Courtesy Reuters

THE annexation of Ethiopia has presented the Italian Government with a tremendous problem in colonial administration. No other area in Africa of equal size offers such variety of topography, climate, language, and religion. The task of ruling so conglomerate an empire will certainly not be easy. The British and the French have already acquired a fund of experience as a result of their administration of vast and populous domains; the Italians, if they are wise, will study carefully what these predecessors in colonial government can teach them.

In tropical Africa, it is true, European rule is a thing of scarcely more than a generation. Though various nations had gained toeholds on the coast during the four hundred years following the Portuguese explorations of the late fifteenth century, only by the middle of the nineteenth century was the continent effectively penetrated. The sketchy information brought back from the interior by explorers and traders was used by the colonizing powers as the basis for extravagant territorial claims. The Berlin Conference on the Congo in 1884-85 gave impetus to this scramble in which each nation sought to stake out for itself the largest possible holdings. By 1900 the political map of tropical Africa had by and large assumed its present appearance; the only important changes since then have been the ousting of Germany during the World War and the recent Italian conquest of Ethiopia.

Once in possession of these tracts of largely unexplored land, the colonial powers proceeded to create systems for administering them. The two nations which had acquired the largest prizes -- Great Britain and France -- embarked upon quite divergent programs. In fact, we might go so far as to say that at only one point do their policies agree: both recognize the fact that Europeans cannot make permanent homes in tropical lowland Africa but must regularly return to the middle latitudes for periods of recuperation. On every other fundamental issue of both theory and practice the British and the French colonial techniques differ widely.

One of the most significant differences concerns the degree to which the natives are permitted to govern themselves. In the administration of the French colonies Frenchmen occupy all the important positions, though properly trained Africans are allowed to fill subordinate posts, and in special circumstances even to become French citizens. Great Britain, on the other hand, has generally adopted the plan of governing Africans whenever possible through their native rulers. This is accomplished by setting up a hierarchy of European officials alongside the native administration. The two methods have come to be known as "direct" and "indirect" rule. Direct rule is the current practice nearly everywhere throughout the world. Indirect rule is being attempted in only a few places. One of those few places is British West Africa -- the composite designation for Nigeria, Gold Coast, Sierra Leone, the Gambia and the British mandated areas in Cameroons and Togoland.

Conditions are propitious in West Africa for a comparative study of direct and indirect rule. British and French colonies alternate with one another along the coast, yet the environment differs very little. As can be seen from the accompanying map, the political frontiers, which run north and south, cut at right angles, generally speaking, the lines separating the climatic belts. The student of colonial government thus finds in these colonies an excellent laboratory for observing and comparing the results of unlike systems of administration.

The first British experiment in indirect rule in West Africa took place in Northern Nigeria, and it came about not through any premeditated design but as the necessary result of circumstances. Geographically, Northern Nigeria belongs to the Sudan. For some centuries prior to European penetration it had been under the rule of a number of independent Arab emirs who had imposed their culture and their religion on the negro aborigines.

During the years following the Berlin Conference the British and French governments sought to convert their grandiose territorial claims into valid title by effective occupation. In order to chastise some of the emirs who had repudiated certain trading concessions, the British in 1900 sent against them a small force under Colonel (now Lord) Lugard, who almost bloodlessly entered one walled capital after another. In thus forestalling French penetration from Dahomey, he unexpectedly found himself after a few months in control of nine million people and a quarter million square miles. Lacking the trained men necessary to govern this great area, Lugard was obliged to leave each emir in control on condition that he governed temperately. The only drastic changes insisted upon were the suppression of slave-raiding, the substitution of an equitable tax system for the arbitrary impositions commonly practised, and the abolition of cruel punishments. To insure that British requirements were fulfilled, a Resident was appointed to the court of each native ruler of the first rank. Thus, indirect rule was set up in Northern Nigeria as a means of "muddling through" a particular emergency.

