Education is crucial in any type of society for the preservation of the lives of its members and the maintenance of the social structure. Under certain circumstances, education also promotes social change. The greater portion of that education is informal, being acquired by the young from the example and behaviour of elders in the society. Under normal circumstances, education grows out of the environment; the learning process being directly related to the pattern of work in the society. Among the Bemba of what was then Northern Rhodesia, children by the age of six could name fifty to sixty species of tree plants without hesitation, but they knew very little about ornamental flowers. The explanation is simply that knowledge of the trees was a necessity in an environment of ‘cut and burn’ agriculture and in a situation where numerous household needs were met by tree products. Flowers, however, were irrelevant to survival.
Indeed, the most crucial aspect of pre-colonial African education was its relevance to Africans, in sharp contrast with what was later introduced. The following features of indigenous African education can be considered outstanding: its close links with social life, both in a material and spiritual sense; its collective nature; its many-sidedness; and its progressive development in conformity with the successive stages of physical, emotional and mental development of the child. There was no separation of education and productive activity or any division between manual and intellectual education. Altogether, through mainly informal means, pre-colonial African education matched the realities of pre-colonial African society and produced well-rounded personalities to fit into that society.
Some aspects of African education were formal: that is to say, there was a specific programme and a conscious division between teachers and pupils. Formal education in pre-colonial Africa was also directly connected with the purposes of the society, just like informal education. The programmes of teaching were restricted to certain periods in the life of every individual, notably the period of initiation or ‘coming of age’. Many African societies had circumcision ceremonies for males or for both sexes, and for some time before the ceremonies a teaching programme was arranged. The length of time involved could vary from a few weeks to several years. A famous example of the latter was the initiation school held by the Poro brotherhood in Sierra Leone. Formal education was also available at later stages in life, such as on the occasion of passing from one age-grade to another or of joining a new brotherhood. Specialised functions such as hunting, organising religious ritual, and the practice of medicine definitely involved formal education within the family or clan. Such educational practices all dated back to communal times in Africa, but they persisted in the more developed African feudal and pre-feudal societies, and they were to be found on the eve of colonialism.
As the mode of production moved towards feudalism in Africa, new features also emerged within the educational pattern. There was, for instance, more formal specialisation, because the proportion of formal to informal education increases with technological advance. Apart from hunting and religion, the division of labour made it necessary to create guilds for passing down the techniques of iron working, leather making, cloth manufacture, pottery moulding, professional trading, and so on. The emphasis on military force also led to formal education in that sphere, as in the case of Dahomey, Rwanda and Zulu cited earlier. A state structure with a well defined ruling class always encouraged the use of history as a means of glorifying the class in power. So, in the Yoruba state of Keta in the 19th century, there existed a school of history, where a master drilled into the memories of his pupils a long list of the kings of Keta and their achievements. Of course, reliance on memory alone placed severe limits on education of that type, and that is why education was much more advanced in those African countries where the use of writing had come into being.
Along the Nile, in North Africa, in Ethiopia, in the Western Sudan, and along the East African coast, a minority of Africans became literate, producing a situation comparable to Asia and Europe before the latter part of the 19th century. As in other parts of the world, literacy in Africa was connected with religion, so that in Islamic countries it was a Koranic education and in Christian Ethiopia the education was designed to train priests and monks. Muslim education was particularly extensive at the primary level, and it was also available at the secondary and university levels. In Egypt there was the Al-Azhar University, in Morocco the University of Fez, and in Mali the University of Timbuctu — all testimony to the standard of education achieved in Africa before the colonial intrusion.
The colonizers did not introduce education into Africa: they introduced a new set of formal educational institutions which partly supplemented and partly replaced those which were there before. The colonial system also stimulated values and practices which amounted to new informal education. The main purpose of the colonial school system was to train Africans to help man the local administration at the lowest ranks and to staff the private capitalist firms owned by Europeans. In effect, that meant selecting a few Africans to participate in the domination and exploitation of the continent as a whole. It was not an educational system that grew out of the African environment or one that was designed to promote the most rational use of material and social resources. It was not an educational system designed to give young people confidence and pride as members of African societies, but one which sought to instil a sense of deference towards all that was European and capitalist. Education in Europe was dominated by the capitalist class. The same class bias was automatically transferred to Africa; and to make matters worse the racism and cultural boastfulness harboured by capitalism were also included in the package of colonial education. Colonial schooling was education for subordination, exploitation, the creation of mental confusion and the development of underdevelopment.
A European-type school system hardly operated during the first forty years or so of colonialism. In that period, missionaries gave schooling for their own Christianizing purposes, and it was in the 1920s that the colonizing powers carried out a series of investigations into educational possibilities in Africa. Thereafter, colonial education became systematic and measurable, though it approached its maximum dimensions only in the post second World War era.
Colonial education was a series of limitations inside other limitations. The first practical limitation was politico-financial, which means the political policy guiding financial expenditure rather than the actual availability of money. The metropolitan governments and their African administrations claimed that there was not enough money for education. As late as 1958, the British Colonial Office said of Northern Rhodesia:
Until more money becomes available for the building of schools, no rapid progress can be expected and the practical prospects of providing full primary education for all children therefore remains fairly remote.
It is amazing that Northern Rhodesia with its immense copper wealth did not have enough money to educate Africans! One cannot be certain whether the colonialists were trying to deceive others or whether they had succeeded in fooling themselves; but probably most of the confused white settlers in the Rhodesias fell into the latter category, for they consistently argued that Africans did not pay as much tax per head as Europeans and therefore Africans could not expect to get education and other services out of taxes paid by white settlers. This is the fundamental failure to perceive that a country’s wealth comes not from taxes but from production. African soil and African labour in Northern Rhodesia produced vast wealth, but African children under colonialism had little access to that wealth for their schooling.
