The Empire and the century/West African Possessions and Administration
By LIEUT.-COL, SIR FREDERICK LUGARD, K.C.M.G.
It is not proposed in this short article to give any summary of the history of the West African Colonies, which can be obtained in full detail in Mr. Lucas's admirable series, or in summary fix)m the Colonial Office List. It would appear to me to be of more interest if I confine myself to a few general remarks on our West African possessions, and dwell perhaps at somewhat greater length with that particular one. Northern Nigeria, of which I have personal knowledge, and finally discuss a few questions of interest in African administration in general.
I.—West Africa (General).
In the Report of the Select Committee of the House of Commons, which sat for three and a half months in 1865 'to consider the state of the British establishments on the Western coast of Africa,' may be found an account of the origin and objects of each colony, which is of quite unusual interest, and is supported by a mass of evidence filling a very bulky volume. The object with which these settlements were established was, in the first instance, the promotion of the oversea slave trade, and when that trade was stopped they were maintained for its suppression. So little was known only forty years ago of the value of tropical products that the Committee give it as their opinion that, apart from the slave trade, commercial enterprise would never have established itself on the Gold Coast; that there would probably have been no British West African settlements at all; and still less would the Crown have implicated itself in (questions of Government or Protection* In a general view of the early history of these Coast Colonies, therefore, the slave trade is the main and almost the only consideration. In their origin the Gold Coast and Gambia consisted of successive companies, formed in the former case in 1667 (after the Dutch War), and given charters to hold and govern forts, without acquisition of territory, for the purpose of prosecuting the trade in slaves and in gold. For these purposes the British Government subsidized them in sums varying up to £20,000 per annum.
In 1727 the early agitators for the suppression of the slave trade obtained a charter, and formed a company for the settlement of liberated slaves, obtaining for the purpose the cession of the present site of Freetown (Sierra Leone) from the native chiefs.
In 1807 the oversea slave trade was abolished, and a 'languid commerce' took its place on the Gambia, while the Crown took over the administration in Sierra Leone.
On the Gold Coast the merchants were ruined, and could no longer maintain themselves, and, some twenty years later (in 1821), the Crown took over the government, and both the Gambia and Gold Coast were placed under a central administration at Sierra Leone. On the Gold Coast there were but four forts retained, the cost of which was £17,000; but, in the following year, the British Government, disgusted at the expense of the Ashanti War, handed them back to the merchants with a subsidy of £4,000 per annum, and they were successfully administered by Governor Maclean.
Twenty years later (in 1842) the Home Government again took stock of its West African Settlements, and a Committee recommended that the Gambia and Gold Coast should once more become separate Governments under the Crown, concerned with administration only, and leaving commerce to the merchants. The abandoned forts were to be reoccupied, and more built (to control the native chiefs and the export of slaves, but not for territorial extension). An increase of the troops and a line of blockhouses were also recommended. This, it will be remembered, was a period of some activity against the slave trade to America, and between 1848 and 1858 three more Committees followed. The first recommended less forcible methods, the second that the means of suppression should be reinforced, and the third that the operations should be directed rather against the demand than the supply.
Yet another twenty years passed, and in 1865 we obtain from the proceedings of the Committee to which I have referred a vivid glimpse of the condition of West Africa at that time, and of contemporary opinion in England. Lagos, meantime (in 1861), had been added to the settlements, owing to the intervention of a naval officer in a native question of succession, and was made a consulate. Each of the settlements had increased its territory, in spite of the orders from England, and we can hardly wonder at this when we find that the bullets from opposing native combatants pattered on the barracks of the native soldiers at the Gambia, while on the Gold Coast the first attempt at a liquor license was opposed by the natives, because its effect was felt two miles inland, where the British had no jurisdiction. The evidence of Colonel Ord, R.E., Governor of Bermuda, who was sent by the Government to make a special examination and report on the West African Settlements, went to show that all that was claimed as under British protection was the actual beach of the sea—where it was not Dutch! My allusion to bullets and liquor licenses will recall to my reader's memory that for over two centuries arms and liquor had been the main articles of exchange with the natives for slaves, and that at the time I am now writing of they had become the staple imports. The small extensions of territory which the Committee complain had taken place were stated to have been caused by the necessity or keeping the natives at some little distance from the forts, for me suppression of the slave trade, and the opening up of legitimate commerce, including the collection of a small revenue by Customs duties. They involved no protection of native tribes. Attempts, however, which had resulted in failure, had been made by the Gold Coast to levy a poll-tax on the natives immediately round the forts, and from this fact the Committee argued that a certain equivalent protection had been involved. At this time the Dutch still occupied forts along this coast, and much friction existed with them.
