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18.11.2014 Feature Article

Colonial Rule In Africa, Can Our Current Leaders Learn A Lesson From It? Part II

Colonial Rule In Africa, Can Our Current Leaders Learn A Lesson From It? Part II
LISTEN NOV 18, 2014

Indeed, those Africans in the Congo who had been educated in the mission schools were referred to as the évolués—“those who had ‘evolved’ from savagery to civilization. To qualify as an évolué, an African had to have gone to school, exhibit good behavior, and be firmly opposed to such uncivilized practices as polygamy and witchcraft. These conditions were so vague and so indeterminate that when the scheme was introduced between 1948 and 1953, only 500 Congolese could be deemed to have risen to Belgian cultural standards.. The Belgian authorities then introduced yet another system, this time calling it matriculation. To ascertain this, relatives and friends had to be interviewed and the applicant’s house inspected. Civilizing the African was just a pretext and a subterfuge. The real motive was profits and wealth. This is how Bill Freund describes the situation on the ground in the Congo:

Nowhere in Africa was the regime of force so raw and dramatic as in the Congo Free State of Leopold II. The Leopoldine system had its roots in the king’s pursuit of quick profits to create a capital base needed for large-scale investment, especially in transport. The forests of the Congo basin were rich in low-grade rubber

What emerges from the foregoing discussion of the colonial mission as reflected in racial attitudes among the British, the French, the Portuguese, and the Belgians is that the colonizers had nothing but disdain for the African people and their culture and values. They all went to Africa with the avowed goal of transforming African people into imitation Europeans as they helped themselves to the resources in Africa. The French offered the promise of full membership in the French community if the African assented to complete acculturation. The Portuguese went a step further in condoning or perhaps encouraging one-way miscegenation in the belief that to “change” an African required infusion of Portuguese ancestry, and thus an African with some Portuguese blood was inherently superior to one without, but obviously still not the social equal of a full-blooded Portuguese person. As for the Belgians, “despite fulfilling the conditions which had promised integration, the évolués were still denied access to the social and economic world of the Europeans. In the eyes of the Belgians, they were still Africans—black and inferior.”25

Colonial administrative styles
To compare and contrast the styles of administration employed by colonial authorities in Africa makes it possible to see how each European power tried to tailor their style to their overall objectives in the colony.

We have already discussed, broadly speaking, the political, cultural, and economic reasons for colonization. We now know that the French intended to turn Africans into French people once the process of colonization was completed. The acculturated Africans would then become part of the larger French community. The British wanted to “civilize” the African, but not to the point where the African might claim equality with the British (since that was impossible). The Portuguese envisioned a new society that would include assimilated Africans who preferably had Portuguese ancestry. Therefore, it would appear that the end product of these colonial experiences would be that Africans under French and Portuguese rule would become an integral part of the European Communities. The Africans in the British areas would ultimately be left alone to run their own governments using ideas learned from the British. The Belgians really did not have a vision of what they wanted the Africans to look like, or what type of relationship they expected to have with them. The promise of integration made to the évolués, meaning the acculturated Africans, was never fulfilled. The Belgians seem to have counted on an indefinite stay.

. Perhaps if the Germans had been in Africa longer, given what they did to others in Europe during the Third Reich, and considering the brutal manner in which they responded to anticolonial uprisings in South West Africa (now Namibia) and Tanganyika (now Tanzania), it is reasonable to surmise that they may have elected to confine Africans to permanent subjugation. In any event, one can identify four administrative styles or approaches that were used by the colonial powers in Africa: indirect rule, long associated with the British; direct rule associated with France, Germany, and Portugal; company rule, closely linked to the Belgians; and finally, a hybrid approach which I’ll call, indirect company rule.

Direct Rule ,the French, the Portuguese, the Germans, and the Belgians (in the Congo) exercised a highly centralized type of administration called “direct rule.” This meant that European rule was imposed on the Africans regardless of the existing political relationships among the African people.

The French empire was governed directly from Paris through the governor. The French did use African chiefs but, unlike in the British Empire, these chiefs were appointed by French authorities, in large measure because of their sup- port for French rule. They did not come from ruling families and, upon appointment, were not posted to their native regions

The French, with few exceptions, did not attempt to preserve the uniqueness of the various African political institutions.. At the turn of the twentieth century, the French federalized their empire, not politically but structurally. There were two federations: French West Africa and Equatorial Africa, each administered by a governor-general. French West Africa, based at Dakar (Senegal), consisted of eight colonies, officially called territories. These were Dahomey (now Benin), Mauritania, French Soudan (now Mali), Senegal, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso), and Niger. Each territory had a territorial assembly and was under the responsibility of a governor. Each territory was further divided into cercles (circles), each one being under an administrator, also

Called Commandant de Cercle.
All laws emanated from Paris; measures enacted by the territorial assemblies had to be approved by the French national legislature in Paris. French direct rule had the effect of giving Africans from the empire the opportunity to work together across regions and ethnic groups.

