- The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 9 Mar 1944, p. 338-361
- Yalden-Thomson, L.A.C. David, Speaker
- Media Type
- Item Type
- The speaker's previous experience as District Commissioner of Pemba Island, a British Protectorate. Pemba Island as a fair sample of the numerous and little known Protectorates which are part of the British Empire. A physical and geographical description of Pemba Island. The interesting history of the island. Traces of the Arab conquest. The Arab Empire based on trade in two commodities: ivory and slaves. Marks of the Portuguese from the seventeenth century when they were briefly in control of Zanzibar. The bullfight. The scramble for Africa which began in the nineteenth century between the Belgians, the English, the Germans and the French. German and then British Government for Zanzibar and Pemba. The inhabitants. Arabs outside of Arabia. Some personal anecdotes and reminiscences of the speaker's years in Pemba. The Africans in Pemba. Health problems and conditions. The Government machinery by which Pemba is run. A description of the people and activities of the Colonial Service, interspersed with illustrative anecdotes. War-time duties. Finances. The future of Pemba. The aim to move toward self-government. Achievements so far. Difficulties and obstacles to independence. The Sultanate of Zanzibar. A concluding look at the history of the British Empire over the last 150 years. The speaker's suggestion to hasten self-government. The need for brain, not brawn, when it comes to colonial administrators.
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- 9 Mar 1944
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- Full Text
- WHAT IS TO BECOME OF THE BRITISH PROTECTORATES?"lb/> AN ADDRESS BY L.A.C. DAVID YALDEN-THOMSON.
Chairman: The President, Mr. W. Eason Humphreys.
Thursday, March 9, 1944
MR. HUMPHREYS: The legendary Captain Kidd is supposed to have buried his treasure on a tiny island off the west coast of Pemba Island. Pemba Island is a short distance off the Tanganyikan (Tan-gan-yee-kan) coast of Africa, and formerly the scene of the world's greatest slave markets.
That is a thumbnail sketch of the romantic side of the otherwise serious business of governing that British Protectorate.
As citizens of this British Empire, we are obviously concerned with "What is to Become of British Protectorates."
The youthful, one-time District Commissioner (or Governor) of Pemba Island is here today to discuss the matter with us. He is L.A.C. David C. Yalden-Thomson.
David Yalden-Thomson first met Pemba Island in 1940. He was then 21 years of age. Graduating from Oxford University, he joined the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Navy, but very soon, the British Colonial Service withdrew him to place him in complete administrative charge of Pemba Island, because of his aptitude for Swahili and Arabic languages, and, above all, perhaps, his ability to deal with people.
Last year, Yalden-Thomson was permitted to resign his post, because he wanted to sail half-way around the world for Canada, in order to join the R.C.A.F. to train as a pilot. A natural ambition, since he was granted a glider pilot's certificate as long ago as 1936.
We are indebted to the Commanding Officer of No. 6 Training Centre (Wing Commander G. A. Hodgetts) for granting L.A.C. Yalden-Thomson leave to be here today.
I find much satisfaction on behalf of The Empire Club of Canada in being host to a guest so young. It is really refreshing'.
Let me say also that we are indebted to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation for introducing us to our guest. Like many others, we heard and appreciated Yalden-Thomson in the well-known broadcast series "Peoples on the March".
Yalden-Thomson's people are people on the march. His father a distinguished soldier. An uncle an Admiral. Another uncle a general. Gentlemen: Leading Aircraftsman David C. Yalden-Thomson. "What 'Is to Become of British Protectorates?"
MR. YALDEN-THOMSON: Mr. President and Gentlemen: I feel deeply honoured by this invitation to speak to your Club today. When you, Mr. President, told me the names of the some the distinguished persons and statesmen who have spoken to this Club in recent weeks I felt not only honoured but also most embarrassed. In the past my public speaking has been limited to African and Arab audiences under very different circumstances. I hope therefore that you will be lenient and make allowances for the absence of any oratorical skill.
In Africa, the usual circumstances, for a public speech consisted of a clearing in the middle of a huddle of mud huts. When one arrived at the village after a long and probably dusty march, a rickety chair would be produced. You sit on it and wait until a small boy had swarmed up a coconut tree and brought down half a dozen nuts. While you drink the coconut milk the elders of the village assemble-toothless, senile and wizen-and they sit on the ground at a respectful distance. Next a few chickens and babies join the group, wandering here and there; scratching in the dust. The elders come out of mere politeness. Those that can hear are not interested in what you have to say unless you are at least as old as they are. So you repeat what you have to say in as many ways as you can and say good-bye. For this part of Africa, that I am describing, is a Mohammedan country. Its inhabitants venerate few things so much as age. So that administrative cadets, particularly those with hairless faces, are regarded (I think) as rather a joke.
