The British Empire Library


Sir Glyn Jones: A Proconsul in Africa

by Colin Baker


Courtesy of OSPA


Review by Henry Phillips (Nyasaland and Central African Federation 1946-64)
This is the last of Professor Baker's gubernatorial trilogy. All the last three Governors of Nyasaland served through exciting times but upon Glyn Jones fell the heavy burden of facilitating the country's progress from colonial to independent status all in a matter of four years.

He was a facilitator; he was not the prime mover. This role had been assumed by Dr Hastings Banda, recently returned to the country of his birth after a forty years' sojourn in the West, with the avowed object of removing Nyasaland from the Central African Federation and gaining independence from Britain. More than a third of this book is concerned with the interplay of the two principal characters. To assist him in this process the author had the advantage of a first sight of Sir Glyn's very informative personal papers.

There were many expatriates and some Whitehall officials who reckoned that Jones overdid the facilitation and made little or no attempt to slow down the pace of change. The evidence for this indeed forms the most fascinating part of Baker's narrative. But Jones saw little point in unnecessary delay. Independence would come sooner or later. Banda was the undisputed leader of his party and there was no obvious replacement in sight. He was always threatening to resign if he did not get his way; and, in the interests of the nation as a whole, the Governor was not prepared to take the risk of another conflagration which might well follow the doctor's resignation. Needless to say British ministers were not wanting to be saddled with another state of emergency and were accordingly prepared to accept the Governor's advice, though Mr Butler did have some success in postponing the eventual outcome by a matter of months. Jones's affection for the people as a whole derived from his long experience in the provincial and district administration of Northern Rhodesia, a description and examination of which occupies the opening chapters of the book.

Jones was introduced very early to the Banda tactics. Nine months after arriving in the country as Chief Secretary he became acting governor when Robert Armitage went on leave. Banda lost no time in seeking an interview and demanding the release of the last remaining detainees, including Chipembere and the two Chisizas, his more militant supporters. And he played the resignation card. It worked and Jones released them. The wily doctor had deliberately waited for Armitage to disappear before tackling the new boy. Armitage was a tougher nut to crack and might not have given in. But it is at least debatable whether Banda would have carried out his threat to resign if thwarted. He had only recently returned from London where he had got on well with Iain Macleod in the pursuit of his ultimate aims and might not have wanted to upset him.

Banda was a skilful negotiator. He told his parliament that he preferred discussions behind closed doors rather than public rhetorical displays; and we are given a blow by blow account of the meetings between Banda and British ministers, particularly Mr Butler who had the ultimate responsibility of acceding to Banda's demands and who had misgivings about the financial consequences, for it was Britain which would have to fill the gap in Malawi's budget caused by the disappearance of the federal subsidy. I was in charge of the country's finances during these times and was not therefore involved in the political discussions. It has therefore been for me a real bonus to read in such fascinating detail what went on behind those closed doors. On 6 July 1964 Banda achieved his ambitions amid great jubilation. Curiously there is in the book only a passing reference to the event.

In his retirement we are told about Jones's involvement with the Granada television programme End of Empire. Brian Lapping, responsible for the programme as well as for the book with the same title published at the same time, had extracted from Jones a reluctant promise to set up an interview with Banda. It took place but was far from being a success. Malawi was included in the episode dealing with Rhodesia; but in Jones's opinion justice was not done either to Banda or himself, and he disagreed with much of the ultimate text. He received #1000 for his services (surely a derisory fee) which he returned asking Granada to send it to certain named charities.

Jones revelled in outdoor activities, which in Northern Rhodesia he had been able to enjoy to the full. He must have had some difficulty in adapting to endless meetings and negotiations in Nyasaland. But, under Baker's pen, he emerges as a man of principle and integrity and above all a man of Africa. It is fitting that his remains and those of his wife are buried in Zomba alongside his young and only son whose untimely death had been so heavy a burden for him to bear during his governorship.

British Empire Book
Author
Colin Baker
Published
2000
Pages
352
Publisher
I B Tauris and Co Ltd
ISBN
1 86064461 9
Availability
Abebooks
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