White Mates Black in a Very Few Moves

Kenya and the Sudan

Certainly the tones of British officialdom rang out boldly in distant lands and dark continents. However corrosive its private anxieties, its public pronouncements invariably struck a note of sublime self-assurance; and nothing seemed more sure than that Europe must govern Africa or that Kenya should become “a white man’s country.”1 Thus spoke Sir Harry Johnston and Sir Charles Eliot, second Commissioner of what was (from 1895, after the failure of Mackinnon’s chartered company, to 1920, when it became a crown colony) Britain’s East Africa Protectorate. The declaration became a mantra for the European settlers whom Eliot did so much to introduce to the highlands bordering the Rift Valley east of Lake Victoria. This was a cool, mosquito-free zone, burned by the equatorial sun, watered by sparkling streams, shaded by juniper, mimosa and acacia. Eliot thought that this healthy, fertile country could become another New Zealand. Furthermore, he maintained that colonisation would not be “destroying any old or interesting system, but simply introducing order into blank, uninteresting, brutal barbarism.” This was certainly the view of the immigrant community, to which Eliot was subservient. In the words of Elspeth Huxley, who spent much of her childhood amid the flame trees of Thika, near Nairobi, the idea that the interests of

untutored tribesmen, clothed in sheep’s fat, castor oil or rancid butter—men who smelt out witches, drank blood warm from the throats of living cattle and believed that rainfall depended on the arrangement of a goat’s intestines—should be exalted above those of the educated European would have seemed to them fantastic.2

Eliot, an expert on sea slugs who was himself described as “invertebrate, with an icy cold nature,”3 declared bluntly: “European interests are paramount.”4 He coined a metaphor and a motto from chess: “white mates black in a very few moves.”5

As it happened, by the beginning of the twentieth century natural disasters had taken a fearful toll on the people of Kenya, who had numbered three million in 1890. Smallpox, rinderpest, locusts, jiggers, drought and famine had reduced the population by a third and weakened its power to resist incursions. Particularly affected were the black inhabitants of what became known as the White Highlands, most of this region an immense grazing ground for the cattle of the nomadic Masai, who lived on their milk and blood. According to one traveller, “There were women wasted to skeletons from whose eyes the madness of starvation glared.”6 Yet the tall, spear-carrying warriors, with their shining crimson bodies and their long braided hair, remained an impressive force. The British regarded the Masai as the Spartans of East Africa and did their best to conciliate and recruit them, even when they stole telegraph wire to adorn their women. Indeed, African levies enabled the white intruders to conquer the country by crushing opposition piecemeal among the Kikuyu, Kipsigis, Kisii, Nandi and others. The Europeans conducted a sporadic war of attrition, killing natives, burning villages and seizing livestock. The “nigger hunt,”7 as it was popularly called, bore marked similarities to the Masai raid. The participants, one London official observed, “thoroughly enjoy themselves and get loot.”8 Retaliation was inevitable: Kikuyu villagers murdered one settler by pegging him down and all urinating into his mouth. In revenge Lieutenant Richard Meinertzhagen, then aged twenty-four, ordered his men to take no adult prisoners when they attacked the village. They left not a soul alive and their commander seemed to relish the operation as a “form of blood sport.”9 The local authorities countenanced such methods. In the words of Eliot’s predecessor as Commissioner, Sir Arthur Hardinge, “These people must learn submission by bullets—it’s the only school.”10 He said that a more modern and humane form of education could be essayed later. Meanwhile, the men on the spot minimised the casualties in their reports and represented the violence as “punishment” for a “revolt.” London was not deceived. In 1904 the Foreign Office (shortly before it relinquished control to the Colonial Office) sent the Commissioner a stern warning: “It is only by a most careful insistence on the protection of native rights that His Majesty’s Government can justify their presence in East Africa.”11

These were fine sentiments, repeated more or less sincerely until Kenya became independent in 1963, but they were at odds with the government’s other concern—to make the colony pay. The “Lunatic Line,” the costly rail link between Mombasa and Kisumu on Lake Victoria, opened in 1901. But although Thomas Cook was soon selling tickets from London to the source of the Nile, the trans-Kenya train service seemed to be little more than a locomotive white elephant. Its main station, situated at a place called Nairobi, which meant “cold stream” in the Masai language, exemplified the poverty of the railway. The pioneers had no idea of pitching a capital in a papyrus swamp; Nairobi merely provided the last piece of flat ground for shunting before the escarpment that rose to form the twisted lip of the Rift Valley. What they raised was a wooden platform roofed with corrugated iron and surrounded by a huddle of tents and tin sheds. From this grimy nucleus a squalid shantytown spread over the rust-coloured earth. It was at once divided into districts. To the west bungalows, warehouses, offices, stores, a hotel and a European club sprang up along the main thoroughfare, inevitably named Victoria Road. To the east sprawled an Indian bazaar, full of rotting garbage, open sewers and vermin, looking and smelling much like Calcutta. A missionary wrote,

It is turbulent and as vivid as a box of paints. Arabs sweep by in their long robes, turbaned Sikhs stalk imperiously, Zanzibaris and Chinese, Baluchis and half-castes, soldiers and railway gangers, all jostle through the lantern-light and shadow in a medley of silks, sashes, brass buttons and bracelets, topis and rags.

Intoxicated by bhang or pombe, men staggered through vile “alleys where perfume sickens the senses, where eyes glittering with kohl throw an invitation,” into the arms of prostitutes.

In a drastic attempt to suppress outbreaks of bubonic plague, Britons twice burned down the Indian quarter. The first conflagration was started by Colonel J. H. Patterson, the formidable lion-hunter, whose “Kaiser moustache was pomaded into two imperious curls.”12 And in 1902 the principal medical officer again torched the bazaar—partly, it seems, because he did not like the look of it. The resurrection was swift. Equally rapid was the replacement of Masai kraals with “native locations,” suburban clusters of (mostly) Kikuyu huts made from packing cases and flattened paraffin cans. White Nairobi also grew apace. But it long remained a frontier dorp, known as “Dead Horse Gulch”13 before 1914 and described by a post-war Governor as a “Buffalo-Bill” railway halt redolent of “poor-white sloppiness.”14 It was an ugly rash of wood and metal extending over a grid of dusty streets planted with eucalyptus trees and roamed at night by hyenas, jackals and leopards. There were also a few good stone buildings and by the 1920s the best of these belonged to the railway. Its prosperity, according to white dogma, owed everything to colonisation.

