May 01, 2003

Bradford Is Annoyed II

I find myself annoyed beyond reason by two short passages in William Hitchcock's otherwise very nicely done Struggle for Europe (William Hitchcock (2002), The Struggle for Europe (New York: Doubleday: 0385497989)):

The second is an even more truly bizarre passage on Decolonization:

p. 171: ... The independence of Ghana now led British colonial officials to accept a new logic... independence... ought to be granted swiftly so as to preserve a modicum of control over the process.... Nigeria... 1960... Gambia... 1965.... In Kenya, a large white settler population resisted a swift withdrawal, and they had to be placated.... On balance, the British experience of decolonization in Africa was a successful one... swift, done with an earnest desire to promote viable African successor states, and carried out with a marked absence of violence...

I don't think many Africans today would view decolonization as "successful": I think that they would say that power was handed over to the wrong people, in successor states that had the wrong institutions, in a manner that appears in retrospect as if planned and intended to destroy Africa's hopes for progress, development, peace, and happiness for at least a full generation. Julius Nyerere and his belief that Tanzanians needed to live in villages on roads where bureaucrats could find them rather than near water. the sickening downward spiral of Ghana starting from Kwame Nkrumah's belief that power was to be used to loot the Ashanti and destroy the cocoa industry. Malawi's Kenneth Kuanda. Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe. Milton Obote and Idi Amin. Decolonization in Africa was successful in terms of British soldiers' lives and the avoidance of public embarrassment to the last cohorts of British governors. But decolonization "successful"? Only by a very strange definition of "success" indeed.

Posted by DeLong at May 1, 2003 09:55 PM | TrackBack

Comments

Hey, the end of colonialism meant cheap commodities and no threat from the resultant states. Isn't that what success is all about? Remember, was it Kennan's, article at the end of WWII saying how America represents a small fraction of the world population living with ten times the wealth/income of everyone else, and the goal of American foreign policy being to keep it that way? Presumably Britain felt the same way.

Bush's neglect of Afghanistan, and on-going cluelessness in Iraq now that the fighting has stopped do little to persuade one that anything has changed.

Posted by: Maynard Handley on May 1, 2003 10:38 PM

On the other hand, if one takes the standard of success to be vouocher privatisation and shock therapy in Russia, it doesn't look too bad.

Posted by: dsquared on May 1, 2003 11:03 PM

Oh yeh and:

1. Kaunda was Zambia, not Malawi; Malawi was Hatings Banda.

2. Any analysis of the failure of the African states surely has to take into account a) that there was a bit of an oil crisis shortly after they were founded, and b) that being a secondary theatre of the Cold War is hardly conducive to good government.

Posted by: dsquared on May 1, 2003 11:07 PM

I take democracy over independence any day. That is why I favor a deeper integration of EU members, the actual States have to return the power to the whole of European people. They should focus on the cultural development of their constituency. I think that Ernest Gellner had written about that, I have still to read it for the details, however.

If African peoples had choosen a truly democratic union with their former colonists, I suspect they would have been a lot better off. The French Republic President could be a native from Africa, well in fact that is why they gave them independence, there were too many "sociological racists" in France to allow that, so they had to *expell* them via independence.


DSW

Posted by: Antoni Jaume on May 2, 2003 02:30 AM

DSquared, have you've accepted the tenets of the New International Economic Order? Are Africans (and the other places decolonised during the postwar era) at least not partly responsible for their fate?

The main problem with decolonisation was its sheer speed. Britain had not taken an interest in building local institutions in most colonies until the immediate postwar period, when they rushed to set up universities and social service systems. The trouble was that, bankrupt after the war, Britain could no longer afford to maintain its colonies, and the attitude of the United States to British finances did not help. Britain therefore rushed to dump the burden of colonies as quickly as possible, especially after Suez in 1956.

At the same time, the rush to decolonise, though pushed by the 1953 Bandung conference (among other things), ended up "delivering" many of those countries into the hands of the leaders of national liberation movements, many of whom later turned out to be undemocratic. The fact that an often foreign-educated elite was ready and willing to take power made decolonisation easier, but in practice many of these leaders had no experice of administration, nor had they to work in an atmostphere where people disagreed about ends and means. The euphoria of independence often covered over these issues, but come to light they did, with varying consequences.

