The story

How did Belgium manage to maintain control over their colonies while they were occupied?

Belgium was occupied during both the first and second world wars. I know that the Belgian Congo gained land after WW1. And I guess the Belgian Congo had some sort of independence, but I'm not sure about that.

How did Belgium manage to maintain control over their colonies while they were occupied? And did Germany intended to gain control over Belgian colonies like they did to French during WW2?

In both wars, the Belgian government left the country, and continued operating from elsewhere. That was Le Havre in WWI, and London in WWII.

In WW1 Belgium never surrendered. During WW1 Belgian Congo was under threat by German forces in German East Africa, under command of ltn-col Paul von Lettow-Vorbek. It wasn't a big threat, as the German forces were barely strong enough to defend their own colony.

Though von Lettow-Vorbek fought a highly successful offensive guerrilla campaign, the colony was never going to be occupied. He simply lacked the wherewithal for it. Vorbeck was never defeated, and surrendered after the armistice.

During WW2 Germany was never in a position to even threaten Belgian Congo. King Leopold III surrendered with the army, but the government didn't accept that surrender and fought on from England.

Belgian Congo never had any kind of independence, before they became independent in 1960. It began as the worst governed colony ever, when king Leopold II took it as private property in 1885. He had it exploited ruthlessly. He can easily be placed amongst Stalin, Hitler and Mao as one of the worst genocidal maniacs in history. His motive was simply greed.

King Leopold II of course didn't travel with a machete, a whip and a Belgian flag to the Congo. He had the job done by the famous journalist and explorer Stanley. (The one who found Livingstone.) After international pressure the Belgium government took over the Congo Free State (owned by king Leopold II) from the king as Belgian Congo in 1908.

It's a bit late to add, and somewhat off-topic (that's why I hadn't included it). Leopold II was one of the vilest monarchs who ever lived. He ranks comfortably close with Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot. His 'management' of the Congo caused untold millions of Congolese their lives. Because he had them literally worked to death, for his own personal profit.

The history of Belgium

Belgian history involves lengthy periods under the rule of other European empires, as well as a lengthy period of imperial conquest of its own. Here’s an introduction to the history of Belgium.

Belgium became independent from the Netherlands in 1830. It was occupied by Germany during World Wars I and II. The country prospered in the past half century as a modern, technologically-advanced European state and a member of NATO and the EU. Tensions between the Dutch-speaking Flemish of the north and the French-speaking Walloons of the south have led, in recent years, to constitutional amendments granting these regions formal recognition and autonomy.


Colonial administrative systems were the ways of controlling and maintaining colonial power in colonies after the establishment of colonialism. In the early 20th century, the process of conquest and partition of Africa were almost completed by European powers, only Ethiopia and Liberia escaped from colonial control. Colonialists including Germany, French, British, Portugal, Belgium etc. after colonizing African countries they introduced different administrative systems in their colonies depended on the following:

The nature of the people in the colonies, such as being cooperative, military, strong, weak etc.
Challenges encountered during acquiring colonies i.e. by strong resistance, collaboration etc.
The character of colonial power, for example Germany preferred direct rule while British preferred indirect rule and French preferred assimilation policy.

Reasons as why colonialists introduced different administrative systems after the establishment colonial rule.

To change the form or tradition of the African system of administration.
To maintain or ensure effective occupation control of the colony socially, politically and economically.
Maximization of profit through colonial exploitation by setting up a system of administration which favored colonialists.
To ensure peace and harmony in colonies after faced reactions resistances during the establishment of colonial rule.
To prepare the suitable and conducive environment for establishment of colonial economy.
To fulfill the agreement reached during the Berlin conference of 1884-1885 on effective occupation of colonies.
Therefore the reasons behind the establishment of different colonial administrative system in Africa after colonialists managed to defeat Africans, was due to many resistances colonialists faced while they were trying to introduce colonial rule in Africa.

Types/Forms of Colonial Administrative Systems Adopted in Africa

Direct Rule
Indirect Rule
Assimilation Policy
Association Policy

Indirect rule was an administrative system in which traditional rulers implemented the colonial policies for the aims of preserving of traditional political institutions and their adaptations under the direction of the British administration to the requirements of modern units of local government.
Indirect rule was common in British colonies and it was introduced by an eminent colonial governor by the name of Lord Lugard, who implemented when he was the Governor of Northern Nigeria from 1900-1906 and the whole Nigeria from 1912-1920, the approach was involving the identifying the local power structure (Kings, Chiefs or Headmen ).

Reasons for the application of Indirect rule system

i. Lack of manpower. The British always maintained that indirect rule system was designed to protect and preserve African political systems, but in the early British found that the area they seized were simply too large to be ruled directly without the assistance from the indigenous Africans.
ii. Communication problems, the use of African Kings or Chiefs was important because he understood his people’s language hence it will be easy to transmit orders and directives from European to Africans.
iii. To avoid resistances. Indirect rule make Africans understand that their fellow Africans exploit them and not Europeans as it was mostly applied to the area where there were powerful local rulers.
iv. The system was cheap economically and strategically. By recognized and offering to work with local rulers not only did the cost of running the colony be low, also they used local authority managed by Africans to boost their colonial interests.
v. Physical difficulties in the colonial Africa also forced British to use indirect rule. The thick forest, tropical diseases, wild animals, climatic condition, hostile tribes led British to adopt for indirect rule system.
vi. British use indirect rule due to the fact that was suitable technique of governing illiterate masses of Africans.
vii. The British were afraid of eliminating the local administrative set up. The use of traditional rulers could help them get puppets that would implement their policies.
viii. Tropical diseases which killed many British personnels. e.g. Malaria


Indirect rule was first applied in Nigeria by the British governor known as Sir Fredrick Lugard in 1900-1906. Indirect rule in Nigeria was applied after British encountered (faced) a lot of challenges from big tribes which had strong traditional administrative systems like Fulani aristocracy who governed Sokoto caliphate by using Islamic laws in Northern Nigeria.

Therefore the British by using indirect rule which was required as a role model in the British colonial administration. Local native leaders in Nigeria continued to rule their traditional land, collect taxes and implement orders and duties as assigned by the British. So British succeeded to apply indirect rule in Northern Nigeria despite it was not successful much in Southern Nigeria in Yomba tribe.
Through indirect rule Lord Lugard was able to control Nigeria by using their local traditional ruling system and cooperative leaders who performed the following activities
1. To collect taxes.
2. To implement British laws and policies.
3. To reduce resistance from the people.
4. To reduce the political, economic and military costs.
5. To rule their land under the British control.

