The Downside of Imperial Collapse
When Empires or Great Powers Fall, Chaos and War Rise
IT IS the fashion of the day to talk of the bankruptcy of Christendom on the one hand, since it proved itself unable to prevent the suicidal World War, and has become a mosaic of rival sectarian creeds; and on the other hand to dethrone the fetish of democracy from its pedestal as an ideal of secular government -- to point to its collapse in Italy and Spain, and to the rivalries of innumerable blocs and parties in the legislatures of Europe, by which the voice of the sovereign people is confused in a babel of tongues in parliament and the press. But though Western civilization has as yet found no clear solution of its own problems in Church and State, it can claim to have made a steady and consistent advance -- not limited to any one nation -- in its dealings with the colored races and in its appreciation of religions and of forms of government other than those which have been evolved to suit wholly different circumstances.
Since the dark days of the maritime slave trade to America and the West Indies, which cost Africa many million lives, the civilized Powers have by a series of international treaties marked the stages of progress. The Berlin and Brussels Acts of 1885 and 1890 pledged the signatories "in the name of Almighty God" "to protect effectively the aboriginal populations of Africa and to ensure to that vast continent the benefits of peace and civilization." The Treaty of Versailles and the Covenant of the League of Nations, which created an international trusteeship for the territories held under mandate, and finally the last Slavery Convention of 1926, and the Forced Labor Convention of the present year, prove that there has been a steady growth in the recognition of the responsibility of the more advanced nations towards those "not yet able to stand alone in the strenuous conditions of the modern world." Though these last conventions leave much to be desired, they represent, we are told, the maximum common-measure of agreement at present attainable, and mark a distinct advance.
A word of explanation is needed in justification of this somewhat faint praise. The Slavery Convention was the outcome of the Report of a "Slavery Committee" set up by the League of Nations in July 1924. It omits, as the rapporteur to the Assembly said, any allusion to "those conditions mentioned by the Slavery Committee, i.e., debt slavery, the enslaving of persons disguised as the adoption of children, or the purchase of girls disguised as payment of dowry,"[i] in the vague belief that they were covered by the connotation of the term "slavery" as defined in the Convention. Since, however, that definition limits the term to rights of ownership in the person of the slave, it obviously does not include the abuses of "peonage" -- perhaps the worst of all -- and probably could not be legally held to include the other conditions referred to as analogous to slavery. It makes no reference to the right of search and the right of asylum, claimed under the Brussels Act, which were apparently sacrificed by Article 13 of the Convention of Saint Germain-en-Laye of September 1919.[ii]
The Forced Labor Conference, in its turn, was unable to obtain unanimous acceptance of the proposals of the "Committee of Experts" to abolish forced labor for ordinary public works conscripted under the guise of labor battalions, or the substitution of a money tax for the labor prestation, or the curtailment of the authority of native chiefs (supported by the suzerain Power) to call out forced labor for personal services. It remains, moreover, to be seen how many of the signatories to the Convention as it stands have any intention of ratifying. There still are therefore some milestones ahead in the path of those who, while recognizing the steady advance in public opinion on such questions, think that the time is now ripe for further progress.
The latest public declaration on the subject of native policy and trusteeship is contained in a White Paper recently issued by the British Government on "Native Policy in East Africa," which was accompanied by a "Statement of Conclusions" regarding closer union between the three northern dependencies.[iii] It should be noted that these two documents (on which I have been invited to comment), though dealing with the same territory and largely complementary to each other, are essentially different in character. The first -- on native policy -- is a final pronouncement by the Imperial Government on the subjects with which it deals, endorsing and amplifying the previous declaration of 1923. The Governors concerned are instructed in a preliminary note "to take immediate steps to insure that the policy in regard to native administration in these territories is brought into strict conformity, if in any respect this is not the case, with that laid down in the Memorandum" -- to which the widest publicity is to be given. The "Statement of Conclusions," on the other hand, is (in the terms of Lord Passfield's motion in the House of Lords on July 3) to be referred to a joint committee of both Houses, together with the two reports of the Special Commissioners sent to East Africa on which the conclusions are based. The object in view is "to see whether the conclusions of the government could be improved upon," and as far as possible to obtain the united support of all parties and "practically to pronounce judgment upon the matter." Moreover the principal British delegate to the League of Nations had informed the Council that the document would be transmitted to the Council and the Mandates Commission before any action was taken. The importance attached to the question may be gauged by its reference to the most authoritative tribunal for the expression of the national will which exists in Great Britain.
