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

By Michael Havinden; David Meredith | Go to book overview

1

Introduction and framework

THE DEVELOPMENT PROBLEM IN ITS HISTORICAL CONTEXT

The basis of our approach stems from an examination of the plans for colonial development which were gradually evolved by British statesmen and administrators from the late nineteenth century onwards. For although Britain may have started with a fairly laissez-faire attitude to the economic progress of its colonies, increasingly from the 1880s onwards, the need for positive plans was realised. At first these remained general and poorly articulated, but as experience grew, refinements were added, until by the 1920s quite ambitious and far-reaching plans for colonial economic development had been framed. No doubt by modern standards they were too partial and limited. Nonetheless they far exceeded the performance on the ground. It is in the analysis of the way in which these plans evolved, and the reasons why they failed to achieve more than a relatively small part of their objectives, that we believe that much of the interest in the present study lies.

The two sides to this evolution affected theory and practice. Initially the way in which the plans grew and were changed illustrates the way in which the actual course of development and the obstacles to it, influenced the growth of theory and led to its ever-growing elaboration. It also reveals how the limited intellectual horizons and prejudices of past periods affected the development of thinking and hampered action. But, although this development of theory is of considerable interest it is of less importance than the second aspect, which concentrates attention on the specific achievements and failures of policy in the different countries concerned, and seeks to assess how this has affected their current development situation. This analysis tends to place much more emphasis on things that were not done (perhaps especially the failure to provide more than a rudimentary infrastructure, and to make more than derisory progress with industrialisation) than it does on criticism of specific initiatives, though there were of course some glaring examples of these—such as the misconceived groundnut scheme in Tanganyika in

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