"If independence were to be hell, it would be little consolation to tell the victims that the fire had been lit by their fellow-countrymen." |
Sir Arthur Richards, Governor of Jamaica circa 1940
"We sailed wherever ships might sail;
So we come to the last snapshot of this briefest of episodes in the ancient story of Africa.
Looking at that great continent today (1997) where wars and corruption have created upheaval and tragedy on a massive scale -something which would have been unimaginable during the colonial period - we need to ask ourselves three questions. Was the timing right? Why was it that independence happened so unexpectedly and so swiftly? Did the people want independence?
When African soldiers returned home from the Second World War they had a new confidence in themselves and a new belief that if they could be successful soldiers in the jungles of Burma or the deserts of Africa then surely they could administer themselves. There is much to commend this view. We the British asked a great deal of the people of Africa and many of them delivered a hundredfold in courage, blood, coin and loyalty. Without doubt in the forties the time was approaching when self-determination for the colonies and protectorates should have been, and indeed was, a matter for discussion, debate and planning.
When Sir Arthur Richards went to Nigeria as Governor in December 1943 his remit was to plan a constitution for the country "which would be" wrote his biographer, Richard Peel, "best suited to Nigerian needs." It was a herculean task. "Nigeria was larger than France, Belgium, Holland and Italy together with a population well in excess of 30 million which consisted of ten main tribal groups and a myriad of smaller clans" many of which spoke their own language. The governor could only achieve a workable constitution with the constructive help of the people, and at his swearing in ceremony he called on them to join with him in the post-war planning "for the road from tutelage to responsibility must be paved with self-help." And Richard Peel comments that whatever road was chosen tolerance and mutual respect for one's neighbour and a knowledge of his character and his culture were essential. Sir Arthur coined the phrase "'Unity In diversity'." [Peel]
Planning began, therefore, in the post-war period but perhaps this was not translated swiftly enough on the ground. A few African administration officers were appointed but it was a drop in the bucket and there appears to have been no concerted drive to put Africans into positions of responsibility under the guidance of British staff. Recalling the rhythm of life then, I can understand the reasons for this; the everyday administration had to go on, the local current problems resolved, the reports written and the books balanced - and, besides, what was the rush?
At that time, the period of British administration in Africa had only been, in broad brush terms, about fifty years. During the period the continent had been transformed from, in the main, a wilderness of scattered tribes; a vast, beautiful but often inhospitable land which had no roads, no hospitals, no schools, no world trade except in slaves and ivory, and no government in the modern sense: if you like, it had consisted of a myriad of tiny, weak disparately run nations. During the fifty years of her administration in the continent, Britain had found herself caught up in the maelstrom of two world wars in between which she - and practically every country in the world - had suffered the effects of the greatest economic slump that the world has so far seen. There was an enormous amount to sort out both at home and abroad. British politicians, people and civil servants can be forgiven for feeling that time was not of the essence to prepare for the hand-over of power to the African peoples she administered.
I believe that Africa needed more time too. Most Africans are resistant to change. But they were learning to weld themselves into greater national groups; to be countries - imperfect as many of the borders were - rather than tribes with ever shifting boundaries. They were accustoming themselves to modern communications, to new working habits and skills and to the opportunities which education brought them. I make no apology for saying that had the mass of the people of Africa been given ten more years to equip themselves for the responsibilities of running their own affairs, and if the British administration in Africa had prepared better by driving forward a planned handover, much of what has happened since might have been avoided.
For whatever else might have been on the minds of the great and good - and usually distant - politicians of all races, the well-being of the "man on the Onitsha omnibus" was not, at that time, the primary concern. For that lack of thought Sir Arthur Richards, by then Lord Milverton, roundly criticised, too late, the governments which had pressed ahead to make the colonies and protectorates independent:
"Is it not a fact that the real point of developing Africa is the welfare of the African, and what do you mean by that? Welfare according to whose idea, the Africans' or ours? Does it not mean the break-up of the existing social and economic system, does it not presuppose the integration of the African into Western economy, a thing which means the complete change of the whole range of his life? That is not the outlook of the average African today, and I do suggest that the speed at which development, in the currency of democratic words today, is being forced upon the Africans is highly dangerous...in fact that system cannot be worked until the people appreciate what personal liberty, personal initiative and personal responsibility mean".
Those were prophetic words and history has shown that the welfare of the African was not well served by the unseemly acceleration to independence.
We now come to the question, why Britain divested herself of her colonies so swiftly and - for us who were there - so unexpectedly?