The arrangement worked from the very beginning. A few emirs, unable or unwilling to relinquish practices disapproved by the Residents, have had to be deposed in favor of more adaptable rulers, but care is always taken to make the selection from the

group of heirs eligible according to local usage. As a rule, the emir is amenable to the rebuke which he is sure to receive from the Resident if his administration becomes notoriously lax or venal. The first small group of Residents has expanded into a modest hierarchy of eleven provincial residencies divided into forty districts, each under a subordinate political officer. A district may range in area from 1,000 to 33,000 square miles and in population from 30,000 to 2,000,000. The officer and two or three assistants cover at recurrent intervals all the outlying territory within the district, spending two-thirds to three-fourths of their time in the bush. They hear complaints, sit in judgment on those appealed cases which can properly come before them, ferret out injustice, suggest improvements to be made by the local authorities, and generally maintain the standards of British colonial government. This haphazard device not only functions well, it operates at low cost -- a fact very welcome to the Colonial Office in London, ever called upon to justify expenditure in the colonies.

As soon as the efficacy of indirect rule was proved in Northern Nigeria, steps were taken to extend it to Southern Nigeria, where the geographic and cultural pattern is quite different. Northern Nigeria has a long dry season. But here there is rainfall nearly the year round. Here, then, instead of grassy plains are dense forests, wide river deltas, and teeming vegetation. As an inevitable consequence of these conditions the natives were found segregated into numerous small tribes, each with its own language and gods, separated alike from each other and from the outside world. Along the coast, too, there were settlements of Europeans which tended to de-tribalize the natives without substituting any new bond of interest or loyalty. The introduction of sectarian missions only accentuated this disintegrating process, for the natives naturally sought to improve upon Christianity by inventing sects of their own, such as the Anglican polygamous church. There were a few large tribes which were well adapted to indirect rule. Other groups, though small in size and occupying only a few square miles of territory, were arbitrarily lumped into provinces staffed by British administrative offices. Though the conditions were not propitious, indirect rule proved flexible enough to function.

In time the scheme was adopted in other British West African colonies. In the Gold Coast, the Ashanti, a tribe on the northern margin of the dense forest, had (like some of those similarly placed in Nigeria) a powerful political organization prior to the coming of the British. A bitter contest (the Ashanti War of 1899-1900) led to the suppression of the native government and the exile of the ruler. Now, after the lapse of a generation, the son of the exiled chief occupies the "stool" of his father, and the native government, which appears to have been operating all the time sub rosa, has been drawn from hiding. Small tribes are being accorded similar rights, all the way from the Gambia to British Cameroons.

As has just been intimated, the imposition of indirect rule on pagan tribes often drives the real government under cover, leaving a usurper to represent his people before the British officer. The underground government sometimes goes undiscovered for years -- generally until some administrator learns the local language and obtains the confidence of the real leaders of the tribe. He then usually finds that the aboriginal government has been functioning all along and that the usurper has no authority over the people beyond the backing he has been able to obtain from the British. The persistence of traditional tribal government, even when it is deprived of tax money and the sanction of the powerful European, raises a question as to the ultimate success of any sort of government imposed by whites. The Italians might do well to keep this doubt in mind as they proceed with the creation of their administrative system in Ethiopia.

The excuse for the imposition of British rule in West Africa is that Englishmen desired to increase their trade in goods while putting a stop to trade in human beings. The consequences of this double aspiration are the trading firm and the mission. Traders, missionaries, and administrators make up European society in British West Africa. Their total number is small: about 1,300 in Lagos (the metropolis of all British West Africa); a few score in each chief center of the interior; three or four individuals in the many small outlying stations. Until recently there were few women there except missionaries, and even now wives often stay in Africa for short terms only. Practically no children are brought out. Everybody lives in houses owned either by the government, the trading firm or the missionary society. The white man comes out for a definite tour of duty, usually eighteen months, at the end of which he "goes home" on long leave, generally eighteen weeks. When he comes back he is likely to find himself posted to a new station, and frequently he is shifted about during his tour. Nobody contemplates a time when it will be possible for Europeans to put down roots in British West Africa.