From the first it had seemed axiomatic that only European settlers could produce the goods that would make a profit from the iron road. Furthermore, they and their capital could only be attracted by generous land grants. By 1903, therefore, Eliot was disposing of large chunks of territory around Lake Naivasha in the Rift Valley without regard for native claims and without the full approval of his masters in Whitehall. The stated price for additional holdings was two rupees (2s 8d, or 75 U.S. cents) an acre, but this sometimes fell to a halfpenny or even to nothing. Hundreds of applicants arrived, some English gentry from the shires, others Boers from the veldt, many squatting outside Nairobi in a scrofulous encampment known as “Tentfontein.” Among the newcomers was Lord Delamere, soon to be the unofficial leader of Kenya’s European community. An aristocratic ruffian who wore shorts, pistol, flannel shirt, and long ginger hair under a topee so vast that it almost concealed his beaky nose, he thought nothing of brawling, shooting out street lights or locking the manager of the Norfolk Hotel in his own meat safe. Delamere lived on an extravagant scale: he conducted his correspondence by telegram and kept three Morse code operators busy day and night, “calling them baboons and idiots” one minute and the next giving them generous “cash hand-outs.”15 Having acquired 100,000 acres on the western slopes of the Rift Valley, he told Meinertzhagen that he was going to prove that “this is a white man’s country.” Meinertzhagen replied: “But it’s a black man’s country; how are you going to superimpose the white over black?” Delamere said, “The black man will benefit and cooperate.” Despite his own authoritarian bent, Meinertzhagen was unconvinced. He thought that the land grab would eventually lead to racial conflict, for he could not see educated Africans in flannel suits “submitting tamely to white domination.”16

Meanwhile, the black man was forced to cooperate and he did benefit from the Pax Britannica, though this merely replaced African anarchy (caused by constant raiding) with European tyranny. As Eliot’s Deputy Commissioner reported, Kenya was a country of “‘nigger-’ and game-shooters.”17 Indeed, according to one Foreign Office mandarin, there was almost “no atrocity in the Congo—except mutilation—which cannot be matched in our Protectorate.”18 The new settlers were forever threatening to take more land by force while demanding government protection against the native uprising they expected to provoke. Expressing prejudice against dark-skinned races with seigneurial arrogance, they were particularly aggressive towards the authorities. Captain Ewart (“Grogs”) Grogan, an adventurer who thought Kenya needed a good dose of slavery, challenged them by flogging three allegedly insolent Kikuyu in front of Nairobi’s courthouse. He was found guilty of unlawful assembly and sentenced to a month’s imprisonment in a private house, settlers remarking on how civilised they were compared to American Southerners, who would have lynched the Negroes. Many local officials (though by no means all) were fearful of being criticised as pro-black, or even pro-Red, in such a tiny white community. They were subject to insult: one coffee planter entered his bulldog Squeak for a government job. They were blackballed at the Muthaiga Club. They were vulnerable to settlers who could “pull strings in London and make the puppets in East Africa jump and run.”19

Often the puppets sided with the settlers automatically, regarding their African charges as “bloody niggers.”20 Officials in Kenya had a poor reputation, notoriously in the sphere of sexual misconduct. One District Commissioner was said to combine “tax collection with rape.” And an Assistant District Commissioner called Hubert Silberrad caused such a scandal over concubinage that Lord Crewe issued his famous Circular (1909) warning members of the Colonial Service that they faced professional ruin for having “immoral relations with native women.”21 The settlers mocked their plight in a verse set to the tune of “The Church’s One Foundation”:

Pity the Poor Official

Whene’er he gets a stand,

He may not have a bibi [mistress],

He has to use his hand.22

Self-abuse certainly caused less harm than other official endeavours. Colonel Montgomery, a Land Commissioner, complained that “natives did irretrievable damage to forests, and whilst the natives themselves could always be replaced, with trees it was different, for it cost much money to plant a forest.”23 Such men had no scruples about moving the Masai from their richest pastures to make way for the European pioneers of civilisation. Eliot himself thought that they and “many other tribes must go under.”24He compared the Masai to lions, strong and beautiful but “never of any use, and often a very serious danger.”25 By the time of the First World War the Masai had become, according to Baroness Blixen, who owned a coffee plantation in the Ngong Hills, “a dying lion with his claws clipped.”26 Expectations of its demise were premature. Equally misplaced were hopes that the settlers could establish themselves as the master race. Their brutal expropriations had kindled a slow-burning anger that would eventually burst into flame.

Other grievances multiplied, mainly to do with labour. The Englishman could not himself plough or dig in the uplands without sacrificing his prestige or “falling a victim of nervous collapse.” Luckily he did not have to get his hands dirty. For Kenya was not just a white man’s country; it was, according to the pioneer Lord Cranworth, “essentially an overseer’s country.”27 Most of the new settlers, notably those from Britain, preferred to supervise. They were, as Afrikaners observed, “verandah farmers.”28 They wholeheartedly adopted the German maxim, condemned by Lugard: “Colonising Africa is making the negro work.”29 As Grogan said of the Kikuyu, “We have stolen his land. Now we must steal his limbs.”30 To this end hut and poll taxes were imposed so that the Africans (who initially proffered ivory, goats and even crocodile eggs in lieu of cash) would have to earn wages in order to pay them. The levy had the added advantage of helping to fund the administration, for white taxation was kept disproportionately low. Nevertheless, black people had an understandable aversion to becoming migrant labourers on white estates. There they were ill fed, ill housed, ill paid and otherwise ill treated. The unpublished letters of a typical settler, Arnold Paice, catalogue the punishments he inflicted on his “boys,” which ranged from giving them “a pretty good thumping” to shackling them by the enlarged lobes of their ears. On one occasion he attached the ear of a sleepy herdsman to his saddle: “Then I shoved my heels in to the pony and set off at a canter; of course the nigger had to canter too as it would have been painful to have his ear pulled off.” Relations between the races were by no means always hostile and could be benign. Paice himself acknowledged, “One can’t exactly make friends of the ‘black men’ up here but some of them are pretty decent.”31 Yet exploitation was endemic and women workers were often sexually abused. Exiled from family life, African men faced a choice between “celibacy and syphilis.” Frequently they deserted, breaking the law and leaving more than one employer in “a red-hot state bordering on a desire to murder everyone with a black skin who comes in sight.”32 Incensed by the departure of “beastly niggers” whom he had chastised, Paice exclaimed: “It’s all rot about slavery—these natives ought to be slaves, treated humanely of course, but not spoiled for want of the rod.”33

