Inside Britain's Colonial Mind
As the news of the death of Queen Elizabeth II hits the networks of the world, the debate around British colonial atrocities rings around the country and the wider diaspora. The question of whether descendants of those who were colonised by an empire that she was at the helm of, is being posed around the world. Some call it 'disrespectful', some would say 'good riddance'.
This post is being re-released as sparks fly around opening this dialogue again - it focuses on the colonial atrocities of the British empire in Africa.
Highlighting key events that Britain have tried to eliminate from their history books, we'll be revisiting the acts of the British empire. Some say the start date of the empire was the 1490s, while other historians date the empire from the early 1600s. The end of the empire came in the years after World War 2, with most of Britain's colonies ruling themselves independent by the late 1960s .
Born to be better
British colonization of Africa coincided with the era of "scientific racism" an ideology, represented in the Charles Darwin theory of social Darwinism (survival of the fittest). Social Darwinists believe in “survival of the fittest”— the idea that certain people become powerful in society because they are innately better. This is the fundamental backbone that the British built their colonial empire. What we learn in this post is that this ideology, that Britons were born to be better, formed their stance when carrying out their colonial acts in the continent of Africa. The post is titled, 'Inside Britain's colonial mind', which means that the focus of this post is to highlight the thought-process behind their colonial strategy. We'll explore several examples, of the British superior weaponry and technological advantages, concentration camps in Kenya, corrupt government i.e. Winston Churchill, and the concept of indirect rule in West Africa.
The reason why people are desensitised to Britain's mourning of the monarch is because their colonial history leaves a lingering impression, that they had an innate entitlement, a ruling authority, to exploit Africa and many other parts of the world, in the name of natural superiority.
Britain had multiple slices of Africa, and it was broken down like this: British West Africa there was Gambia, Ghana, Nigeria, Southern Cameroon, and Sierra Leone; in British East Africa there was Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania (formerly Tanganyika and Zanzibar); and in British South Africa there was South Africa, Northern Rhodesia (Zambia), Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), Nyasaland (Malawi), Lesotho, Botswana, and Swaziland. Britain had a strange and unique colonial history with Egypt. The Sudan, formerly known as the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, was jointly ruled by Egypt and Britain, because they had jointly colonized the area. The joint colonial administration of the Sudan by Egypt and Britain was known as the condominium government.
A couple of years back, I wrote a post about Mahatma Gandhi, and the premise of that article was uncovering Gandhi's similar view of Africans, to the British war hero Winston Churchill. Winston Churchill was known to have a great relationship with the young Queen of England (Elizabeth II); their relationship was depicted as one of allyship and trust, through some of Britain's toughest hurdles. Together with Winston Churchill, the Queen spearheaded Britain to many "victories"- conquering quests.
The directly similarity between a Winston Churchill and a Gandhi, was that they both expressed their hate for blacks, or "kaffirs". Churchill expressed disdain for the ethnic inhabitants of Britain's great empire, which has been brushed under the carpet for my entire existence. Winston Churchill has been painted as a war hero, someone that Brits should admire, for their courage and ineptness in the Great WW2 victory against the Germans. But his excursions in Africa were nothing short of hate-tours, a chance to mock, abuse and jeer at the African subjects that made 'Great Britain' so great. So, how do the two worlds of the great British empire and the dark side of their imperialist nationalism, never cross paths? We'll get into Churchill's past more later in this post.
You might be wondering why this section is called "rumours"- I came across an interesting tale that was partly the inspiration for this post. Allegedly, the former US president George W. Bush, left a bust of Winston Churchill near his desk in the White House, because he wanted to identify and associate himself with Churchill's stand against fascism. But ironically, the president who came right after him (Barack Obama) had it returned to Britain. Why the 180?
