategies to create competent, stable, and representative governments. India’s first prime minister requested the former British colonial ruler to stay on to aid the new administration. Indonesia’s leader tried to unite the diverse country by creating a national identity based on ideas rather than geography, language, religion, or ethnicity.

Some countries struggled to promote inclusive government. In Cambodia and Madagascar, dictators seized power amid postcolonial unrest. In Rwanda and Sudan, tensions between ethnic groups grew into discrimination and violence.

Economic Challenges: Many empires organize their colonies to export a few raw materials, like cotton or petroleum. The newly independent countries faced this lack of economic diversification . When demand for their primary exports fell, their economies often collapsed.

Some former colonies like South Korea and Taiwan shifted from export of raw materials to production of industrial goods such as ships and computers. As a result of this industrialization, the economies of these two countries grew. Many other countries could not raise the investments required to industrialize their economies.

Without diverse exports or industrialized societies, many newly independent countries could not compete in the global economy.

Cold War Challenges: During the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union wanted the support of newly independent countries. The two superpowers backed protest movements, funded aid packages, and provided military support to advance their respective goals.

The United States and the Soviet Union often supported opposing factions in postcolonial civil wars, such as the Vietnam War. When the superpowers support opposing sides in foreign countries the conflict is called “proxy war.”

Is decolonization over?

According to the United Nations, nearly two million people still live in territories with no self-governing.

Even in independent countries, the legacy of colonialism remains. Most former colonies still have colonial-era borders. Many still use their former colonizers’ languages or practice their religions.

Some former colonies like Singapore and South Korea have developed stable democracies and strong economies. Others like Libya and North Korea have experienced decades of authoritarianism and underdevelopment. Some theories explain this difference on factors such as geography, access to natural resources, and the varying ways empires governed their colonies. Others argue that the decisions made by postcolonial leaders are responsible for today’s political and economic outcomes. In reality, these histories are complex.

Source: How Did Decolonization Reshape the World?
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