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Are the Former British Colonies Better Off or Worse Off Outside the British Empire?

By Qasim Swati (United Kingdom)

A large number of countries have gained independence from the British Empire in a bid to exist as sovereign, prosperous and well-to-do states and be better off without being under the British Rule. The leaders  and influential people of these countries had founded and run various freedom and independence movements for their liberation from the grip of the British colonial power, while making numerous sacrifices by putting their lives at risk, going to prison, losing their properties, health and wealth and undergoing other miscellaneous hardships, problems and torture. For instance, it is believed that around 200,000 to 2 million people had died and some 14 million others had been displaced during the Partition of India, when the United Kingdom bestowed/conferred independence upon the Indo-Pak sub-continent in 1947 in the form of the creation of two newly sovereign states of India and Pakistan.

Despite the big price paid by the leaders, supporters, activists and campaigners of the different freedom movements for independence in the former British colonies, mandates, protectorates, dependencies, territories and dominions, the majority of these liberated countries did not make any desired, meaningful and significant progress, development and achievements, as intended and planned for by the Founding Fathers or founders of these countries. With the exception of the few former British mandates, colonies and protectorates, like the United States of America, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Malaysia and Singapore, most of the other former British colonies have proved to be failed states, because their economic and/or political systems have become so weak that their respective governments are no more in control and their political and economic systems have failed to function smoothly, systematically and appropriately.

Besides other social evils, corruption is very common in, almost, every individual country that has gained its independence from the United Kingdom, as the successor of the British Empire. For example, Ghana was given independence by the British Empire on 6 March, 1957, but it is the third most corrupt country in the world in the 2020 Best Countries’ rankings, ranked by perception, according to the U.S. News, reported in an article by Casey Leins (staff writer for the Best States section of U. S. News & World Report) on January 15, 2020, titled “The 10 Most Corrupt Countries, Ranked By Perception.”

Myanmar (Burma) is the fourth most corrupt country, globally, as listed in the same report, which was also a British colony in the past that gained independence from the British Empire just on January 4, 1948. Aside from being one of the worst countries in corruption worldwide, Myanmar is a military-dominated country of the globe and is very notorious for its human rights’ record, as there are many and serious human rights abuses and violations against the minorities of the country, including the Rohingya Muslims, Christians and Hindus at the hands of the security forces and extremist and fanatical Buddhist monks and groups of the country.

Kenya is another former British colony, which became independent in 1963 and which is the eighth most corrupt country across the world, as mentioned in the report.

Currently ranking 180 countries of the world “on a scale from 100 (very clean) to 0 (very corrupt)”, the 2019 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), published in January, 2020, by Transparency International (a German non-governmental organisation, founded in 1993), shows that the large number of the most corrupt countries of the world are either the former British colonies or have been its territories, dependencies, mandates, dominions and protectorates in the past. For instance, some of the countries, ruled and administered by the British Empire in the past, have been ranked and scored, as Somalia (ranked: 179 and scored: 9), South Sudan (178:12), Yemen (176:15), Sudan (173:16), Afghanistan (173:16), Libya (168:18), Iraq (162:20), Zimbabwe (158:24), Cameroon (153:25), Bangladesh (146:26), Nigeria (146:26), Kenya (137:28), Uganda (137:28), The Maldives (130:29), Myanmar/Burma (130:29), Malawi (123:31), Pakistan (120:32), Sierra Leone (119:33), Zambia (113:34), Egypt (105:35), The Gambia (96:37), Tanzania (96:37), Sri Lanka/Ceylon (93:38), Trinidad and Tobago (85:40), Lesotho (85:40), Guyana (85:40), Kuwait (85:40), Ghana (80:41), India (80:41), Bahrain (77:42), Solomon Islands (77:42), Jamaica (74:43), South Africa (70:44), Jordan (60:48), Mauritius (56:52), Oman (56:52), Malaysia (51:53), Grenada (51:53), Malta (50:54), Saint Lucia (48:55), Dominica (48:55), Cyprus (41:58), Saint Vincent and the Grenadines (39:59), Israel (35:60), Brunei (35:60), Botswana (34:61), Qatar (30:62), Barbados (30:62), The Bahamas (29:64), United States of America (23:69), United Arab Emirates (21:71), Hong Kong (16:76), Australia (12:77) and Canada (12:77), the same as the United Kingdom itself, Singapore (4:85, having better rank and score even that of the UK, and New Zealand (1:87, one in the top 2 of the world on the list).