Speech-making in the colonies is not always as easy as that. One friend of mine was appointed as District Commissioner to an area inhabited largely by nomadic Somali tribesmen. During his first "baraza"--any meeting in Africa is a baraza--a messenger came dashing into the circle to tell him that a government headman had been murdered many miles away on the Abyssinian frontier. Now the murder of a native government headman is a serious matter in those parts. If one such murderer goes unpunished, an impression may form that government officials can be murdered with impunity. So the new D.C. decided to act at once. He organized a camel caravan with 20 native police--camel are the only means of transport in those parts-and set out as soon as he could. Now a camel caravan is no easy thing to arrange. The camels and camel drivers must be collected; the loads calculated and weighed and the packs adjusted. Each time you try to start, something goes wrong-a camel goes lame or a water container starts leaking. Well, my friend by tremendous efforts managed to get under way in about three days. Having heard of the wiles of the Somalis, he took the messenger with him.
The caravan took 14 days to reach the small settlement on the border where the murder had taken place. The D.C. started his enquiries. "Was it true that an official of the government name Juma bin Mohammed had been murdered?" "Yes," they replied, "it was true. He had been murdered right here, in the village." "Who had murdered him," the D.C. asked. "Why his cousin, Ismail bin Yusif." "And where is he," said the D.C. "Oh," they replied, "he died. You see the worthy official Juma bin Mohammed was murdered five years ago." Such are the difficulties that have arisen in the past to Englishmen who make speeches in Africa. It is unnecessary to add that when the D.C. looked for the messenger, he had vanished.
Before I start talking to you about British Protectorates, there is one more thing I must say. I feel that I am here under false pretences. I see in the biographical note, which may have attracted some of you to this meeting, that I am described as having been District Commissioner of one of His Majesty's Protectorates. It is true that at the most youthful age on record I occupied the lowest possible position in the colonial administrative service. It is true that I was once, for a very short period, D.C. of one District in a British Protectorate. But that was due to the temporary illness of the Administrative Officer there, whose assistant I was, and the fact that, owing to a wartime shortage of staff, there was no one immediately available to replace him-except myself. As you will see from my uniform, I no longer have any connection with the Colonial Service.
When in 1940 the Colonial Office availed itself of my services as a Cadet in the C.A.S., it was suggested that I proceed to Hong Kong. I am profoundly thankful that I declined to go. Since I had expressed a desire to serve in an Arabic-speaking country--and no vacancies were available in the Middle East at that time--I was sent to the Protectorate of Zanzibar.
All I knew about Zanzibar was that it issued postage stamps with a picture of a Sultan on some of them and of native sailing boats on others. Shortly after my arrival I was moved to a still remoter area called Pemba Island. Zanzibar Protectorate consists of two islands: the main island of Zanzibar--which has a capital town of the same name--and the sister island of Pemba, or "Green Island" as the Arabs call it. Since I spent a large part of the last three years in Pemba, it is principally of Pemba that I shall speak. For one thing, it is a fair sample of the numerous and little known Protectorates which are part of the British Empire.
This island of Pemba is situated about 80 miles north of Zanzibar, off the east coast of Africa. It is two or three degrees south of the equator. The island is about 60 miles long and twenty across at its widest extent. The coastline is heavily indented by bays that almost cut it into pieces. The highest point on the island is only three hundred feet above sea-level, with the result that it is appallingly hot and damp. I have flown over Pemba and approached it by sea. I don't know from which angle its appearance is more depressing.
Seen from above it is quite flat, dull green in colour and surrounded by shark-infested waters. Seen from the seaward it is quite flat, dull green in colour and you can see the sharks in the water. There is no other land in sight. But as you approach it, its charms begin to emerge. For one thing it isn't quite flat. There are genuine cliffs in places, and later as you get within half a mile of the shore it suddenly seems beautiful. The beaches are long white ribbons: the island is surrounded by coral reefs and little islets, each bearing two or three coconut palms. The colors of the sea defy description. The dull green of the land sorts itself out into shades. There are mangrove swamps, palms, clove trees and forest. You forget the sharks and you may even forget the heat for a moment.
The island has an interesting history. We know that long ago the Chinese visited it, for Chinese pottery has been found and to this day some of the native fishermen wear straw hats that closely resemble those which Chinese sailors in sampans use.
But the Arabs are the first visitors who really count today. Several centuries ago the Arabs started to come down the coast of East Africa. For the most part they came from what is today Trucial Oman (Trucial Oman is the north-easterly corner of the Arabian peninsula). Today the ruler of Muscat, the capital town, is a cousin of the Sultan of Zanzibar. These Arab empire builders spread along the coast of Africa, down to Portuguese East and even into what is now the Union of South Africa. They extended their sphere of influence beyond the great lakes of Central Africa into the Belgian Congo. It was an enormous empire. Zanzibar and Pemba were conquered also, and Zanzibar became the principal capital of the Empire--a stronghold for a long succession of Arab rulers. And this for the obvious reasons that it was an island and therefore not liable to surprise attack and because it had a good natural harbour.
