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

By Michael Havinden; David Meredith | Go to book overview

5

First fruits

Colonial development, 1903-14


A NEW ERA IN COLONIAL DEVELOPMENT

With the ending of the prolonged agony of the Boer War by the Peace of Vereeniging (31 May 1902) the Colonial Office could once again turn its attention to the development programme initiated by Chamberlain; and indeed the years between 1903 and 1914 saw some of the most effective advances yet recorded in the tropical colonies. 1 Of course, compared with modern assessments of what was required these achievements were still very limited. The Colonial Office’s development philosophy still depended upon the belief that once the state had provided a framework of ordered government and a basic infrastructure, private entrepreneurs and private capital could be relied upon to initiate and carry out a steady programme of economic advance. That the development problem was not as simple as this was partly obscured by the initial achievements of private capital, both imported and domestic, as a response to the very simple infrastructural attainments of this period. Just because so many of the tropical colonies were so deficient in the elementary infrastructural needs such as railways, roads, bridges, harbours, currencies, banks and telecommunications, the response to their initial provision seemed almost miraculous—particularly in the field of foreign trade, as we shall see. This encouraged the illusion that the problems of economic development were relatively simple, and concealed the fact that further investments in infrastructural growth were unlikely to yield dramatic returns.

The advances of the Edwardian period were also facilitated by some fortuitous factors. After the prolonged pause in world-wide economic advance between 1873 and 1896, known at the time as the ‘Great Depression’ (though it seemed very mild to later generations) the world economy in general and the British economy in particular, entered into a period of boom and growth. Production and trade surged forward, and the prices of colonial agricultural and mineral produce rose in sympathy with this renewed demand. Thus, the provision of the new colonial infrastructures geared in very well with changes in the world

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