In defence of Britain’s decolonisation record

It’s an article of faith among some good folk on the left, Guardian readers every one, that the British empire was a rat’s-nest of racism, oppression and exploitation, and that its eventual dissolution was achieved only by a series of armed liberation struggles against the British imperial power.  Here are two texts that seek to question that innocent but unhistorical view of our colonial past:

[1]  Letter:  The Guardian, 21 April 2011

The truth about the end of empire

Madeleine Bunting over-simplifies and distorts Britain’s predominantly successful, peaceful and honourable decolonisation record (The endgames of our empire never quite played out – just look at Bahrain, 18 April[a]). In most of the few territories where independence was marred by violence, it arose from conflict between rivals fighting each other to inherit power from the departing British (as in Aden and many other places), only rarely from an “independence struggle” against the colonial power.

Resistance to independence with one man, one vote came mainly from white settler groups (Kenya, Southern Rhodesia) or from local minorities which feared domination by the majority when the UK withdrew its protection (Nigeria etc). Mau Mau was not primarily a movement seeking Kenyan independence but a tribal movement in conflict with other tribes and with the settlers over land.

The Gulf states were never British colonies as such and were not administered by the Colonial Office, and it’s misleading to cite them as typical. In the majority of colonies the move to independence was conducted in collaboration with local elected leaders and with their agreement on the pace and modalities of the change. Where there was brutality by the colonial government against local people, as clearly happened in Kenya, it was inexcusable, but by no means typical or widespread. Whatever we may think of our mixed history of empire, there’s reason to be proud of the way we dismantled it.

Ms Bunting sees something sinister about the efforts by all UK governments to maintain their influence and good relations, and to promote UK interests, with former British colonies after their independence (what else should they have done?), but to see this as a continuation of colonial domination is ridiculous. It’s what governments do in their relations with other countries and it’s called international relations by diplomacy.

Brian Barder
Colonial Office 1957-64, HM Diplomatic Service 1965-94;   London
http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2011/apr/21/truth-about-end-of-empire

[a] http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/apr/17/bahrain-foreign-office-empire

__________________________

[2] Unpublished letter to the Guardian from Ian Buist, an eminent retired public servant with extensive knowledge and experience of East Africa (including especially Kenya) and of Britain’s decolonisation record generally, from his service both in Africa and in Whitehall, commenting on an article about the UK colonial record by Seumas Milne in the Guardian of 7 April 2011 (“Ignoring its imperial history licenses the west to repeat it”):

Seumas Milne’s colourful “anti-imperial” rant was free with its facts as well as its adjectives.

The claims that “hundreds of thousands” of Kikuyu were “interned in concentration camps” and “tens of thousands killed” were carefully analysed by the historian David Elstein and dismissed (his article was recently republished on “OpenDemocracy”).

How can the Israel-Palestine 50-year conflict be the “direct result” of British policy?  In issuing the Balfour Declaration, accepting the League/UN Mandate, or surrendering it?

Where is the “reflex imperial resort to partition” found in  Ceylon/Sri Lanka or Kurdistan?  On Somalia, we helped our own Protectorate, as it wished, to achieve its independence in union with the former Italian colony.  And so on and on.

It is a pity when reputable journalists try to shape the facts to fit a thesis, even if many of us also sometimes feel this temptation.

Ian Buist
[J.L.F. Buist C.B.]

Ian Buist also commented on my own Guardian letter (above) that “You could also have made the point that all these divisions stemmed from local history and conflict — eg Sri Lanka — and that our efforts were always directed to preventing their irruption if we could — cf Donoughmore Constitution for Ceylon etc.”  A good point.

I hope those who contribute comments here strongly disagreeing with these attempts to put the record a little bit straighter will spare us a catalogue of examples of brutality, exploitation, racism and other inexcusable abuses in the colonial territories and protectorates for which Britain was once responsible, either in the heyday of empire or during the period of decolonisation following the second world war.  No-one is denying that such abuses did occur.  Some are well documented.  Many aroused powerful protests and objections at the time, both in the territories concerned and in Britain.  Some were not viewed as wrong or immoral according to the ethical beliefs of the time:  it’s fatally easy to apply our own settled views of what is and is not acceptable retrospectively and with hindsight to another age (slavery and discrimination against women and black people were once seen as fundamental to an orderly society, even by people who were personally decent and humane).

This post is not an attempt to justify the indefensible or to assert that terrible wrongs were never done in British colonial times.  It does however aim to point out that in the overwhelming majority of cases, the process of bringing British dependent territories to independence was peaceful, orderly and consensual, negotiated in great detail with the elected leaders of the territories concerned and almost entirely with their agreement;  and that where there was violence during the decolonisation process, it was extremely rarely, if ever, generated by British resistance to local demands for independence.  From the election of the Attlee Labour government in 1945 to the virtual completion of decolonisation in the 1960s, no British government sought to prolong colonial status in any territory whose people wanted it;  indeed, governments in London increasingly regarded our status as a colonial power as a yoke round our necks and an impediment to the exercise of Britain’s influence in international affairs.  In a number of cases London was in much more of a hurry to bring a territory to independence than the leaders and people of the territory concerned, some of them apprehensive about what would happen to them after a generally benign British colonial administration handed over power.  Some of those apprehensions, alas, turned out to be all too well founded.

The end of empire was an infinitely complex process, combining generous doses of self-interest and hypocrisy with much good-will and genuine idealism on both sides.  Nothing is to be gained, and the past is denied its due, by pretending that it was all bad.

Brian

27 Responses

  1. where there was violence during the decolonisation process, it was extremely rarely, if ever, generated by British resistance to local demands for independence.

    Cyprus?

    Brian writes: Thank you for this. The violence in Cyprus was basically caused by the Greek Cypriots’ demand for union with Greece, ‘Enosis’, and resistance by Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots to that demand. In the words of the Wikipedia entry on Enosis, “In 1955, the resistance movement EOKA was formed in Cyprus in order to end British rule and annex the island to Greece. It was gradually recognized, however, that enosis was politically unfeasible due to the presence of the Turkish community and its increasing assertiveness. Instead, the creation of an independent state with elaborate power-sharing arrangements among the two communities was agreed upon in 1960 [Cyprus became independent on 16 August 1960], and the fragile Republic of Cyprus was born. The idea of enosis was not immediately abandoned, though. During the presidential campaign for the 1968 elections, Makarios III said that enosis was “desirable” whereas independence was “possible”. This differentiated him from the hardline pro-enosis elements which formed EOKA B and participated in a military coup against him in 1974… [etc]”

    EOKA was an openly terrorist movement whose aim, union with Greece, would never have been tolerated by mainland Turkey, whose illegal occupation of part of Cyprus persists to this day. Turkey acquiesced in separate independence for Cyprus while a huge majority of the Cyprus population wanted union with Greece. Britain was left holding the ring, trying to cope with EOKA violence and Turkish threats, while trying to work out a compromise solution that both communities as well as Athens and Ankara could accept — which is what eventually happened. And of course violence continued for years after independence and the conflict remains unresolved even now. To describe this as an armed struggle against the British for independence could hardly be more misleading. 