Wherever you go along the coast of East Africa today you will encounter traces of this Arab conquest. In all the towns, Mombassa, Kilwa, Dares-Salaam and Larna there are Arab houses, Arab people and Arab traditions. On my way to Canada I passed through the Belgian Congo, and who should be strolling down one of the streets of Albertsville but a couple of recent immigrants from Oman---complete with turbans and daggers.
This Empire was based on trade in two commodities -ivory and slaves. You have all heard of the horrors of this trade, conducted perhaps in an even more barbarous manner than the trade between the West Coast of Africa and this continent. The slaves were captured by armed bands of Arabs and marched in chains down to the coast. Those who survived this journey were shipped to Zanzibar and sold in the famous slave market there. Thence they were transhipped by dhow to Arabia.
This Arab Empire was first seriously challenged by the Portuguese. In the seventeenth century they conquered Zanzibar, Pemba and Muscat itself. Their rule did not last for many years, before the hardier Arabs overwhelmed them. The Portuguese also left their mark. In each town they built large and strong forts for their garrisons. Unfortunately these are being treated with a lack of respect which amounts to vandalism by the various colonial governments--for they are splendid historical monuments. When I left, for example, the fort on Pemba had been knocked about in order to house native police and the fort in Zanzibar was being pulled down to widen a road! The natives of Pemba seem to have learnt two things from their first white masters--how to whistle and how to enjoy a bullfight!
Their ideas of bullfighting are not those of the Spaniards today, and surprised me when I saw them. A big but insecure stockade is built of branches and bamboo poles. At one end, the veiled women stand in clusters and make shrill screams. At the other, the male spectators sit or loll. An hour or two after the appointed time for the performance, a tremendous row is set up off-stage horses, cattle and human yells. This is intended by the natives to excite the bulls. Finally a pathetic bull calf is chivied into the clearing. It is usually so small that a strong man could pick it up. Then you notice that attached to one hind leg is twenty feet or so of stout rope. There are half a dozen men at the end of the rope just in case the bull should get out of hand. The young calf stands there, occasionally kicking its heels in the air in a disconsolate manner, while a handful of natives torment it by flicking its nose with bits of sacking.
This preliminary "fight" end with the dismissal of the calf, whose performance is a piece of showmanship to make the full grown bull seem more impressive. Soon a genuine bull is led in. At no stage is he killed or even wounded, for cattle are valuable. Its horns are cut short. The beast also has the rope tied to a hind leg, so that it shan't serious damage a native either. Occasionally though the bull gets in a good thump on some natives to the delight of the crowd. It ends with the bull reduced to a stand-still by the heat and the rope.
I have on two occasions seen a bull get out of hand. Once we arranged a special bullfight on the lawn outside the District office to celebrate Empire Day. A really fine bull was promised and the promise was kept. It jumped the stockade, causing pandemonium. Women, children and men fled screaming in all directions: some jumped into the ivy, some climbed coconut trees. In the end the bull's rope wound up round the flagstaff outside the office and the populace was safe.
The other time a bullfight was arranged in my honour during a visit to the village of Pujini. The show was so late in starting that the principal bull grew fiercer and fiercer as he grew cooler and cooler with the approach of night. Finally he turned on the crowd at the end of the rope and they ran helter skelter for safety. The bull reigned supreme. I tried to bribe onlookers to show their courage and go in and bait the bull with their bits of sacking. One or two essayed it, but each was well and truly banged. Finally I offered two dollars (perhaps a week's earnings) to a boastful young labourer near me. "Master," he said, "do you think my soul is worth less than two dollars?"
Such are the traces of Portuguese conquest!
After the Portuguese were mastered by the Arabs, the latter ruled until the scramble for Africa began in the nineteenth century. The Belgians, the English, the Germans and the French all seized territory by treaty or war. By the end of the century the great Arab Empire was reduced to the islands of Zanzibar and Pemba. Eventually they became German possessions. But later the British Government exchanged Heligoland for Zanzibar and Pemba, and to this day it remains a British Protectorate.
I would like to tell you something about the inhabitants of these islands. It is much what one would expect from the history I have given you. Zanzibar has a population of approximately 150,000: Pemba of about 100,000. I say approximately because no statistics about Africans, where they exist, are ever correct. There are reasons for this. For instance, in the Tanganyika Territory natives had at one time to pay a but tax and still pay a poll tax. Hence when a census is held, the natives fear that the counting may be a prelude to the introduction of a new tax, so, if they can, some will try to avoid having their names appear on any list.