Government is administered to benefit British trade only to the extent that it does not prejudice native interests. Concessions to work mineral resources are thus favored, because the Africans have neither the capital nor the skill to initiate mining; but farmland cannot be alienated to Europeans, since agriculture is the basis of African existence. The only exception of importance is a group of plantations, started by Germans in Cameroons and inherited by Britain, which are still owned and operated by Europeans. This guarantee to the Africans of their farmland in perpetuity grows out of the recognition by the British that the West African environment forbids settlement by Europeans. It is the logical foundation for indirect rule. To the African tribe and individual it is more valuable than the form of government which happens to be imposed.

The French mode of administration is in theory the flat antithesis of the British. France is in Africa to make Frenchmen out of the Africans. To this end African life is given no official recognition. Administrative officers from France rule directly, native leaders being allowed to handle their own people only by sanction of custom, never of law. All land is French, except that which an individual African registers with the French authorities. This amounts to very little in total acreage, because the African tribes hold their land collectively and individual ownership is a novel idea. Large concessions to exploit forests and mines, as well as allotments for agricultural plantations, may be and are made to Europeans. Since no land is set aside for native reserves, the concessionaires in effect obtain the local labor with the land.

The Europeans in French Africa comprise the same three groups as in British colonies -- administrators, traders, and missionaries -- although the proportion of administrators is higher. They come for longer tours, generally two years (sometimes three the first time out), and they go home for shorter leaves, usually three months. As many as can arrange it bring their wives and children, and the larger capitals have quite the aspect of European provincial centers. Yet this semblance of European life on alien soil is only a semblance. "Home" is always France, even for the few planters who have taken up more or less permanent abode on the land. The number of Frenchmen living in the colonial centers is considerable: nearly 7,000 in Dakar, the capital, and about a thousand in each of four or five other towns, besides smaller numbers in lesser places.

All France's West African colonies combined -- in local parlance known as "A.O.F." (Afrique Occidentale Française) -- have an area three times that of Britain's West African possessions. Yet the population of A.O.F. is only five-eighths that of British West Africa. Nevertheless, to administer A.O.F. the French employ a larger personnel. The total white population of the British colonies is about 11,000, that of the French about 31,000. The proportion of traders is notably higher in the British territory because the British employ approximately twice as large a personnel to manage a store as do the French. The ratio of missionaries is probably about the same. The proportion of functionaries is therefore much higher in the French possessions. Obviously more political officers are needed for direct than for indirect government. Even though qualified Africans may fill lesser positions in the French colonies, they have not yet taken over so large a percentage of the offices as is the case in the Native Administrations of the British colonies.

The discrepancy in numbers between British and French administrators appears in the technical as well as in the political staffs. The engineering needed to bring Africa into the machine age had to be performed by trained men sent from Europe. Africans could neither build railroads nor drive their engines; they had no doctors who could vaccinate for smallpox, to say nothing of discovering the secrets of yellow fever. With time, many Africans have acquired the skill necessary to run a motorcar, a railroad locomotive, or a gasoline launch. Others have become licensed doctors. In British territory such men have been worked as fast as possible into the expanding technological services of the native administrations. In Gold Coast, for example, all trains are operated by Africans, except for the European inspectors who check up on the honesty of the ticket takers. Hospitals for natives in all the British colonies are manned largely by Africans, although the heads of both the medical and nursing staffs are still European. Road building is generally let out to African contractors whose work is not supervised beyond the final inspection prior to acceptance and payment, an inspection which every such contract job receives the world over. In some of the more advanced emirates of Northern Nigeria the administration of public works is in native hands, assisted by a few Europeans lent from the British service. In Kano the highly technical topographic office, although started by Europeans, is now entirely manned by Africans, who are continuing the detailed mapping of the emirate. Finally, all routine clerical work in store and office is performed by Africans. When the British undertook the administration of the interior at the beginning of the century, they tapped a small local reservoir of Africans who could read and write English, most of them trained in mission schools in Sierra Leone. The increased number of schools in all the colonies, especially in the coast towns, has more than kept pace with the demand for graduates, and nearly every colony is now turning out clerks faster than jobs open up for them.