Although settlers extolled the merits of the corvée and the kiboko (hippopotamus-hide whip), they also offered Africans an advantageous form of service. In return for working for the white man for 180 days a year for a nominal wage, they were allowed to become “squatters” on his land and to cultivate their own shambas (farms). This freed them from the domination of chiefs on their own reserves and gave them scope to exercise their considerable agricultural skills. In fact the squatters, who were mostly Kikuyu and eventually numbered more than 200,000, became victims of their own success. Settlers feared that “Kaffir farming” might become a “peasant Trojan horse threatening estate production.”34 Worse still, squatters might establish rights to the soil. The High Court later quashed this menace by designating them as tenants who could be evicted. But there was always acute tension over the land question. Squatters suffered with their kin on the reserves, who also endured a succession of disabilities including the denial of a title to their holdings. Additional imposts (such as having to buy an annual licence to grow coffee) aimed to stop them from competing with whites. And there were frequent clashes, especially over livestock grazing on the open range. After the disappearance of eighteen of his sheep Paice expressed the gut sentiments of his kind, telling his mother that he would shoot dead the first thief he encountered. “You may think this is bloodthirsty nonsense. But it isn’t. I should be delighted to shoot a leopard (whose natural instinct teaches him to steal) therefore I should be far more delighted to shoot a Kikuyu who knows it is wrong to steal.”35 A few local officials might have sympathised but the Colonial Office, as the watchdog of “imperial paternalism,” endeavoured to protect “native rights.”36 Winston Churchill was particularly vigilant. He condemned the “butchery” of the defenceless Kisii.37 A single principle should govern Britain’s rule of subject people, he declared, the principle of justice. Although he regarded the “native races” of East Africa as “brutish children” who should respect the white man, Churchill said that it would be an ill day for them were their fortunes to be removed from “the impartial and august administration of the Crown and abandoned to the fierce self-interest of a small white population.”38

That population amounted to fewer than 5,500 by 1914 and under pressure it became ever more fierce. Before the Great War, as Elspeth Huxley wrote, the Europeans had had a marked impact on the animal and vegetable, as well as the human, life of the Rift Valley. Arriving with their ox carts, tents, rifles, chop (food) boxes, tin baths and steel ploughs, they had put up fences, driven off the herds of zebra, darkened the land with their shambas and cattle bomas (enclosures), which rose “like tattoo marks on a warrior’s cheek.”39 But the fighting in East Africa arrested this development, depriving many estates of their menfolk. Among those killed were a fifth of the tens of thousands of black workers who were press-ganged into the Carrier Corps “as if the days when Arab slave-raiders would descend on the tribes of the interior had returned.”40 The Governor, Sir Henry Belfield, deplored the way in which his colony had been dragged into a war not of its own making. Soon, though, the post-war slump further strained the finances of the white community. The situation got much worse during the Great Depression, when some settlers were reduced to “a diet of posho [maize meal] porridge and skim milk.”41 Their automatic response was to crack down on the Africans.

Between 1919 and 1922 the whites passed a series of harsh measures to strengthen their control over blacks. More labour was extorted from them under conditions that, according to a caustic but well-informed critic of the colony, Dr. Norman Leys, replicated “some of the evils of slavery.”42 Their wages were reduced, their taxes were increased and their movements were restricted. They were forced to carry identity cards bearing their fingerprints, each encased in a metal box called a kipande, worn round the neck on a string like a goat’s bell (mbugi). They set up several organisations to concert resistance. The most effective was the Young Kikuyu Association led by Harry Thuku, a so-called “mission boy”—a type who attracted as much white venom as did the Indian babu.His arrest in 1922 sparked off a demonstration in Nairobi at which police reportedly shot twenty-five unarmed protestors dead, though the true figure may have been much higher. There was “talk of hundreds being killed by the police and being shot on the roads back by civilian Europeans in cars and on horseback,” wrote a contemporary, and “several white men I knew boasted about it.”43 Thuku later claimed that he was objecting to unfair treatment not asserting that “we should get self-government.”44 But, as one former official wrote, his movement was the “genesis of a revolution.” It heralded the emergence of “a polyglot nation.45 The ruthless exploitation of Africans also pricked consciences in Britain, where Kenya was depicted as the “Bluebeard of the Empire.”

Meanwhile, the Europeans were also trying to put the Indians in their place. Having arrived in force with the railway, they now outnumbered the whites by six to one and played a major role in the commercial life of Kenya. Indians were denied political rights. They were forbidden to acquire property in the White Highlands, where 0.07 per cent of the population held a fifth of the country’s best land. They were refused free entry to Kenya—which some of them wanted to turn into a colonial extension of the Raj, ruled by the Viceroy from Delhi, just as some Europeans wanted it to be incorporated into a South African federation centred on Cape Town. Furthermore, Indians had to endure a colour bar imposed on grounds of their “moral depravity” and their “incurable repugnance to sanitation and hygiene.” Diplomatic overtures from the India Office and angry protests from the subcontinent achieved a modest improvement in their lot. But Lord Delamere and his friends denounced this as a capitulation to India and plotted a coup of their own. In the loyalist spirit of Belfast, they formulated the slogan: “For King and Kenya.”46 In the rebellious spirit of Boston, they planned to seize the railway, the telegraph and the post office, and to kidnap the Governor, who would be confined to a remote farm sixty miles from Nairobi but close to some excellent trout fishing.

Anxious to avoid violence, the Colonial Office held a conference in 1923. It was attended by delegations of Kenyan Asians and white settlers, the latter under the leadership of Lord Delamere, who shocked London society by pointing to his Somali servants and saying, “My sons.”47Africans were not invited but they provided the new Colonial Secretary, the Duke of Devonshire, with a convenient means of neutralising the two rival factions. He announced that Kenya was primarily an African territory and that “the interests of the African natives must be paramount.”48This angered the Indians, though Devonshire ended segregation in townships and increased their representation on the Legislative Council. But they could hardly object to his high-minded re-statement of the principle of imperial trusteeship. Nor, as Delamere realised, could his supporters. For they had posed as the champions of African interests against Indian incursions and anyway got most of what they wanted. However, the Devonshire Declaration did prevent the settlers of Kenya from establishing a self-governing colony within the Commonwealth, as those of Rhodesia did in 1923, based on minority white rule. And in the long run it proved fatal to their cause.