As noted earlier, most of Africa’s surplus was exported; and, out of the small portion which remained behind as government revenue, the percentage channelled into education was tiny. In every colony, the budget for education was incredibly small, compared to amounts being spent in capitalist Europe itself. In 1935, of the total revenue collected from taxing Africans in French West Africa, only 4.03% was utilised on education. In the British colony of Nigeria, it was only 3.4%. In Kenya, as late as 1946 only 2.26% of the revenue was spent on African education. By 1960, those percentages had all gone up two, three, or four times; but, being so small to begin with, they still remained insignificant.
Since such small sums were spent, it followed that another basic limitation was quantitative, in the sense that very few Africans made it into schools. In the whole of French Equatorial Africa (Chad, Central African Republic, Gabon and Congo Brazzaville), there were only 22,000 pupils enrolled in 1938-and that represented quite a jump over figures for the preceding five years. In 1938> the French provided education for 77,000 pupils in French West Africa, with a population of at least 15 million. A very illuminating fact that should be noted is that in 1945 there were more than 80,000 students attending independent Islamic schools in French West Africa — a number not far short of those attending French-built schools by that date. In other words, it was only in the final stages of colonialism that the ruling European power began to provide Africans in the former Islamic states of West Africa with educational institutions having an enrolment greater than the previous formal education.
Occasionally, in West and North Africa, the French government gave some financial support to the Koranic primary schools and to the medresas or Islamic secondary schools. On the whole, however, the pre-colonial African school system was simply ignored and it tended to decline. In Algeria, the Arab/Islamic institutions of learning suffered severely during the French wars of conquest, while others were deliberately suppressed when the French gained the upper hand. Throughout French North Africa, the old established Islamic Universities suffered because colonialism deprived them of the economic base which previously gave them support. As with so many other aspects of African life, what the colonialists put in must be weighed against what they halted and what they destroyed in both real and potential terms.
British colonies tended to do on average somewhat better than French ones with regard to educational activities, largely because of missionary initiatives rather than the British government itself. Ghana, Nigeria, and Uganda were fairly well off as far as colonial education went. Of course, that was in a purely relative sense, and the absolute numbers involved were never large. Sierra Leone was better off educationally than French West Africa because the seven out of every 100 children going to school in Sierra Leone before the last war compared favourably with five out of every 100 in French West Africa. As far as the British are concerned, their slightly superior record in some colonies is also offset by the very poor educational facilities offered to Africans in Kenya, Tanganyika, the Central African territories and South Africa itself which was for a long a British responsibility.
One limitation of the educational system of colonial Africa which is obscured by statistical averages is the great variation in opportunity between different regions in the same colony. In many colonies, only Africans living in or near the principal towns had educational opportunities. For instance, in Madagascar the capital town of Tananarive had the most substantial school facilities; in Gambia literacy was high for Bathurst town and low outside; and in Uganda the urbanised region of Buganda practically monopolised education. Generally speaking, the unevenness in educational levels reflected the unevenness of economic exploitation and the different rates at which different parts of a colony entered the money economy. Thus, in Gold Coast, the Northern Territories were neglected educationally, because they did not offer the colonialists any products for export. In Sudan, it was the huge southern region which was in a similar position. Inside Tanganyika, a map showing the major cotton and coffee areas virtually coincides with a map showing areas in which colonial education was available. It means that those whom the colonialists could not readily exploit were not offered even ¡he crumbs of education.
The closer one scrutinises the educational contribution of colonialism even in purely quantitative terms, the more it shrinks into insignificance. It must be noted, for instance, that there was an extremely high rate of ‘drop-outs’. A large percentage of those enrolled never finished school. In big capitalist countries like the U.S.A., there are many drop-outs at the college and university level: in colonial Africa, the drop-outs were occurring at the primary level, at a rate as high as 50%. For every student who completed primary school, one fell by the wayside. The drop-outs were from primary schools, because there was hardly any other type of school — this absence of secondary, technical and university education being yet another of the stumbling blocks.
Africans were being educated inside colonial schools to become junior clerks and messengers. Too much learning would have been both superfluous and dangerous for clerks and messengers. Therefore, secondary education was rare and other forms of higher education were virtually non-existent, throughout most of the colonial epoch. That which was provided went mainly to non-Africans. As late as 1959, Uganda spent about £11 per African pupil, £38 per Indian and £186 on each European child — the difference being due largely to the availability of secondary education for the children of the capitalists and the middlemen. In Kenya, the discrimination was worse and the number of European children involved was high. In 1960, more than 11,000 European children were attending school in Kenya, and of those 3,000 were receiving secondary education. The settler colony of Algeria displayed similar characteristics. Only 20% of the secondary pupils in 1954 were denoted as ‘Muslims’, which meant in effect ‘Algerian’ as distinct from European. Other minorities also did better than the indigenous population. For instance, the Jews in North Africa and especially in Tunisia played the middlemen roles, and their children were all educated right up to secondary standards.
African countries without a big white settler population also had racist educational structures with regard to opportunities at all levels and especially opportunities for higher education. In Senegal in 1946, the high school had 723 pupils, of whom 174 were Africans. Later on, a university was set up in Dakar (to serve the whole of French West Africa); and yet in the 1950s on the eve of independence, more than half of the university students were French.
The Portuguese have not been discussed so far, because there is scarcely any education to be discussed in their colonial territories. For many years, the statistical data was never made available, and when published towards the end of the colonial period the figures were often inflated. What is undeniable is that the African child growing up in Portuguese colonial territories stood one chance out of a hundred of getting instruction beyond Standard II or Standard III. The secondary schools that came into existence were for Europeans and Indians, the latter drawn mainly from Goa. The colonial powers with small territories in Africa were Spain and Italy. Like Portugal, they were also backward from a European capitalist viewpoint, and they provided their colonial subjects with a tiny amount of primary education and no secondary education.