  2. “Britain was left holding the ring, trying to cope with EOKA violence and Turkish threats, while trying to work out a compromise solution that both communities as well as Athens and Ankara could accept — which is what eventually happened.”

    That may well be how it looked to the colonial power but, needless to say, not to the Greek Cypriots.   Similarly, EOKA was not considered (and is still not considered) a terrorist organization by the “huge majority of the Cyprus population.” An awful lot of mistakes were made on both [or rather, three if not five] sides but, imo, Britain fought so hard and bloodily not to hold any  ring like a good sport but to hold on to its  Mediterranean military base.  The Suez crisis in 1956 made that all the more vital, or so it was thought at the time.  Despite the desire for enosis with Greece,  I don’t see how you can deny that EOKA was fundamentally a liberation movement.  
     
    Brian writes: Thank you again. The point, surely, is not how EOKA “looked” either to the Greek Cypriots or to “the colonial power”, but whether its actions fitted the definition of terrorism. I think it would be difficult to devise a definition of terrorism that didn’t precisely fit what EOKA verifiably did. As to whether it was a ‘liberation movement’, I don’t see anything liberating about trying to secure the annexation of Cyprus to Greece in circumstances that would have been guaranteed to provoke at best a full-scale military invasion of Cyprus by Turkey and at worst a full-scale war between Greece and Turkey, two NATO members in a strategically vital area of the north Atlantic alliance at the height of the cold war — especially when the alternative, long violently resisted by EOKA, to integration with Greece plus war with Turkey was full independence for Cyprus on a compromise basis agreed with both the Cypriot communities and the governments of Greece and Turkey with an agreed constitution designed to protect the interests of both communities and all three countries through power-sharing in Cyprus. It was the agreement on the latter that Britain, with support from the UN, eventually succeeded in securing after arduous and prolonged negotiations, sometimes involving UK Ministers leading negotiations in Cyprus for months at a time.

    Thus the UK government’s aim, doggedly and eventually successfully pursued, was full and separate independence for Cyprus on a basis in which Greece, Turkey, and the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities were prepared to accept. The alternative was virtually certain war from which many more people would have suffered even than the substantial number of innocent victims of EOKA terrorism. To describe this as “Britain [fighting] so hard and bloodily … to hold on to its Mediterranean military base” simply can’t be squared with the facts. There was no conflict between Britain’s entirely reasonable wish to continue to have two military bases in Cyprus, and its objective of independence for Cyprus on a basis agreed with Greece, Turkey and the Cypriot communities — as demonstrated beyond dispute by the fact that both objectives were achieved: Cyprus became fully and separately independent on an agreed basis, war was averted (for a few years, anyway), and with the full consent of the Cyprus government Britain has two RAF bases on Cyprus to this day (both of which have well served perfectly legitimate British and broader western interests and for which no apology whatever is needed).

    What this all amounts to is an excellent illustration of the truth of my basic contention: where independence was marred by violence, it was almost always (or perhaps always) because of conflict between different groups in the territory concerned over who should inherit power when British power and protection were withdrawn, and in what circumstances that transfer of power should take place. Not whether, but how and to whom.

  3. Tom Berney says:

    >>  spare us a catalogue of examples of brutality, exploitation, racism and other inexcusable abuses in the colonial territories and protectorates for which Britain was once responsible, either in the heyday of empire or during the period of decolonisation following the second world war. <<

    Well ….  it’s not often we see a defence of imperialism these days!  What is the point in claiming that in some cases “the process of bringing British dependent territories to independence was peaceful, orderly”  That might be true in some cases, but is it meant to absolve us of the original sins of brutality, exploitation etc that you’ve admitted were a consequence of creating and maintaining the empire?  It’s a bit like saying ‘after we adminstered the 100 lashes the slave eventually recovered in the plantation hospital’.  The lesson we want from history surely is that there would have been no need for a withdrawal process, peaceful or painful, if we had not created the empire in the first place – in the probably forlorn hope that the example might dissuade future generations of imperialists.   

    Brian writes: Thank you for this. I’m afraid that it’s impossible to respond constructively to a comment which can’t see the difference between “a defence of imperialism” and a “defence of Britain’s decolonisation record” — especially when the latter explicitly acknowledged the many wrongs committed during the age of empire.

    Even in the irrelevant terms of your own comment, Tom, there’s something quaintly anachronistic and unhistorical about your suggestion that Britain was morally culpable for “creating and maintaining the empire” in the first place. Quite apart from this being a classic example of applying today’s ethical beliefs to centuries-old events whose ethical codes were entirely different, you seem not to recognise the immense complexity of the objectives and politico-moral imperatives that drove so many European countries to colonise numerous other parts of the world across four continents in wildly varying circumstances over a very long period. Some of these motives were of self-interest — securing sources of cheap labour and raw materials together with trading opportunities, not necessarily or in all cases dishonourably (virtually all governments pursue the same objectives today and would be dismissed from office if they didn’t); getting control of territory to prevent other European colonisers from getting it and thereby securing commercial, political or strategic advantage; intervening to stop barbaric practices (what would now be called “humanitarian disasters”); intervening to stop ferocious conflicts between warring tribes or ethnic communities, often at the request of one or both of the parties to the conflict, or else to protect a minority from repression or even annihilation by a majority; assuming control of territory (often extremely reluctantly) to protect European traders, settlers, or, much more rarely, missionaries; acquiring territory to which convicts could be transported as an alternative to executing them, or to which victims of persecution in Europe could escape and build new communities (I’m thinking of the Americas, not Israel), or to which British people could migrate, settle, and enjoy better opportunities for prospering than were available at home, for example in Scotland or Ireland; securing safe and defensible ports and sources of revictualling on major trade routes, especially to India.

    To squeeze this vast diversity of motives, intentions, objectives and degrees of justification into a single package, label it ‘imperialism’, and condemn it out of hand without the smallest indication of understanding of why people acted in the way they did, suggests to me a failure of historical imagination (surely not also of knowledge?). Moreover, it’s totally irrelevant to the subject of my post.

    Visitors to this blog who want to comment on the pros and cons of empire are invited to do so somewhere else. This thread is about the British decolonisation record, not about ‘imperialism’.