Between the wars, therefore, they struggled to change minds in London and to establish control in Nairobi. The Colonial Office responded by formulating a series of shifty and shifting policies about Kenya’s future. It considered setting up an East African Federation, consisting of Kenya, Uganda and Tanganyika. It toyed with the notion of dividing Kenya into separate black and white regions. It edged towards accepting that Africans should eventually be represented in the Legislative Council. It resisted the more extreme demands of the settlers, whom Harold Macmillan, Devonshire’s son-in-law, described as “turbulent bigots and potential traitors.”49 They were so troublesome, indeed, that the Colonial Office considered buying them out and bringing them home. This was a cheaper option, said Macmillan, than civil war. However, the boorish intransigence of the settlers proved more effective in Kenya, where they intimidated nearly all Governors and stamped their personality on the colony. In the long run this did them more harm than good because, thanks to the settlers’ unbridled behaviour, the White Highlands earned a global reputation for decadence. Lurid tales were told of a community that drank sundowners until sunrise, took cocaine like snuff and swapped wives so often that no one could remember the ladies’ latest surnames. It was said that the Wanjohi River ran with cocktails. The Muthaiga Club, a low, pink stone building decorated with hunting scenes by Sir Alfred Munnings, was supposed to be a hotbed of vice, the Moulin Rouge of Africa. King George V heard sinister rumours that dinner parties were being thrown to which guests were invited to wear “Tiaras or pyjamas, whichever you like.”50Such people ought to have known better, he said, and instructed Sir Edward Grigg, Governor between 1925 and 1930, to put a stop to it.

Doubtless the reports were exaggerated. Kenya was advertised as a rich man’s playground, a sportsman’s paradise, the officers’ mess as opposed to the Rhodesian sergeant’s mess. But many whites were by no means affluent let alone aristocratic. A few barely scraped a living. Snubbed by Colonel Montgomery, Arnold Paice thought “he was afraid of his blessed daughter meeting with a sort of wild man of the woods who might turn up to dinner…in native costume.”51 Some of the post-war soldier-settlers seemed doomed to fail: one planned “to start a dairy farm and stock it with fifty bulls and fifty cows, that were, presumably, to pair off like partridges.”52 In 1929 Margery Perham was shocked to find Nairobi full of impecunious young white men, some with revolvers in their belts, wearing shorts or corduroy plus-fours, “green, orange, blue and purple shirts, and Stetson hats.”53 Nevertheless, there is abundant evidence to show that stories of settler profligacy were far from being baseless. Lord Delamere gave a dinner at which 250 people consumed six hundred bottles of champagne. Lady Northey, a Governor’s wife, danced on the tables of the Muthaiga Club. Frank Greswolde-Williams offered drugs to the Prince of Wales and later his brother, Prince George, got cocaine from Kiki Preston, who was “clever with her needle.”54 Every time Beryl Markham (as she became) took a new lover, one of them being another royal brother, Prince Henry, her first husband knocked a six-inch nail into a post by their front door and soon there was quite a long row. Roman Catholic missionaries evidently succumbed to the general depravity—Meinertzhagen doubted whether some White Fathers were white but he was sure that they were fathers. Elspeth Huxley’s mother learned Swahili from a handbook issued by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel which contained such sentences as, “The idle slaves are scratching themselves” and “Six drunken Europeans have killed the cook.”55 Some blamed the equatorial sun for unsettling the settlers’ nerves and Llewelyn Powys said that all hearts were turned to stone by the blazing “Gorgon’s head of Africa.”56 Others thought that the altitude encouraged adultery. Still others believed that white scandal encouraged black disaffection.

In fact, Europeans were more likely to antagonise Africans by lashing out with fist, boot and whip. Between the wars assaults and even killings were “far from rare”57 and settlers were liable to maintain that “If white murders black a laudable object has been achieved.”58 Their conduct in the Legislative Council was also aggressive. Here, often egged on to further extremes by Lord Delamere, they savagely denounced the enemies of the white community. Margery Perham, who witnessed one such outburst, decided that Kenya was a pathological case. This was partly because it possessed such a minuscule European population—21,000 by 1939, or 1 to 175 Africans, compared to Southern Rhodesia’s 63,000 whites, 1 to 25. Kenya’s Europeans lived in a perennial state of insecurity and defensiveness. Their world was a bubble and the rarefied air they breathed inside it was tainted with paranoia. During the 1920s, for example, the local press ran a hysterical campaign about the sexual “Black Peril” threatening white women. Yet it could quote scarcely a single instance of rape, even though the memsahib was apt to regard her black servant as “a piece of wood, and…call him into her disordered bed-room when she herself is practically nude.”59 In the following decade the white community also became neurotic about the Jewish peril—an influx of refugees from persecution in Europe as earlier proposed, ironically, by Joseph Chamberlain. Lord Erroll so disliked the “dirty foreigner” that he advocated British fascism for Kenya, finding a favourable climate for it—Sir Edward Grigg so admired Mussolini that he publicly appeared in a Blackshirt uniform of his own design. Erroll’s fascism involved “super loyalty to the Crown” and an “insulated Empire.”60 Eventually the Settlement Committee agreed to admit a few “Jews of nordic type.61 But white Kenyans mocked Lord Passfield, the Colonial Secretary who encouraged the Kikuyu Central Association, Thuku’s renamed movement, as Lord Passover. And the Association’s new leader, Jomo Kenyatta, who studied in the Soviet Union, compared the treatment of Africans by Britain’s colonial fascists to that of the Jews by the Nazis.

It was a charge to concentrate minds in the Colonial Office, where the old confidence in Britain’s power and pelf was wearing ever more thin during the 1930s. For years a few of the more perceptive British officials had been warning about the rise of nationalism in Africa. Sometimes they sought analogies in the history of the Roman Empire, which had also aimed to control and civilise a plethora of rival tribes. Charles Hobley, for example, wrote that the Romans had made a profound impact on their British subjects in four hundred years and that, although Britain had occupied Kenya for only a tenth of that time, the African was surely “capable of playing a great part in his own government.”62 Norman Leys, citing the 1915 millenarian uprising in Nyasaland, which had been sparked off by injustice and put down with ferocity, said that Britain faced Christianity and Islam in Africa, the two militant creeds which had triumphed over the Roman Empire. Rome had for a time maintained the loyalty of its subjects by sharing with them “such political rights as the age conceived.”63 Britain should apply the principles of guardianship and democracy, eradicating racial discrimination and giving representation to Africans. Questions remained about how soon this could be done and whether multi-coloured partnership or black paramountcy would emerge. But between the wars it became clear, at least in the Colonial Office, that Kenya’s whites could not hold on to their monopoly forever, especially as Africans were acquiring the education that would enable them to make informed use of the vote. By 1944 the editor of the Kenya Weekly News became the first prominent settler to acknowledge publicly that the government would have to be run by “all races co-operating.”64 In the same year the first African, Eliud Mathu, became a member of the colony’s Legislative Council. He was the son of a Kikuyu “witch-doctor” who had been to university at Balliol College, Oxford.

