This Day in International Law–March 6

By: Maria Nicole Cleis |

Today, Ghana celebrates its fifty-eighth Independence Day. It was the first Sub-Saharan country to gain independence from Great Britain on March 6, 1957, after a long period of British rule. Ghana’s path to independence was nonviolent: under strong international pressure to decolonize after World War II, the British government accepted the unanimous vote in favor of independence reached in the Gold Coast Legislative Assembly.

For other Southern African countries, the path to independence was more problematic. In some States, the entrenched white settler population opposed efforts of the black majority for independence; in others, the colonial rulers (Portugal, in particular) desperately hung on to their power at the price of all-out war. The nation-building of the newly independent African countries was further affected by the economic, political, and ideological competition of the superpowers during the Cold War. In the words of Sylvanus E. Olympic, the two superpowers “[introduced] the cold war into Africa.” Together with the arbitrarily drawn borders of the new nation States, this provided a breeding ground for violence and ethnic conflicts. Accordingly, many African countries struggled during their transition to independence.

Decolonization has significantly shaped public international law and international relations. The new States emerging from colonial rule have changed the balance of power within the United Nations and now contribute to the formulation of rules of international law. They are vocal advocates for the doctrine of self-determination, as derived from Art. 1 (2) UN Charter and further developed in the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples. They have had an important role in pushing decolonization forward: to date, there are seventeen non-self-governing territories remaining around the world – eighty less than prior to the creation of the United Nations.

 Maria Nicole Cleis is a Visiting Scholar at the University of California, Berkeley.  She is a contributor to Travaux.

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