At the end of the war the United States and the Soviet Union, for their different reasons, wanted to see the end the British Empire. However, "The first step" wrote Robin Neillands in his book "A Fighting Retreat," "came even before the United States entered the war. In August 1941, Winston Churchill and the American President, Franklin D. Roosevelt, met and drew up a declaration of their shared political views, a declaration which came to be called the Atlantic Charter...Clauses in the Charter covered freedom 'for all the countries of the world' and the Americans soon made it clear that these clauses applied as much to the colonies of their allies, the Colonial Powers, as they did to the Nazi-dominated states of Europe."
This was undoubtedly carried forward at the end of the war and I once heard on the radio an interpreter of Stalin's tell the story of how, privately, during the Yalta talks, Roosevelt and Stalin came to an understanding to this end.
Certainly the feeling amongst Europeans in Kenya, where I was growing up, was that the good name of the "colonial", be he or she settler or administrator, was being sullied with false charges of racism and dictatorial rule. These charges began an unstoppable tide of world opinion which was coupled with the "advancing demands and ambitions of loud-voiced and self-appointed African leaders, whose methods of violence and intimidation silenced the dissentient voices of their own people and misled the ignorant majority" (Sir Arthur Richards).
One of those methods of violence was, of course, the Mau Mau in Kenya. Although it had its origins in resentment over land, the lack of it, farming methods on it and the clash of cultures between tribal land customs and the Western title deed (or tiddly-dee as it was known) system, the Mau Mau was later perceived as part of the "struggle" for freedom. The world clamour against colonialism, led by the two super-powers, was not helped by the Mau Mau. Detention camps full of resentful terrorists, and the deaths at Hola Camp left a stain and made people wonder if Britain (and Portugual, France and Belgium) was right to "rule" another race in its own country. Britain, shot to pieces as she was both economically and emotionally, lost interest in administering disparate and far flung places and could not raise the will to resist her critics.
There were many in the Colonial Service throughout the British dependencies who believed, like Lord Milverton did, that MacMillan's 'wind of change' was more of an expedient to shed Britain's responsibilities rather than a pressing demand from the indigenous peoples of the continent.
The third question I posed at the beginning of this chapter was whether or not the African people wanted independence? I believe the bewitching potion of "uhuru" was hard to resist for many but I question whether there was ever a "struggle" for independence on the part of ninety percent of the people of what was then British Africa. Most of them were more concerned with their everyday lives than the wide constitutional issues although some of them were misled into believing that cars, houses and servants would be theirs for the taking once the white man left. I often wondered, when I passed laughing groups of Africans in the rural areas raising their index fingers and shouting "Uhuru!", what seductive pictures the word was conjuring up.
David Nicoll Griffith served in Fort Hall in Kenya between 1959 and 1961. He paints a picture of confusion which probably sums up the mood of the Kikuyu, at least.
"When we arrived at Fort Hall, once at the centre of the Mau Mau uprising, military operations against the gangs had finished and the Emergency was effectively over. There was, however, still a close administration in the locations and the people were still in the villages which had been set up at the start of the Emergency. There were here and there other reminders of what had gone on in this place but a few years previously: I shall always retain the memory of a wooden cross by the roadside not far from Fort Hall; with Mount Kenya in the distance as a backdrop the inscription commemorated a District Officer killed by terrorists at Gakurwe. Even at the height of the troubles the number of terrorists had not been large and not all Kikuyu had supported them. Indeed, we all admired the courage and strength of character of the Kikuyu who remained loyal to the Government; many were killed for their refusal to aid the gangs, their families massacred and their homes burned. Not that they may not have wanted to move towards Independence, but they saw that the bestiality and violence of Mau Mau were not the way to achieve anything. The Anglican Church at Fort Hall was the cathedral church of the Fort Hall diocese and its bishop was himself a Kikuyu, the Rt. Rev. Obadiah Kariuki. The church, dedicated to St. James and All Martyrs, had been built as a memorial to the loyal Kikuyu who had fallen, many of their relatives and those who survived having contributed towards the cost. There is in it a set of superb murals, painted with an African motif by an African artist and depicting events in the life of Christ.
The ending of the Mau Mau Emergency heralded the beginning of a more acceptable expression of political aims, namely the formation of African political parties properly constituted. As far as Fort Hall was concerned this meant the Kenya African National Union (KANU); at the outset it was exclusively Kikuyu in membership, and there followed many months of campaigning by Kikuyu politicans. The theme was, of course, independence for the country with KANU forming the Government, and this message was promoted by all kinds of cajoling and propaganda at large public gatherings. Kikuyu would come from all parts of the District to attend these, and the Police were fully extended in covering them.
One day I was returning to Fort Hall in our car with my wife and two-year old son. As we rounded a bend we found the road blocked by a huge crowd of Kikuyu who were making their way to a political gathering. They were already in an excited state, evidenced by their dance-like movements and ululations from the women. We edged our way through at a very slow pace, the entire car surrounded by the crowd; I knew full well that if a wheel went over somebody's foot we would have been in serious trouble. We emerged without mishap, but the experience was unsettling.
