AFRICA is headed for great political changes. The trend of events is inexorably towards an adjustment of relations between the native population and its European rulers. The manner and the framework in which these changes take place will be of considerable interest to American foreign policy.

The Central African Federation, which came into being in 1953, precipitated a controversy over the wisdom and justice of federating or consolidating a number of hitherto separate political units. In my opinion all such movements in Africa deserve to be viewed with sympathy since they reduce the menace of separatism and fragmentation in the continent of the future. We have all the historical evidence that is needed of the wisdom of creating, however imperfectly and artificially in the beginning, the largest reasonable political and economic areas.

In Asia, history has already imposed an almost complete veto on the continuance of the traditional colonial relationships. In Africa, it has approved a more rapid modification of them than even very keen observers thought possible a short generation ago. On both sides of the Iron Curtain there is agreement that the nineteenth century is dead and a new chapter has been opened in the traditional areas of colonial and imperial activities. Both Soviet Russia and the United States have deep-seated objections to the traditional colonial systems, even though the historical causes of such objections are different and the two national policies pursue widely different goals. Political aspirations in Africa are consistent with modern forces so powerful that thoughtful men throughout the West know that it will be wise to give them discriminating coöperation. It is not too late to create larger and economically more viable areas in order to accommodate the new order towards which various parts of Africa are reaching.

Americans are trying today to assess the strategic place of the African continent in the great international crisis in which they are involved. It is very easy to see that access to Africa would be absolutely vital in the deployment of American offensive power in another world war. American power has lost strategic access to Asia as a result of the rise of Russia, the hostility of China and the neutralism of India. Its ability to maintain a firm foothold in Western Europe is open to question. Great Britain almost lost control of the Mediterranean in the last war; in another war, the security of the Mediterranean is far from certain. Because of its geographical relationship to the highways of the Mediterranean, to the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, and to the oil fields of the Middle East, Africa would immediately become part of the global front line in the event of war. If the influence of the West continues to deteriorate in Egypt and the Arab areas generally, East Africa in particular would be an indispensable staging area.

All of this sounds as if the United States has an African policy. If we mean by policy a consistent body of convictions and aims concerning Africa, then the United States has no African policy. Many of the policy statements that have been made read like exercises in double talk. Critics of the United States, Marxist or not, seize upon them as proof of American hypocrisy. The truth is that the African policy of the United States is split down the middle by a stubborn and troublesome contradiction between immediate strategic and ultimate historic interests.

American history has taken a deep set against the subordination of colonial peoples to distant metropolitan powers. Yet the metropolitan powers, together with their colonies and fortified places, are America's principal allies. As a people we have not fully faced up to the contradictions in which these separate interests involve us. The Second World War produced a number of power vacuums. The British withdrawal from India and the collapse of the French and Dutch positions in Southeast Asia and the East Indies produced something like a power vacuum in the Indian Ocean and the Middle East. A comparable vacuum was created in the Far Pacific by the defeat of Japan. The Russian-Chinese bloc is determined to enter the vacuum in the Far Pacific and Southeast Asia, while Russia is pressing heavily upon a line running roughly from the western Baltic by way of its satellites to the Black Sea and Iran. The United States is struggling to prevent a disastrous Communist penetration of this immense line which begins in the Baltic and ends in Korea.

In one sense it may be true to say that the United States has entered the paths of imperialism by taking over a large part of the costly and dangerous function of maintaining the major lines of communication and defense against Communist expansion. Although it did so largely without the advantage of actual territorial ownership and political control it has nevertheless inherited some of the appearances and functions of a metropolitan power. The political and historical ideal of independence for subject peoples and the strategic need for dependable bases and safe lines of communication dwell together in American foreign policy like two unwedded persons who hope that the outside world will not observe too closely their unnatural intimacy or the pretenses which necessarily result. The liberal and liberating impulses of the American Revolution struggle to find a working compromise with the American responsibility for preventing the collapse of the democratic world under Communist pressure.

American public opinion is very prone to analysis by slogan and platitude, and some of the slogans and platitudes commonly applied to colonial issues are simply shortcuts to misunderstanding. A special word of caution is necessary against the assumption, very common in both Great Britain and America, that the movements toward federation and consolidation in the British territories are primarily devices to reinforce the economic and political control of the white minorities.

