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

By Michael Havinden; David Meredith | Go to book overview

6

The impact of the First World War and its aftermath

In the twenty-five years prior to the First World War the extension of colonial rule by European conquest in the tropics had accelerated the process of integration of these lands into the expanding global economy. The external trade of the British colonial territories kept pace with the growth of international trade generally and doubled in value between 1901 and 1913. In the three years preceding the outbreak of the war, growth in colonial trade outpaced that of the world economy and colonial exports increased to about 3.7 per cent of world exports of primary products (Tables 6.1 and 6.2). This era of fairly rapid expansion came to an end in 1914. The war created considerable problems for the newly established colonial economies. In the short run there were severe difficulties with external trade as transport links were disrupted and markets deteriorated. Colonial government revenues were also adversely affected and the colonies’ terms of trade tended to decline. In the longer run the economic plight of Britain after the war made the provision of public capital for development less certain while at the same time focussing attention on how developing the ‘colonial estate’ might be harnessed to assist Britain’s recovery. The redistribution of German and Turkish colonies as ‘mandates’ to the Allies at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919 revived concerns about the content of British imperial trusteeship and the appropriate balance between development and welfare. These themes dominated colonial economic policy in the postwar era.


ECONOMIC IMPACT OF THE WAR

The war affected the colonial economies in various ways and to some extent the nature of the changes was determined by the country’s integration with the British and continental European economies, the distance from its external markets and the particular mix of its export products. Few of Britain’s tropical colonies were much dependent upon German demand for their export earnings or upon a German supply of

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