The bulk of the population, perhaps three-quarters of it is African. In Pemba they claim to be Shirazis by race. Shiraz is the southern province of Persia and it is possible that the natives are partly Shirazian (or Persian) in origin. Ki-Swahili, their language, is a mixture of Bantu and Arabic. Several ruins on Pemba, of which there are many, have been classified by amateur archaeologists as Shirazian. (Incidentally these ruins should prove a wonderfield for any archaeologist; they have never been expertly excavated or examined.) Finally, they are fairer in colour than the average run of African from continental Africa. In general though they must be very mixed by blood with Arabs and mainland African tribes. In addition there are some 20,000 Arabs and 15,000 Indians.
The Arabs are divided into two groups. The descendants of earlier Arab settlers, and the newcomer from Arabia. The progeny of earlier settlers are often dis tinguishable from the Africans in appearance. Under Mohammedan law, an illegitimate son has the rights of a full son. Morever many of the Arabs married African wives. As a result, the older Arab families are more negroid than Arab.
T. E. Lawrence pointed out that Arabs who once leave the ascetic conditions of the desert degenerate rapidly. They are very prone to self-indulgence. This is certainly true of the Arab families we had in Pemba and Zanzibar. You could tell, almost at a glance, whether an Arab was born in Arabia or in East Africa by a difference in bearing and manner. In general Arabs outside Arabia go to pieces quickly: they become effete and degenerate. To the administration they are more of a handicap than a help; demanding privileges as of right of descent but without the ability to play a leading role in their communities.
The Arabian born Arabs are altogether different. They are the potentially troublesome group in the Protectorate. For they are hot-tempered and arrogant: they can be deceitful and dishonest. But one cannot help admiring their great courage, their pride in themselves, their physique and, above all, their hospitality. The Mohammedan religion lays greater emphasis on charity than any other religion. This is one reason why they are so prodigal, and fall so easily into the hands of Hindu money-lenders from Bombay--of whom I shall speak later. The connection between Zanzibar Protectorate and the deserts of Arabia is very close. Our Sultan, Seygid Khalifa bin Kharub el-Busaidi, wise, benign ruler, is an Arab, born and brought up in Oman. Each year, with the coming of the north-west monsoon, dhows set sail in the ports of the Persian Gulf. From Kuwait, Basra, Bahrein, Liugi, Muscat the Hadiament they travel enormous distances to the south without the aid of navigational instruments. Their cargoes consist of dried shark, carpets, dates, daggers and would-be immigrants into Zanzibar.
Let me give you an instance of their extreme hardihood. In these dhows they carry inadequate water supplies for the journey. As they drink, they refill the fresh water tanks with salt-water. At the end of a trip they are drinking almost pure salt-water. I did not believe this story which an Arab dhow captain told me until I boarded one of their wooden vessels and tasted the water supply for myself.
Each year they come in scores, and their arrival is one of the great events of the _year. As the dhows anchored in the harbour below my house, I used to send a messenger down to invite the crews to my house, where I kept one room furnished in Arab fashion, bare except for carpets. There we would squat in circles and they would disclose such news of the Persian Gulf as they thought fit. I learnt for instance that they looked on the British occupation of southern Persia with relief, because navigational facilities were increased and (more important) they could now wear traditional dress once more. They are a very picturesque and to my mind a very fine people. It is difficult for we "civilized" people to grasp their contempt for fear.
Once I walked into a small native village. A little Arab boy, who could just walk, caught sight of my white skin, and never having seen a white man before, tottered off as fast as he could, crying, towards his father's house. His father appeared-a gaunt Oman Arab-and he walked behind his son hitting him with his camel-stick. I asked him why he beat his son. He turned round, with a look of amazement in his face and said, "Anaogopa"He is frightened." That was sufficient reason!
These Arabs are the landowners, the capitalists of the Protectorate. The main product of the island is cloves and in the old days the clove plantations were worked with African slave labour. Today there are several thousand Africans in the Protectorate who voluntarily remain in conditions of slavery. They are the older people. But their Arab masters on the whole are kind to them: they feed, clothe, house and protect them until they die. So they prefer this secure existance to branching out on their own and, when they are too old for work, having to depend on charity and their belief that Allah will provide.
For, like all Mohammedans, their belief in Allah is deep-seated. They see his hand in everyday events which we would hardly associate with the Almighty. If you set out on a journey, you mutter "bismillah" as you start--"in the name of Allah." When you finish a meal, it is with the words "Elhaindullilah"--or "praise be to Allah." If an Arab tells you that he is going for a walk he will add "Inshallah"--"if Allah is willing."
