20 FEBRUARY 1897, Page 8


WE hope our readers will allow us to bore them with this question once again. It really concerns their honour in the most direct way, and indirectly, as we believe, their future prosperity. We are conquering black Africa with astounding rapidity, and through a machinery which is not only imperfect, but in many respects radically bad. No Department of the Adminis- tration, to begin with, is fully responsible for our policy in Africa. The Foreign Office conquers to-day and goes on governing, and the Colonial Office conquers to-morrow and goes on governing, by no means always on the same principles, or through the same kind of men. The Toreign Office annexed and keeps Zanzibar and its dependencies, and the vast provinces of Central Africa recently administered by Sir H. Johnston, the kingdom of Ashantee, the Niger Protectorate, which will shortly include Benin, and the entire region best described as the 'Valley of the Nile,—in all a territory as large as Europe without Russia, with many millions of inhabitants. The Colonial Office governs, or is supposed to govern, Rhodesia, Mombassa and its dependencies, Khama's country, and Nigeria, black territories which are, or speedily will be, as large as those under Lord Salisbury's immediate and perfectly autocratic administration. That can hardly be a wise arrangement, if only because the officers of one Department rarely benefit sufficiently by the experience of another, and because no common policy can be adopted in regard to the treatment of the black races, while the confusion is deepened by another cause. The Colonial Office works through agents in the form of Chartered Companies, to whom it commits what are really sovereign powers, who make war and peace at their only partially controlled discretion, who legislate and tax very much as they please, and who treat the black races well or ill according to certain ideas either as regards profit or as regards their traditionary relations to their subjects. The position of an Induns in Rhodesia, for -instance, is as different from that of a "King" in Nigeria as that of a noble in Hungary is from that of a noble in Great Britain. The Office is responsible no doubt, especially to foreign Powers, for all that these Companies do ; but these Companies exercise in tranquil times nearly unrestricted power, they are specially unfettered as regards taxation and labour questions, and they are in no way bound to submit their resolves before they become acts to any Department responsible to Parliament. We do not suppose, for instance, that any Colonial Secretary ever previously sanctioned the positively monstrous royalties by which the South African Company, in our judgment, impedes in its dominions the development of a great mining industry. The result, as we are convinced that Parliament will discover whenever it inquires into the matter, is, first, considerable loss of governing power owing to the difficulty of shifting officers from one Depart- ment to another; secondly, a very large mass of human misery arising from oppressive labour laws, or customs, and contract laws and customs, thirdly, a radically false relation between ourselves and the blacks, who are not governed with any steadiness or fixed purpose at all ; and lastly, an expansion of the Empire in so many directions at once that the British Government and the British Parliament may in some hour of trial find themselves overloaded with dominions which they were hardly conscious of possessing. Nothing gets solidified ; and if, as will one day happen, black Africa makes a final effort to be rid of the white man's civilising rule, we shall be astounded at the magnitude of the effort which we must in sheer self- defence, as well as in the interests of humanity, compel ourselves to make. In particular, there is, and can be, no African Legion, supported by all our absolutely governed. African provinces, which could be available for the per- manent maintenance of order, and the liberation of whits troops and seamen from work for which they are ill-fitted, and in which their officers are inexperienced.

This confusion, as any practised Indian administrator would consider it, is of course not wholly indefensible, or it would not continue, and the argument for it is sub- stantially this. The Colonial Office cannot do more work than it does without a much larger establishment, and cannot dispense with the Chartered Companies without a considerable revenue being placed on the Estimates, to be used at its own discretion. The black dependencies, like the brown dependencies, all want " improvements " in the shape of more Magistrates, more Judges, more roads, more railways, and more and better police ; but unlike the brown dependencies, the black dependencies are slow to produce revenue. They do produce it in the end, but at first for many years there is a heavy deficit, which Parliament would not fill up without an almost un- endurable amount of detailed interference. The Chartered Companies meet that difficulty from the profits of trade, by exploiting fertile regions, and by making a profit out of mining adventures, devices to which the British Government, when acting as a Government, could not have resort. As Mr. Chamberlain once said in the House, the South African Company can build a railway to Bulawayo because that will benefit their industrial speculations ; but the Colonial Office cannot build it any more than it could settle swiftly the huge mass of in- dustrial problems, personal problems, and problems as to raising money which a Chartered Company often settles by telegrams a few hours after they have risen. If the Colonial Office is to do such work at all it must leave its agents on the spot very much larger powers than they at present possess, and except in India, which is protected by a traditional system, the House of Commons is jealous of these large powers, and always by debate or by interpellation compels the Colonial Office to limit them, and to insist on the heart- breaking series of delays known to officials as the system of requiring previous sanction. There is force of a very practical kind in these arguments, and men who are not visionaries, but who really desire to improve the position of affairs with the smallest possible disturbance of existing machinery, will ask whether it is not possible to find a system under which the black dependencies should all be placed under one Department, responsible, and therefore absolute, while the Companies should, nevertheless, con- tinue their useful, or at all events convenient, careers. Why should we not fall back upon the plan by which, under very similar circumstances, the difficulties of governing India from London were for sixty - five years successfully surmounted ? Let the Companies continue, or even in Ashantee, Benin, and New Guinea increase their number, but let them all be regulated by a Colonial "Board of Control," such as the one which regulated Indian affairs. That Board would consist of five Under-Secretaries, with power on occasion to sit together, and the Secretary for the Colonies, who, of course, being still solely responsible, would remain absolute, and they would work a system of which the following sentences are the keys. No order issued by the Colonial Board of Control could be legally disobeyed by the Companies, and no despatch issued by any Company would have any binding force on its agents unless read and initialled by the Colonial Minister,—that is, in fact, on all but very material questions, by the Under-Secretary for the Department of work affected. The responsibility and authority of the Colonial Minister would then be complete, while the Companies would still retain a regulated and controlled authority on the spot, with the right of obtaining a dividend from their trades or their settlements or their mines. Their freedom as traders, in fact, would not be interfered with, but only their freedom to use their legislative powers in further- ance of their own profits. The Board of Control would, as reasonable and responsible men, interfere locally as little as possible, but would insist with a continuous and irresistible pressure that a certain policy with regard to freedom, to police government, to taxation, and to the settlement of all tenure questions should be steadily fol- lowed out. The authority of Chiefs, the removal of Chiefs, slavery, polygamy, education, and tenure would all be dealt with on broad principles maintained intact for generations, and affected in practice by nothing ex- cept Cabinet resolutions when Parliament thought that any Company or all the Companies had fallen behind the requirements of the age. Such a Board would have, of course, the general guidance in peace and war, and would be able both to encourage and to moderate that zeal for expansion which just now threatens to throw half Africa upon our hands before we are ready for the burden, and before we have made our minds clear as to what we are really seeking. Are we, in fact, to fulfil a lofty function in the world—viz., the civilisation of its negro races—or are we to monopolise more completely the oil from crushed African nuts? That is the real issue, and at present Parliament is seeking both ends, with results which in all the regions affected are, to say the very least, most unsatisfactory. If Parliament could see Rhodesia and West Africa as it sees London, it would cease altogether to exult in the British expansion in Africa,—that is, in what ought to be the greatest and most successful undertaking of all those we have now in hand.