The British Empire Library

Africa Called: Science And Development In Nigeria

by Alan Hayward

Courtesy of OSPA

Terry Barringer (Editor and Bibliographer; formerly OSPA Research Officer)
Africa Called is an attractive looking book, with good maps, bibliography and plenty of photographs, both black and white and in colour. Unfortunately it is a slight and anecdotal work which does not live up to its initial promise. We still need many more accounts of Colonial Service scientific and technical work and Alan Hayward, a remarkable nonagenarian, could have been just the man to provide one.

After a frustrating World War II, stuck in England in a reserved occupation working on food substitutes, he applied for a job in East Africa on the Groundnuts scheme. He failed the interview "during which not one technical question was asked" but soon landed a job in Nigeria. Leaving on a two year contract in 1948, he never again resided in the UK. After fourteen years in Nigeria, he worked on crop protection and conservation projects visiting over 100 countries, 28 of them in Africa, before settling in Senegal, for a long and happy retirement.

He makes only modest claims for his book, which he describes as a "very restricted autobiography ... mostly confined to a few incidents in West Africa where I have lived on and off since 1948". He readily admits that he was "a colonial boffin in Nigeria ... at the bottom end of the colonial pyramid in a partial vacuum, cocooned in a colonial enclave, my view of Nigeria was limited to its agricultural sector". His contacts and friendships were mostly with other expatriate scientists. He knew very few elite or educated Nigerians and relatively few Colonial Administrators. "To us boffins, the ethnic and political struggles culminating in independence were of no particular interest or concern - we had unlimited work to keep us busy." He describes his book as "a superficial light-hearted romp around Nigeria where I worked hard and enjoyed life immensely".

Hayward is interested in food both as a scientist and a consumer. He claims that it was not difficult to obtain human flesh in eastern Nigeria but draws back from telling us if he actually tried it himself. He is informative on edible insects and tells us that among Nigerians Brylcream was thought to taste good on bread. Transport, in all forms, is another interest. There are accounts of ramshackle aeroplanes, car routes across the Sahara, river and even ocean voyages (Hayward helped sail a two-masted schooner across the Atlantic) and numerous treks into the desert or bush.

One would like to hear much more about Hayward's scientific work, his research on post-harvest storage and transport of various products and building up of research teams. The list of his articles and reports, in English and French, in footnotes and at the end of the book, demonstrate the scope and practical application of this work but the book tells us too little about it.

He has a brief comment on the Administrative Service: "...some of the colonial administrators who operated a benign dictatorship on an ethereal plane. However they did work hard and conscientiously with the best intentions but a few were obnoxiously arrogant". Again, one wants to hear more.

Africa Called is readable enough, although the travelogues tend to become tedious and the writing too episodic, but most readers will be disappointed by the book which, in spite of its promising sub-title, does not tell us nearly enough about Science or Development or even Nigeria.

British Empire Book
Alan Hayward
The Radcliffe Press
978 1 84511 494 7