Sixty years ago, a whopping 17 former African colonies became independent nations. In commemoration, I’m doing a miniseries on decolonization on this blog. So far, you can read an overview over decolonization and a closer look at decolonization processes within a colony. Today, we’ll deal with decolonization in the international context of the Cold War. All too often, it is assumed that the anticolonial movements and newly independent states were mere pawns in the games of the superpowers. However, they had quite some agency of their own. As you rightly expect, we’ll look at how different board games deal with the complex relationship between the Cold War and decolonization. Continue reading
In 1900, about half the global population lived under foreign suzerainty. A century later, almost all (formal) colonies had vanished. The climax of this breathtaking process of decolonization was in 1960, exactly 60 years ago, when 17 newly independent states joined the United Nations. We’ve looked at decolonization from a bird’s eye view in the first post of this miniseries. Today, we’re going to zoom way in and look at decolonization processes in individual colonies. First, we’ll get an overview of the agents of decolonization. Then, we’ll look at the ideas that influenced the decolonization struggle as well as the fight for longer colonial rule. Finally, we explore the limits of an explanation which only looks to the colony in question. And, as always, we look at board games.
Some years ago, I was just about to finish my undergrad studies in history. I had taken an advanced class on decolonization and was writing my B.A. thesis on the decolonization crisis in Angola. As I was already quite keen on board games back then, I was wondering – was there any board game about decolonization? So, as the 21st century goes, I typed „decolonization board game“ into a search engine. What I found was not exactly an entire board game – just a single card of that title from Twilight Struggle (Ananda Gupta/Jason Matthews, GMT Games), a game of whose existence I had been heretofore only vaguely aware. Twilight Struggle fascinated me. I’d never seen a game which went so deep and meaningful into history. Also, it was about the Cold War, my main research interest. And so an idea ripened within me. Two years later, I began working on my M.A. thesis on the Cold War in board games.
30 years ago, the Angolan government and its Cuban allies agreed on a ceasefire with South Africa after 13 years of fighting in Angola. The warring sides had been supported by the two superpowers USSR and USA with funds and weapons. “Ah, I see”, you nod, “a proxy war in the Cold War. Poor puppets of the superpowers!” Not so fast, my young friend. Let me tell you another story from that war. Before that ceasefire, it was a regular occurrence that Cuban soldiers armed with Soviet weapons protected the drilling sites of American oil companies. They protected them from a US-funded guerilla movement (many of which had been trained by Chinese Communist military advisors). Does it still sound like a textbook proxy war to you? – I’d thought not. Come along on this wild ride through decolonization in the Cold War. Our first stop will be Angola as a Portuguese colony. Then we will move on to the violent decolonization of Angola before we look at the Civil War proper. Your conceptions of superpowers in charge of a bipolar world will be shaken. To make up for that (and because I know that you like shiny pieces of cardboard), board games will feature on the way.
By the late 19th century, the presence of Europeans in Africa had become familiar – as merchants, missionaries, explorers, colonizers, planters, or conquerors. Yet they were rare enough that the meeting of two groups was still a special event. And one of the most special of those happened 120 years ago at the Nile in what is now South Sudan. The French Major Jean-Baptiste Marchand and the British Major-General Herbert Kitchener had met in the village of Fashoda – each with a small army under their command. While the two officers personally got along well, the rivalry between their governments placed the threat of war over their heads. But why would two major powers squabble over a small Sudanese village? The one-word answer is colonialism, but let’s be more specific. In the end, the Fashoda crisis did not lead to a war and instead paved the way for one of the more unlikely alliances of history. As usual, expect board games on the way!