The independence of 17 countries in sub-Saharan Africa throughout 1960 was, in part, the result of a long process that began some 15 years earlier in the tumult of the Second World War.
At the end of the conflict, African separatists put pressure on the colonial powers, reminding them of the promises made to support the war effort. The colonizing countries, now under the umbrella of the United States.
In 1944, at Brazzaville, General de Gaulle suggested that it was time for France to embark “on the road to new times”. Two years later, the colonial empire was replaced by a French Union, which became the French Community when the Fifth Republic came into being in 1958.
At the same time, on the continent, Morocco, Tunisia, Sudan, Ghana and Guinea gained their independence, while Algeria’s “events” continued to exhaust and discredit Paris.
- CAMEROON – 1 January. A former German colony shared in 1918 between France and the United Kingdom, Cameroon gained its independence through armed struggle movements. Less than a year after the UN announced the lifting of French guardianship, the country proclaimed its independence. The following year, its southern part, under British tutelage, reached the North. Ahmadou Ahidjo became President of the Republic on 5 May 1960.
- TOGO – 27 April. A former German colony under French and British mandates in the aftermath of the First World War, the part of the country under the tutelage of Paris enjoys an associated territory within the French Union, established in 1946. The country became an autonomous republic after a referendum in 1956. In February 1958, the victory in the legislative elections of the nationalist movement of the Togolese Unity Committee paved the way for independence. Elected the first president of the Republic, Sylvanus Olympio was shot in a coup d’état in January 1963.
- MADAGASCAR – 26 June. Overseas territory in 1946, the “Grande Ile” became a republic within the French Community in 1958. Given special powers in January 1960, President Philibert Tsiranana succeeded in convincing General de Gaulle to grant total sovereignty to Madagascar and, at the same time, became the first President of the Republic.
- DR CONGO – 30 June. In January 1959, under the leadership of Patrice Lumumba, riots broke out in Léopoldville, present-day Kinshasa, in the Belgian Congo. The authorities gather the main Congolese leaders in Brussels and decide to withdraw from the country, fearing that they would have to face a war of independence similar to the one that ravaged Algeria at the same time. The Belgian Congo then took the name of Democratic Republic of Congo. It will momentarily become Zaire, under the era of Mobutu Sese Seko.
- SOMALIA – 1 July. A former Italian colony, Somalia merges, on the day of its independence, with the former British protectorate of Somali land, which acquired its full sovereignty five days earlier. The objective of the power is to reconstitute the “great Somalia” before the colonization, which included Kenya, Ethiopia and the future state of Djibouti, territory then under French tutelage.
- BENIN – 1 August. The referendum of 28 September 1958 proposing the draft Franco-African Community paved the way for the independence to which Dahomey acceded on 1 August. The country took the name of Benin in 1975. The powers are transferred to President Hubert Maga. Since independence, the country has had a turbulent political history.
- NIGER – 3 August. In the 1958 referendum, the “yes” prevailed and Diori Hamani came to power. The Republic was proclaimed on 18 December 1958, but independence was solemnly declared on 3 August 1960. Diori Hamani, the country’s first president, was overthrown by a coup d’état in 1974.
- BURKINA FASO – 5 August. French protectorate, the Republic of Upper Volta was proclaimed on 11 December 1958 within the framework of the French Community, before becoming independent on 5 August 1960. In 1984, the country took the name of Burkina Faso, under the presidency of Thomas Sankara, assassinated in 1987.
- CÔTE D’IVOIRE – 7 August. After the 1958 referendum, Côte d’Ivoire became an autonomous republic. In June 1960, the very Francophile Félix Houphouet-Boigny reluctantly proclaimed the country’s independence, while preserving the close ties between Abidjan and Paris. Côte d’Ivoire will become one of the most prosperous countries in West Africa.
- CHAD – 11 August. Two years after becoming a republic, Chad gained independence on 11 August 1960. The then Prime Minister, François Tombalbaye, became in fact the first president of a country that rapidly fell into a civil war between the North, Muslim, and the South, with a Christian majority.
- CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC – 13 August. Under French supervision since 1905, Oubangui-Chari became the Central African Republic on 1 December 1958. Independence, proclaimed on August 13, 1960, brought to the head of the country David Dacko, cousin of the national hero Barthélémy Boganda. A convinced Pan-Africanist, he worked within French Equatorial Africa, which he presided over for two years, for the emancipation of the African people before dying in a plane crash on 29 March 1959.
- CONGO-BRAZZAVILLE – 15 August. In the 1958 referendum, the Congolese said “yes” to the French community by 99% of the vote. The country then became an autonomous republic. He is headed by Father Fulbert Youlou, Prime Minister. The following year, fighting broke out in Brazzaville, forcing the French army to intervene. On 15 August 1960, Congo gained independence. Fulbert Youlou became president, a position he left in 1963.
- GABON – 17 August. Criticized by several opposition parties for having renounced independence, Prime Minister Leon M’Ba resigned himself to proclaiming it on 17 August. He would have preferred that Gabon become a French department, but had to capitulate to the refusal of General de Gaulle.
- SENEGAL, MALI – 20 August, 22 September. The independent republics of Senegal and Mali were born on the ashes of the ephemeral Federation of Mali – established on 17 January 1959 – which brought together Senegal and the former French South. The two countries should initially have formed only one, but following major differences between Léopold Sédar Senghor, the (Senegalese) President of the Federal Assembly, and his (Sudanese) Prime Minister, Modibo Keita, the Dakar authorities withdraw from the Federation and declare their independence on 20 August. Bamako’s followed suit a month later.
- NIGERIA – 1 October. Administratively divided into a federation of three regions – North, East, and West – since the establishment of the Lyttelton Constitution in 1954, with a population of 34 million, Nigeria is already considered, at the time, the giant of Africa. From its independence on 1 October, the former British colony was confronted with its deep ethnic and religious division, which rapidly led to significant political instability.
- MAURITANIA– 28 November. Mauritania proclaimed its independence on 28 November, despite opposition from Morocco and the United Arab League, which claimed that the country was an integral part of the Cheririfian kingdom. The dispute continued until 1969, when Rabat renounced its claims against its southern neighbour. In 1961, Mauritania adopted a constitution establishing a presidential regime. Prime minister since 1958, Moktar Ould Daddah became head of state. It will remain so until 1978.