Belgium was in a somewhat special category as far as colonial education was concerned. Although small, Belgium was a relatively developed and industrialized country, and it ruled one of the richest areas of Africa: namely, the Congo. By colonial standards, the people of Congo and Rwanda-Burundi had fair access to primary education, but schooling beyond that was almost impossible to obtain. This was the consequence of a deliberate policy pursued by the Belgian government and the Catholic Church. The African ‘native’ was to be gradually civilized. To give him secondary education was like asking a young child to chew meat when he should be eating porridge. Furthermore, the Belgians were so interested in the welfare of the African masses that they argued that no highly educated African would be able to serve his own people! Consequently, it was only in 1948 that a Belgian commission recommended the establishment of secondary schools for Africans in the colonies. It is not at all surprising that, at the time of regaining political independence, the Congo had only 16 graduates out of a population of more than 13 million.
Educationalists often refer to ‘the educational pyramid’, comprising primary education as the base and going upwards through secondary, teacher-training, higher technical and university facilities-the last named being so small that it could be represented as the point at the top of the pyramid. Throughout Africa, the primary base was narrow and yet the pyramid sloped shallowly because so few of the primary students could continue beyond that level. Only in certain British colonies was the pyramid really completed by significant higher and university education. West Africa had Achimota and Yaba Colleges, apart from Fourah Bay which was at University level. Ibadan and the University of Ghana also carne into existence some years before the end of the colonial regime. In the Sudan, there was Gordon College which evolved into the University of Khartoum, and in East Africa there was Makerere University.
The following data for the year 1958 could he used to illustrate the educational pyramid m Southern Rhodesia, where African education was not well favoured. Total kindergarten enrolment was 227,000. In the primary schools 77,000 entered Standard I, and 10,000 made it to Standard VI. Secondary education began with 3,000 pupils, of whom only 13 made it to Standard XII (Form IV). In that year, there were no African graduates from the recently established University College in Salisbury, but by 1960 there were three.
The final word on the quantity of education provided by Europe to Africa can be said in the form of the statistics at the beginning of the rule of the new African states. Some scholars have worked out a statistical index on education whereby educational facilities are evaluated in numbers from 0 to 100, moving from the poorest to the most advanced. On that index, most African countries are below 10. The developed exploiter countries and the Socialist states are usually above 80. A UNESCO publication on education in black independent Africa said:
Of this population (of around 170 million), a little more than 25 million are of school age and of these nearly 13 million have no opportunity of going to school — and of the ‘privileged’ 12 million less than half complete their primary education. Only three out of every 100 children see the inside of a secondary school while not even two of every thousand have a chance of receiving some sort of higher education in Africa itself. The overall estimated illiteracy rate of 80 to 85% is nearly twice that of the average world figure.
The imperialist whites use the above evidence to snigger at Africans for being ‘illiterate natives’, and they would argue that illiteracy is part of ‘the vicious circle of poverty’. Yet, the same people boast proudly that they have educated Africa. It is difficult to see how they can have it both ways. If independent Africa is still without the benefits of modern education (as it is) then 75 years of colonial exploitation undoubtedly have something to do with that state of affairs; and the absurdity is so much the greater when one contemplates how much Africa produced in that period and how much of that went to develop all aspects of European capitalist society, including their educational institutions. Cecil Rhodes could afford to leave a legacy of lavish scholarships to white students for study at Oxford University, having made a fortune from exploiting Africa and Africans.
Those Africans who had access to education were faced with certain qualitative problems. The quality was poor by prevailing European standards. The books, the methods of teaching and the discipline were all brought to Africa in the 19th century; and, on the whole, colonial schools remained sublimely indifferent to the 20th century. New ideas that were incorporated in the capitalist metropoles never reached the colonies. In particular, the fantastic changes in science did not reach African classrooms, for there were few schools where science subjects were taught. Similarly, the evolution of higher technical education did not have any counterpart in colonial Africa.
There were numerous absurdities in the transplantation of a version of European education into Africa. When the Bemba children mentioned above went to school, they had no programme of instruction relating to the plant life with which they would otherwise have familiarised themselves. Instead, they were taught about flowers — and about European roses at that. Dr. Kofi Busia some years ago made the following admission:
At the end of my first year at secondary school (Mfantsipim, Cape Coast, Ghana), I went home to Wenchi for the Christmas vacation. I had not been home for four years, and on that visit, I became painfully aware of my isolation. I understood our community far less than the boys of my own age who had never been to school. Over the years, as I went through college and university, I felt increasingly that the education I received taught me more and more about Europe and less and less about my own society.
Eventually, Busia knew so little about African society that he proposed that independent Africans should ‘dialogue’ with the fascist racist white minority that maintains apartheid in South Africa.
Some of the contradictions between the content of colonial education and the reality of Africa were really incongruous. On a hot afternoon in some tropical African school, a class of black shining faces would listen to their geography lesson on the seasons of the year — spring, summer, autumn and winter. They would learn about the Alps and the river Rhine but nothing about the Atlas mountains of North Africa or the river Zambezi. If those students were in a British colony, they would dutifully write that ‘we defeated the Spanish armada in 1588’ — at a time when Hawkins was stealing Africans and being knighted by Queen Elizabeth I for so doing. If they were in a French colony, they would learn that ‘the Gauls, our ancestors, had blue eyes’, and they would be convinced that ‘Napoleon was our greatest general’ — the same Napoleon who re-instituted slavery in the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, and was only prevented from doing the same in Haiti because his forces were defeated by an even greater strategist and tactician, the African, Toussaint L'Ouverture.
