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The methods mainly used by the British to administer their colonies were

  1. Direct rule.
  2. Indirect rile.

Difference between direct rule and indirect rule.

Indirect rule was a system under which the British recognized the existing African political system and used it to rule over the colonies.Direct rule was a system where the Europeans/the British entrenched themselves in the direct administration of their colonies. Indigenous political and administrative institutions and leaders are replaced with European systems.

Indirect rule

This was a policy advanced by Fredrick Lugard, the British High Commissioner in the protectorate of Northern Nigeria from 1900 to 1906.To Lugard, as summed up in his book, The Dual Mandate in the Tropical Africa (1922),”the resident acts as a sympathetic adviser to the native chief, on matters of general policy. But the native ruler issues his instructions to the subordinate chiefs and district heads, not as orders of the resident but as his own”.Such a system was applied in Kenya and in West Africa.

Why Britain used indirect rule in Kenya and Nigeria

a) Britain lacked enough manpower to handle all the administrative responsibilities in the colonies. For example, in the Nigerian protectorate, there were only 42 British officials by 1900.

b) Lack of adequate funds for colonial administration from the parent government made her use the existing traditional political system as a means of cutting down the administrative costs.

c) The use of indirect rule was a means of diffusing the expected stiff resistance from the Africans. The traditional rulers were to be made to feel that they had lost no power.

d) The policy of administration had succeeded in India and Uganda, thus motivating them to apply it in Kenya and Nigeria.

British rule in Kenya

In Kenya, the British lacked both funds and experienced personnel to facilitate their administration. Kenya also did not have a reference model of an administrative system –like that in Buganda Kingdom. It was only among the Wanga section of the Abaluhyia and the Maasai where traditional chiefs that were recognized by the British existed.

Where the institution of chieftainship did not exist as the case of the Agikuyu, the British appointed chiefs (men with ability to communicate in Kiswahili and organize porters) like Kinyanjui WA Gathirimu in Kiambu, Karuri wa Gakure in Murang’a and Wang’ombe wa Ihura in Nyeri. The passing of the Village Headman Act in 1902 gave the chiefs the responsibilities of maintaining public order, hearing of petty cases and clearing of roads and footpaths.The 1912 0rdinance increased the powers of the chiefs and their assistants (headmen); they were now allowed to employ other persons to assist them, such as messengers and retainers. They were to assist the District officers in Tax collection and control brewing of illegal liquor and cultivation of poisonous plants like Cannabis sativa. They were to control carrying of weapons and mobilize African labour for public works.

The selected colonial chiefs however faced two problems;

a) Most of them lacked legitimacy and were therefore rejected not only by the African elders who regarded them as nonentities, but also by the young generation who saw them as tools of colonial oppression and exploitation.

b) Many of the colonial chiefs were young and inexperienced.

c) Many of the chiefs also became unpopular since they used their positions to amass riches in terms of large tracts of land, livestock and wives. E.g Chief Musau wa Mwanza and Nthiwa wa Tama acquired 8000 herds of cattle and 15 wives respectively in kambaland.The structure of administration was as discussed earlier with governor being answerable to the colonial secretary in London. Below him were provincial commissioners, district commissioners, district Officers and Chiefs.All the administrative positions above that of the chief were occupied by European personnel.

The British in Nigeria.

Nigeria comprised the Lagos colony and protectorate, the Southern Nigeria Protectorate and the Northern Nigeria Protectorate. These regions were later amalgamated into the Nigerian protectorate in 1914.In Northern Nigeria, Fredrick Lugard employed indirect rule.

Reasons for the use of indirect rule by the British in northern Nigeria.

a) The system was cost-effective. There was need to reduce the administrative cost by using the local chiefs in administration while employing very few British officials.

b) Northern Nigeria had communities with a well-organized centralized system of government complete with Islamic sharia whose use provided a base to govern the protectorate. i.e. The Sokoto Caliphate

c) The vastness of the region coupled with the inadequate British administrative work force and Poor transport and communication network made it difficult for the British officials to effectively administer some parts of the region.

d) The system would help dilute African resistances since governance was by local rulers. TheBritish were keen on guarding against the local resistance to their administration.

e) The method ensured smooth transition from African to British dominion. It was a way of deliberately preparing Africans for self-government.

f) Indirect rule had been tried successfully in Uganda and India.

