The Material Basis of Colonial Society, 1900–1940

  • Bill Freund


The imperial conquest of Africa was undertaken to tap African resources in order to help resolve the economic problems of Europe. Yet the circumstances of the conquest brought the colonial rulers to grips with a basic contradiction: only a long, intensive process could create conditions within Africa that could bring about substantial opportunities for investment, sales and profits. Beneath the surface of colonial political and administrative policy lay the unfolding process of capital penetration, a process that was far from reaching full fruition in the colonial era.


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  1. A compendium of essays on colonial Africa in four volumes, most of which reflect the apologist viewpoint of the editors is Lewis Gann and Peter Duignan, eds., Colonialism in Africa (Cambridge University Press, 1968–1975). The fifth volume contains an important bibliography. Among regional and national studies some of the best come from the French tradition.Google Scholar
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  53. Polly Hill: Migrant Cocoa Farmers of Southern Ghana (1962); Studies in the Rural Capitalism of West Africa (1970); Rural Hausa; a Village and a Setting (1972) and Population, Prosperity and Poverty in Kano 1900 and 1970 (1977), all published by Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  54. In the scholarship produced during the late colonial period, the Makerere school of writers on Ugandan agriculture had a special importance and remains valuable despite the now transparently heavy celebration of the cash crop. A classic is C.C. Wrigley, Crops and Wealth in Uganda (Kampala, 1959). Two late works deriving from this school areGoogle Scholar
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  57. Among a list of works of analytic merit on cash cropping in various parts of tropical Africa, the best should include: Sara Berry, Custom, Cocoa and Socioeconomic Change (Clarendon Press, 1975); Yves Mersadier, ‘La crise de l’arachide sénégalaise au début des années trente’, BIFAN, série B (28), 1966; Jean-Yves Marchai, ‘L’office du Niger: îlot de prospérité paysanne ou pôle de production agricole?’, CJAS, VIII (1974);Google Scholar
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  60. E.S. Atieno-Odhiambo, ‘The Rise and Decline of the Kenya Peasant’ in P. Gutkind and P. Waterman, eds, African Social Studies: A Radical Reader (Heinemann, 1977).Google Scholar
  61. On white settlers, a standard work is M.P.K. Sorrenson, Origins of White Settlement in Kenya (Oxford University Press, 1968).Google Scholar
  62. See also Frank Füredi, ‘Kikuyu Squatters in the Rift Valley 1918–29’ in Bethwell Ogot, ed., Hadith, V (1972). The settler land problem is the focus ofGoogle Scholar
  63. Robin Palmer, Land and Racial Domination in Rhodesia (Heine-mann, 1977). There is an excellent survey of the economy of settlerdom in the Congo: Bogumil Jewsiewicki, ‘Le còlonat agricole européen au Congo belge 1910–60’, JAH, XX (1979). On a large plantation system,Google Scholar
  64. Leroy Vail and Landeg White, Capitalism and Colonialism in Mozambique (Heine-mann, 1980) is outstanding.Google Scholar
  65. The ecological aspect of colonial agriculture has been opened up by the work of Helge Kjekshus: Ecology Control and Economic Development in East Africa (Heinemann, 1977), See also Leroy Vail, ‘Ecology and Society: the Example of Eastern Zambia’, JSAS, III (1977). On a related subject there is Bob Shenton and Mike Watts, ‘Capitalism and Hunger in Northern Nigeria’, Review of African Political Economy, 15/16, 1979.Google Scholar
  66. Colonial mining is much less well-served than agriculture in the literature. Charles van Onselen made a major breakthrough in placing the mines in the context of African labour and social history in Chibaro: African Mines Labour in Southern Rhodesia, (Pluto Press, 1976). See also Agwu Akpala, ‘Background of the Enugu Colliery Shooting Incident of 1949’, JHSN, III (1965); Bruce Fetter, ‘L’Union Minière du Haut-Katanga 1920–40: naissance d’une sous-culture totalitaire’, Cahiers du CEDAF, VI (1973); Charles Perrings, Black Mineworkers in Central Africa (Heinemann, 1979);Google Scholar
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  68. The history of colonial capitalist enterprise in Africa is far better developed in French than in English as note the work of Suret-Canale and Coquery-Vidrovitch. Business receives acute attention in the special edition of the Revue française d’histoire d’outremer, LXIII (1976), edited by Coquery-Vidrovitch, entitled ‘L’Afrique et la crise de 1930’. She has also written the important article: ‘L’impact des intérêts coloniaux: SGOA et CFAO dans l’Ouest africain 1910–65’, JAH, XVI (1975). A standard source for Belgian Africa is P. Joye and R. Lewin, Les trusts au Congo (Brussels, 1961). On narrower aspects of capitalism in Central Africa there isGoogle Scholar
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  71. Michael Crowder has emphasised the importance of indirect rule as a mechanism of British domination in colonial Africa, notably in the edited collection, Crowder and Obaro Ikime, eds, West African Chiefs (University of If e Press, 1970). His views have been criticised in M. SemakulaKiwanuka, ‘Colonial Policies and Administrations: the Myth of Contrasts’, AHS, III (1970), For other assessments see Hubert Deschamps, ‘Et maintenant, Lord Lugard, Africa, XXXIII (1963) andGoogle Scholar
  72. L. F. Nicolson, The Administration of Nigeria (Clarendon Press, 1969).Google Scholar
  73. There are numerous, generally narrowly administrative, case studies especially for Nigeria. The best-known include J.A. Atanda, The New Oyo Empire (Longman, 1973);Google Scholar
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© Bill Freund 1984

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