The year 2020 marks sixty years of the ‘Year of Africa’. In 1960, 17 African states achieved independence and Africa 'arrived' on the world stage. In that one year, the number of independent African states almost tripled- from 9 to 26, and consequently, African countries began to emerge as noteworthy actors in world affairs. Barring Congo (Kinshasa) and Nigeria, most of these newly-independent states were part of the French empire. As the wave of independence swept through the continent, it was widely believed that a new era of hope and optimism awaited the people of Africa. 1960 was also a turning point in anti-apartheid politics in South Africa. A group of South African activists including Nelson Mandela turned to violent means to change the apartheid political system after the massacre of non-violent protesters at Sharpeville by police. As Africa looks to influence world affairs in the third decade of the 21st century, it would be a good time to revisit the ‘Year of Africa’.
Winds of Change
Although the West African state of Cameroon became independent on the 1st January 1960, it is generally assumed that the ‘Year of Africa’ began with the ‘Winds of Change’ speech delivered by the then British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan in Cape Town on 3rd February 1960. Britain was a major colonial power in Africa and throughout the 1950s, had been gradually granting independence to its colonies such as Ghana and Sudan. In 1960, Macmillan was on a month-long visit to Africa and was aware of the changing political attitudes in Africa. Therefore, while concluding his visit, as he was addressing the parliament of South Africa, he said that ‘[t]he wind of change is blowing through this continent and whether we like it or not, this growth of national consciousness is a political fact. And we must all accept it as a fact, and our national policies must take account of it’.
Macmillan’s speech was widely reported and was, in fact, a signal to Africa and the world, that the then British colonies that had not yet attained independence such as Nigeria would eventually become free. Macmillan’s speech was also an indication that Anglo-American policy on Africa was likely to change and that decolonisation of Africa would not be opposed. By then, the growing influence of communism among anti-colonial national liberation struggles in the Third World was emerging as a major threat for the Western countries and therefore, preventing the spread of communism and influence of Soviet Russia in Africa was a priority for the United States (US). Nevertheless, not every colonial power was in favour of rapid decolonisation.
French Empire in Africa
In the 1950s, France was undergoing turmoil in its politics. France lost the Southeast Asian territories of empire in the mid-1950s and was left with colonies in Africa. From 1954 onwards, demand for independence in Algeria was gaining strength and France was fighting a costly war against the Algerian nationalists. French politics was deeply divided over the issue of decolonisation and an influential section within the French Army wanted to preserve Algeria at all costs. There were one million white settlers in Algeria and the country was significant for French interests owing to its geostrategic location and hydrocarbon resources.
Since the end of the Second World War, unlike Britain, France had devised policies to maintain its firm grip over African colonies. To that end, it had reorganised its empire in Africa to create the French Union in 1946. In 1958, the French Union was replaced with the French Community. French Union was a step towards strengthening Franco-African association whereas in the context of the armed conflict in Algeria, the French Community was formulated to give limited measure of autonomy to African colonies. It was expected that eventually, these colonies would attain independence and govern their own affairs. However, despite the stated objective of autonomy within the French Community, France retained effective control over the foreign, defence and economic policies of the colonies. It was clear that the real purpose of such reorganisation was to ensure French retention of robust control over its colonies.
After the launch of the French Community in 1958, French Guinea and Mali had opted for independence. France had accepted their demand and hoped to preserve the rest of the colonies in the Community. However, by granting independence to these two states, inadvertently, the process of dissolution of the French empire in Africa began. By 1956, Ghana had also become independent and Ghana’s revolutionary leader Kwame Nkrumah had emerged as a strong voice advocating freedom, decolonisation, and pan-Africanism. Therefore, the presence of three independent states (Ghana, Guinea and Mali) in West Africa helped to create a fertile ground for independence and nationalism. Moreover, by 1960, France was also willing to grant political independence to its other African colonies. Hence, following the footsteps of other colonies, 14 West African states that were part of French Community attained independence in 1960. It included states like Cote d’Ivoire, Chad, Upper Volta (Burkina Faso), Niger, Central African Republic, Republic of the Congo and Dahomey (Benin). Besides, Nigeria, which was part of the West African region and was a British colony, too achieved freedom in October, 1960.
The emergence of independent African states began to change the context of world affairs. For example, in the first Non-Aligned Summit of Belgrade in 1961, issues such as decolonisation and anti-imperialism dominated the discussion. In the 1960s, recognising the growing salience of Africa, superpowers too began to compete for influence. African states also began exerting pressure for the decolonisation of settler colonies of Southern Africa like Rhodesia. Moreover, for pursuing the objective of pan-Africanism; the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) was formed in 1963. Despite all the euphoria surrounding freedom, 1960 also demonstrated that difficult problems lay ahead for the newly independent, post-colonial states of Africa as was seen by the events in Congo and South Africa.
The Crisis in Congo and South Africa
In the ‘Year of Africa’, following Britain and France, Belgium too decided to hurriedly leave Africa and granted independence to Congo (now known as the Democratic Republic of Congo). However, after attaining independence, Congo was immediately engulfed by political crises, secessionism, and armed conflict. The departing colonial power backed secessionism in resource-rich province of Katanga. Meanwhile, in the capital, popularly elected Congolese leader Patrice Lumumba’s government was dismissed by the Belgium-trained Congolese army. He was arrested, handed over to secessionists and was eventually killed by secessionist forces.
