The shaping of post-war British decolonisation.



Inasmuch as I agree with the Agbor et al attempt to provide a game-theoretic modelling of causes and forms of the de-colonisation process, I can see that this may seem borne out by some the material we have covered to date.


Usefully Agbor et al offer a note thus: "The Eurocentric school basically argues that: the colonisers themselves sought to withdraw from empires because it was no longer in their economic or political interest to continue colonial rule, while the Afrocentric view argues that the colonisers were forcefully evicted from empires by elite-led nationalist movements."


But against these 'independent variable' explanations it is suggested that the process may not be that simple and that we have to explore an historical complex of forces and trade-offs between african and european players.


Agbor et al seem to argue that whilst the passage from French colonialism to independence was relatively smooth;

that in British territories was not... and furthermore

any supportive relationship between the former British colonial powers and the colonised was, post-independence,



But Agbor et al explain this by processes of internal formation of nationalist consciousness or otherwise...and that to me, seems wrong. Furthermore, it seems to me that Agbor et al have not explained how mass support for independence is either held at bay or stimulated. We need that connection between leaders and the masses - of social mobilisation.




Perhaps the story goes more like this:


And we have to see the whole process as a .....dialectic! That is to say a process of interaction and disjunction between what the Africans (elites and masses) were up to and what the colonial representatives and their home government were up to...



The colonising process late 19thC endorsed by Berlin Conference among the European powers. And then after imposition of some admin structure relatively civilised (Britain) or rather uncivilised (Belgium/Portugal) or exploitatively civilised (France)


we see after the WWI the very slow moves towards anti-colonial activism and further on, independence movements.




According to Mazrui:


The struggle for political sovereignty in colonial Africa had four phases which sometimes empirically overlapped, but were nevertheless analytically distinct. There was:


a)  the phase of pre-Second World War  élite agitation for greater autonomy.


b) There was then the phase of popular involvement in the struggle against Nazism and fascism.


c) thirdly, non-violent popular struggle for full independence after the Second World War.


d) Finally, there was armed engagement for the political kingdom - the guerrilla wars against white minority governments especially from the 1960s onwards.


(Ali Mazrui, p.106, General History of Africa, vol. VIII)




Before 2nd WW:

Between the two world wars a variety of ethnic and kinship unions developed in different colonies - partly inspired by a sense of solidarity among migrant workers in cities, and partly because of the wider sense of African alienation in conditions of colonial exploitation. The range of kinship organizations which emerged was from the Kikuyu Central Association in East Africa to the Urhobo Renascent Convention in West Africa.


In May 1935 there were African strikes and riots on the copper belt in Northern Rhodesia. And in Nigeria a variety of special-interest groups began to organize themselves. In Lagos alone this enthusiasm for organization resulted in the following explosion of associations:


Lagos Fishermen's Association 1937

Alakoro Union Women's Trading C o . 1939

Farina W o m e n Sellers' Union 1940

Lagos Wholesale Butchers' Union 1938

Taxi Drivers' Association 1938

Lagos Canoe Transport Union 1938

Lagos Night Soil Removers' Union 1942

Lagos Union of Auctioneers 1932

Palm Wine Sellers' Association 1942


Other cultural and élite organizations among Africans and people of African ancestry were formed abroad. Pan-Africanism was also entering a new phase. Leopold Sedar Senghor and Aimé Césaire founded L'étudiant noir in France. And Nkrumah, Kenyatta and W . E . B . DuBois were active pan-Africanists in Britain and the United States. But although many of these early movements were basically élite organizations, and many of the interest-group associations were primarily urban, the beginnings of mass politics were at hand in the inter-war years.





In war-time: consciousness of International struggles:

widespread ambivalence in Africa about the Second World War. But on the whole the philosophy which prevailed favoured the 'devils' which Africans already knew (especially Britain and Free France) rather than the new devils of Nazism and fascism. And those Africans who had experienced pre-Nazi German rule (like Tanganyikans and Togolese) knew that the Germans were among the most brutal of imperial powers in Africa's experience.


