colonialism + independence

European colonialism in Africa proliferated in the late 1800s. Expansionary world capitalism created an insatiable need for raw materials and new markets. By 1914, 90 percent of Africa was divided among a handful of European nations. The colonial regime entailed territorial conquest, economic exploitation, and state-sponsored racism. After its creation in 1945, the United Nations monitored several former colonies, known as U.N. trust territories, which included Togoland (Togo), Somaliland (Somalia), and Tanganyika (Tanzania). The world organization had a vested interest in their stability.

When Todd Webb accepted the U.N. assignment in 1958, he visited nine African countries. Two were newly independent nations (Sudan and Ghana); six would soon gain independence in the early sixties (Togo, Somalia, Tanzania, Zanzibar, Kenya, and Zambia); and one would remain ruled by a white minority until 1980 (Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe). Many of Webb’s photos convey a sense of political hope and optimism. Yet, in light of the continued economic and political dependence that some African countries experience today, more critical voices speak of them as remaining in a state of “perpetual neocolonialism.”