Despite the fact that Indirect rule succeeded to rule Nigeria especially Northern Nigeria, other areas In Nigeria like southern Nigeria was unsuccessful due to poor and less cooperation from YORUBA land chiefs or kings who did not organize and centralize Yoruba people since before.

Therefore the British found the following as the failure of indirect rule in Southern Nigeria

1. Chiefs /Local rulers of Southern Nigeria were not given respect by the Yoruba people.
2. Local rulers were appointed to implement the British polices but they failed i.e. collection of taxes.
3. Southern Nigerian societies had strong traditional administrative system such as the use of chiefs for example Lagos had no chiefdom system.
4. Southern Nigeria was decentralized than Northern Nigeria which was more centralized.

Therefore indirect rule became very difficult to be applied in Southern Nigeria by Lord Lugard during his six years of administering Nigeria so as to transform it into commercial [economically] as well as politically and to establish British protectorate by using its local rulers.

Why Lord Fredrick Lugard applied/preferred application of Indirect Rule in the British colonies

1. Some of the African societies were centralized hence no need of the new colonial administrative system. For example Sokoto caliphate, Bugando.
2. Some of the African communities were not competent to control themselves with the British assistance hence used indirect rule.
3. British wanted to spread their superiority complex over Africans.
4. They used indirect rule to avoid administrative costs.
5. British wanted to avoid communication barriers, for example language problems and poor infrastructures.
6. British were few in number so indirect rule solved the problem of manpower.
7. Lord Lugard preferred indirect rule because it avoided resistance and conflicts from local rulers and people.


Indirect rule administrative system which was applied by the British in her colonies was arranged in different structures to ensure effective colonial control over colony and good administrative machinery which will prepare conducive environment for establishment of colonial economy.

The structure of indirect rule was as follows

Colonial secretary stayed in London [UK]
Governor appointed in UK and hired in colonies.
Provincial commissioner was a British lived in certain regions to represent the governor.
District commissioner was a British (white) lived in district level representing provision commissioner he lived with people and gave them orders through local rulers.
Local chiefs were local rulers appointed by British who were given orders by colonial officers include provincial commissioners and district commissioners to supervise in the daily activities and local ordinances.
Headmen. These were Africans who received orders from local chiefs and implement them to the people (Africans) by using force once people resisted.

Problems/challenges British faced in implementing the use of indirect rule system in Nigeria.

Despite the British succeeded to rule Africans indirectly through their local rulers, they met a number of challenges, since British indirect rule introduced different policies and systems, in Africa which was new and not existed in Africa before such as Payment of taxes, forced labour, land alienation, introduction of coercive apparatus such as police, army, court etc. The following were problems challenges /difficulties Britain faced during Implementing the use of indirect rule

1. Absence of centralized administration in North Eastern Nigerian societies, such as Igbo and Yoruba were not well centralized like the Sokoto caliphate or Buganda kingdom hence made the application of indirect rule to be very difficult due to lack of cooperation and local rulers’ support.
2. Illiteracy of the masses. Some of the societies In Nigeria such as the Yoruba and the Abeokuta who became Independent in 1893, due to their illiterate they organized people to oppose indirect rule.
3. Harsh British policies. Some of the indirect rule British policies such as forced labour and taxation which was introduced to the people were new and unpopular hence reacted by the people of Nigeria especially Igbo.
4. Opposition I resistance from the local rulers. Some of the local rulers did not support British indirect rule for example rulers from Yomba and Abeokuta.
5. Creation of British wants puppet chiefs. Indirect rule faced challenges in Nigeria because British decided to create their own chiefs who were rejected and unpopular hence people opposed against them.
6. Poor infrastructures. Absence of good infrastructures such as roads, railways, and harbor phones made the failure to access information.


Tanganyika formerly was a German colony from 1886 after Berlin conference. After the end of the first world war of 1914-1918 Germany lost Tanganyika colony to British who took the victory of the war. During German rule in Tanganyika they used direct rule system thus faced a lot of resistances from Tanganyika societies such as Hehe resistance, Yao and Chagga resistance. Therefore after the British took control over the Tanganyika colony they decided to change the former German direct rule which used Jumbes and Akidas and introduced indirect rule.

The first British governor in Tanganyika who was known as Sir Donald Cameroon initiated and introduced indirect rule in Tanganyika. Sir Donald Cameroon decided to introduce indirect rule in Tanganyika due to the influence and motivation from governor Lord Fredrick Lugard who succeeded to control Nigeria through indirect rule so sir Donald Cameroon wanted to copy that system of indirect rule and apply it in Tanganyika hence he met the following challenges.

The challenges/difficulties sir Donald Cameroon faced when he introduced Indirect Rule in Tanganyika

1. Absence of traditional administrative system. Germany removed all local rulers’ administration during their rule in Tanganyika, so it was difficult for Sir Donald Cameroon to introduce them again.
2. Illiteracy and ignorance of the masses over indirect rule. Tanganyika was controlled and ruled by the German power for a very long time directly so indirect rule was a new system which was not known.
3. Poor organization of permanent chiefs. Few tribes in Tanganyika recognized their chiefs and they bad status and power, less executive, financially and judiciary for example the Chagga.
4. Poor infrastructure. Indirect rule got a lot of challenges in Tanganyika since the country was big while there was poor network and communication links to reach and coordinate local chiefs.
5. Absence of local authorities in Tanganyika societies such as coastal tribes which had no traditional local authorities since Arabs’ domination which introduced Islamic law. Due to this Sir Donald Cameroon get no support of local rulers in his administration.

Despite the fact that Sir Donald Cameroon met a lot of challenges problems in the introduction of indirect rule in Tanganyika as we have seen above, he preferred and forced to introduce indirect rule through

1. The native authority ordinance of 1926 and the coast ordinance of 1919.

These two laws (ordinances aimed at creating a solid foundation for the indirect rule administration and local authorities. Through these two laws (ordinance) local chiefs were required and given the following tasks and duties

Tax collection such as hut tax and poll tax.
Chiefs were responsible for enforcing British laws and orders.
Chiefs were given judiciary power to enforce their decisions according to customary laws.
Chiefs were responsible to implement British policies, law, ordinances and orders to their people.

How Indirect was indirect rule?