Only a few decades ago the Indians from Bombay Presidency began to penetrate East Africa. In the first instance, many entered as coolies to build the railroads in Kenya and South Africa. Today they abound, and present a difficult problem in East Africa. The Indians are much shrewder than the African or the Arab and if things continue as at present, it will not be very long before the bulk of the real estate is in their hands. Neither the African nor the Arab are able to resist the appeal of ready cash. Hence it is only too easy for an unscrupulous trader or money-lender to possess himself of the property of Africans, for, in addition, he is familiar with commercial laws and how to evade them. It seemed paradoxical to me that the indigenous inhabitants should complain of exploitation by the Indian, when I had heard so much in England of British "exploitation" in India! and it may surprise you to learn that Indians are already talking about "their Colonial Policy in Africa". Any attempt to protect the local landowners from the Indians by legislation arouses a furious campaign among the East African Indians and in the Indian Congress Party. Perhaps some of you may have followed the difficulties that arose last year when the South African Government attempted to restrict Indian economic penetration of Natal. This is not the time or place to describe their activities. But, generally speaking, from Uganda to Capetown, Africa in the post-war world will have to face up to this problem. Immigration restriction is unfortunately no longer a solution, since the Indians increase so rapidly. Repatriation is impossible since so many Indians have been born in Africa and are therefore East African subjects. So there seems to be no other possibility than to restrict land-owning by Indians. Though restrictions on a social basis are obnoxious, what alternative is there if Arabs and Africans are to continue to be landowners?
I want to try to complete this description of the people of Pemba by telling you something about the Africans, for they are the great majority of the population. In the first place, they, for the most part, live in abject poverty--hardly above the minimum subsistence level. In Pemba, they have little sense of racial unity with the Africans of the rest of the continent. They have no pride of race. If you take it upon yourself to tick off a Pemba native the invariable reply in "Ndia Bwana, waswahili wote ni wajinga." "Yes, sir, all Swahilis are fools." Perhaps this attitude of mind is the result of their long history of slavery under the Arabs.
Some manage to eke out a living as fishermen, others live off their small and outwardly almost barren plots of agricultural land. How they live in the country is a mystery. How they survive in the sprawling native townships is an even greater mystery. No satisfactory survey of their economic and social life has ever been attempted. We do not know what they eat or how many are unemployed. We have only a very vague idea of their annual cash earnings. It is perhaps a pity that Colonial governments haven't conducted scientific social and economic surveys, because we know so little that we do not know what the real problems are.
One other feature of their lives which I must talk about is health. Pemba and Zanzibar, like most of the coastal belt of Africa, are disease ridden. Malaria, black water, elephantiasis, leprosy, tuberculosis, trachoma, venereal diseases are some of which the outward signs are visible every day. I have heard a very senior government official express the view that in general the natives are so debilitated by disease as to be incapable of one day's hard and sustained work. This seems to be literally true, for the hoeing of the clove plantations--the only form of hard and continuous manual labour on the island--is performed almost exclusively by migrant tribes from the higher and healthier areas in central Africa-Wanyamwizi and Wahikuyu.
You probably know that Zanzibar and Pemba provide the world with almost all its supplies of cloves. The uses of cloves are diverse: in Java they are chewed with beetle-leaf; in Canada you sometimes encounter them in apple pie or in the mouths of whiskey drinkers. Aside from cloves the principal export is copra-the dried inner shell of the ubiquitous coconut. The large plantations are still mostly in the hands of Arabs: the smallest are often owned by natives. The wholesale trading is in the hands of the Indians. Unfortunately the islands are not self-supporting and depend on rice from India and. Burma. Food difficulties became acute by 1942, when famine conditions arose in parts of India, and parts of Africa for that matter.
But I would like to emphasize the fact that miserable as the life of the Pemba natives may appear to us, to him it can't seem intolerable. They are a most good- natured, tolerant and humorous people: very peaceful in their ways. On the whole island, with its population of 100,000, we had only 52 African police to keep the peace -a very much lower proportion than we can boast in Canada or England.
Now I have given you as good a description of the island and its people as time permits. Perhaps it would interest you to hear something of the Government mach inery by which this Protectorate is run. It is very similar to that of other Protectorates and Colonies. Kenya, Uganda, Tankanyika and Nyasaland, for example, are all run the same way.
All these territories are administered by a Unified Colonial Civil Service. Nominally its members are appointed by His Majesty on the advice of H.M.'s Principal Secretary of State for the Colonies. In fact they are chosen by selection boards at the Colonial Office in London.
The principal branch of the Colonial Service is the Administration. This is composed of British Administrative or Political officers as they are called, who correspond in function to the T.C.S. in India. Generally speaking all the upper hierarchy of the service are drawn from the administration unless the Cabinet chooses to find a niche for some retired general or air marshal.
Each of the East African Colonies and Protectorates has it own legislative assembly. In appearance these are independent legislatives, exercising almost sovereign powers, corresponding to the House of Commons in Ottawa. The members consist for the most part of the senior Colonial officials serving in that territory, headed by the Governor, who presides. These "official" members are nominated by the Governor, after approval has been given by the Colonial Office, and they form majorities in these small assemblies. They (the official members) can introduce measures and vote only as directed by the Chief Secretary, and since none of the bills can numerically be outvoted, the majority is in every sense a government majority, and a vote is seldom taken. The result would appear to be a charade, but the system is not in fact as farcical as would appear at first sight. Most of the Legislative Assemblies contain elected Indian representatives and nominated Arab representatives. In T.T., Kenya and Uganda a few Europeans, settlers or missionaries, are nominated by the Governor to represent African interests. An opportunity is therefore provided in these councils for the expression of Arab and Indian views and awkward questions can be asked.