To some extent Europeans thoughtlessly applied their own curricula without reference to African conditions; but very often they deliberately did so with intent to confuse and mystify. As late as 1949, a Principal Education Officer in Tanganyika carefully outlined that the Africans of that colony should be bombarded in primary school with propaganda about the British royal family. The theme of the (British) king as a father should be stressed throughout the syllabus and mentioned in every lesson’, he said. He further urged that African children should be shown numerous pictures of the English princesses and their ponies at Sandringham and Windsor Castle.
Whatever little was discussed about the African past in colonial schools was about European activities in Africa. That trend is now sufficiently reversed to allow the present generation of African pupils to smile at the thought that Europeans ‘discovered’ Mount Kenya, the river Niger, etc. But in the colonial period, the paradox was that whoever had an opportunity to be educationally misguided could count himself lucky, because that misguidance was a means of personal advance within the structure created by European capitalists in and for Africa.
The French, Portuguese and Belgians made it clear that education at any level was designed ‘to civilise the African native’, and of course only a civilised native could hope to gain worthwhile employment and recognition from the colonialists. According to the French, an African, after receiving French education, stood a chance of becoming an assimilée — one who could be assimilated or incorporated into the superior French culture. The Portuguese used the word assimilado, which means exactly the same; and Portuguese colonial law distinguished sharply between a native and an assimilado. The latter was sometimes called a civilisado ('one who is civilised’) because of being able to read and write Portuguese. That sort of African was rewarded with certain privileges. One great irony was that in Portugal up to 1960, nearly half of the population was illiterate, and, therefore, if they had been put to the same test they would have been judged uncivilised! Meanwhile, the Belgians were parading around with the same system. They called their ‘educated Bantu’ in Congo the évolués (’those who have evolved’ from savagery to civilisation, thanks to the Belgians).
Somehow, the British avoided hard and fast legal distinctions between the educated and uneducated African, but they encouraged cultural imitation all the same. Governor Cameron of Tanganyika in the 1920s was known as a ‘progressive’ governor. But when he was attacked for trying to preserve the African personality in the educational system, he denied the charge and declared that his intention was that the African should cease to think as an African and instead should become ‘a fair-minded Englishman’. Students who came out of Livingstonia or Blantyre Mission in Malawi were widely known to be black Scotsmen, because of the effort of Scottish missionaries. In Sierra Leone, the white cultural influence went back to the 18th century, and Sierra Leone Creoles stood out even from the rest of miseducated black people. The Creoles were not satisfied with an English Christian name or even with one European surname: they had to Choose two European surnames and connect them with a hyphen. Of course, in practical terms, the education with all its warped values meant that the educated handful went as far as colonialism would allow Africans to go in the civil service or in the employ of private capitalist firms.
During the colonial epoch and afterwards, criticism was justly levelled at the colonial educational system for failing to produce more secondary school pupils and more university graduates. And yet, it can be said that among those who had the most education were to be found the most alienated Africans on the continent. Those were the ones who evolved and were assimilated. At each further stage of education, they were battered by and succumbed to the values of the white capitalist system; and, after being given salaries, they could then afford to sustain a style of life imported from outside. Access to knives and forks, three-piece suits and pianos then further transformed their mentality. There is a famous West Indian calypsonian who in satirizing his colonial school days, remarked that had he been a bright student he would have learnt more and turned out to be a fool. Unfortunately, the colonial school system educated far too many fools and clowns, fascinated by the ideas and way of life of the European capitalist class. Some reached a point of total estrangement from African conditions and the African way of life, and like Blaise Diagne of Senegal they chirped happily that they were and would always be ‘European’.
There is no getting away from the conclusion reached by the African educationalist, Abdou Moumini, that ‘Colonial education corrupted the thinking and sensibilities of the African and filled him with abnormal complexes’. It followed that those who were Europeanised were to that extent de-Africanised, as a consequence of the colonial education and the general atmosphere of colonial life. Many examples are cited in present-day Africa of the insulting treatment of aspects of African culture in the colonial period, based on cultural imperialism and white racism. What is seldom commented upon is the fact that many Africans were the victims of fascism at the hands of the Portuguese and Spanish, at the hands of the Italians and the Vichy French regime for a brief period in the late 1930s and the early 1940s, and at the hands of the British and Boers in South Africa throughout this century. The fascist colonial powers were retarded capitalist states, where the government police machinery united with the Catholic church and the capitalists to suppress Portuguese and Spanish workers and peasants and to keep them ignorant. Understandably, the fascist colonialists wanted to do the same to African working people, and in addition they vented their racism on Africans, just as Hitler had done on the Jews.
Like most colonial administrations, that of the Italians in Libya disregarded the culture of the Africans. However, after Mussolini the fascist carne to power, the disregard gave way to active hostility, especially in relation to the Arabic language and the Muslim religion. The Portuguese and Spanish had always shown contempt for African language and religion. Schools of kindergarten and primary level for Africans in Portuguese colonies were nothing but agencies for the spread of the Portuguese language. Most schools were controlled by the Catholic church, as a reflection of the unity of church and state in fascist Portugal. In the little-known Spanish colony of Guinea (Rio Muni), the small amount of education given to Africans was based on eliminating the use of local languages by the pupils and on instilling in their hearts ‘the holy fear of God’. Schools in colonial Africa were usually blessed with the names of saints or bestowed with the names of rulers, explorers and governors from the colonising power. In Spanish Guinea, that practice was followed, resulting in the fact that Rio Muni children had to pass by the José Antonio school — the equivalent of saying the Adolf Hitler school if the region were German, for the school was named in honour of José Antonio, the founder of the Spanish fascist party.