We would get reports of what was said at these meetings, and it was distressing whenever we learned of instances of those simple people being duped by false promises. "You see those nice houses over there? If you vote for us you will all get to live in houses like that after Independence" was one such example. There were also cases of tribesmen from the Reserves being accosted on the streets of Nairobi and asked to select a car they would like from those parked nearby. The number of the car was then written on a piece of paper and handed to its new "owner" in exchange for 10/=, with the promise that when Independence came he could claim it. Anything we might have said on the matter would of course have fallen on deaf ears, since we were labelled as the cause of all life's woes, and our position had not been improved by "fact-finding" visits from British socialist politicians. These rarely lasted more than a week or so and one cannot even begin to form a judgement of a country and its people in a couple of weeks, for in such a time it is only the most vociferous of agitators who are likely to leave their impression; I personally did not get the "feel" of Kenya until I had been there several years. Yet on the basis of such visits articles appeared in the British press with such titles as "Kenya under the Iron Heel" and a photograph of Nazi jackboots alongside. All of us in the Service had in fact spent our entire working lives, and a great deal of energy, in trying to help the indigenous people to a better and more rewarding life; to educate them, indeed, to the point where they could safely manage their own affairs in the face of the complicated world outside. It was therefore particularly depressing to realise that the "facts" as "found" were not designed to present a balanced view at all, but only to gain political capital."
On a lighter note, Elspeth Huxley, with her vibrant descriptive powers, describes in her book "Four Guineas", how in The Gold Coast she spoke to "a mammy who wore a large straw hat on the back of her head and put her arms akimbo on wide hips wrapped in a cloth patterned in orange, claret and sea-green. Her close-waisted bodice had flounces over the shoulders and buttoned tight over generous dusky breasts. Her laugh was deep and masculine, shaking her whole body; there was about her a generosity like that of good burgundy, yet a hardness too; beside such an amazon I could but feel synthetic, bloodless and deeply conscious of an empty quiver - like a discarded icecream cone beside a cornucopia.
She spoke very little English, and roared with laughter at everything I said. We soon got on to politics; they permeate the air.
'CPP' she said, striking her bosom with joy. 'All the market - all CPP! All SG! All Free Dom'
These are magic passwords, SG for self-government and now Free Dom. Once again she roared with laughter and slapped her thigh. 'SG makes us all rich!' SG swam before us like a vision of a mighty god or emperor in cloth of gold and purple, pledged to endow us all with joy, wealth and Free Dom - surely some ambrosial, cockle-warming mead - with Kwame Nkrumah as his chancellor."
Alluring as it might be to believe it now, there never was a struggle, no epic fight for freedom such as that, for example, of Moses leading the Hebrews out of Egypt. But, more, there was a ripple to pressage the changing tide which increased in vigour and intent and which, willy nilly, caught up many people as it began to rush along. The British allowed it to flow and indeed helped to direct and harness it but they never opposed it. In order to justify the word 'struggle' there must be opposition.
In many places the atmosphere of friendship scarcely altered as people became aware of what was ahead. Sir Arthur Richards was greatly impressed by the "unswerving loyalty to the Government shown by all Native Authorities" in the northern Emirates and in the Sudan in 1953 Brian Carlisle wrote to his fiance: "The Sudanese are a wonderfully friendly and well mannered nation and although there is a very small minority that want us to go in a hurry even they are charming to meet and have no personal animosities at all against any of the British. The political situation has deteriorated and it is more obvious than ever that we have not got much longer in this country but there is really no danger of any unrest or violence...it is very natural that a young nation should want to run its own affairs."
Of course there were dreams, aspirations and ambitions. Nnamdi Azikwe, Editor of the West African Pilot voiced those dreams with thrilling eloquence; "The Ibo giant is waking from his stupor...A mighty nation shall rise again in the West of Sudan [and] the Ibo shall emerge ... to rewrite the history written by their ancestors...The God of Africa has willed it" [Sharwood]
Others felt a sense of foreboding. One farm hand, Machemi, who had joined the Mau Mau (see "Looking Each Other In The Eyes) spent an hour begging me to persuade my parents not to leave Kenya. After his experiences in the Mau Mau he was not optimistic about a life without the DC as arbitrator and, besides who, when my parents went, would mend that tractor or know how to treat that sick calf?
