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
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.