The condition of the 'West African Settlements' in the year 1865 was, briefly, as follows: Each had a Governor and Colonial Secretary, a Chief Justice and Queen's Advocate, a few Stipendiary and Police Magistrates and Clerks, and a Legislative and Executive Council. The grant in aid for all the civil establishments on the coast was £14,000, in addition to charges for liberated slaves and missions. The troops consisted, on an average, of sixteen companies of natives, commanded by some fifty British officers, among whom the proportion of deaths and invalidings was very heavy indeed; five companies ('besides cavalry and artillery' and a local militia) were quartered at Sierra Leone, three on the Gambia, eight on the Gold Coast (which, however, generally had three only), and two at Lagos. The cost was borne by the British Treasury, and amounted to £180,000 per annum, in addition to barracks, hospitals, and stores. There were thirteen vessels of the navy and two river gunboats engaged in the suppression of the slave trade, and the naval officers stated that their vessels were not fast enough to catch slavers at sea, but were able to conduct an effective coast blockade. They were also employed in assisting the local Governors in wars with native chiefs, and disputes with traders, and in protecting trade from pirates. The maintenance of this squadron, whose primary duty was the suppression of the slave trade (a task undertaken by Great Britain alone, in spite of the treaty pledges of other Powers), cost the Government £157,869 per annum, and involved the death or invaliding of a large proportion of the crews. At this time the conscience of the nation had been deeply moved by the iniquity of the oversea slave trade. The markets of the United States, and later of Brazil, had been closed, and that of Cuba alone remained in spite of the undertakings of Spain. The results of suppression had so much increased the cost of slaves that better treatment of those who escaped our men-of-war had at least been ensured. The chief object alike of the 'Settlements' and of the war-ships was stated to be the suppression of the oversea slave traffic, and the cooperation of the former had enabled Government to limit the size of the squadron. The internal slave trade remained untouched.
The Imperial Government was thus spending a sum which could not be less than £320,000 per annum on the West African Settlements and slave trade, out of a revenue of £70,313,437, or nearly ½ per cent. of the total revenue of the United Kingdom. It happens that this is the precise amount of the grant in aid for Northern Nigeria last year, a country in which, by means of this grant in aid, a vast system of internal slave trade and slave-raiding has been almost entirely suppressed. It is the only West African Settlement to which any grant is now made, and, apart from the slave trade question, an important area for legitimate commerce is being opened up. This temporary contribution from the Imperial Exchequer now forms only half the proportion of the total revenue of the United Kingdom that it did in 1865.
To return to the condition of the Settlements themselves. Their aggregate revenue amounted to £80,400, while their expenditure (apart from military) came to £98,200. The deficit of £17,800 was only partly covered by the civil grant in aid of £14,000, and there was a growing debt in each. A house and land tax had been started in Sierra Leone. The Gold Coast poll-tax having been a failure, a liquor license was in this year (1865) attempted. Trade was not promising, though there was a 'certain amount' of legitimate commerce which was fostered to counteract the slave trade. The success of the. scheme for the education of liberated slaves is reported as very doubtful, while the checking of barbarous customs was quite ineffectual 'Countless treaties' had been made with the native tribes for the suppression of the slave (oversea) trade, commerce, amity, and territorial cession, some also for protection, but they were vague and not properly understood.
The Select Committee reported that in their opinion the assumption of governmental functions had been wrong, (a) because the West Coast was not adapted to colonization by British settlers; (b) because British law was inapplicable to native customs, and our assumption of responsibility brought no adequate advantage to the natives, whom it enervated and disunited by teaching them to lean on the Government England was pledged to vague responsibilities, and 'to administer a country which we cannot even tax as subject' The forces required involved a dangerous scattering of our officers, who might be required for a war nearer home, and a great loss of life and destruction of health, both bodily and mental. To govern properly, said the Committee, needs a much larger expenditure, a more thorough occupation of the country, and larger public works. Meanwhile, for the suppression of the slave trade it would be a wiser policy to maintain forts and treaties only, while commercial agents must keep on good terms with the natives without the assistance of Government force. Basing their conclusions on premises such as these, in which the great extension of tirade which has taken place in the last forty years had not been foreseen, and the white man's civilizing mission towards the inferior races was not recognised, it is not surprising to find that the Committee recommended immediate reduction, though not complete abandonment, of the Settlements. The Gold Coast was to be given up as soon as the chiefs could stand alone. All taxation, and its correlative of protection to tribes, should be at once abolished, and the settlements carried on temporarily on a grant in aid, 'with a view to ultimate withdrawal from all except, probably, Sierra Leone.' The various settlements should (they said) be again placed under Sierra Leone, as being economical, tending to a uniform policy and to contraction. They regarded the assumption of territory while domestic slavery existed as impossible, assuming that it must be legally prohibited, but practically recognised as being impossible of immediate abolition. Finally, they condemned (most rightly) the employment of attorneys in native causes and trial by jury, and recommended that native chiefs should be the sole judges of their causes, with only a right of appeal to the English. The Chief Justices and Queen's Advocates of these early Settlements, limited to the seabeach, had, it appears, at this date brought overmuch British legal procedure to bear on their dealings with the natives.
