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Indirect Rule—French and British Style

  • Michael Crowder

In his witty and thought-provoking Lugard Memorial Lecture, ‘Et maintenant, Lord Lugard?’ (Africa, xxxiii. 4, 1963), Gouverneur Deschamps has provided us with an excellent general appraisal of the relative achievements and failures of French and British ‘native’ administration in Africa. But he does not do full justice to the fundamental differences between the two systems. Though he hints at these differences on several occasions in his lecture, he contends that, far from what is generally supposed, the two were in practice very similar, since they both reposed on indigenous chiefs. He insists that ‘la seule différence est que nous n'avons pas tenté, comme vous, Lord Lugard, de moderniser ces états anciens, ni de créer des embryons d'états là où il n'en existait point’; or‘…[our administrative practice] ne différait de la vôtre (au moins en Afrique noire) que par une allure plus familière et des buts moins définis’. This seems seriously to underestimate the nature of the differences between the two systems, which were rather those of kind than of degree.

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page 197 note 1 In the summary of the lecture in English it is put more explicitly: ‘Indirect rule has been practised by local governors at least since the second empire; from the end of the nineteenth century the official policy was that of “Association ”—very close to Lugard's ideas.’

page 197 note 2 See Mair, L. P., Native Policies in Africa, London, 1936.

page 198 note 1 See SirMitchell's, Philip article on ‘Indirect Rule ’, when Governor of Uganda, in the Uganda Journal, iv, no. 1, July 1936, where he says that indirect rule is founded on the assumption that ‘every group of people must possess some form of … natural authority, normally, of course symbolized in the person of some individual or individuals ’. ‘The administrative system called “Indirect Rule ” endeavours in each place where it is to be applied to ascertain what are the persons or institutions which the people concerned look upon as the natural authority.’

page 198 note 2 See Lloyd's, P. C. article ‘Kings, Chief and Local Government’, West Africa, Saturday, 31 January 1953, where he remarks that the Yoruba kings became much more powerful under the British. ‘They could only be deposed by the British administration which often tended to protect them against their own people.’

page 199 note 1 Overall report on the general situation of French Guinea in 1906, Conakry, 1906, cited by J. Suret Canale in ‘Guinea under the Colonial system ’, Présence Africaine, no. 29 (English ed.).

page 199 note 2 Delavignette, R. in ‘Lord Lugard et la politique africaine ’, Africa, xxi, no. 3, 1951.

page 200 note 1 L. P. Mair, op. cit., p. 210. R. L. Buell in his The Native Problem in Africa cites Joost Van Vollen-hoven, Governor-General of French West Africa, 1912–17, as describing the chiefs as having ‘no power of their own of any kind. There are not two authorities in the cercle, the French authority and the native authority; there is only one.’

page 200 note 2 Translated by T. G. Brierly.

page 200 note 3 Concessions were made to customary law prior to 1946, when native penal law was abolished and all inhabitants of French Tropical Africa became subject to the French code. Before that time only those Africans who were French citizens could claim justice under the Code. The vast majority of sujets were subject to the indigénat already referred to and to customary law. Customary law, however, was not administered by the chief but by the French administrator, who was assisted by two notables of the area who were versed in tradition. These courts could try both penal and civil cases. Now customary law survives in questions of inheritance, marriage, and land.

page 201 note 1 Conférence des Commandants de Cercle, Imprimerie du Gouvernement, Conakry, 1957.

page 201 note 2 Jones, G. I., Report on the Position, Status and Influence of Chiefs and Natural Rulers in the Eastern Region of Nigeria. Government Printer, Enugu (1957/8).

page 202 note 1 A somewhat extreme point of view with regard to the French attitude to chiefs, which is the exact opposite of that of M. Deschamps, is held by J. Suret-Canale in ‘Guinea under the Colonial System’, Présence Africaine, no. 29, p. 53 (English edition): ‘Between 1890 and 1914 the system of “direct administration ” was progressively established. The former sovereigns (including those who had rendered the best service to French penetration) were utterly eliminated and the former political leaders utterly overthrown; ethnic limits, the traditional limits of the former “diwe ” in the Futa Jallon, all those were carved up and rearranged at the whim of administrative needs or fancies. The political reality was henceforward the Circle, and where appropriate, the Subdivision, commanded by a European administrator, and below them, the canton and the village commanded by African chiefs described as “traditional ” or “customary ”. In reality, these chiefs in their role and in the powers devolved upon them had absolutely nothing traditional or customary; designed to ensure the cheapest execution (under their own responsibility) of the multiple tasks of administration, taxation, forced labour, recruitment etc., they were the exact counterpart of the caids of Algeria, subordinate administrators.’

page 202 note 2 Lewis, M. D., ‘The Assimilation Theory in French Colonial Policy’, Comparative Studies in Society and History, iv, no. 2, January 1962.

page 203 note 1 Lloyd, P. C., ‘Lugard and Indirect Rule ’, Ibadan, no. 10, 1960.

page 203 note 2 L. P. Mair, op. cit., p. 189.

page 204 note 1 Quoted by L. P. Mair, op. cit., pp. 186–9.

page 204 note 2 Cowan, L. Gray, Local Government in West Africa, New York, 1958.

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  • ISSN: 0001-9720
  • EISSN: 1750-0184
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