The only positive development in colonialism was when it ended. It is the purpose of this section to sketch briefly how that development came about, with particular reference to the role of the educated sector.
In contrast to a subjective interpretation of what was good about colonialism on the one hand and what was bad on the other hand, there is the approach which follows closely the aims and achievements of the colonisers and the counter aims and achievements of the African people. Sometimes, Africans were restricted merely to manipulating colonial institutions as best they could; but, in addition, certain fundamental contradictions arose within colonial society, and they could only be resolved by Africans regaining their sovereignty as a people.
Analysis based on the perception of contradictions is characteristic of Marxism. Thus, Soviet historians approach the disintegration of colonialism within the following framework:
Colonialism fettered the development of the enslaved peoples. To facilitate colonial exploitation, the imperialists deliberately hampered economic and cultural progress in the colonies; preserved and restored obsolete forms of social relations, and fomented discord between nationalities and tribes. However, the drive for super profits dictated development of the extractive industry, plantations and capitalist farms, and ¡he building of ports, railways and roads in the colonies. In consequence, social changes took place in the colonies, irrespective of the will of the colonialists. New social forces emerged — an industrial and agricultural proletariat, a national bourgeoisie and intelligentsia.
Among the different segments of the African population within the so-called ‘modern’ sector produced by capitalist activity, the cash-crop peasantry was the largest. African cash-crop farmers had profound grievances against the colonialists, centering on the low price for African products and sometimes on land alienation. Agricultural wage earners and urban workers had definitely lost their land, and were resisting wage slavery. They did so by organising as the European proletariat had been doing since its formation; and, by virtue of compact organisation, African workers made their presence felt much more strongly than their limited numbers might otherwise have warranted. In the end, the numerical preponderance of peasants and of those who had one foot in the ‘subsistence’ sector was registered in the mass parties. But, while peasants depended upon sporadic revolts and boycotts to express their grievances, wage earners were engaged in a more continuous process of bargaining, petitioning, striking, etc.
The smallest of the social groupings was that of the educated elite or intelligentsia. As noted earlier, the number of Africans receiving education in the colonial period was so small that anyone who went to school was privileged and belonged to an elite. There were only a few lawyers and doctors, concentrated mainly in North and West Africa. Generally speaking, the intelligentsia were students, clerks and teachers. The group of the educated also overlapped with that of organised labour leadership, with the traditional African ruling stratum, with ex-servicemen and police, and with traders and independent craftsmen.
Altogether, the educated played a role in African independence struggles far out of proportion to their numbers, because they took it upon themselves and were called upon to articulate the interests of all Africans. They were also required to provide the political organisation that would combine all the contradictions of colonialism and focus on the main contradiction, which was that between the colony and the metropole.
The contradiction between the educated and the colonialists was not the most profound. Ultimately, it was possible for the colonisers to withdraw and to satisfy the aspirations of most of the African intelligentsia, without in any way relieving the peasant and worker majority, who were the most exploited and the most oppressed. However, while the differences lasted between the colonisers and the African educated, they were decisive.
It has already been argued at some length that colonial education reached a limited number of Africans, that it was restricted to elementary levels, and that its pedagogical and ideological content was such as to serve the interests of Europe rather than Africa. Even so, the numbers enrolled would have been much smaller, were it not for efforts on the part of Africans themselves. The secondary school opportunities would have been narrower, and the ideological content would have been more negative, if the activity of the African masses were not in constant contradiction to the aims of European colonisers. Above all, education for continued enslavement never quite fulfilled its purpose; and, instead, different levels of contradiction arose-leading to independence, and in some cases heralding a new Socialist epoch by the end of colonialism.
If there is anything glorious about the history of African colonial education, it lies not in the crumbs which were dropped by European exploiters, but in the tremendous vigour displayed by Africans in mastering the principles of the system that had mastered them. In most colonies, there was an initial period of indifference towards school education, but once it was understood that schooling represented one of the few avenues of advance within colonial society, it became a question of Africans clamouring and pushing the colonialists much further than they intended to go.
When Africans took great pains to enter the cash crop economy, that generally suited European capitalist ends. But, African initiatives in the sphere of education were producing results antagonistic to at least some of the purposes of colonial exploitation.
Education in French colonial Africa has been referred to several times from the viewpoint of French policy. French administrators also commented on African efforts to go beyond the limited number of cadres that the French had in mind, and whom the French were prepared to subsidise out of African taxes. In 1930, the Governor-General of French West Africa reported that:
Each new school that is opened is immediately filled to overflowing. Everywhere, natives in their multitude are clamouring to be educated. Here, a Chief wants a school of his own, so he builds it; or again, some village or other may offer to bear the cost of fitting out a school. At certain places on the Ivory Coast, the villagers pay the teachers out of their own pockets. Our pupils often come from distances of 20 to 50 kilometres.
African enthusiasm in seeking more and higher education was not confined to any part of the continent; although in some parts it was manifested at an earlier date and more intensively. For instance, the Gold Coast and Sierra Leone had a tradition of European education going hack to the 17th century. Therefore, it was not at all surprising that in 1824 the Times Educational Supplement commented that there was a universal demand for better and more education on the Gold Coast. It was the Gold Coast which produced J. E. K. Aggrey, that distinguished African educator and nationalist; and he fired the imagination of Africans well beyond the Gold Coast, in so far as formal education was concerned.
