Anti Colonial Nationalism

What is anti-colonial nationalism? How does anti-colonial nationalism differ from post-colonial nationalism? How did former European colonies gain their independence? This article will answer these questions and more by examining anti-colonial nationalism. Anti-colonial nationalism is a branch of nationalism you will encounter in your political studies.

Anti Colonial Nationalism Anti Colonial Nationalism

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    Anti-colonial nationalism meaning

    During the colonial period, when European powers ruled over many regions in Africa and Asia, the people living there began to develop a sense of self-determination and a desire for national liberation. With this came a form of nationalism that was specifically anti-colonial in that it rejected the rule of the colonial powers and sought independence from colonial interference. We refer to this as anti-colonial nationalism.

    In the twentieth century, anti-colonialism changed the political geography of much of the world. World War I culminated in the Treaty of Versailles, which designated Germany as the loser of the war and affirmed the right of self-determination for European nations. The treaty, however, failed to mention or endorse the right to self-determination for those outsides of Europe. Instead, it handed over the formerly-owned German colonies to the British and French empires. In the interwar period, independence movements increasingly threatened the overstretched empires of France and the United Kingdom, with the collapse of the European empires occurring after World War II.

    Historical overview of African and Asian colonialism

    Let us now go over some of the most important events of colonial history in Africa and Asia.

    The Scramble for Africa

    The ‘Scramble for Africa’ refers to a period that began in the 1880s when European powers invaded, divided, and colonised Africa for their interests. As a result of the Berlin Conference of 188485, European powers eliminated most forms of autonomous government on the African continent and divided Africa among the European powers. In 1870, the European powers still controlled 10% of Africa. However, after the Scramble for Africa, the European powers controlled 90% of Africa by 1914.

    Anti-Colonial Nationalism Maps of Africa in 1880 and 1913 to show the effect of the Scramble for Africa StudySmarterFig. 1 - Maps of Africa in 1880 and 1913 to show the effect of the Scramble for Africa

    Historically, European powers viewed Africa as abundant with valuable natural resources and an underdeveloped economy. Africa could also be used to spread Western culture, language, and religion throughout the world. During the colonial period, European colonial powers encouraged the indigenous populations to reject their culture and traditions in favour of the culture of the ruler. As a result, today, French, Portuguese, and English are the official languages in many African countries, serving as remnants of the colonial era.

    When oppressed nations began to realise their oppression and reject their oppressors’ culture favouring their traditional way of life, the anti-colonial movement was born. This desire for a nation to rule itself on its territory may also be associated with a type of liberal nationalism. Anti-colonial nationalism, on the other hand, differs in that it is based mostly on the experiences of African and Asian countries, all of which had the same experiences at the same time.

    Colonialism in Asia

    In the 16th century, the Portuguese discovered a sea route to India. However, the rapid rise of the rival Dutch East India Company overshadowed Portuguese influence in Asia. The Dutch established bases in India, Malaysia, and Sri Lanka and took over the lucrative trade in Japan from the Portuguese. Soon after the Dutch dominated Asia, the English and French established their settlements in India and simultaneously built up trade with China, making their ventures more lucrative than those of the Dutch. As a result, England and France became the dominant European powers in Asia. As a result of the Seven Years’ War, which culminated in 1763, the British eliminated French influence in India and established the British East India Company, which became the major political force on the Indian subcontinent.

    In the late 19th century, demand for tea, spices, and silk was the main driver of European imperialism. However, industrialisation led to greater demand for raw materials found in Asia. This saw the scramble for new European industrial goods and products markets in Africa, the Americas, and especially Asia. This scramble coincided with a new era of global colonial expansion known as New Imperialism.

    New imperialism was characterised by a shift from trade and indirect rule to formal colonial control of overseas territories to be governed as political extensions of their mother countries.

    From 1870 until the beginning of World War I, Britain, France, and the Netherlands had established colonial rule in Asia by acquiring territories in the Indian subcontinent, the Middle East, and the rest of Southeast Asia.

    Examples of anti-colonial nationalism

    What would be some examples of anti-colonial nationalism throughout history?

    Indian Independence Movement

    In the second half of the 18th century, the British colonisation of India began with the British East India Company’s control of Bengal and gradual expansion into other parts of India. When the British government replaced the East India Company as ruler of India in 1858, it became the ‘paramount’ ruler.Mahatma Gandhi joined the fight for independence in 1914 after witnessing the decades-long struggle against British rule. Satyagraha refers to Gandhi’s nonviolent protest methods in which he urged Indians to stop buying British goods, stop paying taxes to the British government, and participate in peaceful demonstrations and marches.