If blue-blooded Englishmen led Kenya’s whites, the Sudan was famously “a Land of Blacks ruled by Blues.”65 In fact less than a quarter of the four hundred officials who constituted the Sudan Political Service (as it came to be called—SPS) over fifty years won the accolade of athletic distinction at Oxford and Cambridge. Moreover, a tenth of them gained first-class degrees and in the Anglo-Egyptian condominium brains were at least as highly regarded as brawn. Nevertheless, sport was a vital element in forming the esprit de corps of the SPS. Taking violent exercise in furnace heat was believed to produce healthy minds in healthy bodies, to foster individualism as well as team spirit, and to train the character for the rigours of life off the beaten track. Having learned to play the game at public school and university, officials went on playing it in the wilderness. As one of them said, skill at golf, squash, tennis, rugby, rowing or cricket “gave us the self-confidence to cope with loneliness and being on our own in charge of large areas of population.”66

Certainly the Sudan Political Service, which evolved from a military to a civilian body, came to rival the “heaven-born” elite of India. Even Odette Keun, a left-wing journalist who loathed the brutality of Britain’s “obsolete empire,” described the SPS as “an order of Samurai.” According to her account, its members (a third of whom were clergymen’s sons) possessed a high standard of honour. They bore the white man’s burden instead of clamping themselves to the native back like the Old Man of the Sea. Settler colonies, Kenya being a prime example, were ripped open for such wealth as they contained. They were, she said, a “happy hunting-ground of the adventurer, the gold-digger, the industrial or commercial brigand, the ten-thousand-times-accursed concessionaire.” The Sudan, which Kitchener had rescued from the chaos, rapine, famine and misery of the Khalifate at the battle of Omdurman, was by 1930 a model of good order. The SPS, never more than 125 strong yet governing an area four times the size of Texas, had abolished slavery, fostered prosperity, improved health, promoted education and preserved peace. In fact, Odette Keun concluded, the Sudan was a startlingly successful experiment in colonisation, having at its heart a unique and “incredible objective—the welfare of the conquered.”67

The British naturally maintained that the purpose of all their colonies was to benefit the native people but they were gratified by “eulogies”68 of their stewardship in the Sudan from such an unexpected source. Odette Keun was a pertinacious reporter—after interviewing H. G. Wells she apparently went to bed with him “to fill out her impressions.”69 Other witnesses, notably Margery Perham, confirmed her view of the condominium. But were they right? Khartoum, at least, seemed to vindicate their judgement. Kitchener at once began its reconstruction, allegedly planning the layout on the pattern of a Union Jack. There is no evidence for this, or for the claim that he designed its grid of streets for ease of firing Maxim guns. But in due course broad boulevards, shaded by banyans and wild fig trees, lit by electricity, traversed by trams, and bearing names like Victoria Avenue, did crisscross the city. Kitchener raised money for the Gordon Memorial College and he was so keen to rebuild the Palace where Gordon was martyred that he refused to allow camels to be diverted from hauling bricks to carrying grain for famine relief. In 1899 General Sir Reginald Wingate succeeded Kitchener as Governor-General and during his long tenure he presided over a substantial modernisation of the capital. The Nile was embanked and bordered by a spacious esplanade. Fine bungalows set amid lawns and palms also overlooked the water. New squares arose and with them government and business offices. Tennis, squash and fives courts appeared. So did a zoo, a railway station, a dockyard, a School of Medicine, a shooting range, a polo ground and a golf course, though its fairways were sandy and its greens were brown. Near the Anglican cathedral a statue of General Gordon riding a camel was floodlit every Sunday night—it shone with a silvery white radiance, a ghost of the martyr who died to save the city.

At the cool, verandahed Sudan Club, “that Mecca of social life among the British upper crust,” embowered in riverside gardens complete with swimming pool, waiters in white robes and green cummerbunds served top officials with afternoon tea or iced lime soda. At the Palace, an icing-sugar-coloured confection known as “the Christmas cake,”70 which was girdled with fountains and flowers, Wingate lived in regal state. His progress through the city, attended by a gorgeously uniformed staff and escorted by a glittering cavalcade of black lancers, reminded one witness of “a Drury lane Melodrama.”71 Khartoum even became a smart tourist resort with shops and hotels run by Levantines and Italians, a kind of African Riviera. In due course it attracted its own “fishing fleet.” Wingate complained about having to entertain so many dignitaries and he often took refuge at Erkowit, a hill station near the Red Sea which aspired to be “the Simla of the Sudan.”72 An inveterate snob, though, he really appreciated the value of influential European visitors to what was advertised as the “Sunny Sudan.” Thanks to them and, still more, to Egyptian subventions, Khartoum began to look like the capital of a flourishing country. Yet one influential visitor, Rudyard Kipling, discerned the doom of the Empire in the progress of the city. Furnished with an education and an easy life, its people would soon demand “Soudan for the Soudanese,” he declared. “It is a hard law but an old one—Rome died learning it, as our western civilisation may die—that if you give any man anything that he has not painfully earned for himself, you infallibly make him or his descendants your devoted enemies.”73 This was the characteristically crusty view of a writer who, in his frequent identification of British and Roman imperial decline, once acknowledged that Gibbon was “the fat heifer I ploughed with.”74

Nevertheless, Khartoum did in some ways symbolise the fragility of British rule, for the edifice of imperial order was lapped by waves of indigenous discord. Across the river, its foreshore heaped with gum, dura and hides, was the grey-brown jumble of Omdurman, a menacing labyrinth of narrow, sandy streets with open drains flanked by poky, flyblown shops and mud hovels plastered with dung. And behind the European façade in Khartoum itself the Sudanese dwelt in dusty rows of box-like abodes bereft of amenities such as running water and much inferior to the humblest SPS dwellings, which were later called “Belsens.” Just as the river crossing was said to be a journey back in time, the architectural divide signified a social gulf. Except on business rulers seldom met ruled, regarding them less as human beings than as gaudy or unsightly components of the alien scene. As a young official Harold MacMichael found the women of Khartoum “the most repulsive objects of hideosity I ever saw: they carry themselves very well because of always having pitchers or bricks on their heads, but their faces are like gargoyles and they smell appallingly of unguents.”75 Sometimes members of the SPS were facetious at the expense of the Sudanese, one wag guying their (sensible) habit of riding on the hindquarters of their donkeys:

As I sat on my ass on the ass of my ass

This thought came into my mind,

That though three parts of my ass was in front of my ass

The whole of my ass was behind.

