1960 is referred to as the “Year of Africa” because of a series of events that took place during the year—mainly the independence of seventeen African nations—that highlighted the growing Pan-African sentiments in the continent.
According to France24.com, between January and December of 1960, 17 sub-Saharan African nations, including 14 former French colonies, gained independence from their former European colonists.
According to study.com, these countries were, in chronological order of independence: Cameroon, Togo, Madagascar, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia, Benin, Niger, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Chad, the Central African Republic, the Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Senegal, Mali, Nigeria, and Mauritania.
Most of these countries had been colonies of France, which at the time was in the midst of transitioning from the Fourth French Republic to the Fifth French Republic, a move that had the effect of granting independence for many of France’s overseas colonies.
August of 1960, in particular, was significant for African independence, with nine former French colonies becoming independent during this month: Benin, Niger, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Chad, Central Africa Republic, the Republic of the Congo, Gabon, and Senegal.
The three non-French colonies that gained independence this year were: the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which gained independence from Belgium; Nigeria, which gained independence from the United Kingdom; and Somalia, which formed from the union of British and Italian Somaliland, as well as an independent territory called the Dervish State.
According to France24.com, below is an overview of the 17 countries that got independence in 1960.
Cameroon got its independence from France on January 1, 1960.
As a former German colony which was divided between France and the United Kingdom in 1918, Cameroon acquired its independence thanks to armed movements.
Less than a year after the United Nations announced the end of French control, French Cameroon proclaimed its independence. The following year, the southern part of the country, under British control, merged with the north.
On May 5, 1960, Ahmadou Ahidjo was elected as the country’s first president.
The Republic of Togo got its independence on April 27, 1960.
As a former German colony subsequently under French and British mandates following World War I. The part of the country administered by the French had a status of “associated territory” in the French Union established in 1946.
The country became an autonomous republic (within the French Union) by referendum in 1956. In February 1958, victory for the Togolese Unity Committee, a nationalist movement, in legislative elections opened the way to independence.
The first elected president of the republic was Sylvanus Olympio. He was later killed in January 1963 during a coup d’état.
The democratic republic of Madagascar got its independence on June 26, 1960. It was a French overseas territory as of 1946.
This island was proclaimed an autonomous state within the French Community in 1958.
In 1960, President Philibert Tsiranana succeeded in convincing General de Gaulle to grant Madagascar total sovereignty and, in doing so, became the first president of the republic.
4. DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO
Congo got its independence on June 30, 1960.
In January 1959, under the leadership of Patrice Lumumba, riots broke out in Léopoldville (now Kinshasa) in what was then known as the Belgian Congo.
Belgian authorities called the main Congolese leaders to Brussels and decided to withdraw from the country, fearing a war of independence similar to the one that was ravaging Algeria at the time.
Belgian Congo thus became the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and would later temporarily be called Zaire under the rule of Mobutu Sese Seko.
Somalia got its independence on July 1, 1960.
A former Italian colony, Somalia merged on the day it became independent with the former British protectorate of Somaliland in 1960 to form the Somali Republic.
Somaliland had itself gained its full sovereignty five days earlier. The objective was to reconstitute the “Greater Somalia” of the pre-colonial era, which had included Kenya, Ethiopia, and the future Djibouti, which was at that time under French control.
Aden Abdulle Osman Daar, popularly known as Aden Adde, was a Somali politician who served as the first president of the Somali Republic from July 1, 1960 to July 6, 1967.
Benin republic got its independence on August 1, 1960.
A referendum on September 28, 1958, proposing a plan for a French-African Community, paved the way for the independence of Dahomey two years later, when power was transferred to President Hubert Maga.
The country, renamed Benin in 1975, has had a tumultuous political history since independence.
Niger got its independence on August 3, 1960.
A referendum in 1958 propelled Hamana Diori to power.
The republic was proclaimed on December 18, 1958, but independence is solemnly declared on August 3, 1960.
Hamani, the country’s first president, was overthrown by a coup d’état in 1974.
8. BURKINA FASO
Burkina Faso became independent on August 5, 1960.
As a French protectorate, the Republic of Upper Volta was proclaimed on December 11, 1958, but remains part of the French community, before gaining full independence on August 5, 1960.
In 1984, the country takes the name of Burkina Faso under the presidency of Thomas Sankara, who was assassinated in 1987.
