Africa Redefined: A Call for Internal Initiative

Harvard International Review, Summer 2007 | Go to article overview

Africa Redefined: A Call for Internal Initiative


Located only blocks away from St. James's palace in London's West End, the neoclassical mansion of Lancaster House was perhaps an unlikely venue for the final act of a century-long era of colonial rule and occupation. However, beginning on December 10, 1979 the house played host to a conference of British and Rhodesian leaders who negotiated the terms of independence for the last African territory remaining under European colonial rule. It took the leaders three months to lay out the arrangement, but when a treaty was finally signed on December 21, 1979, there was a clear agreement that Great Britain would extricate itself from domestic affairs in Rhodesia. The curtain had fallen on Europe's 200 year colonial presence in Africa.

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The creation of the sovereign state of Rhodesia, which would later be renamed Zimbabwe, was the last independence movement in a 30 year wave of decolonization efforts that began when Libya threw out its Italian occupiers in 1951. For the first time in history, Africa was comprised solely of independent, sovereign states.

But it soon became evident that such declarations of independence would not alone be able to erode the mindset of European dominance that had marked the previous two centuries. While Africa was now ostensibly comprised of autonomous states, the major world powers continued to treat it with a significant degree of paternalism--as a region to be controlled, influenced, and exploited. Indeed, during the Cold War and well into the 1990s, Africa's colonial reputation as a continent demanding a considerable, persistent presence and influence from outside actors was still quite firmly intact.

Such was Africa's situation as it entered the 21st century. However, since that time the international community's relationship with Africa has markedly changed. Now, rather than seeking to control and influence the continent, outside actors are beginning to compete with each other for access to Africa's resource markets, while also giving Africa the credit to make significant decisions for itself. …

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