There are rumours, that Barack Obama had an underlying distaste for Britain (from a historical point of view). Nothing that he had ever come out and overtly said during his time as president of the United States, by the way. But there are many versions of an explanation behind what motivated Obama to return Winston Churchill's bust to Britain - which IS a fact. Some have stated, that Barack's Kenyan grandfather, Hussein Onyango Obama, was imprisoned without trial for two years and was tortured on Churchill’s watch, for resisting Churchill’s empire. He was captured by British troops in 1949, and according to his wife who is 90 years old now, she claims that he "still bore scars from his treatment when he died in 1979" (Swaine, 2012), she told an interviewer for the Times that he was extremely thin and dirty with a head full of lice upon his release, "the African warders were instructed by the white soldiers to whip him every morning and evening till he confessed she explained (Bowcott, 2008).
However, many have tried to dispel what she had said, with some sources close to Mr Onyango, admitting that he was once kidnapped by thugs, and stories have been twisted over generations. Ok, so we do not know the truth about why Obama really did return that bust of Churchill to Britain. But here's a funny fact: as soon as Donald Trump took to power in 2016, the Churchill bust was back in the oval office of the white house, see the image below. Take from that what you will.
I've previously explored and written about many historic colonial empires of Europe, from the Belgians, the German's, French to Portuguese. Here's what stands out about Britain's empire though; the undoubtable superiority complex. The belief that a group of people are innately better than others - the physical abuse was just like another formality to them. What sets them apart is the extent of the ruthlessness they showed to ensure that Africans understood the hierarchical construct of how life under the British rule. The British implemented a number of methods of control in their colonies (for the purpose of this post we'll only speak about Africa). This can be defined as 'tactical colonialism'.
Throughout their colonies, the British isolated specific ethnic groups from others, with favour and power. Their aim was to assert control - it's easier to corrupt one small group rather than trying to get an entire population of people to submit to your rules. These methods are otherwise known as "indirect rule" and "company rule", and we'll get into this a bit more.
The British identified ethnic groups where there were already to groups hierarchical and dictatorial systems in place, like their own strategies. This was a tactic they deployed in all colonies. They gave power to private companies, and sometimes different ethnic groups, to subjugate their colonies. These preferred groups, usually a conservative minority within the country, were supported by the British to the extent that they worked against the interests of their fellow Africans. For example, the British selected the Arab minority, to rule over the majority of the other Africans in Sudan, and similarly with the Fulani in Nigeria. The leaders of these ethnic groups would then be elected into a colonial military, and often staged coups to remove the democratically elected civilian governments of their countries.
Company Rule - In the early years of the British empire, private companies in Africa were granted territories to administer; these companies were in control of managing and governing large regions. Alarm bells sound as I discovered this, how can a PLC, govern a group of citizens? These companies were: the United African Company & United Trading Company in West Africa, the Imperial British East Africa Company, and the British South Africa Company . Leading directors were businesspersons, who were interested only in exploiting and plundering the rich natural resources of the territories of Africa that they were allowed to govern. This was a structural disaster for all the people that lived and belonged to those regions, and it caused severe conflict between the administrators and native people. "The company administration was the source from which all commands (laws) originated" (Madimu, 2017: p.29), a truly dysfunctional model of leadership was only going to breed one outcome, chaos.
The Imperial British East Africa Company, founded in 1888, colonized Kenya for Britain, ruling there until 1893. The British South Africa Company, established in 1889 under the control of Cecil John Rhodes, used excessive force and coercion to colonize and rule Nyasaland (present-day Malawi), Northern Rhodesia (present-day Zambia), and Southern Rhodesia (present-day Zimbabwe); the company reigned over these colonies until 1923. His aim, was "to establish an economy anchored by mining enterprise" (Madimu, 2017: p.28).
Britain tactfully giving control to a large corporation in an area worked in their best interests for them to make profits and to keep control of a large proportion of people. The companies were large enough to ensure that Britain had an adequate constant flow of Africans for a workforce, and they were influential enough to impact the livelihood of people who did not want to conform to this way of colonial rule.