A good indicator for the path of an ex-colony after independence is whether they had active prewar polities or not. india, it is clear, coule have been a Dominion (like Canada now) from the early 20th century if Britain allowed it. (Churchill, for one, was bitterly opposed.) On the other hand, Congo, a geographic construct that existed for nothing else but brutal exploitation, probably needed decades of "rehab" rather than independence in 1960. Dag Hammarsjkold and others meant well, but the nonexistent legacy of Belgian colonisation was going to take more than a couple of years to put to rights, no matter what Patrice Lumumba and others were saying at the time.

Posted by: Damien Smith on May 2, 2003 03:07 AM

I think you need to be a bit more specific in your criticisms- and in your implicit suggestions of what should have happened. Was British decolonisation a failure because:
a) the British walked away too quickly, and should have stayed and trained up more local administrators and entrepeneurs, even at the cost fof longer and bloodier guerrilla wars?
b) because the British walked away leaving natural resources in the hands of appalling elites- tribalists, socialists, nutters, or a combination of the three?
c)because the british walked away having set up the wrong model of government: ie one in which a rapacious state battened off a few natural resource rents and thus had no incentive to develop the rule of law, a functioning market economy and a state supported by taxation?
If it's a), I think you have to be sure that had the British stayed longer, they wouldn't have provoked wars whose bloodiness and extent more or less destroyed any chance of economic and social success for the countries they were fought in (eg ex-French colonies Algeria and Vietnam, ex-Portuguese colonies Mozambique and Angola, ex-Belgian colonies Rwanda and Burundi).
If it's b), there's certainly a British responsibility in handing over power to some pretty ugly customers. But why did they do this? Mugabe in Zimbabwe was hardly their creature, for example: he won a democratic election fair and square in 1980, since his Shona tribe were the majority (he has never won an election fair and square since, but there you go).
Socialism was in the air in the decolonisation era: a lot of people subscribed to the same loopy myths as Nyerere. Tribalism: it has to be true that a lot of British Imperial administrations depended on subcontracting the job of keeping the natives in line to local chiefs (in India, Maharajahs and 'Princes'). But did the British do anything more than skew, perhaps reinforce a system of tribal allegiance that was already there? And why, given that they ruled India for so long using the power of local rulers, were non-tribal Indian politicians so successful in clearing most of these relics out of the way once they had independence?
If it's c), the British almost certainly didn't anticipate the problems that would arise from a rentier economy, but then I doubt that anyone else did either. After all, most development economists took a long time to get round to acknowledging 'the curse of natural resources' and some - like many of those in, say, the LSE- still have problems doing so. Beyond any possible lack of foresight, there is a ready-made problem in any country which has natural resources (Nigeria is the outstanding example in the ex-British African countries): if there are natural resources, whoever controls the armed forces and the police can control those resources, extract a sufficient rent to run a police state, and let the rest of the country go to hell. This is a problem that the Americans (and we British, their very junior partners) are now going to confront in Iraq: how do you avoid setting up a rentier economy in a resource-rich state?

