[Partly edited 11/27/2017.  I am skipping some of this material and won't hold students responsible for it.  If you *do* get study question #5 on your final and you are able to address some of the additional material, that's nice.]

Break-up of Colonial Empires

My most recent lectures have described some of the most horrible events in human history.  What the totalitarian governements of the 20th century did to their own peoples and to others, things like Stalin's man-made famine in the Ukraine and Hitler's attempt to exterminate the Jewish population of Europe, are disturbing in the extreme.

I now turn to what should be a much happier subject, the transition of the nations of Africa, the Middle East, and Asia from colonial rule to independence.  However, while indepence may in the long run may be a great thing for all of these countries, the transition to independence was usually a difficult process--and sometimes horrible in the extreme.


You will remember that India fell under the control of the British East India Company around 1757, and was annexed directly by Britain a century later. Ironically, the improved educational system introduced by the British spread ideas that helped form a movement to work for Indian independence. 

In the days after WWII, it looked like the time for independence had come. India had plenty of well-educated, experienced people who should have been able to run the country successfully.  But there was one major worry: ethnic violence.  The British were afraid that, once they were gone, Hindus and Moslems would be at each others throats. 

What was the solution?  Well, how about leaving behind two separate countries: one for the Moslems, one for the Hindus?

That's what happened in 1947: the Indian subcontinent was divided into two separate nations, Pakistan (for the Moslems) and India (for the Hindus). 

It wasn't an easy transition.  Hindus in dominantly Moslem Pakistan, fearing persecution,  fled their homes and went to India.  Moslems in dominently Hindu India, fearing persecution, fled their homes and went to dominently Moslem Pakistan.  Millions of people were uprooted, and tens of thousands died in the process.  And the problem of ethnic violence wasn't solved.  Further, the newly-formed countries of Pakistan and India hated each other, and wanted to expand at the other's expense.  Particularly troublesome was the dispute over Kashmir. India and Pakistan have fought three major wars with one another, largely over this disupted territory.  Both sides have developed atomic weapons, and (when I first taught this class in 1988), my guess was that, if there were to be an atomic war, it would be between those too countries.  That war nearly happened in 1998, and it may happen yet.

Nevertheless, independence worked out well for the people of India.  They established a pariliamentary democracy similar to the government of Britain.   But political freedom was not quite enough.  For years, India struggled rather unsuccessfully with intense poverty. 

But in the early 1990's, there was a great break-though.  India's government abandoned its socialist leanings, and moved toward free-market economics.  The result was dramatic: a 6% average growth in GDP for 20 years!  Companies like GE, Motorola, IBM, and even GM made major investments in India, and the Indian economy soared.  India has created a fine university system, and, in terms of things like engineering and the sciences, it seems like they are surpassing the United States.  And then there's Bollywood--not too shabby for a once basket-case country.  In the long run, Indian independence has worked well.  There have been some economic ups and downs in recent years, and plenty of problems with corruption: poverty relief programs haven't worked as well as they might have.  But, as of 2016-2017, India had one of the fastest growing economies in the world once again.

The story in Pakistan is not quite so bright.  Pakistan also established a (theoretically) democratic government, but the constitution has frequently been "suspended" by the party in power, and elections have often been marred by violence.  Further, Islam is the official state religion, and the push to adopt harsh Shariah law is strong.  From time to time, economic growth has been strong, but less consistently so than in India.  In 2013, Pakistan was on the verge of bankruptcy, and concerns that the country may default on its debts remain.   Moslem militants are poised to take advantage of any instability, and the future of Pakistan is hard to predict.

The real tragedy in Pakistan, however, occured some years ago in East Pakistan, what came to be called Bangladesh.  The East Pakistanis have virtually nothing in common with West Pakistan except their religious faith.  They don't even share a common language: Urdu is the language of  West Pakistan, Bengali the language of  Bangladesh.  The government focused its efforts on West Pakistan, neglecting Bangladesh--or, rather, explointing the resources of Bangladesh to create opportunities in West Pakistan.

