In 1945, four European powers—Britain, France, Belgium, and Portugal—controlled almost all of Africa. Only Egypt, Ethiopia, Liberia and white-ruled South Africa were independent nations.
Kwame Nkrumah and others wave to a crowd during independence celebrations.
How are the men in this image dressed? What does this reveal about their attitude toward their culture?
World War II sparked a rising tide of nationalism in Africa. Japanese victories in Asia shattered the West's reputation as an unbeatable force. Also, African troops who had fought for the Allies were unwilling to accept discrimination when they returned home. Nationalists also won support among workers who had migrated to the cities to work in war industries.
After the war, most European nations lacked the resources and will to fight to hold onto colonies. Faced with nationalist demands, Britain and France introduced political reforms that they thought would gradually lead to independence. But they soon discovered that they could not control the pace of change. Starting in the late 1950s, they gave up direct control of most of their colonies. In countries with large settler populations, however, independence was thwarted for years.
In the new nations, crowds celebrated their freedom, while bands played new national anthems. However, even as independence celebrations took place, African nations faced tough challenges.
Africa is the world's second-largest continent. It has the world's largest desert–the Sahara–in the north and the smaller Kalahari Desert in the south, as well as fertile coastal strips in North and South Africa.