There was also disquiet amongst the weaker groups and tribes about who would dominate and how would the less strong and less politically astute fare without the white man to hold the ring? In 1953 Eric Downton wrote in "The Daily Telegraph" from "South Sudan: "None of the political parties now so active in Khartoum, can claim to represent the South. This applies also to the recently formed Socialist Republican Party which, despite a very limited connection, claimed to be the 'party of the South'...In the past few days I have met many Southerners. Among them were representatives of the Dinka tribe, the South's largest with a million members. They come from Nuer, Bari and Latuka tribes. I talked also with educated officials and merchants who are concerned with their lack of political organisation...Among southerners there is a renewal of the old distrust of the North. Memories of brutal Northern Moslem slave traders are still much alive."
In the Gold Coast the deeply conservative Moslems feared the power of the southerners and in the television series "End of Empire", made many years after independence, an elderly northerner in Ghana said that in the north they had wanted independence to come some years later than it did. This was because the north had not been prepared for self-rule and the consequence was that the southerners had been able to take advantage.
In Nigeria Malam Aliyu Bidu, an influential Northerner was concerned that if independence came too quickly the North there would also be at the mercy of the more progressive South. "What can be done now? The North is poor, the south is wealthy. The south has its own home-born lawyers, doctors and engineers. The North has produced, as yet, no lawyers, doctors and engineers, and only one doctor. There are twenty schools in the South for every one in the North. The South has its own newspapers and even the railway and the post and telegraph offices are staffed by Southerners. More important still, the Southerners have learned to organise themselves in unions and political parties." [Sharwood Smith]
Nevertheless the tide race was running and more and more people were being swept into it. The Nigerian Youth Movement tried to stir the country into an heroic struggle. Sir Bryan Sharwood Smith wrote: "Already events in India and in Southeast Asia had encouraged sincere and serious minded politicians in Lagos and the south to hope and plan for freedom from British rule within a measurable span of years. But there were also those same parts of the country, small groups of men, less well equipped with wisdom and ...who, having drunk over deeply of the heady wine of nationalism, were talking wildly of violence and of arson and hinting darkly of plots to massacre Europeans in their beds. The great mass of the population, however, remained unimpressed and responsible politicians agreed with the Governor's [Sir Arthur Richards] comments on the prevalent 'glib talk about dying for Nigeria....Nigeria,' he said 'needs men who will live for her, a far harder and more exacting task.'
In the Sudan Brian Carlisle was DC Gezira: "Political activity in Khartoum and to a lesser extent in other towns, hotted up again in 1952-53 and it was felt by the Governor that a more rapid policy of Sudanisation was necessary. I had become engaged on my 1952 leave and was taking leave early in 1953 to go home and get married. I had of course done my best on my leave and in my letters to describe Hasaheisa to my fiancee and to laud the fine house and garden. Then to my great surprise only a few weeks before I went on leave, I heard that my very capable Sudanese No. 2, Aly Hassan Abdulla, was to take over from me and that I was to be transferred to Rumbek in the Southern Sudan - a completely strange place to me. But I was sorry to leave Gezira and am immodest enough to believe that so were some of the parishioners. The Hasaheisa merchants, all card carrying Ashigga Party members, came to ask why I was being moved so soon and I responded that it was the policy of Sudanising posts being executed: they looked a bit blank so I said that this was the aim of their Sudanese Political Parties to which they responded that this might be alright for a policy but they did not expect it to be executed in their district. That was the way of things."
Politics was the in thing throughout all the British colonies and protectorates. We have seen how there was dissent between the traditionalists and new young thrusters in the chapter "The Business of Ruling". A mixed mood of jitters and elation prevailed. Into his office in Mombasa at the beginning of the sixties would appear "gentlemen wearing sunglasses and carrying briefcases; they would walk in unannounced, lean over the desk and tell me of all the wonders that would occur once Independence had been gained. One informed me that they would do away with many of the unnecessarily restrictive laws which hampered the people's freedom; when I asked him to give me an example, he sai: "Why, for instance, do you insist on vehicles keeping to only one side of the road. We would allow them to use as much of the road as they wanted"
A few years earlier - 1953 - elections were held throughout the Sudan for a new Parliament. "The Northern Parties (N.U.P. and Umma) mounted political campaigns in the South. The old administration had to hold the ring and see that the elections were conducted fairly without intimidation and without largesse being distributed to the voters. We warned the politicians that they were not to give bribes and that excessive entertainment of the voters fell into this category. In Rumbek the N.U.P. were running a Northernised Dinka called Abdulla Adam and on the day before polling the Police Officer reported that despite the warnings Abdulla Adam was holding a large party and that these large stocks of beer had been assembled. I ordered the Police to bring a charge against Abdulla Adam and the stocks of beer were seized as evidence. Abdulla Adam was tried by a magistrate from the adjoining district, found guilty and fined ŁE100 but on appeal the sentence was quashed on the grounds that beer drinking had not got started (my Governor's comments on hearing of the quashing was that Guy Fawkes should have been exonerated on the grounds that he had not lit the gunpowder). Despite the lavish entertainment Abdulla Adam got very few votes and I think it was really because of this that the Chief Justice took such a lenient view. We were pleased with the two candidates who were elected and thought they would both stand firm for Southern interests in Parliament but when they got to Khartoum they came under intense pressure from the N.U.P. and in the following April they crossed the floor and joined the ranks with the N.U.P. and as did many other Southern members. Once this had happened any possibility of some special interim arrangements for transfer of power in the Southern Sudan evaporated. The Sudan had moved down the road to the eruption of violence in 1956 and the sad long Civil War between the two parts.
