In the last two decades of the nineteenth century, Britain joined other European nations in the scramble for territory in Africa. Guided largely by strategic considerations, she showed little interest in exploiting the areas which she had acquired. In what might be called the first phase of colonial rule, lasting until about 1914, a thinly staffed colonial administration was preoccupied in each tropical African dependency with maintaining law and order and achieving economic self-sufficiency. To this end Africans were encouraged to grow crops such as cocoa and coffee, while a rudimentary communications system was established so that produce might find its distant markets. European plantation agriculture was allowed in only a few enclaves, such as the highlands of Kenya, but substantial mining concessions were widely granted to European companies. Politically, normal British policy was to retain and rule through such large traditional units of government as existed; among them were Buganda and the emirates of northern Nigeria. This policy was substantially modified in Ashanti, which therefore furnishes an important exception to the general pattern.
British policy remained essentially empirical throughout the second colonial phase, which roughly coincides with the interwar years. With the growth, however, of the notion of trusteeship, the British Government recognized a duty not only to govern but also to develop its dependencies economically, socially, and politically. After 1918 a modest expansion of government agricultural, medical, and educational programmes therefore took place — mainly financed, however, from local revenues.