There is, to begin with, no substantial reason for leaving the integration of peoples and territories to native Pan African movements. There is general unrest on the continent, but it is not bound together by a real sense of common cause. Talk of Pan Africanism is confined to a few intellectuals who have discovered the equivalent concept in European history. Communication between native leaders in the different regions is inadequate and often totally wanting. Even Communism has not fashioned meaningful bonds.


Africa south of the Sahara has no early golden age of achievement which it can invoke as justification for resisting an aggressive outer world, no proud classical tradition which it can use as a native framework on which to build a modern existence. When the first Europeans came to Africa they found no great fused cultural systems that held people together over wide areas. Africa south of the Sahara has always been poor and powerless. The political and cultural emptiness of the African past is the key to any understanding of the continent's present problems. Africa is as incapable of generating its own renaissance as it is incapable of generating the capital needed to finance for all its peoples even the lowest standard of living that could still be called modern.

In the cultural poverty and historical emptiness of Africa there is, however, some potential advantage. There are no ancient and deep philosophic and religious contradictions such as divide India from China, or the Mediterranean shore of North Africa and the Levant from the neighboring European shore. Africa has its hates, of course, but they are local and tribal. New political and cultural combinations in Africa are entirely possible. That is why federation movements make sense.

The present article has its principal focus upon the future--the shape of things to come in Africa, a long span of historical development. It assumes that Africa has finally entered the stream of change that is coursing so strongly in most of the non-Western world, and that therefore there is need to consider closely what will be the African territorial and political units in the future. Federation and consolidation can be important allies of effective modernization, for they produce a diversified framework on which viable states may be built. Parliamentary statutes and constitutional instruments such as created the Central African Federation are not an answer in themselves. They acquire meaning only to the extent that they have available the means and instruments of modern progress and can apply them to meet the needs of their populations.

British colonial policy for more than a hundred years has shown an almost instinctive ability to recognize the moment when it was no longer wise to defer grants of self-government. When the colony had adequately consolidated its territory, established enough stability in its finances, acquired enough political experience and developed a sufficiently diversified economic and social pattern to carry the burden of autonomy, then autonomy was almost always granted. In much of Africa the demands for political change are arising ahead of the implicit time schedule which British colonial experience has followed. This is another way of saying that the territorial arrangements and the sum of available skills, experience and modern social virtues are still markedly less adequate than was considered safe and reliable in earlier grants of autonomy.

In America, self-government and independence came at the end of a long period of training and growth within the British Empire. This training and growth produced more than politicians and polemicists. Self-government was possible in 1783 because by that time the Thirteen Colonies possessed a body of men experienced in diversified fields. In addition to politicians, they had bankers and preachers, teachers and merchants, successful farmers and skilled craftsmen, lawyers and civil servants, editors and authors. Though the new nation did not yet have the great and varied body of skills of England or France it had them in sufficient degree to meet the burdens of self-rule.

In our own generation, similar comments can be made regarding the grant of self-rule to India, but with several qualifications which throw light upon Africa's problems. Modern autonomous India is substantially the creation of British rule which from Clive to the Indian Mutiny labored to consolidate the separate principalities of eighteenth century India, giving its diverse populations the framework and institutions to support a viable modern state. The fact that consolidation was not complete by the time the British withdrew was largely the result of the impact of the Indian Mutiny upon the liberal England of Richard Cobden and John Bright. From that moment British rule was extremely careful not to lay violent or abrupt hands upon Indian customs and institutions, and the process which had been eliminating internal frontiers never regained its former momentum. The result was that 90 years later an independent India had to finish the task of political and territorial consolidation. The Indian Mutiny had another and more far-reaching consequence. Late Victorian England was unwilling to accentuate the secularizing impact of the Western World upon the whole complex of superstition, backwardness, bigotry, discrimination and medievalism which Indian religious life tended to foster. This unfinished business of history hangs over modern India, and no man can tell how much commotion and tragedy may be caused by the unavoidable pressures to which India must subject her ancient ways of life in order to acquire her full share of science, technology and economic development.

There is so much unfinished business in Africa that the trained and experienced observer shudders at the thought that the temper of the times may precipitate major political decisions which the continent is unprepared to make. The traditional American conviction that independence and self-government are a good in themselves must be tempered by the recognition that their meaning and effectiveness are in proportion to the ability of people to sustain them. What this means, bluntly, is that Africa south of the Sahara still needs the West, its capital, skills, political experience and very certainly its industrial leadership.