So at best race relations were “cordial but not very close.”76 The British, as always, kept to themselves. In the mordant words of Douglas Newbold, Governor of Kordofan for most of the 1930s, they seemed to think that their imperial mission involved herding like fatted cows “on each others’ lawns or verandahs, drinking murderous cocktails and talking unadulterated bilge to unknown people.”77

Members of the SPS were generally as starched and conventional as their evening dress, though they could unbend, sometimes getting “squiffier and squiffier” at dinner until the evening ended in “a drunken brawl.”78 They scorned the effendi class of Sudanese as semi-educated and half-baked, imitative in trousers and shoes but outlandish over food and drink. These exotic proletarians were certainly presumptuous and probably seditious, always to be slapped down and sometimes merely to be slapped. The tiny Arab intelligentsia resented living in a state of subordination and some enlightened whites predicted that the British reluctance to mix would destroy their administration. An augury of its fate was the nationalist White Flag League, formed in 1923, which demonstrated and agitated for freedom. The movement, which spread to the military, drew strength from a nominally independent Egypt. So when Wingate’s successor as Governor-General of the Sudan, Sir Lee Stack, was assassinated on a visit to Cairo in 1924, the British took the opportunity to send home the Egyptian army along with many Egyptian civil servants, teachers and others. While maintaining the fiction of the “Anglo-Egyptian Condominium,” they turned the Sudan into a virtual mandate. This provoked a mutiny among Sudanese forces, which was quickly crushed. A new Governor-General, Sir John Maffey, tried to insulate the country from dangerous modern influences. He aimed to sterilise any political germs floating up the Nile to Khartoum and to make the Sudan “safe for autocracy.”79

The British also strove to prevent the predominantly Arab, Muslim north from infecting the largely African, pagan south. The vast basin of the Upper Nile was the province of the so-called “Bog Barons,” white officials who aspired to become local patriarchs, even paramount chiefs. They were often idiosyncratic characters. One trekked with a handkerchief hanging from the corner of his mouth. Another walked away if he saw a white man, ran if it was a white woman. Another dressed the crew of his private Nile boat in uniform jerseys bearing the motto “Ana muzlum”—I am oppressed. Yet another kept two files for communications from Khartoum, one marked “Quite Sensible,” the other “Balderdash.”80 Still others succumbed to the charms of “the most attractive, friendly, black, naked pagans you could wish for,” though one of them, “Tiger” Wyld, said that to reveal such liaisons was to “let down the side.”81 Mostly tough ex-soldiers, the Bog Barons were sometimes brought to the capital to take instruction from “the super cock-angels” of the SPS, a facetious observer wrote, in “higher culture, advanced purity and semi-teetotalism.”82 But they faced almost insuperable difficulties in and around the primordial Sudd. There they encountered a world of what Sir Harold MacMichael, when Civil Secretary (i.e. top official) in Khartoum, deemed “semi-simian savagery.” It was a “Serbonian bog into which had drifted, or been pushed, all the lowest racial elements surviving north of the equator and a great deal of equally decayed vegetation.”83Certainly it was home to a host of peoples, among them Shilluk, Nuer, Anuak, Bari, Dinka and Zande. Strangers to the plough, the wheel and the pen, they were a prey to famine, violence and disease. Most were nude—the ritually cicatriced Nuer, whose ash-covered bodies gave them “the appearance of living skeletons,”84 regarded clothes as the livery of servitude. Many embraced witchcraft, worshipped fetishes and possessed what Christians called a “ju-ju mentality.”85 Some practised cannibalism. They lived in atomised groups, often without headmen, and spoke some eight hundred languages.

As such they were hard to control and for thirty years the Bog Barons concentrated on suppression rather than administration. British punitive expeditions in the Sudan were even more brutal than those in Kenya, at times amounting almost to genocide. Certainly, as one District Officer acknowledged, they produced a crop of “regular Congo atrocities.”86 Supplementing ground forces with aircraft, since the RAF wanted to test “the moral effect”87 of bombing and strafing in an ideal proving ground, MacMichael was apparently content to employ the methods of “Tamburlaine or Genghis Khan.”88 For he believed that only those speaking Arabic were susceptible to proper government. The best that could be done for the polyglot people of the south was to look after them “on a care and maintenance basis.”89 This involved little in the way of social welfare. Typically, the Director of Medical Services refused to post a Senior Medical Officer to the Fung District until its Commissioner had “got the place healthy enough for him.”90 Most Bog Barons accepted that they were keepers in “an anthropological zoo.”91 But less conservative officials rejected the idea of setting up a “human Whipsnade”92 or “zoological gardens where black men are to be carefully fenced off to develop ‘on their own lines.’”93 They tried to raise Africans “to a higher standard of living and culture” on the grounds that “nations colonised by Rome still display advance over those who were not so fortunate.” They made piecemeal attempts to strengthen tribal units and leaders. Thus Catholic and Protestant missionaries were allowed to teach and preach to the heathen, using English as the official language. Nevertheless, so long as order prevailed the British found it easy (and cheap) to neglect the Upper Nile. Indeed, they had a vested interest in southern stagnation.

Nor were they averse to northern backwardness. Of course the Khartoum government sought to develop the economy. In order to grow cotton between the White and Blue Niles, for example, it built the Sennar dam and irrigated the Gezira peninsula—a pharaonic enterprise which saddled the Sudan with a huge debt. Agricultural experts monitored progress, as suggested by this contemporary pastiche of John Masefield:

Sweaty Block Inspector with gin-soaked arm-pits

Trotting through the cotton on an old brown mare,

With a cargo of horse-whips,

Whisky-flasks, monocles,

Polo-sticks, poker-dice, and Lotion for the Hair.94

The British also improved communications, threading the country with roads, railways and telegraph wires. They remoulded Omdurman. They built Port Sudan on the Red Sea. They fostered veterinary and medical services. To produce a cadre of clerks and technicians, they even approved a modest amount of vocational training. But although paying lip service to learning, they thought it wasted on the ignorant. They equated liberal education with political subversion—some medical opinion even deemed it a cause of African insanity. They favoured the old-fashioned culture of the country, uncontaminated by western ideas. Wilfred Thesiger, an Oxford boxing Blue and a District Officer in Darfur between the wars, was typical in this respect. He disapproved of educating tribal people and “questioned whether it was right to try to impose on the Sudanese the conventions and values of our utterly alien civilisation.”95 Among Sudanese conventions was an acceptance of slavery, something the government tolerated and even encouraged (through taxation) until the end of the 1920s. Even then it tried to settle slaves gradually “within their masters’ tribes”96 rather than freeing them, one District Officer wrote, to become thieves and harlots.