There was a definite correlation between the degree of colonial exploitation and the amount of social services provided. That applied to education in particular, so that urban, mining and cash crop areas had a virtual monopoly of schools. That was partly due to the capitalist policy of enhancing the labour power of workers, but it was also the consequence of efforts made by Africans inside the cash economy. They made demands on the colonial administration, and they also went through a great deal of sacrifice and self-denial to get more school places. Thus, one finds that Ibos who were earning income from palm oil deployed a significant proportion of their small earnings into building schools, usually in association with the church. Incidentally, it should be noted here that what were called church or mission schools were often entirely financed by Africans. They paid church dues, they made donations for the church harvest, they sometimes contributed to a special education fund, and they often paid school fees. That pattern was widespread in Iboland, and it was not uncommon in other parts of colonial Africa. The existence of schools should be traced through the church back to palm oil and the people’s labour. Indeed, it must not be forgotten that missionaries, administrators, white settlers — the whole lot — were living off African labour and resources. In the cash crop areas of British Africa, it also became the practice to try and use the agricultural produce boards and similar institutions to finance education. After all, the agricultural Boards were supposed to have been established in the interest of peasant producers. They concentrated on exporting surplus in the form of dollar reserves for Britain; but, towards the end of colonial rule in the self-government epoch, it was too much of a scandal to avoid giving Africans some small part of the benefits of their labour, and so the produce Boards were prevailed upon to make some funds available for education. For example, in 1953 the Uganda Legislative Council voted to spend about £11 million from the Cotton Price Stabilisation Fund on welfare schemes, with agricultural education receiving a big slice.
Among those Africans who did somewhat better than their brothers financially, some philanthropy was expressed in terms of helping African children go lo school. The historical records of African education under colonial rule reveal certain tit-bits, such as the fact that the first secondary school was established in Somalia in 1949 not by the colonial administration or on the initiative of the church but by a Somali trader. Of course, it is still expected in Africa that anyone who is already educated and is earning a salary should in turn help to educate at least one more member of his extended family. That is precisely because his extended family and his village community often made sacrifices to allow him to be educated in the first place. That was as true in Mauretania as it was in the reserves of South Africa, and no African would have any difficulty in supplying his own examples to that effect.
There are now available a number of biographies of Africans who gained prominence in the colonial period, usually in the movement for the regaining of African independence. It invariably emerges from reading such biographies how much of a struggle it was to be educated in colonial times. The same conclusion can be reached through reading the modern African novel, because the novelist (while writing what is called ‘fiction’) is concerned with capturing reality. Apologists for colonialism talk as though education were a big meal handed down to Africans on a platter. It was not. The educational crumbs dropped were so small that individuals scrambled for them; they saved incredibly from small earnings and sent their children to school; and African children walked miles to and from school, and thought nothing of it.
But, apart from physical and financial sacrifices, Africans in some colonies had to wage a political battle to have the principle of African education accepted. The colonies in question were those with white settler populations.
In Kenya, white settlers made it clear that as far as they were concerned, an uneducated African was better than an educated one, and that one with the rudiments of education was at least preferable to one with more than a few years of schooling. The Beecher report on education in Kenya (produced in 1949) was heavily influenced by white settlers, and it stated frankly:
Illiterates with the right attitude to manual employment are preferable to products of the schools who are not readily disposed to enter manual employment.
Because the white settlers were close to the centre of political power in the colonial system, they were able to apply their principles to education in Kenya; and very little education went to Africans. In effect, that meant an exception to the rule that more social facilities followed heightened exploitation; but, the Kikuyu (who were the most exploited in Kenya) did not accept the situation passively. One line of approach was to bombard the colonial government with demands, even though Africans were in a far less favourable position to do so than white settlers. The demands were partially successful. The Beecher report grudgingly conceded a few schools to Africans at the primary and secondary level, by suggesting places for 40% of African children at junior primary, 10% at senior primary or intermediate, and 1% at secondary level. But, by 1960, the number of primary schools was double what the whites considered should have been achieved by that date, and the number of secondary institutions was three times what the white settlers had succeeded in recommending.
Besides, where the government was reluctant to build schools or to subsidise missionaries to do so with African taxes, there was an even greater incentive to handle educational matters directly. In Kenya, there was a spate of what came to be called Independent Schools, comparable to the Independent churches, and, in fact, springing from Independent churches for the most part. The Independent schools in 292
Kenya formed two major associations: namely, the Kikuyu Independent Schools Association and the Kikuyu Karinga Education Association, formed in 1929.
In practice, just as the European Christian missions used schools to attract converts, so the Independent churches attached great importance to schooling. John Chilembwe made striking efforts in that respect, aided by brothers recruited from among African descendants in the U.S.A.
The Muslim religion was also a stimulator of educational advance during the colonial period. In North Africa, Muslims often found it necessary to channel their efforts into schools other than those built by the colonialists. The Society of Reformist Ulema in Algeria started a large primary school programme in 1936. By 1955, its primary schools catered for 45,000 Algerian children; and, from 1947, the Society also ran a large secondary school. Similarly, in Tunisia, popular initiative financed modern Koranic primary schools, providing places for 35,000 children — equivalent to one out of four going to primary school.
