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Seventeen African countries won independence in same year 50 years ago

November 27, 2010 - AFRICA

Cameroon was the first of 17 African countries that mark 50 years of independence from a colonial power in 2010, but tiny Togo's Apr 27 events will be the first main celebrations. Cameroon traditionally downplays its Jan 1 independence date, and plans its main 50th celebration for National Day, 20 May. The year invites a comparison of the 17, ranking them in terms of stability and prosperity since independence, and a review of the forces that led to the rapid decolonization of Africa.

Cameroon was the first of 17 African countries that mark 50 years of independence from a colonial power in 2010, but tiny Togo's Apr 27 events will be the first main celebrations. Cameroon traditionally downplays its Jan 1 independence date, and plans its main 50th celebration for National Day, 20 May. The year invites a comparison of the 17, ranking them in terms of stability and prosperity since independence, and a review of the forces that precipitated the rapid decolonization of Africa. Economically, 2010 could be among the better years of many of the 17 countries. A Reuters report in January observes that although Africa has been knocked by the global shocks after unprecedented growth in preceding years, it could have been a lot worse. Economies are generally on a sounder footing than in the past. According to the latest IMF forecasts, eight of the world's 20 fastest growing economies in 2010 will be in Africa. In terms of stability, former French colony Togo, sandwiched between Benin and Ghana, could be regarded as one of the continent's success stories. It achieved independence on 27 Apr 1950. In 1967, Gnassingbé Eyadéma led a successful military coup, after which he became dictator for 38 years. His son Faure Gnassingbé was named leader on the death of his father in 2005, then later elected president. The Democratic Republic of Congo (30 Jun from Belgium) and Nigeria (1 Oct from Britain) could pick up recognition as the bloodiest and least stable of the 16. Congo plans to celebrate the anniversary. Diplomats say the United Nations Security Council is under pressure from Congolese President Joseph Kabila to come up with an exit strategy for MONUC, the biggest UN peacekeeping force in the world, by the 50th anniversary. Nigeria, in midst of a period of extreme political uncertainty, is showing little interest in celebrations. Madagascar celebrates its 50 years of independence from France on 26 Jun, but if the 49th anniversary is an indication, foreign envoys will snub the ceremonies. The Indian Ocean island has been diplomatically isolated since Andry Rajoelina ousted his predecessor from office in March. Mali and Senegal also achieved independence from France on 26 Jun 1960. Benin, Niger, Burkina Faso, Cote d'Ivoire, Chad, Central African Republic, Republic of the Congo and Gabon won independence from France between Aug 1 and Aug 17 in the same year. Mauritania followed on 28 Nov 1960. Somalia won independence from Britain on 1 Jul 1960. Explaining the rapid period of decolonization, Encyclopedia Britannica says that after World War II, European countries generally lacked the wealth and political support necessary to suppress faraway revolts and the rise of nationalism in their colonies. They also faced opposition from the new superpowers, the U.S. and the Soviet Union, both of which had taken positions against colonialism. Jan/2010

Africa&rsquos year (Reuters 31 Dec 2010)

Country profile: Democratic Republic of Congo (BBC)

Envoys boycott Madagascar's independence celebrations (Reuters 26 Jun 2009)

Date written/update: 2010-11-27