The British Empire Library

Africa In Transition: The Journey From Traditional To Modern In Africa

by George Coulter

Courtesy of OSPA

Ro Lowe-McConnell (Overseas Research Service & British Museum Natural History)
George Coulter's main aim in writing this book was to use his personal experience of field work in fishery development in Africa to assess attitudes to, and success or failure of, international development schemes. It is a very timely and readable book, based on a lifetime of ecological research and its applications in West, Central and East Africa from the 1950s to the present day, including changes in human culture and circumstances over the past half century.

In Part I he describes six projects in which he was involved: in Ghana, Zambia, Burundi, and Tanzania. Part II gives a historic background of chosen events, from David Livingstone travelling round the Bangweulu Swamps 1863-66. Part III looks at the social and economic evolution of African people on the move from traditional to modern life styles. Coulter's working life in Africa thus bridged the transition from Colonial Service days, with from 1962 onwards specialist advisers of many nationalities visiting the newly independent countries on short term contracts. From the 1980s he worked with several large United Nations agencies which were financing research projects. His technical book on Lake Tanganyika has become a basic text.

Coulter was first posted (1954) as Fishery Officer Gold Coast (which became Ghana in 1957) to assess how the villages on the lower Volta would be affected by the proposed Volta Dam, a hydroelectric project completed in 1964 which created Lake Volta, the largest man-made lake in Africa. He now questions whether the Volta Dam has justified itself commercially, concluding that the dam's volatile economic performance has given less output than hoped for, and the scheme has had little positive influence for the majority of Ghanaians. For the thousands of people displaced by the 85,000 sq km new lake, and for the lower Volta villages, the social costs have In the long run outweighed any benefits.

In Ghana Coulter helped to initiate a mechanised coastal fishery, which rose then fell. Ghana's marine fisheries have intensified but total catch has not increased. Industrial trawlers and tuna vessels contribute 36% of Ghana's marine catch, mostly exported overseas; foreign fishing vessels intrude inside Ghana's 200-mile exclusion zone, the marine resource is overfished and cannot absorb further intensification.

In 1959 Coulter was transferred to the Joint Fisheries Research Organisation in Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) to study the seasonal fishery in the remote Bangweulu Swamps. He was then moved to a fisheries station on the Zambian shores of Lake Tanganyika, a long deep rift valley lake whose waters are shared by four riparian countries (Tanzania, Burundi, Zambia and Congo). From here he studied the ecology of Lake Tanganyika's unique and rich fish fauna. This entailed sampling the large internal wave (seiche) caused by the seasonal trade winds which brings nutrients Into sunlit surface waters where they stimulate growth of plankton, food of the commercially important 'sardines'. JFRO also stocked these clupelds into Lake Kariba, a new lake formed behind a hydroelectric dam on the Zambezi River, where they support a valuable fishery in Lake Kariba. They later spread down the Zambezi and came to support another new fishery in the manmade Lake Cabora Bassa.

On an epic sampling trip to the north of Lake Tanganyika accompanied by David Eccles from Lake Malawi, arriving in Burundi on Independence Day they were detained as suspected South African spies. Political changes and ethnic wars also interrupted research in Burundi in 1972 when he was there on a United Nations UNDP/FAO fisheries development project; in this first Hutu-Tutsi war his African counterpart was murdered. This 1972 war preceded the later wars in Burundi and Rwanda which so shocked the world.

Despite developments In recent years, Coulter questions whether these countries are yet economically and politically viable. Salient facts which hit the eye are stagnating agriculture, cities lacking Industrial growth and exponentially Increasing human populations.

British Empire Book
George Coulter
Book Guild Publishing
978 1 846 246 32 6


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