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10-08-2015, 16:14

COLONIALISM IN AFRICA

Colonialism had similar consequences in Africa, although with some changes in emphasis. As we have seen, European economic interests were more limited in Africa than elsewhere. Having seized the continent in what could almost be described as a fit of hysteria, the European powers had to decide what to do with it. With economic concerns relatively limited except for isolated areas, such as gold mines in the Transvaal and copper deposits in the Belgian Congo, interest in Africa declined, and most European governments settled down to govern their new territories with the least effort and expense possible. In many cases, this meant a form of indirect rule reminiscent of the British approach to the princely states in the Indian peninsula. The British, with their tradition of decentralized government at home, were especially prone to adopt this approach. In the minds of British administrators, the stated goal of indirect rule was to preserve African political traditions. The desire to limit cost and inconvenience was one reason for this approach, but it may also have been based on the conviction that Africans were inherently inferior to the white race and thus incapable of adopting European customs and institutions. In any event, indirect rule entailed relying to the greatest extent possible on existing political elites and institutions. Initially, in some areas, the British simply asked a local ruler to formally accept British authority and to fly the Union Jack over official buildings. Sometimes it was the Africans who did the asking, as in the case of the African leaders in Cameroons who wrote to Queen Victoria: We wish to have your laws in our towns. We want to have every fashion altered, also we will do according to your Consul’s word. Plenty wars here in our country. Plenty murder and plenty idol worshippers. Perhaps these lines of our writing will look to you as an idle tale. We have spoken to the English consul plenty times about having an English government here. We never have answer from you, so we wish to write you ourselves.4 Nigeria offers a typical example of British indirect rule. British officials operated at the central level, but local authority was assigned to native chiefs, with British district officers serving as intermediaries with the central administration. Where a local aristocracy did not exist, the British assigned administrative responsibility to clan heads from communities in the vicinity. The local authorities were expected to maintain law and order and to collect taxes from the native population. As a general rule, indigenous customs were left undisturbed; a dual legal system was instituted that applied African laws to Africans and European laws to foreigners. One advantage of such an administrative system was that it did not severely disrupt local customs and institutions. In fact, however, it had several undesirable consequences. In the first place, it was essentially a fraud because all major decisions were made by the British administrators while the native authorities served primarily as the means of enforcing decisions. Moreover, indirect rule served to perpetuate the autocratic system that often existed prior to colonial takeover. It was official policy to inculcate respect for authority in areas under British rule, and there was a natural tendency to view the local aristocracy as the African equivalent of the traditional British ruling class. Such a policy provided few opportunities for ambitious and talented young Africans from outside the traditional elite and thus sowed the seeds for class tensions after the restoration of independence in the twentieth century. The situation was somewhat different in East Africa, especially in Kenya, which had a relatively large European population attracted by the temperate climate in the central highlands. The local government had encouraged Europeans to migrate to the area as a means of promoting economic development and encouraging financial self-sufficiency. To attract them, fertile farmlands in the central highlands were reserved for European settlement while, as in South Africa, specified reserve lands were set aside for Africans. The presence of a substantial European minority (although, in fact, they represented only about 1 percent of the entire population) had an impact on Kenya’s political development. The European settlers actively sought self-government and dominion status similar to that granted to such former British possessions as Canada and Australia. The British government, however, was not willing to run the risk of provoking racial tensions with the African majority and agreed only to establish separate government organs for the European and African populations. The situation in South Africa, of course, was unique, not only because of the high percentage of European settlers but also because of the division between Englishspeaking and Afrikaner elements within the European population. In 1910, the British agreed to the creation of the independent Union of South Africa, which combined the old Cape Colony and Natal with the two Boer republics. The new union adopted a representative government, but only for the European population, while the African reserves of Basutoland (now Lesotho), Bechuanaland (now Botswana), and Swaziland were subordinated directly to the crown. The union was now free to manage its own domestic affairs and possessed considerable autonomy in foreign relations. Remaining areas south of the Zambezi River, eventually divided into the territories of Northern and Southern Rhodesia, were also placed under British rule. British immigration into Southern Rhodesia was extensive, and in 1922, after a popular referendum, it became a crown colony. Most other European nations governed their African possessions through a form of direct rule. The prototype was the French system, which reflected the centralized administrative system introduced in France by Napoleon. As in the British colonies, at the top of the pyramid was a French official, usually known as a governor-general, who was appointed from Paris and governed with the aid of a bureaucracy in the capital city. At the provincial level, French commissioners were assigned to deal with local administrators, but the latter were required to be conversant in French and could be transferred to a new position at the needs of the central government. The French ideal was to assimilate their African subjects into French culture rather than preserving their native traditions. Africans were eligible to run for office and to serve in the French National Assembly, and a few were appointed to high positions in the colonial administration. Such policies reflected the relative absence of racist attitudes in French society, as well as the French conviction of the superiority of Gallic culture and their revolutionary belief in the universality of human nature. After World War I, European colonial policy in Africa entered a new and more formal phase. The colonial administrative network extended into outlying areas, where it was represented by a district official and defended by a small native army under European command. Colonial governments paid more attention to improving social services, including education, medicine, sanitation, and communications. The colonial system was now viewed more formally as a moral and social responsibility, a “sacred trust” to be maintained by the civilized countries until the Africans became capable of self-government. Governments placed more emphasis on economic development and the exploitation of natural resources to provide the colonies with the means of achieving selfsufficiency. More Africans were now serving in colonial administrations, though relatively few were in positions of responsibility. At the same time, race consciousness probably increased during this period. Segregated clubs, schools, and churches were established as more European officials brought their wives and began to raise families in the colonies. At the same time, the establishment of European colonial rule often had the effect of reducing the rights and the status of women in Africa. African women had traditionally benefited from the prestige of matrilineal systems and were empowered by their traditional role as the primary agricultural producer in their community. Under colonialism, not only did European settlers take the best land for themselves, but in introducing new agricultural techniques, they tended to deal exclusively with males, encouraging the latter to develop lucrative cash crops, while women were restricted to traditional farming methods. While African men applied chemical fertilizer to the fields, women used manure. While men began to use bicycles and eventually trucks to transport goods, women still carried goods on their heads, a practice that continues today.

 

 

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