Colonialism and Development: Britain and Its Tropical Colonies, 1850-1960

By Michael Havinden; David Meredith | Go to book overview

Preface

Now that Third World development problems have become such a universal concern and have assumed such an alarming aspect, there is a tendency to look back to the colonial period with renewed interest in the hope that it may shed some light on the nature of the development problem or alternatively be made the scapegoat for current difficulties. It can be argued that if the colonial powers had been more successful in developing the economic and political structures of their colonies, contemporary problems would be less severe and intractable. Conversely, others would claim that the legacy from the colonial period can be overestimated; that it occurred too long ago to have had any very powerful influence on current problems—which stem rather from the inequality and instability of the world’s trading economy and the failure of developing countries to adjust adequately to the responsibilities of independence, than to any alleged shortcomings in colonial rule. Indeed it might be argued that the conditions of relative peace and stability which prevailed in much of the colonial period were more conducive to development than the instability and uncertainty which has afflicted the Third World since the 1960s. These matters are highly controversial and will no doubt always remain so. They have already generated a vast polemical literature, and it is not our intention to add to it. Instead we hope that by attempting an analysis of the aims, activities, achievements and shortcomings of one major colonial power (Great Britain) in its tropical colonies over a period of a little over a century, we may be able to bring into sharper focus the specific problems and obstacles to development as they unfolded; and to assess the usefulness, or otherwise, of policy decisions and initiatives as they were taken.

Such an aim may perhaps be considered modest in relation to modern development problems, but analysing and absorbing the lessons of history is never a simple process; and one of the more distressing aspects of contemporary Third World experience has been a tendency to repeat mistakes previously made through an inadequate knowledge and understanding of past activities. If we can lessen that danger, and can highlight

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