The Oxford History of the British Empire - Vol. 4

By Judith M. Brown; Wm. Roger Louis et al. | Go to book overview

10

Colonial Rule

JOHN W. CELL

The outstanding feature of British colonial governance was its remarkably small component of civil servants from the metropole. On the eve of the Second World War the élite administrative division of the colonial service in Africa, including District Officers and central secretariats but not railway, agriculture, or other specialist departments, numbered slightly more than 1,200 men. These were spread over more than a dozen colonies covering nearly 2 million square miles, with an estimated population of 43 million. 1 Kenya averaged 19,000 people per administrator, Nigeria 54,000. The Sudan Political Service, which reported to the Foreign Office, had some 125 senior officials for a territory twice the size of the American state of Texas. 2 For a population of 353 million, the Indian Civil Service (ICS) had a maximum strength of 1,250 covenanted members, 3 whereas the relatively well-manned Malayan Civil Service possessed some 220 élite administrators for a mere 3.2 million people. 4

The several Imperial services had different modes of selection. Ever since the British governmental reforms of the 1850s the Indian Civil Service had required a competitive examination, as did Hong Kong's and Ceylon's, while the Malayan, Sudan, and other colonial services in Africa were all chosen without one. The 'competition wallahs' in the ICS were somewhat stronger academically, came from a slightly wider range of public schools and universities, and had fewer athletes,

____________________
1
These included Nigeria, the Cameroons, Gold Coast, Sierra Leone, the Gambia, Kenya, Uganda, Somaliland, Tanganyika, Zanzibar, Northern Rhodesia, Nyasaland, and the three High Commission Territories of Basutoland, Swaziland, and Bechuanaland in South Africa. The internally self-governing colony of Southern Rhodesia, controlled by its local white population, had its own Department of Native Affairs.
2
Anthony H. M. Kirk-Greene, 'The Thin White Line', African Affairs (hereafter AA), LXXIX (1980), pp. 25-44, and 'The Sudan Political Service: A Profile in the Sociology of Imperialism', International Journal ofAfrican Historical Studies, XV (1982), pp. 21-48.
3
David C. Potter, India's Political Administrators, 1919-1983 (Oxford, 1986), chap. 1. Covenanted members had sworn to accept the pension of the East India Company (and after 1858, when the Company was abolished, of the Crown) rather than accept fees of office.
4
J. de Vere Allen, 'Malayan Civil Service, 1874-1941: Colonial Bureaucracy-Malayan Elite', Comparative Studies in Society and History, XII (1970), pp. 149-78.

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