British and French Colonial Technique in West Africa

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

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