In 1970, a tropical storm hit Bangladesh.  The government did little to help, and, as a result, 300,000 people died--many of them needlessly.  This made the people of Bangladesh unhappy enough to want to seceed.  The government launched a crack-down.  "Kill 3,000,000 and the rest will grovel," said one government official.  And that's pretty much what happened.  In addition, the Pakistan government had its forces rape Bangladeshi women.  There were some 400,000 to 800,000 rapes--particularly devastating in a country where a rape victim is considered unsuitable for marriage and therefore likely destined for a life of poverty.

This cruel strategy on the part of the government provoked further resistance.  Helped by India (!), the Bangladeshi people won their independence in 1973.  But their hardships were not over.  The economy had been ruined.  Many millions (ten million is a good estimate) fled the country, ending up as refugees in places like Calcutta.  In recent years, Bangladesh has finally seen some economic growth...but it was a very long time in coming, and, for years, Bangladesh was one of the poorest countries on  earth.


Also having a difficult time making the transition to independence, the areas once controlled by the Ottoman Turkish Empire.  The "Sick Man of Europe" had finally died during World War I, and the great question, as always: what would happen to the territory controlled by the Turks?

In the case of Syria, the newly-formed League of Nations decided that the French should step in, and so, for a time, the French controlled Syria under League of Nations mandate.  During World War II, however, the French had too much on their plate to govern successfully, and they had to give up control.  They worried, however, that if they simply left Syria, the Christian population might fall victim to another Muslim attempt at genocide.  To prevent this, the French divided the territory, forming two nations: dominantly Muslim Syria and majority-Christian Lebanon.

How did the transition work?  For Syria, not so well.  While most Syrians were Muslims, Syria still wasn't ethnically homogenous, and the Syrians fell to fighting among themselves.  As usual in such situations, eventually one strong, ruthless man claws his was to the top.  In this case, that man was Haffaz Assad,  head of the Baathists, a socialist party favoring the "Alawite" Syrians.  Hassad ruled with an iron hand, slaughtering 30,000 people is a single day to suppress dissent.  Syria had stability, but neither economic nor political freedom. 

When Haffaz Assad died in 2000, his son Bashur Assad took his place.   Bashur Assad had studied opthamology in London, and his wife was U.K. born.  Many hoped for a liberalization in Syria, more personal and political freedom.  It didn't happen, and many Syrians were disappointed.

Then in 2010 began the "Arab Spring," attempts by Arabs in many countries to force their autocratic rulers to grant more freedom.  America (under President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton) applauded, encouraging the protestors to continue and expand their demands.  Ultimately, this meant the destabilization of Libya and (with the direct support of NATO forces led by the U.S., Libya's presdident (Khadaffi) was deposed and executed--throwing Libya into chaos and creating a huge refugee problem. 

Basshur Assad wasn't going to let his happen to him, and he began cracking down on dissidents.  The U.S. drew a red-line: use chemical weapons against dissidents, and we intervene.  Well Assad crossed the line, and America was committed to forcing Assad out.  But this was a tricky business.  Assad was opposed by those who wanted more political and personal freedom, but also by ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria).  ISIS wanted a restored Caliphate, hoping to see their leader as the recognized spiritual and political head of all the Islamic world.  While dismissed by Obama as the "J.V. Team,"  ISIS soon had control of much of Iraq and Syria.  Note on the map how much territory ISIS controlled in January of 2015.


In the areas it controlled, ISIS carried out a campaign of genocide against the Yazidi,  Orthodox Christians, and any Muslims that wouldn't accept their version of the faith.

This three-way civil war was awful for Syria.  Hundreds of thousands have died, and more than 5 million are refugees.  Interestingly, the Trump administration is helping push ISIS to the brink of extinction (see the map above).  [This BBC article does a nice job summarizing the rise and fall of ISIS.]

My guess (November 2017)  is that we will eventually see some sort of compromise between Bashur Assad and those wanting greater freedoms: Putin and Trump will probably figure out a way to help put the compromise solution in place.  But, right now, Syria is still dealing with problems left over from the way the nation was formed in the first place--back in 1944!

