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What happened next?, Episode 90 - 16/06/06

Overview

12th October 1959: British Conservative Prime Minister Harold MacMillan  outside number ten Downing Street.(Evening Standard/Getty Images)(Evening Standard/Getty Images)
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The dismantling of empire went on until the 1970s and 80s. Not all went. Britain still has (sometimes reluctantly) crown colonies.

WWII changed the strategic shape and politics of the globe. The illusion was dissolved that the Union flag waved vigorously was all it took to deter an aggressor. The invention of long-range aircraft and nuclear bombs changed the rules of deterrence. The days Britain could send a gunboat were numbered. Yet some still believed in a greater Britain, a third empire and that the answer to Britain's economic woes had to be in Africa.

The basic objectives in Africa were large-scale self-governing and integrated societies. Not independent as, say, the Gold Coast wanted to be, but based on British democracy. Most importantly, technology would be given to the African states so that in return Britain could be fed and have markets for her declining manufacturing industry.

But by the 1960s, the very Africa Britain had hoped to capitalise on, was changing as Macmillan famously pointed out on 3 February, 1960 in his "wind of change" speech. The movement for freedom was inspired by India. "... Fifteen years' ago this movement spread through Asia. Many countries there of different races and civilisations pressed their claim to an independent national life. Today the same thing is happening in Africa ... The wind of change is blowing through this continent, and, whether we like it or not, this growth of national consciousness is a political fact ..."

One post-war agitator in the then Gold Coast was Kwame Nkrumah. In 1946 Nkrumah's Towards Colonial Freedom became one of the handbooks of the West African independence movement. Inevitably, the British refused to let the Gold Coast go. Nkrumah was imprisoned. He was released in 1949, campaigned for home rule and was sent back. In the 1951 election Nkruma, still in jail, was elected as an MP. He was let out and became, de facto, PM. In 1957 the Gold Coast became independent and renamed, Ghana.

By the end of the 1960s, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Gambia, Somalia, Uganda, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland and, on the other side of the Atlantic basin, the West Indies, were all independent or becoming so. Some countries, for example the Seychelles in the 1970s, never really wanted to go. But the mother country was firm. Off you go. You'll like it when you get there.

The story is ended.

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Historical Figure

Kwame Nkrumah, 1909-1972

Kwame Nkrumah was educated in America and Britain (LSE). In the 1940s he campaigned for home rule and formed his Convention Peoples' Party. His tactic of calling national strikes in support of the Home Rule campaign, led to his imprisonment.

His movement was not confined to Ghana and he saw a day when anti-white and independence campaigns would spread across the continent. He became known as The Gandhi of Africa.

As many British had predicted, the Nkrumah system was corrupted and in 1964 he declared a one party state with himself President for life. He was overthrown in a military coup but eventually became head of state.

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Did You Know...

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Contemporary Sources

Macmillan's 'winds of change' promised to sweep away the empire and replace it with a new world order:

"In the twentieth century, and especially since the end of the war, the processes which gave birth to the nation states of Europe have been repeated all over the world.

We have seen the awakening of national consciousness in peoples who have for centuries lived in dependence upon some other power. Fifteen years ago this movement spread through Asia. Many countries there of different races and civilisations pressed their claim to an independent national life.

Today the same thing is happening in Africa, and the most striking of all the impressions I have formed since I left London a month ago is of the strength of this African national consciousness.

In different places it takes different forms, but it is happening everywhere. The wind of change is blowing through this continent, and, whether we like it or not, this growth of national consciousness is a political fact. We must all accept it as a fact, and our national policies must take account of it.

That means, I would judge, that we must come to terms with it. I sincerely believe that if we cannot do so we may imperil the precarious balance between the East and West on which the peace of the world depends.

The world today is divided into three main groups.

First, there are what we call the Western Powers. You in South Africa and we in Britain belong to this group, together with our friends and allies in other parts of the Commonwealth. In the United States of America and in Europe we call it the Free World.

Secondly, there are the Communists - Russia and her satellites in Europe and China, whose population will rise by the end of the next ten years to the staggering total of eight hundred million.

Thirdly, there are those parts of the world whose people are at present uncommitted either to Communism or to our Western ideas."

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