Indirect rule was indirect because the British used local rulers to organize and supervise various colonial economic activities such as cash crop production, tax collection and building colonial infrastructure on behalf.
British colonialist used Africans rulers in administering punishment to their fellow Africans on their behalf.
The British colonialist used Africans rulers to resolve disputes where the conflicting individuals were African natives on their behalf.
British government issued orders to the Africans local rulers who then had to convey them to the ruled Africans ready for implementation.
The system shifted the blame on African rulers making them be hated by their fellow Africans for their support of colonial rule evils such as exploitation and oppression from these fellow Africans.

Functions of African local chiefs during the Indirect rule.

They acted as a symbolic representation of their people to the colonial masters.
They participated in making decisions signing treaties on behalf of their masses.
They acted as the bridge between the colonialists and the local people they took orders from the colonialist and took back the feedback from the Africans.
They collected taxes and revenues for the colonial masters from the local people taxes like polling tax, hutting tax etc.
They dealt with judicial functions they acted as judges, and magistrates for the wrong doers in their societies.
They acted as supervisors in colonial production they ensured constant supply of raw materials and cheap labour for the- colonial economy.
They provided crucial information to the colonialists concerning the nature and the attitudes of Africans.
They preserved local values, culture and norms of the African societies.
The evaluation of Indirect rule.

To a greater extent indirect rule was very successful in the British colonies in the following
It was successful to divide and rule the Africans through their local rulers who were turned into puppets of Europeans.
It also facilitated in colonial production, which ensure constant supply or raw materials supervised and monitored by local chiefs who were on the grassroots.
It minimized the cost since many African chiefs 'were not paid salaries or wages but they depended on praises, gifts and grants.
Accumulation of human power as it was available for administrative purposes e.g. in a single colony of Britain only top administrators were needed governors, provincial commissioner and district commissioner others were local chiefs.
It also achieved in reducing friction between Africa and Europeans.
Was it Indirect rule?

The British model of indirect rule was indirect theoretically, but practically it was direct rule. How?
1. The local rulers lacked Autonomy/independence and they were subjected to direct intervention of the colonizers in making decision African countries were given autonomy but the final decision came from Europeans.
2. All the orders were formulated by the colonizers, African chiefs were only to implement the orders and not to create or to discuss them thus a direct rule not indirect.
3. Europeans had powers to hire and fire any local leader who disobeyed their orders.
4. Colonizers lacked legal authority to create new political structure that did not exist before but they did.
5. The whole process of indirect rule was to benefit Europeans the African chiefs were used as tools to enable the European to achieve their goals.

Impacts of the Indirect Rule System on African Colonies

i. Indirect rule boosted tribalism. One of the significant political consequences of indirect rule was that it reinforced separate ethnic identities and delayed the development of national political consciousness.
ii. Indirect rule weakened traditional administration. The traditional rulers or sultan were no longer the head of social and political orders but was rather a subordinate of the British overlord who used him to implement such unpopular measures as forced labor, taxation and military enlistment for the two world wars.
iii. Indirect rule system promoted the problems of education, health and employment opportunities. For fear that the traditional ruling class would became members of the royal families were in most cases not encouraged to attend schools.
iv. African educated elites were excluded from local government to participate from ruling rather British continued using uneducated local rulers.
v. The system introduced the widened social differences among the natives. Chiefs and their relatives were somehow privileged and favored from getting social services in expense of the majority.
vi. It led the emergence of the puppet class among the Africans, the group that were the major setback during the nationalist movement.
vii. The system cemented and centralized bureaucracy through the use of district commissioners. This marked the beginning of the local government, a system which is now days practiced in most African governments.
viii. The system of indirect rule failed to promote the welfare and development of the ordinary people while it made the traditional authorities not only backward looking but also unpopular both with the educated elites and the ordinary people from whom the collected taxes on behalf of the British.

The term direct rule refers to the system of administration in which traditional political and administrative organizations and the leaders are replaced with European system. This means that European officers ruled directly without using any intermediaries and it was used in the colonies with high population of white settlers such as Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) and Algeria.

Also can be defined as a form of colonial administrative system which ruled Africans directly by replacing African traditional, political and administrative organizations. Direct rule was mainly adopted by Germany in colonies such as Tanganyika, Namibia, Cameroon and Togo also Portuguese applied direct rule in her colonies.

Why British used direct rule in some of her colonies instead of Indirect rule.

1) Presence of many whites such as in Zimbabwe.
2) Plenty of resources available in the colonies.
3) The nature of African colony. British decided to use direct rule when Africans were ignorant, reluctant and not supportive of indirect rule.
4) Good communication and infrastructures such as roads, railways and harbors led the British to use direct rule.
5) Absence of strong centralized states.
6) Absence of resistances.
7) Absence of tropical diseases made the British not seek for local rulers’ support.


Zimbabwe after being colonized by British in 1890’s under the company known as British South African Company (BSACO) led by prominent imperialist named Cecil Rhodes who ruled directly and called Zimbabwe as Southern Rhodesia due to his effort and financial resources used to occupy shone territories.

Therefore after Zimbabwe had been colonized by British and named as Southern Rhodesia many Europeans came to live in Zimbabwe because it was a huge country having a lot of resources such as fertile land and minerals due to this British ruled Zimbabwe by using direct rule.

Why British white settlers used direct rule in Zimbabwe

1. Absence of local chief’s /local rulers of Zimbabwe such as Indunas were no longer existed during the resistance between British and Shona and Ndebele.
2. Presence of many white settlers in Zimbabwe. Cecil Rhodes influenced many white settlers to invest in Zimbabwe so there was no manpower problem hence direct rule.
3. The richness of resources in Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe was a rich colony having fertile land minerals etc. made British to wish to rule it directly so as to exploit resources efficiently.
4. Absence of a centralized state. Zimbabwe had no strong centralized state since imposition of colonial rule disturbed the system hence direct rule.
5. The effect of the Chimurenga war [Shona and Ndebele], Chimurenga war left enemity between Zimbabwe people and the Europeans hence difficult to involve Africans in their administration.
6. People of Zimbabwe did not want to be colonized by the British.
7. Poor support from Zimbabwe local chiefs /rulers. Local chiefs were not happy with British since their position and status eroded during British colonial rule that is why they did not want to support them in administration hence British used direct rule.