Africa's involvement was not a process of collaboration with imperialism but was a commitment against a worse form of hegemony. T o that extent, Africa's involvement in the war was, paradoxically, part and parcel of Africa's struggle against foreign exploitation and in search of human dignity.



And Bonny Ibhawoh (2007) has an interesting take on the paradoxical effect of supporting Britain in war-time:




"War propaganda strengthened the African sense of belonging to the British Empire and fostered some form of imperial idealism at a time of growing local opposition to colonial rule. Fighting along side British forces, Africans sought to prove themselves loyal citizens of Empire. On the other hand, however, the war provided new opportunities for emergent West African elites to articulate their nationalist demands on a world stage drawing on the same discourses about freedom and self-determination that underlined imperial war propaganda. This unleashed a new sense of global citizenship. British war propaganda reinforced the notions that West African were citizens of Empire but it also strengthened an anti-colonial nationalist movement that envisioned Africans not merely as subjects of Empire but also as autonomous citizens of the world."




....experiences in mass mobilization and information dissemination strengthened the ability of the nationalist groups to mobilize mass action. Political parties such as Kwame Nkrumah’s Convention People’s Party in the Gold Coast and Obafemi Awolowo’s Action Group Party in Nigeria owed much of their success in rallying public support to the use of sophisticated mobilization techniques drawn from colonial war propaganda machinery.



This point connects to my earlier point that Agbor et al fail to offer explanations of mobilisation - which cannot come from internal mechanisms of an alienated elites (copper's nark thesis) (from the masses) or indeed from traditional Chiefs compromising with the colonial power to maintain their status (British territories) but rather that we need to link up the emergence of a new nationalist non-traditional elite unquelled by some suitable negotiating position with the colonial regime.




Perhaps the new elite needed


nationalist ideology/theory


and outside inspirations


based in sometimes surprising radicalising non-african sources


rooted in political experience and connections/movements outside - in the wider world


that they can bring back to their people and agitate and disseminate (propaganda)







International Principles localised?


The Atlantic Charter, a common declaration of purpose concerning the Second World War issued by  Roosevelt and Churchill in 1941 declared that both leaders respected the right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they will live and that they wished to ‘see sovereign rights and self-government restored to those who have been forcibly deprived of them.’ (Clause 3 of AC)  


The Atlantic Charter reinforced a dominant theme in colonial war propaganda – that the war was not simply a fight for Britain and her allies but a struggle for the rights and freedoms of all peoples. Colonial propagandists repeatedly made reference to the Charter as evidence of the justification and altruism of British war aims. The Charter also became the focus of debates about the right to self-determination.


In West Africa, as elsewhere in the continent, public discussion over the Charter centred on its famous third clause which affirmed ‘the right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they will live.’ This statement excited the hopes of West African nationalists who saw it as an unequivocal affirmation of their right to self-determination.


The Atlantic Charter was idle talk among Western powers that held no promise of self determination for Africans and other colonized people. However, the prominent Nigerian nationalist and editor of the West African Pilot, Nnamdi Azikiwe, urged Africans to prepare their own charters of rights and freedoms rather than rely on those who were too busy preparing their own. Like other West African nationalists, Azikiwe, who later became the President of Nigeria, effectively used the Atlantic Charter to advance their demands for independence. (Zik, 1945)



And Goldberg argues that faced with pressure to extend the principles of the Atlantic Charter to the colonies, the British Foreign Office urged the Colonial Office to consider producing a Colonial Charter, along the lines of the Atlantic Charter, outlining British post war intentions for the colonies. All these forced local colonial administrators to make important political concessions to West African nationalists and undertake major political reforms. In Nigeria and the Gold Coast, the governments conceded to the longstanding demands for African representation in on the Executive Councils...


thus more readiness on the part of colonial administrations to engage with educated Africans who had long been shut out of the British system of

indirect rule in preference for local Chiefs.







After war: raising of anti-colonial consciousness as an International political factor:

The birth of the United Nations in 1945 also contributed to the process of decolonization worldwide. As the world body became more truly representative of the human race, colonialism became less and less legitimate. Almost every new member of the United Nations following India's independence was a voice against the old systems of empire.





