The story begins

In 1950 only Liberia, South Africa, Egypt and Ethiopia were independent of Western colonial powers. In 1951, Libya became the first country to gain independence. Over the next two decades, many countries followed suit, and in 1960, France granted independence to most of French West Africa.

Children from Isolo, NigeriaThe fate of many African countries depended on the success of their first ruler after independence. In some countries, power was transferred in a well-ordered and peaceful manner, and stability was achieved for decades to come. Félix Houphouët-Boigny brought success to Cote D'Ivoire from 1960 to 1993, while in Tanzania, Julius Nyerere held office from 1961-1986.

Some imperial nations were highly reluctant to grant independence, resulting in bloody wars of independence, some of which lasted for more than a decade. In certain cases, such as Mozambique and Angola, long-fought independence was followed by years of bloody civil war. Angola acquired independence in 1975, but civil war raged until 2002. These wars were partly driven by militarisation which occurred during the wars for independence, which created a military base around the incoming presidents. Conflict over wealth also played a part, especially in Angola, which has rich diamond and oil resources. Their people, and especially children, paid a heavy price for the greed of others.

SOS Nursery School Harare ZimbabweRhodesia declared its independence from the UK unilaterally in 1965. However, it was not until 1979 that a white minority government gave way to a democratic constitution ending 16 years of bush war.

Burundi gained independence from Belgium in 1962. Tribal and ethnic divisions surfaced as soon as the colonial powers receded. In 1963, Hutus killed around 12,000 Tutsi tribe members in Burundi, and several hundred thousand more fled across the border into Rwanda. Between 1966 and 1976, inter-tribal violence continued to involve government forces on both sides. Several hundred thousand people lost their lives during this period of turmoil.

You can explore how Africa developed from the 1970s onwards elsewhere on this site. For a more detailed look at problems faced across the continent today and what SOS Children is doing to help in 45 countries, visit out African sponsorship hub page...