Another aspect of the colonial educational and cultural patterns which needs investigation is the manner in which European racism and contempt was expressed not only by hostility to African culture but by paternalism and by praise of negative and static social features. There were many colonialists who wished to preserve in perpetuity everything that was African, if it appeared quaint or intriguing to them. Such persons merely succeeded in cutting African life off from the potentially beneficial aspects of the international world. An excellent example is the kind of work done in Gabon by Albert Schweitzer, who was in charge of a dirty unhygienic hospital with dogs, cats, goats and chickens running around, under the guise of fitting in to the African culture and environment.
As late as 1959, a friend and colleague of Albert Schweitzer defended his unsterile hospital in the following terms:
Now to the domestic animals at the Hospital. People have been shocked by the informality with which animals and people mix, and although it is perhaps not always defensible on hygienic grounds, the mixture adds considerably to the charm of the place.
The writer was a dental surgeon from New York, who would obviously have had a fit if a goat or chicken had wandered into his New York surgery. He knew full well that at Schweitzer’s hospital ‘the goats, dogs and cats visit hospital wards teeming with microbial life of the most horrifying varieties’, but he defended their habitation with Africans because that was part of the culture and charm that had to be preserved!
In the educational sphere, the Belgians carried out a language policy which might appeal to contemporary nationalists, for they insisted that primary education should be in one of the five main African languages of the territory. However, in practice, they used that apparently progressive decision to seal off one Congolese ethnic group from another and to cut the educated off from a wider world of knowledge, because the missionaries translated into the local languages only that which they thought desirable. The policy of mock respect for African culture reached its highest expression in South Africa in the notorious Bantu Education Act of 1953, which sought to promote the differences between Zulu, Sotho, Xhosa, Venda, etc. — differences which were part of an early stage of development and which would have been transcended if there were no European intervention or if under white rule specific steps were not taken to maintain the anachronistic ‘tribal’ entities.
Not all colonial educators and administrators were consciously taking up the position that the African should be educated the better to be enslaved. On the contrary, most of them thought that they were doing Africans a great favour; and there were a few who were enlightened enough to realise that there was scope for devising a school programme which was less divorced from African reality. In 1928, even the French education minister was shocked to learn that Africans were taught that the Gauls, their ancestors, had blue eyes. From the 1920s, both Britain and France produced colonial educators and education commissions which urged greater relevance of teaching programmes in Africa. They also put forward suggestions such as the use of local languages in primary schools, more education for girls, and .in end to the white-collar orientation of schooling. However, the seemingly progressive nature of those recommendations could not change the fact that colonial education was an instrument to serve the European capitalist class in its exploitation of Africa. Whatever colonial educators thought or did could not change that basic fact.
To recommend that African girls should go to school is more than just an educational policy. It has tremendous social implications, and it pre-supposes that the society will usefully employ the educated woman. Metropolitan capitalist society itself had failed to liberate women, to offer them equal educational opportunities, or to provide them with responsible jobs at equal rates of pay with men. That being the case, it was wishful thinking to imagine that the colonial educational system would take any serious interest in African women, especially since the colonialists would have had to transform the consciousness on that matter which was characteristic of feudal and pre-feudal societies. Nowhere did the cash-crop economy or the export of basic ores make provision for educated women. As in the capitalist metropoles, it was assumed that the civil service was for men. Therefore, the extremely limited employment sector in the colonies had nothing to offer educated women, and modern education remained a luxury with which few African women came into contact.
Another progressive suggestion made by some colonial educationists was for more agricultural and technical schooling. But, genuine technical education was ruled out, because the fundamental purpose of the colonial economy did not permit the development of industry and skills within Africa. Only in rare cases, such as in the Congo, was there an objective necessity for technically trained Africans. In the later stages of colonial rule in Congo, mineral exploitation had developed to such a point that there was practical need for extensive rudimentary technical skills among African workers. A few Katangese and other Congolese also received technical training of a secondary equivalent. Significantly enough, in such cases, the private companies took the initiative, since their profits were at stake, and the technical schools were extensions of their production processes. However, for the most part, whatever skilled jobs needed to be done within the restricted field of mining and industry in Africa were met by the importation of Europeans.
Agriculture was not carried on as a scientific industry, as in Scandinavia or New Zealand, where whites were farming on an intensive capitalist basis. As noted earlier, the production of cash crops in Africa was stimulated by the minimum expenditure on the part of Europeans and with no infusion of new technology. Therefore, when educational advisers suggested agricultural education relevant lo African needs this meant no addition lo African knowledge. In many colonial schools, agriculture became an apology for a subject. It was part of the drudgery of the institution. The teachers received no agricultural education, and, therefore, they could not teach anything scientific. Children acquired nothing but distaste for the heavy labour of shamba work, and in fact it was used as a form of punishment.
Early educational commissions also accorded high priority to religious and moral flavouring of instruction-something that was disappearing in Europe itself. The role of the Christian church in the educational process obviously needs special attention. The Christian missionaries were as much part of the colonising forces as were the explorers, traders and soldiers. There may be room for arguing whether in a given colony the missionaries brought the other colonialist forces or vice versa, but there is no doubting the fact that missionaries were agents of colonialism in the practical sense, whether or not they saw themselves in that light. The imperialist adventurer, Sir Henry Johnston disliked missionaries, but he conceded in praise of them that ‘each mission station is an exercise in colonisation’.
In Europe, the church had long held a monopoly over schooling from feudal times right into the capitalist era. By the late 19th century, that situation was changing in Europe; but, as far as the European colonisers were concerned, the church was free to handle the colonial educational system in Africa. The strengths and weaknesses of that schooling were very much to be attributed to the church.