. Interestingly, the result of this centralized administration was that the Africans were governed without any regard to existing ethnic stratification. Reinforcement of ethnic fragmentation did not occur. This is not to say that ethnic conflict did not or does not exist in French or Portuguese Africa.

It is simply to suggest that it is less pronounced in former French colonies, but quite salient in former Portuguese-ruled ones.

Portugal’s centralized administration was much harsher and stricter than that of the French. When Africans began to agitate for self- determination, the Portuguese response was to declare their colonies of Angola, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau, and the islands of Cape Verde, São Tomé and Principe as “Overseas Portugal,” as integral provinces of Portugal that just happened to be separated geographically from Portugal itself. The Portuguese had no intention of granting self-rule to their colonies. Like the French, they, too, at one time made a few Africans citizens of Portugal but the experiment did not last long and had to be refined.

As the previous discussion of Portuguese colonial policy clearly demonstrates, the impact of Portuguese colonialism alienated the majority of Africans and led them to reject Salazar’s romantic view of Portugal’s colonies.

German rule in Africa was the briefest of all colonial regimes, having begun in the late 1880s and terminated with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, following the defeat of Germany in World War I. However, the German presence did not go unnoticed. Their colonial administration was highly centralized, with the German governors assisted by African subordinates and officers who had been handpicked without any regard to the traditional power relationships that may have existed in the area at the time. As already pointed out, the Germans created their own African assistants even in places where the Africans were not used to being governed by chiefs.

A major uprising occurred in Tanganyika, which was put down with customary German precision, but at great cost in human lives. Other uprisings took place in another large German colonial holding in South West Africa, which were suppressed ruthlessly as well. Following the uprising in Tanganyika called the “Maji Maji Rebellion” (1905–1908), in which approximately 120,000 Africans were reported to have lost their lives, the Germans decided to introduce some reforms under a colonial policy they called “scientific colonialism.” This fancy term referred to a policy that called for the setting up of a special colonial office in the German chancellor’s office and promoting the idea that German colonization could be made acceptable to the Africans if German colonial administrators convinced the African people that they had something to gain from German colonization. To this end, the German government undertook several capital projects such as road and railroad building and trading centers

Colonial rule: did the Africans benefit? As to whether colonization hurt or helped the African people is a subject both Africans and Europeans have very strong feelings about. It is an issue that will continue to engage the intellectual passions of scholars and may never be resolved fully. Much of the foregoing discussion on colonization focused on the negative side of the ledger. Let us summarize these points and then note in conclusion some of the positive contributions that colonization made to Africa. On the negative side, the following points are salient and worth noting. There was massive exploitation of Africa in terms of resource depletion, labor exploitation, unfair taxation, lack of industrialization, the prohibition of inter-African trade, and the introduction of fragile dependent one-crop or one-mineral economies. The exacerbation of ethnic rivalries, which the British, especially, through the implementation of the colonial policy of “indirect rule,” exploited in furthering colonial control, has continued to echo in post-independence conflicts in Africa. The alienation and undermining of traditional African authority patterns through the use of chiefs for colonial duties made the task of nation-building much more difficult. The creation of artificial boundaries has been the basis of much suffering in African states as political conflicts have flared up from time to time on account of territorial claims and counterclaims.

The destruction of African culture and values through the imposition of alien religions and the relentless attack on African values mounted by mission schools contributed to a mentality of ennui and dependency and to the loss of confidence in themselves, their institutions, and their heritage. (The long-term consequence of self-hate is reflected and discussed in Franz Fanon’s writings.) The denial of political participation to colonized Africans has retarded postcolonial political development, as the excessive use of force in addressing political problems has been carried over to the postcolonial period. There are some political leaders who feel that on balance the Africans benefited from colonial experience. Interestingly, leaders of the two countries that were never formally colonized by Europe—the late Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia and the late President William V. S. Tubman of Liberia—tried to explain away their countries’ economic poverty by saying that they never benefited from colonization like other African countries. There are other leaders, notable among them; Ivory Coast’s founding president, Felix Houphouet-Boigny, who feels that Africans ought to be grateful for having been colonized, because, without colonization, Africa would still be backward in many areas of human endeavor. Broadly speaking, there are five benefits of colonization that many scholars are likely to agree on. First is the introduction of Western medicine, which has made an incredible difference in the survival rates of the African population. In fact, the rapid growth of the African population began during the colonial era. Second, the introduction of formal education, anti- African as it might have been in so many countries, deserves mention in helping to broaden the Africans’ outlook and to unlock the hidden potential of the African people. Both education and health care were provided by missionaries. Nearly all leaders who emerged after World War II to lead African colonies toward independence acquired their rhetorical and organizational skills from colonial education. Young political activists were able to challenge the status quo and to make demands for the restoration of African dignity and freedom by using political and moral ideas deeply rooted in Western education.


Richmond Asare
Richmond Asare, © 2014

The author has 10 publications published on Modern Ghana.Column: RichmondAsare

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