A society has a better chance of achieving political maturity if it possesses a reasonable degree of modern skills and literacy; and to maintain itself and grow it must be productive enough to generate its own capital or else be held in sufficient confidence to be able to attract capital from abroad. In the United States we must generate between four and five thousand dollars of new capital to guarantee our present standard of living to each addition to our population through birth or immigration. In this connection Africa must face some hard and stubborn facts. Africa is poor, very poor, and the fact that it has the greatest gold, diamond and uranium mines of the world does not significantly modify the statement. Right now, most of Africa south of the Sahara is not rich or productive enough to give all of its indigenous population anything approaching a Western standard of living, not even on the lowest levels of the Spanish or Greek peasantry. Outside the few industrialized centers, Africa generates new capital in utterly insignificant amounts. What the former Governor of Kenya, Sir Philip Mitchell, said of that colony in 1946 is widely applicable: "The ignorance, inexpertness and low productivity of native agriculture provide a totally inadequate foundation for an enlightened state of society, a high standard of living, and elaborate social services . . ." Without more productive and efficient native economy "a great deal of modern talking and writing about colonial development and welfare is moonshine."

Since the African economy is predominantly agrarian it has all the well-known characteristics of backward agrarian communities. Diet is poor; the incidence of disease is high; life expectancy is low. The effective working life of a man may be as low as 15 or 20 years. Due to the influence of the West, cash needs for taxes and consumer goods weigh on the population out of all proportion to their ability to produce or to earn. In Kenya an annual cash income equivalent to $60 is very unusual. In Natal which is very much richer the average native income barely reaches $60 per annum. Government revenues of $10 per annum per capita of the native population would be remarkably high in most African territories. A rural family does well if it can feed itself. A country's standard of living rises when the supply of goods and services rises more rapidly than the population. In Africa the ratio between population and production is normally so unfavorable that the African cannot begin to generate the capital to finance the costs of an adequate diet, proper shelter, and sufficient medical and educational services, not to speak of the roads and communications which are the first of all African needs. Contrary to "scientific" Marxist analysis, ideas and institutions are ahead of the technological and material equipment of society. This is a root cause of the modern dilemma.

Further modifications in native life and custom are inevitable and part of the price of progress. To anybody who has any knowledge of the ignominy, poverty, congestion and tragedy that smite the conscience in Nairobi or Johannesburg, these remarks could sound very sinister and callous. The rotting of tribal life and the rottenness of much of the resulting urban life are the deplorable consequence of a modern economic enterprise which has been insufficiently attentive to the human beings whose hands at the same time that they dug the mines tore apart the familiar fabric of their own lives. Yet the way out is not to eliminate capital and industrial enterprise. The cause of the degradation is also the principal source of relief. The time has gone by when the land can be the sole economic support of the African people or tribal governance the appropriate form of political life. A significant proportion of the population has been drawn into pursuits that are the direct result of European economic activity. In some areas 70 percent of the adult males earn an important part of their income working for Europeans. This detachment from their original tribal and agrarian condition cannot be reversed. The plea that the African must have more land, or better land, or better conditions for working it, is still justified, but along with this plea must also go recognition that he cannot vacate his place as a worker and wage earner in the industrial and economic environment created by Western enterprise.

The familiar indictment that Africa has been exploited is in one sense misleading. One of Africa's great troubles is really under exploitation--in the favorable sense, of course, of applying capital, science and skill to national resources. Progress involves the continuance of Western influence upon the life and labor of the native population. This means more mining, not less; more industrial development; and certainly not a return to a simple and primitive rural economy. It also means, maybe above everything else, more roads, in which most of Africa is desperately deficient. The great revolution Africa needs is a better network of roads and communications. The total amount of capital and skill required for even a modest improvement in roads, public amenities, health services and education is significant. It is unavailable to Africa unless the West, which today must include the United States, helps to provide it.