Next, corresponding to Cabinets, these territories have executive councils, consisting again of Government officials, who deal weekly with matters of importance in the territory. The minority of unofficial but nominated members are Arabs and Indians.
The principal beaucratic machine in each colony is the secretariat. This is a body of officials, mostly Administrative Officers, who deal with all external communications of the Government, e.g., correspondence with the Colonial Office, with other colonies and with the outside world. They also handle budgeting and local policy. Secretariats are traditionally, old-fashioned in their methods. In the Secretariat I know best, dictaphones and stenography were barred. Everything was written long-hand and then sent to another office for typing! And of course the civil service method of minuting is used: I once saw no less than 157 minutes written on the subject of how a worn-out set of donkey harness, the property of the Government, should best be disposed of. Of course you must make allowances for the traditional and friendly enmity of District Administration Officers for their colleagues who use pen and ink all day in Secretariats: It is however interesting that the Colonial Office selects its personnel for dealing with the complex problems of finance and budgeting from among administrative officers-men who have no experience in business nor any training in economics. Perhaps this system will be adapted to the times.
To complete this picture of the official machinery, I next mention that there are other departments--public works, health, agriculture, education. Depending upon its revenue, a territory will have one of these officers in each District or one at each Provincial headquarters. Provinces in the Colonies, like Provinces in the Dominions, are the main divisions for administrative areas. The provinces vary greatly in population. The Lake Province in T.T. is run by a Provincial Commissioner who reigns supreme among, I believe, some one and a quarter million natives. The Provinces again are divided into Districts, which are in charge of a District Commissioner. The "District" is the basis of Colonial administration, and I shall try to describe one.
The best method I can think of is to describe the one I worked in. In peace-time the island of Pemba once had five political or administration officers. They were reduced to three and, for a short interval to one, during this war. At the main administrative centre of Weti there were also there British officials, a doctor, a police officer, an agricultural officer and a clove expert. The District Commissioner has a number of sub-titles which will illustrate the multiplicity of his duties: magistrate, postmaster, security officer, food and price controller, fuel controller, currency officer, administrator of deceased estates, port officer, officer in charge of troops, licensing officer, marriage officer, and so on. When any of his four colleagues fell ill, he took over their duties as well. As you see the District Commissioner is a fairly busy person and lacks nothing that was pooh-bahs except the title of Lord High Executioner.
There is a story about the District Commissioner of a Tanganyika District. One day towards the end of January, he and his assistant both discovered that they had forgotten to take out licenses for their motor-cars. So they put their heads together and decided that, as each of them was a licensing officer and each was a magistrate, the only thing they could do was to try each other.
So the District Commissioner held court and the Assistant District Commissioner appeared in the box on the familiar charge of having failed to take out a new car license within 14 days of the beginning of the New Year. The A.D.C. pleaded guilty and was fined ten shillings. The District Commissioner stepped down from his magisterial chair to the box. The A.D.C. stepped the other way. He sat down and read the charge. "Do you plead guilty or not guilty." "Guilty," said the D.C. The A.D.C. put on his spectacles and gazed solemnly at the packed crowd in the court. "This," he said, "is the second case of this nature that has come before the court this morning. The court takes a serious view of the matter. The defendant has nothing whatever to say in his defense. The punishment will be a fine of one pound."
In any event the District Commissioner is the coordinating factor; the responsible officer when anything goes wrong. There is a very strong convention that any African, Arab or Indian should be free to see him at any time. Most of his time is, of should be, spent in interviewing and in travelling round his district. One is expected to settle every kind of problem from seamy matrimonial disputes to Arab tribal fights! To assist him in his labours the District Commissioner has a subordinate staff of 150 Indians, Arabs and natives. It is an unfortunate fact that oriental and occidental ideas of honesty are so different. In dealings with ones own subordinate staff, that has to be constantly born in mind.
I once found out that my office boy was charging visitors two shillings for the privilege of coming in to see me! I got round that by putting half-a-dozen benches in the office and keeping the doors wide open. In the morning it was rather a depressing sight. Twenty or thirty people would be sitting there, waiting patiently Arabs, Africans and Indians. But it is the tradition in Arabia and in Africa that arbitration should take place in public: it was the only safeguard against the consequences of bribery that was at all effective.
Possibly you have heard the story of the court interpreter in Nyasaland who took bribes from both sides. He got away with this lucrative practice for many years, because he habitually returned the bribe of the client who lost the case. The loser hadn't lost any money: the winner felt it had been worthwhile, so did the interpreter and everyone was happy.
