UNTIL the decade before the last world war, British policy in the colonies had aimed chiefly at the establishment of order, the extension of the rule of law, the control of abuses, the creation of sound administration, the practice of justice and the supply of essential public works, such as roads. This was thought the proper preparation for self-government. The abolition of colonial status was the long-range objective. "Development" was largely left to the administrators on the spot. Sometimes they were helped to pay for their administration by a grant-in-aid from the British Treasury; but, in the main, they raised the revenue they needed by indirect taxes and provided only the services which could be paid for from that revenue. The Government of Britain laid down broad principles of policy, but the local governor, who enjoyed a wide discretion, could do little for health and educational services and even less in developing the economic resources of the territory.

Economic policy in those days was based on free access by all nations to raw materials, free markets and non-discrimination, all without regard for the interests of the indigenous people. There was little regulation or control of economic development. Such enterprise as came about was often wasteful and inefficient and not infrequently led to exploitation of materials and human beings, particularly in the areas of non-European settlement. British achievements in the field of colonial administration were considerable, and in many areas colonial governments protected native rights and regulated the incursion of alien enterprise. But the prevailing economic conception of the period was expressed in terms of concession hunting and the opening up of territories for the production of minerals and all the raw materials wanted by the expanding industrial economies of Europe and America. The plantations founded by foreigners not infrequently disturbed the native economies profoundly. Intolerable labor conditions were often permitted in enterprise designed to meet the demands for cheap commodities. Some of this enterprise brought railways, roads, markets and further opportunities for investment, but the whole picture was one of intolerably low standards of living, famine, disease, ignorance and inertia side by side with exploitation, depressions, primitive methods and unscientific operations in general.

This was the stage often described as economic imperialism. Under it, colonial governments were only too glad to receive what revenues such enterprise produced, but wealth was drained from the territories and the profits of production, enterprise and trade were enjoyed elsewhere. Savings were not put back into the colony for its further development. The basic social problems of ignorance, poverty and disease remained unsolved. The Missions provided some schooling and health services, but local governments, divorced from public control and responsibility, were satisfied if order was maintained and sufficient revenues raised so that a grant-in-aid from the mother country would not be needed. Policy was expressed in terms of liberalism -- justice and order in the place of tribal war and savagery. Economic planning was not considered the concern of governments. It was thought that the building up of self-governing colonies was prejudiced by metropolitan aid and interference, and it was strongly held that the varied collection of territories could not be governed by directives from the center. Thus it was that except in the Far East, the government constructed only the minimum of essential public works. Commerce and industry and often the provision of public utilities were left to private capital; and not even very much private capital was attracted to Africa, because of the great obstacles which nature offered to development there.


It was against this economic background that the neglect of the British colonies came to be measured. Anyone who claims the right to find fault with the degree of development which had taken place up to the Second World War must, however, remember that in tropical and sub-tropical areas the whole environment usually has to be controlled and transformed to make life tolerable. The problems of pests and diseases, of water and soil conservation, are immensely formidable in tropical conditions. And programs of development must continuously struggle against the conservatism and inflexibility of the native peoples. In fairness, too, we may note that the poverty, social maladjustment and neglect of the people's welfare are greater in many sovereign states than in comparable British colonies.

The depression which began in 1929 made intervention by government in economic matters essential, and the Colonial Development Act of 1929 was an expression of the fact that economic planning in the colonies was needed on a scale which could not be met by the private entrepreneur. Its purpose was to promote collaboration with each territory in order "to promote commerce with, or industry in, the United Kingdom," and it appropriated £1,000,000 a year for economic development. The Act did not relay detailed instructions from London to the colonies, but limited itself to approving broad general lines of expansion.

It is unnecessary to record the inadequacies of the 1929 Act. Although colonial needs were imperative, the capital sum made available by the Act was never used in any single year. Projects were not begun because recurrent costs could not be met by colonial governments, which were suffering heavily from the collapse of prices and markets. Nevertheless, many useful things were done. The Colonial Office created an economic department, and some colonial governments began to think in terms of colony-wide plans for economic activities as well as social services.

By the time the Second World War came, when investigations into troubles arising in some of the colonies revealed the degree of poverty and social misery which afflicted them, it was obvious that the colonial governments would have to take a hand in planning economic development. It was clear, too, that the government in London would have to give assistance, and that the aid would range from technical advice to "pump priming" loans and grants. It was in these circumstances that Parliament enacted the 1940 Act, providing £5,000,000 a year for ten years, and a further £500,000 a year for research.

