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The makeshift settlement: colonial policy in British West Africa

Phillips, A.M. (1982). The makeshift settlement: colonial policy in British West Africa. (Unpublished Doctoral thesis, City University London)


This thesis examines the evolution of colonial policy within British West Africa, and is based largely on unpublished correspondence between the Colonial office and colonial governors, held in the Public Record Office in London. It argues that the colonial states were unable to generate or implement a satisfactory strategy for capitalist development. In the first twenty years of colonial rule, various projects were outlined, which assumed the introduction of private property in land, the encouragement of direct investment by European capital, and the formation of a class of wage labourers. The absence of a working class, and the political impossiblity of the disruptions necessary to create such a class, forced a retreat from these projects, and led to the articulation of a West African Policy, premised on peasant production. This reversed the earlier commitment to private property and proposed a defence of communal property relations, with Africans restrained from buying, selling or mortgaging land. With the exception of mining, private capital was to be restricted to a merchant role, and discouraged from setting up plantation production. In the decades between the First and Second World Wars, this conception of West African development provided the framework for colonial practice, but became increasingly incoherent and untenable. The colonial states were unable, within the confines of a peasant strategy, to promote desired changes in agricultural productivity, and could not offer adequate support to attempts to introduce mechanical processing into palm oil production. They came into conflict with mining companies over labour supplies, and with Lever over his attempts to introduce capitalist relations into the cultivation and processing of palm fruits. The commitment to communal ownership of land was challenged by Africans who demanded the right to buy and mortgage, and these demands were supported in the 1920s and 1930s by some key administrators who saw the West African Policy as a constraint on agricultural development. The world crisis of the 1920s and 1930s undermined the viability of African farming, and produced unemployment. By the time of the Second World War, the colonial states were forced to recognise African wage labour, and abandon the original model of a peasant economy. The thesis argues that the fragility of colonial control prevented pursuit of coherent strategies. The policies adopted should be viewed as a product of compromise between conflicting pressures, rather than as a pure strategy for capital. The thesis thus challenges the assumptions of underdevelopment theory, which has claimed the failure to create conditions for capitalist development in the African colonies as a deliberate product of capitalist interests.

Publication Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: H Social Sciences
Departments: City, University of London (-2022) > School of Arts & Social Sciences
School of Arts & Social Sciences
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