Posted by: Dan Hardie on May 2, 2003 06:59 AM

I think you need to be a bit more specific in your criticisms- and in your implicit suggestions of what should have happened. Was British decolonisation a failure because:
a) the British walked away too quickly, and should have stayed and trained up more local administrators and entrepeneurs, even at the cost of longer and bloodier guerrilla wars?
b) because the British walked away leaving natural resources in the hands of appalling elites- tribalists, socialists, nutters, or a combination of the three?
c)because the british walked away having set up the wrong model of government: ie one in which a rapacious state battened off a few natural resource rents and thus had no incentive to develop the rule of law, a functioning market economy and a state supported by taxation?
If it's a), I think you have to be sure that had the British stayed longer, they wouldn't have provoked wars whose bloodiness and extent more or less destroyed any chance of economic and social success for the countries they were fought in (eg ex-French colonies Algeria and Vietnam, ex-Portuguese colonies Mozambique and Angola, ex-Belgian colonies Rwanda and Burundi).
If it's b), there's certainly a British responsibility in handing over power to some pretty ugly customers. But why did they do this? Mugabe in Zimbabwe was hardly their creature, for example: he won a democratic election fair and square in 1980, since his Shona tribe were the majority (he has never won an election fair and square since, but there you go).
Socialism was in the air in the decolonisation era: a lot of people subscribed to the same loopy myths as Nyerere. Tribalism: it has to be true that a lot of British Imperial administrations depended on subcontracting the job of keeping the natives in line to local chiefs (in India, Maharajahs and 'Princes'). But did the British do anything more than skew, perhaps reinforce a system of tribal allegiance that was already there? And why, given that they ruled India for so long using the power of local rulers, were non-tribal Indian politicians so successful in clearing most of these relics out of the way once they had independence?
If it's c), the British almost certainly didn't anticipate the problems that would arise from a rentier economy, but then I doubt that anyone else did either. After all, most development economists took a long time to get round to acknowledging 'the curse of natural resources' and some - like many of those in, say, the LSE- still have problems doing so. Beyond any possible lack of foresight, there is a ready-made problem in any country which has natural resources (Nigeria is the outstanding example in the ex-British African countries): if there are natural resources, whoever controls the armed forces and the police can control those resources, extract a sufficient rent to run a police state, and let the rest of the country go to hell. This is a problem that the Americans (and we British, their very junior partners) are now going to confront in Iraq: how do you avoid setting up a rentier economy in a resource-rich state? And of course, you, or you and to a lesser extent us, are facing the other questions as well: stay in and fight or get the hell out? How do you find a sane, uncorrupted Third World elite?

Posted by: Dan Hardie on May 2, 2003 07:07 AM

This is a fascinating topic, and one in which I haven't done a lot of reading. An in-depth comparison between Africa, and India, and Malyasia, etc., would be useful. Dan Hardie raises some interesting points as well. I wonder if Prof. Delong has given any thought to the feasibility and utility of distribution of a large percentage of Iraqi oil wealth directly to the people of Iraq. I'm assuming that the people have no obligation to honor debts incurred by the Hussein regime, which I know is an oversimplification of another more complex problem.

Posted by: Will Allen on May 2, 2003 07:59 AM

The curse of natural resources is a good reason why the USA should invade Syria.

Syria is short on mineral resources (there is water and irrigable land). So it will be much easier to set up democracy and freedom there.

Meanwhile, the US can keep a garrison state in Iraq extrtacting oil and slowly developing better institutions. When arabs complain about US abuse of Iraq's resources and people, point them to the success of democracy in Syria and Lebanon.

Posted by: Newt on May 2, 2003 08:51 AM

>>Syria is short on mineral resources (there is water and irrigable land). So it will be much easier to set up democracy and freedom there.

*cough* Yugoslavia.

Posted by: dsquared on May 2, 2003 09:07 AM

"Remember, was it Kennan's article at the end of WWII saying how America represents a small fraction of the world population living with ten times the wealth/income of everyone else, and the goal of American foreign policy being to keep it that way?"

Sigh. See
http://www.j-bradford-delong.net/movable_type/archives/000568.html

Regarding Brad's original point: the British record on decolonization looks pretty good if you look at what happened in Algeria. Or the Congo.

Posted by: Russil Wvong on May 2, 2003 12:24 PM

The only good way to decolonize is not to colonize in the first place.

Otherwise, what Dan Hardie said (so nice, MT posted it twice).

Posted by: jam on May 2, 2003 12:48 PM

"The only good way to decolonize is not to colonize in the first place."

Speaking as a person who hails from one of those "colonized" (this isn't really the right word) countries, I have to say that this is largely nonsense. In West Africa, at least, the British didn't just move into a void, or impose their rule upon peoples living quietly at peace with one another. The reality, in Nigeria in any case, was that the British gained their foothold in Lagos during the peak of the Yoruba civil wars.