As in India and other imperial territories, the British identified with the most conservative elements of native society. But, like Burton, Doughty, Lawrence, Philby and Gertrude Bell, many members of the SPS also felt a powerful affinity for pastoral Arabs and the wild places in which they dwelt. Douglas Newbold was typical in having a quasi-mystical veneration for the desert, “the abode of jinns and efreets, of the basilisk and the cockatrice.” Man’s soul was purged, he said, amid its singing sands and quivering mirages. Vast, silent and clean, it was enough to “make the pygmy wayfarer tread as softly as in an empty cathedral.”97 Newbold and his colleagues admired the nomads as warriors, hunters, noble savages, nature’s gentlemen. On safari the British enjoyed the intimacy of the oasis and the camaraderie of the camp fire, a contrast to their constraint with educated, urban Sudanese. No doubt some SPS men, both Thesiger and Newbold, for example, felt a homosexual attraction to desert Arabs, usually sublimated. Others relished the adventurous life, exploring, shooting big game, subduing turbulent tribesmen. Still others valued the early responsibility, the paternalistic oversight of everything from wells to latrines, from herd taxes to village petitions, from gun licences to marital disputes, from plagues of locusts to pedlars of subversion, from pulling out teeth to casting out devils. Nearly all accepted the need for indirect rule, which became official policy after the Great War, whereby colonial administration operated through native chiefs. Unlike effendi, who espoused progress, sheikhs personified the past. They might be fools or knaves, brigands or zealots, but they were surely wedded to tradition. The British saw them as a kind of rural gentry through which the SPS patriciate could best maintain control of this antique land.

In fact, indirect rule never worked well and sometimes hardly worked at all, its failings being particularly obvious in the Sudan. The system was beset by contradictions. It relied on the compliance of chiefs whose authority rested upon their independence from the British. It kept colonial people in a condition of tutelage yet purported to be preparing them to stand on their own feet. It imposed an archaic order on societies that could not be isolated from modernity. Newbold compared the erosion of feudal loyalty in northern Sudan during the 1930s to “the passing of the squire” at home and put both down to “the inexorable march of events.”98 Among the Africans of the south the entire process of devolution was bedevilled by uncertainty about who, if anyone, ruled whom. Whereas the Shilluk had a king, the Nuer had prophets and in one district, its Commissioner noted despairingly, the Dinka were represented by “47 different individuals, each called ‘chief.’”99 As a result indirect rule was never comprehensively adopted. What is more, no sooner had it become an orthodoxy than critics began to harp on its reactionary character. Sir Stewart Symes, who was Governor-General from 1934 to 1940, said that it held back educated Sudanese, who were acting as bottle-washers when they should be senior officials. However, Symes, formerly Wingate’s ADC, was more prone to caution than to innovation. He believed that the Sudanese were in a state of political infancy and did little to lead them towards maturity. He encouraged modest “Sudanisation” during the Depression largely in order to save money and his educational reforms were more a matter of aspiration than achievement. In the south scarcely anything was done. Its people appreciated the Pax Britannica which prevailed for a quarter of a century but they later said that the main mistake the British made was that “they did not educate us.”100 As a later Civil Secretary, Sir James Robertson, reluctantly concluded, his countrymen in the Sudan had failed to carry out the government’s avowed policy, “i.e. to further the interests of the Sudanese.”101

Nationalists had felt this acutely at least since 1936, when the makers of the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty incensed them by deciding the fate of the Sudan without consulting its people. In effect the treaty maintained the status quo: Egyptian officials did return to Khartoum but British rule continued. So in 1938 the Sudanese intelligentsia formed the Graduates’ General Congress and sought to exploit the rivalry between London and Cairo. They did so with some skill, assisted by a gradual erosion of confidence inside the SPS. Its officials recognised that Egypt, which Newbold described as “staggering in its vomit like a drunken man,”102 might gain control of the Upper Nile. And this horrid prospect helped to reconcile them to eventual Sudanese independence (though they could scarcely have anticipated that their immaculate Club would later become home to the Sudan Socialist Union). When the Congress took advantage of the war to demand self-determination, Newbold, now Civil Secretary, who dismissed the Italian attack from Ethiopia as an “ice-cream blitzkrieg,” issued a public rebuke. The Congress had fallen into “errors,” he declared, and it should renounce any claim “to be the mouthpiece of the whole country.” Privately, however, Newbold, likened by a colleague to “one of Plato’s philosopher kings,”103 moved to meet “reasonable aspirations of the enlightened Sudanese.”104

Failure to do so might result in such troubles as had afflicted Ireland or India, he thought, and the Sudan was not hampered like Kenya with its white settlers or like Palestine with its community feuds. It should implement Britain’s wartime imperial policy of supporting the “progressive evolution of self-governing institutions.” In 1944, therefore, the Governor-General convened an Advisory Council which he hailed as the “first concrete expression of a Sudanese nation.”105 It was also an attempt to divide and rule. In the twenty-eight-strong Council, graduates were outnumbered by tribal leaders, nazirs in white togas, muftis in purple vestments, sheikhs in robes of scarlet and blue embroidered with gold. Neither the southern Sudan nor Egypt was represented, which widened the split inside the Congress itself. Followers of the Mahdi’s posthumous son, Abd al-Rahman al-Mahdi, wanted “Sudan for the Sudanese.” Their opponents, led by Ismail al-Azhari (later the Sudan’s first Prime Minister), aimed to eject their white masters with Egyptian help and campaigned for the “Unity of the Nile Valley.” These slogans were the writing on the wall for the British. But if the divisions that the SPS fostered could not prolong the rule of Blue over Black, they did help to foment civil war in the Sudan after independence. Al-Azhari’s conclusion was harsh. To maintain its tyranny the imperial power had “sat heavily upon the land,” he said, “spreading hatred and separation between its people.”106