As a response to the crises in Congo, the United Nations (UN) launched its first large-scale peacekeeping operation, UN Operations in the Congo (Opération des Nations Unies au Congo, or ONUC) in 1960. At its peak, ONUC had deployed 20,000 officers and soldiers and was involved in complex tasks that ‘went beyond normal peacekeeping duties’. For resolving the crisis in Congo, an Indian diplomat, Rajeshwar Dayal, who later became foreign secretary, was appointed as a special envoy of the UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld. Moreover, when the UN decided to send peacekeeping forces to Congo, India played a prominent role by sending an army contingent consisting 4700 troops to Congo. Indian troops undertook difficult missions in an unfamiliar territory beset by complicated political challenges. They remained in Congo despite the India-China war of 1962 and returned home only after the mission was completed in 1963. It was a demonstration of India’s ability and willingness to contribute to maintain international order. It is pertinent to note here that, India was an inspiration for liberation movements in Africa. African leaders like Kwame Nkrumah (Ghana), Kenneth Kaunda (Zambia), Julius Nyarere (Tanzania) and Nelson Mandela (South Africa) drew inspiration from India’s freedom struggle. On its part, India also supported anti-colonial, anti-imperial and anti-racial struggles in Africa in a variety of ways.
Meanwhile, in South Africa, since the promulgation of apartheid policies in 1948, African National Congress (ANC) was organising non-violent protests to resist apartheid. On 21st March 1960, during a peaceful protest against the Pass Laws at Sharpeville, police opened fire on protestors, which killed 69 and wounded 180. It was one of the bloodiest days in the history of apartheid South Africa. After the Sharpeville massacre, Nelson Mandela and a group of ANC activists decided to take up arms to resist the government and founded ‘Umkhonto We Sizwe’ (Spear of the Nation). The founding of ‘Umkhonto We Sizwe’ changed the trajectory of freedom struggle in South Africa from largely peaceful to the one that also incorporated armed resistance. Sharpeville massacre also highlighted the brutalities of the apartheid state and demonstrated the dire situation in South Africa.
Therefore, looking back at 1960, the African continent witnessed two contrasting realities at the same time: one was the excitement of freedom and liberation and the other was the troubles for independent states in charting their own course. Apartheid South Africa represented the most difficult challenge to decolonisation and national liberation. Problems of racial discrimination, economic underdevelopment, political instability, ethnic tensions, and lack of trained manpower continued to pose difficulties for African states after 1960. The euphoria of independence was quickly replaced by the realisation of complexities and therefore, gave way to pessimism. However, in the new millennium, due to economic growth, relative political stability and social development, Africa is poised to take up its rightful place in international affairs. The continent is confidently charting its own course, has attained greater agency in world affairs and is, in fact, considered as the continent of the future and hope. Politically, Africa is more integrated than ever through institutions such as ‘African Union’ and since the launching of African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) is emerging as a single, integrated market. In this context, to fully appreciate the post-colonial trajectory of African continent and India’s role in African liberation, it is necessary to revisit 1960, hailed as the ‘Year of Africa’.
*Dr. Sankalp Gurjar, Research Fellow, Indian Council of World Affairs, New Delhi.
Views expressed are personal.
 Daniel Schwartz, “1960: The Year of Africa”, CBC News, June 10, 2020, athttps://www.cbc.ca/news/world/1960-the-year-of-africa-1.909381 (Accessed January 16, 2020)
David Smith, “Sharpeville 50 years on: ‘At some stage all hell will break loose’”, The Guardian, March 19, 2010, at https://www.theguardian.com/world/2010/mar/19/south-africa-sharpeville-massacre-anniversary (Accessed January 16, 2020)
“Gold Coast (Ghana) wins independence”, South African History Online, March 16, 2011, at https://www.sahistory.org.za/dated-event/gold-coast-ghana-gains-independence (Accessed January 16, 2020)
Harold Macmillan, “The Wind of Change”, African Yearbook of Rhetoric, 2(3), 2011, at http://www.africanrhetoric.org/pdf/J%20%20%20Macmillan%20-%20%20the%20wind%20of%20change.pdf (Accessed January 16,2020)
 For more on this, see: Ana Naomi de Sousa, “Between East and West: The Cold War’s Legacy in Africa”, Al Jazeera, February 22, 2016, at https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2016/02/east-west-cold-war-legacy-africa-160214113015863.html (Accessed January 16, 2020)
 “Algerian National Liberation (1954-62)”, GlobalSecurity.org, November 7, 2011, at https://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/war/algeria.htm (Accessed January 16, 2020)
Rajen Harshe, Africa in World Affairs: Politics of Imperialism, the Cold War and Globalisation, Routledge Oxon, 2019, pp. 93-115
 Ibid, pp. 52-53.
 Ivana Ancic, “Belgrade, the 1961 Non-Aligned Conference”, Global South Studies, August 17, 2017, at https://globalsouthstudies.as.virginia.edu/key-moments/belgrade-1961-non-aligned-conference(Accessed January 16, 2020)
Dennis Austen and Ronald Nagel, “The Organization of African Unity”, The World Today, 22 (12), 1966, pp. 520-529
Paul Valley, “Forever in chains: The tragic history of Congo”, The Independent, July 28, 2006, at https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/forever-in-chains-the-tragic-history-of-congo-6232383.html (Accessed January 16, 2020)
 “Republic of the Congo – ONUC Background”, UN Peacekeeping, 2001, at https://peacekeeping.un.org/en/mission/past/onucB.htm (Accessed January 27, 2020)
 Ruchita Beri, “India’s Africa Policy in the Post-Cold War Era: An Assessment”, Strategic Analysis, 27(2), 2003, pp. 216-232
 For more on this, see: “Sharpeville Massacre, 21 March, 1960”, South African History Online, March 31, 2011, at https://www.sahistory.org.za/article/sharpeville-massacre-21-march-1960 (Accessed January 16, 2020)