Let us once more pass over a period of twenty years. The year 1885 marked the beginning of the 'scramble for Africa,' for which the Berlin Conference of that date laid down the 'rules of the game.' The Dutch Settlements which 'thwarted our trade' on the coast had ceased to exist, and the French had already inaugurated their vast West African Empire with its capital on the Senegal, and its policy of cutting off the British Settlements from access to the interior, and of themselves gaining outlets to the sea at French Guinea, the Ivory Coast, Dahomey, and French Congo. Togoland and the Kameruns had become German the previous year, and a British Protectorate was simultaneously declared over the 'Oil Rivers' (Southern Nigeria). At the Conference itself the British delegates were able to declare that the British flag alone flew on the Middle Niger (Northern Nigeria), and thereby to secure to Great Britain the custodianship of its free navigation. The oversea traffic to the New World in slaves had died out, but with the growth of commerce the import of firearms and crude spirits had increased enormously.
The following five years witnessed the first real attempts of the European races to establish themselves and assume administration in the interior, and, just as ninety years before the conscience of Europe was awakened by Great Britain to the horrors of the oversea slave traffic, so now again our nation led the way in the calling of a Conference at Brussels (1890) to consider the question of the interior slave trade. This memorable Conference dealt with the remaining phase of the oversea traffic (now conducted almost solely by Arab dhows between the East Coast and Arabia) and with the prohibition of the import of firearms into Africa, which in the hands of natives had been found to be a primary means of promoting slave-raiding, and also a threat to the domination of the white races, who now proposed to partition the continent among themselves. Efforts were also made to control the import of spirits, which in the British Colonies alone amounted to many millions of gallons per annum.
During the last ten years the energy of our French neighbours has compelled the effective occupation of the Hinterlands of our various West African Colonies, and though owing to this cause it has been somewhat more rapid than it otherwise might have been (for the tradition of limiting the energies of administration to the collection of Customs from gin on the coast died hard), it cannot, I think, be denied that it. has resulted in an enormous extension of trade, and in great benefit to the native races. During this period the settlement of our frontier with France has led to not a little friction, which is now happily a thing of the past. The only important war was caused by the hostility of the Ashantis, and led to the annexation of their country after a brilliant campaign under Sir J. Willcocks. Minor troubles have occurred in the consolidation of our rule in each separate colony, with the result that the whole territory which is under the British flag (with the exception of a portion of the Hinterland of Southern Nigeria) has now been brought under administrative control, while the newly-created gold industry on the Gold Coast, and the prospects of commerce generally, are very satisfactory.
The staple exports of the West African Colonies are rubber and oil seeds (especially palm-oil, shea, and ground nuts), while hides, cocoa, and many minor products are yearly increasing in importance. Efforts have recently been made to develop cotton as a new and lucrative staple, so as to supersede the American supply from within the Empire.
Exactly forty years ago, as we have seen, the total revenue of the West African Settlements was £80,400, and their total trade was only £1,183,000. The statistics of the last published year (1903) show a total aggregate revenue of £1,700,081, which is rapidly increasing, and a total volume of trade of £9,738,584. So great a trade, which, except for spirits, is chiefly British, is worthy of some encouragement from the British Exchequer, which in 1905 spends on the development of the latest addition to its possessions (Northern Nigeria) the same sum as it spent on the coast in 1865, when the trade was almost nil, and it may, I trust, look forward to its being an equally sound investment.
It was due to the enterprise of Sir G. Goldie, founder of the Royal Niger Company, that the territories which form the Hinterland of Lagos and Southern Nigeria were acquired by England in spite of the eager efforts of France, and it is now some twenty years ago since he was able at the Berlin Conference of 1885 to announce that the British flag alone flew on the territories on both sides of the Niger up to Say, which is considerably north of the rapids. Complications with France in the west, and the loudly-expressed opposition to the Company's practical monopoly of the trade and navigation of the Niger, which emanated more especially from Liverpool, led in 1898 to the formation under direct Government auspices of the West African Field Force in Nigeria, and in January, 1900, to the transfer of the administration to the Crown, the Company remaining without their charter as a trading concern only.