The "Statement of Conclusions" deals therefore with a matter which is in some sense still sub judice. The issues it raises, rather by inference than by direct assertion, are of such fundamental importance, and so vitally affect the character and method of the development of control of subject races that, though it may be permissible to set down some thoughts and notes regarding the main principles involved, it would be premature to attempt to express final opinions until the views and arguments which will be laid before the Joint Committee have been heard and considered: for the conclusions are designedly open to amendment. The decisions ultimately taken cannot fail to have considerable influence on the relations between the white and colored races, not only in the British dependencies outside East Africa, but in those of other nationalities also. I propose in this article to limit my comments to those issues which seem to me to be of primary importance and wide application.
The first is the form of government best adapted to these tropical territories, in view of their vast areas and the generally backward condition of their population. The second, arising out of the first, is the relation between the native Africans and the white settlers and others who have taken up permanent residence in the country. The third is the relation of the local administration of such territories to the home government. All three are closely related, and policy in regard to land tenure and alienation, taxation, native labor, control of immigration and similar matters depends largely on the decisions taken in these major issues.
The British in their colonization and "adventures" overseas in bygone days seem to have been obsessed by the conviction that the institutions which through the centuries they had evolved at home must necessarily be the best for every other race and climate -- just as they took out their tall silk hats to wear on the cricket fields of Calcutta or Madras. Of these institutions the supreme court, with its rigid rules of evidence, its strict adherence to legal technicalities and formalities, and the legislative council, with its adaptation of parliamentary procedure, were the most cherished. At that time the British colonies in tropical and subtropical areas consisted chiefly of islands such as the West Indies, or of small enclaves on the mainland coast of India and West Africa. Even where their enterprise led them into the heart of a continent -- as in India -- the same conservative and unimaginative procedure was observed. In the islands and enclaves, with an area so limited and among a small population, British institutions took root as generations passed; and the constitution of the legislative council has by recognized stages passed from that of nominated to elected membership, thence to an unofficial majority, and finally in some cases to "responsible government" -- in which the executive becomes responsible to an elected chamber, though the Imperial Government retains control of certain "reserved subjects" (as in Southern Rhodesia and Malta). In fact the constitutional tendency, even in these tropical and semi-tropical colonies, nearly all of which are unsuited for white settlement on a large scale, has been to follow the path taken by the colonies of white settlement in temperate climates, such as Canada or New Zealand, which have now become wholly autonomous Dominions, linked to the mother country only by allegiance to the same Crown and by ties of sentiment and tradition.
Parliamentary and responsible government may be well suited to large and relatively homogeneous communities whose populations are overwhelmingly European, but the difficulty of applying them to "mixed" communities is apparent in South Africa, which alone of the Dominions has a large African and Asiatic population outnumbering the Europeans by four to one. Even where the problem is not complicated by the presence of considerable numbers of non-African residents, the difficulty is hardly less, owing to the size and population of such dependencies as Nigeria, with an area larger than that of France and Italy combined and a population of 20 million. Though seats on the legislative council may be filled by elected native members, the native franchise must necessarily be limited to a small urban community of Europeanized Africans, who at best can represent only a fraction of the adjacent population, and as a rule are wholly unrepresentative of the masses. In Nigeria, therefore, two-thirds of the country is placed outside the sphere of the council, and for this the Governor-in-Council legislates. In the Gold Coast Colony, where several of the tribal chiefs speak English and six have seats upon the council, the system is probably more successful; but the area of the Colony, to which alone the ordinances passed in council apply, is less than one-third of the whole dependency, and smaller than some of the single provinces of Nigeria. In the larger dependencies distance and absence of means of rapid transport render any real representation impossible even if there were suitable English-speaking representatives who could voice the wishes and opinions of the illiterate proletariat.