In Lebanon, the transition to independence at first seemed much better.  The Lebanese had a democratic government right from the beginning with each ethnic group guaranteed a role in the government.  The economy boomed: the tourist industry, agricultural, and banking gave Lebanon a solid base, and the Lebanese had the highest standard of living in that part of the world.  For thirty years, things were fine.  But there was one problem.  The constitution adopted when Lebanon was established set up a a 6:5 ratio of Christians to Muslims and Druze in the Lebanese parliament.  However, the Muslim population grew more quickly than the Christian population, and Muslims were eventually a majority in a country where the constitution guaranteed Christians a majority in parliament!

The Lebanese Muslims, unhappy with the situation, started a civil war--a civil war that lasted from 1975-1990.  Civil wars are always miserable affairs, and this one was particularly bad.  The Syrians backed the Muslim side, the Israelis backed the Christian side.  Both Israel and Syrian eventually sent troops directly into Syria. 

Obviously, this was a disaster economically and in other ways for Lebanon. At least 100,000 civilians were killed, and there were 900,000 refugees: huge numbers in a country of only 5 million people or so.


In some ways similar to the Syrian story, what happened in Palestine.  This territory, too, was once part of the Ottoman empire.  After World War I, the League of Nations asked the British to take control under League of Nations mandate.  The British continued to govern the area through World War II.  Eventually, though, Britain was prepared to leave the area once a reasonable arrangement for doing so could be made.

A major worry for the British: ethnic violence.  Palestine had a majority-Muslim population, but a growing number of Jews had settled there as well.

During the late 19th and early 20th century, Jews began what is called the Zionist Movement.  This was a movement designed to create a Jewish homeland somewhere in the world.  Some Zionists favored a place like Uganda for the Jewish homeland, but the most popular idea was to create a Jewish state in the Holy Land--the land of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  For 100's of years, Jews had concluded their Passover celebations with the toast "Ha shana ha ba'a: b' Yeroshalaim."--"next year, in Jerusalem."  Messiah would come and give them back the Promised land.  Well, for the Zionists, they weren't going to wait for Messiah: they'd take the land back now if they could.

Jewish settlements in Palestine began to grow--with a mixed reaction from the Muslims in that region.  The British Balfour Declaration of 1917 supported the general idea of Jewish setllement in Palestine--thought they wanted to protect other ethnic groups in the region as well.

When they decided to leave the area, the British thought that setting up two different countries (dominantly Muslim Palestine and majority-Jewish Israel) might be an effective solution.  The newly-formed United Nations agreed, and began drawing up plans for creating the two countries.  The Jews signed on enthusiastically.  Not so the Muslims.  Finally, the Jews, tired of waiting, set up their nation on their own.  In 1948, the created a new nation: Israel.

In many ways, the new nation was quite successful. Jews from all over the Middle East and from places like Russia and even the United States moved to Israel.  Holocaust survivors in Europe also came in large numbers.  The Israelis set up a parliamentary system like that of Britain with even Muslims eligible to serve in the Knesset (the equivalent of the British parliament).  Ecomomically, the new nation did quite well indeed, turning desert into garden, and, eventually, giving its people the highest standard of living in the region.

It was not easy.  The Israelis had to fight again and again for their very existence: wars in 1948, 1956, 1967, and 1973.  They prevailed each time.  Basically, then, a successful, though not easy, transition to independence.

But what of the Palestinians?  Here is a great tragedy. The area that *should* have become the Palestinian state was swallowed up partly by Israel, but, even more, by Jordan and Egypt.  At this point, the best outcome might have been for the Arab countries simply to absorb the Palestinian popuation.  Jordanians and Egyptians aren't much different from Palestinians, and what might have happened is an exchange of popuations: one million Jews from Muslim nations settling in Israel, a million Palestinians resettling in the Muslim world.

That's not what happened.  The Palestinians often ended up in refugee camps in Lebanon and Egypt--just waiting for the day they could return to Israel.  Any time now.  1956?  Nope.  1967?  Nope.  1973?  Disappointed once again.  And after the 1967 and 1973 wars, Israel annexed the West bank and Gaza areas so that, not only were the Palestinians living in refugee camps, but in camps in areas controlled by the Jews!

War hadn't worked, so the Muslim world resorted to terrorism.  And for a young man growing up in a refugee camp without any hope of doing anything that seemed worthwhile in life, the Jihadist route was mighty tempting. Israel, then, gets an ongoing problem with terrorism--and responds by, in general, cracking down on the Palestinians.