The southern part of the Company's territory was included in what had hitherto been called the Niger Coast Protectorate, under the new title of Southern Nigeria, while the great territory inland to the north of the seventh degree of latitude was called Northern Nigeria, and comprised an area of some 820,000 square miles, bounded on west and north by French possessions, and on the east by those of Germany. The country for which the British Government had thus made itself responsible mainly consisted of the 'Sokoto Empire' in the west, and the Bornu Empire in the east, both of them Mohammedan in religion, and boasting a civilization derived from the great Empire of Songhay, which had flourished in the sixteenth century, and was itself but the heir of the series of great Empires which had preceded it The story of these early Empires has recently been told in a volume named a 'Tropical Dependency,' and the little known chapter of history which is there unfolded is of quite extraordinary interest The Moors and the Berbers or Northern Africa from the eighth to the thirteenth centuries led the van of Western civilization, and gave to Spain the culture and art, the wealth and the learning, which made her the unrivalled mistress of the West, and has immortalized the names of her principal cities—Cordova, Seville, etc. Here the arts of painting, sculpture, music, and architecture, and the sciences of mathematics, astronomy, and medicine attained an eminence which, clouded through the dark ages which followed the fall of the Moors and Berbers, was only revived and hardly excelled in quite modem times. This wonderful civilization was brought to Europe from Africa, and the same influence extending southwards made the kingdoms of Mellistine and of Songhay no less renowned in their day, while their principal cities—Timbuktu, Jenne, Katsena, and Kano (the two latter in Northern Nigeria)—became the marts of civilization, and exported their manufactures throughout the then known world. The civilization, therefore, of the Niger Sudan took its origin from the north, derived all its traditions from that direction, and conducted its trade with the Mediterranean coast Its cultured progress ever thrust southwards the barbarian hordes of negro pagans which it encountered on its frontiers. Before the ever-advancing tide of civilization these tribes were compelled to take refuge in the dense and inaccessible jungle of the great 'Forest Belt' which extends south of the eighth parallel of latitude, and between it and the sea, or in the swamps and network of creeks of the deltas of the great rivers. Some few, however, still held their own, and are found to-day amid the forests of the Benue Valley and the inaccessible mountain fastnesses to the north of it.
Following the voyages of Vasco da Gama and the other great ocean explorers of the fifteenth century, the new era of civilization in Europe, which arose after the fall of the Moors and Berbers in Spain, found access to Western Africa from the southern coast instead of across the northern desert. Meanwhile the wealth, splendour, and literary pre-eminence of the Askia dynasty of Songhay was at its zenith in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, but the life and death struggle of Europe against the Mohammedan Turks and Moors had at this period closed the gates of the North, and for three centuries the Niger Sudan was cut off from contact with Europe by the Northern route, except for a few stray caravans by the more easterly roads. Our Colonies on the West African Coast were located among the lower negroid types, who had been ousted from the interior uplands by the superior and civilized races from the North, and I have already shown that the result for three centuries has been (as might have been expected) a thankless task. Forest products have been, it is true, exported in considerable quantities, bought chiefly in times past with noxious crude spirits and firearms; but the secret societies which permeate these negroid tribes, and the fetishism and superstition in which they are steeped, have rendered any general progress difficult to achieve. Though in the case of individuals high standards of education have been attained, there is a tendency among the partially educated to parody the manners and dress of Europe, while the non-educated masses relinquish with reluctance, or do not relinquish at all, the cannibalism and the horrible fetish rites of thenancestors.
In 1900 the British Government came for the first time into contact with the traditions of the ancient civilization of the Sudan, and with races whose rulers professed a monotheistic religion, and were descended from a type of humanity greatly superior in intellectual ability to the coast population. In the early years of the nineteenth century Othman dan Fodio in the west, and El Kanem in the east of Nigeria, founded respectively the Sokoto Empire and the present dynasty of Bornu. Both were Mohammedan propagandists, and the vital force which enabled them to lead their followers to victory was the watchword of Islam, though, as a matter of fact, there were arrayed against them many followers of the prophet, and their religious zeal was but the cloak for secular conquest. The two dynasties exist to the present day, but differ profoundly in their system. Dan Fodio gave to each of his Fulani chiefs a flag of conquest, and setting out with this sacred symbol, each founded a separate emirate in which the ruling race was alien to the native population, and Moslem and pagan were alike subjected to it El Kanem came, on the other hand, from the east of Chad as a deliverer from a foreign yoke—namely, the Fulani, who had recently conquered the old Bornu dynasty. The Kanembu, as his followers were called, were closely allied in race to the Kanuri of the west of Chad, and at the present day are identified with them, speaking practically a common language and adopting the same customs.
The dawn of the twentieth century, which inaugurated a British administration in this land of ancient traditions and civilization, found throughout its length and breadth a chaos of misrule and anarchy. Like all despots in the tropical zone, the Fulani ruler had become a merciless tyrant, practising inhuman barbarities upon a subservient but deeply discontented people, who in turn were in constant revolt. The pagan tribes which fringed the emirates and the rebellious subjects were alike the victims of ceaseless raids, for slaves, and vast areas of land were depopulated, devastated, and deluged in blood. In the west the conquering Rabeh, who, on the defeat of his master, Sulieman, by Gordon's lieutenant, Gessi Pasha, had fled from the Nile regions with the remnant of Sulieman's army, had invaded Bornu, and laid its capital, Kuka, in ruins, ousted its ruling dynasty, and sold its people into slavery.
I have said that the country inherited an ancient civilization, and it will perhaps be well to describe in a brief word the salient points of that civilization, which was not introduced by the Fulani, but adopted by them from their predecessors, and has its origin in remote antiquity.