  4. Tom Berney says:

    Oh my, I seem to have hit a nerve! It’s your blog Brian so I suppose you can set your own rules but starting off with a patronising jibe like this …
    It’s an article of faith among some good folk on the left, Guardian readers every one, that the British empire was a rat’s-nest of racism, oppression and exploitation, and that its eventual dissolution was achieved only by a series of armed liberation struggles against the British imperial power. ”
    Pretty well set the tone for all of the rest of your responses. You will note that you referred to opinions of the ‘British Empire’, but then got huffy when someone else did. You also said “I hope those who contribute comments here strongly disagreeing with these attempts to put the record a little bit straighter will spare us a catalogue of examples of brutality” ie setting a framework of … ‘but apart from that. What did the British ever do to them?’ . Well, as I said, it is your blog.
    However, as I am Guardian reader on the left, you will not be suprised to learn that my approach is quite different from yours. Your (I assure you unnecessary) description of the development of the empire is fair, but it looks at the the subject through an entirely Colonial ‘What’s good for Bwana, and Bwana knows best’ filter. And THAT seems to me to be the anachronism, as it entirely discounts the impact or reaction of the indigenous people. You even deny them their martyrs and heroes. For example, you make the extraordinary claim that EOKA and the Mau Mau were not independence movements, yet EOKA took an oath saying
    “I shall work with all my power for the liberation of Cyprus from the British yoke, sacrificing for this even my life.”
    and the Mau Mau used an acronym : “Mzungu Aende Ulaya, Mwafrika Apate Uhuru” “Let the European go back to Europe , Let the African regain Independence”
    I think your most revealing comment on that score was this one “The point, surely, is not how EOKA “looked” either to the Greek Cypriots or to “the colonial power”, but whether its actions fitted the definition of terrorism.”
    Well, actually, it does matter very much indeed how the othe other side saw it. George Grivas is celebrated as a hero of a guerrilla resistance by the Greeks. You must know the adage, your terrorist is the other man’s freedom fighter, and it always has been so. Was William Wallace a Scottish patriot or a treasonous renegade? Even today, look across the Irish sea for different perspectives on heroes and martyrs, guerillas and terrorists. Taking a view that you know better than the people swearing and dying for such oaths seems presumptuous. In that light your comment that I did not have “the smallest indication of understanding of why people acted in the way they did,” is really quite comical.
    On your philosophical criticism about “applying today’s ethical beliefs to centuries-old events whose ethical codes were entirely different,” Yes I’m afraid I do. I recognise, of course, that past and different societies did, and do, apply different standards, but I have no problem condemning stoning to death or public executions whether in biblical times, or present day Saudi. Certainly, we know that slavery and torture were once acceptable, but I see no advantage in not condemning them, because the sad fact is that cruelty seems to be an enduring human trait and such atrocities are still continuing. So I’m quite content to make ethical judgements about them past, present or future.

    Brian writes: Unfortunately the opening words of my post, which you quote with such strong disapproval, have been amply borne out by some of the comments on it. I called it an ‘article of faith’ by some on the left that the eventual dissolution of Britain’s colonial empire “was achieved only by a series of armed liberation struggles against the British imperial power”. It evidently needs more than facts to shake that impregnable belief. I think it was Mark Twain, or one of his characters, who defined ‘faith’ as “believing what you know ain’t so.”

  5. Oliver Miles says:

    I would like to congratulate you and thank you for getting these very balanced and sensible views published.
    I am not, I think, an imperialist. My father was, in the sense that he joined the Ceylon civil service in 1920 with a wholehearted belief in the ideals of bringing even-handed British justice, good administration and civilisation to the people of Ceylon. He resigned just before I was born because the goalposts had been moved and he was now under instructions to prepare the country for self-government as soon as possible. He and many of his colleagues believed that Ceylon would not be ready for self-government for at least 50 years.
    Like most sons I never really asked him about his views, and he was not the type to try to impose them, but I have a few rather scrappy documents from 1935.
    By the time I joined the Diplomatic Service in 1960 my own view, formed quite independently, was simply that the British Empire was history. I remember being surprised, when I first read papers in the Office about British policy in the Middle East, that communications with East of Suez were still regarded as an important interest. This was of course after Suez (1956) but before British withdrawal from the Gulf.
    It was therefore with some astonishment that I found myself in 1965-1968 involved in our withdrawal from Aden, on loan to the Aden Government (I remember vividly meeting Anthony Greenwood, almost the last Secretary of State for the Colonies and well to the left in the Labour Party of Harold Wilson and George Brown; pink-cheeked, dressed in black coat and striped trousers, he looked like a Tory minister in an Ealing Studios film). My father was against my going; he thought I would be killed to no purpose – this from a man who went to France in 1917 and got a Blighty in 1918.
    Aden was not the jewel in the crown, and the whole story was summed up for the history books when my boss the Governor Humphrey Trevelyan finally left by helicopter to the strains of “Fings Ain’t Wot They Used T’Be”.
    And yet… another vivid memory, perhaps hard to believe now, is sitting at a camp fire in tribal country in what is now eastern Yemen, with a single local tribesman as my personal guard, listening to a song about a previous British Resident, Harold Ingrams, who brought peace to the tribes in the 1930’s and 40s for the first and last time in their history. And the Aden Protectorate was never even part of the British Empire.

    PS: I spent four years in Nicosia from 1970-73 immersed in the “Cyprus problem”, intercommunal scrapping across the “green line”, EOKA B, Grivas, Makarios and all that, and agree with everything you write. Tom Berney can’t have read you if he still thinks EOKA was an independence movement.

    Brian writes: Thank you very much for this eloquent and authoritative testimony and verdict, Oliver. As they say in the American courtroom dramas on television, I rest my case.

  6. Not to go on and on since, admittedly, I wasn’t on Cyprus in the crucial years.  However, my Oxford tutor was.  He certainly influenced my thinking about the island, EOKA, etc.  But then he spoke excellent Greek.  Perhaps that made a difference.

    Brian writes: Thank you for this. I agree that things must have looked very differently according to whether one was looking at events through Greek, Turkish, Greek-Cypriot, Turkish-Cypriot, or traditional British philhellenic spectacles. At this distance of time, though, I would hope that we could view those same events without any distorting spectacles at all!

    I’m content to accept as the final word on this the eloquent testimony of Oliver Miles in his comment above; he was there at the time, and actively involved.