Capitalist enterprise in Africa must learn to yield or be compelled to yield a greater share of its benefits to the native population. Individual enterprises in Africa have sometimes shown both wisdom and generosity in providing valuable benefits, especially for their employees. As matters stand generally in Africa, however, the authority of the state is necessary to see to it that the total community shares in the profit of modern enterprise. To do so effectively, it is important that the state be as large and diversified as conditions permit. Federation should improve the conditions for capital investment, for the rational application of money and skill to industrial enterprise, and for the orderly application of the benefits of industrial enterprise to the population. Let it be repeated that in our day it is no longer acceptable that the African should be the rightless and suffering victim of Western enterprise or even that his gain should be an unplanned and incidental by-product. Mining developments, for example, cannot be favored enclaves within a surrounding wilderness; as in civilized lands, they must contribute to the general welfare of the society in which they exist. General welfare means more than roads and health, more than cash incomes and schools; it means also dignity and justice, above all a voice for the "emergent" African in the conduct of human affairs. By these things history will judge the territories and governments of Africa.


The arguments in support of federation and consolidation have a very broad application in Africa. The Central African Federation between Southern Rhodesia, Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland is an accomplished fact. Uganda, Kenya and Tanganyika are betwixt and between, under the general supervision of a High Commissioner, but blocked at the moment from closer federation by a number of stubborn political and historical factors. To some readers it will no doubt be disconcerting to recognize that the Union of South Africa's policy towards Southwest Africa, Bechuanaland, Swaziland and Basutoland is the logical continuation of the acts of consolidation that created the Union itself.[i]

The Central African Federation is a very critical experiment. Its success or failure, which must be measured very largely in terms of the welfare and progress of the native population, will be a definitive chapter in modern African history and would be most likely to influence the course of events in East Africa and even in the Union of South Africa. At this point some concessions are in order. One must frankly admit that the federation of Southern Rhodesia, Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland places power in the hands of the white population which could be used against the interests of the native population. On paper and in the minds of its really enthusiastic supporters, it purports to initiate an effort to associate natives and Europeans in the government of the Federation and to set in train developments which in the indefinite future will give equality to civilized men of both races. Many of the natives who stubbornly resisted federation to the bitter end did so in the conviction that federation actually increased the chances that, in spite of the announced program of multi-racial coöperation, a rigid rule of white over black will ultimately be established. Most native leaders are openly distrustful of federation. Their fear is that the economic improvements promised by federation will mean more European immigrants, more overcrowding and less land for the natives, more taxes, more pressure to leave their inefficient land to work for the white man, without any really substantial improvement in their political and economic status.

Historically, Southern Rhodesia was first settled by men who came from the Cape Colony. As far back as 1930 the Land Apportionment Act openly accepted the segregationist assumption that Europeans and Africans should live as separate societies in their own areas. The Southern Rhodesian Sedition Act of 1936 was based upon the South African Sedition Act, and was invoked almost entirely against native agitators and malcontents. Thoroughly familiar to Rhodesians is the principle of the South African Urban Areas Act which rules that natives in European urban areas are transients without permanent domicile. Although land is provided in the native reserves of Southern Rhodesia more generously than in the Union, the fact remains that in extent and quality it is insufficient. The economy of the Southern Rhodesian reserves is a deficit economy, and their native inhabitants are pumped by economic necessity into employment in mines, factories and European households. There is a depressing record in Southern Rhodesia of economic and social discrimination against the natives, their cattle and crops.

The European settlers in the Central African Federation follow events in Kenya and South Africa with the closest interest. There is much positive sympathy with the determination of the average Kenya settler to maintain his superior economic and political status. The segregationist policies of the Confederate Party which lost the election in December 1953 arose from many of the same fears and convictions which sustain South African apartheid. The average English-speaking settler in the new Central African Federation does not love the Afrikaner and still less the government of Mr. Strydom. Yet it is a mistake to assume that the gospel of apartheid is the peculiar belief of Dutch-speaking South Africans. In a somewhat less extreme and doctrinaire form, ideas of separation and segregation are common amongst English-speaking settlers in Southern and Northern Rhodesia. Native policy will remain the central issue in the Central African Federation. The flow of ideas and events from Kenya and South Africa will continue to influence the politics of the Federation. Whether the liberal guarantees and assurances made on behalf of the constitution will take root and grow into greater economic and political opportunities for the 6,000,000 natives is an open question. It is not impossible that Central Africa may move into the orbit of South African apartheid.

It is far more difficult to speak with assurance about the issue of federation in East Africa. In South Africa unification was the aftermath of war. In Central Africa, the prestige of the British government, fear of South African extremism and republicanism, the absence of a compact Indian population, and the preponderance of the English over the Dutch population, all coöperated to make possible a practical decision in favor of the federation experiment. Although the theoretical case for closer integration between Uganda, Kenya and Tanganyika is every bit as strong as in the two other areas, the concrete objections are more difficult to surmount.