The ruling chief was supported by a council, to whose advice he was bound to listen on all important affairs of State. In him was vested the ultimate title to land, but his principality was divided into fiefs, held in a kind of feudal tenure by the principal officers of State, who collected taxes on behalf of the Emir and of themselves. The functions of Government were delegated to a large number of office-holders holding ancient and much coveted titles, some of which are common to almost all the emirates, while others are peculiar to certain ones. The members of the ruling house had certain offices, and succession followed the Koranic rule. Each considerable town had its seriki, or chief, who in turn had a more or less complete hierarchy of office-holders. The law was administered by judges (Alkali) deeply versed not only in the Koran, but in the commentaries of many Moslem jurists, and in theory it was strictly impartial, the Emir himself being amenable to the Alkali's court. Taxation was based on the tithe prescribed by the Koran for Moslems, and the Kurdin Kasa or tribute laid down for conquered pagans. Death duties, tolls on merchandise, and many other forms of taxation added to the revenues. The Alkali's judicial award was enforced by the executive power, and the system of rule was so admirably organized that the order of the chief, whether it concerned the labour required for buildings in the city or a levy of com or cattle, was apportioned to each town and district, and enforced by an army of messengers with extraordinary promptitude and efficiency.
In the decadence which marked the Fulani rule at the close of the nineteenth century this admirable system had become distorted, and was a mere vehicle for extortion, rapine, and cruelty. The Moslem rulers had become tyraants, delighting in torture and sensuality. Living persons were often impaled in the market-place, where their shrieks of agony were the jest of small boys till they died a lingering death; the refinement of the tortures they inflicted as described, by Dr. Miller, C.M.S., are too awful for repetition. The traditional offices were usurped by favourite slaves; the decisions of the courts were guided by bribery and extortion, and the Alkali's verdict, if unpalatable to the chief, was set aside. Additional taxes of all kinds were imposed, and arbitrary levies gave the peasantry no rest, and stifled all industry, since production was merely the mark for spoliation. Tax-gatherers lived like harpies upon the districts; from their lust no woman was safe, and their greed allowed no man to call his property his own. The warriors who had conquered in the name of Mohammed were effete. Mounted on horses covered with trappings, themselves smothered with quilted arrow-proof robes or shirts of mail, they raided the country annually for slaves.
Such was the state of the country in 1900, when its administration was assumed by the British Government. It has been the task of the Administration to endeavour to restore the ancient régime, improved by British ideas of justice and organization, and to introduce a system of rule in which the native chief and the British rulers shall be identified in a single effective machine, each cooperating with and complementing the other, while the emancipation of the peasantry alike from slavery and from extortion may lead to the increase of population, and of productive industry. It is as yet early to judge how far the untiring enthusiasm of the political staff has succeeded in realizing the first beginnings of these ideals, for the Administration is as yet but five and a half years old, and the first years were occupied in consolidating British rule, and in creating the machinery with which to work.
This brief sketch of the conditions which obtain in West Africa, and more especially in Northern Nigeria, will, I trust, have aroused sufficient interest in my reader to justify me in adding a few words on the nature of some of the problems with which the young British Administrator has to deal in Africa, and the methods by which he endeavours to solve them.
(a) Slavery.—Among the problems which are peculiarly African that of slavery occupies a prominent place. The British tradition (which I should be very sorry to see abandoned) is that in any country which has been annexed to the Crown, and has become a Colony under the British flag, slavery is not tolerated in any form; but that in the initial stage of development, which under most diverse and varying conditions has been called by the ambiguous term of a 'Protectorate,' it is impossible to forbid domestic slavery. This tradition would, however, appear to have been set aside in the case of Ashanti, which has been annexed, and in which slavery is still tolerated. In recent years, however, under the rule of Mr. Chamberlain, who with extraordinary perspicacity grasped the essential principles of the intricate problems of the remotest dependence for which he was responsible, an important step which I had advocated for many years was taken, and I believe that in all protectorates (certainly in all at that time under the Colonial Office) the legal status of slavery was abolished. This means that the law (as administered by British courts only) does not recognise the existence of slavery. Property in persons (as slaves) is not admitted; a 'slave' is held to be personally responsible for his acts, and competent to give evidence in court The institution of domestic slavery is not thereby abolished, as would be the case were a decree of general emancipation enacted, but it gives to the slave the right to assert his freedom if he wishes. It is not an offence for a native to own slaves (non-natives, including coloured British subjects from British Colonies cannot of course do so), and so long as the master and slave work harmoniously together the law does not interfere with their relations towards each other. If, on the other hand, the holding of slaves were made illegal by an edict of emancipation, or even if the slave population were encouraged to assert their freedom, complete anarchy and chaos would result, involving no less misery to the slaves than to their masters. The former would be deprived of occupation, and the great cities would be filled with vagrants, criminals, and prostitutes; while the latter would be reduced to beggary and detestation of British rule that had robbed them of property, which, under the law of Islam, was as real as any other form of property, and had in most cases been paid for in hard cash.