  7. Tom Berney says:

    Oliver,
    Those were interesting comments.
    the whole story was summed up for the history books when my boss the Governor Humphrey Trevelyan finally left by helicopter to the strains of “Fings Ain’t Wot They Used T’Be“.
    I think the withdrawal from Aden was one of those “but apart from that’s” we should not mention. In her ‘Pax Britannica’ trilogy Jan (James) Morris gives a short but striking description of the British perimeter gradually contracting as the High Commissioner was helicoptered to the carrier Eagle before “The last flotilla of the Royal Navy….. sailed away from Steamer Point into the Red Sea.”
    I’m interested too in why you think I should not see EOKA as an independence/self determination movement. The Greeks and Cypriots certainly see it that way. How do you describe it? Morris paints a rather less romantic portrait than Brian’s of the end of Empire. eg
    “So through the fifties and into the sixties,as people after people awoke to the realisation of patriotism, or were goaded into it by politicians, the imperial retreat proceeded. The barbed wire and armoured cars of Palestine were duplicated across the world, as successive colonies flared into revolt, and the British army … was reduced to squalid duties of repression and withdrawal. It was the Easter Rising magnified a thousand times, and dispersed across the Empire: the same passions, the same ironies, the same waste, sometimes the same poetry, always, in the long run, the identical conclusion. For the rebels these eruptions of patriotic spirit were often splendid, and were to be commemorated for ever in street names, national holidays and heroic legend: for the British they were generally petty and often misguided, for it was apparent to nearly everyone that whatever else the subject people would get from independence , it woud not be better government.”
    I have highlighted the sentence where I think our disagreement lies. I suppose I believe people even have a right to be misguided …. and watching our current adventures in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya I think it might even be occasionally possible for the British to be misguided too. Perish the thought.

    Brian writes: I’m afraid that Jan/James Morris’s account of the end of empire in Pax Britannica is more romantic journalism than factual history. Which exactly were these “successive colonies” that “flared into revolt” as the Easter Rising (of all the inappropriate analogies!) was “magnified a thousand times” (how many times was that?)? I was working in the Colonial Office in London for much of the period in question and if “successive colonies” had been “flaring into revolt” while our political masters were stubbornly resisting their peaceful progress (or heroic struggles) to independence, I think we’d have noticed. Ms/Mr Morris is fun to read, and I enjoyed it immensely when it was published all those long years ago, but for the facts I prefer to rely on such personal testimony as that eloquently provided by Oliver Miles and on my own experience too.

    One final word about Aden. This was a classic case of strenuous efforts by a British government determined to hand over power peacefully to a reasonably representative local group or groups but being constantly frustrated by fierce conflict between rival political parties in Aden itself and the traditional rulers in the Protectorate (the hinterland). I was in the UK delegation to the UN in New York at the time and, like Oliver Miles then in Aden, I was heavily involved in the arduous negotiation of a UN Visiting Mission to Aden which we, the British, invited to visit the territory to try to work out a modus vivendi between the violently clashing groups in the territory, and to work out an internationally agreed framework for independence. We had infinite difficulty getting agreement on the Mission’s terms of reference and then on its composition. Eventually the Mission set off from New York for Aden. After a briefing by the Governor, the extremely liberal Sir Humphrey Trevelyan (see Oliver Miles’s account), the members of the UN Mission were taken up in a helicopter for an aerial tour of the territory to give them a bird’s-eye view of its geography. A few minutes after the helicopter rose above Aden, they heard a rattle of rifle-fire far below, an everyday occurrence at that time as the rival factions skirmished with each other. The UN team demanded that the helicopter land immediately and they returned to New York the next day, complaining that they had not been provided with enough security. So ended our serious and well-meant attempt to invoke the help of the UN in bringing about reconciliation and independence in Aden. We had to do it by ourselves as usual, and did so. Of course the fighting factions liked to see themselves as warriors in a liberation struggle, and I imagine that Jan Morris saw them in that light too. But they were fighting each other to gain power on independence, not the British for it. The parallel with Cyprus, although not exact, is quite striking.

  8. David B. Wildgoose says:

    A well written piece Brian, it’s just a shame that some could only react to it in a completely knee-jerk fashion.
    As for one commenter’s quoting of “Let the European go back to Europe , Let the African regain Independence” with approval, you can’t help but wonder whether he would see extremely similar comments from fascists like the BNP in the same light!

    Brian writes: Thank you for this. You make a very striking point! In fact a goodly number of the former British colonies in Africa were extremely anxious on attaining their independence that the Europeans should stay, often including the British colonial governor at the time of independence who in several cases stayed on at the request of the newly independent government as Governor-General, thenceforth acting purely on the advice of his African ministers and not any longer on instructions from London. Very large numbers of other British (and Australian, Canadian, etc.) members of HM Colonial Service, serving the colonial governments up to the time of independence, also stayed on at the pressing request of the new independent governments as local civil servants, some for many years. The British government continued to contribute to their eventual pensions to enable this to happen without imposing an undue financial burden on the African governments concerned. The idea that there was any mass expulsion of Europeans from former British Africa as former colonies became independent, or even local pressure on them to leave, is simply not supported by the facts. Even in East and Central Africa where there were significant numbers of white settlers, very few if any were expelled, even where there was bitter controversy between the settlers and the newly independent governments over land. Where there was ethnic cleansing at all, it was the Asian communities which were generally the victims. Alas, your reference to predictable knee-jerk reactions is all too well justified. 

  9. Tom Berney says:

    I’m content to accept as the final word on this the eloquent testimony of Oliver Miles in his comment above; he was there at the time, and actively involved.”

    Oliver’s input is useful, but he is talking about a different time period. He was there in 1970-73.  The EOKA independence struggle ended in 1959.  Naturally, by the 1970’s when independence was already achieved the EOKA B (formed in 1971) campaign was focussed on union with Greece. So perhaps we are at cross purposes? 

    Whereas EOKA (1955–59) were seen by the majority of the Greek Cypriots as anti-colonialist freedom fighters, the EOKA-B did not have the overwhelming support of the Greek Cypriot population, who were skeptical over the organisation’s tactics.” (Wiki). 

    BTW I am no fan of Grivas, I’m a socialist so I would have been on his hit list.  I just find the denial of EOKA being an independence movement odd. You might like to read the Cyprus Government’s potted history of British relations.

    http://www.cyprus.gov.cy/portal/portal.nsf/0/de020800c01914bbc2257028003fbcbd?OpenDocument&ExpandSection=2%2C-1#_Section2

  10. Brian says:

    Brian writes: Thank you for this, Tom. I remain unconvinced that a movement engaged in “armed struggle” in pursuit of a political objective — union with Greece — which was the opposite of independence can meaningfully be described as an independence movement. But since we both know what EOKA and the movement for enosis were about and what they did, it’s perhaps pointless to pursue what is now a semantic point any further. I accept that Oliver Miles was involved in the Cyprus problem some time after the events leading up to independence, but it’s clear from what he has written that he was ‘immersed’ in that problem, on the spot, for a considerable time and would unquestionably have been familiar with the historical and recent background to it in the greatest detail. I was also well aware of what was happening around the time of Cyprus independence through a close friend in the Colonial Office who spent long periods with the minister mainly concerned in the negotiations, Julian Amery, in Cyprus itself and in Athens and Ankara. Finally, the ‘potted history’ to which you helpfully supply a link provides clear evidence that the British government was constantly coming up with proposals for a settlement that would allow the island to proceed to independence; that these were constantly rejected by Makarios as leader of the Greek Cypriots because of his insistence on Enosis; and that it was only when he finally recognised that any solution that permitted Enosis would inevitably lead to a Turkish invasion that he reluctantly acquiesced in a negotiated settlement under which Cyprus renounced Enosis and agreed to full independence with guarantees for the two coimmunities — exactly as I outlined it in my response to an earlier comment. In the words of the Cyprus government’s potted history to which you refer us, —

    A final agreement was reached in Zurich on 11 February 1959, and ratified during the London Conference the same month. Although the agreements were not very positive for Cyprus, Makarios had to accept them for fear that, if the British withdrew from Cyprus and abandoned the Greek population, Turkish troops might have invaded the island.