East Africa is peculiar in that each of the racial groups--African, European and Indian--has a special territorial and political bastion from which to assert its separate interests. Historical agreements and deliberate policy have given Uganda a virtual charter to the effect that the present rights and the future prospects of the black man are paramount. Native thought and feeling in Uganda are aggressively opposed to giving any more room on the land or under the law to white men or to Indians. In Kenya, the Mau Mau crisis has reinforced the feeling that under federation the white settlers would have to make major and damaging political and economic concessions. In Tanganyika, influential Indian opinion is convinced that it would be folly at the present juncture to give up the special bargaining power provided by the separate status of Tanganyika as a mandated territory. In 1951 I listened to a prominent Indian leader frankly assert that the correct policy for Indians was to resist closer federation between Uganda, Kenya and Tanganyika in order not to obscure the special claim, not merely of local Indians but also of India, to settlement and opportunity in East Africa. India has already assumed the rôle of spokesman for the Indian population of East and South Africa. The concept of a more active relationship between India and East Africa is very appealing to a small but energetic group of East African Indians who see India as the proper heir to the opportunities which are opening up in this area. The first murmurs have already been heard that a nation like India which must grow 700,000 tons more grain each year simply to keep up with the growth of its own population may be forced to look about for more Lebensraum. In spite of her present neutralism, there is a latent and implicit imperialism in India that could be shocked into action not only over Kashmir or Pakistan or the exigencies of her economic development but also over Indian "nationals" in Africa. Active and hostile action over these issues is not thought to be inconsistent with India's general emphasis upon pacifism or neutralism.

In East Africa, as in Central and South Africa, there is no real prospect that the Europeans, Asians and Africans will follow the patterns of miscegenation and assimilation which in parts of Latin America are producing new fused societies. Almost from the beginning the Spaniards and Portuguese yielded enough of the hospitality of church, home and blood to obscure any hard line of separation between Europeans, Africans and the native Indian. By contrast, the record of African settlement is marked by the inhospitality of church, home and blood to the native peoples. Some of the severest problems of the areas under discussion are caused by the existence, side by side, of unassimilable racial groups. Racially East Africa is more like South Africa than Central Africa, and as a result there is a very complicated pattern of resentment and suspicion. The quarrels of India and Pakistan, for example, are reflected in sometimes acute differences between local Indian and Mohammedan groups. Native leaders distrust Indian protestations that they all have a common cause. The wealthier Indians are sometimes surprisingly frank in expressing contempt for native sloth and backwardness. Schemes of federation must make allowances for these hard facts.

This does not mean that federation in East Africa is not possible. The Mau Mau movement has won an important victory; it has raised native problems, even beyond the confines of Kenya, to a new level of urgency. Kenya Europeans soberly recognize that their economic and political security depends upon improved relations with the native peoples. The British Government under the Conservatives does not have the same sense of guilt and haste which led the British Labor Government to a number of emotional and doctrinaire acts, and it draws upon a greater fund of historical experience. It also has courage, as was shown in its willingness to overcome the roadblocks in the way of Central African Federation. Whether the talk of a "new deal" in East Africa is bringing it closer to a major decision in favor of real federation is impossible at the moment to tell. Since the area, in spite of its rich highlands, is poorer than Central or South Africa, it is even more in need of a pooling of resources and an integration of policies. As has already been pointed out, further, it is a key area in the system of global defense, which makes its consolidation an American interest.

History in Africa is out of joint. The most liberal mind may contemplate its dilemmas and see no clearly right road. They could not be resolved at a single blow by violence nor by a single act through decree. Here men are the prisoners of one another, products of an historical process that brought them together without softening their differences or dissolving them into each other. As matters actually stand, the best that anybody who has observed the history of mankind can say is that those societies prosper best where all who live within them have some reason for hope and faith in the future.

[i] The feelings provoked by apartheid policies have distracted our attention from the frustrations of separatism in South Africa before the Boer War, and from some of the brilliant results of unification.

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  • CORNELIS W. DE KIEWIET, President of the University of Rochester; formerly Professor of Modern European History at Cornell University; author of "A History of South Africa, Social and Economic" and other works
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