But perhaps even more important is the fact that the bases of parliamentary institutions -- membership by election in secret ballot for selected political constituencies, and decisions by a majority vote in a debating assembly -- are wholly foreign to the tradition and the mentality alike of African and of Eastern races, and can be acquired only by training in a foreign school. That this fact has at last become recognized is shown by its repeated enunciation of late by statesmen of all parties and by administrators of experience. In British tropical Africa those legislatures which include African members are apt to manifest a tendency to imitate the political parties of Europe, but the groups they form are based on no particular political convictions, and the time both of the council and of the departmental officials is wasted by placing innumerable questions on the agenda -- often frivolous and sometimes intended merely to embarrass the government.
The difficulty of any really representative government is accentuated when, as in Kenya, Africans are excluded from membership in the legislature, and the unofficial European members, even though in a minority, consist of capable men by whose capital and energy the country has been developed, who regard it as their birthright that they should have a preponderant voice in the administration, and who look forward one day to attaining "self-government" -- a term which is meant to include the government of several millions of Africans.
The problem is not confined to East Africa. It is shared by Rhodesia; and it is at the root of the "native question" which stands to-day in the forefront of the political issues in South Africa and is growing in intensity. In its broadest aspect it contributes to the crisis in Indian affairs. The Latin races have never conceded the right of legislation to their colonies in Africa. Decrees are made in Paris, Lisbon, Brussels or Rome, as the case may be, and sent out for promulgation, supplemented by local arrêtes or regulations -- though Italy, as Professor Malvezzi tells us, "tends more and more to vest legislative power in the colonial governors." This is not the place to discuss the Latin colonial system in contrast with the British, for in French Africa, at any rate, it differs radically in its aims. A policy of assimilation, which aims at transforming the African into a black Frenchman, and even, as a writer in The Round Table[iv] informs us, tolerates miscegenation with that object, is so opposed to one based (as the White Papers say) on "the development of native social and political institutions on native lines" that it demands a separate study. We may, however, be sure that the claim of the masses for some voice in the local government will sooner or later have to be faced in French West Africa, as already it has been faced in Indo-China; it cannot be evaded by centralization in Paris.
To return to the problem of "the mixed state," as the Commissioners call it, where a white minority resides among a vastly preponderant native population -- a problem which also confronts the Belgians in the Kivu Highlands, where a colony of European settlers, including many with capital and social position is, we are told, rapidly springing up. This indeed is the problem which the Commissioners who present the report on closer union -- all exceptionally able men with varied experience -- have endeavored to solve, and upon which the Imperial Government has now published its tentative conclusions.
On the one hand, there is a consensus of opinion that the interests of the small minority, whether in questions of land alienation or of expenditure of revenue in roads and branch railways, or in the fixing of railway rates and customs duties, or in the allocation of the work of the technical staff, or in a score of other matters, cannot in the nature of things always coincide with the interests of the African population relegated to its "reserves." It is only natural that schools for European children, and the services of the agricultural or veterinary departments, or facilities for transport of valuable products by road and rail to non-native plantations, should loom large in the view of those who frame or criticize the budget, though the native population may have contributed the greater part of the revenue. Both are to some extent competitors in the same markets. The white men are for the most part employers who depend for their existence on native labor. Though the individual white man may contribute very much more to the revenue than an individual African, the total contribution of the African population must inevitably be much greater than that of the white minority. Where a conflict of racial interests occurs, it is not right, say the Commissioners, that one party should be "judge in its own cause" and exercise a monopoly of political power. This view has been echoed in parliament and the white residents admit its cogency.