    If that whole sequence of events is now to be described as an armed struggle by the Cyprus people for their independence against the opposition of the British government, words must have lost their meaning. Once again, I think we both know pretty well who did what and to whom. Trying to force those events into an ideological formula involving an independence struggle against a colonial master bent on maintaining its control seems to me an obviously doomed enterprise. The facts simply don’t fit.

  11. Tom Berney says:

    Mr Wildgoose,

    >> As for one commenter’s quoting of “Let the European go back to Europe , Let the African regain Independence” with approval, you can’t help but wonder whether he would see extremely similar comments from fascists like the BNP in the same light! <<

    What a silly comment!  I was describing the acronym the Mau Mau used. I did not express approval of it, or of the Mau Mau. However, as it happens I have no problem with Africans, Americans, Irish or even Scots  having independence.  Do you?

  12. Tom Berney says:

    ” If that whole sequence of events is now to be described as an armed struggle by the Cyprus people for their independence against the opposition of the British government, words must have lost their meaning.”

    Sorry, Brian but that is a straw man. No one has said anything like that. I weighed in to support the comment by Judith that you denied. ie “I don’t see how you can deny that EOKA was fundamentally a liberation movement.”   It was!  EOKA only existed from 1955-1959 ie until independence was achieved. Like Judith I still don’t see how you can deny it was fundamentally a liberation/independence movement – and they, the Greeks and the Cypriots, saw it that way.  Like the IRA you might not admire them, or their methods, but that is what they were about.

  13. Niggling question re: the eloquent testimony of Oliver Miles

    Does he speak good Greek?

  14. Tom Berney says:

    ” the British government was constantly coming up with proposals for a settlement that would allow the island to proceed to independence; that these were constantly rejected by Makarios as leader of the Greek Cypriots because of his insistence on Enosis; and that it was only when he finally recognised that any solution that permitted Enosis would inevitably lead to a Turkish invasion that he reluctantly acquiesced in a negotiated settlement under ”

    Would you say that imposing tight sedition laws on Cyprus after Greece asked the UN to approve self-determination for Cyprus, and then kidnapping Archbishop Makarios and keeping him in exile from Cyprus for four years, until he had agreed to abandon Enosis, was typical of British colonial diplomatic methods at that time? Jomo Kenyatta was in jail on dodgy evidence  for seven years around that time  that time and Nkrumah had served his time too.  Being banged up by the British seemed to become an essential cv for aspiring post-colonial politicians…. 

  15. Oliver Miles says:

    There is a risk that we will simply be repeating set positions. But to be clear, I did not deny that EOKA were, or were perceived to be, “anti-colonialist freedom fighters”, nor that they were “fundamentally a liberation movement” or a “self determination movement”. What I denied was that they were an independence movement. Their fundamental objective was enosis, union with Greece, an aim which they shared with Greek patriots of the previous hundred and more years, and which was achieved in Crete, Greek Macedonia and elsewhere at the cost of substantial ethnic cleansing. It was because Archbishop Makarios was perceived as having betrayed this cause by becoming president of independent Cyprus that the EOKA military commander General Grivas launched EOKA B to try to overthrow him.
    To answer Judith’s ” niggling question”: yes, I speak, or spoke – I am rusty now – Greek (Civil Service Commission higher standard) and Turkish (intermediate standard).

  16. Tom Berney says:

    But to be clear, I did not deny that EOKA were, or were perceived to be, “anti-colonialist freedom fighters”, nor that they were “fundamentally a liberation movement” or a “self determination movement”. What I denied was that they were an independence movement.”

    Hmmmm.. fair enough we are agreed then.  Maybe I was unclear. in conflating “self-determination” and “independence”.  Perhaps I should have been more specific and said independence from Britain.  I thought that could be taken as read.  Though it seems to me that self-determination and/or independence includes the right to decide the future of your country including its relationship or integration with other countries.  Interestingly, it is a recurring debate in Scotland where opponents of the SNP argue that SNP does not REALLY want independence because they propose to stay in the EU.  Different relationship, different situation and even weaker argument.

    I’ve also been surprised by comments implying that indepen… sorry *self-determination* movements are somehow invalid if they have rivals. It would be surprising if they didn’t.  In Scotland there is the SNP, SSP SCP, Solidarity and the Greens all committed to self-determination but they have different views on what type of country they want and on its relationships with England, EU and NATO etc. They compete for support.  Thankfully they all advocate a peaceful transition.  Violent solutions have still not ended in Ireland though.

  17. Tom Berney says:

    ”  I think it was Mark Twain, or one of his characters, who defined ‘faith’ as “believing what you know ain’t so.”

    Missed that one earlier!   One of his characters? I’m sure Mark himself would have found a self-righteous conviction in the unfailing moral rectitude and unerring judgement of Her Majesty’s Foreign and Colonial Service a much better definition.

    Brian writes: Tom, had such an extraordinary hybrid Service ever existed, it might conceivably have earned your sneer at it. But it never did exist, and certainly won’t now. As for the long defunct HM Colonial Service and HM Overseas Civil Service, I doubt if you would have found a single member of those great (and nowadays much under-rated) bodies who would have made such an extravagant claim for him- or herself — they were all, in my experience anyway, painfully aware of the likelihood that many of their judgements would turn out to have been faulty, and that the consequences of their faulty judgements could be devastating for the people for whose good government both before and after independence they bore part of the responsibility. Many of them have published their memoirs in recent times, and I defy you to find any which could be said to confirm the accuracy of your jibe. (I should make it clear that I was never a member of either Service.)

    HM Diplomatic Service, on the other hand, was founded in 1965 and since then only a handful of its members have ever had the duty of administering colonies or managing decolonisation. Moreover, very few of its members (in my limited but quite lengthy experience) have deserved your sarcastic comment. But I prefer to believe that you were referring only to a non-existent, hypothetical Service of your own imagining, and even then that your tongue was not very far from your cheek.

    None of this seems to have anything to do with Mark Twain’s remark about faith, anyway: and very little to do with Britain’s decolonisation record.

  18. Oliver Miles says:

    Since Tom still seems to believe that the distinction between self-determination and independence is something dreamed up by clever-clogs in the Foreign Office, perhaps he could give us a couple of short paragraphs on his proposals for the future of Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands?

