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  • Decolonization and Its Impact: A Comparative Approach to the End of the Colonial Empires
  • Charles C. Kolb
Decolonization and Its Impact: A Comparative Approach to the End of the Colonial Empires. By Martin Shipway. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell Publishing, 2008. 288 pp. $86.95 (cloth); $36.95 (paper).

Martin Shipway is lecturer in French studies at Birkbeck College, University of London; the author of The Road to War: France and Vietnam, 1944–1947 (1996); and has published journal articles and book chapters on French colonial policy making and decolonization [End Page 160] in Indochina, sub-Saharan Africa, Algeria, and Madagascar. In addition he has written on colonial discourse, psychology, and on postcolonial memory. His current work broadens his prior geographical foci to include the decolonization of British, Dutch, and Belgian colonies in South and Southeast Asia and Africa in the two decades following World War II.

In "Introduction: Decolonization in Comparative Perspective," Shipway considers the European colonial system and seven nations that broke ties: Vietnam (1945), Indonesia (1945), the Philippines (1946), Pakistan (1947), Indonesia (1949), South Africa (1910), and Hong Kong (1997). The initial chapter, "The Colonial State: Patterns of Rule, Habits of Mind," provides background on the colonial state, patterns of rule, and the "official mind." Chapter 2, "Colonial Politics before the Flood: Challenging the State, Imagining the Nation," focuses on the limits of colonial politics, moderate versus "mendicant" politics, the uses of tradition in colonial states ("thrones and dominions"), communism and nationalism, collaboration and resistance, Indian Nationalist politics to 1935, Vietnam in the 1930s, and blocked reform in Algeria. A subsequent essay, "The Impact of the Second World War and the 'First Wave' of Decolonization," provides case studies on Africa (Madagascar and Senegal), Southern Asia (Indochina, Burma, and Vietnam), the "endgame" of the Raj (India), and distinctions between dominion states (Ceylon and Burma). In "Imperial Designs and Nationalist Realities in Southeast Asia, 1945–1955," Shipway writes about the French Union, Indochina, Chinese and Muslim influences in Malaya, the Dutch "reconquest" of Indonesia, and the eight-year French and Viet Minh war a "front in the Cold War."

Chapter 5, "Shifting Frameworks for Change: The Late Colonial State in Africa," covers the period 1944–1951 and emphasizes the French and Belgian "welfare" states, British reforms in East Africa, the politics of the Gold Coast and Nigeria (Muslims and Ashanti), the Brazzaville Conference of 1944, the Ivory Coast, and the Central African Federation. "The Late Colonial State at War: Insurgency, Emergency and Terror" characterizes food shortages and famine in India, North Vietnam, and parts of Africa, origins of wars (Malagasy Insurrection, Mau Mau, Algerian War, and Cyprus Emergency), as well as "dirty wars" and policies to win hearts and minds. In "Towards Self government: Patterns of Late Colonial African Politics, 1951–1957," Shipway writes about the Gold Coast, Nigeria, the Sudan, Cameroun, and Tanganyika to illustrate the end of assimilation in French Africa and British policies. Last, in "Wind of Change: Endgame in Colonial [End Page 161] Africa, 1958–1964," he examines French policies in Algeria and Sub Saharan Africa under de Gaulle, Algeria (1958–1962), and the demise of a "platonic ideal" in the Belgian Congo.

In "Conclusion: The Impact of Decolonization," Shipway reviews the endgame of decolonization and the conclusions of a variety of historiographers and experts on the subject. He notes that World War II was central to decolonization but was "multi-layered and pluri-dimensional, with some devastating immediate consequences and others that took time to work themselves out" (p. 234) and that it was an "accelerator of imperial change" (p. 235). Extreme or eccentric experiments in decolonization had catastrophic consequences and were costly to both the colony and the colonizer.

Shipway's book joins approximately 260 others published during the past two decades that most often deal with specific instances of decolonization since 1940 rather than with a comparative assessment. Prasenjit Duara's edited reader, Decolonization: Perspectives from Now and Then (2004), brings together cutting edge thinking by major historians of decolonization, and writings by leaders of decolonizing countries. The essays emphasize the perspectives of the former colonies rather than a Western analysis of decolonization. The selection of writings also focuses on imperialism and...