The trouble is that South and North really ought to be two different countries but the South is really too poor and too remote to stand on its own feet. Up to 1947 the two parts were really being developed separately but this became politically impossible. After that whenever the British tried to come up with consititutions or administrative arrangements that were some sort of safeguard for the South, the rug was pulled from under their feet by the leading Southerners caving in to Northern blandishments. Looking back it is very sad to think that all we did in the South fell down like a pack of cards in the long Civil War. The only thing that has survived is the Christian Church which despite oppression and persecution is now flourishing."
In a letter to his fiancee Mr Carlisle asked her to "pray for the Sudanese." and he reported to her that one of his colleagues, Ranald Bayle, had resigned because he felt so strongly that "we" had let down the Southerners."
At about the same time in Northern Rhodesia, soon to become Zambia, a 27 year old newly promoted DC, Jonathan Lawley, was also having doubts about the wisdom of rushing the naive and trusting Tonga tribe into the shark pool of venal politics.
I asked him to write me a piece about his experiences and views on independence in October 1964 from the point of view of a young DC and I insert it here verbatim.
"I had just been promoted to District Commissioner and they were exciting and busy times. My district was a large and important one: Gwembe, taking in the whole of the north side of Lake Kariba and down the Zambezi to its confluence with the Kafue. There were two sub-districts with a population of 65,000 which had benefited from a lot of Kariba resettlement money and, until the Kariba dam was built, had been largely left to itself and its traditional way of life in the valley cauldron at 1,600 feet. In 1964 I was 27 and this was a return posting to Tonga country where I spoke the language. My spirits were high and I considered myself both fortunate and privileged.
About three months before independence, the Prime Minister and President designate, Kenneth Kaunda, came to stay. I had met him a few months earlier when he had come to talk to expatriate civil servants in the Luapula Province. He had arrived by small aeroplane at Fort Rosebery airfield and had been greeted by the Provincial Commissioner with a handshake and by the Chief of Police with a salute which raised a great cheer from the crowds of Africans. He had impressed me then when I promised that Zambia would not be like Ghana and he had told us all that nobody who did not want to would need to leave as a result of independence. One policeman asked for an assurance about this pledge and got it.
Now at Gwembe as a batchelor, I needed all the help I could get from the boma ladies who came up trumps with meals and entertainment. Kaunda was highly appreciative of all our efforts and he impressed everybody with his courteous and gracious manner. His objective on this visit was to win round the local people to the idea of independence and rule by UNIP. This was something they associated with domination by the Bemba tribe from the North. Kaunda did very well and was received with courtesy if not enthusiasm but when he spoke with local tribesmen with no English I had to translate. He came across as a good man, high principled and passionately dedicated to Zambia's future pride and prosperity. I wished that the rest of the UNIP leadership were the same. Nonetheless I found him naive. He was clearly imbued with the idea that racism was foremost amongst evils but he did not seem to understand us or our culture. He was, however, incredibly open and keen to learn but he gave the impression that he could be deeply influenced by the last person he had talked to. He told me that one of his main worries was about who he was going to be able to trust after independence. I said that surely he should trust the British who no longer had any particular ambitions in Africa and who retained a greater dispassionate understanding than any other nation.
The fact was that in August 1964 everything was happening at once. A few months earlier we had had the very first rural local government elections and as with the earlier national elections the best way to get your particular party elected was to promise everything that had hitherto been associated with white privilege in the minds of blacks.