The next officials in rank to the District Commissioner are (in Pemba) the Mudirs. They are Arab officials, carefully chosen, who each have charge of an area containing 20,000 people. These mudirs have minor magisterial powers over all Arabs and Africans in their mudiras and were very much respected. Below the Mudir were the Shehas or African village headmen. The Shehas have powers of arrest and are each responsible for some 2,000 of their villagers. They function as the last link in the chain that connects the House of Commons and His Majesty in England, and the ordinary African labourer. It is an interesting fact that for many years in Zanzibar and Pemba these Shahas have been elected by their own villagers to represent them. The candidate is automatically approved by the District Commissioner, providing he has not a long criminal record. He receives a Government salary of about $5.00 per month. The Shehas can not hold court, though they habitually settle disputes between villagers out of court-usually taking a commission for doing so.
The "elected Sheha" looks a nice democratic sort of practice. In fact it is sometimes disappointing in its results. Too often the villagers will deliberately select a half-wit as their Sheha, knowing that he will cause them no trouble and that the other elders will in fact enjoy a portion of his pay-in return for having elected him.
The Mudirs hold courts for petty criminal offences, on which the Shehas act as assessors and jurors. The commonest offences are the illicit sale of liquor and petty assault. Z'bar (Zanzibar) being a Mohammedan country forbids the sale of all alcoholic liquors. Exceptions are however made in the case of Christians and alcoholics!
During the war our administration was concerned principally with two problems-the planting of additional food and price control. In view of the illiteracy of the vast bulk of the population and the inadequacies of our staff, individual rationing was impossible. But an Economic Control Board was set up which, on the whole, very successfully kept down the prices. The board aroused little opposition from the Indian traders but did a tremendous service to the natives and Arabs by keeping down prices and securing essential imports.
The food situation became so bad that eventually a Compulsory Labour Decree was introduced. This empowered the District Commissioner to order any native to cultivate a plot of land with specified crops. I left before the full results of this innovation became apparent. From the administrative point of view it was an immense burden. The decree was introduced at the request of the elders of the villages. Not unlike their counterparts in this hemisphere, they complained bitterly to the Government of the laziness of their children: of how they wouldn't do a day's work but left it to their parents to support them.
We had various other war-time duties. One of the most trying was our responsibility for the coast-watching services. Our posts were manned by Africans and Arabs whose duty it was to report all sea and air traffic by phone to the District Commissioner. Sometimes, too often for the good of one's temper, one was awakened in the night by a telephone bell ringing and a voice saying in Kiswahili "Bwana, ndege ya jius inafika"--"Master, an high bird is approaching." When asked if the aeroplane is one of ours the invariable reply is "Ndia, hii udege yeta Alhamdullilah." "Yes, praise be to Allah it's one of ours!" In fact, of course, no native coast-watcher would have the slightest idea whether a plane or ship was friendly or not.
Before I talk about the future of this colony, I would like to say a word or two about its finances. The gross revenue per annum is usually in the neighbourhood of £500,000, say $2,000,000. These revenues are the proceeds of indirect taxes on imports and exports, the main items being an export tax on cloves. There were (before the war) no direct taxes, as in many other colonies. The only part of this revenue spent outside the Protectorate is for pensions to retired Zanzibar Government servants.
The rest is spent locally on salaries, roads, public health and education. No colony so far as I know can contribute directly to the British Exchequer. On the other hand the British taxpayer contributes whether he 'knows it or not, to the Colonial Development Fund for the colonies, following a debate in the Imperial Parliament (on Colonial Policy, for the first time since 1937) at which it was agreed to be the moral duty of the English nation to raise the standard of living and education of the African.
Each District Commissioner is given by the Secretariat so much money to spend in his district; the way in which it is to be spent is exactly defined. There exists a most wonderful and elaborate government accounting and auditing system which, although its requirements take up a good deal of one's time, succeeds, so far as I know, in its declared object of preventing the most ingenious and dishonest Arab or Indian clerk from stealing one cent.
Incidentally some of you may have read comparative studies of various colonial systems of government. It is true, I think, that each one gives the British Colonial Service the credit for having incorruptible white officials. This view is, so far as my experience goes, correct, but honesty in government-officials is not highly prized by Africans or Asiatics. Sometimes one wonders whether the native doesn't regard an incorruptible man as synonimous with an absolute fool!
The long-run policy of His Majesty's Government has been laid down. Its aim is to give self-government in time to the native populations of colonial territories. They are to be educated to a level at which they are capable of self-government. Since, when that day comes, there will be no Colonies or Protectorates, the Colonial Office should eventually cease to exist, it might be called a self-liquidating concern.
What has been achieved along these lines in Zanzibar Protectorate so far? I have already spoken to you of the Mudin and Shehas, the legislative councils and native juries. In other parts of East Africa, notably in Uganda and Tanganyika Territory, the process has been carried much further. In those Colonies and Mandated Territories there are many purely African courts and African Municipal Councils.
