The British Empire Library

Zambia Then And Now: Colonial Rulers And Their African Successors

by William Grant

Courtesy of OSPA

Jonathan Lawley (Northern Rhodesia 1960-69)
William Grant describes the life of a Cadet/District Officer in a remote district of Northern Rhodesia during the three years between 1958 and 1961. His recall of his life and his work as well as his feelings and attitudes is remarkable in its detail. It reflects an exciting life in a most beautiful and unspoiled part of the country. His description of the circumstances of the sad death of an ex-Cambridge 'A' course colleague of mine, Victor Magee, in a car accident is particularly poignant. Certainly what he writes will ring many bells with anyone who worked in the Northern Rhodesian Provincial Administration. He describes a stable peaceful country and a very busy working life with an emphasis on contact with ordinary rural people and their chiefs and headmen; it was work of which he and we can be justly proud. What he has written contributes significantly to a balanced retrospective view of our work and the preoccupations of serving officers in the years before independence.

Grant describes the rural beginnings of what was to become some rather ugly nationalist activity particularly on the Copperbelt. He rightly links this activity with universal anti-Federation sentiment.

Clearly he enjoyed his job and from the way he describes it, was good at it too. Like others before him he highlights the vital, sometimes heroic role of the District Messenger service.

William Grant's keen eye and sensitivity would have been ideal qualifications to observe and describe the many changes affecting the country and us administrative officers in the three years before independence in October 1964. So he missed the first one man one vote elections in October 1962, the first local government elections in February 1964, and the Lumpa uprising and the complications of dealing with it when power was divided between a Prime Minister (Kaunda) and a British Governor (Sir Evelyn Hone). Then of course there was the excitement of independence itself and how everyone reacted to it. The main point here is that a book seeking to compare "then and now" is seriously weakened by its failure to mention the vital changes and how they affected the country as well as Grant's erstwhile colonial service colleagues. In fact the latter played a little known crucial role in helping to launch the new country. Their loyalty, adaptability and commitment to the new state and the way they rose to a multiplicity of challenges in running new ministries and departments is a story yet to be fully told.

Part of the whole story of the independence period was the way so many suddenly promoted African ex-clerks coped with vastly more responsibility, how the administration was politicised in 1966 by the appointment of District Governors and how the district messenger service was run down. All this was to set the tone for rural administration for 40 years. Only in 2003 were District Governors again to become District Commissioners but by then their power and influence was gone.

I find William Grant's diary of his 2006 visit less impressive than the first part of his book. It seems to me that it could have been written by a first time visitor to the country and it lacks the perspectives which OSPA readers would be looking for. He does not comment for instance on the demise of the district administration, the people's reaction to it or on where real power now lies and why.

Again though it was obviously well researched. I was generally unimpressed by the chapter on the Zambian economy and the author's overall failure to relate the way things are now to the pre-independence period. I am not sure either that he gives credit to the Zambians for the way they have learned from the many mistakes of the early years, have turned the economy around and achieved a high level of prosperity.

Though I don't go along with all his conclusions in the last chapter I think what he says about aid to Africa and how it is so often inappropriate, perpetuates dependency and frequently does real harm, shows real appreciation of the issues and practicalities. Whatever it lacks, overall Zambia Then and Now is a valuable book which will be enjoyed particularly by ex-HMOCS officers.

British Empire Book
William Grant
Taylor & Francis, Book Point Ltd
978 0 7103 1343 0


Armed Forces | Art and Culture | Articles | Biographies | Colonies | Discussion | Glossary | Home | Library | Links | Map Room | Sources and Media | Science and Technology | Search | Student Zone | Timelines | TV & Film | Wargames

by Stephen Luscombe