In Morocco, the Muslim schools that were established by popular effort possessed the unusual feature of aiming at women’s emancipation by having a high percentage of girls far higher than government schools. The French colonial administration deliberately kept mention of such schools out of their official reports, and they tried to keep their existence hidden from visitors.
Another striking example of African self-help with regards to education was the project sponsored by the Graduates’ General Congress in Sudan. Founded by students, merchants and civil servants in 1937, the Graduates’ Congress embarked on a programme of school building. Within four years, 100 schools were opened with the help of voluntary contributions. A smaller but equally exciting experiment was that of the Bugabo United Schoolboys Association, founded by two schoolboys in Mwanza, Tanganyika in 1947. It was aimed at adult education and in a short time attracted over 1,000 people of all ages. The organisers set up a camp where they housed and fed those who turned up, while imparting to them the rudiments of literacy.
When Kikuyu peasants or Ga market women or Kabyle shepherds saved to build schools and educate their children, that was not entirely in accordance with the objective of the colonialists, who wanted cash crop payments and other money in circulation to return as profits to the metropoles through the purchase of consumer goods. In such small ways, therefore, Africans were establishing an order of priorities different from that of the colonialists. This intensified in the later years of colonialism, when education came to be seen as having political significance in the era of self-government.
Having received higher education in colonial Africa in the post second World War era, a French African could reach as far as the French Assembly in Paris, while an English colonial subject might reach the local Legislative Assembly as an elected or nominated member. Those openings were absolutely devoid of power, and they were opportunities that only the merest handful could achieve; but they were stimulants, nonetheless, giving Africans the notion that considerable vertical mobility would accompany education. In French Equatorial Africa in the late 1940s, it was the African Governor, Felix Eboué, who spearheaded the demands for more education for Africans, and he was successful to some extent in forcing the hand of his masters in the French Overseas Ministry. In that same period and subsequently, it was also African effort in the Legislative Councils that kept the question of education to the fore. The British had handpicked a few educated Africans and some ‘chiefs’ to advise the Governor in the Legislative Assembly. Generally, they were decorative like the plumes on the Governor’s helmet; but, on the issue of education, no African could possibly avoid at least voicing some dissatisfaction with the poor state of affairs.
Ultimately, from a purely quantitative viewpoint, Africans pushed the colonialists and the British in particular to grant more education than was allowed for within the colonial system, and that was an important and explosive contradiction that helped Africans regain political independence.
It has been observed that British colonies tended to create an educated sector that was larger than that which the colonial economy could absorb. The explanation for that lies in the efforts of African people, although it is true that the French were more rigorous in rejecting African demands, and keeping to their schedule of training only a cadre elite to serve French interests. As it was, in a colony such as Gold Coast, African efforts to achieve education undoubtedly went beyond the numbers required to service the economy. Gold Coast was one of the first colonies to experience the ‘crisis of primary school leavers’ or ‘the secondary school bottleneck’. That is to say, among those leaving primary schools, many were frustrated because they could not find places in secondary schools, nor could they find jobs in keeping with the values they had obtained in school and in keeping with the internal stratification of African society caused by capitalism.
It is sometimes said that Kwame Nkrumah organised the illiterates in the Convention People’s Party. That was a charge contemptuously made by other conservative educated Ghanaians, who thought that Nkrumah was going too far too fast. In reality, the shock troops in Nkrumah’s youth brigade were not illiterate. They had been to primary school, and could read the manifestoes and the literature of the African nationalist revolution. But, they were extremely disaffected because (among other things) they were relative latecomers on the educational scene in Cold Coast, and there was no room in the restricted African establishment of the cocoa monoculture.
Colonial powers aimed at giving a certain amount of education to keep colonialism functioning; Africans by various means required more education at the lower level than their ‘allowance’, and this was .one of the factors which brought about deep crisis, and forced the British to consider the idea of withdrawing their colonial apparatus from Gold Coast. The time-table for independence was also speeded up against the will of the British. As is well known, the regaining of independence in Ghana was not just a local affair, but one that was highly significant for Africa as a whole ; and it therefore highlights the importance of at least one of the educational contradictions in bringing about political independence in Africa.
The Gold Coast colony was not the only one in which there appeared the problem of bottleneck, because of the shallowness of the educational pyramid. In the area that was once the colonial Federation of the Rhodesias and Nyasaland, educators in the 1950s were commenting on the primary school-leavers crisis. They claimed to have had a surplus of primary 6 leavers. A set of colonies that was educating an insignificant number of African school children had a surplus of primary school-leavers! All it meant is that colonialism was so bankrupt and had so underdeveloped Africa that it had no use for more than a handful of educated. Furthermore, the colonialists had assured every struggling African that, if he endured missionary education, he would be given a white-collar job and a passport to civilisation; but, on leaving school, African youth found the promises to be false. One Standard 6 leaver in the Central African Federation wrote the following letter to a magazine in 1960:
After I had passed Standard 6, I spent the whole year at home because I could not get a place anywhere to further my education. At the beginning of this year I went to look for work but failed to get it again, from January until now. If I had known that my education would have been useless, I would have told my father not to waste his money in educating me from the beginning to Standard 6.