This verdict was heard in other parts of Africa painted red on the map. Settler colonies in particular seemed bent on following the Boer example: one Cewa chief complained that Southern Rhodesians did not look on black people as humans, “they just treat them as dogs.”107 In his impassioned account How Britain Rules Africa (1936), George Padmore, a Trinidadian Marxist, said its colonies were a “breeding-ground for the type of fascist mentality which is being let loose in Europe to-day.”108 Yet Britain’s record in Africa was better than that of other European states and on the whole, once in place, its yoke was easy. It lacked the manpower, the resources and the will to govern its tropical dependencies by main force, ruling through native collaborators and relying on white prestige. Indeed, one colonial judge, remarking on how a single District Officer with half a dozen askaris might be in charge of 100,000 Africans, said that Britain’s “whole position rests on bluff.”109 In settler colonies, limits were imposed on the exploitation and coercion of blacks by the poverty and paucity of whites, to say nothing of interference from London. True, the British squeezed where they could, as in the copper belt of Northern Rhodesia. There, between 1930 and 1940, they took £2.4 million in taxes and gave only £136,000 in development grants. They thus starved the colonial government of funds for roads, agriculture, housing and essential social services, which remained “very backward.”110 Development was also limited elsewhere, particularly when times were hard. Between the wars West Africa, though politically quite advanced, was economically stagnant. Basutoland was hardly touched by government. Such tiny sums were spent on Nyasaland that workers emigrated to the more racially hostile environment of Rhodesia and South Africa. A Governor of Tanganyika said that his territory was kept “in mothballs.”111 A Governor of Nigeria said, “The great merit of British rule is that there is so little of it.”112Only in the Union of South Africa did the European community have the numbers, the wealth and the independence to impose thoroughly repressive policies based on colour. It duly laid the foundations of the apartheid system, confining the black two-thirds of the population to 13 per cent of the land, discriminating against Africans in the workplace, depriving them of votes and passing other racist laws. This prompted the creation of the African National Congress, with its haunting anthem, adopted in 1925, “Nkosi sikeleli Afrika”—“God Bless Africa.”

Across the continent, though, other such bodies sprouted as opposition to imperial overlordship grew. The process was gradual, intermittent and by no means preordained. There was nothing inevitable, either, about progress towards the ultimate goal of self-government. Trusteeship, in any case a slippery concept, was supposed to become partnership with native peoples, which would eventually lead to their independence. However, as a liberal settler said, “Those of us who live in Central Africa know very well that partnership between black and white…is at best a pious hope, at worst a disingenuous myth propagated for political purposes.”113 Among other things, tribal divisions suggested that African nations would be slow to evolve. Smuts thought it would take Europeans an age to school “peoples who have slumbered and stagnated since the dawn of time.”114Many British officials agreed. Sir Philip Mitchell, who became Governor of Uganda in 1935, reckoned that the Africans of 1890 were centuries behind the Britons of Julius Caesar’s day. Their swift advancement was impossible because there was nothing in the continent between the Stone Age and Dr. Livingstone—“not a ruin, not a tomb, not an inscription.”115 (Mitchell did not mention iron-working and he believed that the stone structure at Great Zimbabwe was a colonial edifice.) In any case Africans who were “labouring in the throes of nation-birth” often wished to cooperate with colonial governments. The National Democratic Party in Lagos told the Governor that it wanted to preserve Nigeria “not only as an integral part of the Empire, but also as a bright jewel within the imperial panorama.”116 Nevertheless, as the examples of Kenya and the Sudan indicate, the tide of hostility to colonialism was rising in Africa and only the pace of the resulting political change was still in doubt.

Native elites were everywhere emerging, their consciousness shaped by the blackboard, the pulpit and the press—as early as 1900 there were nineteen newspapers in the Gold Coast and thirty-four in Sierra Leone. Frustrated by the limited opportunities available to him under white rule, the “accursed educated African” was angry at the advance of race prejudice and bitter that his colonial masters regarded him as “a worse evil than the primitive savage.”117 Africans without the benefit of schooling learned practical lessons from the demands for land, labour and tax made on them by the self-proclaimed purveyors of civilisation. Also instructive were the methods of white politicians and trade unionists. Many black people just wanted a redress of grievances. But some demanded more say in their own affairs and no taxation without representation. And others gave utterance to what Lord Hailey called that “pestilent polysyllable, self-determination.”118 They were emboldened by Britain’s loss of prestige as a result of the Great War, which presented Africans, over a million of whom took part in the conflict, with the shocking spectacle of Europeans fighting one another. The Depression further weakened imperial power, particularly as Japanese goods drove British products from marketplaces in their own colonies; before the end of the decade, for example, Nippon supplied 93 per cent of East Africa’s cotton cloth. African disillusionment grew when Britain responded so feebly to Mussolini’s rape of Ethiopia in 1935 and tried to find ways of appeasing Hitler, perhaps by restoring Germany’s colonies. But hope sprang from a growing international acceptance of the ideal of racial equality, which presented the Empire with an “unprecedented crisis of conscience.”119

Many who shared that ideal helped to support African nationalism, whether through the advancement of human rights, local loyalties or black pride. Promoted by the American socialist W. E. B. Dubois, Pan-African conferences attacked colonialism. Marcus Garvey’s militant Universal Negro Improvement Association “made Harlem felt around the world.”120 And the slogan of his Back-to-Africa movement—“Africa for the Africans”—not only influenced aspirant leaders such as Kwame Nkrumah but reverberated through the continent. It reached, for example, a remote corner of northern Nigeria, four days’ journey from a telegraph office and eight from a railway, where many had never seen a white man let alone a white woman. Here, Joyce Cary wrote, village markets were excited by rumours of a black king coming in a great iron steamship full of black soldiers “to drive all the whites out of Africa.”121 Before the Second World War Indian protests about the disabilities suffered by their compatriots in South Africa, Kenya and elsewhere also stimulated African resistance to white domination. Gandhi encouraged it and the Indian National Congress demonstrated the need for political organisation. Nehru and other nationalists, such as Subhas Chandra Bose, were sympathetic. Nehru wrote that Negroes he met at the International Congress against Colonial Oppression and Imperialism (organised by the ubiquitous Communist agent Willi Münzenberg in Brussels in 1927) bore traces of the unique and “terrible martyrdom which their race has suffered.”122 But he thought that Africans would not gain freedom without a universal emancipation from imperialism. Thus swaraj and embryonic African independence movements were part of the same cause, drawing strength from one another. Africa learned much from India’s campaign for Home Rule. India could only help Africans and Asians to win their liberty by triumphing in its struggle against the British Empire.

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