Postcolonialism

Who Deserves Independence?

A historian spotlights the backstories of nationalist groups that were passed over during the post-World War II wave of decolonization.

India map of states and disputed territories

By Lydia Walker

Twentieth-century global decolonization changed the map. In the thirty years after the Second World War, sixty countries—mostly in Asia and Africa—became independent from colonial powers. During the high point of accelerated decolonization in 1960, the United Nations recognized seventeen independent states. At times it seemed that there was a new country every week. 

This narrative of progressive national liberation ignores two important implications. First, it overlooks the existence of people who claimed—yet did not receive—independence during this period of heightened possibility. Second, it elides the fact that international recognition required an external audience—sometimes the United Nations, or a former colonizer, or a great power backer—to determine which ‘people-territorial match’ was a nation deserving a state, or a minority requiring protections, or indeed, a group of humans needing rights. Recognition signifies seeing a people as a state, considering a people as a political unit that ‘deserves’ statehood, and therefore being willing to hear their claim in international politics. The unspoken presence of a silent, sometimes shifting entity that bestowed international recognition suggested that it was incumbent on the nationalist movement to demonstrate its legitimacy, and construed the granting of statehood as a moral rather than a strategic question.... Read more about Who Deserves Independence?