The acceptance of this proposition clearly involves a choice between two alternative courses. Either the native majority must be given an adequate voice in the conduct of affairs and the making of the laws which affect their interests -- which under representative government means votes and seats in the legislature -- or the right of the legislative council to legislate for the whole of the native population must be curtailed. We may dismiss the suggestion that "safeguards" can be provided for native interests by nominating Europeans to represent them on the council, and giving the governor the power of exercising a veto on any legislation which he might consider to be inimical to their interests, and of passing any bill in spite of a hostile majority vote: for such a scheme could be only a temporary expedient, unacceptable to the natives as they grow to be politically minded, and therefore affording no permanent solution. In British dependencies the governor already possesses the power of withholding his assent to any bill, and can introduce and pass any bill, unless and until the unofficial members are granted a majority in the council.
It remains to examine the alternative course. Is it necessary or expedient to extend the franchise to the native population and to admit their representatives as members of the legislative council? We have seen that even in West Africa, where the situation is not complicated by the presence of white settlers, the African members of the council cannot at present be considered to be true representatives of the majority in a large dependency. With the spread of education throughout the country, this objection will no doubt be modified, as it has been in the Gold Coast; but there still remain the difficulties of distance and transport and the inadvisability of summoning chiefs from their proper duties of guiding and controlling their own communities in order to attend at sessions of which a large part of the proceedings will have little interest for them.
But there is a much more important objection. If the native populations are accorded the vote and representation in any degree proportionate to their numbers, they would -- though wholly inexperienced and politically uneducated -- swamp the white. For the Africans are intelligent and singularly eager to take advantage of the education freely given by government and the missions. They would be quick to realize that under such a form of government all real political power resides ultimately in the legislative council which makes the laws. Their aspirations therefore would be directed to qualifying by a literary education for a seat on that body rather than in the tribal council, whose voice carries little weight outside the tribal boundaries. That way lies chaos and possibly bloodshed in the mixed state.
But a consideration of even greater weight and cogency, in my view, is that the adoption of such a method of government is opposed to the fundamental principle laid down in the White Papers (and in the closer union report) that the development of the native must be "through native social and political institutions on native lines . . . by methods and forms of organization which have a traditional appeal for him." As I have already remarked, there is a consensus of opinion that parliamentary institutions, elections, government by a majority vote in debate, and so on, are wholly foreign to African mentality and tradition. In the particular case before us the suzerain Power has proclaimed to the world that the principles of the mandate are equally applicable to Kenya and Uganda and to the mandated territory of Tanganyika. The principle of the mandate is explicit. It is to raise the native populations to a plane upon which they can stand alone. Perhaps that objective can never be fully realized, but the principle of continuous evolution remains.
I have suggested that the alternative course is a curtailment of the legislative sphere of the white man's legislative council. This could be effected either by limiting the operation of the laws it enacts to a definitely demarcated white settlement -- a course suggested by me in the case of Kenya several years ago, which still finds advocates as being the only permanent solution -- or by withdrawing from its operation the bulk of the African population, and placing the several native units directly under the Crown as represented by the Governor-in-Council, subject to a proviso to which I shall presently refer.
Each tribal unit would be organized under its own chief with his council of principal men, who would appoint headmen of districts and villages charged to maintain order and to collect the small tax, a share of which, proportionate to their ability to accept responsibility, would be assigned for the salaries of the chief and his subordinates. In those communities which as yet consist only of an agglomeration of families each under patriarchal rule, and have not yet reached the stage at which the authority of a single chief is recognized, it would be the task of the district officer to encourage the selection of a chief and to instill into him and his council of elders a sense of responsibility and public service. The district officer meanwhile must shoulder the burden, though always acting in the name of the chief and ostensibly by his authority, so as to establish his influence and prestige. The village and provincial schools will lend powerful aid, and in the second generation, if not before, the community may be able to take its place as an organized unit of tribal administration, though as yet exercising a minimum of responsibility and under close tutelage and supervision in the conduct of its tribunals and its "treasury." But probably in most cases the tribal unit will already be sufficiently organized under a recognized chief to be, under supervision, entrusted with the management of its own immediate affairs.