It would be fairly reasonable to assume that the writer of that letter opposed the white settler Central African Federation. Whether or not he consciously rationalised the matter, he was bound to act as a product of the deep contradictory forces within colonialism — forces which had produced the discrepancy between promise and fulfilment, in terms of his own personal life.
Occasionally, the frustrated school-leavers might vent their sentiments in a non-constructive manner. For instance, the problem of the bottleneck in education and employment arose in Ivory Coast by 1958; and, in a context of confused African leadership, the youth of Ivory Coast decided that their enemy was the group of Dahomians and Senegalese who were employed in Ivory Coast. However, on the whole, the situation of frustration aided Africans to perceive more clearly that the enemy was the colonial power, and it therefore added another platform to the movement for regaining African independence.
Africans clashed with the colonial structure not just over the quantity of education, but also over the quality. One of the key topics for disagreement was colonial agricultural education, to which reference has already been made. The colonialists seemed surprised that a continent of agriculturalists should reject education which was supposedly intended to raise the level of their agriculture. Indeed, some Africans carne out against agricultural education and other reforms to ‘Africanise’ curricula, for what appears to have been selfish elitist reasons. For instance, one Guinean demanded that there should not be a single change from the teaching programme as used in metropolitan France. ‘We want a metropolitan curriculum and the same diplomas as in France, for we are as French as the French of the metropoles’, he declared. In Tanganyika, during German days, there were also protests against changing the formal and literary educational programme, as it had been introduced body and soul from Europe. A prominent Tanganyikan African, Martin Kayamba, asserted that:
those who think that literary education is unsuitable for Africans ignore the fact of its importance and indispensability to any sort of education, and therefore deny the Africans the very means of progress.
Statements such as the above have to be seen in their correct context to understand that the African response was perfectly justified. The colonialist value system assigned a low value to manual activity and a high value to white-collar bureaucratic work. Even more important, the colonial economy offered discriminating compensation to those who had literary or ‘bookish’ education, as opposed to those with manual skills. It was extremely difficult to convince any sane African that education which would send him to dig the soil to get 100/- at the end of the year was more appropriate than education which qualified him to work in the civil service for 100/- per month. When Europeans preached that brand of wisdom, Africans were suspicious.
Africans were very suspicious about taxes in the colonial era. They never wanted to be counted, nor did they want their chickens to be counted, because bitter experience had shown them that that was how the colonialists assessed taxes. Similarly, on educational issues, there was no confidence in colonial plans to provide different versions of education, because such plans almost invariably meant an even more inferior education, and one that was more blatantly intended to be education for underdevelopment. The most extreme example of a colonial education system designed to train Africans to fill their ‘natural’ role of manual labourers was that in South Africa, after the introduction of the Bantu Education Act in 1953. However, the earlier attempts by the British and French to set up what they called ‘farm schools’ or ‘initiation schools’ were along the same lines as have since been ruthlessly pursued by the racists in South Africa. The non-literary education had the superficial appearance of being more relevant to Africa, but it was really inferior education for a people who were supposedly inferior in order to make them accept their own exploitation and oppression. As Abdou Moumini put it, ‘colonial education was “cut-rate” education’. It offered, by European standards low-quality substitutes to suit what was described as the limited intellectual capacity of Africans. In French colonial Africa, the diplomas were seldom equal to those in the metropoles at comparable levels, and in British East Africa one official asked educators to bear in mind the gap between themselves and the ‘grubby savages’ whom Britain was attempting to civilise. It is in this context that agricultural education in particular revealed itself as an exercise in deception.
Consequently, the struggle against agricultural or rural schools was one of the most bitter struggles waged by African nationalists, and helped heighten consciousness at all levels of African society, with regard to the fundamentally exploitative and racist nature of colonialism. In French West Africa, for example, the farm schools were determinedly opposed after the last war, and the French colonial government had to abolish them. In Tanganyika and Nyasa, the confrontation between the colonialists and the African people was much bigger, because opposition to agricultural education was associated with opposition to colonial agricultural innovations (such as terracing) which were forced upon people without consultation and without taking into account the varying conditions in different localities.
In East Africa the British made a few determined efforts to introduce what they considered as relevant agricultural education. One pilot scheme was at Nyakato in Tanganyika, which involved transforming a secondary school into an agricultural school in 1930. It lasted for nine years with tutors recruited from Britain and South Africa, but in the end the attempt failed because of protest by students and the population of the region. Although the school claimed to be offering new agricultural skills, it was readily recognised that it was part of a programme defining the ‘correct attitudes’ and ‘natural place’ which Europeans thought fit for the natives.
In the 1940s, as Africans sought to change features of the educational system, they naturally had to demand a voice in councils that formulated educational policy. That was in itself a revolutionary demand, because colonial people are supposed to be ruled, not to participate in decision-making. Besides, on the issue of educational policy-making, Africans not only alarmed the administrators, but they trod on the corns of the missionaries, who generally felt that they inherited education at the Partition of Africa. All of those clashes were pointing in the direction of freedom for colonial peoples, because in the background there was always the question of political power.
It would be erroneous to suggest that educated Africans foresightedly moved with the intention of regaining African independence. There would have been very few indeed who, as early as 1939, would have joined Chief Essien of Calabar in asserting that:
Without education it will be impossible for us to get to our destination, which is Nigeria’s economic independence and Nigeria’s political independence.