In the French colonies there is no division between the European and native technical services. Africans who have adequate training may hold practically any post, although few of them do occupy positions of much responsibility. True, there was no group already trained in the French language and in French methods of business when France undertook serious administration of the country. Nevertheless, a full generation after the inauguration of French schools, jobs requiring only moderate technical proficiency are still performed by Europeans. White men staff many railroad trains, and white men and women sell stamps at the post office windows. Occasionally an African is found occupying a good position. For instance, one may run across a native as secretary of an important Chamber of Commerce or as a uniformed official in full charge of a principal custom house. But these exceptions only stress the gap between theory and practice. The French continue to draw upon Europeans for their technical and clerical staffs far more than do the British.

The educational system in the French colonies is extensive, unified, and admirably organized. The school is perhaps the most vital cog in France's colonial administration. Her control of West Africa is postulated on the conversion of the Africans into Frenchmen. The French colonial officials recognize that adults are fixed in their African mold, but they expect to model the plastic natures of the young. With this goal in view, the African children are taught French, which they learn easily, and they are steeped in French traditions. Although there is no compulsion to adopt Christianity, missions are everywhere, and an imposing church stands conspicuously in every town, even in Moslem areas. If built to serve solely the religious needs of the European population, smaller edifices would be quite adequate.

All this is markedly opposed to British procedure. Churches there are, but in the Moslem area no missionaries are allowed unless invited by the native ruler. In the pagan country, where proselyting is permitted, church buildings generally bear the cross of sectarianism; scarcely one of them is attractive in architecture or imposing in scale. British schools are likewise left mainly to chance, though a well-planned institution of higher education is sustained by the government of each larger colony. The emirates maintain intermediate schools, conducted in the language of the country, with whatever advice and coöperation they may seek from British authority. Except in the case of mission enterprises, all schools are staffed by Africans.

The contrast between British and French personnel is nowhere so striking as in the realm of law enforcement -- the police and the army. Wherever native administrations in territory annexed by the British already had native police forces, they were retained and even increased. Elsewhere the police are officered by two or more European commissioners in each headquarters, but manned and sub-officered entirely by Africans. The small consolidated army of the four colonies -- Nigeria, Gold Coast, Sierra Leone and Gambia -- is similarly organized. European officers are seconded from their home regiments for not more than six years, and non-commissioned personnel is selected from the African troops. This is a volunteer force for duty in Africa only. Except for aiding in the occupation of the country at the outset, and helping conquer Germany's African colonies during the World War, its job has been mainly drilling.

The French colonial police may not be more numerous than the British, but a large army cantonment is a feature of every important town in A.O.F. To officer this army requires a commissioned staff of nearly 500, besides the non-commissioned personnel which is also European. Universal conscription is the law in the colonies, no less than in France itself. By no means every male African who reaches military age is ushered into the army; yet no traveller in French North Africa or Southern France can have escaped the frequent sight of negro troops, sent north for two of their five years' service.

Since 1926 conscripts have been divided into two classes: the superior group is trained as troops, the rest are organized into labor units, serving in Africa in peacetime, but available, like the fighting forces, for service anywhere in case of need. Here we come upon the major objective of the French in developing these colonies. They represent an extension of France not merely economically, but in every phase of life, and most of all in providing for a larger army than can be recruited in the homeland. That is not to say, as has often been said, that France is training a negro army primarily for use in Europe. Nevertheless, black troops have in the past seen active service on European fronts. The best of the conscripts are at present being regularly sent to France, supposedly to absorb civilization, and perhaps to become hardened to the rigors of the European climate. It must not be supposed that the natives strenuously object to military service. On the contrary, most of them love it. The African likes a uniform, and police and soldiers in both British and French colonies are proud of the hot and inappropriate clothing which their calling compels them to wear. A group of native police is said once to have become thoroughly disaffected because a humane officer ordered them to leave off their woolen wrap puttees.

