20.2 African Nations Win Independence

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.

Photo of a man giving a speech in front of a microphone, surrounded by standing men, all in traditional African dress.

Kwame Nkrumah and others wave to a crowd during independence celebrations.

Analyze Visuals

How are the men in this image dressed? What does this reveal about their attitude toward their culture?


  • Summarize how African nations won independence.
  • Analyze the issues facing new African nations and the different paths they took.
  • Identify examples of and summarize the reasons for ethnic conflict and genocide in African nations.

Key Terms

  • savanna
  • Kwame Nkrumah
  • Jomo Kenyatta
  • coup d'état
  • Mobutu Sese Seko
  • Islamist
  • Katanga
  • Biafra
  • Hutus
  • Tutsis
  • Darfur

The New Nations of Africa

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.

A Geographically Diverse Continent

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.

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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments