WE ARE becoming used to the acceleration of political movement in our world. But surely all records of the pace of change have been broken in the continent of Africa during the last few years with the sudden emergence of one state after another from colonial control, or the promise of such emergence in the near future. Whereas the period of "colonialism" for Britain's major white and Asian dependencies could be measured in one or two centuries, her black ones, admittedly immeasurably more backward in every aspect, have run the course from annexation to independence or its threshold in little more than half a century.

As the tide of independence rises until it covers almost the whole of Africa, with some parts clearly on the edge of submergence, certain islands of European control catch the eye. The great majority of the 5,500,000 Europeans who live among the 220,000,000 "native" peoples of Africa are in the two temperate extremities, Algeria in the north, South Africa in the south. Here are long-established European populations which are determined not to allow the indigenous population to take control. Algeria is still under metropolitan rule and there the political settlement waits upon a military decision and upon the mind of General de Gaulle. In South Africa the Nationalist government seems to be sternly marching against the ideas and experience of nearly all the rest of the world, defying economics as it goes, and is apparently bound for disaster. But not yet. The unwavering resolution of a small and lonely nation, which can see no alternative between domination and disaster, may long hold down a black majority which so far shows few signs of being competent at revolution.

The patches of African political landscape which seem to be in the most immediately equivocal position lie in the British territories between South Africa and Ethiopia. Here are small areas of white settlement, containing some 300,000 people, by no means all true settlers, scattered amongst an African population of more than 20,000,000. Will this small minority be able to control the rate of the rising flood of Africanism? Will they float buoyantly off, still a secure and influential minority, even if the tide should flow over their present position? Will they be submerged? Or will they be swept back to Europe? These are not academic or distant questions. During the last few years and, especially during the last few weeks, as this is being written, we have seen conflict, both physical and political, in this region.

The purpose of this article is to endeavor, not, indeed, to offer confident answers to these difficult questions, but to put together some of the material out of which these answers must be constructed. The region is too vast and disparate for any detailed description and only generalizations and impressions can be offered. But we must at least chart its main features.

This part of Africa is no monolithic slab of the continent. It is all in the British Commonwealth, but that inclusion seems to encourage diversity rather than uniformity. The area contains six states: Kenya, Tanganyika and Uganda, Southern and Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland, all, of course, entirely the creation of European pioneers and diplomats who pegged them out on the obscure and plastic surface of tribal Africa about 70 years ago. Each differs from the other in size and in the natural physical and human character it possessed before demarcation, while European government and economic development and, above all, European settlement have subsequently imposed new layers of difference.

Constitutionally, the territories are confusing. The first three in the list, the northern three, have each a different status. Kenya is a Colony, Uganda a Protectorate, and ex-German Tanganyika a Trust Territory. In spite of these distinctions they are administered by British governors, responsible to the Colonial Office. But all three have Legislative Councils upon which local representatives of all races, elected and nominated, play an increasing part, though the official control is maintained. The three territories coöperate, mainly for purposes of administrative convenience and technical services, under a High Commission. Fears of the Kenya settler influence shown by the Africans of the two other states have thwarted attempts at any closer union.

The three territories of Central Africa also differ, perhaps even more confusingly, in constitutional status. Since 1953 they have been bound together in a Federation of a very peculiar kind. It has brought together a Colony, Southern Rhodesia, which was all but self-governing long before 1953, and two Protectorates which remain under the Colonial Office.

The distribution of land, population, immigration and wealth are shown in the following statistics:

IN SQ. MILES 1958 EST. (in pounds 1958
(in pounds sterling)
Kenya 224,960 Eur. 64,700 R. 40,091,705 94,093,380
African 6,080,000 E. 40,426,725
Asian 165,000
Arab 35,000
Other 5,700
Uganda 93,981 Eur. 9,600 R. 21,857,216 73,391,317
African 5,695,000 E. 26,739,677
Asian 58,000
Arab 2,100
Other 1,400
Tanganyika 362,688 Eur. 21,200 R. 19,787,095 77,373,062
African 8,788,000 E. 20,975,844
Asian 80,900
Arab 21,400
Other 4,100
N. Rhodesia 288,130 Eur. 72,000 R. 15,100,772
African 2,250,000 E. 15,000,266
Other 8,400
2,330,400 (Total for the
S. Rhodesia 150,333 Eur. 211,000 R. 19,127,000 three territories
African 2,590,900 E. 19,663,625 given
Other 14,900 below)
Nyasaland 49,177 Eur. 8,600 R. 5,331,802
African 2,720,000 E. 5,072,278
Other 11,500
  Central 487,640 Eur. 292,000
  African African 7,560,000 R. 51,441,000 293,431,397
  Federation Other 35,000 E. 51,300,552

This table tells us something about the poverty of these countries; the scantiness of population but not its patchy distribution; where immigrant groups are most numerous but not the historical and other factors which determine their political strength. A comparable table for West Africa would show populations of greater weight and density and also the absence of white settlement. But it would not reveal the contrast which explains the great problem of the eastern side--the much greater advancement of the West Africans due both to the higher indigenous cultural level of most of their people before European contact and the much longer span of that contact.

The political difficulties in East and Central Africa spring ultimately from the attitudes of mind of the three parties concerned: the settlers, the Africans and the British Government. True, there is an Asian element in East Africa, much larger than the European, but it has not yet acted as a major political influence.

First, the Europeans. They have been the subject of so much humanitarian or doctrinaire criticism that it is important to remember that they did not go to Africa, like the missionaries, for religious motives or, like the officials, for professional, romantic or patriotic reasons. And, unlike these groups, they committed themselves wholly to the unknown country, investing their lifelong energies, perhaps their whole capital, perhaps their families, in what was often a very speculative venture. The land seemed untamed and unloved. The Africans were encountered almost entirely as very unskilled labor. Language and custom were barriers. To the urgent white employer, uninstructed in anthropology, perhaps unimaginative, the Africans seemed almost sub-human in their non-comprehension--dirty, lazy and utterly unreliable. He could see, superficially, their way of life, their dark little huts of sticks and mud, their pathetic agricultural scratchings, perhaps their drunkenness and witchcraft. The farmer might suffer severe loss, perhaps of valuable animals, through what would seem an African's incredible neglect or stupidity.

Was it surprising that many settlers developed two convictions, one of the almost irremediable inferiority of the Africans and the other of their own mission to bring civilization into the millennial ignorance and savagery of Africa? Americans, who confront Negroes who have had two centuries or more of acculturation, and who need have no fear of submergence under a vast black majority, should understand the settlers' political and social attitudes. With time these attitudes changed as the laborers became somewhat more efficient and the employers more understanding. But only in part. Settler leaders in Kenya, for instance, in the 1920s and early 1930s, would talk of the 2,000 years it had taken for Britain to graduate in civilization. In the political sphere the settlers' very understandable sense of superiority was expressed in the demand for a monopoly of elected representation, an authoritative influence over the imperial power and then the right to succeed it. The historical precedent was close at hand in South Africa.

The second party is that of the Africans. When first annexed, the tribes could not, of course, understand what had happened to them. After the initial resistance to conquest put up by some but by no means all the tribes, the great majority accepted their new rulers and responded passively to the deep changes imposed upon their lives. There was, after all, much that could be welcomed as good: the new peace and security; the new freedom to move over large areas; the new skills they were taught; above all, perhaps, the wonderful new goods, clothes, lamps, bicycles, tin roofs and the rest. Shut away from the outside world within a bilateral relationship between rulers and ruled, the fact of subjection to the white man was accepted as an inescapable new order.

But during the 1930s in West Africa and rather later on the eastern side, a sizable generation of Western-educated youth was coming of age. Africans had eaten of the tree of Western knowledge and the passivity of ignorance was shattered. They now knew that in the ruling country there was often a difference of opinion about the rights and wrongs of their treatment. They read law, history and politics. They began to find words--English words--to define the strains and pressures they had hitherto taken for granted. With the Second World War the external influences making for conscious discontent with the colonial status multiplied, while the schools in Africa turned out an increasing number who were aware of the world in which they, and indeed the Negro race as a whole, seemed to be kept in subjection and treated with indignity. This knowledge seems to act like a poison in the blood, more or less inflammatory according to temperament and circumstances. In order to find alleviation, those who suffer from it struggle for equality with other races and especially, of course, with the people who rule them. Equality of every kind--social, economic and political--is demanded and generally demanded at once.