An institution which forms so essential a part of the social fabric, and is ingrained in the lives and habits of thought of the people, which has existed since the times of Abraham and Moses, and of which we read in Herodotus and Strabo, cannot be abolished by empirical legislation, and the attempt to do so would result in chaos and misery. Slavery is at present the only form of labour contract, and a very real—though perhaps in our view an inadequate—return is made by the master for his slave's work. He is supported in sickness as well as in health; his master is responsible for any crime committed by him; he is usually given one or more days in the week to work on a piece of land of his own, and its proceeds are his personal property, with which he can, if he desires, redeem himself. Under a good master he becomes one of the family and cannot be sold when he has been long in service, and he may often rise to positions of high command. There are many other liberal provisions for the benefit of the slave in Mohammedan law, which space forbids me to discuss here. The general effect of the institution is to establish a form of contract (in a country where the idea of a written contract is unknown) not unsuited to a primitive race (as has been proved in the early history of almost every race in the world, including our own), and not illiberal to the lower classes if the laws of the Koran in their favour are made effective. Under this régime, when well administered, cases of desertion by slaves are few, and the people are for the most part happy. The evils attendant upon it are principally two, and these two are very great. In the first place the institution of slavery involves slave-raiding (for new slaves) and slave trade. The horrors of the slave raid are beyond description, and I will not enter into them here; I am dealing only with the administrative problem, and from that point of view they are a terrible evil in that the country is depopulated and laid waste. Men are killed by thousands and women and children are carried off or starve in the Bush, while in the slave-raiders there grows up a lawlessness born of the lust for butchery, rape, and rapine. In the second place, the institution of domestic slavery results in holding a very large portion (including the farm-slaves, probably considerably more than half the population of a Mohammedan community) in a state of tutelage, which arrests all progress towards a higher plane of life and civilization, and limits industry and production. The slave is an irresponsible being, for whose trespass his master is held amenable at law equally with that of his cattle, and who may be similarly punished, and for grave offences killed at will.
The administration, then, while tolerating the existence of domestic slavery, affords opportunity to those who, on account of cruelty or recent enslavement, etc., desire to assert their freedom; and by declaring the freedom of the children born of slave-parents, and by suppressing slave-raiding and slave-trading (since the profits to tne trader became too precarious) insures the gradual extinction of the status of slavery. The knowledge that their slaves can assert their freedom has meanwhile the effect of making the masters treat them well, and insures to the slave population a great amelioration of their conditions. In taking this line, however, the Government assumes a heavy responsibility. It is its duty during this period of transition to educate both the upper and the servile classes to the idea of a free labour contract between master and servant To promote this the introduction of a cash currency is a very valuable medium, and the introduction of a direct and individual taxation teaches the peasant his responsibility to the State, and his personal interest in and obligation to it. The law holds him personally responsible for his acts, and the executive holds him personally responsible for his contribution to the revenue.
But the Government is itself responsible for introducing a new difficulty, which militates against the operation of the policy I have so briefly outlined. Formerly it was almost impossible for a slave to gain his freedom by desertion. He was seized and returned to his owner by any Mohammedan chief into whose territory he has escaped. Land was in possession of fief-holders, and he could build no village and cultivate no farm without the knowledge and sanction of the overlord. The introduction of peace and security, which has opened up to cultivation and reclamation the great depopulated but fertile areas lying waste in the country, has on the one hand afforded to the runaway slave illimitable opportunities for setting up for himself; while, on the other hand, in the eye of the law as administered by the British courts, the forcible rendition of a fugitive slave is a crime. If done by a British subject it is participation in enslaving, if by a native it becomes a 'common assault' or 'illegal detention,' etc. Herein is a dilemma. The judicial authority, which may not recognise the status of slavery, is opposed to the executive which desires that the existing system shall only gradually expire in proportion as the new and better order of things becomes efficient to take its place. I frankly recognise the difficulty; but I think it is better to accept it than to perpetuate the system by legalizing it on the one hand, or to create chaos by arbitrarily and prematurely abolishing it on the other. I find its solution (a) in the combination in the person of the same officer of judicial and executive functions whereby, by the exercise of tact and common-sense, aided by his experience and knowledge of the people, he may be able to avoid dealing judicially with cases which he considers are unsuited for judicial action; and (b) by the use of the native courts in the last resort. All cases in which an officer considers that cruelty, or recent enslavement, or other good cause, gives just pounds for liberation he can deal with judicially; but if, after inquiry, he finds that the runaway slave is merely a criminal or vagrant, he would, while not denying his right to assert his freedom, decline to grant him land on which to settle, or if a vagrant in a city would allow the native courts to deal with the matter. Such cases are in practice very few indeed. The large majority of runaways are women, and the question can be dealt with as one of divorce, and not of slavery, while the Government forbids the marriage of soldiers and other Government employés with fugitive slave women. Self-redemption is encouraged by Government, both in justice to the master for property legally acquired (at the time of acquisition) and because the slave will value the freedom which he has himself earned, and which confers on him in native public opinion a status of freedom which the arbitrary law of the white man is powerless to confer.
