The British Empire Library

Beyond The Malachite Hills: A Life of Colonial Service and Business in the New Africa

by Dr Jonathan Lawley

Courtesy of OSPA

Richard Luce (Kenya 1960-62; FCO Minister of State 1981-82 and 1983-85; Governor, Gibraltar 1997-2000)
For anyone interested in Africa, its recent history and its future. Dr Lawley's book is a must. For me it was both interesting and enjoyable for I have had some similar experiences to the author. Whilst his early family life was in India, mine was in the Sudan. We both experienced the Oxbridge course for the Overseas Civil Service prior to becoming District Officers, for me to Kenya and for him to Northern Rhodesia, although his length of service was longer.

His descriptions of life as an administrator came alive to me. Long after the Empire had gone he continued to serve in different capacities in Africa but mainly in industry where he specialised in training of Africans in technical and managerial skills. He was therefore later to be an ideal choice as Director of the Royal African Society.

His book is refreshingly frank and objective, accepting that the Empire is long gone and looking positively to the future. The combination of distinguished colonial and post colonial experiences of Africa is what makes this book especially valuable. His understanding of Africa is deep, enhanced by his linguistic abilities. Who else could speak to the Tonga people in Zimbabwe in their own language? And I share his love of African humour and agree that "a joking relationship is the best one you can have in Southern Africa." It helps to deal with crises above all.

His lengthy experience of Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia) is very valuable. I was Minister for Africa under Lord Carrington when we negotiated Zimbabwe's independence so I found it fascinating to read his account of his time as an election supervisor in early 1980. Lord Carrington and I agreed that it was essential to have a team of observers who understood Africa well. It was for this reason that people like Jonathan Lawley were invited to serve with a host of former administrators in Africa. His analysis of what has happened to Zimbabwe since independence is penetrating, comprehensive and objective. Whilst many whites stayed on, he rightly criticised them for grumbling much of the time that the country was "going to the dogs" and failing to mix adequately with the emerging African professional classes at a time when Mugabe was genuinely trying to persuade the whites to stay and who had appointed a white farmer as Minister for Agriculture. By contrast he praised the immense courage of the whites in recent years in coping with the breakdown of the rule of law. His description of the land issue is important in that Mugabe was probably mistaken in his early days in not introducing gradual land reforms to resettle Africans but then, when he did try in the 1990s to tackle the problem, was snubbed by Clare Short and given no assistance. It all spiralled downhill after that and Mugabe tragically turned into a bitter, intolerable tyrant showing not a care for the rule of law and the prosperity of his people. But Lawley holds out hope that, with leadership, Zimbabwe has the ability to turn things round quite quickly.

The last part of the book is important for Dr Lawley has balanced, realistic but positive views about Africa and the international approach to the continent. I agree entirely with him that often much of our aid for development (as opposed to humanitarian support) is misplaced and that we do immense harm in helping to create aid-dependent societies and giving Africans the impression that their future is in our hands rather than their own hands. His experience tells him that Africans are just as capable as people elsewhere and can quickly learn how to manage and to lead given the right training and that we should promote trade and investment vigorously as well as providing training and technical help. The transformation of the Zimbabwean mining industry since the 1980s is an illustration of that potential. He points out that Kaunda in Zambia showed that given leadership it is possible to control the worst effects on a nation of tribal rivalry.

In short we in Britain and elsewhere should stop patronising Africa, put aside any remaining racial strains and look to a more positive future together as partners in the evolution of Africa.

We should be truly grateful to Jonathan Lawley for recording his own wide ranging and unique experiences of Africa in a lifetime of devotion to the African continent which he loved so much.

British Empire Book
Dr Jonathan Lawley
I B Tauris
978 1 84885 049 1


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