Both inside and outside church and school, the personnel of the church were instrumental in setting values during the colonial epoch. They taught an ethic of human relations that in itself could appeal to the finer instincts of Africans, just as it had previously stirred other Europeans. Of course, there was a huge gap between European conduct and the Christian principles with which they were associated; and, on the part of the Africans, it was also true that motives for accepting Christianity often had nothing to do with the content of the religion. Indeed, the church as a source of education was probably more attractive to many converts than the church as a dispenser of religion.
Whatever the church taught in any capacity may be considered as a contribution to formal and informal education in colonial Africa, and its teachings must be placed within a social context. The church’s role was primarily to preserve the social relations of colonialism, as an extension of the role it played in preserving the social relations of capitalism in Europe. Therefore, the Christian church stressed humility, docility and acceptance. Ever since the days of slavery in the West Indies, the church had been brought in on condition that it should not excite the African slaves with doctrines of equality before God. In those days, they taught slaves to sing that all things were bright and beautiful, and that the slave master in his castle was to be accepted as God’s work just like the slave living in a miserable hovel and working 20 hours per day under the whip. Similarly, in colonial Africa churches could be relied upon to preach turning the other cheek in the face of exploitation, and they drove home the message that everything would be right in the next world. Only the Dutch Reformed Church of South Africa was openly racist, but all others were racist in so far as their European personnel were no different from other whites who had imbibed racism and cultural imperialism as a consequence of the previous centuries of contact between Europeans and the rest of the world.
In serving colonialism, the church often took up the role of arbiter of what was culturally correct. African ancestral beliefs were equated with the devil (who was black anyway), and it took a very long time before some European churchmen accepted prevailing African beliefs as constituting religion rather than mere witchcraft and magic. However, in its hostility towards African cultural and religious manifestations, the Christian church did perform certain progressive tasks. Practices such as killing twins and trial by ordeal were frowned upon by the European missionaries, and those were reflections of superstitious ideas rooted in an early stage of African development, when something like the birth of twins could not be scientifically explained, and, therefore, gave rise to religious fear.
It is to be noted that in West Africa long before the Colonial Scramble, many outcasts in society and persons who suffered from religious and social prejudices were the first converts of the Christian church. What was supported by one section of the population was opposed by another, and in the present century the cultural imperialism of the church excited great opposition. Prevailing African customs such as polygamy were attacked without reference to their socio-economic function. On the question of monogamy the Christian missionaries were introducing not a religious principle but rather a facet of European capitalist society. For their propaganda to have been successful, European activity had to work a transformation in the extended family patterns of African societies. That was very slow in occurring, and, in the meanwhile, many Africans accepted the religious aspects while rejecting the cultural appendages and the European missionaries themselves.
Much has been written about the trend in colonial Africa known as the Independent Church movement. It was a trend in which thousands of African Christians participated by breaking away from European churches (especially Protestant churches), and setting up their own places of worship under Christian African leadership. The motives were varied. Some Independent churches were highly nationalistic, like that established by John Chilembwe who led an armed nationalist uprising in Nyasaland (Malawi) in 1917. Others developed as a response of those Africans aspiring to be priests or pastors to the discrimination practised against them by white missionaries. One constant factor was disgust with the way that Europeans forced Africans to identify as Europeans. Revolting against that concept, one Zulu Independent church put the question to the local population ‘Are you a Jew or a Zulu? Were you there when they crucified their Lord?’ Nevertheless, many Africans came to accept the dehumanising principle of alienation from self. African identification with Europeans (be they Gentile or Jew) was a pillar of the informal education of the colonial epoch.
In the final analysis, perhaps the most important principle of colonial education was that of capitalist individualism. Like many aspects of the superstructure of beliefs in a society, it had both its negative and positive sides, viewed historically. The European bourgeoisie were progressive when they defended the individual from the excessive control of the father in the family and against the collective regulations of the church and feudal society. However, the capitalist system then went on to champion and protect the rights of the individual property owners against the rights of the mass of exploited workers and peasants. When capitalism had its impact on Africa in the colonial period, the idea of individualism was already in its reactionary phase. It was no longer serving to liberate the majority but rather to enslave the majority for the benefit of a few.
When individualism was applied to land, it meant that the notions of private ownership and the transfer of land through sale became prevalent in some parts of the continent. Much more widespread was the new understanding that individual labour should benefit the person concerned and not some wider collective, such as the clan or ethnic group. Thus, the practice of collective labour and egalitarian social distribution gave way to accumulative tendencies. Superficially, it appeared that individualism brought progress. Some individuals owned large coffee, cocoa or cotton shambas, and others rose to some prominence in the colonial administration through education. As individuals, they had improved their lot, and they became models of achievement within the society. Any model of achievement is an educational model, which directs the thoughts and actions of young and old in the society. The model of personal achievement under colonialism was really a model for the falling apart and the underdevelopment of African society taken as a whole.
It is a common myth within capitalist thought that the individual through drive and hard work can become a capitalist. In the U.S.A., it is usual to refer to an individual like John D. Rockefeller as someone who rose ‘from rags to riches’. To complete the moral of the Rockefeller success story, it would be necessary to fill in the details on all the millions of people who had to be exploited in order for one man to become a multi-millionaire. The acquisition of wealth is not due to hard work alone, or the Africans working as slaves in America and the West Indies would have been the wealthiest group in the world. The individualism of the capitalist must be seen against the hard and unrewarded work of the masses.
The idea of individualism was more destructive in colonial Africa than it was in metropolitan capitalist society. In the latter, it could be said that the rise of the bourgeois class indirectly benefitted the working classes, through promoting technology and raising the standard of living. But, in Africa, colonialism did not bring those benefits-it merely intensified the rate of exploitation of African labour and continued to export the surplus. In Europe, individualism led to entrepreneurship and adventurism of the type which spearheaded Europe’s conquest of the rest of the world. In Africa, both the formal school system and the informal value system of colonialism destroyed social solidarity and promoted the worst form of alienated individualism without social responsibility. That delayed the political process through which the society tried to regain its independence.