The obvious solution: land for peace.  Israel gives up the land won in the 1967 and 1973 wars in return for an end to terrorist attacks and the attempts of Arab nations to destroy the country. 

We've come awfully close to seeing just that solution.  The Oslo accords did set up a Palestinian state, but the tension remains. Israel maintains economic and miltary control of Palestine, and, from time to time, plants Jewish settlements in the West Bank.  The response to continued Palestinian terror? Retaliation, and the building of more settlements, making it clear that, the longer the terrorist acts continue, the smaller the eventual Palestinian state.  Of course, the settlements provoke more anger and terrorism too.  Where will it all end?  Well, the valley of Megiddo is in Israel....

Algeria [An important story I haven't had time to talk about in recent years.  You aren't responsible for this material, but, should you get essay question #5 as an exam choice, you can talk about Algeria too if you like.]

Another example of the difficulty in making the transition to independence: Algeria.

Algeria was colonized by the French in the 19th century--and something more than a colony. Frenchman themselves settled in Algeria in large numbers, retaining their French citizenship and the right to vote in French elections.  Algeria was, in a way, extension of France--and, although initial French occupation was a bloody affair, eventually French Algeria became a very successful place with a thriving ecomomy and a "multicultural"  environment that combined the best of what Arab and French cultures had to offer.

[Note: I call the the native Algerians "Arab" Algerians.  Actually, they are mostly of Berber descent, but they speak Arabic.]

However, the Arab Algerians were 2nd class citizens, without the rights of the French Algerians, and many of them resented it.  During World War II, a group called the FLN (the National Liberation Front) began a terrorist campaign to drive the French out.

In 1945, the FLN massacred 103 French Algerians, stripping the victims and mutilating the bodies in horrible ways.  They *wanted* to provoke French retaliation--and retaliate the French government did, leveling some 40 Arab Algerian villages.  Many Arab Algerian soldiers, soldiers who had been fighting against Hitler, came home to find that their own government had destroyed their homes.

Neverthess, it seemed like Arab and French Algerians might settle down to live in peace.  But the FLN didn't want that!  In 1954, they stepped up their terrorist attacks, targetting, first moderates in the Arab Algerian community.  By 1956, they had killed 20,000 moderate Arabs, often gouging out their eyes, cutting out their tongues first.  They would often cut off the limbs of their victims, living the bodies on a roadside with the tag "traitor."

Most insidious, their targetting of the families of moderate Arabs, torturing wives and children and then leaving the mutilated bodies for the husband to find when he came home from work. 

They didn't always kill their victims.  Cutting off a nose, or an ear, or a penis but leaving the victim alive might be even more effective than killing in frightening the moderate Arabs into silence.

Soon, the FLN stepped up its attacks to include French Algerians.  They would occupy portions of Algeria and then launch a campaign of genocide in the territory they controlled, killing people in the most horrible ways imaginable.  They took a woman with a five-day-old baby, cut her belly open, stuffed the baby inside, stiched her up--and let both mother and baby die a slow, painful death.

This was deliberate: the FLN wanted the French to be so angry they would make mistakes.  And it worked.  The French lashed out blindly at Arab Algerians whether guilty of attrocities or not.  The French even resorted to torture on their own to get the information they thought they needed to fight the FLN.

Finally, however, French President Chales DeGaulle decided that Algeria wasn't worth the price.  In 1961, Algeria got its independence.  The French Algerians themselves fought to maintain control of their country, but, by 1962, they had to give up.  They left Algeria to resettle in France.  But, before leaving, they destroyed everything they could, buring their homes, the hospitals, schools--everything built during the century of French rule.

They left behind thousands of moderate Arabs who fell victims to the FLN.  Thirty to fifty thousand moderate Arabs were massacred.  And the result?  What should have been a prosperous country ended up with an oppressive government and a basket case economy.  To fight against their corrupt government, many Algerians embraced as an alternative a radical Islamic alternative.  This led to a civil war in the 1980's and 1990's--and another round of gruesome tortures and death.  Algeria is, finally, recovering economically--but the transition to independence has certainly not been easy.