  19. Tom Berney says:

    Will a sentence do?  At present it is clear that most of the inhabitants like the status quo, so I’d let that continue until such time as the more logical and probably inevitable absorption into Spain and Argentina become more attractive to them.  Similarly with Northern Ireland and the ROI. In the meantime I would continue the process of trying to clean up Gibraltar’s shady financial activities.

    OTOH maybe one day they could be invited to join Scotland in the Council of the Isles -though I admit that quite a bit if civil engineering work would be required along the Spanish border to justify that ….

  20. robin fairlie says:

    Lest this thread should seem a mere punch-up between FCO experts and know-nothing bien-pensants who take their history from Jan Morris and Wikipedia, may I offer a few very non-expert remarks? My own personal experience of British decolonising was as an unwilling National Serviceman seconded to the Royal West African Frontier Force in The Gold Coast (now Ghana) in 1952-54. There had been some civil unrest in the territory (mostly confined to Accra) before this, leading to the imprisonment of Kwame Nkrumah, subsequently released to become a rather bad Prime Minister (although only moderately corrupt by later African standards, and not noticeably murderous). However, by the time of my arrival, a time-table for independence had been agreed; it was kept to and Ghana became the first British colony in Africa to gain its independence – without either terrorists or freedom-fighters playing any part in the process. 

    I was, in those days, an anti-colonialist; I certainly parroted the old Liberal nostrum: “Good government is no substitute for self-government”. To-day I am less sure: would the inhabitants of Uganda under Idi Amin have agreed? Moreover, what do we mean by self-government, or independence? Does an ethnic, or linguistic, or cultural, or religious minority feel more, or less, independent or self-governing when subject to a “foreign” power or to an indigenous majority? I suppose a Roman Catholic in the UK might feel quite independent, but what about a Christian in democratic Iraq, or a Palestinian in democratic Israel?

    It’s interesting to read that a number of Syrians are saying that, much as they dislike living under the
    Assads, at least they provide stability and security; better the devil you know……But no doubt the Assads are not colonialists.

    To return to the point at which Brian started, Ghana is by no means the only British territory to gain its independence from Britain, for good or ill, without violence. What about Bechuanaland, Basutoland, Swaziland? I don’t remember warfare in Tanganyika or in Nyasaland or in Sierra Leone. Who were the freedom fighters in Jamaica or elsewhere in the West Indies? (And please, I don’t mean the excellent novelists and poets.) There are still politicians in Nigeria who love to blame all that country’s ills on British rule (rather as though we held the Romans responsible for our mess) but it must be clear to anyone else that the real antgagonisms in that sad country are rooted in North versus South, Muslims versus Christians, tribal versus urban society, language against language.

    Of course some British exits ended badly (in Aden, Cyprus and Palestine for reasons that went far beyond the caricature-excuse of colonialism) and one (Kenya) shamefully. But very many more, down to and including Hong Kong, were conducted with skill and success. It is a very British (and unattractive) trait to flagellate oneself over one’s failures, however few, while altogether forgetting, or ignoring, the other side of the ledger.

    Brian writes: Thank you for this, Robin. Your comment rings many bells with me. Straightforward handover at independence to elected leaders was a rare luxury for the UK Colonial Office and government. Independence was generally the natural and perfectly legitimate aim of local party leaders, some of them educated in the west (often in the US), and it was with these that Britain necessarily negotiated the path to independence, although among the general population, especially out in the countryside and among members of ethnic or religious minorities, there was often considerable apprehension about what would happen to them when the British colonial administrators left. In Nigeria, for example, both the traditional rulers and the general population of the mainly Muslim north had real fears about the prospect that on independence the better educated and more prosperous southerners (mainly non-Muslim) would come to dominate the whole country and undermine their traditional Muslim way of life in the north. At successive Nigerian constitutional conferences in London, attended by political and religious leaders from all over Nigeria, the northerners often argued for much slower progress to independence than that demanded by southern politicians, while representatives of minority tribes in each of the three main regions often openly opposed the departure of their British protectors and the handover of power to majority groups which were in many cases their historic pre-colonial enemies and oppressors.

    Elsewhere the problem was how to decide which political group to hand over to on independence. In Aden, for example, there was what amounted to a savage civil war between the Front for the Liberation of Occupied South Yemen (FLOSY) and another military group operating in South Arabia, the marxist National Liberation Front (NLF). After the failure of a British attempt to invoke UN mediation between the two warring parties (descibed in my response to an earlier comment), and with neither side able to establish itself as the clear winner with a credible claim to inherit power from the UK, Britain eventually had no choice but to depart on the date it had set for independence and to leave it to FLOSY and the NLF to slug it out for the keys to Government House. Both of these military-political groups dressed themselves in the language and costumes of warriors in a national liberation struggle against colonial rule. In reality the struggle of each was against the other.

    As you rightly say in your comment, it’s actually rather difficult to identify a British colonial territory whose transition to independence fitted the bien-pensant leftish stereotype of a struggle for independence against a resistant colonial power, the legend now almost universally accepted and innocently propagated by generations of indignant school teachers, journalists, civil rights campaigners and other apologists for the perpetrators of the corruption, conflict, repression and dictatorship which so often and so tragically followed independence in some but by no means all of Britain’s former dependencies.

  21. Tom Berney says:

    >> But I prefer to believe that you were referring only to a non-existent, hypothetical Service of your own imagining, and even then that your tongue was not very far from your cheek. <<

    Of course it was, and I assumed that your repeated jibes from your original  introduction onwards were banter too. So we can call it returning banter for banter, or sneer for sneer, but either way I don’t see that I should concede you an unresponsive monopoly on it. I am, after all, surrounded by dusty bowler hats here … I’m expecting Jonesey from the Sudan to surface at any minute to tell me “the fuzzy wuzzies don’t like it up ’em!”

    Brian writes: Good stuff! I don’t think I can be accused of claiming a monopoly of anything on this blog; I have hardly ever deleted a comment, however withering; I regard vigorous controversy as the life-blood of a blog, and if I don’t pull my punches (or occasional jabs) on some occasions, I don’t expect anyone else to do so either, provided it doesn’t get unpleasantly personal, irrelevant or libellous. Let the tournament continue!

  22. Tom Berney says:

    Robin,

    “may I offer a few very non-expert remarks”

    No need to explain that. It was perfectly clear from what you said. The cordial way you entered the discussion makes me reluctant to challenge an old soldier’s rose-tinted memories but there are some facts you seem to have missed. The history of the British in the Gold Coast had been pretty fraught. eg the Ashanti wars and other incidents throughout the century. Indeed the red in the Ghanian flag symbolises their martyred dead.  Just a few years prior to your arrival the colonial police had shot down African WWII ex-Servicemen staging a peaceful protest to petition the British to honour the pensions etc they had been promised for fighting the Japanese in Burma. A period of riots ensued, leading later to boycotts and strikes and civil disobedience etc demanding independence from Britain. The leaders, including Nkrumah, were jailed. They had increased the pressure for independence with a motto “self government now”.  In 1950 Nkrumah was jailed again but in the first General election in 1951 he was elected by a landslide while still in jail. So by the time you got there Nkrumah was already Prime Minister and the commitment to independence was well underway. So it is not REALLY all that surprising that YOU did not see a violent independence movement is it? You arrived too late.