The third participant is the British Government, that long projection of power and influence which originates in the British electorate and finds its ultimate agency in the colonial governor and his civil service. Critics of "colonialism" tend to simplify what they condemn. They forget, firstly, that the British Government often followed up its pioneering nationals in order to control them in the interests of the indigenous peoples and, secondly, that it sometimes found it impossible to assert this control. During the 1930s British governments, extending some of the lessons learned in the increasing plans for social betterment at home, directed vigorous and expert services--medical, educational and agricultural--amongst the African tribes and fostered their local government. But though the Gold Coast and Southern Nigerian politicians were beginning to reveal the dimension and urgency of African hopes, the authorities generally failed to anticipate that full self-government would be demanded and promised before the half-century was over. In East and Central Africa the British Government showed that it could do little more than influence the varied situations intensifying the African character of Uganda and Tanganyika, partially retreating before European pressure in the Rhodesias, and unable, in spite of a long series of commissions, committees and white papers, to discover a policy to solve the Kenya problem.

Here, then, were the factors of the Central and East African situation up to some ten years ago: confident and dominant British minorities in the Rhodesias and Kenya; divided and quiescent African majorities just awakening to both discontents and hopes; and a controlling British government--humane, liberal, increasingly active in African interests, but lacking in foresight and by no means in control of all the factors.


The present decade has seen this situation roughly shaken. The rapid evolution of the Gold Coast into Ghana, the first British Negro colony to gain independence, accompanied by quick steps towards independence by non-African colonies, has given the native leaders in East and Central Africa an intoxicating draught of confidence. They have learned in these years to reinforce their weak position by drawing upon the practical or the psychological support they have found in the outside world--the United Nations; the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions; the Bandung, Cairo and Accra Conferences; the sympathetic influences in the United States, India and elsewhere; and in the very existence of the Communist world with its military and ideological threat to their rulers, and its alternative system. What has been the impact of this upsurge upon the countries we are considering?

Let us look first at East Africa. In Tanganyika, Britain has quickly made large constitutional concessions this year before the pressure generated by the able African leader, Julius Nyerere. Further steps towards majority rule are being planned. The Africans had, of course, the support of the Trusteeship status, while the immigrant community was small and was much divided in race and nationality. After a long attempt to claim parity of representation, they quickly came to terms with the Africans. There will be no racial conflict here. But the British Government must have acted with secret misgivings. Tanganyika has far fewer of the qualifications for nationhood than Ghana. It is a large and poor country, with an ill-distributed population and inadequate communications, while its brief period of existence as a state under European tutelage has been divided between two rulers and interrupted by a destructive war in the territory. Its leaders must bring themselves to accept much help if they are to make an ordered and prosperous unity, still more a democracy, of such a country.

In Uganda, the dynamic and liberal governorship of Sir Andrew Cohen showed British rule in its most positive response to the new forces at work in Africa. But even he came up hard against Uganda's great obstacle to the advance of the Protectorate towards full self-government: the great pride, wealth and self-sufficiency of the Kingdom of Buganda. Its Kabaka and chiefs, tenacious of their ancient and highly developed kingdom, unique in East Africa, refuse to join in the largely elected Legislative Council through which the British Government is trying to foster unity and political experience among tribes of very diverse culture and advancement. But the policy is clear. Britain has declared Uganda to be "primarily an African State" on the road to self-government and no European settler interest complicates the future or need alarm the Africans of this compact, well-watered country. The Asians, the commercial community, are, however, being threatened by African antagonism, shown this year in an attempted boycott of "foreign" goods, and they have grave fears for their future.

In Kenya there is the same story of recent and rapid African advance. The European settlers have lately accepted, some of them with fear and reluctance, the large increase of African members, and elected members, in the legislature. Equal opportunities have been opened in the Civil Service; and equal access to hotels and a host of other measures for African betterment in town and country have marked the years since the end of the Mau Mau movement. But the African members, under the uncompromising leadership of Tom Mboya, have lately been refusing any collaboration so long as European settlers still retain what the Africans regard as a numerically disproportionate position in the Legislative and Executive Councils. Mr. Mboya has drawn heavily upon external sources for support. By his activities in Accra, in the United States, and as a labor leader in close touch with Transport House in Britain and the I.C.F.T.U. headquarters in Brussels, as well as by his wide travels, he has built for himself an international status.