Post-war forms of culture based resistance


Mau Mau - Kenya; mid-50s: indigenous warrior tradition. This is a cultural meaning of 'primary' rather than a chronological one. The Mau

Mau freedom-fighters challenged the British as late as the 1950s - but on the basis of Kikuyu values of warrior-hood and related religious beliefs, with all the symbolism of indigenous combat cultures The movement was 'primary' in this cultural sense.


Missionary schools helped to promote not just Christian spiritual ideas but also Western secular ideologies.


African radical nationalists who emerged from Christian missionary schools included such towering figures as Julius Nyerere, Tom Mboya, Eduardo Mondlane, Robert Mugabe, Leopold Sedar Senghor as well as Nkrumah.


Nkrumah said of himself: 'I am a Marxist-Leninist and a non-denominational Christian - and I see no contradiction in that'.



Pacifist strategies of resistance such as those of Gandhi had appealed to future leaders such as Nkrumah and Kenneth Kaunda (Zambia)


Interesting point is that, at least in the 50s: African opposition to armed struggle was also evident at the All-Africa Peoples' Conference held in independent Ghana in 1958. The Algerians - who were at the time locked in an armed struggle against France - found it difficult to get pan-African endorsement of their struggle at the Accra conference. A combination of Gandhism and Francophilia among some of the participants was responsible for this rebuff of Algerian freedom fighters.


     But the Sharpeville Massacre in 1960 put paid to all that pacifist approach.






Intellectual Elite basis of African nationalism and a vision of post-Independence politics - re: British colonialism.


Occasional initially inspired and noticed for their seeming ability by missionaries, and travel and are educated in European or US universities and through making contacts, acquire anti-Imperialist ideas of de-colonisation 1930s/40s (not considered by Agbor et al)


Of activists under British rule, Agbor all too vaguely notes: "Western education was indirectly responsible for creating a group to whom access into the highest levels of the bureaucracy was denied and who constituted the core of the early nationalist movement on the Gold Coast. It was this minority of professional lawyers and intelligentsia who supplied the leadership of nationalist activities throughout most of the colonial period".



..and have links to political forces on the (radical even marxist/communist) Left in Britain and elsewhere.  These form the intellectual cardre who foster ideas of independence


Take Nkrumah (future President of God Coast/Ghana)


Initially taught by missionaries, Nkrumah showed promise and trained as a teacher and came under the influence of the Deputy Head of a school where he was doing his teaching practice. Columbia-educated deputy headmaster Kwegyir Aggrey exposed him to the ideas of Marcus Garvey and W. E. B. Du Bois. Aggrey, taught that there should be close co-operation between the races in governing the Gold Coast, but Nkrumah, echoing Garvey, soon came to believe that only when the black race governed itself could there be harmony between the races. Equally he heard Azikiwe  (future President of Nigeria) speak and this reinforced Nkrumah's emerging idea of Black nationalism


He then went to the USA and then later to UCL and LSE by which time he has also had come under the influence of CLR James the (West Indian Trotskyite) and nationalist activist and communist, George Padmore.


"After twelve years abroad pursuing higher education, developing his political philosophy, and organizing with other diasporic pan-Africanists, Nkrumah returned to Gold Coast to begin his political career as an advocate of national independence."


God had ordained that certain among the African race should journey westwards to equip themselves with knowledge and experience for the day when they would be called upon to return to their motherland and to use the learning they had acquired to help improve the lot of their brethren. ...I had not realized at the time that I would contribute so much towards the fulfillment of this prophecy.

Kwame Nkrumah, The Autobiography of Kwame Nkrumah


So...I am sympathetic to Agbor thesis about importance of education as a feature of independence movements BUT it does not seem that it can be sustained in its connection with the road to independence if we merely view it as a home-gown phenomenon


Equally we might consider the role of inter-war organisations such as WASU - West African Students Union


In a rather fawning way, Dotse (2009) says of it and of Nkrumah's role in it:


By the 1920s, many West African students in London crated associations which evolved into academies furthering African independence. These included the Nigerian Progress Union (NPU) led by Ladipo Solanke, a Nigerian law student, the Union of Students of African Descent (USAD), a Christian social organisation dominated by students from the West Indies, the National Congress of British West Africa (NCBWA), the African Progress Union and the Gold Coast Students Association. On 7 August 1925, Herbert Bankole Bright, a Sierra Leonean doctor of the NCBWA to create West African Students Union (WASU) WASU earned a reputation for Pan-Africanism and worked for colonial independence. This attracted many independence activists such as Kwame Nkrumah.

