27 NOVEMBER 1936, Page 14


Commonwealth and Foreign

By the REV. A. G. FRASER (leas Principal of Achimota College, Gold Coast)

[An article by Major G. SL J. Orde Browne putting another view of Britain's relation to the colonies will appecu. in THE SPECTATOR next week.] THE vote against the transfer of any of our colonies or man- dates at the Conservative Conference lately was urged on the ground of Africans' interests. " One consideration which overrode all others was the interests and welfare of the inhabitants for whom we had accepted guardianship." Sir Henry Page Croft, moved by moral and ethical considerations, is determined to hold on to all our colonies as being, amongst other things, " the last great bulwark of freedom." Yet Africans in the South prefer Portuguese rule to our own, in the belief that not only are its taxes less but that it also gives greater freedom. After all, it is the wearer of the shoe who knows how it fits, not the shareholder in the boot emporium.

All predatory Powers advertise the virtues of their rule, their civilising mission. Ancient Rome, Spain, France, Portugal, the United States, Germany, Great Britain and Mussolini are one in this. The Romans called their governors, such a Pilate and Herod, benefactors. We call ours trustees. Both words bear witness to the age-long sense that rule over subject races is only defensible when in the interests of the governed.

To the European or African our talk of trusteeship is absurd and they put it down to hypocrisy, for they cannot believe that we see ourselves in that light. Trustees are holders of a trust for a limited and definite period ; they get no profits from the estate except possibly a small stated fee. Their first duty is to educate their wards to take over the management of what is their own estate. In Northern Rhodesia the copper mines are making £1,000,000 a year profit ; the Government spends £20,000 on African education. jn the Gold Coast the recent discoveries of gold gave a rich opportunity for securing money for educational and health services, for creating African local treasuries and developing self-government. A simple law could have safeguarded African councils in the leasing of gold lands. Nothing was done by Government to protect them. A wise council secures a royalty, the inexperienced part with their ninety-nine years' lease for one lump sum, such as £800. And the Governor advises them to keep their terms low lest they frighten' away the shy goose that lays its golden eggs in the London they never see !

We are not even decent landlords. It would be extra- ordinary if we were. Conan Doyle wrote : " The fact is the running of a tropical colony is, of all tests, the most searching as to the development of the nation that attempts it ; to sec helpless people and not to oppress them, to see great wealth and not to confiscate it, to have the absolute power and not to abuse it, to raise the nation instead of sinking yourself ; these are the supreme trials of a nation's spirit." It would be strange if in Africa we had risen to that supreme test. In our own land when our poor had no vote, no Press, no combination, they endured dreadful exploitation. Those who have read Lord Snell's excellent autiography, Men, Movements and Myself, will remember some grim paragraphs, and he himself had to begin work at the age of eight. The Poor Law Commissioners in 1834 reported : " We can do little or nothing to prevent pauperism. The farmers will have it. . They prefer that labourers should be slaves. They object to their having gardens, and say, ' The more they work for themselves the less they will work for us.' " We are reminded of De Waal's remark in his diary on first seeing Matabele warriors : " I thought what excellent servants they would make for the white man." We, whose history includes the enclosures, bitter exploitation of labour and rack-rented slums, as well as Jarrow, rule helpless people over a vast territory. They have no Members of Parliament, no Press, . no organised . public opinion, nor way they comment adversely on their rulers without danger of imprisonment. If in these circumstances greed was always curbed and our rule idealistic, it would be a miracle. There is no such miracle. Admittedly we do good, yet no more than our fathers are we content with a. fair return for our capital or for our work as rulers.

We have glorious pages in our African story ; Livingstone, Gordon, doctors who have given their all, fine administrators, missionaries, teachers. We have checked slavery. These facts are kept before our eyes. But they are not the attraction to unsatisfied powers. Let me put the case as seen in Europe and widely known in Africa. I shall omit the Dominion, built on African exploitation.

In Southern Rhodesia the oppressive legislation of South Africa is being increasingly copied. Good land has been cleared of Africans to await the possible arrival of future Europeans who may want it. All white children are educated, only a fraction of African children ; yet the expenditure by Government on those being educated is nearly SAA per head per annum on the European as against £1 on the African. In South and East Africa the convictions have risen from 15,912 in 1915 to 52,793 in 1934. The chief explanation is to be found in oppressive laws. Against these the Colonial Office provides little safeguard and no thought-out, but many mutually contradictory, principles and policies.

Our administration is efficient, but always expensive. Our taxation is therefore heavy, and the poor African has often to pay as much as the rich, for taxes are frequently ungraded. Hence the Nyasaland Commission speaks of the natives there acquiring a complete mistrust in and loathing for our adminis- tration. But there many are taxed over 100 per cent. of their total earnings, and so forced over the border to the copper mines. Thus the sad word " machona," " lost ones," is more frequently heard than was " missing " in the Great War. In Togoland the total revenue is estimated at £40,584, but the expenditure is £79,280. In' the Cameroon the income is £94,624 and the expenditure £121,701. The deficits have to be met by the Gold Coast and Nigerian peoples, 'who already have expensive administrations to support. Yet we are not substituting less expensive Africans for our highly paid public-school men. In some colonies like the Gold Coast the number of high-grade African officials has actually decreased in the last decade.

Still, if we are not as our Uriah Heeps would paint us, we are not much worse than others. Men once believed that slavery was right, that man might hold property rights in man. Now we know no man is worthy to own such property. Similarly we will come to realise that no nation is worthy to own another. We have no cause on idealist grounds to refuse to transfer our colonies to another. But to do so would be only to change masters. What we really need in the interests of the African peoples is an international administration. The Mandates Commission could never give it. But is it incon- ceivable that small groups of regents, chosen preferably from the non-predatory Powers, could be entrusted with power under certain conditions ? The language of the present admin- istration should be left unchanged. The governors for possibly another fifteen years should be selected_from the present rulers. But the administration and other services should be inter- natiopalised. Thus each African people would receive contri- butions from several sources. No single nation could plunder quietly, and collective exploitation would be difficult. What- ever the form, some such solution should be possible. We have international business concerns. Why should the international running of colonies be impossible ?

All Europe is in contact with all Africa. It is the relation- ship of two continents that is at stake. A wealthy Africa would mean a richer world. The plunderer invites attack from other buccaneers, and so the waste of war. We might lead Europe into co-operation and Africa into peace. The policy of " what we have we hold " is the way of doom ; the mere transfer to other robbers little better. But the main obstacle to advance is that it can only be gained by the self- abnegation of the rulers. African development and freedom means smaller dividends; a less omnipotent civil service, and a less .comfortable Colonial Office.