The essence of democracy and tolerating the other man's viewpoint was simply not understood and thus democracy did not seem to be destined to last. More worrying though was the fact that although there had been some progress towards preparation for independence through training for responsibility in the civil service, the fact was that before independence Africans had minimal responsibility. They actually ran almost nothing at all where there was not a white veto or supervisory power. At the eleventh hour, the very year of independence, a number of supposedly promising people were suddenly plucked out of lowly positions and required to "shadow" senior British officers. Simultaneously there were vast overpromotions which were bound to fail. All this triggered a scramble for status and money amongst African civil servants who thought they were being deprived if they did not see a gigantic leap in their fortunes. The sad fact was that the country had received totally inadequate preparation for independence to the point of gross irresponsibility on the part of the British Government. Everything had seemed to happen at once and at the last moment. Even if drastic action had begun at the time of MacMillan's "winds of change" speech in 1960, Zambia might have had more of a chance. Now clearly there was nothing that could be done to extend the period of preparation. In Luanshya in 1963 I told Sir John Moffat, David Livingstone's descendent and a prominent local liberal, that Britain's policy of moving headlong towards independence seemed to me to be courting disaster. His response which I was reluctant to accept at the time but which I see now to reflect the truth, was that come what may Britain was determined to divest itself of its african responsibilities. There was nothing we could do about this even if we knew that the policy was misguided. We would just have to come to terms with it and make the best of it. I think I did accept it and I think my age made this easier: many older colleagues merely accepted their golden handshakes and pensions and left.
I felt particularly sad after after having spent most of my childhood in southern Africa and having seen at close hand the evils of racism in South Africa and the missed opportunity in Southern Rhodesia, due to the greed and lack of foresight of Europeans, to build a multiracial society within a new Central African Federation. Many of those Europeans who had opposed and thereby blocked a joint participation were recent immigrants from the UK after the war and they tended to vote for politicians like Ian Smith who had promised to preserve their privileged position. For me, however, joining the Colonial Service represented faith in Britain's long term role in Africa and her ability to steer much of the continent down a middle course which would not only be a positive example for South Africa but would catch on over a huge swathe of southern and eastern Africa to counterbalance the extremes of black and white nationalistic fears and aspirations. But this was not to be. During the fascinating and hectic run up to independence in Northern Rhodesia I came to terms with the inevitable though I had little truck with the dressing up as something noble Britain's act of abandonment of responsibility by politicians such as MacMillan and Macleod.
It was particularly difficult to deal with the bewilderment of all the good loyal, mature African District Messengers or those manning the local courts or even simply the ordinary people who could not understand why we were so determined to give way to people whom they saw even more clearly than we did as self-seekers who were corrupt and ignorant to boot. All the really good people, or nearly all of them, seemed to be begging us to retain the status quo and of course we let them down. A saving grace however was the fact that the new powers that be were seldom bent upon settling old scores or taking revenge. The ability to forgive and forget is one of the great strengths of Africa and so it was in Zambia.
I think that underlying everything for me and my colleagues in the Provincial Administration was our deep love of the country and its people and the sense of impending loss. All of us, whether people such as me who had served for less than five years or others who had seen a working lifetime, had been deeply involved with local people in a job where it was essential to understand and to empathise. You had to like and respect the people you were working with. If you did not the job would have been intolerable.
We were set apart fundamentally from the administrators in the white dominated south because we were in no way working to any racial agenda or for the preservation of white privilege, dressed up in the name of "standards". Although we were sometimes accused of not understanding the wider picture, our lack of a personal axe to grind meant that we understood the issues far better than those "settlers" whose main fear and preoccupation was to lose their privileged position. We never lost touch with ordinary people. Village to village touring was a main part of a DO's job and through it we remained in touch and retained their trust. (I remember being so struck years later when I was helping to supervise the independence elections in that same Zambezi valley but on the southern bank in Southern Rhodesia when it became Zimbabwe, that the administration had totally lost touch with the people.)
Looking at my diary of just before independence 33 years ago my preoccupations were mainly over the future, on the British role in Africa and how it related to culture. I wrote 'we have not created black Englishmen in Africa...certainly they do not want to embrace our culture... they want to develop their own culture and personality. Britain is stepping out at a time when with the cut and thrust of the modern world she should be doing all she can to maintain her strength and position here...colonial people will have contempt for our weakness, and our enemies in the 'wings' will rub their hands gleefully and shout 'neo-colonialism' at our future efforts.' We could have done so much more and finished off the job, being proud of our imperial role and by making it a Commonwealth effort. The deep underlying concern was that independence was coming far too soon and that the consequences were going to be dire.
On independence eve, 23rd October 1964, I telephoned my opposite number a hundred miles away at Mazabuka to ask him how the sword fitted in with the DO's uniform. I had inherited it from a portly retiring deputy Provincial Commissioner on the Copperbelt a couple of years before and I had never worn it. I was determined that it should see the light of day for the first and last time. He said, "Jonathan, you're not going to wear it are you?" I said I jolly well was, so he said, "Well be it on your own head" and gave me the appropriate instructions. That night I set off by car with my DO to the nearby Chikuni mission where we were invited to the midnight flag lowering and raising ceremony. During the preceding days we had been preoccupied with borrowing loudspeaker equipment for our main ceremony the next day at the native authority HQ, and I had been very busy with no time to think and reflect. Then came midnight, and there was the brand new Zambian flag flying for the first time at the top of the floodlit flagpole to the strains of the new stirring Zambian national anthem. I was suddenly hit hard by the significance of it all. One had to feel hope for the new nation even if in the background there was trepidation and, almost simultaneously, sweeping over me a feeling of immense sadness. To quote from my diary, 'I found myself more deeply moved than I have ever been...also sadder. It was like losing somebody who had meant a great deal to you. I was not ashamed to shed a tear for everything that this country and the Empire had stood for and for all that so many good men had put into it - not for personal gain but especially because they believed in what Britain stood for.'