Indirect administration as applied in northern Nigeria

In Northern Nigeria, the existing emirates with centralized system of administration formed thebasis of local governance. The Emirs were retained and were to rule under supervision of the British resident officials.The British administration was based on the local customs and laws. Chiefs chosen by the British were to be acceptable by the local people. Local chiefs collected taxes and a portion of it was given to the Central Government.Local Native Courts operated as per the laws of the land. The Emirs were allowed to try cases in their own Muslim courts.The Emirs were mandated to maintain law and order. They possessed firearms.In 1914, Northern and Southern Nigeria were Brought under one syatem of administration.

However Lugard found it hard to apply indirect rule in Southern Nigeria.

Why indirect rule was not successful applied in southern Nigeria

a) Southern Nigeria lacked a centralized indigenous system of administration, which would have been vital in the application of indirect rule.

b) The south had many ethnic groups, many languages and many disparities in customs, whichdenied it the homogeneity necessary for the application of indirect rule.

c) The southern people were infuriated by the British introduction of new concepts like forced labour and direct taxes.

d) The British did not give themselves time to understand the operation of the social, political and economic systems of the people of southern Nigeria.

e) The educated elites in the south felt left out of the administration of their own country in favour of the illiterate appointees of the British.

f) There existed communication barrier between the British supervisors, the warrant chiefs and the people, which sometimes led to misinterpretation and misunderstanding.

g) The warrant chiefs sometimes misused their powers in tax collection and molesting women sexually.

h) The brutish had used excessive force in dealing with any form of resistance and this made them unpopular

Problems associated with indirect rule as a system of government.

a) Indirect rule could only e applied where centralized government was present. Its application in stateless societies often faced difficulties.

b) Where chiefs were imposed, especially in the stateless societies, their authority lacked legitimacy and only resulted in suspicion and lack of confidence. This would lead to constant riots when they tried to exert their authority.

c) Local people even in the highly centralized states looked at indirect rule as curtailing the authority of their local rulers and hence resented it. E.g the Yoruba state in Nigeria.

d) Some inexperienced British officials tended to interfere too much with the vital African customs and practices e.g. among the Asante thus bringing further problems.

e) Different administrations had different views on the degree of indirect rule to be applied hence confusion was created. It was difficult to draw a boundary between the advisory and supervisory roles of colonial powers.

f) Language was a problem and there was need for interpreters. Communication was poor and made adaptation difficult.

g) Education of chiefs was necessary but even this took a long time and needed patience and skillful knowledge which the British did not have.

Effects of indirect rule.

a) The system led to transformation of the role of traditional African chiefs. they now began to recruit fellow Africans to provide labour to the colonial government and even fight in world war I. the chiefs thus became unpopular.

b) The indigenous system of administration was modernized by the British especially in northern Nigeria.

c) Many African chiefs used their positions to accumulate a lot of wealth at the expense of their people. Chiefs like Wang’ombe and Gakure in central Kenya acquired large tracts of land.

d) Indirect rule created suspicion and mistrust between the educated elites and the traditional chiefs who were given power ib southern Nigeria. The elite reacted by forming political movements thus leading to growth of nationalism in Nigeria.

e) Indirect rule helped preserve African cultures, unlike assimilation which sought to replace them.


This system was mainly used in regions with large white settler population such as Algeria, south Nigeria and Zimbabwe.

Direct rule in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe was colonized by the British South African Company under John Cecil Rhodes. Rhodes used his resources to sponsor a group of South African Europeans who set out to establish in Southern Rhodesia, a satellite of South African System.

They began off by engaging the Ndebele in a series of wars from 1893 before finally occupying the fertile land in Mashonaland and Matabeleland.