Before his arrival in London in 1945, Nkrumah studied in the United States where he formed the African Students Organization, which relentlessly promoted Pan-Africanism,. On arrival he quickly joined the WASU, meeting with prominent Labour politicians like Prime Minister Clement Attlee. He formed a subgroup within WASU known as ‘the Circle’, which was a revolutionary cell agitating for political independence.

While remaining closely connected with WASU, Nkrumah established connections with other organisations such as the Pan-African Federation and the World Federation of Trade Unions. He also became involved in the organisation of the 1945 fifth Pan-African Congress in Manchester. This brought him closer to many great leaders including W.E.B. Du Bois, and future president of Kenya, Jomo Kenyatta and In 1946 Nkrumah left his academic studies to become secretary-general of the West African National Secretariat, which had been formed at the fifth Pan-African Congress to coordinate efforts for West African independence. That same year, Nkrumah became vice-president of the WASU that had  prepared him for his political career.



Labour Party as Internationalists: support for African independence

In World War 2 the Labour Party  pressed its anti-imperialist image, especially in relation to Africa. On 15 August 1941 at the West African Students’ Union (WASU) Hostel, the Party Leader, Clement Attlee, disclosed his Party’s consciousness “of the wrongs done by the white areas to the races with darker skins”, adding, “I look forward to an ever-increasing measure of self-government in AfricaIn essence, Labour deliberately cultivated the friendship of the colonial peoples. In London, for exanple, there was the West African Parliamentary Committee, a link between WASU ‘and Labour parliamentarians.


Since the 1920s African nationalists movements in London looked to the Labour Party rather than the Conservatives for support in the belief that Labour was the party of the under-dog and of Internationalism. In March 1944, Creech Jones (Colonial Secretary in Atlee Govt of1945) was in Lagos as vice-chairman

of the Elliot Commission on Higher Education in West Africa and he was given a rousing mass reception, in acknowledgement of his anti-colonial stance. In the July 1945 general election, WASU worked for a Labour victory because the Party was considered “the most understanding aid the most sympathetic towards the colonial problems





In an interesting paper, Nwaubani argues a radically different case suggesting that despite surface appearances the Labour Party has as a matter of policy a dismissive and paternalistic view of 'the native african'.


"....the Party not only saw the colonial administrator as a foster parent, but also had a very a rudimentary curriculum for “educating and preparing” Africans to take care of themselves. This concept continued to inform the Party’s definition of Africa’s political evolution. Herbert Morrison, Deputy Leader and Home Secretary, had Africa in focus when - in January 1943 - in his sharp rebuttal of American anti-colonial posturing (Atlantic Charter), he stated, “It would be ignorant, dangerous nonsense to talk about grants of full self-government to many dependent territories for some time to come. In those instances it would be like giving a child of ten a latch-key, a bank account, and a shotgun."


(See the first 3 paras in the section of the paper: The Labour Government and Political Change in Africa, 1945-1951 - very useful on the basic politics of devolved legislative powers 'gifted' to the African by the British colonial power (esp. on the Gold Coast)


BUT... constitutions were given to the Gold Coast in 1950 and Nigeria in 1951. The 1950 Constitution which “conferred upon the Gold Coast a greater measure of responsibility for her own internal affairs ...” The Executive Council, now the major instrument of policy, included eight Africans -  with six holding portfolios - aid the Governor lost his place in the legislature. The representative element became preponderant in the House of Assembly, which had three officials, six nominees of the Governor, and seventy elected Africans (of whom only one third were chiefs).