In April of this year the European leader, Mr. Michael Blundell, resigned from his position as Minister for Agriculture, a government nomination, and has thrown himself into the storms and cross-currents of party politics in order to try to lead his own community towards participation in a truly multi-racial government. He has advocated a number of liberal measures, including a movement away from tribal exclusiveness, African or European, in the holding of land--hitherto the "White Highlands" have been sacrosanct--and even an experiment in multi-racial secondary education. These proposals mark the abandonment of the old aims of complete white social and political superiority. Inevitably his own right wing is indignant.

Will the African leaders respond or will they reject all compromise and demand at once the absolute control which the "undiluted democracy" they claim must give to their numbers? A few days after Mr. Blundell's dramatic action the Colonial Secretary made the statement, long demanded by the Africans, that in Kenya, as in other dependencies, Britain aimed "to build a nation based on parliamentary institutions." With this ultimate prospect at last recognized, it is possible that the Africans will recognize their need, at least for a period, of coöperation with those Europeans and Asians whose stake in the life of the Colony and whose civic and economic capacity are so much greater than their numbers. But the psychology of the Africans makes it difficult for them to achieve patience or agree to any compromise based on such a claim. The answer may soon be known.

The Africans have reason to pause. They are still deeply divided by differences of tribe and of way of life. The two main groups are concentrated in two areas distant from each other. Pastoral and partly Nilotic tribes are scattered thinly in the northern and southern fringes. The coast, divided by a dry area from the more populated highlands, has known a long Arab settlement. The larger commercial centers, especially Mombasa and Kisumu, are more Asian than European or African. While it is true that African agriculture has made great strides in the last five to ten years, largely through a campaign of betterment financed by Britain and by a policy of consolidating scattered African holdings, yet the skilled farming of the European highlands is still an all-important element in the economy. The needs of the country have far outrun its revenues. Without large financial as well as military aid from Britain the Mau Mau rebellion would have utterly ruined the country. In other words, Kenya, as a state and an economy, is a precarious structure. It is difficult in the near future to imagine the Africans in control. Even if they could supply enough competent individuals at the top, they could hardly create sufficient unity and party organization to give them the necessary steady democratic support from below. And though each year sees more Kenya-born Europeans and even more Asians who either would not or could not leave the country, there are many others who would not remain under an unstable and inefficient government but who, at great cost to themselves and to the colony, would take their skill and their capital elsewhere.

The greatest hope for the interval between the renunciation of settler ambitions and the capacity of Africans to take over the major share of power may rest with the British Government. The African leaders have always distinguished clearly between imperial power and settler power and have admitted their need of sustained help from the first. This Mr. Lennox-Boyd has now promised. By the sincerity and energy of its actions in advancing both African opportunities, and also the education to use them, the Government might retain their confidence and at the same time safeguard the interests of the minorities. Both sides might in this period learn to cease putting race before any other consideration--an achievement well established in the West Indies.


The future of Kenya is cloudy enough, especially for the immigrant races. But at least there are not the materials there for bitter and enduring racial conflict. In Central Africa the Europeans are in a much stronger position to struggle for their supremacy. Their headquarters are really, as the statistics show, in Southern Rhodesia. Their community is not isolated in the heart of Negro tropical Africa, as are the Kenya settlers. They are the extension of the strongest and most solid block of European settlement in Africa. Penetrating northwards from South Africa in the last years of the nineteenth century, under the stimulus of Cecil Rhodes and his British South Africa Company, and heavily defeating the powerful Matabele tribe, they were from the first in a much stronger position, towards both the local Africans and the British Government, than the Kenya settlers. With the later development of copper still further north, thousands of Europeans, many of them Afrikaners, were drawn to the string of mines running up to the Belgian Congo. In 1923 the Company's control ended; the Rhodesians voted in a referendum against joining South Africa and obtaining from Britain virtually complete internal "self-government" as a white minority. Northern Rhodesia, with its fewer whites, remained a Protectorate under the Colonial Office.