However, education (both formal and informal) was a powerful force which transformed the situation in post-war Africa in such a way as to bring political independence to most of colonised Africa within two decades.
There were also a few Europeans who foresaw what were called the ‘dangers’ of giving Africans a modern education: namely, the possibility of its leading towards freedom. Certainly, Europeans were not at all happy with any schools which were of the European type, but which were not under direct colonialist control. For example, the Independent schools of Kenya were disliked by white settlers in that colony and by other Europeans outside Kenya. One Catholic mission report from nearby Tanganyika in 1933 warned against allowing Tanganyika Africans to set up schools controlled by themselves. It noted that :
Independent schools are causing difficulties in Kenya. Such schools may easily become hot-beds of sedition.
When the Mau Mau war for land and liberation broke out in Kenya, one of the first things the British government did was to close the 149 schools of the Kikuyu Independent Schools Association, 21 schools of the Kikuyu Karinga Education Association, and 14 other Independent schools. They were considered ‘training grounds for rebellion’ — a term which essentially captures the fear expressed in the Catholic mission report just cited. Europeans knew well enough that if they did not control the minds of Africans, they would soon cease to control the people physically and politically.
Similarly, in North Africa, the French colonial power and the white colons or settlers did not take kindly to the self-help schools of the colonised Algerians and Tunisians. The purpose of the schools set up by the Society of Reformist Ulema in Algeria was that they should be modern and scientific, but at the same time present learning in the context of Arab and Algerian culture. Pupils at the Ulema schools began their lessons by singing together:
Arabic is my language, Algeria is my country, Islam is my religion.
It was no wonder, therefore, that the colonialists victimised pupils and parents, and took repressive measures on the grounds that those schools were also hotbeds of sedition.
The missionaries asked for control of schools, because that was one of their drawing cards for the church itself and because they considered themselves as experts on the side of cultural imperialism (which they called ‘civilising’). However, there were other Europeans both within and without the colonies who were absolutely opposed to schools-be they Christian, Independent, Government or Islamic. Starting from a racist position, they asserted that offering education to Africans was like throwing pearls before swine. Some of the most violent expressions of racism were directed, against educated Africans. Starting from the time of individuals like Lord Lugard and through to the days of the last colonial administrators like Sir Alan Burns, many colonialists demonstrated hostility to educated Africans. Educated Africans made colonialists extremely uneasy, because they did not conform to the image which Europeans liked to harbour of the ‘unspoilt African savage’.
But, if one goes to the heart of the matter, it can be discerned that the white racists. did not seriously believe that Africans could not master knowledge then in the possession of Europeans. On the contrary, the evidence of educated Africans was before their eyes; and the white settlers especially feared that, given an opportunity, far too many Africans would master white bourgeois knowledge too thoroughly. Such Africans would, therefore, refuse to work as agricultural labourers for 12/- per month; they would compete with Europeans in semi-skilled and skilled categories; and above all they would want to govern themselves.
In the records of colonialism, it is not uncommon to encounter the following type of remark:
What need is there to educate the natives?You will give them the weapons to destroy you!
In one sense, those Europeans were simply dreamers, because giving education to Africans was not an option which could have been avoided; it was an objective necessity to keep colonialism functioning. P. E. Mitchell, who later became Governor of Uganda, remarked in 1928 that ‘regret it ay he may, no Director of Education can resist the demand for clerks, carpenters, shoemakers and so on-trained in European methods to meet European needs. These men are not being trained to fit into any place in the life of their own people, but to meet the economic needs of a foreign race.’ At the same time, the available education was also a consequence of the irrepressible actions of the African people, who hoped to move forward within the alien system. So, those Europeans who were absolutely opposed to giving education to Africans did not understand the contradictions of their own colonial society. But in another sense they were defending the interests of colonialism. Firstly, however much the colonialists tried, they could not succeed in shaping the minds of all Africans whom they educated in schools. The exceptions were the ones who were going to prove most dangerous to colonialism, capitalism and imperialism. And secondly, the most timid and the most brainwashed of educated Africans harboured some form of disagreement with the colonialists; and, in the pursuit of their own group or individual interests, the educated elite helped to expose and undermine the structure of colonial rule.
Keeping the above distinction in mind, one can consider both those contradictions which arose between the colonisers and the African educated as a whole, and those which arose between the colonisers and particular individuals among the African educated.
As already noted, insufficient educational facilities and inadequate jobs were the complaints raised by the lower echelons of those who were educated in Africa during the colonial period. Those who went to secondary school or institutions of higher learning found little access to remunerative and responsible posts, because they were destined to fill the lower ranks of the civil and business administration. After working for twenty years, an African in the civil service would have been extremely lucky to have become ‘head clerk’, or in the police to have become a sergeant. Meanwhile, to add insult to injury, any European doing the same job as an African got higher pay; and whites who were less qualified and experienced were placed above Africans, who did the jobs their superiors were paid to do. In the colonial civil service to be a European was enough. It did not matter whether the white person was ignorant and stupid, he would be assured of drawing a fat salary and enjoying wide privileges. The Guinea-Bissau leader, Amilcar Cabral, gave an example of that type:
I was an agronomist working under a European who everybody knew was one of the biggest idiots in Guinea; I could have taught him his job with my eyes shut but he was the boss: this is something which counts a lot, this is the confrontation which really matters.