In the realm of education, a lot depends on the personality of the Director of Education. In our Protectorate, he was very much a live wire, who fought tooth and nail, night and day, for his schools and for better appointments for his pupils. His personal deputy, for example, was an Arab who had been sent by the Government to the L.S.E.
Recently, for the first time in colonial history, Africans have been appointed as political officers in West Africa. This is concrete proof, if such is needed, of the sincerity of the Colonial Office.
In East Africa the four territories of Uganda, Tanganyika, Kenya and Zanzibar Protectorate have established a permanent Governors' Conference in Nairobi. In addition there is an East African Civil and War Supplies Board there to co-ordinate the economic policies of the governments concerned. Perhaps it is the intention of the Colonial Office to establish, in the long run, a new Dominion of East Africa. Such a Dominion would presumably become a member of the British Commonwealth of Nations on an equal footing with the Dominions of South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and Canada. The same process seems to be in train in West Africa, where a Minister of State for all West African Colonies has recently been appointed for the first time in the person of Lord Swinton.
What are the difficulties? What are the obstacles? One, I have mentioned, is Indian economic and political peiaetration into Africa. Nor is there yet in East Africa any articulate demand for independence, such as exists in India. But in India Ghandi said that "if the alternative to British rule is chaos, I prefer chaos." The problem therefore is altogether different.
The principal obstacle is of course the general lack of education. But this condition is steadily being improved upon.
We must assume that the basis for any such Dominion will be complete electoral and judicial equality between persons, whatever their colour. No one who has met the best educated Africans will deny that Africans can be well-educated. If proof of this contention is needed, an African at present is Governor of one of the largest French Colonies. I think it would be correct to say that in Kenya such a proposal would meet with vehement opposition from some of the white settlers. They are a body who exercise considerable pressure in the interests of their own community; and secondly, they are on the whole opposed to racial equality between Europeans and Africans, or Europeans and Indians. They also uphold certain privileges in regard to land ownership on a racial basis.
What is to happen to the Sultanate of Zanzibar? Our Sultan is a delightful old man; genial, shrewd, charitable and venerable, with a fine white beard and magnificent robes. What would he or his successors say to such a proposal? I don't know.
In conclusion, let us look at the history of the British Empire over the last 150 years. It has been pointed out by a lecturer in Colonial History at Oxford, that there are two distinct lines of policy. One follows the line of self-government in quick time, instances are Canada and the other Dominions. In these instances self-government was given before lasting bitterness had been aroused. Look on the other hand at what happened when independence was withheld in Ireland and Egypt! They received independence, or won it by force of arms. but our reluctance, our procrastination for reasons good or bad, left behind a legacy of hatred which may never be quite forgotten. The history of the U.S.A., of India and of Burma point the same moral.
Many senior British officials in the Colonies take the view that we must move very slowly indeed towards self-government in the Colonies. I venture to make one suggestion. The more we hasten the movement towards self-government, the better. It involves risks, that is obvious. But we have seen that on the whole those Colonies and Protectorates which became Dominions or, like Southern Rhodesia, self-governing units, and thereafter remained willing members of the British Commonwealth of Nations, were those whose demands for self-government were granted quickly. On the other hand, some territories after obtaining independence wish to dissociate themselves from Great Britain and the Empire.
There is one, more angle to which I should like to draw your attention. In the past, most of the moves which have led lo this self-governing partnership of states have usually originated in Whitehall, not from Colonial officials on the spot. For a multiplicity of reasons they (the Colonial officials on the spot) tend to adhere to the status quo. Perhaps the recent events in Burma and elsewhere in the Far East were a consequence of this attitude. It seems that the natives of Burma were at best relatively apathetic on the question of whether they were to be ruled by the British or the Japanese. There is a problem of personnel which it is up to the Colonial Office selection boards to resolve. Administrators in the Colonies today need brains rather than brawn. Colonies and Protectorates today present complex modern urban and industrial problems. Where the contact and sympathy between Government officials and the people is, for some reason, inadequate, riots and civil disturbances develop. Look for example at the history of the West Indies in recent years, or at the Zanzibar riots of 1936, or the riots in Cyprus.
The British Commonwealth, viewed as a voluntary association of independent states seems to most of us as admirable an instance of international co-operation as exists, securing peace over large areas of the earth. It seems therefore that we should make every effort to avoid existing Colonies and Protectorates following (if I may say so) the examples of Ireland, Egypt and India. Colonies cannot be retained indefinitely by force of arms.
It seems to me that those people who are opposed to the present declared policy of the Colonial Office--namely the education of Colonial peoples to a level at which they can govern themselves--are handicapping the development of the Empire as a voluntary association of nations. We want to maintain it as that, and to do so it seems best to place freedom and self-government in the hands of the natives of the African Colonies as quickly as possible, though one must reckon that this development will take years or even decades.
Thank you for your attention.