The subject is one of such interest that I wish space permitted of my adding a few words on the conditions of redemption; the obligations of Government towards the slaves it liberates, and their disposal, and the consequential institution of Freed Slaves' Homes, and their methods and limitations; on the question of employment of slave labour; of enlistment of slaves; of probate of native wills in which slaves are treated as symbols of currency; on slavery among pagan tribes, and on many other aspects of this problem. In Northern Nigeria slave-raiding is a thing of the past, and some progress has already been made in the education of the people in the directions I have indicated, while slave-trading and slave-dealing are, I think, becoming daily more rare.
(b) Liquor Traffic.—I have shown already how the importation of crude spirits took its origin in the days of the oversea slave trade, nearly three centuries ago, as the commodity with which slaves were chiefly purchased, and how it still remained the chief article of import in exchange for the legitimate exports of a later period. Much has been written as to its demoralizing effect upon the natives, while its supporters have made misleading statements as to the number of gallons consumed per head of the population in contrast to the consumption at home, including for their purposes the population beyond the spirit zone, and asserting that the liquor is not harmful, and that drunkenness is not prevalent. Leaving this controversy to the long list of eminent men who have testified to the demoralization and to their opponents, I have but one word to say on this subject from another standpoint. The gin and rum is manufactured almost entirely in Germany and Holland, and is now for the most part not even carried in British ships. It appears to me that, from a commercial point of view, it were better that we imported Manchester and Birmingham goods rather than foreign products, and that these would tend to raise to some extent the standard of comfort and the plane of civilization of the natives, which crude spirits certainly do not. If to such imports be added—as I should live to see—agricultural and other industrial implements (hand-gins for cotton, hand-mills for crushing oil-seeds and the like), the cost of transport of raw produce in bulk would be decreased, and the productive output increased, with a corresponding gain to commerce, which its advocates cannot maintain to be the result of the spirit traffic. The difficulty which has stood in the way of reform is, that as long as the Colonies of France and Germany, which are sandwiched between the British Colonies on the West Coast, maintain the import and decline to increase their duties, it is said to be impossible for us seriously to increase ours. There has, however, under Mr. Chamberlain's direction, been a steady increase of duties, which has considerably reduced the import, while yielding nearly double the previous revenue, and I trust that this highly satisfactory process may be continued. The amount of liquor imported into the whole of West Africa in 1895 was 5,510,472 gallons, yielding a total revenue of £374,727, while in 1903 it had fallen to 4,348,847 gallons, yielding a total revenue of £731,386. I have elsewhere discussed this question in full detail, and will not add more in this place—the more so that it is not a problem which I have had personally to deal with, since the import of 'trade liquor' is entirely prohibited in Northern Nigeria.
(c) Taxation.—Space forbids me to say more than a very few words on this subject In dealing with uncivilized races, by far the easiest method of raising a revenue is by Customs dues on the coast. The merchant who pays these adds correspondingly to the selling price of his goods, and the native producer, who therefore ultimately pays by collecting a larger quantity of produce for a given amount of goods, neither knows of nor cares about the tax. Such methods of indirect taxation are suitable to a savage population, but among the higher races of Northern Nigeria, who have inherited a Mohammedan civilization, direct taxation, as I have already said, is an institution sanctioned by tradition, and accepted as a natural law by the people. It remains to settle how it may be collected with the least leakage and waste, and with the least chance of extortion and oppression in the collection; in what proportion it shall be shared between the Government and the native chiefs; to simplify and organize the too diverse forms which it has taken in the past; and to regulate its incidence on the people so that each may pay in proportion to his means.
The disadvantage of limiting taxation to the collection of Customs lies in the fact that, when a country has attained a further stage of civilization, it is difficult to institute that direct taxation which all civilized States recognise as due to the Administration from the individual, according to his wealth and ability, and the amount of protection, and cheapening of commodities by improved communications and other public works, for which he is indebted to the Government. Where, therefore, it is feasible and possible to introduce the first rudiments of a direct taxation among uncivilized tribes, it has a value apart from the mere amount of revenue collected, in habituating them to the idea of an obligation to the State which it is incumbent on them to discharge, and at the same time it is an outward and visible sign which they well understand of the acknowledgment of the Suzerain Power, with the correlative necessity of obeying the injunctions of the Government to abstain from outrages and lawlessness. Among such tribes in West Africa property is usually held on a communal basis, and the impost is therefore necessarily in the nature of a capitation or poll-tax; whereas among the more civilized races, where individual rights in property have become recognised, it is possible to institute a graduated taxation, according to the wealth and ability of each member of the community to pay it.
Direct taxation is also unsuitable to a people who are held in a state of slavery or serfdom, for the responsibility of the individual is then assumed by the slaveowner. A serf or slave cannot be expected to recognise or understand his obligation to the Government when the results of his labours are not his own, and the produce of the fields he tills belongs to his master. He ceases to have an individual responsibility to the State for his actions, or an obligation to maintain its efficiency by his contributions, however small. These obligations pass to his overlord. Direct taxation, therefore, as being the State recognition of the rights and duties of the individual, is the moral charter of independence of a people. Communities, moreover, who have only recently emerged from such a state of servitude take some time to acquire this sense of responsibility and of obligation. One of the chief defects of Mohammedan rule in Africa is that it holds a large section of the people in this state of irresponsible tutelage, thereby arresting all progress.