    You mentioned Bechuanaland and you seem to have been equally incurious about the background there. In the global decolonisation process Britain’s main concern naturally was to preserve British interests. That usually shorthanded into preventing Communists taking over. So in Africa handing over to Tribal kings or chiefs commended itself. And who better in Bechuanaland than Seretse Khama, heir to the Chief, Oxford educated and Inner Temple barrister, but wait! He had married a WHITE woman! How uppity could these people get?? In 1951 the British decided that his “unfortunate marriage” made him unfit to be Chief of his tribe, so they deposed him and exiled from Bechuanaland. He was allowed to return five years later as a private citizen – after he had renounced his Chieftainship. However later still he formed a Political Party which defeated the Socialists and qualified the country for independence in 1966.
    BTW you might also like to add Malaya into the “but apart from that” column and Rhodesia and South Africa weren’t exactly tidy outcomes either.
    What I find odd in the views expressed here, though, is the blithe way that exiling people like Makarios and Seretse etc, interning thousands of Kenyans and Malayans and jailing dozens of African politicians is regarded as a smooth transition to decolonisation. Smooth for whom? There seems to me to be a marked difference in the attitudes to that and right wing horror at the treatment of “dissidents” in Eastern Europe and elsewhere. Of course, we did it for their own good.
    I expect we can all remember Mrs Thatcher opposing the release of the notorious terrorist Nelson Mandela. Can’t we? He started his 27 years in prison in 1962. A friend of mine Dennis Goldberg was sentenced at the same trial and served 22 years. I can recommend his autobiography – “The Mission – a Life for Freedom in South Africa” though I expect you’ll find him a bien-pensant too. Though to me that term is a compliment.

    Brian writes: I don’t want to preempt or discourage a reply from Robin, to whom this comment is very properly addressed, but I would make just two points. First, one of the staging-posts on the way to independence, perhaps especially in west Africa, was when a budding new local politician would seek (quite legitimately in a way) to establish himself as the spearhead of the demand for independence by challenging the colonial administration (by means of demonstrations just short of or seguing into riots, public calls for protests which could be interpreted as incitements to break the law, etc.) to see how far he could go before provoking a reaction that could then be exploited as colonial repression. A term in prison came to be regarded as almost a certificate of recognition as a freedom fighter. Nkrumah was an early example of this. The typical response of British colonial administrations was two-fold: to crack down early and reasonably firmly, but wihtout over-reacting, on illegal behaviour, while simultaneously encouraging the ‘firebrand’ and his political party to participate in a dialogue aimed at reaching agreement on the successive stages of increasing internal self-government with the accepted final goal of full independence. It’s difficult to conceive of a more sensible and restrained response to this kind of challenge, a response which in almost all cases permitted radicals to exert legitimate pressure for progress to independence and to let off steam for party political purposes while largely avoiding widespread violence or loss of life.

    As for Bechuanaland, of course the exiling of Seretse Khama over his marriage to a white woman was a shameful surrender to pressure from the apartheid South African régime, prompting fierce protests both in Britain and in Bechuanaland. There was no excuse for it, and I don’t seek to condone it. But it’s fair to see it in the context of the serious pressures from Pretoria for Britain to transfer responsibility for the three so-called High Commission Territories (Bechuanaland, now Botswana; Swaziland; and Basutoland, now Lesotho) to the South African government which would have made them quasi-autonomous Bantustans that could have been represented as a form of decolonisation, while in reality subjecting them to the oppressive régime of apartheid.

    It’s hard to believe, now that apartheid has been defeated and totally discredited, that there was serious support in right-wing quarters in Britain for the transfer of the three territories to South Africa, partly because of Britain’s significant interests in South Africa, including extensive trade, access to gold and other vital minerals and a naval base, which laid us open to damaging retaliation if we resisted South Africa’s demands, plus a serious argument that the three territories could not be truly independent as enclaves within or immediate neighbours of apartheid South Africa on which they inevitably depended for numerous services, and that retaining their British dependency status indefinitely seemed the least attractive of the available options. Considering that mainly pro-South African Conservative governments were in power at Westminster during most of the relevant period (Seretse was exiled in 1951, the year of the Tories’ return to power after the war), it’s really a miracle, and a highly creditable feature of the whole decolonisation process, that Britain never succumbed to the pressure, and indeed the temptation, to hand over the three territories to South Africa. The price of this resistance, while maintaining the indispensable cooperation of the South Africans over the continued provision of basic services to the territories, was periodic limited concessions to South African demands. A mixed-race marriage of an African leader in a territory which many regarded as essentially a part of South Africa was naturally seen as a direct challenge to the whole apartheid system, and a threat to the possibility of ever converting Bechuanaland into a classical Bantustan within South Africa. In such matters, context is all-important. This concession, exiling Seretse Khama, should never have been made. It’s some consolation, however, to recall that Seretse Khama, having returned to Bechuanaland in 1956, was its elected prime minister by 1965, and President of an independent Botswana a year later, with a knighthood from the Queen, having made the bumpy transition from hereditary traditional leader to democratically elected head of government and then elected head of state. I might also make the point that the administration of the High Commission Territories, including the decision to exile Seretse, was the responsibility of the UK’s Commonwealth Relations Secretary (who also had responsibility for Britain’s relations with South Africa) and not of the Colonial Office or the Colonial Secretary, although of course that doesn’t affect the impact of the exile decision on Britain’s decolonisation record.

    This is not the place to discuss in detail what happened in Malaya or Southern Rhodesia, to which you refer in an aside. I just observe that surrender to the communist insurgency in Malaya would have been a poor form of decolonisation (which duly took place, democratically, later) and that Britain had had responsibility without power in Southern Rhodesia since 1923 when the white settlers were effectively given full control — disgracefully, although at the time it was seen as a liberal alternative to annexing Southern Rhodesia to South Africa, favoured by many both in Britain and in South Africa. As usual the facts are complex and capable of many different interpretations, as I’m sure you’ll agree.

  23. robin fairlie says:

    Tom,

    Believe me, I wear no rose-tinted spectacles to survey my Gold Coast memories; nor, I suspect, does any other expat who had to live there for 18 months.