Characteristics of direct rule in Zimbabwe

a) Zimbabwe had a large number of European settlers with their population rising to 50,000 by 1931. The whites therefore maintained an advantaged position throughout their administration of Zimbabwe.

b) Many of the British settlers developed the attitude and consequently the belief that the territory was pre-ordained to be a white settler colony.

c) The territory was administered by a commercial company (B.S.A.C) for a long period (1890-1923)

d) An administrator below who was a long chain of European civil servants performing simple administrative duties headed BSAC.

e) Direct method of administration was applied to the Africans who had initially resisted the intrusion. New chiefs were appointed to dethrone the traditional leaders.

f) The Legislative Council that was begun in 1898 gave the European settlers political Rights to the extent that by 1923, they had attained some self-governance.

g) The system was characterized by massive alienation of African Land compelling Africans to provide labour to the new European settlers.

h) There was racial segregation which was effected through the Legislative Council. African communities suffered greatly in the hands of the settler regime.

Reasons for use of direct rule by the British in Zimbabwe

a) The British desired to fully control the economy of Zimbabwe and maximize on profit generation through direct involvement in administration.

b) The Shona and Ndebele resistance against British intrusion made the them not to trust the Matabele chiefs nor use them as British agents

c) There was lack of reliable political system to be used in indirect administration of the region. The local political institutions based on the Induna system had been destroyed when the British conquered and occupied Zimbabwe.

d) Existence of enough B.S.A Co personnel on the spot who were familiar with the area as well as the British system of government.

e) Favourable climatic conditions and the expected rich mineral deposits attracted many settlers who later provided the necessary personnel.

f) There was a strong desire by the Europeans to be able to direct their own affairs and destiny without interference from within or without/The spirit nationalism

The BSAC administrative structure in Southern Rhodesia (1905-1923)

The government was headed by a resident Commissioner who was appointed by the Company stationed at Salisbury. Below him were various commissioners in charge of the Districts (all Europeans). Below them were African Chiefs whose duty included collecting tax, recruiting labour and maintaining law and order.In 1898, a LEGCO was established –heavily dominated by the European settlers. An Executive Council, consisting of the Resident Commissioner and 4 nominees of BSA.Co was also established. In 1902, a Native Affairs Department, headed by a European Native Commissioner was created thus entrenching the dominance of Europeans in Zimbabwe. The duty of the commissioner was to allocate land to Africans, collect taxes and recruit labour.For lack of enough valuable minerals in Zimbabwe as expected, the Europeans compensated by acquiring large tracts of land from African communities with some having grants of upto 3000 acre pieces of land.( Europeans occupied 21 million acres while Africans despite their majority were confined to 24 million acre reserves.)

The Company relinquished control in 1923 to for Zimbabwe to become a crown colony.

Crown colony Rule (1923-1953)

Why the settlers favoured crown colony over merger with South Africa.

a) The merger would have led to domination by Afrikaners in their political matters.

b) Their economic interests would have been neglected in favour of those of Afrikaners.

As a crown colony, a Governor was appointed in 1923 to represent the Queen of England. British government was empowered by the constitution to veto any legislation that would discriminate against Africans. This however never happened practically.

For example, the government formulated the Two-Pyramids Policy or parallel development policy characterized by discrimination against Africans. At the base of the pyramid was the majority Africans relegated to offering cheap labour for the white settlers. At the apex were the minority whites who took the highest positions in the economic and political system.To legitimize the two pyramids policy were two Acts that were passed in 1930 and 1934.

a) Land Apportionment Act of 1930

The Act introduced rigid territorial segregation with land being divided into white’s and Africans’ portions. No African was allowed to acquire land outside their segregated portion.The minority whites acquired over half of the best arable land. Africans were given the semi arid areas infested by mosquitoes.

Land was categorized into four;

1)  Native Reserve Area- for Africans population. The Land was characterized with congestion since it was inadequate.

2)  Native Purchase Area- for Africans to buy. Such areas had harsh climatic conditions.

3)  European Area- For Whites only.

4)  Unassigned Area- For government expansion of buildings and other uses.

Effects of the Land Apportionment Act on Africans

a) Many Africans became migrant labourers, moving to mines, towns and European farms to provide cheap labour since their land was unproductive.

b) Large tracts of African land were alienated and they were confined to only 29 million acres while only 50,000 whites occupied 49 million acres of land.

c) This exposed Africans to problems like overgrazing that further deteriorated their land.

d) There was widespread poverty among Africans. For those on the reserves, they faced starvation, those in towns faced slum life.

e) Africans suffered racial segregation in provision of social services in urban areas.

f) There was disruption of social roles as African men moved to towns and settler farms. Women took over men’s jobs in the reserves.

g) Land apportionment became the seedbed for the rise of African nationalism in Zimbabwe.

h) Africans were exposed to over taxation to compel them to provide labour to the Europeans.

b) The Industrial Conciliation Act of 1934.