The French colonials who show the most proficiency obtain preferment in government and business, all of which is conducted in French. In no aspect of administration is the contrast between British and French more interesting than in this matter of language. As a result of British ships having for several generations frequented the settlements of the West African coast, a debasement of English, salted with many Portuguese words, has become the local lingua franca. This jargon, like pidgin English on the coast of China, has penetrated inland wherever its knowledge will aid in getting a job as servant or in turning an honest penny in trade. But every British political officer is required to learn at least one of the African languages of the region where he works, and in this region he normally lives out his official life. Africans are not encouraged to learn English, and few officials of the native administrations can speak it. The French administrator, in contrast, need not learn an African language. Indeed, the prospects of his career discourage his doing so, because he is likely to be sent to quite different parts of West Africa for successive tours, and for some of his official life to other of the major French colonial regions -- North Africa, Madagascar, Indo-China. Army officers even more than administrators expect to be shifted about the empire. Moreover, an effective fighting force should speak a single language.

It would be unfair to say that French interest in creating a native army is the sole reason why France practises direct administration. It is a method of political control which happens to fit the character and traditions of the French people. Their feeling for logical systems and order would not accept a scheme of government which varied from place to place in conformity with local usage. Furthermore, to govern Africa according to African models would seem to any Frenchman nonsensical, criminal almost, when Africans might be privileged to be governed as Frenchmen. In contrast, it suits the British taste to accept a problem and solve it on the spot with minimum reference to the problems of other places. Besides, the notion that British Africa is being governed for the Africans pleases that powerful liberal and non-conformist element of the British public which first became interested in Africa during the agitation for the abolition of the slave trade. If at the same time good money can be made by legitimate commerce, neither the humanitarians nor the traders are likely to object.

In some details the two opposed modes of administration are approaching each other. Theoretically at least, direct rule looks toward the extension of the franchise and the ultimate democratization of French Africa by incorporating it with France itself. Already several thousand Africans are French citizens, mainly those who live in Dakar and some of the other old French settlements. These men enjoy the right of electing a deputy to the Chamber in Paris. British rule, on the other hand, tends to perpetuate the form of government found among those groups already highly organized in 1900. The autocratic authority of the emirs has been modified only in so far as necessary to make it conform with British ideals of fair play and justice. The application of indirect rule to small forest tribes has often meant substituting autocracy for local self-government. Village government, instead of being autocratic, is generally in the hands of an oligarchy of the older men.

The British hierarchy appears to be developing into a bureaucracy, which is admittedly one of the chief evils of direct rule. Political officers are required to spend increasing amounts of their time on paper work, the curse of the bureaucratic system. And as the organization becomes set in its mold with the passage of years, elbowing for hierarchical preferment increases. Nevertheless, the British and French systems are still poles apart, and will remain so as long as England concentrates on trade with a minimum of interference in local government, while France organizes her colonies with at least half an eye to the protection of her Rhineland frontier.

Finally, in both the British and French colonies individual land tenure is beginning to supplant collective ownership. The French policy is to encourage individual ownership by emphasizing its legality. In general, the British make no effort to alter the local system of tribal land tenure, although in the coast towns private ownership has long since replaced communal holding. Furthermore, the law permits individuals to register specific parcels of land anywhere so long as the title is clear. Registration is becoming increasingly common, since individual tenure is best adapted for those who produce for the market. The salable crops -- cotton, peanuts, and particularly tree products, such as cacao, coffee and oil palm -- occupy the same land year after year, in sharp contrast to the aboriginal practice of shifting the farms to virgin soil every few seasons. Since local usage recognizes the planter as the owner of his crop, his long-term occupancy of specific plots tends to become identified with ownership of the land. In this way the concept of individual tenure is making headway.

That Italy will adopt indirect rule in Ethiopia is hardly to be anticipated. But the experiments in West Africa have not progressed to the stage where it can be asserted that direct rule is changing the African into a European, and there is a good deal of evidence that the aboriginal organization of life goes on beneath forms imposed by both British and French governments. The Italian acquisition of the penultimate slice of independent Africa by no means signalizes the European administrative conquest of that continent. The vitality of native African institutions has not yet been measured.