    Anti-colonial Nationalism National Memorial of the Salt March StudySmarterFig. 2 - National Memorial of the Salt March, one of the acts of non-violent disobedience led by Mahatma Gandhi

    The wealthier classes of India demanded independence from British rule through petitions written by educated Indians. Others expressed their feelings by supporting Britain’s enemies in World War II, while many others used violence to express themselves. British forces finally gave in during the war and declared India’s independence and division into India and Pakistan. British rule over India lasted almost 200 years until 1947 when India regained its independence.

    Algerian independence movement

    During the Algerian War of Independence (1954–1962), Algeria sought independence from France. Algerians became increasingly resentful after France failed to deliver on its promises of a more autonomous Algeria after World War II. In 1954, the National Liberation Front (FLN) waged a guerrilla war against France and sought recognition from the United Nations to build an independent Algerian state. Algerian fighters operated mainly in rural areas, with the country’s borders being a particular site of violence.

    Although the war was concentrated in rural areas, the most severe war for independence occurred in Algiers, the Algerian capital. This event became known as the Battle of Algiers (195657). In this battle, FLN fighters launched a series of violent attacks on the city. French forces succeeded in regaining control, but only by brutal means, and the ferocity of the battle deprived France of the desire to continue resisting demands for independence. French President Charles de Gaulle declared in 1959 that Algerians had the right to determine their future. Hostile forces conducted terrorist attacks and attempted to prevent independence. Despite these actions, an agreement was signed in 1962, and Algeria became an independent nation. The Algerian War of Independence was one of the most brutal wars of independence during the anti-colonial period.

    Haitian anti-colonial resistance

    The Haitian Revolution refers to the period that began with the successful slave revolt of 1791 and ended with the establishment of Haiti as an independent and sovereign state in 1804. Haiti became the first country founded by formerly enslaved people and is referred to as the first black republic. The Haitian Revolution is a defining moment in the history of the Atlantic world, as it triggered the largest slave revolt since the Third Servile War in ancient Rome in 73 BC. The Haitian Revolution led to the abolition of slavery in Haiti and Haiti’s independence from France.

    Anti-colonial and post-colonial nationalism theory

    Anti-colonial and post-colonial nationalism are phrases used to characterise nations that have gone through two historical periods, giving their nationalist experience a dual nature.

    The term anti-colonial nationalism refers to the first phase when the indigenous populations of the colonies began to question and eventually reject the authority of the colonial powers. It usually emerges in tandem with a sense of nationhood.

    Post-colonial nationalism refers to nation-building and the creation of institutions for the governance of the newly independent nations after they gained their independence from the colonial powers.

    The question of how best to implement post-colonial nationalism persists in formerly colonial entities to this day. Although European empires have disappeared from Africa and Asia, the effects of the colonial rule remain. The institutions, systems, and structures the colonial powers created persist to this day.

    One question facing much of the post-colonial world is: how can colonialism be properly dismantled? While the independence movement of the anti-colonial period was instrumental in ridding Africa and Asia of colonial rule, the movement has only scratched the surface when it comes to fully liberating themselves or their nations from colonial control.

    Anti Colonial Nationalism - Key takeaways

    • With the events of the French Revolution, nationalism emerged in Europe.

    • Anti-colonial nationalism is a form of nationalism that rejects the rule of colonial powers and seeks independence from colonial interference.

    • The ‘Scramble for Africa’ refers to a period that began in the 1880s when European powers invaded, divided, and colonised Africa for their interests.

    • During the colonial period, European colonial powers encouraged the indigenous populations to reject their culture and traditions in favour of the culture of the ruler.

    • However, anti-colonial nationalism is something different, as it relates to the experiences of African, Asian, and Latin American nations, all of which had the same experiences during a similar time.

    • British rule over India lasted almost 200 years until 1947 when India regained its independence.

    • The Algerian War of Independence was one of the most brutal wars for independence of the anti-colonial period.


    1. Fig. 1 - Scramble for Africa 1880-1913 ( by Somebody500 ( licensed by CC-BY-SA-4.0 (
    2. Fig. 2 - National Salt Satyagraha Memorial ( by Snehrashmi ( licensed by CC-BY-SA-4.0 (
    Frequently Asked Questions about Anti Colonial Nationalism

    What is anti-colonial nationalism?

    Anti-colonial nationalism is a specific type of nationalism that seeks to reject the rule of colonial powers and seek independence from colonial interference. 

    How is anti-colonial movement related to nationalism? 

    The anti-colonial movement shares nationalism’s core concept of self-determination and the establishment of an independent and sovereign nation.

    Why did people start anti-colonial movements?    

    Many people start anti-colonial movements after a growing desire to reject colonial rule as well as the cultivation of a sense of nationhood separate from the colonisers.      

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Which of these figures was instrumental in the gaining of independence for India?

    When was the Algerian War of Independence?

    Who was the president of France during the end of the Algerian War of Independence?


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