These few thousand white men scattered about the immense areas north and south of the Zambesi felt anxious from time to time about their status and their future. Shut off from the sea by Portuguese East Africa, their economies narrowly based upon a few primary products, they considered intermittently whether unity would strengthen them.

Passing over the years of uncertainty, let us examine the motives which led to the formation of the present Federation in 1953. First, the Rhodesians, being mainly of British stock, were increasingly alienated by the Union of South Africa because of the anti-British bias of its Nationalist Party government and its repressive native policy. Second, they hoped with unity to rationalize and advance their economy and attract more settlers and capital. Third, they felt a nationalist urge to create a new, large self-governing nation. Fourth, watching uneasily the political stirrings in Africa, and suspicious of Britain's tendency to what they regarded as premature surrenders to African nationalism, they wanted full control over their own African policy. Britain, upon her side, saw that a weak and isolated Southern Rhodesia must one day be absorbed by South Africa. Northern Rhodesia could not long escape the influence, and there would then be an extension of Afrikaner nationalism and apartheid almost to the equator. The alternative was to build up a large dominion, loyal to Britain and the Commonweath, in which Britain would retain sufficient control to support the liberal elements in the Rhodesias and promote a great new experiment in racial partnership. Mainly upon British initiative, the isolated little Protectorate of Nyasaland, where, with a few European settlers, 2,400,000 Africans live poor and crowded in glorious mountains and lacustrine scenery, was added to the two Rhodesias.

The Federation was built upon an insecure foundation of compromise and conflict. The compromise was between Rhodesian ideas of partnership and those of Britain, between a distant and inconstant liberalism and the clear-cut determination of the colonists (in spite of the concessions they were obliged to make in order to get British agreement to the Federation) to maintain white supremacy for as far ahead as they could see. There was compromise, too, in retaining the status of Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland as Protectorates linked with an all-but-independent Colony in an all-but-independent Federation. There was compromise in the very wording of the Federal Act which held out to Europeans the prospect of going forward to full self-government and yet made any changes dependent upon the will of all the inhabitants.

The Federal constitution is, indeed, an elaborate structure designed to give the African educated élite a limited representation in the Federal Parliament and the right to an "ordinary" vote alongside Europeans. At present this group consists of a relatively small enfranchised minority, while the great mass of the poorer and more backward Africans are checked, by the grant of a "special" vote of less representative value, from swamping the polls. The northern Africans, and especially those of Nyasaland, are fearful of permanent subordination to the European minority, while the advances of fellow Africans, and especially of Ghana, have reinforced their desire for independence. The recent disorders in Nyasaland have tragically revealed the tensions which underlie the Federation and have aroused anxious debates in Central Africa and Britain.

At the moment the problems seem grave and all but insoluble. The Europeans of the Rhodesias cannot hand themselves and the governments and the economies they have built up to an African majority that is wholly unready for such a different responsibility. Can they succeed in their plan of at once encouraging and yet controlling the flow of educated Africans to the ranks of responsible citizenship upon Rhodes' oft-quoted dictum of "Equal rights for all civilized men"? Impatient African leaders, resenting any gradualism imposed upon their advance, and knowing their strength lies mainly in numbers, claim "full democracy" and encourage the intimidation of moderates who collaborate individually with the four governments. One hope lies in the remaining faith the northern Africans have in their direct contact with Britain as a distant and impartial power which has encouraged African political advance elsewhere. Although this means the continuation of a difficult division of authority within the Federation, with British public and party opinion playing upon a delicate situation, this may still be the best way of gaining a period of perhaps ten years in which the Protectorate Africans may be helped to advance in political experience, while profiting from the economic development of the Federation. But no distant observers should underrate the grave difficulties which, whether in the "all black" or the "mixed" territories of East and Central Africa, lie between them and their ordered and prosperous advance into nationhood.

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  • MARGERY PERHAM, Fellow in Imperial Government, Nuffield College, Oxford; former Reader in Colonial Administration, Oxford; member of the Advisory Committee on Education in the Colonies, 1939-45; author of "Africans and British Rule," "Lugard: The Years of Adventure" and other works
  • More By Margery Perham