The fertility of the soil and the abundance of marketable sylvan produce which needs no culture, the employment of women in manual labour, and the absence of the pressure of population in countries devastated by tribal wars and slave raids, combine to afford the African an abundant leisure, which, in the absence of any external incentive to work, is apt to be devoted to indolence, quarrelling, drink, or sensuality. The imposition of a moderate taxation supplies such an incentive and stimulates production, while at the same time it promotes the circulation of a currency, to the great benefit of trade.
In Northern Nigeria the proposal is to collect the ancient taxes in a simplified and modified form by the agency of the native chief and district headmen, without the intermediary of the tax-collectors, who formerly were the curse of the country. We propose to share the results with the native chiefs, who no longer have to keep up standing armies and other expenses of Government. The policing of the country is now undertaken by the Government, upon whom, therefore, it devolves to enforce the payment of traditional taxes. The British Administration is thus brought into close touch with the native rulers—themselves aliens in the Mohammedan States—and the interests of both become identical, and close cooperation is insured, while the chiefs will be assured of a regular income (which they are now powerless to enforce), to replace the former arbitrary levies and the profits of the slave trade. For the evils of an alien and absentee landlordism, working through an agency of alien tax-gatherers, is substituted a system under which each village chief collects from the individual, and pays to a local district headman, who in turn pays direct to the Emir and Government This effects decentralization of native rule—which is no less important than decentralization by the Administration itself—and gives to the men who occupy positions of importance definite duties and responsibilities.
It IS wise, as Lord Cromer has said, to make the incidence of taxation as light as possible in the first years of administration, so as to encourage productive industry, and not overburden the peasantry in the earlier stages of agricultural and industrial development; but it is equally wise, in my view, to habituate all classes to their obligation to contribute to the State. Nor can the conditions of the peasantry in Egypt, where I understand that irrigable and cultivatable land is of great value, be considered as identical with those of a country like Nigeria, where limitless land, fertile and well watered, lies ready to the hand of the cultivator, who needs only an incentive to employ his indolent leisure. The serious difficulty lies in the fact that, in the early stages, pending the wider distribution of currency, payment must be made in kind, and its transport and realization present obstacles which almost nullify its practical value. Still, the principle is established which in later years will, with improvement of communications, render more adequate returns, and produce a revenue proportionate to population and prosperity. Meanwhile, the solution lies in enhancing the value of the products in which payment is made, and decreasing their bulk by means of simple industrial machinery, such as hand-gins for cotton, oil presses, and the like.
I had hoped to find space to add a few observations on some other subjects of interest in tropical administration, such as the treatment of native chiefs and their relations to the Administration; the question of native jurisdiction and courts, Mohammedan and pagan; currency and barter; the position and duties of troops and police; education, and many others; but the limits of my space are already exceeded.
The aims of West African administration are comparatively simple. Unconcerned with that large range of subjects which provide material for the domestic legislation of more civilized countries, its problems are confined to two main branches: (1) The treatment of native races, who are centuries behind ourselves in mental evolution, and the steps by which they may be gradually brought to a higher plane of civilization and progress; and (2) economic development by which these tropical countries may develop a trade which shall benefit our own industrial classes by the production, on the one hand, of the raw materials—rubber, oils, cotton, hides, etc.—which form the staples of our manufactures, and by the absorption in return of our manufactured cottons, hardware, and other goods.
Of all our tropical dependencies. West Africa, on account of its climate, suffers most from a lack of continuity in administration—that greatest of all drawbacks to success and progress. The necessity, on the one hand, of periodical return to England to recruit, which deprives the country of the services of its officers for one-third of their nominal service; and the limited period, on the other hand, for which officers, especially those in the higher and more experienced grades, can, as a rule, remain in the West African service, robs the Administration of the fruits of accumulated experience, and continually dislocates the machinery and introduces changes which militate against efficiency and a steady advance. There is, in my belief, a perfectly feasible way in which this difficulty might be overcome, and which would tend to the great advantage of both of the two branches of tropical administration which I have indicated; but in the position which I at present hold it is not fitting for me to propound schemes which have not as yet the entire approval of the Secretary of State, nor would space permit of my doing so here.
I am convinced that one of the questions which will most occupy thought in the twentieth century will be the development of the tropics, and the solution of the twin problems which (as I have said) it involves, and I am confident that the genius of our race will be among the first to recognise the growing, and, indeed, already vital, importance to civilization of the raw products of the tropics, with the necessity for organizing the industry of its teeming millions and promoting their welfare on well-considered lines of policy, and that we shall solve its difficulties, whether by one method or another, as we have ever done in the past.
- Vide Nineteenth Century, November, 1897.