It is important that in all such native units the chief should be selected by the people and not imposed upon them by the government. The courts must be wholly native and administer only native law and custom, and the closest supervision must be maintained by the British staff. On the other hand, even in the case of communities which have reached a high state of organization, the suzerain Power reserves to itself the right of legislation, of raising armed forces, of imposing taxation, and in case of maladministration of deposing a chief. The day is yet far distant when such powers can be entrusted to African communities.
In those parts of British tropical Africa where embryo native states of this type have been set up, no difficulty has been found in associating several units to form advisory councils. The great size of these territories, the diversity of languages, the difference in the stage of development reached, and the large number of units -- which would make the council unwieldy -- combine to render the formation of a single council difficult, and probably it would be advisable to postpone its creation. These native units should offer such prospects of place and power as would attract the educated native.
But so long as the white man's legislative council continues to legislate for the native population, and so long as responsible government and a common roll are recognized as the ultimate goal of constitutional development, native advisory councils can have little vitality, and it would be futile to expect that service with a native administration would form a sufficient attraction to the educated and ambitious African.
In Africa though the chief is spokesman it is always customary that he should have a council of advisers, whether he be a village headman or the paramount chief of an important tribe. It would be contrary to native conceptions that he should be the sole delegate, and consequently in Nigeria each independent community is represented in the advisory council by a "deliberative unit" consisting of three or four persons, viz., the chief and his principal adviser, the British district officer, and perhaps in an important tribe the principal judge of the native courts. There would seem to be no reason why European traders, missionaries or other residents in a native state should not participate in the council.
We have seen that in such a form of government all legislation which more or less exclusively affects native interests is reserved to the Governor-in-Council, as in the South African protectorates and in various British dependencies. The advisory councils as they grow in efficiency would be encouraged to discuss and comment on such draft laws as are submitted to them, and to frame and enforce by-laws and regulations subject to approval. His Majesty's Government has declared its desire that the white communities should participate in the discharge of the obligations of trusteeship, and it is of paramount importance that their good will and coöperation should be enlisted in the task. Though the governor, with the assistance of his executive council, would deal with the legislation for the native communities, there remains a large class of subjects in which the interests of both races are inextricably combined, such for instance as the "transferred subjects" which the White Paper proposed should be reserved to a high commissioner -- e.g., railways, customs, defense, etc. Legislation on these would originate in the legislative council and be referred to the advisory native councils for their comments. The governor would reënact these laws for the native territories unless there should appear to be any divergence of racial interests, in which case he would act as an arbitral authority after full investigation -- for which purpose he would appoint a committee if need be to ascertain beyond all question the pertinent facts.
That such a scheme would be easy to apply in practice no one would, I think, dare to assert; but if it were applied continuously, without vacillation, and with good will, there would be every ground for hope that the intention of the British Government expressed in the earlier White Papers of "providing a place for the native in the body politic, and of taking steps to create the machinery whereby native self-government at first purely local and later over larger areas" would be effected. For the realization of this objective the Commissioners proposed "native and settled (i.e., non-native) areas arranged in homogeneous blocks of adequate extent in which each race can control and direct its own more immediate affairs, and learn to exercise responsibility unhampered by the complicating presence of the other."
Thus far I have not touched on the question of closer union between the three contiguous territories in the north -- Uganda, Kenya and Tanganyika -- for in my view its importance is secondary to that of the issues I have discussed. The Commissioners consider that there is a need in Africa for a super-authority who would be more in touch with local feeling than the distant Colonial Office in London; who would act as an arbitral authority in cases where racial interests are divergent; who would advise the home government in matters of native policy and would see that the instructions of the Secretary of State in this regard were effectively carried out. Such a super-authority could be created only to control a group of dependencies, and hence closer union in some form would be necessary. In short, if I read their intention aright, the main object of the Commissioners in proposing closer union is to restore and maintain effective Imperial control. They consider, also, that a central authority is needed to control certain economic services common to all three, and finally on grounds of the general desirability of forming groups and so relieving the Secretary of State of the task of "dealing in detail with a large number of small units."[v] Sir Samuel Wilson, who submitted the second Report, was instructed to inquire how closer union could be made workable and acceptable, not whether it was necessary. He therefore only records that the appointment of a high commissioner was considered desirable "to control the essential economic services."