The new Act envisioned a balanced and comprehensive plan of development and authorized the making of "schemes for any purpose likely to promote the development of the Resources of any Colony or the welfare of its people." Thus the laissez faire attitude to the colonies came to an end. In pursuit of its primary object -- "to promote the prosperity and happiness of the peoples of the Colonial Empire" -- the Act was designed to stimulate both social and economic ten-year plans. It also made possible the creation of central services in the Colonial Office, and widened research and put it on a new basis.

The funds made available under the Act were insufficient, however, and another Act of 1945 increased assistance to a total of £120,000,000 for ten years, and permitted expenditure up to £17,500,000 in any one year, of which not more than £1,000,000 might be for research. This ampler provision made it possible for territories to contemplate long-term and large-scale schemes of development of public works, social services and agriculture and also to consider very broad regional schemes in matters such as health and communications which transcended local boundaries. It enjoined the colonial governments to include in their plans schemes drawing on their own resources and capacity to raise loans, and directed them to maintain proper balance between welfare services and economic development.

In recent years flexible and realistic programs for the succeeding ten-year period have been prepared for almost every British colonial territory. They have been conceived in the territory, and generally have been worked out by the local government in consultation with its peoples and with competent technical advisers. It has been necessary to devise new methods of handling plans for development, for they must not only be "colonial," in the sense that they are an expression of the ideas of the people in the colony, but they must be supported by local money. Thus, of 17 ten-year programs now under consideration in London involving £176,000,000, it is estimated that £69,000,000 will come from local revenues and £51,000,000 from local loans. There can therefore be no question of London imposing its plans, or attempting to weaken the financial responsibility of the colonies. It cannot call the tune, for it does not pay the piper. The rôle of the Colonial Office is limited, but it must satisfy itself that the principles of the schemes are sound, that the program is one of balanced development and that the individual projects are well conceived. For this purpose a specially created Colonial Economic and Development Council advises the Secretary of State. Its duty is to consider the problems of each colony as a whole, to point out the fundamental needs and suggest how best to meet them, and to advise upon the relative priorities for development schemes. The Council likewise studies the possibilities of large-scale development and the requirements of the entire region of which the colony is a part.


It has sometimes been said in criticism that, in the allocation of funds under the 1945 Act, social welfare has received greater consideration than economic development. But such things as a supply of pure water, information about nutrition, preventive and social medicine, technical and trade education are vital factors in economic activity. In any case, the balance as between one kind of expenditure and another has been preserved, for it would be useless to build up social services without at the same time expanding production and wealth so that the services could be sustained when self-government was realized. Nor should the growth of self-reliance and responsibility in a territory be weakened by too great a dependence on external aid. Consequently, the programs of most colonies are a mixture of measures calculated to increase wealth, manpower and social amenities, to open up new resources and to extend the taxable capacity of the individual to sustain the ever-rising standard of living.

The Act has also encouraged regional planning in such fields as health, communications and power, as well as a larger measure of collaboration between contiguous colonies or the colonies in a region. In addition it has stimulated international regional planning in both social and economic matters, and increasingly associated the colonial peoples with it. The technical advisory system of the Comptroller in the British West Indies, the Interterritorial Organization in East Africa and the Caribbean Commission are but several examples of the progress already made in this direction.

In the last few years the whole field of colonial research has also been surveyed -- medical, agricultural, social and economic -- and much new work begun. New knowledge is being applied to great advantage in the work of the administration and technicians in the field, as well as in the utilization of products from the colonies. The Colonial Office has also established many new services such as geological and topographical surveys for charting the resources of a territory, arrangements for technical institutions and universities, welfare services for colonial students in Britain, better public relations, and training of the administrative and technical staffs, including those born and recruited in the colony. Thus there has been set up machinery through which Britain is attempting to stimulate the development and welfare of the 60,000,000 people in her dependent territories, some of them still backward socially, and each with its individual and complex problems.

The development schemes are principally concerned, on the economic side, with roads, ports, railways and other transport facilities, water supplies, irrigation, soil conservation and improvement of agricultural methods, the supply of power and fuel, eradication of pests, wiping out of diseases of plants, animals and human beings. General commercial expansion was deliberately avoided. At this stage local governments should be concerned simply to provide the basic utilities and services on which all other economic activity depends. It should be noted, however, that many colonial governments have had to reduce their programs because of postwar shortages. Some ambitious plans have had to be adjusted to the actual resources of machinery, materials and finance likely to be available as the work proceeds.