     CIA Statistics on Algeria

Subsaharan Africa


Having even more difficulty making the transition to independence, some of the countires of Subsaharan Africa.  A somewhat typical example: Uganda.  Uganda had been colonized by the British and, under British rule, had developed a thriving economy.  In 1963, the British granted Uganda independence, probably anticipating a relatively smooth transition.  Things didn't go well.  Uganda was composed of several different tribal groups.  Making matters worse, a large Muslim minority was at odds with the Christian majority. As soon as the British left, these groups were at each other's throats, and, once again, a strong, ruthless man clawed his way to the top: Idi Amin.

Amin was a sadistic mass murderer.  He killed some 200,000 of his own people.  Most of his victims were Christians (he himself was a Muslim), but even those closest to him weren't safe.  Amin practiced ritual canibalism, killing and eating the flesh of one of his wives and dining on the heart of one of his sons.   When he was eventually overthrown, his freezers were full of human body parts.  Amin was an exceptionally evil man, but, unfortunately, men of his type often manage to get to the top in modern Africa.
    CIA Statistics on Uganda (Note life expectancy, infant mortality rates, etc.)
    Background on Idi Amin

    Congo (Zaire)

An even worse tragedy what happened in neighboring Congo. King Leopold of Belgium took over the Congo in the late 19th century, using the county's vast resources to build himself a personal fortune.  He was absolutely ruthless, and hundreds of thousands died. The Belgian government eventually took control out of Leopold's hands, and things got better in some ways: but violence between white and black (and between black and black) eventually reached a point where the Belgian government  decided to give up.

In 1960, the Congo got independence: but once again, the immediate result was nothing good. The various tribal groups were at war until, ultimately, a strong, ruthless individual clawed his way to the top: Joseph Mobutu.

Mobutu was certainly a capable man, but he used his abilities not for the betterment of the Congo as a whole, but to enrich himself, his family, and his friends.  He made himself the richest man in the world, while his people were among the poorest.

Mobutu blamed his country's problems on the Belgians. European influence was very bad.  And so, he said, the key to success was to get rid of everything European.  He change the name of the country from "Congo" to Zaire--a more traditional African name, he said.  He also wanted to get rid of every trace of Christianity.  Not easy!  One sees the impact of Christianity even in his name.  So he had to change his name.  He changed it to "Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu Wa Za Banga."

This from one online source:

Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu Wa Za Banga, loosely translated "The all powerful warrior who because of endurance and will to win, will go from conquest to conquest, leaving fire in his wake."  In English this means "head rooster with access to all the hens in the henhouse."  The locals have their own version: "The cock who jumps all the chicks in the farmyard." 

To replace Christianity, Mobutu offered a new faith: Mobutusism.

In 1997, Mubutu was finally driven from power, but the result was nothing good.  Mobutu's successors now tried to undo everything he had done--calling the counry once again Congo instead of Zaire.  But once again, the country quickly devolved into civil war.  More than five million people have died--and the war still goes on in part today.  Very hard to create a thriving society under such conditions!

     CIA Statistics on the Congo

Subsaharan Africa as a whole

While the Congo situation is probably the worst of  the modern African nightmares, it is certainly not unique. Subsaharan Africa as a whole has struggled greatly during the transition period--not what those of us who grew up in the 1950's and 60's expected.  Africa during the post-World War II period looked like it was on the right track.  All that the countires of Africa needed was independence.  Well, beginning around 1960 and continuing through the 1970's, just about all the countries of Africa got that independence.  But in many, many instances, independence meant civil war.  These civil wars were insensified by the fact that they took place during the Cold War.  The Soviets supported one side, hoping that side would move in the Communist direction. The United States supported the other side, hoping to stop the spread of communism.  And so what happened is that, in countries that often didn't have any of the modern conveniences we've come to take for granted, one thing did tend to be very modern: ways of killing other people in large numbers.

When the Cold War came to an end, the African civil wars should have cooled down a bit.  They didn't.  America neglected its role as the world's only super power.  The Clinton administration, for instance, worked very hard to make sure the Rwanda situation would *not* be labeled genocide, because that would have required an international commitment (led by the United States) to stop the bloodbath.  Bad as Cold War intervention was, it turns out that post-Cold War non-intervention is even worse.