Questions such as salaries, promotions, leave, allowances, etc., were ones which were of paramount interest to most African civil servant associations and Welfare or ‘Improvement’ Associations. There should be no illusions concerning the factor of self-interest. But, their complaints were justified in terms of the discrepancy between their living standards and those of white expatriates or settlers, as well as in terms of the ideology of the very bourgeoisie who had colonised Africa. The educational process had equipped a few Africans with a grasp of the international community and of bourgeois democracy, and there was a most unsatisfactory credibility gap between the ideals of bourgeois democracy and the existence of colonialism as a system which negated freedom. Inevitably, the educated started gravitating in the direction of claims for national independence, just as educated Indians had done much earlier on the Indian sub-continent.
According to official Spanish sources, it is said that the school system in Spanish Guinea achieved all that the colonisers expected of it. It produced the required Africans who loved Spaniards more than the Spaniards loved themselves, but it produced no opponents of the colonial regime. Ii is difficult to believe the truth of such an assertion; and the Spanish took good care that no one from outside got wind of what things were like in the small Spanish colonies in Africa. However, if it were true that the colonial educational system in Spanish Guinea created only whitewashed Africans according to plan, then that would represent an outstanding exception to the general rule. Wherever adequate evidence is available, it shows that the cultural imperialism of colonial education was successful in large measure, but was never entirely successful. It produced according to plan many ‘loyal Kikuyu’, ‘Capicornists’, ‘Anglophiles’, ‘Francophiles’, M.B.E.s, etc.; but it also produced in spite of itself those Africans whom the colonialists called ‘upstarts’, ‘malcontents’, ‘agitators’, ‘communists’, ‘terrorists’, etc.
From the viewpoint of the colonialists, trouble often started with African students before they had completed studies. The Sudan, for example, has a history of nationalist student protests; and Madagascar was outstanding in that respect. From the early years of this century, a politicised student movement was growing in Madagascar, in spite of specific steps taken by two French governors. By 1816, Malagasy students had organised the Vy Vato society, seeking to kick out the French. When the Vy Vato was discovered, students were brutally suppressed. However, as so often happens, students gained inspiration from the martyrdom of their fellows, and they re-surfaced at a later date on the nationalist scene.
Students who were taken to universities in the metropoles were the most favoured and the most pampered of the Africans selected by the white colonial overlords to become Europeanised; and yet they were among the first to argue vocally and logically that the liberty, equality, and fraternity about which they were taught should apply to Africa. African students in France in the post-war years were placed carefully within the ranks of the then conservative French national student body, but they soon rebelled and formed the Federation of Students of Black Africa (FEANF), which became affiliated to the communist International Union of Students. In Britain, African students formed a variety of ethnic and nationalist organisations, and participated in the Pan-African movement. After all, most of them were sent there to study British Constitution and Constitutional Law, and (for what it is worth) the word ‘freedom’ appears in those contexts rather often!
The fascists who ruled Africans at some points during the colonial epoch tried to avoid bourgeois democratic ideals altogether. For example, while the Italian fascists were in charge of Somalia between 1922 and 1941, they took away from history text-books all references to Mazzini and Garibaldi, two key leaders of the democratic wing of the Italian nationalist movement of the 19th century. Yet, the clerks and NCOs who received that education nevertheless went into the Somali Youth League and fought for Independence at the head of popular forces.
The fact of the matter is that it was not really necessary to get the idea of freedom from a European book. What the educated African extracted from European schooling was a particular formulation of the concept of political freedom. But, it did not take much to elicit a response from their own instinctive tendency for freedom; and, as has just been noted in the Somali instance, that universal tendency to seek freedom manifested itself among Africans even when the most careful steps were taken to extinguish it.
There was no sector of colonial life in which educated Africans appeared and remained wholly loyal to the colonialists. Teachers were supposed to have been steeped in the culture of domination, so as to pass it on to other Africans; but, in the end, many of them stood in the vanguard of the national independence movements. African priests and pastors were supposed to have been the loyal servants of God and bis European lieutenants, but the church gave birth in Nyasaland to John Chilembwe, as early as the first World War. Shortly afterwards, in Congo, when Simon Kimbangu started his Independent church, he actually threatened the colonialists that he would introduce Bolshevikism!
It is particularly interesting to notice that the colonialists could not be sure of the loyalty of their African troops. It has already been argued that the army and police were educational and socialising institutions to perpetuate colonialist and capitalist power and values. How successfully they served that function can be seen in the number of veterans of Burma and Indo-China who returned to the continent to loyally carry out policies of Britain and France, respectively. Colonel Bokassa of the Central African Republic and Colonel Lamizana of Upper Volta provide two outstanding examples, both of them having graduated from fighting the Vietnamese to a point where they are prepared to dialogue with the fascist apartheid state of South Africa. However, returned soldiers also played a very positive role in the national independence struggles after both wars. And, occasionally, towards the end of colonial rule, African troops and police mutinied, as in Nyasaland in 1959.
African trade unionists also went to ‘school’ under colonialism. To begin with, the organisation and activity of the small wage-earning sector in Africa bothered the colonialists a great deal. Their initial desire was to crush worker dissent, and (when that appeared unlikely to succeed) to co-opt it and guide it along ‘acceptable’ channels.