As shown on the list above, the vast majority of the former British colonies are among the worst corrupt countries of the world, like Somalia, South Sudan, Yemen, Sudan and many more. However, there are just few of those countries, that were once under the control of the British Empire, that have made a significant progress, when this comes to corruption, like Australia and Canada, as both have the same rank and score on  the Corruption Perceptions Index, 2019, as the UK does have itself (12:77), whereas the two other former British colonies have even a better rank and score than that of the United Kingdom, i.e., New Zealand and Singapore, having ranked and scored at 1:87 and 4:85, respectively. New Zealand stands first in the first two top countries on the list, while Singapore is fourth on the top list.

Apart from corruption, poverty is another element that contributes a lot to making many former British colonies worse off outside the British Empire. A special report by Samuel Stebbins (the assistant managing editor for 24/7 Wall St [a financial news and commentary Website, covering the industry research, stock market and government policy on the economy, headquartered/based in New York, USA]), and Grant Suneson (a senior editor at 24/7 Wall St), titled “25 Poorest Countries in the World”, published on August 27, 2020, has listed 25 countries among the poorest, 9 out of which have remained the former British colonies, mandates and protectorates, including Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Solomon Islands, Afghanistan, The Gambia, Uganda, Sierra Leone, South Sudan and Malawi.

Most of these countries share many common characteristics and elements, such as corruption, low life expectancy, low Gross National Income (GNI) per capita, civil wars, economic and political instability, and unreliable or limited infrastructure, etc.

The prevalence of dictatorship, the power and dominance of military in the politics of the country, the existence of crafty and manipulative bureaucracy, the negative influence of various religious and extremist elements in the affairs of the country, the presence of civil wars and the lack of law and order situation, the shortage of genuine leadership, uncertain economic conditions, political instability, the paucity of a fair legal or judicial system, the absence of equal opportunities for all and the massive gap between the rich and the poor of the country are some of the many factors responsible for making most of these former British colonies to be worse off outside the British Empire.

Most of these countries have been controlled either by the military dictatorship or by the civilian one in some form. They are ruled by juntas, especially military juntas, flag officers, authoritarian regimes, tyrants, despots and dictators. The majority of these countries are also home to miscellaneous coups d’etat, martial law and state of emergency. For instance, Egypt had been under the control of the British Empire till 1922 or even actually being controlled by the United Kingdom for its such matters, as defence, foreign policy and other several affairs until 1952. Nevertheless, after its independence from the British Empire, Egypt has seen different coups d’etat in its political life, like the Egyptian Revolution of 1952 (1953 – 1956), 1981 – 2011 (the regime of Muhammad Hosni El Sayed Mubarak, as an Egyptian political and military leader), 2011 – 2012 (The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, led by Field Marshal Abdul Fatah al-Sisi and Lieutenant-General Mohamed Ahmed Zaki), 2013 – 2015 (Abdel Fattah Saeed Hussein Khalil el-Sisi being still in power as the sixth and current President of Egypt.

Similarly, The Gambia is another former British colony and protectorate which gained independence from the British Empire in 1965, where the Armed Forces Provisional Ruling Council (AFPRC) carried out a military coup d’etat in July, 1994 and got control of the power in the country, which lasted until 1996.

Ghana (officially known as the Republic of Ghana) has also remained a British colonial territory in the past and was given independence in 1957. Since its freedom, the country has gone through different coups d’etat and military regimes of 1966 – 1969, 1972 – 1975, 1975 – 1979 and 1981 – 1993.

Having declared its independence on 04 October, 1966 from the United Kingdom, Lesotho was a British Crown Colony in the past, but the country underwent a military coup in 1986 which forced a government out of office, led by Dr. Leabua Jonathan. This recurring series of coups continued (1986 – 1993, 1994) and even one alleged abortive military coup was conducted on 30 August, 2014, which led to forcing Thomas Thabane (the then president of the country) to leave the country and run away to South Africa for a three-day-period.

Pakistan is another former British colony, which has experienced several military and civilian dictatorships in its 73-year life after its coming into existence in 1947. The list of the military dictatorship in the history of the country includes such coups, as the control of powers by Field Marshal Muhammad Ayub Khan (1958 – 1969), General Agha Muhammad Yahya Khan (1969 – 1971), General Muhammad Zia -UL- Haq (1977 – 1988) and General Pervez Musharraf (1999 – 2008).