Characteristics of direct rule applied by the British in Zimbabwe

1. It based on excessive oppression and suppression. Africans were highly oppressed and suppressed by British settlers through direct rule using coercive apparatus such as police and soldiers.
2. Zimbabwe was proclaimed as a crown colony. Direct rule in Zimbabwe made Zimbabwe as British settlers’ part and parcel of their motherland country [Britain]
3. It based on emergence of law and order. Direct rule led to increase of many laws and orders in Zimbabwe.
4. Direct rule led Zimbabwe to be under control of British South African Company [BSACO] in 1890 to 1923.
5. Direct rule in Zimbabwe made educated people neglected. Direct rule in Zimbabwe made the educated people neglected not to be involved in the British government as a result of the armed struggle during fighting for independence and freedom.
6. Direct rule gave settlers in Zimbabwe legislative and political rights. British settlers in Zimbabwe were highly empowered politically, economically and favored by laws for example in 1923 settlers attained their self-government.
7. Direct rule alienated Zimbabwe fertile land. Through direct rule the British settlers acquired massive fertile land left the Zimbabwean’s people landless hence provide labour in the settlers land and farms.

The British direct rule in Zimbabwe brought a lot of negative impact to the people of Zimbabwe such as oppression, exploitation, land alienation, forced labour, taxation etc. as a result people of Zimbabwe took arms (armed struggle) during fighting for independence in 1980.

What were the similarities and differences between indirect and direct rule.

· Both were based on exploitation of African resources.
· Both based on oppression of Africans through the use of force i.e. police, arm and court.
· Both based on racial segregation since African colour was regarded as inferior over white colour.
· Both were capitalist systems.
· Both aimed at colonizing control Africans.
· Both faced resistance or opposition from Africans.
· Both failed to meet their demands.

· The Germans used direct rule while indirect rule was used by the British.
· Direct rule did not use local chiefs while indirect rule used local chiefs.
· Indirect rule did not face many resistances from Africans while direct rule faced many resistances.
· Indirect rule was easy to manage while direct rule was difficult to manage because of language problems.
· Indirect rule needed small Europeans’ manpower while direct rule needed large manpower.
· Indirect rule was cheap but direct rule was expensive.
· Indirect rule created puppet class among Africans who cooperated with the British and support British colonialism while direct rule did not

Was an administrative system applied by French in her colonies, which aimed at turning or transforming Africans into Frenchmen or citizens. A person who assimilated was called Assimilador. Assimiladors was taught how to behave or think like French people. Assimilation is a term derived from the French word assimiler means cause to resemble.

French introduced assimilation policy to her colonies so as to spread her culture of superiority all over the world. Therefore the introduction or application of assimilation policy in French colonies goes to them with the introduction of French language, institutions, laws, religion and customs. Colonies or persons to follow assimilation policy (assimiladors) were supposed to follow the French culture hence enjoy right just like French citizens.

Unlike the British or Belgium the French believed in a colonial policy of cultural assimilation some time mockingly described as turning African into "Black French men". This assimilation was limited to a small elite class which felt it self smothered in alien clothes and idea revolted intellectually, they insisted on the need to strip away their French cultural wrapping in order to discover their own true color of black skins, this led to the development of the philosophy of blackness i.e. "Negritude" which stressed the essential unity of black people and self determination of Africans.

Conditions for African to be Assimilated

Should be Fluent in French language both spoken and written.
Africans should practice Monogamy a person should marry only one wife.
Military training must be compulsory to those who would like to be assimilated.
Anyone to be assimilated should be of the Age of 15 years and not above 50 years.
At least should be with ten years of experience in government services.
Any person should be ready to succumb to western culture in practice.
The reasons why French applied Assimilation policy in her colonies.

1. French revolution of 1789. French applied assimilation policy in her colonies since they said that the French revolution which occurred in 1789 advocated for the equality, fraternity and freedom to all regardless of Vaile or color.
2. Assimilation policy applied by the French to spread their superiority all over the world. Since the Africans assimilated would continue to spread French superiority.
3. To spread French culture and civilization. French applied assimilation policy since they wanted to spread their culture through language and customs.
4. Assimilation applied to turn African to behave like French citizen.
5. To facilitate French exploitation. Assimilation aimed at exploiting Africans smoothly by creating false consciousness to those who assimilated (assimiladors) to work for the benefits of the French.
6. Cheap economically since assimilators work and behave just like French and became passive.

Characteristics of French Assimilation Policy

There were to be commune representatives in the French national assembly. The laws applicable in France were well applied in the territories.
The French Africans were considered as a great obstacle for colonial rule.
The French administrative structure was more oppressive than that of the British.
Africans were allowed to register as French citizens and they could seek elections as deputies in Paris.
The French administrators were given more judicial powers in the provinces.
The French decided not to use African traditional institutions in their administration.



Minister of colonies. Minister of colonies was the top most position in the French assimilation administrative structure. The minister of colonies stayed [lived] in Paris and he or she was in charge of all the French colonies [provinces] abroad.
A governor general. Was the second post of the French assimilation policy structure. A governor stayed at a colony [province] which was the center of the French colonies such as Dakar and Senegal in West Africa where Governor General stayed there to administer other colonies [provinces. Governor General was responsible for implementing orders and instructions from the colony secretary to colonies [provinces].
Commandant de circle. Were equivalent to paramount chiefs who were placed by the French the successor of the pre-colonial chiefs their duties were of pre-colonial to receive orders from the governor general to their fellow Africans.
Chiefs de sub division [canton]. These leaders were in district levels that controlled important French administrative departments. Their duties were

1. To recruit Africans into the army.
2. To register taxpayers in their areas.
3. To recruit labors by force for infrastructures buildings etc.

Chiefs de cantons. This was the lowest position in the French assimilation structure it was occupied by village heads of sub location.

The duties/functions of the chief de canton were:
1. Maintain French laws and orders at the village level.
2. Collect taxes from Africans.
3. Maintain public goods and services such as roads, schools and offices.


Association policy was the second French administrative policy/system after the failure of the assimilation policy which respected African culture and allowed them to develop independently. Association policy which replaced assimilation policy was not aiming at turning Africans to resemble French citizens, rather association policy applied by French was aimed at spreading and building of the French superiority in her colonies through different approaches such as by using institutions and laws of the French to colonized Africans. Association policy left and allowed Africans to preserve their own customs and also compatible alongside with French interests.

French decided to shift from assimilation to association policy due to the failure of the assimilation policy which undermined African culture and spread French culture and civilization by forcing Africans to resemble with French citizens which was not practicable because it was not easy to change or turn someone who belongs to a certain cultural back ground (Africans) to behave (be) like French men. So this assimilation policy got challenges from both parts and Frenchmen in Paris were not happy to see other people given such rights as the French men.