I felt that the new masters would simply not understand and care about what we had stood for, whereas the ordinary people certainly did. There was the feeling that we were letting down these people, both the population and the loyal civil servants such as the District Messengers who had total faith in us and had shown us exceptional loyalty. I felt personally that I was lucky that I was likely to be in a position to continue to preserve our relationships with the local people for at least a year or two. In the event though, after independence the role of the District Commissioner - or District Secretary as he was now called - changed and there was little time to devote to getting out into the district on village to village tours and messages started coming in to the boma asking what had happened to the DC.
On independence day itself I remember that it was stinking hot at Gwembe Boma as it usually is at the end of October before the rains. But, 90 degrees or so was cool compared to what it would be down in the valley at Munyumbwe where the main celebrations were going to be held. There was to be a massive beer drink, the roasting of oxen and lots of Tonga dancing; this took the form of everyone jumping up and down in unison blowing cow horns. Before going down to Munyumbwe, however, there was my own little ceremony to perform involving the uniform and the flag. Most of the messengers were already at Munyumbwe so there was a turn-out of only five or six when I arrived at the Boma, sword clanking and uniform white topee just about obscuring my features. There was a small gathering including my faithful secretary, Jean Nixon, with a cine camera to record the event. As I prepared to inspect the messengers I looked up to see the union jack on the flagpole was flying at half mast. I had been determined that if a flag was to be raised another had to be lowered. No doubt the duty messenger had thought that it might be considered politically incorrect to fly a union jack in the normal way on independence day, even just for a brief ceremony and he was probably right.
Down at Munyumbwe it was like stepping into a furnace. There was a lot of traditional beer around and everyone was happy. African National Congress and United National Independence Party Councillors walked hand in hand and an atmosphere of immense goodwill prevailed. I think also that the ordinary people were reassured - the chiefs certainly were - that the district still had a British DC. The valley Tonga were a backward people who had had little contact with so-called civilisation before the Kariba dam was built. Their women used to knock out their front teeth. This was considered to be a sign of beauty which probably had its origins in trying to discourage slave traders. They also continuously smoked great gourd, water cooled pipes and went about bare-breasted. Before the white man came at the beginning of the century they lived with the continual threat of attack from stronger tribes like the Matabele and the Lozi who stole their cattle. All these factors made them pro-government and fearful of independence.
After it was all over I devoted myself to twenty months of change and helping the district to adapt to new realities. Then the long-awaited notice of my transfer to Lusaka came through. My successor, a recently promoted clerk, was a most unhappy man. Far from considering that he had had bestowed upon him an honour and privilege to be given charge of one of the most important districts in the whole of Zambia, he felt that he deserved promotion to even higher echelons such as Assistant Secretary or Under Secretary in a Ministry in Lusaka, like many of his friends. He did not hesitate to make his feelings known. My own friends, the Head Messenger Mwene Falls and driver Benjamin Shipopo, were philosophical but the local UNIP Secretary came to tell me of his disappointment and disgust at the appointment. It seemed to dash all the hopes he had cherished for Gwembe when the time came for the district to have a Zambian DC.
Meanwhile I packed up my goods and chattels which a gang of prisoners from the gaol loaded on to the boma lorry and I left the lovely old house with its wide verandahs from which one could gaze across the immense views over the Zambezi Valley; the little guest house under the huge avocado pear tree which bore delicious but tiny hens' egg-sized fruit and the flagpole on the brown lawn.
When we arrived in Lusaka we headed for the block of government flats in Birdcage Walk and the bachelor accommodation which I rated. I could hear the prisoners remarking, when they saw the three-storey building, that the bwana must be coming up in the world judging by the size of his new house!"
A.W Horner, CMG, TD was Director in charge of the Kenya Independence celebrations. The design of the flag, the new national anthem and the ceremonial itself were all his responsibility. He answered to Tom Mboya who was Minister for Legal and Constitutional Affairs. He had been landed with the job when he was Permanent Secretary to Mboya. The Acting Governor, Eric Griffith-Jones, had called a meeting of Permanent Secretaries to discuss who would run the indepedence ceremonies which were to take place some eight months hence. He looked enquiringly around the table but there were no takers. Griffith Jones then looked at Horner and said, "Actually, Arthur, the Africans have asked for you."