There has also been much political progress. Nearly all the colonial institutions have been overhauled in recent years, and there is better representation in local government, more responsibility and greater participation by colonial peoples in the local services. But though political progress in the colonies based on ideas of popular consent has been widely achieved, it is also recognized that political freedom should ideally march hand-in-hand with economic advancement. Democratic rights for vast peasant populations too preoccupied with winning a livelihood from the soil are only too apt to prove an empty boon. True progress is achieved only insofar as people can exercise those rights; in short, insofar as those rights march with the standard of living. But such a conception also requires that more and more of the people of the territory qualify to serve in the administrative and technical services of the country, receive suitable trade and technical instruction, and understand and coöperate with the government in the shaping of the programs. Through such participation, the peoples of the colonies know that their country is being developed for their own well-being.

A few figures of the grant already made by the British taxpayer might be given. Under the 1940 Act, £6,000,000 was allocated for agriculture, forestry, veterinary services and fisheries, £4,200,000 for communications and transport, £2,700,000 for housing and land settlement, £6,500,000 for water supplies and irrigation and £450,000 for industrial development and public utilities. Under the 1945 Act, another £3,000,000 has been allocated for agriculture, forestry, irrigation and drainage. This money will be used for new works and services and represents one of the first installments of the £120,000,000 allocated under the 1945 Act. To these sums must be added £150,000,000 from local colonial revenues and loans, a fact which indicates the coöperation of the colonies themselves in the development and welfare programs.

But the Colonial Office does not hold that the provision for colonial development under the Act of 1945 is enough. Existing production must be expanded and new enterprise created. In the past, private enterprise has for a variety of reasons failed to fill the bill in most colonies. Little local capital has been available for new enterprise, and the poverty in the territories has made them insufficient markets for industry. There is, of course, a variety of enterprise already operating in the colonies; they supply a large measure of the world's requirements of rubber and cocoa, and much of its fibers, vegetable oils, sugar and tropical fruits. In recent years there has been great expansion in the production of commodities such as groundnuts from Nigeria, hardwood from West Africa and tea from East Africa, to mention only a few; and expansion of rubber output in Malaya has been remarkable. There are many important projects in train under private enterprise, such as a big transport project in West Africa, new sugar factories in Jamaica and British Guiana, mining extensions in Northern Rhodesia, Tanganyika, British Guiana, Nigeria and the Gold Coast, oil refining in Trinidad, timber production in West Africa, Gold Coast, East Africa and British Guiana, and manufacturing industries in Nigeria, Uganda and Northern Rhodesia.

But something more than the efforts of private enterprise are necessary if full economic development in the dependent territories is to be assured. Today there is demand for almost all commodities which can be produced in the tropical and sub-tropical regions where most British colonies are. The difficulties hampering production can be surmounted only slowly and at great expense of time and materials. They include problems of water supply, bush clearance, soil infertility and disease over vast areas. The available labor is often scarce, inefficient and suffering from ill health. There is a lack of the accumulated social capital, e.g. roads, waterworks, schools, hospitals, and so on, which we take for granted in Europe and the United States. Many local customs and habits, and local conventions in regard to land holding and so on, are obstacles to large-scale undertakings. And finally, there is a lack of scientists -- agriculturists, engineers, doctors, veterinary officers, geologists -- and of capital goods like machinery and steel, and of consumers goods to encourage production. It is understandable that private enterprise should be deterred from any but the easier and more lucrative schemes.

If private enterprise cannot fill the bill, then government must do so. The Overseas Resources Act was adopted last year for the promotion of enterprise, whether public or private. Under it, twin development corporations have been set up: a Colonial Corporation with borrowing powers up to £110,000,000, and an Overseas Food Corporation with borrowing powers up to £55,-000,000. The former corporation will either itself, or in association with a colonial government, or in partnership with private enterprise, or by employing a public or private concern, expand or create new enterprise in any colony, with the concurrence of the Secretary of State for the Colonies and the local colonial government. The corporation will be less concerned with utilities and public works -- these normally fall to the local government, though the Corporation is not forbidden to undertake them -- and more concerned with commercial, industrial, agricultural and mining ventures. The Overseas Food Corporation, whose operations extend to a wider field than colonies and whose production covers food and ancillary products, may be employed as a public agency when the Secretary of State and Colonial Government are satisfied that more efficient and economic operations are possible in the colonies under that body.

