USM Open Source History Text: The World at War: World History 1914-1945

Ruling Africa: The Dual Mandate and Indirect Rule

At the British colonial office, the main answer to sticky issues of colonial responsibility was the so‐called Dual Mandate, first described and put into practice by one of the chief architects of African colonial rule, Frederick Lugard. Lugard began his African career as a soldier, helping to establish British holds on colonies like Uganda and Kenya. Later, he switched to administration and eventually wrote what became the quintessential statement on British colonial rule, Dual Mandate in British Tropical Africa, published in 1922. The book's central contention was that Africa should be "developed," and this development, thought Lugard, would better the lives of Africans by improving education, health, and driving economic opportunities. At the same time, this development would benefit the rest of the world (meaning Europe) by bringing African goods into the world market. Africans, the theory contended, should be "civilized" while the European agents of this civilizing would gain valuable and much needed commodities to grow their industrial societies. A very similar outlook was developed in France – the so‐called la mise en valeur, or the “enhancing the value” idea. In political terms, this meant that European colonial powers had an obligation and responsibility to Africans. They would be the trustees of Africa’s present and future. This ideal of “trusteeship” fit squarely into the spirit of the post‐ WWI Wilsonian age.

Both Britain and France (and Belgium after it took control of the Congo in 1920) put in place systems of “indirect rule,” which was the key component proposed by Lugard in his Dual Mandate. What did indirect rule mean, or in the French territories the politique d’association, the “politics of association”? The idea was basically a conservative one; it said that unlike progressive or socialist theories that purported to change human behavior fundamentally (in other words to make Africans like Europeans) indirect rule would attempt to work with the traditional structures of African society. This meant that instead of European administrators building elaborate state institutions, they would but sit atop the pyramid of power as it already existed in Africa, using influence with traditional leaders to achieve their goals. One reason for this strategy was simple: it required much less manpower to administer the colonies through local chiefs and kings. On the eve of the Second World War, for example, the entire British civil service in African stood at just 1,200 people charged with overseeing diverse territories inhabited by 43 million people. In Kenya, the ratio of people per administrator stood at 19,000:1; in Nigeria, it was even more extreme: some 54,000 Africans to every British administrator.

The key to keeping bureaucracy small and costs down was for colonial administrations to enter into agreements with local elites. The key figures in this process, as in the recruitment process during WWI, were tribal chiefs. In areas where strong and hierarchical tribal structures existed, indirect rule could be quite successful. In areas where there was no history of powerful tribal chiefs and where authority was much more diffuse, the system came under considerable strain. Under indirect rule, chiefs were given directives from the colonial offices, but had, in theory, the authority to organize responses to these directives within their communities. Their most important function was to collect taxes in order to pay for their administrative costs and public projects. With time and experience under British tutelage, Lugard thought, these chiefs would eventually become more cooperative and administratively skilled. Increasingly, so the theory went, responsibilities could be shifted from the hands of the colonial administration into the hands of the indigenous leadership.

In some sense, this system worked. Africa as a whole experienced a rapid rise in population during the years between the wars, a sign of increased economic prosperity and a growing economy, coupled with some improvements in basic public health. Infrastructure, both a blessing and a curse, spread across the continent, linking together vital economic centers, connecting mines with coastal ports, cities with cities, in sum, providing the arterial system for a boom in African trade in agricultural and industrial commodities as well as in gold and diamonds.

Africans were also increasingly given the chance for a western‐style education, as missionary schools spread throughout the continent. A small trickle of students left Africa to study law or other subjects in England or other European cities.

And yet, it would be absurd to call colonial rule a success from the perspective of Africans. The chief often became just another link in a chain of oppressive rulers, using access to the colonial administration (and supported by colonial firepower) to establish himself and his favorites in positions of relative wealth and power. Even chiefs who were quite sensitive to local conditions would be forced by the colonial administration to enact policies that would disrupt traditional life, further alienating them from the people they governed. In areas that lacked strong traditional rulers, the colonial administration would create a “traditional power structure,” which would cause great resentment and hostility to both “chief” and colonial administrator. Chiefs, very often, were simply not qualified or competent to do what was being asked of them; how were they to administer educational and health services, for example, if they had no experience with these issues? Moreover, when asked to fill posts that required deeper knowledge of a specific field, the chiefs would turn instead to kinship networks, thus undermining the efficacy of important new institutions and breeding skepticism and resentment among the people.

The problem of administrative competence was mitigated by the rise of a new class of African assistants and technocrats who worked directly for British or French authorities. This represented a parallel bureaucratic structure within African society. Eventually, this would lead to a split of interests and a fight for power. Lugard’s ideals, in other words, were gradually and thoroughly compromised. Colonial administrators increasingly took on direct control over colonial administration, using traditional structures as nothing more than a framework to guarantee the people’s compliance.

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