The prime objective of the Act was to protect white workers from African competition. The government through the act prohibited Africans from setting up a trade union. Africans from beyond southern Rhodesia were imported to provide labour to the whites at low wages.The act resulted in relegation of Africans to the lowest level while skilled jobs were set aside for the Europeans. The two acts resulted in the humiliating conditions for the Africans which resulted in the rise of African Nationalism that continued more after the Second World War.As an answer to African agitation, the government invited more white settlers giving them more large tracts of land. The settlers also began to agitate for the formation of a federation of the three central African territories (southern Rhodesia, Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland).In 1953, the British government gave approval for the formation of the federation of central African countries.

The Central African Federation.

The federation was organized as follows;

1)  Each territory had its own government responsible for local administration.

2)  Each territorial government was responsible for all aspects of native affairs within its boundaries.

3)  The British government was directly involved in the administration of the two northern protectorates.

4)  An African Board was established to ensure that no racist legislation against the Africans was passed in the federation parliament.

5)  The Federal Parliament was given powers to deal with all matters involving more than one territory and foreign affairs.The first Prime Minister of the Federation, Garfield Todd, being sympathetic to African protests over formation of the federation, legalized the formation of trade Unions and funded African education and Agriculture. Unfortunately when Todd was replaced in 1958, all his programmees were abandoned.

In 1963, the federation was dissolved and shortly afterwards Malawi and Zambia became independent as southern Rhodesia remained a self -governing colony.

The reign of Ian Smith

Ian Smith’s Rhodesian Front Party, controlled by the white extremists with no regards for Africans, won the 1962 elections.On 15th October 1965, Smith led the settlers to announce a Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI), from Britain implying that political leadership was now fully in the hands of the white rebel settlers.

This declaration provoked instant protest not only within Africa but also from the international community. UN declared sanctions against South Rhodesia though countries like South Africa and Portugal unfortunately continued to trade with her making the sanctions ineffective.In 1970, UDI declared itself a republic under a new constitution that entrenched whites’ position in Zimbabwe by spelling the following;

a) Voting qualifications for Africans were revised and were now based on income. This automatically disenfranchised the majority of Africans.

b) The land tenure system was revised to enable the Europeans to purchase land from the government.Meanwhile the war of independence had began in 1966, provoked by the 1965 UDI declaration, with a patriotic front formed by Zimbabwe African National Union(ZANU) of Mugabe Robert and Zimbabwe African People’s Union(ZAPU) of Joshua Nkomo waging a guerilla warfare.Zimbabwe became independent in 1980, with Robert Mugabe as the fits Prime Minister.

Effects of British rule in Zimbabwe.

a) It led to African land alienation by white settlers/ Africans were displaced from their ancestral lands.

b) The establishment of white settlement subjected Africans to abject poverty and suffering.Africans were subjected to intense economic exploitation through taxation and forced labour.

c) African traditional economy was undermined as many of the Africans were forced to work for the Europeans.

d) African interests were ignored in the day-to-day running of the colony.

e) African traditional rulers lost their autonomy and became mere puppets of British administration.

f) African cultures were undermined, for example through the separation of families as people sought alternative livelihood.

g) The white settlers were to enhance the production of cash crops as transport, trade and industry were developed.

h) Africans were denied freedom of movement and confined I reserves.

i) Positively, it led to development of transport network the region.

j) It led to introduction of new crops in the region

k) It led to rise of nationalism as many Africans could no longer bear the burden of suffering in the hands of the whites.



This was a system of administration in which French colonies were given a culture and civilization similar to that of France. This system was influenced by the French revolution of 1789, which emphasized the equality of all men.In Africa, it was perfected by Lewis Faidherbe in Senegal when he was governor from 1854 to 1865.To many historians Assimilation was a deliberate French policy to help them destroy African Chieftaincies and Kingdoms that were thriving at the time of their arrival. Under the system, Africans had to;

~  Learn the French language.