Up to this point, it has consistently been held that development is rooted in the material environment, in the techniques of production and in the social relations deriving from people’s work. There are what are known as ‘conspiracy theories of history’ by which the happenings of whole epochs are presented as being the secret scheming of one group or another. Such an approach is not to be recommended in the study of Africa’s relations with Europe. However, with regard to colonial educational policy, one comes closest to finding the elements of conscious planning by a group of Europeans to control the destiny of millions of Africans over a considerable period of time extending into the future. The planning of colonial education for the subjugation of Africa was most fully displayed by the French, because French politicians and administrators had the habit of openly expressing their thoughts on Africa. Therefore, the words of the French colonialists themselves will be cited here to illustrate how the colonial educational system did not leave vital political matters to chance, but was consciously carrying out policies hostile to the regaining of freedom by African peoples.
Ever since the period of the imperialist Scramble for Africa, French leaders realised that it was imperative to start some schools in the parts of Africa claimed by France, so that French language and culture might be accepted by some Africans, who would then identify with France rather than Britain or Portugal or some other European rival. This was particularly true in disputed frontier zones. Eugenne Etienne, a French minister at the start of the colonial era, stated that the extension of the French language was necessary as ‘a measure of national defence’. As early as 1884, there was set up the Alliance Française as an instrument of educational and cultural imperialism, recognised and supported by the French government. The reports of the Alliance Française show clearly that they thought of themselves as an arm of French imperialism, fighting so that France could entrench itself. For example, the Alliance Française wrote of French schools in Upper Guinea in the late 19th century:
‘They have to combat the redoubtable influence of the English schools of Sierra Leone in this region. The struggle between the two languages becomes more intense as one moves to the south, invaded by English natives and by their Methodist pastors.’
As seen earlier in the case of Portugal and Spain, the spread of the language of the European colonising power was considered of major importance. Belgium on the other hand encouraged local languages as a means of division and retardation. Only in Tanganyika under German rule, was there a positive reaction to the potentialities of Swahili as a teaching language, so that there was a further impetus to that language, which had already spread by trade, political relations, and personal contacts.
Apart from language, the pillar of cultural imperialism in most colonies was religion. The church never played as important a role in French colonies as it did in other parts of Africa colonised by predominantly Catholic countries, and the Protestant churches in British colonies also had a much more vital role than the church in French Africa. The explanation is that the French bourgeois revolution of the 18th century was more thoroughly anti-clerical than any other bourgeois revolution, and the Catholic church was completely separated from government in France by 1905, after many years of poor relations. Nevertheless, when the French saw that mission schools were helping England to entrench itself in Africa, the French government asked the aid of their own Catholic church to secure national interests.
From the viewpoint of the colonisers, once the frontiers of a colony were firmly decided, the major problem remained that of securing African compliance in carrying out policies favourable to the metropoles. There was always the possible use of force for that purpose, but naked force was best kept in reserve, rather than be utilised for everyday affairs. Only education could lay the basis for a smooth-functioning colonial administration. In the first place, there was the elementary language problem of Europeans communicating with Africans. Most of the time, Europeans used translators to pass on orders, but it was known that African translators seized the opportunity to promote themselves and to modify or even sabotage orders. There was a saying in French colonial Africa that ‘translation is equal to treason’, and the only way to avoid that was to teach the mass of the people French.
Then there was the practical aspect of educating Africans to be better workers, just as in Europe the workers received education so that they would be more efficient and produce extra surplus for the capitalists. In colonial Africa, the European bourgeoisie realised that some education would maximise the value of labour. Albert Sarrault, a French Colonial Minister, stressed in 1914 what he termed ‘the economic utility of educating the (African) masses’. Several years earlier the French had made a specific statement to the same effect on Madagascar. An ordinance of 1899 indicated that the purpose of schooling was
To make the young Malagasy faithful and obedient subjects of France and to offer an education which would be industrial, agricultural and commercial, so as to ensure that the settlers and various public services of the colony can meet their personnel requirements.
In practice, it was not necessary to educate the masses, because only a minority of the African population entered the colonial economy in such a way that their performance could be enhanced by education. Indeed, the French concentrated — (in selecting a small minority, who would be thoroughly subjected to French cultural imperialism, and who would aid France in administering its vast African colonial possessions. William Ponty, an early Governor-General of French West Africa, spoke in terms of forming ‘an elite of young people destined to aid our own efforts’. In 1919, Henry Simon (then Colonial Minister) outlined a programme for secondary education in Africa with a view to ‘making the best indigenous elements into complete Frenchmen’.
The best expressions of the political implications of French colonial educational policy came in the 1930s; and, by that time, some action was also matching the words. Brevié, the Governor-General of French West Africa in 1930, urged the extension of the higher levels of primary schooling for Africans ‘to help us in our work of colonisation’. Brevié was encouraged by the fact that by then there had appeared ‘a native elite, of whose zeal for a thorough and exclusive French culture signs are already visible’. So with the support of the Inspector-General of education, that governor went on to outline plans for African students to attend secondary school, so as to become colonial cadres. Any socio-political system needs its cadres. That was the role played by the youngest age-grades in Shaka’s armies and it was the role played by the Komsomol or Young Communists in the Soviet Union. Being a cadre involved not just training for a practical job but also political orientation to serve as a leading element in the system. The French and other colonialists understood this very well. This is how Brevié expressed it:
It is in no wise merely a matter of turning out batches of apprentices, clerks and officials according to the fluctuating needs of the moment. The role of these native cadres is much wider.