But dictatorship is not the only problem faced by the Pakistani society, while trying to stabilise the political system of the country, as there are so many other obstacles, barriers and obstructions for the nation to get rid of the current situation and make progress. Apart from the influence and ascendancy of the military within the political system of the country, Pakistan is also surrounded by and engulfed in such other complications, stumbling blocks and issues, as corruption, the control of powerful bureaucracy, an enormous gap between the rich and the poor, political and economic monopoly, feudal system, the abuse of religion by certain selfish religious circles, sectarianism, women’s rights violations, human rights violations and abuses against minorities, like Christians, Sikhs and Hindus and tense relations with its neighbouring countries, such as India and Afghanistan.

This is a huge list of the countries among the former British colonies that have been ruled or are still being governed by the military and/or civilian dictatorship, which needs more time to be described in detail. However, the history of military dictatorship within some of the former British mandates, protectorates and colonies gives us examples of such military regimes or military rules and various coups d’etas, as Libya (1969 – 2011), Nigeria (1966 – 1979; 1983 – 1999), Sierra Leone (1967 – 1968; 1992 – 1996; 1997 – 1998), Somalia (1969 – 1976; 1980 – 1991); Sudan (1958 – 1964; 1969 – 1971; 1985 – 1986; 1989 – 1993; 2019 – present), Uganda (1971 – 1979; 1985 – 1986), Zimbabwe (the authoritarian regime of Robert Gabriel Mugabe since 1980 – 2017 and, then, military rule, 2017 – 2018 in the country), Grenada (1979 – 1983), Afghanistan (1978), Myanmar/Burma (1962 – 1988; 1988 – 2011), Iraq (1933 – 1935; 1936; 1937- 1938; 1941; 1949 – 1950; 1952 – 1953; 1958 – 1963; 1963 – 1968 – 1979), The Maldives (1988 – 1989), The Yemen Arab Republic/North Yemen (1962 – 1967; 1974 – 1977; 1977 – 1978; 1978 – 1982) and Cyprus (1974), etc.

Here, it is noteworthy to clarify that India is not on the list of the former British colonies that have gone through the military dictatorship or any coup after gaining independence from Britain, the successor of the British Empire, but it does not mean that India is better off outside the British Empire. Instead, India has been facing so many challenges, problems and issues which the country is not able to cope with and resolve successfully. India is said to be the largest democracy of the world, but the people of Kashmir are not given their Right of Self-determination which can enable the Kashmiri people to decide for themselves about how to be ruled or governed. Likewise, the Khalistan Movement is a Sikh separatist movement, calling for a separate Sikh state, in order to create a Sikh theocracy in the Punjab region of South Asia. The movement is dated back to as early as 1940, while struggling for founding or establishing Khalistan (Land of the Pure Khalsa, meaning the body or company of fully initiated Sikhs). However, the Sikhs are denied their such a Right of Self-determination by every Indian government in power, and they are not allowed by the authorities to create such a state as Khalistan.

Besides such undemocratic practices, as mentioned earlier, India is also faced with many other problems, like corruption, poverty, human rights violations against different minorities, including Muslims, Sikhs and Christians at the hands of fanatical Hindus and extremist Hindu organisations, unpleasant relations with some of its neighbours, like Pakistan and China, having a large number of rape cases across the country on a daily basis and women’s rights abuses and violations, etc.

Apart from others, Bangladesh is another former British colony that is worse off outside the British Empire and facing so many problems. Having had the highest gross domestic product in British India, East Bengal (now covering Bangladesh) was hugely important to the British Empire, due to its plantation economy, specifically its tea and jute. The British Government had developed this region of the British Empire a lot by establishing schools, colleges, even a university at that time, and opening cinemas in various towns of East Bengal during the early 20th century, while introducing municipal water and electricity systems as early as in the 1890s , along with building large seaports and tax-free river ports and setting up or starting the first railway, which made Bengal one of the first regions in Asia to have a railway. Hoverer, after coming into being in 1971, as a result of the dismemberment process of Pakistan, Bangladesh is faced with varied problems, issues and complications, like corruption, poverty, workers’ rights violations, human rights abuses and violations, like restrictions on freedom of speech and democratic space, extrajudicial killings, torture, enforced disappearances, forced prostitution, child prostitution and sex trafficking (mainly due to poverty and a massive gap between the rich and the poor) and child labour, etc.

Qasim Swati is a freelance journalist, writer and human rights activist, based in the UK, and can be reached at or
















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