Horner was wise enough to hesitate and asked for time to think about it but one of the other Permanent Secretaries said to him as they were leaving the meeting, "Do you realise that this is an enormous compliment to you, Arthur?" Flattery got the future Kenya Government everwhere and he decided to do it. But "It nearly drove me mad" he told me with feeling. And after it was all over and he had returned to England, he found it difficult to forget that Tom Mboya had been publicly rude to him on the day of the ceremony.
The main problem for Arthur Horner was that African regard for the finer points of formality which was, at best, unreliable. The stands built round the ceremonial arena were marked off into areas for general guests and, of course, a special area for VIP's. Arthur had wanted the boys from the Technical College to be ushers in order to ensure that everyone was courteously guided to the correct seat but Mboya vetoed this idea and said that he wanted KANU (Kenya African National Union - the governing party) people to do it. Arthur conceded but he could not get any African to take charge of them. Not even an African Policeman was sufficiently brave to take on such a responsibility. In the event, therefore, he had had to get a Captain from the British Army to do it. The day before the ceremony there was to be a meeting of the ushers at 2 pm. They turned up at 3.15 pm, many of them slightly tiddly from lunch and said, "We're not going to do this sort of European thing." and on the day of Independence not one usher turned up in the VIP stand. Despite each guest having a numbered ticket chaos ensued and people who were not supposed to be there, such as two Chinese with no English, settled themselves in the VIP seats. This caused Mboya to turn on Horner and publicly sware at him, reducing Mrs Horner almost to tears. Arthur gave a spirited response and the Bishop of East Africa, the Rt Reverend Leonard Beecher who was sitting nearby, intervened to try to diffuse the situation. But in the event it was, to his everlasting gratitude, a large, powerful Kikuyu lady and a friend of Arthur's, who took charge in a cheerfully bossy way and sorted it all out to everybody's satisfaction.
Arthur's troubles were not, however, over. Unseasonally for mid-December, it poured with rain and many of the guests' cars became bogged down in mud on their way to their stands. Horner had sent the Public Works Department to the arena prior to the ceremony to patch the soft places but the Police had been told not to let anybody into the arena and so they stopped the PWD too. The quagmires therefore remained.
The Ugandan Prime Minister, Milton Obote had not actually been invited: the invitation had gone out to the President of Uganda which was the Kabaka. But word had reached Horner a few days beforehand that Obote had confiscated the Kabaka's Rolls Royce and had forbidden him from going. He planned to attend himself.
On his arrival in Nairobi Obote telephoned the Police and demanded a posse of despatch riders. They had not been briefed and had no idea that he had to be deposited at the back of the stands. They therefore duly escorted him into the arena with the intention of allowing him to alight at the foot of the VIP stand. When a black Rolls with flag fluttering came into sight, Arthur said to the President, Jomo Kenyatta, "Here comes Prince Phillip and the Governor." and together they went down to greet them. But it was Obote's car. However, instead of reaching the foot of the stands it sank into the mud up to its axles. Mrs Obote, a delightful Bagandan lady, thought it terribly funny but Obote was like a "storm cloud."
The crises, Horner told me, were legion but nonetheless, at Midnight on 12 December 1963 the Union Jack was lowered and, after Prince Phillip's famous question, "Are you sure you won't change your mind?" had been declined, the green flag with a shield and crossed spears signifying the nation of Kenya, was raised and the new national anthem "God Is Our Creation" was played.
The happenstance manner in which the national anthem tune was chosen was also related by Arthur Horner. Two tunes for the anthem were submitted to Jomo Kenyatta for consideration. One was written by a Kenya African studying music in Britain and it was on the lines of a traditional hymn tune. The other was a coastal Pokomo tune which had been adapted by a European and his students at a music school at Ngong. When Kenyatta had listened to them both played by the Police band, he was hesitant. But someone said to him, "Watch the totos Mzee." and the band played both tunes again. During the hymn tune the children stayed still but when the Pokomo tune was played they began to dance. Mzee wisely settled on the latter. And so it was that small matters such as whether or not the children chanced to dance helped to shape the new nations of Africa.
Independence achieved, the administrative officers filtered back to Britain and if they were not ready for retirement, they tried to find jobs in commerce, education or in Government. Many were successful and were able to live fulfilled and useful lives but none of them ever forgot their extraordinary work in Africa. Unfortunately, the tide of anti-empire was running strongly and they were judged, not by their peers, but by politicians, journalists and academics who had scarcely an idea of Africa, its complexities and the remarkable service they performed for the its delightful but raw people. This has sometimes saddened many of them and I found this poem which, perhaps, encapsulates that regret.
by J.S. Templeton
This day I came not here to see
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