Indirect Rule - Britain took things a step further. Nigeria is a good example of how Britain practiced what can be called 'indirect rule'. Indirect rule, the invention of the British colonial administrator Frederick Lugard who is in the photo above, became the main system the British used to subjugate their African colonies. Frederick Lugard was a British soldier, a mercenary and a colonial officer. He found great use in African traditional rulers, to work on Britain's behalf and help control their other African counterparts. Although these Africans were technically “ruling" - actual decisions rested with British colonial officers. Lugard first experimented with indirect rule in northern Nigeria, where the Fulani had *already* established the Sokoto Caliphate and emirship. It is important that we note the prevalence of the Sokoto Caliphate, as it existed long before the British came about. It was one of the largest empires in Africa, which developed as a result of the Fulani jihads (holy wars) which took place in the first decade of the 19th century in what is now Northern Nigeria. The Sokoto Caliphate was the centre of politics and economics in the region, until Britain got their hands on it in the 20th century (Yoo, 2009).
Now, it's important that we make clear that Britain did not want to be a paternalistic coloniser, like the French did. They did not want their subjects to be able to identify with British people. Therefore they weren't in favour of assimilation, and weren't bothered about making English people, out of the Africans. Although Lugard would claim that the use of the indirect rule system, was because they wanted to preserve their colonies’ indigenous cultures, and this was their logical explanation for why they placed one group in control of the rest, so that "indigenous culture is not totally lost in the colonial empire" - was an audacious attempt to sound like they had any good intentions.
The main reason for indirect rule, was to minimize the cost of actually running the colonies, but still be able to maximising the exploitation of them. Indirect rule was cheaper, because rather than deploying British mercenaries to Africa for long periods of time and hoping that they can keep natives under control, they can introduce one African leader into a colonial military and make a military man out of him. He then controls the others as the "commander-in-chief". Because the system seemed to have worked in northern Nigeria, Lugard believed that all the African societies were monarchies and that those that weren't could become so with the establishment of 'chiefdoms'. So, he set to export the system to the rest of Nigeria. It failed in the Igbo areas of eastern Nigeria. In turn, the British created new leaders (chiefs) who were more likely corrupt individuals than not, who did not always have the interest of all their fellow Africans and were consequently not as respected by the people they were put in place to govern.
The result of Britain's indirect rule were horrible ethnic tensions, leading to Non-Fulani and Non-Muslim Nigerians were protesting against unfair treatment on them. All of this was all being fuelled by the British. During this time, many genocides and massacres took place in the region. Ethnic rivalries between the major groups in Nigeria: the Igbo, Hausa-Fulani, and Yoruba, (who make up about 65% of the population of Nigeria) were ignited during the British colonial period. Mainly the Yoruba, Igbo and the Hausa rejected the British colonial structure. However, this led to the forming of main political parties, driven by ethnic affiliations... the perfect cocktail for the British, who wanted to cause division.
In Nigeria, The National Convention of Nigerian Citizens, founded by Herbert Macaulay and championed by Nnamdi Azikiwe, was primarily centered in the Igbo-dominated Eastern Region. The Action Group, led by Obafemi Awolowo, was based in the traditional Yoruba area of the Western Region; and the Northern Peoples Congress, led by Ahmadu Bello and Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, was dominated by the Hausa-Fulani and based in the Northern Region. It was in the interest of the British to promote ethnic tensions in their colonies. A nation where people are turning on each other and not seeing eye to eye, benefits its oppressors in the end, because they were too busy fighting, they weren't able to detect the British, exacerbating these ethnic tensions to increase conflict and use it as a distraction while they continue to plunder natural resources.
There are many other examples of indirect rule in Africa by the British, I felt that Nigeria illustrates it well, but it was also practiced in Eastern Africa by Lugard, where it also failed miserably and ended in conflict. Although I ask myself if conflict and bloodshed was really considered a "failure" to the British back then. This is how the British used tactical colonialism to govern the British empire.
Ruling By Emperor - The British Way
Britain were victorious in World War II under the leadership of Winston Churchill; the war which involved the entire western world and allies from several other continents, saw Germany (the enemy) surrendering to Britain, the United States and the USSR. But some would say that the victory of WWII, marks the beginning of the end of the Great British Empire. To many Churchill was a hero, but we're going to talk about Winston Churchill, the 'imperialist'. His political ideology since he was a child, aligned with a policy of "extending a country's power and influence through colonization, use of military force, or other means".