The British Trade Union Council sponsored a number of African trade unions, and tried to get them to accept a rigid separation between industrial matters (such as wages and working hours) and political matters. But, the T.U.C. was in that context acting on behalf of the British bourgeoisie, and they did not succeed in holding back the working class in Africa. African workers were able to appreciate that there was no difference between the private employers and the colonial administration. Indeed, the colonial administration was itself one of the biggest employers, against whom workers had many charges. Consequently, in the 1940s and 1950s, it was common to have strikes that were specifically connected with the struggle for independence, notably in Gold Coast, Nigeria and Sudan.
The contradiction between French workers and African workers in French colonies emerged in a very acute form. The French trade union movement (and notably the Communist Union, the C.G.T.) insisted that Africans should not have separate unions, but should be members of French labour unions — just like any other French workers. That arrangement gave support to the juridicial political fiction that places like Dahomey and Comoro Islands were not colonies, but merely the overseas section of France. Sekou Touré of Guinea was one of the first to break with the patronage of French trade unions and to establish an independent African trade union. In so doing, Sekou Touré made it clear that the principal contradiction of the colonial situation was that between colonised peoples on the one hand and the colonising nation on the other. So long as African workers remain colonised, they had to think of themselves firstly as African workers, rather than members of an international proletariat. That interpretation, which was entirely in accordance with reality, led to the trade union movement taking on a highly politicised and nationalist role in French West Africa. It was an achievement which defeated the chauvinism of white French workers as well as the class interests of the French bourgeoisie.
The attitude of the white metropolitan working class towards their African counterparts was influenced by the prevailing racist values of capitalist society. Indeed, the racist factor heightened the principal contradiction between the colonisers and the colonised. Discriminatory racist methods and measures were found in every colony — with varying degrees of openness or hypocrisy. Sometimes, white racism was vicious and at other times it was paternalist. Nor did it necessarily reflect Europe’s desire to exploit Africans economically. In Southern Rhodesia, racial discrimination was very much tied up with the white settlers maintaining their jobs and the stolen land; but when some semi-literate white inspector insulted an educated Sierra Leonean that may be referred to as ‘gratuitous’. Racism in such a context actually jeopardised economic exploitation, and it was merely the manifestation of prejudices that had grown over the centuries.
The racial contradiction extended far beyond the shores of Africa, because of the historical antecedence of the slave trade. It is not in the least surprising that Pan-African ideas should have been most forcefully expressed by West Indians like Garvey and Padmore and North Americans like W.E.B. Dubois and Alpheus Hunton. Those individuals had all been educated within the international capitalist structure of exploitation on the basis of class and race. Having realised that their inferior status in the societies of America was conditioned by the fact of being black and the weakness of Africa, the Pan-Africanists were forced to deal with the central problem of Europe’s exploitation and oppression of the African continent. Needless to say, the metropolitan powers could never have foreseen that their humiliation of millions of Africans in the New World would ultimately rebound and help Africa to emancipate itself.
The process by which Africa produced thirty-odd sovereign states was an extremely complex one, characterised by an interplay of forces and calculations on the part of various groups of Africans, on the part of the colonial powers, and on the part of interest groups inside the metropoles. African independence was affected by international events such as the second World War, the rise of the Soviet Union, the independence of India and China, the people’s liberation movement in Indochina, and the Bandung Conference. On the African continent itself, the ‘domino theory’ operated, so that the re-emergence of Egypt under Nasser, the early independence of Ghana, Sudan and Guinea, and the nationalist wars in Kenya and Algeria all helped to knock down the colonies which remained standing. However, it must be stressed that the move for the regaining of independence was initiated by the African people; and, to whatever extent that objective was realised, the motor force of the people must be taken into account.
In a conference held by the French in Brazzaville in 1948 (and chaired by General de Gaulle), it was explicitly stated that ‘the establishment, even in the distant future, of self-government in the colonies is to be avoided’. As is well known, the French eventually considered the idea of conceding independence to African peoples after being taught a salutary lesson by the Algerian people. Moreover, when Guinea chose independence in 1958 rather than accept to be permanently a footstool for France, the French administrators literally went crazy and behaved like wild pigs before sailing from Guinea. They just could not cope with the idea of African independence.
Apart from the Portuguese, the Belgians were the colonialists who were the most reluctant in withdrawing in the face of African nationalism. In 1955, a Belgian professor suggested independence for the Congo in thirty years, and he was regarded as a radical! Of course, Congo turned out to be one of the places where imperialism was successful in hijacking the African revolution. But, the order of events must still be considered. Firstly, it was the intensity of the Congolese and African demands that made independence thinkable, as far as the Belgians were concerned; and, secondly, it was precisely the strength and potential of the nationalist movement under Lumumba which forced the imperialists to resort to murder and invasion.
The British make much of the fact that they conceded the idea of self-government immediately after the last war; but self-government was a long cry from independence, and the notion of training people for independence was nothing but a political gimmick. Lady Margery Perham, a true voice of patronising colonialism, admitted that the Colonial Office’s timetable for independence had to be scrapped in the face of the mobilised African people. For that matter, even African leaders never hoped to achieve national sovereignty as rapidly as they did, until the mass parties began to roll like boulders down a hillside.