Already, it is responsible for the groundnuts scheme in East Africa, a highly mechanized operation in vast wastes of tsetseridden land, where railways, ports, roads, schools, housing, medical services, workshops and training centers have all to be created. The capital of this great public enterprise will exceed £27,000,000. Such development requires the close coöperation of the local government, for it is the colonial government which must see that minimum standards of welfare and employment are observed, and that the project is consistent with the larger social policy of the territory. This particular scheme has been much discussed and consequently need not be described in detail, but we may note that it should be the forerunner of other comparable projects. Some which are very interesting, though smaller, are already under consideration.

To pave the way for these projects there has been much reconnaissance by the Colonial Office, in coöperation with local governments. For instance, a special committee on primary products has studied the long-term interests of the territories, the present and prospective world needs, the desirability of increasing foreign exchange resources for their expansion, and so on. Missions have been sent to make on-the-spot investigations in the production of such foods as rice and associated crops in West Africa, Borneo and British Guiana, and of groundnuts in West Africa. Studies of coal deposits have been made in North Borneo and Labuan, and of phosphates in Uganda. Working parties have visited colonies to advise on increasing the efficiency of certain industries. A commission has investigated settlement and development possibilities in British Guiana and British Honduras. Surveys of central and eastern Africa have been made from the air, using methods of radar control; photographs of great expanses of territory provide data for accurate mapping of regions not previously charted.

Other schemes are being worked out by the local governments. The Nigerian Government set up the Cameroons Development Corporation as a public enterprise to take over the former German-owned estates and is developing the production of bananas, palm oil, rubber, tea and cocoa. A publicly-controlled mineral prospecting company has also been formed in the Cameroons. In the Gold Coast, the government has set up a public industrial corporation with a mandate to establish or assist secondary industries. A Government Industries Board covering six industries has emerged in Kenya and the government-owned coal mines at Enugu in Nigeria continue to expand. In Tanganyika, the government has associated itself with a private company in a £500,000 project to set up a meat-canning factory; and the Uganda Government is proceeding with the major hydroelectric development of the Owen Falls at the source of the Nile.

Economic development over so wide a field needs the supervision and technical assistance of special organizations in London as well as in the territories themselves. It is for this purpose that the Colonial Economic and Development Council keeps an eye on the over-all picture. The Colonial Office also maintains expert advisory committees and research organizations in every section of public affairs. And besides the central help and supervision in London there is collaboration in certain regions between the British territories themselves, and also between Britain and other colonial Powers. International technical conferences have been held in the Carribbean. An international medical conference was held at Accra in 1945, and a veterinary conference at Dakar in 1946. A conference on plant diseases was held in Brussels in 1947, one on education in London in 1947 and one on nutrition in Paris in 1947. Talks with France have already been initiated on price policy, inter-colonial trade, and common development plans.


This, briefly and in broad terms, is the economic work which Britain is doing and encouraging in her dependent territories. Various aspects of the subject have not been dealt with in this résumé, such as the selection, training and refreshing of men in the Colonial Services and the means whereby the vivid experiences and problems of the bush are brought into the Colonial Office itself. The British Government hopes that the nationalist aspirations of the colonial people are being directed into responsible and constructive channels. Britain has accepted the task of joining with the colonies as a partner in building an economic foundation on which democracy will stand secure. Self-government in Ceylon, in India and Burma is the triumph of her policy and the fulfillment of her trust.

Integration of the colonial economies with the British economy is by no means a new kind of exploitation. There is no desire to dominate them, nor do the colonial peoples think of abandoning the old ideal of self-government for a new economic dispensation. But it is unmistakable that economic development in the colonies turns largely on the social and economic health of Britain; and at the same time, it is apparent that expansion of production in the colonies can help overcome some of the shortages in foodstuffs and materials in Britain. In short, common planning is to the advantage of both. Its success will depend to a great extent upon the degree of confidence and good-will which the colonial peoples feel for the program. That is why methods of consultation must be used and plans must be made subject to agreement by the colonial peoples, acting through their own governments. This approach is not likely to achieve quick and spectacular results. Plans imposed upon people from above, supposedly for their own good, seem faster and are more striking; but the method of democracy works better in the long run. That is the spirit which animates British colonial policy.

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