Churchill was born in 1874 in Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire. Queen Victoria had just been crowned Empress of India, and the scramble for Africa was to commence just a few years after this. At 'Harrow School', then named 'Sandhurst', Winston recalled being told "a simple story: the superior white man was conquering the primitive, dark-skinned natives, and bringing them the benefits of civilisation" (Hari, 2010). As soon as Churchill was old enough, he wanted to play his part in those great little wars against those who he believed were barbarous. As a young man, Winston Churchill supported colonial atrocities all over the world, not just in Africa. For example in the SWAT Valley which is now part of Pakistan, members of the local population were fighting against British colonial rule. Churchill realised that the local population was "fighting back "because of the presence of British troops in lands the local people considered their own,” just as Britain would if she were invaded" (Hari, 2010). Instead, Churchill degraded them further, and labelled their rejection of British power as them simply being deranged, and having a “strong aboriginal propensity to kill”. Churchill visited Africa 3 times, and he wrote about every encounter and occasion that he was there - much to our benefit. Once the SWAT Valleys were destroyed beyond measure, the homes and livelihood of many, burned and decimated to mere scrap - he then fled to conquer Sudan, participating in the Anglo-Egyptian conquest of Sudan, Africa, where he bragged that he personally shot at least three “savages” himself (Hari, 2010). In his book The River War (1899) Churchill described the native Sudanese as 'strong, virile and simple-minded savages'.
Winston Churchill is also implicated in one of the nastiest chapters of British imperial history: the suppression of Kenya’s Mau Mau rebellion. The British built a railroad through the Kenya, which at the time was known as 'British East Africa'. They imported labour from India, and built large agricultural sites, "taking advantage of the fertility of the soil and the tropical climate" (Christensen, 2018). In 1920 the country officially became a British colony and named Kenya for its tallest mountain peak. British farmers became wealthy over the production of tea and coffee, and they used the native Kiyuku people as adapting laborers. The British Empire, which Churchill had been inherently involved in and spearheading for much of his life, was in decline. Its colonies were demanding "more" from Britain, and to Churchill this "more" aspect was simply too much to ask. Some wanted more representation, others wanted complete independence from the empire; this led to a tense situation in Kenya between the natives and their unwanted guests. Churchill’s response to the requests of freedom from British colonial rule, was not to listen to those concerns, or to negotiate; but to eliminate all objection. The Mau Mau rebellion, was a bloody, territorial dispute which turned into a civil war, lasting between (1951-1960). Despite Britain's attempts to eliminate this from their history, the story gained prevalence again in 2009, when 5 elderly Kenyan victims of the Mau Mau suppression, launched a £200m damages claim against the UK. They have reported that their people were raped, tortured and killed in the camps ran by the British. Although massacres were committed on both sides, by the Mau Mau in retaliation to people being thrown into concentration camps and the British Army bombing Mau Mau territory.
Solicitor Martyn Day told the BBC:
"They were put in camps where they were subject to severe torture, malnutrition, beatings. The women were sexually assaulted. Two of the men were castrated. The most severe gruesome torture you could imagine. Britain's insistence that international human rights standards should be respected by governments around the world will sound increasingly hollow if the door is shut in the face of these known victims of British torture."
A British writer named Caroline Elkins, published a study named "Britain's Gulag', chronicled how the British battled the anticolonial uprising. The book details how some 1.5 million Kenyan people were placed into a network of detention camps and heavily patrolled villages. It was a tale of systematic violence and high-level cover-ups. Of course this study did not come without backlash - some branded Elkins, a "self-aggrandising crusader whose overstated findings had relied on sloppy methods and dubious oral testimonies" (Parry, 2016) , whereas others commended her for breaking the silence.
We need more of this, breaking the silence. Encouraging Britain to be transparent for once, regarding the role they played in colonial Africa. If anything, addressing British affairs in Africa has never been openly done, there's never a comment, which is a testament to the shame and guilt that they carry.
The death of Queen Elizabeth II has just bought more attention, to the smoke mirror of a multicultural Great Britain that's been painted over us all - covering up their role as pillar of the dark history of Africa.
See sources at the end.
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