~  Practice the French legal system.

~  Apply the French civil and political system.

~  Convert to Christianity and learn French mannerism including eating and dressing habits.Later on assimilation evolved into association which had been first applied in Africa in central Africa by Savorgnan de Brazza.Association involved letting the subjects develop independently due to the belief that nonwesterners were racially inferior and would therefore never be accepted as equal to Europeans even when assimilated.

French administration in West Africa

The French system of administration was highly centralized.The eight French colonies were grouped into the confederation of French West Africa. They were governed from one capital, Dakar, Senegal.The federation was headed by a Governor-General answerable to the French Minister for colonies in Paris. Each colony was headed by a lieutenant- Governor answerable to the Governor-General in Dakar.Each colony was divided into cercles (provinces), each headed by a commandant de cercle. Each cercle was further divided into small districts each headed by a chef de sub-division below whom were African chiefs (chefs de cantons in charge of locations). At the base were chefs de village in charge of the sub-locations.All the French overseas colonies were seen as overseas provinces and each elected a deputy to the French Chamber of Deputies in Paris (lower House). However the French administrators appointed lacked high standards of education and some were military officers simply rewarded with senior administrative positions. This led to inefficiency.

French administration in Senegal

In Senegal, the policy of assimilation was only applied in the four communes of St.Louis, Goree, Rufisque and Dakar. In the rest of the country, African chiefs who ruled were put I three grades namely;

a) Chefs de province: – equivalent of the paramount chiefs, they were usually successors of the pre-colonial chiefs.

b) Chefs de Canton: – these were ordinary people appointed by the French officials due to their ability, to be charge of locations. They kept register of taxpayers the location, helped the government in conscription of Africans into the army and assisted in mobilizing forced labour for road construction and other public works.

c) Chefs de village:- these were usually traditional heads of the community(village) who were given the responsibility of collecting taxes, maintenance of law and order, organizing relief during floods and locust invasion and maintaining roads I their areas.

The privileges which were enjoyed by assimilated Africans in the four communes of Senegal included;

Economic privileges

~  They were exempted from forced labour.

~  They were allowed to work in France.

~  They were exempted from paying taxes.

~  They were allowed trading rights like the French people.

Political privileges

~  They were allowed to send representatives to the French Chamber of Deputies.

~  They were enfranchised like the French people in France (right to vote)

~  They enjoyed the rights of the French Judicial System like the French.

~  They were allowed to operate Local Authority’ structures which were similar to those in France.

~  They were allowed to retain Muslim law.

~  They were exempted from arbitrary arrest/through the Indigenization policy.

Characteristics of assimilation.

a) Administrative assimilation. There was an administrative relationship between the French colonies and their mother country. Colonies were regarded as overseas provinces.

b) Political assimilation. The colonies were represented in the French chamber of deputies thus maintaining a close political identity.

c) Economic assimilation. The French currency was used in the colonies to enhance the economic relationship.

d) Personal assimilation. Africans in the Quatre communes were given French citizenship and other privileges enjoyed by French citizens.

Reasons why assimilation was successful in the four communes

a) There was a high percentage of Mullato population within the communes, who readily accepted the French culture making it easy for the French to apply assimilation.

b) Africans were familiar with Europeans and their culture due to long interaction with them through trade.

c) Many people had converted to Christianity and this made it possible for the French to apply their policy.

Factors that undermined the application of the French policy of assimilation in West Africa

a) There was opposition by local people who did not want the French to interfere with their culture.

b) The Traditional African rulers resisted the policy since they did not want to lose their authority and influence over the assimilated people.

c) The French traders in West Africa also opposed the system they viewed assimilated Africans as a potential threat to their commercial monopoly in the region.

d) The policy of assimilation ran the risk of undermining the very foundation of French colonialism, as it was not possible to exploit Africans who had attained the assimile status.

e) Missionary school system of education undermined the French policy of assimilation since there was segregation in provision of mission education.

f) Nationalism conflicted with the policy of assimilation.

g) Assimilation was becoming too expensive to the French government especially because West African colonies were not self-supporting yet.

h) The vastness of the French colonies made it difficult to supervise the implementation of the policy.

i) Muslims resisted fiercely the French attempt to convert them to Christianity.

j) Racial discrimination against the indigenous people also contributed to the failure of the system. This is because many Frenchmen never accepted assimilated Africans as their equals.

k) The French citizens in the motherland opposed the policy as they feared being outnumbered in the chamber of deputies.