On the other hand, doubts have been expressed at Geneva whether closer union in any form was in accord with the spirit of the mandate, since it might be regarded as tending towards annexation -- though Article 10 of the mandate expressly authorizes "a customs, fiscal, and administrative union or federation with the adjacent territories . . . provided that the measures adopted to that end do not infringe the provisions of this mandate." My own view as a member of the Mandates Commission was that so long as Tanganyika remained a separate entity, enacting its own laws and with a separate budget, closer union would not be contrary to the mandate. It would be the duty of the Mandates Commission to make sure that the interests of the inhabitants did not suffer by any action consequent on the union.
His Majesty's Government definitely recognizes that "Tanganyika must preserve its individuality as a territorial unit." The maintenance of this integrity is to be further secured by the provision that the High Commissioner may, and shall on the request of any three members of the proposed central council, refer any measure passed by the council to the Secretary of State for the signification of His Majesty's pleasure. He is himself to take part in the preparation of the annual report to the League of Nations, his accounts and activities are to be separated and presented in such a way "as will enable the Mandates Commission to assure itself that the principles of the mandate are being carried out both generally and in detail."
So far as the mandate is concerned, these provisions would seem to fulfil the necessary conditions. It may be hoped, then, that they will remove the objections which Herr Stresemann and his successor, Herr Curtius, have expressed to closer union. Writers in the German press have frankly explained that their opposition is based on the hope that Great Britain would some day relinquish the mandate in favor of Germany. But the Treaty of Versailles and the mandate do not contemplate any relinquishment of the trust until the inhabitants are able to stand alone, and any transfer would be a deliberate violation of assurances repeatedly made to the people.
Assuming, then, that the mandate does not stand in the way of closer union, it remains for the Joint Committee to decide whether the arguments in its favor are sufficiently cogent to justify the step, and whether the proposed conditions -- more particularly the central legislative council -- are in the true interests of the bulk of the people and of the declared ideal of the mandate of guiding them towards that distant day when they may be able to stand alone. Always assuming that the governors of each of the three territories will give full effect to every detail of the memorandum on native policy, and that they are empowered to exercise the powers of initiative and of suspension of legislation which it is proposed to confer on the High Commissioner, there does not appear to be any administrative urgency for closer union and the appointment of a permanent High Commissioner.
From the standpoint of the coördination of common economic interests, experience seems to show that the Conference of Governors provides adequate machinery for adjusting any difficulties which may arise between the three territories in regard to railway rates and customs duties. It would, however, be desirable that an experienced and responsible special commissioner should be deputed as chairman of the Conference of Governors, and he could be empowered to act as an arbitral authority and to direct an investigation into any question referred to him as such, subject to confirmation by the Secretary of State.
Africa is indebted to the United States for the deep interest she has shown in her welfare, and the very generous practical assistance she has given to those engaged in research into the interesting and complex problems of the evolution of her people. The historian of the future will perhaps recognize more clearly than the politicians of today the magnitude of these racial problems and the importance of the opportunity which is given to the present generation to guide their development before they pass beyond control.
[i] And, I may add, of slaves disguised as pilgrims to Mecca.
[ii] See article in The Nineteenth Century and After, January, 1926.
[iii] Cmd. 3573 and Cmd. 3574 of June 30, 1930.
[iv]The Round Table, London, September, 1929.
[v] The average size of the three is, however, over 231,000 square miles!
Why the Pessimists and the Optimists Are Both Right