The fact that this analysis has been focussed on the role of the educated Africans in the independence movements is not intended to detract from the vital activity of the broad African masses, including the sacrifice of life and limb. In brief, it is enough to say that the African people as a collective had upset the plans of the colonialists, and had surged forward to freedom. Such a position may seem to be a mere revival of a certain rosy and romantic view of African independence which was popular in the early 1960s, but, on the contrary, it is fully cognisant of the shabby reality of neo-colonial Africa. It needs to be affirmed (from a revolutionary, socialist, and people-centred perspective) that even ‘flag independence’ represented a positive development out of colonialism.
Securing the attributes of sovereignty is but one stage in the process of regaining African independence. By 1885, when Africa was politically and juridically partitioned, the peoples and polities had already lost a great deal of freedom. In its relations with the external world, Africa had lost a considerable amount of control over its own economy, ever since the 15th century. However, the loss of political sovereignty at the time of the Scramble was decisive. By the same reasoning, it is clear that the regaining of political sovereignty by the 1960s constitutes an inescapable first step in regaining maximum freedom to choose and to develop in all spheres.
Furthermore, the period of nationalist revolution gave rise to certain minority ideological trends, which represent the roots of future African development. Most African leaders of the intelligentsia and even of the labour movement were frankly capitalist, and shared fully the ideology of their bourgeois masters. Houphouet Boigny was at one time called a ‘Communist’ by the French colonisers! He defended himself vigorously against that false charge in 1948:
We have good relations with the (French) Communist Party, that is true. But ü is obvious that that does not mean that we ourselves are communists. Can it be said that I, Houphouet-Boigny — a traditional chief, a doctor of medicine, a big property owner, a catholic — can it be said that I am a communist?
Houphouet-Boigny’s reasoning applied to so many more African leaders of the independence epoch. The exceptions were those who either completely rejected the world-view of capitalism or at least stuck honestly to those idealistic tenets of bourgeois ideology such as individual freedom-and, through experience, they could come to realise that the ideals remained myths in a society based on the exploitation of man by man. Clearly, all leaders of the non-conformist type had developed in direct contradiction to the aims of formal and informal colonial education; and their differences with the colonisers were too profound to have been resolved merely by ‘flag-independence’.
African independence was greeted with pomp, ceremony and a resurgence of traditional African music and dance. ‘A new day has dawned’, ‘we are on the threshold of a new era’, ‘we have now entered into the political kingdom’ — those were the phrases of the day, and they were repeated until they became clichés. But, all the to-ing and fro-ing from Cotonou to Paris and from London to Lusaka and all the lowering and raising of flags cannot be said to have been devoid of meaning. Withdrawal of the directly-controlled military and juridical apparatus of the colonisers was essential before any new alternatives could be posed with regard to poetical organisation, social structure, economic development, etc.
The above issues were raised most seriously by the minority of African leaders who had individually embarked on a non-capitalist path of development in their mode of thought; and the problems were considered within the context of inequalities and contradictions not just between Africa and Europe but also inside Africa, as a refection of four centuries of slavery and one century of colonialism. As far as the mass of peasants and workers were concerned, the removal of overt foreign rule actually cleared the way towards a more fundamental appreciation of exploitation and imperialism. Even in territories such as Cameroon, where the imperialists brutally crushed peasants and workers and installed their own tried and tested puppet, advance had been made in so far as the masses had already participated in trying to determine their own destiny. That is the element of conscious activity that signifies the ability to make history, by grappling with the heritage of objective material conditions and social relations.
Brief Guide to Reading
Colonial rule generated a great deal of written material which can serve as one of the bases for historical reconstruction. Even the non-specialist in African history would be well advised to look at some original sources, such as the data compiled by Lard Hailey. Approached with care, several of the anthropological texts also yield information and insights with regard to detailed changes in African social structures.
Above all, however, the generations who suffered under colonialism are still living repositories of the continent’s history. The collective knowledge of the African people derived from experience is the most authentic basis of the history of the colonial period. Unfortunately, much of that experience is not yet written down, but glimpses can be got from biographies of prominent Africans such as Namdi Azikiwe, Kwame Nkrumah, Oginga Odinga and Kenneth Kaunda, as well as from the political writings of these and other leaders — notably Mwalimu Nyerere and Sekou Toure. The books by Padmore and Hunton mentioned in the literature for Chapter 5 are even more relevant in this context.
Jack Woddis, Africa, the Roots of Revolt.
Jack Woddis, Africa, the Lion Awakes.
Gann and Duignan, The Burden of Empire.
The first author and his works are well known for supporting the African anti-colonial stand. The second example is a colonialist interpretation which offers a contrast.
Sloan and Kitchen, The Educated African.
Abdou Moumini, Education in Africa.
For data, the first book is useful. From the viewpoint of analysis, Moumini’s book is superb.
Franz Fanon, Black Skins, White Masks.
Franz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth.
Franz Fanon, Towards the African Revolution.
These studies are unique in revealing the psychological aspects of enslavement and colonisation as far as Africans are concerned, whether in the Americas or on the African continent. Fanon does not have any equal in analysing the last stages of African colonialism and the advent of neo-colonialism.