Reasons why the Assimilation Policy failed hence introduction of the Association Policy.

1. Economic expenses. Assimilation policy was very expensive since it needed a lot of finance to turn Africans to resemble with Frenchmen by giving them education, social services etc.
2. Language problems differences. Africans had many languages so it was difficult for Africans to adopt French language hence failure of the assimilation.
3. Cultural differences. Assimilation policy failed since it introduced different cultures in Africa which were different from African cultures e.g. Language, beliefs, marriage etc.
4. It was opposed by the French people.
5. It was opposed by Africans. Africans, who were not assimilated, opposed assimilation policy because it ignored African culture and it did not give Africans their expectations like being in top positions.
6. Fear of the French over Africans. Assimilation policy gave Africans favor and chances in the French administration which led to fear towards the Africans.
7. Law differences. Assimilation policy introduced laws which were different from African laws example foreign French civil laws differ from African customary laws.
8. Assimilation policy was a vision less policy assimilation policy had no divisions since assimilated Africans (assimiladors) later on turned against the French.


Association policy was another French administrative system which replaced assimilation policy where by the French did not interfere with African culture such as religion and other matters. Association policy was against the assimilation policy since it did not aim at turning Africans to resemble Frenchmen, however in its practice French officials under association policy tended to implement French ways of life in administration and laws purposely to spread French superiority. Association policy used more authoritarian approach of governing Africans unlike assimilation policy.

In 1914-1945 association policy treated Africans colonies as an integral part of the French since African colonies were given right to elect representatives in the French government to have free trade, unions, press and political parties. These affected African countries both positively and negatively during fighting and post Independence where by these countries, which formerly were French colonies became francophone countries which associated/assimilated into French political systems.

Similarities between Assimilation Policy and Association Policy

Both created economic dependence. African countries especially West African countries which got independent in early 1960s, they still depend and have financial relation with their former colonial master [French] since French is their source of market for their crops.
They affected the system of education. The system of education used in former French colonies are still the same as in French up to date the French speaking people in west Africa except Guinea still have French mentality.
African countries which were former French colonies regarded as francophone countries overseas process of French which still have close relationships with the French people in social and economic matters e.g. West African countries.
Both weakened African traditions and Islamic religion in West Africa by introducing Christianity i.e. Roman Catholic.
Both destroyed African traditional authorities and leaders since assimilated Africans replaced many to the traditional leaders.
Both undermined African culture African culture was regarded as inferior towards French culture which regarded as regarded as superior and civilized for e.g. French language.

The difference between Assimilation Policy and Association Policy

The subjects in the association policy came under the system of law known as the indigent. In this system subjects could be forced to serve a longer period in the French colonial army than assimilated citizens which encouraged them to seek French citizenship.
With association policy assimilated Africans were regarded as French citizens but the other Africans in the French colonies were regarded as a subject that is second-class citizens to which French civil and criminal law did not apply to them.
In the association policy the African subjects [second class citizen] retained their cultural practices such as polygamy and religion. But assimilated Africans had to follow French culture and civilization.
Assimilation policy aimed mainly at creating French superiority complex towards Africans while association policy based on authorization or controlling Africa.
Assimilation policy was impracticable while association policy was practicable since it was easy to control people than charging people to become new citizens.
Assimilation policy was very expensive since assimilated Africans were given all right such as education social services etc. as French citizens while association policy was not expensive.
Assimilation policy failed due to many challenges from both Africans and French men due to fear of lack of vision etc. while association policy did not fail.

Question: Compare and contrast between indirect rule applied by British and assimilation policy
applied by the French.

Similarities/Comparisons between indirect rule and assimilation policy

Both aimed at maintaining their colonial control so as to ensure their effective occupation.
Both were exploitative systems since they aimed at preparing a ground for establishment of colonial economy.
Both destroyed African culture since indirect rule and assimilation policy undermined (ignored) African culture such as language, education and norms.
Both were oppressive since they based on forcing Africans to implement their laws and policies through cohesive apparatus such as police, army, prison, courts etc.
Both fractured to meet their demands because Africans did not accept colonialism hence fought against colonialists.
Both were in capitalist system.
Both created classes.
Both faced resistances.

Contrast/differences between the British indirect rule and the French assimilation policy

Indirect rule was applied by the British while assimilation policy was applied by the French.
Indirect rule used local chiefs in administration while assimilation did not prefer to use local chiefs.
Indirect rule was cheap economically since it used local chiefs/ rulers in administration while assimilation policy was very expensive since it used a lot of resources to transform Africans into Frenchmen.
Assimilation policy was impracticable while association policy was practicable since a person with a certain cultural background cannot totally be transformed into a new culture.
Indirect rule avoided resistance while assimilation policy met a lot of challenges from both Africans and the French men hence shift to association.
Indirect rule was easy to manage while assimilation rule was difficult to manage.
Indirect rule needed small manpower to manage while assimilation needed large manpower to implement their policies.
Indirect rule did not aim at turning Africans while assimilation policy aimed at turning Africans.
Indirect rule considered African tradition while assimilation policy did not consider African culture.
Indirect rule did not face resistance while assimilation policy faced a lot of resistances.

Impacts of French system of administration.

i. De-Africanisation The assimilated Africans abandoned African cultural values and succumbed to French culture like religion, language, dressing, etc. which created the decline of African traditional values.
ii. Facilitation of colonial production it facilitated colonial production in the acquired French colonies under the supervision of local people. Africans were intensively exploited in the so-called association policy.
iii. Development of class-consciousness which resulted into ant-colonial struggles influenced by extreme exploitation and oppression of the masses.
iv. Assimilation policy weakened Africans traditions such as Islamic religion in West Africa by introducing Christianity for example Roman Catholic Church.
v. Colony was incorporated into the French republic and regarded as an overseas province of France speaking people in West African still have close relationship with the French people than their fellow African countries.
vi. Assimilation policy integrated allowed Africans to participate in French political matters in French Paris. Assimilation policy allowed African to participate in French parliament for example Blaise Diagne was elected as deputy in the French parliament.


Both colonial military and legal institutions were introduced in Africa purposely to enforce Africans to accept to follow different colonial administrative systems such as direct rule, indirect rule, assimilation policy and association policy. Therefore colonialists in order to ensure control of Africans effectively by following their new administrative systems they introduced these colonial military and legal institutions such as police, prisons army court etc.