There were several Yoruba states at the time, warring with each other to sell off captives as slaves to traders off the coast (this was before quinine, when white men feared to venture into the malaria-ridden hinterland, so pretty much all the slaves captured were caught and sold off by fellow Africans.) The British set up shop in Lagos in 1861, partly to enforce their ban on the slave trade, and in the course of their expansion of the protectorate to the rest of the Yoruba region (achieved by 1887) managed to end the Yoruba civil wars once and for all. They also managed to bring to an end the continuous encroachment (and forced islamization) of Yoruba territory by the Hausa-Fulani caliphates towards the North. For the Yoruba, at least, the coming of British rule was an indisputably Good Thing.

Damien Smith has it right: the problem wasn't with the so much the FACT of imperial rule, as it was with the MANNER in which it was carried out. No real forethought was given in Africa to developing those institutions that would enable the subject states to remain viable once British rule was over, and while ethnic tensions could be contained by the colonial administrators, once they departed merciless struggles for power broke out between the various peoples (I detest the word "tribe" - why are 30 million Yoruba a tribe, while 9 million Swedes aren't?) lumped together in artificial states. Given the weak institutions left behind by the Europeans, and the lack of ethnic cohesion or any sense of national identity between the people left to rule themselves, is it any wonder that these "states" are failing?

There has been research carried out on the whole issue of ethnic diversity and economic development , so I'm not just theorizing. The paper by William Easterly and Ross Levine ("Africa's Growth Tragedy: Policies and Ethnic Divisions" - available on William Easterly's home page) deals with precisely this issue.

So, to summarize, Brad is correct. If decolonization in Africa can be said to have been "successful", this can only be true from the viewpoint of the decolonizers.

Posted by: Abiola Lapite on May 2, 2003 01:22 PM

"Regarding Brad's original point: the British record on decolonization looks pretty good if you look at what happened in Algeria. Or the Congo."

Who remembers the Biafrans? 2 million died during the 1967-1970 war, in which Britain played a very direct role. And then there is Zimbabwe - here again Britain played a duplicitous role, pretending to impose sanctions against Ian Smith's government even as Prime Minister Wilson covertly funneled fuel and other aid to the Rhodesian government. We also mustn't forget that Britain's broken promises after 1980 gave Mugabe the excuse to impose the catastrophe currently unfolding in that country.

Posted by: Abiola Lapite on May 2, 2003 01:28 PM

The question, I think, is whether one can separate the fact of imperial rule from its manner. There is an old joke that the British acquired their empire in "a fit of absence of mind." What the joke plays on is precisely the opportunism that Abiola Lapite points to in the British "takeover" of Nigeria. Much the same process played out in India. Individual Princely states were either leaned on or conquered depending on what opportunities presented themselves. There was no grand plan. And individual indigenes and groups of indigenes undoubtedly benefited (the Yoruba in what was to become Nigeria, Brahmins in India). But imperial rule was not instituted for their benefit. It was instituted by and for the imperialists, and it was, must have been, operated for their convenience. And their convenience dictated non-ethnic boundaries; strong, almost insuperable, social barriers between rulers and ruled; and cheap administration. And those, in turn, guaranteed post colonial ethnic tensions, weak national feeling, unpracticed indigenous administrators and minimal indigenous institutions and structures. Which all contributed to post-colonial disaster. The end is in the beginning. No imperialist power had the natives' interests at heart. There was no white man's burden.

Posted by: jam on May 2, 2003 02:22 PM

Thomas Sowell wrote about the "going to hell in a handbasket after decolonization" phenomenon in his Cultures trilogy. He focused on how modern technology and modern governing institutions deteriorate once a high-tech colonizer (such as Brits in Kenya, or Romans in Britain) abandons the colony and leaves everythig to the locals who lack the expertise of their former masters.

One should also note that most European colonies in Africa were in regions where nation-states had never before existed. A post-colonization period is bound to witness disagreements over local autonomy and even over whether the former colony should remain one nation.

Also, Britain had a system of rule of law and political checks and balances that, even when taking into account its civil rights abuses in the colonies, was superior to the governing systems of most of the world. Could the locals, who had scarce, if any, experience in colonial government (especially at high levels), be expected to carry out the better political traditions of their former masters?