Only in North Africa, with its heavy white settler population, did the French find it unnecessary to encourage a local elite to run affairs under the direction of the metropolis and the governor; although even in Algeria there emerged a number of subjects called the Beni Oui Oui — literally ‘the Yes, Yes men’, who always assented to carrying out French instructions in opposition to the interests of most of their brothers. Another far-sighted aspect of French political policy in the education sphere is the manner in which they forced the sons of chiefs to acquire education. It was a deliberate attempt to capture the loyalty of those persons who had previously held political power in independent Africa, and it was an attempt at continuity with the pre-colonial phase. As the French themselves put it, by educating the sons of traditional rulers, ‘a bond is thus established between the native cadres formed by us and those that the native community recognises’.
In 1935, a team of British educationalists visited French Africa, and they admitted with a mixture of jealousy and admiration that France had succeeded in creating an elite of Africans in the image of Frenchmen — an elite that was helping to perpetuate French colonial rule. To greater or lesser extent, all colonial powers produced similar cadres to manage and buttress their colonial empires in Africa and elsewhere.
After the second World War, it became obvious that colonial rule could not forever be maintained in the same form in Africa; Asia already having broken loose and Africa being restless. When the awareness that the end was in sight became generalised, the metropolitan powers turned to their colonial cadres and handed to them the reins of policy in politically independent Africa. It should be emphasised that the choice that Africa should be free was not made by the colonial powers but by the people of Africa. Nevertheless, the changeover from colonialism to what is known as neo-colonialism did have the element of conspiracy in it. In 1960, the then British Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, made the oft-quoted statement that ‘a wind of change was blowing across Africa’. That was the bourgeois way of expressing what Chinese Premier, Chou En-Lai was soon to assert: namely, that ‘Africa was ripe for Revolution’. In order to delay or hijack the African revolution, the colonising powers turned to a group which they had already created for a different purpose — the elite of colonially educated Africans, from among whom were selected wherever possible those who were most suitable for elevation to political leadership, and the administration and military apparatus were left in the hands of similar trustworthy cadres.
There were a few far-sighted Europeans who all along saw that the colonial educational system would serve them if and when political independence was regained in Africa. For instance, Pierre Foncin, a founder of the Alliance Française, stated at the beginning of this century that ‘it is necessary to attach the colonies to the metropole by a very solid psychological bond, against the day when their progressive emancipation ends in a form of federation as is probable-that they be and they remain French in language, thought and spirit’. Yet, it was the British who first appreciated that they should bow to the inevitable and grant African independence. While the French introduced a few African representatives into their own Parliament in France so as to try and keep African territories tied to France, the British began to prepare to hand over to certain selected Africans.
In the metropolitan capitalist countries, there were (and still are) elite schools which provided the bulk of the political and other leadership. The English public schools of Eton, Harrow, Rugby and Winchester are well-known as training grounds of the British ruling class, and by many authorities they are considered more important than the Universities to which the students of such secondary schools invariably go. In France at the secondary level, it was and still is usual to find that students emerging from places like the Lycée Louis le Grand and the Ecole Normal Superieure Rue d'Ulm are the future cabinet ministers and top executives of that country. In the U.S.A., in spite of the myth that everyone can reach the top, a high proportion of the ruling class went to exclusive schools like the private boys’ schools of Groton, St. Paul’s, St. Mark’s and Philips Exeter.
Under African conditions, anyone who went to school in the colonial period virtually entered the elite> because the numbers enjoying that privilege even at the primary level were so small. In addition, within each colony there tended to be at least one secondary school or higher institute which played the role of furnishing the politico-administrative personnel of Africa in the era of political independence. The names of cabinet ministers and permanent secretaries of individual African countries can be found on the school rolls of Gordon College (Sudan), Alliance High School (Kenya), King’s College Budo (Uganda), Tahora Secondary School (Tanzania), Livingstonia (Malawi), William Ponty (Senegal), Sierra Leone Grammar School, Mfantsipim (Ghana), the Lycée Gallieni (Madagascar) and a few others. Besides, there was Makerere, Fourah Bay and Achimota, as long standing university or near-university institutions.
In retrospect, it is now very clear that one of the most significant aspects of the colonial educational system was that provided by the armed forces and police. Colonial armies such as the King’s African Rifles, the French Free Army and the Congolese Force Publique produced sergeants who later became the majors and generals of independent Africa, and in several instances the heads of states. Policemen also achieved similar rapid promotion, although their political position has been rather weaker than the military proper. Like their civilian counterparts, the future police and military elite were at one time trained to be simply low-level assistants to the colonial overlords; but once independence was in sight they were judged by the colonisers to have the requisite qualities of colonial cadres — fit to be part of the ruling class of neo-colonial Africa. In a few instances, the colonial powers towards the latter part of the colonial period rushed to train a few Africans at the metropolitan higher institutions of scientific violence, notably Sandhurst Military Academy and Hendon Police School in Britain and St. Cyr military academy in France. Those few who were selected for such training became the cream of the military elite, corresponding to those African civilians who went to university either in Africa or abroad.
Most of what emerged from the colonial educational system was not unique. Educational systems are designed to function as props to a given society, and the educated in the young age groups automatically carry over their values when their turn comes to make decisions in the society. In Africa, the colonialists were training low level administrators, teachers, NCOs, railroad booking clerks, etc., for the preservation of colonial relations; and it is not surprising that such individuals would carry over colonial values into the period after independence was regained. The colonialists meanwhile took action wherever possible to ensure that persons most favourable to their position continued to man African administrations and assumed new political and state police powers. Such a presentation of events would be termed one-sided by many Europeans and Africans, too. In a sense, that is true, and the one-sidedness is deliberate. It is a presentation of what the colonial educational system achieved in terms of what it set itself to achieve. The other side of the matter is not the good with which colonial educators can be credited, but rather the good that emerged in spite of the efforts and intentions of the colonisers and because of the struggles of African people.