Colonial military refers to coercive apparatus such as police, army, prison, and courts introduced by colonialists in order to maintain laws, order and security of colonial states or government. Colonial militaries were introduced by colonialists in order to the colonial state or government to meet their interests. Therefore colonial military which were introduced in African colonies were different depended on nature of the people found in that colony. For example colonies which were militant and conservative against colonialist colonial militaries were also aggressive or harsh to the Africans.

Examples of famous colonial military force which were introduced by the British to maintain colonial control in Central and East Africa including Kenya. Uganda and Malawi in 1902-1904 was known as King African Rifle (KAR). Soldiers who were recruited to join these military forces such as KAR and the police force were taken from within the colony or outside the colony for example Nubians were the soldiers recruited (taken) from outside the territory [colony] who were mainly preferable since they were very strictly in terms of treatment compared to the native policemen or soldiers.

Functions of colonial Military Forces

To maintain colonial interests. Colonial military aimed at safeguarding the interests of the colonialists that is to control and exploit Africans smoothly.
To suppress African resistances. Colonial military aimed at punishing Africans who were militant and opposed colonial government.
To maintain peace and harmony. Colonial military ensured that people within the colony maintain peace and harmony by following laws and orders.
To maintain security of the colony. Colonial military force was established to protect the colony from Internal and external invasion from other military forces.
Power to arrest criminals. Colonial military was responsible to arrest people who committed crimes or offenses to the court.
To defend colonial boundaries. Colonial military force such as KAR was responsible to defend colonial boundaries.
To collect information and supervision of colonial activities. Colonial military forces were responsible to collect intelligent information which threatens the public interests and supervising different activities such as tax collection.
To facilitate colonial economy exploitation.
Military forces enforced colonial control in Africa.


Colonial legal institutions refer to the institutions which deal with legal matters within the colony. Colonial legal institutions consisted with legislative council [LEGCO], council of elders, prison and courts. The colonial legal institutions were dealing with
Advising the society.
Educating the society about legal matters.
Receive people’s legal claims.
Give legal aid.
Directing legal procedures to be taken on army cases.
The legal institutions were also established for the interests of the colonialists since they were influenced by colonial administration within the colony and metropolitan states. Council of elders was employed in direct British colonies.

Women at Jamestown

The first two English women to arrive in Virginia came in mid-October 1608 as part of the so-called Second Supply of colonists. Mistress Forrest made the journey with her husband, Thomas Forrest, and her maid, Ann Burras. Thomas Forrest was the first colonist to have authority over both his wife and a dependent member of his household. Before the end of 1608, Ann Burras married John Laydon, a laborer and one of the original settlers . English women continued to trickle into the colony after Forrest and Burras’s arrival, although a concerted effort to increase the English female population of Virginia was not made until 1619.

The colonists at Jamestown hoped to recreate in Virginia the patriarchal social structure they had known in England, where a man had authority over his wife and all dependent members of his household. This structure was fortified by the doctrine of coverture, which affirmed that a woman, once married, was totally subsumed, or “covered,” under her husband’s person. A married woman, or feme covert, had no legal status did not control any property, even if she brought it to the marriage and ceded to her husband full rights to all incomes and wages she earned. A single adult woman, whether unmarried or widowed, was considered a feme sole. She could buy and sell property and engage in contracts and other business and legal transactions.

In early Virginia, the strictest definition of coverture was rarely applied. Disease, food shortages, and conflict with the Indians disrupted the roles that European men and women typically played. Conditions within James Fort were dismal because there were not enough women to do the necessary domestic work, and men often refused to do what they perceived as women’s work, including doing laundry, cleaning house, and cultivating corn, which they had seen Indian women do. In England, women did not grow the main crop and spent most of their time in or near their home.

The Virginia colony began to stabilize after Pocahontas married the English colonist John Rolfe in 1614. Their marriage effectively ended the First Anglo-Powhatan War (1609–1614) and initiated a period of peace during which the English greatly expanded their settlements, established plantations along the James River, and grew and exported tobacco. In 1619, officials of the Virginia Company of London decided to recruit respectable women to, as Company treasurer Sir Edwin Sandys put it, “make wifes to the inhabitants and by that meanes to make the men there more setled and lesse moveable.” Married landowners, as heads of households with authority over their wives and children, would add stability to life in the colony. Their wives would work in the home, produce food in their gardens, and raise children. Ninety “younge, handsome and honestly educated maydes” were shipped to the colony in 1620. In 1621, the Virginia Company sent fifty-seven marriageable women between the ages of fifteen and twenty-eight. A wife procured in this manner cost 120 pounds of tobacco per head—six times the cost of a male indentured servant.


Colonial administration refers to the machinery or structure that was established in African colonies to facilitate total political control and safeguard the interests of colonial powers.

Colonial administrative system refers to the type of administration that was established by the European Colonial powers in African colonies.

It was a type of administrative system that was establi shed by Colonialists in the colonies in Africa for different purposes. The Colonial administrative systems were established after the Berlin conference that divided African continent into pieces (Colonies) among European colonial power.


The Colonial Administer action established with a number of objectives that were basically intended to facilitate total colonial exploitation.

Generally, the objectives/functions of colonial administration were as follows: –

To protect the colonies.

The colonial administration was established to protect the colonies from external invasion by other colonial power. For example, The British colonial administration was established to protect all British colonies in Africa.

To ensure peace and harmony in colonies.

The colonial administration was also established to ensure peace and order in the colonies. For example, the colonial administration was to ensure that there was no any African resistances and violence and that Africans had to obey colonial order and regulations.

To influence exploitation.

It was also established to influence exploitation by using different forms. For example, the colonial administration was to ensure that there were different ways that could facilitate exploitation example taxation, payment of low wages etc.

To supervise colonial activities.

It was established to develop and supervise different colonial activities that aimed at serving the colonial interests and profit maximization, for example Colonial agriculture, trade, industry, mining, social and economic infrastructures.

To link with metropolitan.

The colonial administration system was also established to act a link between African colonies and the metropolitan (European government). For example, the German colonial administration in Tanganyika was established to link with the German government Europe.

To suppress uprisings (resistance).

Colonial administration was established to suppress all uprising from Africans. For instance, the German colonial administration in Tanganyika in the early 1900 suppressed the MajiMaji uprising of 1905 of 1907.

To develop the colonies.

The colonial administration was also established in order develop the colonies so that they can serve the colonial interests. This included establishment of social and economic infrastructure to influence colonial interests for examples, roads, railways, hospitals etc. For example in Tanganyika, the German colonial government completed the Central Railway line in 1914.