Posted by: Alan K. Henderson on May 4, 2003 12:37 AM

Damien Smith is "right in practice, wrong in theory". The important thing is to separate out British imperial policies that evolved after acquiring the empire from the practices that actually had to be implemented - decolonisation took place in more "absence of mind". There WAS a coherent plan for providing local institutions and disengagement (aimed at building up an interacting commonwealth, not at complete separation). The catch is that pressures from outside the imperialist fold - largely through Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, since they had most clout, but also present within the UK - meant changing plans and accelerating them. The "decolonisers" were actually those with a fast disengagement agenda, and they were at their most effective when they turned up in the USA. It wasn't a British thing at all, as such. Any blame for decolonisation sheets home to those that pushed decolonisation through.

It's worth reading up on Lionel Curtis and Reginald Coupland. They not only worked out a clear forward path, they also offered the USA a way to share in it. Only, the USA preferred getting what Maynard Handley accurately describes - the neocolonialist pattern that never did offer Britain anything, as the drip tray was mostly held by the USA. (For Abiola - I remember from my time in Nigeria in the 1960s, local prawn fisheries were largely diverted into US hands and raised local market prices while lowering both availability and quality; free trade of that sort favours the largest players).

In a lesser way, this also applies to the Dutch, French, Belgian and Portuguese experiences in decolonisation. All were forced to cut and run, and the lack of correct institutions reflects the fact that they were being brought in slowly enough for the grafts to take (and, it must be said, to maintain and support the colonialists' continuing interests). Only, nothing was yet ready and in place when the decolonisers pulled the rug out from under those with slow maturing plans.

Posted by: P.M.Lawrence on May 4, 2003 05:35 PM

Abiola says: We also mustn't forget that Britain's broken promises after 1980 gave Mugabe the excuse to impose the catastrophe currently unfolding in that country.

Shame you said that, because I thought your other points were very good. Yes, the British were meant to subsidise a gradual land-reform programme (handing land over from white to black farmers) and didn't: the reasons why would make interesting reading, and might just conceivably have something to do with the nature of the Mugabe regime.
But to say that this gave Mugabe 'the excuse' to unleash his thugs is just way off the mark.Part of the current Zim crisis has indeed been the expropriation of white farmers by 'war veterans'. But it's been a pretty small part of the crisis.
In 1984, Mugabe's troops went into Matabeleland and killed between five and twenty thousand Ndebele.
Before the land seizures even kicked off, you had an economy heading for the tubes, an urban population that was viscerally anti-Mugabe, an army and a police force that didn't even pretend to believe in political impartiality or human rights, involvement in a grotesque and possibly genocidal war in ex-Zaire, courts that refused to take any meaningful action against government illegality (and judges who were intimidated if they even looked like they might step out of line), heavily censored media, govt-sponsored attempts to incite tribal hatred among the Shona, a South Africa which supplied all Zim's electricity but wasn't prepared to take action on any of this....
In short, you had an economically incompetent government with a history of mass-murdering blacks whenever it hit a few problems, and yet Abiola sees the root cause of it all as the British failure to hand over some cash for land reform. Sorry but that's a joke.
There are certainly times when you have to point the finger at foreign powers in apportioning the blame for Africa's problems, but where Zimbabwe's current problems are concerned, I'd really like to hear Africans admit that the responsibility for the evil lies first of all with Mugabe and then with his buddies like Mbeki.
But Abiola would rather Blame Whitey.

Posted by: Dan Hardie on May 7, 2003 10:12 AM

My language may have been just a little too aggressive there, so my apologies to Abiola. But I would still make the same point: even if the British govts of the 80s and 90s had stumped up cash for a gradual land reform programme, the political and economic problems of Zimbabwe under Mugabe would almost certainly be much the same. He might have been slowed down slightly if a larger number of black families had had their own land, but it's easy to see him playing almost exactly the same game- arming the 'war veterans', stirring them up and setting them loose- this time on the pretext that the landed black families were 'exploiters' or just Ndebele. The kulak programme all over again. As it is, most of the reported political killings in Zimbabwe have been of black opposition supporters, not white farmers, and we don't know how many unreported killings there have been.
...And the South African government has behaved disgracefully over this one.

Posted by: Dan Hardie on May 13, 2003 06:22 AM
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