The British Empire Library

To Independence and Beyond: Memoirs of a Colonial Commonwealth Civil Servant

by Peter Snelson

Courtesy of OSPA

Review by D.A. Bell (Northern Rhodesia, 1951-65)
Peter Snelson's career covered the latter years of colonial rule in Northern Rhodesia (1954-64), the early years of Zambian Independence (1964-68) and then almost 20 years as a senior official in the Commonwealth Secretariat.

After reading History at Cambridge and a short-service Commission in the R.A.F., he went out to Northern Rhodesia in 1954 as an Education Officer in the African Education Department. A short spell at Munali, N.R.'s premier secondary school, was followed by a longer spell as an Education Officer in Eastern Province. He then went to Northern Province firstly as the Education Officer in Chinsali District and then as Provincial Education Officer. The Province was widely affected by violence and intimidation during the Nationalist campaigns for an end to the Central African Federation and early independence. Many government buildings and facilities were destroyed during these campaigns including a large number of school buildings. The Province was also the home of Alice Lenshina's Lumpa Church, whose suppression in 1964 was attended by bloodshed on a horrendous scale. The author's account of these events and his reflections on them will be read with much interest by old N.R. hands.

In 1964 he was appointed P.E.O. of the Copperbelt. This was a particularly difficult post, as the Province contained a considerable number of European schools which had our congratulations and grateful thanks to the Chairman in particular and of course to you yourself. Sir, for all that you and your colleagues have done in recent years.

previously been administered by the Federal Ministry of Education and were now to become multi-racial under the Zambian Ministry of Education. With racial prejudices strongly ingrained on the Copperbelt, the largely trouble-free introduction of multi-racial schooling is a heartening story.

His final appointment in Zambia was as Director of Planning in the Ministry of Education in Lusaka. Here he was to witness the debate between the African politicians pressing for a vast and immediate expansion of educational facilities and a largely expatriate group of advisers advocating a more Fabian approach.

At the Commonwealth Secretariat he was mainly concerned with educational matters and particularly with the setting-up and operation of the Fellowships Training Programme of the Commonwealth Fund for Technical Co-operation. He was also required to undertake several special assignments. These included the servicing of the V.I.P. Commonwealth Observers Group, which monitored Zimbabwe's pre-independence elections, and representing the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth at the Independence celebrations at Tuvalu in the Pacific.

During his career as a Commonwealth Civil Servant he visited nearly all of the 50 odd member countries. His postscript includes an interesting review of developments in the former colonial territories since independence.

Although the author has been a civil servant throughout his career, he is far from being an establishment figure and some of the views he expresses may not find favour with all his former colleagues.

The provision of chapter notes and thorough indexing will be very useful to those wishing to study the late colonial/early independence period N.R./Zambia.

His engaging style of writing, the inclusion of extracts from his diary, snippets of family views and the odd dig at the good and the great, combine to make it a most readable book. It should do something to weaken the stereotype image of overseas civil servants as projected by so much of the media.

British Empire Book
Peter Snelson
The Radcliffe Press


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