    But I do find it strange how quickly the subject of this thread is made to change when it seems to suit the writer’s interest. Thus, we were originally discussing, I think, the British record of decolonisation, and whether it was an unadulterated and shameful series of weak surrenders after violent attempts to shore up British rule had failed in the face of gallant freedom-fighters (as the currently fashionable view would have it) or whether in fact the whole process was much more complicated, both within and between individual territories, and very much less uniformly black than this picture would seek to make it. O.K., so then why do we find ourselves discussing the Ashanti wars, the last of which was fought over a century ago, and half a century before decolonisation became an issue? I am not an apologist for colonialism, or for British treatment of the Ashanti (agressive and bloodthirsty people though they were, as their neighbours would testify). Of course I am aware of events in The Gold Coast in the late forties, none of which alter the fact that Ghanaian independence was obtained by negotiated agreement after a lengthy period of handover during which there were no acts of violence in either defence of or attack on the colonial power.

    Nor did I then, or do I now, condone British treatment of Seretse Khama – but I fail to see how this impacts on the fact of the non-violent hand-over of power to indigenous people in the three territories of Southern Africa.

    Nor am I clear what the imprisonment of Nelson Mandela (or even Mrs. Thatcher’s views on it) have to do with British decolonisation.

    All in all, Tom, I find your latest post a reg-bag of splenetic outbursts at any and every example of British activity of which you (and in many cases I) disapprove. What is disappointing is that a knowledgeable person would rather support a fashionable caricature of a complex process (decolonisation) rather than admit that there are some (I would actually hold a majority) of creditable-on-balance cases.

    Oh, and I will have to search my vocabulary for a term of polite abuse that you would not regard as a compliment…..

  24. Tom Berney says:

    Robin,

    Oh, and I will have to search my vocabulary for a term of polite abuse that you would not regard as a compliment…..

    And if that fails you could even try being civil.  Funny though how some people see bien-pensant, do-gooder and politically correct as terms of abuse. I don’t mind being any of those. I’m not even bothered by being one of Brians’s Guardian readers on the left.  I’m going to be tied up now but I might respond to your other points later. In the meantime the mutual back-slapping can continue in my absence,

    Brian writes: I didn’t think Robin’s comment uncivil: certainly no more so than some of your own agreeably vigorous polemics.

    I think that in the interests of full disclosure and transparency I should confess to also being (not, BTW, a split infinitive) a Guardian reader on the left. I even have a beard and sometimes wear sandals. I have never voted otherwise than Labour except for Ken Livingstone when he ran for mayor of London as an independent — please don’t tell Labour’s General Secretary about that vote against an official Labour candidate or I’ll risk being expelled from the party.

    I hope you won’t be “tied up” for long: it sounds uncomfortable, and we’ll all miss you on the blog.

  25. Keith Morris says:

    I just wanted to say bravo. Your blog post gave me a real lift.  You put the case admirably, with the authority of your own experience of both the events and the players. It needed saying;  it’s infuriating to read wildly inaccurate and dogmatic accounts of events one has lived through by people who were often not even born at the time and who may have scant knowledge of the country concerned.

    I do not know if you saw a Newsnight piece last autumn about a district officer who went back to Nigeria, where he had served from 1950 to 1970, and visited his old district (Kano) where he met up with his Nigerian successor with whom he had kept in touch all this time. There was no doubt of his dedication to and affection for Nigeria nor of the warmth of the welcome he received on his return.

    I have just got back from Devon and on my return last night read the recent comments, naturally enjoying Oliver’s greatly. I would like to comment more fully but I’m away again tomorrow and in any case I could add little to what you and Oliver have said so well — and I lack the colonial experience, apart from brief visits to Gambia from Dakar in 1961 and 1962. I did attend a meeting of the legislative council — all very relaxed. The Gambia was so shabby after Senegal but the atmosphere was cheerful and easy going. No feeling of oppressive Imperial rule. Pierre N’jie, who was then Chief Minister, had been in the RAF in the war and was so Brit!

    Brian writes: Thank you for this, Keith. Further comment is superfluous.

  26. robin fairlie says:

    Tom,
     
    I regret that you should find me uncivil, deservedly or otherwise.
     
    I am intrigued by your bracketing the terms bien pensants, do gooders, and  politically correct [persons] – because these are all terms commonly used to describe chaps whose hearts are eminently in the right place, but who are unable, or unwilling, to re-examine their adopted, generalized, fashionable, and simplistic prejudices (we all have some) in the light of reasoned, particular, complex, and frequently inconvenient circumstances. It seems to me a shame that you should seek to put yourself in such company three times over.
     
    I note a quotation from Jonathan Swift in to-day’s Guardian (which it seems we all read) to the effect that one cannot reason a person out of a view that has not been reached by reason. That seems to me the problem faced by Brian and those who have written in his support, so perhaps we should just abandon a hopeless fight.
     
    However I am, as a lapsed historian, cheered that the commonly accepted view of past events tends to undergo fairly violent swings before, in most cases, settling down to a relatively sensible consensus. At this time we are, unsurprisingly, experiencing a guilt-laden backlash against anything to do with what were largely unquestioned concepts of imperialism, colonialism, the White Man’s Burden and all that. So much so that even the process of de-colonisation is widely considered beyond the pale, in all aspects and regardless of circumstance. I am consoled by the thought that the (serious) history books will not be that one-eyed forever.

  27. Tom Berney says:

    >> I regret that you should find me uncivil, deservedly or otherwise <<

    A mistaken impression from the first sentence of your original post I expect.  Sorry for the delay I’ve been busy do-gooding.

    ….  bien pensants, do gooders, and  politically correct [persons] – because these are all terms commonly used to describe chaps whose hearts are eminently in the right place, but who are unable, or unwilling, to re-examine their adopted, generalized, fashionable, and simplistic prejudices (we all have some) in the light of reasoned, particular, complex, and frequently inconvenient circumstances. <<

    Thanks. That’ll save me buying a dictionary

    It seems to me a shame that you should seek to put yourself in such company three times over.”

    I’m a martyr to it. It’s a dirty old job but somebody’s got to do it.

    “I note a quotation from Jonathan Swift in to-day’s Guardian (which it seems we all read) to the effect that one cannot reason a person out of a view that has not been reached by reason.”

    [Sigh] He also said “It is the folly of too many to mistake the echo of  a London coffee house (or even gentlemens’ club?) for the voice of the Kingdom. (or colonies)

    That seems to me the problem faced by Brian and those who have written in his support, so perhaps we should just abandon a hopeless fight.”

    [shrug]  Fine. I suppose it depends what kind of blog you want to have …

    >>  So much so that even the process of de-colonisation is widely considered beyond the pale, in all aspects and regardless of circumstance. <<

    You’ll struggle to find anywhere I said that.  I know the “process” was driven by different factors. It worked pretty well in many cases and we avoided an Indo-China or Algeria.   My concern was that putting an emphasis on tidy flag lowering ceremonies should not obscure all that had gone before like crazy Creasey and Palmerocratia.

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