The British Empire Library

The Flags Changed at Midnight: Towards the Independence of Tanganyika

by Michael Longford

Courtesy of OSPA

Review by Walter W Bowring (Tanganyika/Tanzania 1951-68)
In his preface Michael Longford explains that he has written this book for his children. He wants them to understand how their parents met and married in Tanganyika (Tanzania) and what they did there. Thus he has produced a book with two themes, with the author playing a major part in both of them. We meet his family growing up and coming to terms with life in East Africa, with all its drawbacks and advantages, and he describes working in a colonial administration in the last decade before its demise. His transfer to Government House before his marriage adds another dimension to this account of his experiences. The scene is set with the admirable foreword by Sir John Margetson.

The author has a sharp eye for recording the events which made up a District Officer's work in the typical boma (district office) where much of the work, however necessary, was unexciting. Relief came from the daily routine when he was permitted to go on safari and, like most of us similarly employed, Longford enjoyed the chance to see a fascinating country and to talk to the peasant farmers and local government officials. He describes how on his first tour he was disappointed with a sub-chief in Iringa district who repeatedly failed to dig some pit latrines - and clearly never had any intention to do so; it was ever thus. In his first two districts he was fortunate in serving under District Commissioners who he respected unreservedly; they provided the yard-stick which enabled him to decide the standards which he thought should be met by all expatriate officials - if they failed to do so he says so in forthright terms. The Judiciary too is not exempt from criticism; one amiable but unusually eccentric High Court Judge I knew well is the subject of admirably restrained comment. Nevertheless wherever he was posted, the author gives generous praise whenever he thinks it deserved.

In the early nineteen-fifties local government outside the towns was Cameron's version of indirect rule consisting of 'Native Authorities'. Elected district councils were still on the drawing board in most districts, and for the time being most D.C.s were fully engaged in supervising the Native Authorities and grappling with the contradictions in the system. The author's accounts of some of the problems which arose are of interest not only to those who knew the country; those with an interest in colonial history and academics involved in the study of cultural relativism will find here much to think about. Longford describes in some detail a particular cause celebre which followed an investigation he initiated into alleged crimes committed by a popular chief; the findings were considered eventually by the Governor's Executive Council and a prosecution was ordered - with tragic results. The author sums up the incident with the delphic comment "I have very mixed feelings about the whole case".

On his final tour in Lindi, when he was appointed D.C., the problems were different but political expertise was needed even more. He established a good rapport with the local Chairman of TANU but after a number of incidents he realised that with independence, any high-profile expatriate civil servant could not continue for long. Thus Tanganyika lost the services of an exceptional person who with his wife had the temperament to make real friends among all races, wherever they went.

British Empire Book
Michael Longford
Gracewing Ltd, Gracewing House
0 85244 551 2


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