Ways in which Nationalism undermined the policy of Assimilation in French West Africa.

a) It emphasized loyalty or devotion to one’s country and national independence or separatism, which were against the policy of assimilation.

b) Nationalists agitated for boycott of anything of French origin.

c) The nationalists created awareness on the value of African culture and systems; this encouraged Africans to condemn assimilation.

d) The nationalists created awareness on the importance of African unity which exposed the hypocrisy of assimilation

Consequences of assimilation in Senegal.

a) The policy of assimilation undermined African cultures, as many Africans embraced the French culture. For instance, the French language became the official language in the colony.

b) The authority of traditional African leaders was eroded and even many were replaced by the assimilated Africans.

c) The colony was incorporated into the French republic and regarded as an overseas province of France.

d) Africans from Senegal were allowed to participate in the political matters of France. Some Senegalese like Blaise Diagne were elected as deputies in the French parliament.

e) The spread of Islam was greatly frustrated, especially in the four communes where Africanswere converted to Christianity.

f) A great rift emerged between the assimilated Africans , who were regarded as French citizens and the rest of African communities , who were subjected to taxation and forced labour



The policy of association.

Under this system, the French colonial government was to respect the cultures of her colonial peoples and allow them to develop independently rather than force them to adopt French civilization and culture.Unlike the assimilated Africans, subjects retained their cultural practices e.g polygamy and Islam. The subject came under a system of law known as  indigenat where the subject could suffer arbitrary arrest or be forced to serve a longer period in the army than assimilated citizens

Why the French government replaced the policy of assimilation with that of association in 1945

a) The French had realized that assimilation would lead to equality between them and the colonized people.

b) Assimilation was too expensive especially because West African colonies were not selfsupporting yet.

c) The method clashed with the commercial interests. The French businesspersons and their friends in the colonial administration saw Africans as source of cheap labour. They therefore disapproved the idea of uplifting them.

d) The French had realized that not all the colonial people could be assimilated. Only the elite ones among them could. Association aimed at transforming the Native elites into Frenchmen while allowing the other masses to learn enough French for communication purposes.

e) They had realized that there was need to allow the colonies to enjoy the freedom of developing according to existing traditional political and social structure. / respect for the culture of her colonies.

The similarities between the French and the British colonial administrations

a) Both methods emphasized the superiority of the colonial master and his overlord ship in Africa. The Europeans were in charge and took all senior positions.

b) The administrative systems applied in both were meant to assist the colonial masters in controlling their territories in Africa.

c) Both systems led to massive economic exploitation of resources in Africa. E.g. minerals, labour, and market land etc.

d) In both Africans reacted to the systems in a hostile manner.

e) Both methods led to loss of independence and freedom for the African.

f) In both, every power trained a local army to maintain law and order.

g) In both, Africans were oppressed through taxation and forced labour.

h) In both, the position of chief was created where there was none. I.e. in Kenya, Southern Nigeria, and Somali.

Main differences

a) The British were keen to appoint traditional rulers as chiefs. The French on the other hand were not keen to appoint traditional rulers but simply handpicked individuals who met their qualifications (those who embraced French culture and civilization).

b) The British gave the traditional rulers a lot of power, unlike the French – who undermined African chieftaincies.

c) The British colonies were administered separately by a governor accountable to Britain, unlike the French colonies which were governed as federations equated to provinces of France.

d) Most of the French administrators were military officers. The British used a mixture of amateurs and professionals.

e) Whereas the British applied mainly the policy of indirect rule, the French applied the policy of assimilation and later, association.

f) The French colonies elected their representatives to the Chamber of Deputies in France, while British colonies had legislative councils where policies were debated in the colonies.

g) Laws applied in the French colonies were legislated in France while in British colonies laws were enacted by the respective legislative assemblies.

h) In French colonies, assimilated Africans became French citizens with full rights, while the elite in the British colonies remained colonial subjects.

i) Indirect rule preserved African cultures while assimilation undermined them.