Sir Harry Johnston & the Scramble for Africa

By Roland Oliver | Go to book overview
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Chapter 8

On a superficial view nothing is more paradoxical than the resignation with which the imperial government, after so many past refusals and hesitations, finally accepted responsibility first for Johnston's debts and then for his proposed grantin-aid. Yet upon further analysis the revolution is not so inexplicable. Johnston's appeal was made in 1894 to a Liberal and traditionally anti-expansionist ministry, on an issue in which it had nothing to fear from a Conservative and expansionist Opposition in Parliament. It was made, moreover, to a Liberal ministry which had just faced a similar issue in Uganda, and from which Mr Gladstone, the principal representative of traditional attitudes within the Cabinet, had since resigned and made way for Lord Rosebery, the leader of the innovators. Among the rank and file of party members the doubtful could be rallied, as they had been rallied over Uganda, by the assurance that the Government was not initiating a new policy, but that it was merely the victim of circumstances created by its predecessors, from which there was no longer any avenue of escape. By 1894, in fact, Nyasaland had served its novitiate on the undefined perimeter of imperial responsibility. So far as English politics were concerned, the temporary partnership with the Chartered Company established by the five-year agreement of February 1891 had served its purpose. With a history of three years of British administration, and with a steadily mounting deficit, the Protectorate could be represented as a commitment to be recognized, and no longer as an option to be taken or left.

All these considerations must have occurred to Sir Percy Anderson, now the Assistant Under-Secretary of State at the Foreign Office, when, at the end of February 1894, he composed a fighting memorandum on Johnston's disclosure of the financial position of the Protectorate. Nyasaland cannot be abandoned, he wrote, echoing almost the very phrases of Sir Gerald Portal's account of his mission to Uganda. 'The Arabs, hard pressed by the German and Congo State forces, would make it their stronghold. The consequences would be disastrous. If Great Britain is not prepared to undertake the obligations, they must be made over to Germany, the Congo


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