To promote settler interests.

In addition, colonial administration were established so that they can safeguard the interests of the settlers in the in the colonies. They were to ensure that settlers had settlement, land, labor, enough capital to manage colonial activities. For example, the British colonial government in Kenya ensured the development of settler agriculture.

To control and supervise colonial economic.

Colonial administration was also to ensure that they control and supervise colonial economic activities like agriculture, mining, commerce, industry to mention the few.


In establishing colonial administration (government), European colonial powers employed different techniques/principle. These techniques/principles led to the establishment of an effective and efficient colonial administration. It included the following:

  1. Administrative principles
  2. Military principles
  3. Economic principles
  4. Ideological principles


Through this principle/technique colonialist thought on how to administer or govern effectively their colonies. Therefore, two administrative systems were adopted by colonialists in their colonies through this principle and these were:


Refers to the technique/principle that used to establish their effective colonial administration through creating different military apparatus that were to be involved in governing/colonizing Africans. These military apparatus involved –

Qn. Account for the military principle during establishment of colonial government in Africa.

Qn. Why colonialists employed military principle in establishing colonial governments?

  • To ensure peace and order
  • To suppress all uprisings (resistance)
  • To maintain colonial activities.
  • To influence exploitation and oppression.
  • To protect the government officials and settlers.
  • To protect all colonial properties of land, transport, facilities etc.


Refers to the method employed by colonialists in establishing their government where new economic elements created to replace old elements that existed in the pre-colonial African economies. These economic elements were to be run by the colonial government (controlled and supervised).

They also aimed at safe guarding (promoting) the interests of colonialists. It included the following:


Refer to the principles employed by colonialists in order to establish an effective and efficient colonial administration (government) in their colonies. Colonialists created ideological tools that would help total colonization of Africans. These ideological tools included: –

  • Religion (Christianity)
  • Education (colonial education)
  • Racism (Racial Segregation)

Qn. Account for the ideological tools during establishment of colonial administration in Africa.

Qn. Asses the significances of ideological tools in the colonization of Africa.

Qn. What were the objectives played by ideological principles in the governing process of Africa colonies?

To ensure obedience from Africans, Christianity emphasized obedience

To avoid uprising (resistances)

To make Africans accept colonial rule e. Colonial education brainwashed Africans.

To ensure maximum exploitation, Colonial education taught Africans on how to undertake colonial activities like agriculture etc. Also helped to make Africans involve in the colonial government directly or individually.

To ensure constant supply of labour. This is because the ideologies eg, Christianity taught obedience to Africans. This made Africans to obey each and everything from the colonial government.

To undermine African culture. In addition, these ideologies undermined African culture in such a way that Africans abandoned their culture and followed/adopted colonial culture.

To divide Africans (To influence disunity). They were also employed to instigate disunity among Africans something that enabled the colonizer has to colonize. Africans effectively for example, other Africans were educated, Christians but other did not.


Direct rule was the form/ type of colonial administrative system applied by the Germans where by Africans were ruled directly without local rulers support. Or

Refers to the colonial administration system whereby colonial governments governed African colonies directly.

Refers to the system of colonial government where Africans were colonized directly by the colonialists.

Historically direct rule was a colonial administration that was preferred in most cases by the German, France, Portugal and Belgium although in some colonies of British in Africa it was also applied but very rarely.


Direct rule was an administrative system applied mostly by the Germans in the colonies in Africa. These colonies included, Tanganyika, Rwanda, Burundi (German East Africa) Namibia (South – Western Africa).

Through this system, the Germans appointed colonial official from different tribal groups. They did not employ the respective ethnic local leaders in their government structures but they took other people from outside the area


German was the colonial power that colonized Tanganyika from 1886 after the Berlin Conference, up to 1900 the Germans had already established their administration in the colony. In Tanganyika the Germans used/appointed colonial officers who were, Jumbes, Liwalis and Akidas at the lowest level of administration. In most cases, the Jumbes, Liwalis and Akidas were Arabs, Indians or Swahili people who were recruited from the coast.


The structure of German Direct Rule took a different shape. The Germans applied this system as they had a clear mission to exploit Tanganyika resources (human and natural resources).

  • He was the head of the colony
  • He was the supreme civil and military man
  • He had all power of judiciary and Legislative.
  • He received instructions from the secretary for colonies in German and ensured that they are implemented.
  • He was a link between the colonial government and metropolitan in Berlin.


Composed of German official members whose numbered 5 -12. The function of Advisory council was to

  1. Deal with all fiscal matters (revenue and expenditures) .
  2. Deal with legislation (make laws and orders)
  3. Advice the Governor in all colonial matters.


These German officials administered the created districts. In Tanganyika, the German divided the colony into 21 districts for administration purpose. However, out of 21 districts, two were left under the military charge and the rest were under DC’S. That is why up to date military personal are appointed as District and Regional commissioners for security factor.


Districts were broken into villages where Tanganyika had 20,000 to 30,000 people. These villages were administrated by the Akidas and Liwalis who acted as leaders of the village. Each Akidas was vested power, law and order to influence colonial administration.

These were village headmen who were in charge every village and reported matter to the Akidas and Liwalis. In most cases, they were to ensure smooth operation of colonial activities example agriculture.

The Jumbe and Akidas had various task to accomplish as follows:

  • To collect tax
  • To mobilize people at local level for production.
  • To enforce the colonial laws.
  • To ensure peace and orders.
  • To punish those disobedient.
  • To report daily to the colonial government in Dar es Salaam.
  • To receive orders from the colonial government.


European colonial powers applied the system of Direct Rule due to a number of reasons as follows:

To ensure maximum efficiency.

Direct rule was applied to ensure effective and efficiency of colonial administration. For example, the Germans believed that Akidas and Jumbe would ensure maximum efficiency as they had no blood relationship with Africans (subject).

Illiteracy and backwardness of Africans.

Also the colonialists employed this system as they believed that Africans could not rule themselves as it was required by the colonizers. For example, the Germans believed that Africans Chiefs in Tanganyika were illiterate and backward, so it was difficult for them to administer their areas.

To ensure maximum exploitation.

Direct rule was applied in order to ensure maximum exploitation of Africans resources. For example, through this system, the Germans were able to exploit Tanganyika to the maximum.

Racial superiority.

It was applied as Europeans wanted to prove and consolidate their racial superiority over Africans. They claimed that Africans are inferior people compared to the white race and therefore they were to be colonized/ruled and not to rule by themselves.

To simplify governing process.