9. IVORY COAST
Ivory Coast got its independence on August 7, 1960.
A referendum in 1958 resulted in the Ivory Coast becoming an autonomous republic.
In June of 1960, the pro-French Félix Houphouët-Boigny proclaimed the country’s independence, but maintaining close ties between Abidjan and Paris.
The Ivory Coast became one of the most prosperous West African nations.
Chad became independent on August 11, 1960.
Two years after becoming a republic, Chad achieved independence on August 11, 1960.
The prime minister at the time, François Tombalbaye, thus became the first president of a country that deteriorated rapidly into civil war between the Muslim north and the Christian-majority south.
11. CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC
In August 13, 1960 the Central African Republic gained its independence.
Under French control as of 1905, Ubangi-Chari became the Central African Republic on December 1, 1958.
When independence was proclaimed on August 13, 1960, David Dacko, cousin of national hero Barthélémy Boganda, was propelled to the head of the country.
A committed pan-Africanist, Boganda presided over French Equatorial Africa (the federation of French colonial territories in Central Africa) for two years, working for the emancipation of Africans. He died on March 29, 1959, in an airplane accident.
12. THE REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO
Republic of the Congo got its independence on August 15, 1960.
Ninety nine percent of the Congolese people voted to join the French Community in a 1958 referendum, making the country an autonomous republic.
The following year, violence broke out in Brazzaville, triggering a French military intervention.
On August 15, 1960, Congo gained independence, with Fulbert Youlou as president until 1963.
Gabon gained its independence on August 17, 1960.
In 1910, Gabon became one of the four territories of French Equatorial Africa. On 15 July 1960 France agreed to Gabon becoming fully independent. On 17 August 1960 Gabon became an independent country.
Criticised by several opposition parties for being anti-independence, Prime Minister Léon M’Ba was nevertheless resigned to proclaim it on August 17. He would have preferred that Gabon become a French department, but had to back down when General de Gaulle refused.
The African country of Senegal gained independence from France as part of the Mali Federation on April 4, 1960, and then became an independent nation a few months later on August 20, 1960.
The French colony of Senegal had been merged with another French colony called French Sudan in 1959, forming a larger colony called the Mali Federation.
On April 4, 1960, the French government signed an agreement to transfer all governmental power over to the Mali Federation’s government, effectively granting the federation full independence. However, a few months later, the federation split apart due to internal political conflicts, with French Sudan becoming the Republic of Mali, and Senegal forming the Republic of Senegal.
Léopold Sédar Senghor was Senegal’s first president in September 1960. Senghor was a very well-read man, educated in France. He was a poet and philosopher who personally drafted the Senegalese national anthem, “Pincez tous vos koras, frappez les balafons”.
The Mali Federation gained independence from France on 20 June, 1960.
Senegal withdrew from the federation in August 1960, which allowed the Sudanese Republic to become the independent Republic of Mali on 22 September, 1960, and that date is now the country’s Independence Day.
Following the withdrawal of Senegal from the federation in August 1960, the former Sudanese Republic became the Republic of Mali, with Modibo Keïta as president.
Nigeria was granted independence on October 1, 1960.
Divided into a federation of three regions – North, East, and West – by the Lyttelton Constitution in 1954, Nigeria, with its population of 34 million, was already considered the giant of the African continent.
A new constitution established a federal system with an elected prime minister and a ceremonial head of state. The NCNC, now headed by Nnamdi Azikiwe (who had taken control after Macaulay’s death in 1946), formed a coalition president Tafawa Balewa’s NPC after neither party won a majority in the 1959 elections.
Balewa continued to serve as the prime minister, a position he had held since 1957, while Azikiwe took the largely ceremonial position of president of the Senate.
On October 1, 1963, Nigeria became a republic. Nnamdi Azikiwe became president of the country, although as prime minister Tafawa Balewa was still more powerful.
As soon as independence was declared on October 1, the former British colony was confronted with its deep ethnic and religious divisions, which quickly became the cause of severe political instability.
Mauritania got its independence on November 28, 1960.
Mauritania proclaimed its independence on November 28, despite opposition from Morocco and the Arab League.
The country’s constitution, established in 1964, set up a presidential regime, with Prime Minister Ould Daddah becoming president. He remained in power until 1978.
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