The British Empire Library

Imperial Bureaucrat: Colonial Administrative Service in the Gold Coast, 1920-39

by Henrika Kuklick

Courtesy of OSPA

Review by P.L.K. (District Commissioner Gold Coast)
This is at once a fascinating and a frustrating book. What Dr. Kuklick, an American sociologist, sets out to do is to construct what she calls a Colonial Service "ethnography" of the Gold Coast Administrative Service between the wars. This is, we are told, "a dispassionate inquiry into the social structure of British overlordship". Thus she has chapters on recruitment into the Service, career patterns and "The European Community and the African Milieu" to take care of the socio-career interpretation, and others, such as "Administration in the Field" and "The Changing Face of Colonial Administration" to set the professional context against which her biographical data on Gold Coast D.C.s is to be interpreted.

The data has been painstakingly constructed: much of it is new and some of it unique in print, e.g. her access -- in Accra, not London -- to confidential reports and personal files. Thus we have interesting tabulations of the occupations of applicants' fathers and unusual accounts of the role of the Service wife and of why men wanted to join the Colonial Service in the inter-war period. Some of her quotations from confidential reports have a potential for embarrassment.

It is, however, the interpretations put on the material as well as one particular source heavily relied on which will cause those members who were in the Gold Coast Administrative Service at the time to shake their heads and wonder whether Dr. Kuklick's perceptions are really of the same life and work and Service that was theirs. She does seem to depend over-heavily on the unofficial diaries kept by D.C.s; yet these were by no means universal within the Service, and not even within the Gold Coast Service -- they were very much a characteristic of the N.T.s' administration. And how justified is the simple faith that these must convey more reliable impressions of work in the districts than other forms of colonial service autobiography? Appendix B, with its mass of sociology-directed tables and Tables like those showing "Skill in Handling Africans and Final Rank" or "Diarists' Relations with African Rulers and Assistants" will understandably cause many an ex-Gold Coast D.C. to, as my own first D.C. used to put it, 'purse his eyebrows and raise his lips'. And where, oh where, are all of us whom Dr. Kuklick should and could have interviewed yet whose names are so conspicuously absent from the sources? Or could it be that such is her own suspicion of written autobiography and oral recollection that she resolved not to jeopardize her findings on the Gold Coast Administrative Service by letting her writing be tainted by any contact with us ex-D.C.s?

I think that all of us who were in the Colonial Service should take a look at this book. In particular, I shall look forward to hearing the views of former Gold Coast D.C.s on it (rumbles have already been heard). It is not warts alone, and it is rarely uninteresting, so that I do not recommend the advice -- to quote my own unforgettable first D.C. again -- on how to deal with Secretariat circulars: 'Burn before reading'. But it cries out for the stamp of authenticity, and that is something no American researcher can hope to achieve here without at least interviewing the subjects of his/her research . . . . as long as we are still alive to talk and to temper head-over-heels deduction with the sobriety of actuality.

British Empire Book
Henrika Kuklick
Hoover Institution Press


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