The train carrying the chiefs and their retinue  as well-subsidised bearers and inheritors of colonial authority h d to be shunted for the fast express of nationalism. This also meant jettisoning the pretence of building up Africa’s political future within the framework of the traditional institutions, and the gradualistic approach of acquainting the African with political responsibility through a carefully-regulated entry via local government to the legislative council.


The jettisoning of the traditional form of African power in relation to the colonial power namely the Chiefs was in effect to give an enhanced sense of power to the new nationalist elites


but their representations on legislative councils that were being introduced post-war did not always stabilise into a majority. Where European settlers were a significant economic power therewith the latter prevailed:


"In December 1945, an official paper was issued on closer union for East Africa. Its major political feature was a central Legislative Council for Kenya, Tanganyika, and Uganda, with racial parity: six Africans, six settlers, and six Asians. The Kenyan settlers promptly rejected the plan because a central legislature with racial parity would have diminished their dominant political position. Convinced that the settlers were the pivot of m y economic development Cohen was swayed by their opposition. Creech Jones stood his ground. But in August 1946, Creech Jones and Cohen visited East Africa to placate the settlers, and this was reflected in a fresh policy paper: “the Central Assembly was emasculated <and power decisively returned to the territorial governments” - in Kenya, unofficial representation in the Legislative Council was now two Europeans, one African, one Asian." (Nwaubani  p.207)



Rather depressingly, as late as 1948 under the Labour Government, the African colonies were turned into outright chattels, “dollar earners”, as their production levels of cash crops were systematically expanded to overcome the economic crisis that overwhelmed Britain. In 1948, Norman Brook, Cabinet Secretary had to remind Attlee:


At recent meetings there has been general support for the view that the development of Africa’s resources should be pushed forward rapidly in order to support the political and economic position of the United Kingdom ... [This policy] could, I suppose, be said to fall within the ordinary definition of ’Imperialism’. And,  it might be presented as a policy of exploiting native [sic] peoples in order to support the standards of living of the workers in this country.



Nwaubani concludes that: "It is an exaggeration to suggest or even imagine that Labour’s refrain on “institution-building” implied an intention to unscramble the African Empire by creating “modernised” societies ripe for sovereign status. On the contrary, the rhetoric was a hard-headed realism that masked British self-interest through colonial control."







We need to explain the emergence of, as well as the oppotunities for a  'nationalist consciousness' - its leaders - intellectual/activists - motivations and sources and migration (back) into the politics and populations under colonial rule.







The French way to de-Colonisation - the Agbor explanation:


The French colonising powers created a compliant educated black elite, alienated from their fellow citizens to help run the colony


Unlike French colonial education, the preservation of the indigenous patterns of thinking and traditions were a key priority of British colonial education ideology


Moumouni (1968) described French colonial education as: "cut rate, designed to secure subordinate officials by impoverishing their spiritual life and detaching them completely from their own people, and that it produced an anti-national, bureaucratic neo-bourgeoisie". 


This created an elite that was least inclined to entering into violent confrontation with France. Put alternatively, French assimilatory educational practice produced a bunch of elites who were naturally inclined to favouring a continuation of the imperial relationship with France, instead of advocating for "real" independence as their anglophone peers did... and that francophone elites were more likely to face serious collective action problems in rallying the support of the general population in rebellion against the French.



Senghor in Senegal states: "What I fear is that, in the future, under the fatal pressure of African liberation, we might be induced to leave the French orbit. We must stay not only in the French Union but in the French Republic"



and then the British way to de-colonisation (according to Agbor)

Unlike French colonial education, the preservation of the indigenous patterns of thinking and traditions were a key priority of British colonial education ideology... it is arguable that the most important un-intended consequence of the British education policy of "strengthening the solid elements of the countryside", was the formation of an anglophone elite that was independent in thought and less dependent on the colonial bureaucracy for its livelihood. Based on the foregoing, two important inferences can be made about British colonial education practice in black Africa. Firstly, the elite that was created was more inclined to entering into violent confrontation with the British colonial authorities since they never really depended on the latter for their livelihood.


And British colonial education contributed in reinforcing the traditional and cultural ties of the elites with their countrymen, implying that anglophone elites were less likely to face serious collective action problems in rallying the support of the general population in rebellion against the British.