Direct rule was also applied to simplify the process of governing colonies. Through this system, the administration became simple one and not complex hence effective colonization.


The system of Direct Rule had various features/characteristics in its practices. Some of these included the following.

White officials at the top.

The system of direct rule used mostly top official who were whites from Europe. There were no Africans who occupied top positions in the colonial government.

Existence of military apparatus.

Different colonial military apparatuses were established and used mainly in suppressing African opposition and also ensuring peace and order. Military apparatus like police, prison, army and judiciary backed the colonial administration system.

Exploitation and oppression.

Also the system of direct rule was characterized by maximum exploitation and oppression so as to realize the colonial interests.

Harshness and brutality.

Direct rule was featured by harshness and brutality where maximum force was applied. For example, the Germans in Tanganyika treated harshly the Africans through Akidas and Jumbes.

Centralized political power.

The system also was featured by centralization of power where all power (decisions) was at the colonial government. The appointed officials, for example DC’S and Akidas in German Tanganyika were only needed to implement decision and not otherwise.

The system was very expensive in such a way that all officials (appointed and non – appointed) were paid for the service. For example, the Akidas and Jumbe during German Tanganyika were paid by colonial government for their services.


Refers to the administration system that was used by colonialists in African colonies where the colonialists used African local people in their administration. Or

Indirect rule was an administrative system applied [adopted] by the British where by African traditional local rulers allowed to participate in colonial administration. Or

Indirect rule was British administrative system, which used local rulers/ chiefs to implement British colonial policies.

It was a colonial administrative system whereby the colonial powers used traditional African rules in their administration at the lower level of the colonial government.

Historically, it was an administrative system applied manly by the British in their colonies in Africa. Sir firstly introduced it. Lord Fredrick Lugard in colonial Nigeria in the early 1900s.

He wrote a book titled “The Dual Mandate in British Tropical Africa” and this led to the formulation of this method of administration.

Governor Sir Donald Cameroon applied in various British colonies such as Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe, and Uganda and lately in Tanganyika the system of indirect rule in 1926 when the British took over the colony from the Germans.


Had all power judicially, executive and legislature.

Received instructions from London and ensured that they were implemented in the colonies.

He was the head of LEGCO and appointed provincial and District commissioners.

He was a link between colonial government and the metropolitan in London.

LEGCO (Legislative council)

Began in 1926 in Tanganyika and composed of 13 official members and 10 unofficial members. There were several divisions where 7 position of unofficial members out of 14 were given to Europeans, 3 positions given to Asian and 4 position occupied by Africans who were chiefs.

A good example of African chiefs in the LEGCO in Tanganyika included, Abduel Shangali, Chief Kidaa Makwahia, and Chief Adam Sapi etc.

Functions of the LEGCO

The LEGCO had several functions in British colonies for example Tanganyika. Some of those functions were as follows:

  • Making laws and orders for exploitation
  • To make policy pertaining to the administration of the colony
  • To ensure effectiveness of colonial economy
  • To advice the Governor.
  • To make decision of fiscal matters (revenue and expenditure)


In Tanganyika, up to 1953 there were eight (8) major provinces, which were –

  1. Tanganyika Province
  2. Eastern Province
  3. Northern highland Province
  4. Western province
  5. Southern highland Province
  6. Central province
  7. Coastal Province and Lake Zone Province.


Composed of African chiefs who operated at the local level of the Native Authority in Tanganyika.

Had many functions such as: –

  1. To keep census or record of people and livestock
  2. To report daily to the DC’S and receive orders.
  3. To implement other orders from the colonial government
  4. To maintain the feeder roads
  5. To collect poll and hut taxes (all forms of taxation)
  6. To ensure smooth operation of colonial activities.
  7. To ensure peace and security locally
  8. To sort out conflicts and settle them.


The British colonial government opted for indirect rule in running their colonies in Africa due to the following reasons:

Lack of enough personnel (Lack of enough British officecials).

British had so many colonies as a result they lacked man power to govern the colony. So this system of indirect rule was inevitable.

Language barrier.

The British faced the problem of language since the British officers were not familiar with the African local languages as a result local rulers were used to simplify and solve the problem of language.

To reduce African resistance (To neutralize contradiction with the Africans).

The British had decided to use this system so as to make African to feel that they were ruled and ordered by other fellow African, hence reduced resistance towards colonial government.

To reduce cost (It was cheap system of administration).

The indirect rule saved the costs of administration as it was simple to run on colony through traditional rulers.

Remoteness of some areas.

This also contributed to the introduction of indirect rule, African chiefs were used to go to those areas to fulfill the European demands.

Lack of enough capital to run the colonies.

British colonial government lacked capital to run the colonies especially after WWII when economy was badly sheltered on off acted, hence the use of African local rulers.


The British indirect rule brought both negative and positive effects as follows:

Indirect rule encouraged and promoted the idea of ethnics (tribalism) simply because the divide and rule method made each society to feel proud while undermining others.

Indirect rule enabled the British to benefit more than the colonized people (Africans).

African leaders were made British puppets simply because they implemented colonial orders, hence the traditional status changed. For example, catching and punishing those who failed to pay taxes or escape to provide labour force.

African rulers got an opportunity to administrative posts at low level.

Indirect rule contributed to the promotion of vernaculars e.g. Ganda.


Refers to an administrative policy employed during French Direct Rule system in order to assimilate (make the Africans look similar) the African into French culture regardless of their colour. It was a policy that made Africans feel as part and parcel of French rule. The policy also intended to make Africans think, believe, act and behave exactly like Frenchmen.

In other explanations, Assimilation policy refers to the policy of French administration that was aimed at making the Africans in all French colonies to look similar (resemble) to the French. In this way, the assimilated Africans would adopt French culture and civilization and therefore accept and obey colonial rule as they thought to be French people.

Assimilation was derived from the verb assimilate, which means to make someone look like or resemble like or look similar to. The policy was based on the belief that French culture was the best in the entire world. They therefore believed that it was their duty to impose their culture to societies whose civilization considered being inferior.

The Assimilation policy was firstly experimented in Indo-China and Algeria and came to be practiced in 1854 in the four communes of Senegal which includes. St. Louis Dakar, Gorier and Rufisque.

It was also applied in French colonies such as Ivory Coast, Equatorial Guinea, Morocco, Gabon, and Guinea Bissau to mention the few. As a matter of fact, the policy was adopted so as to perpetuate French colonization and therefore contribute to the realization of French interests in Africa.


In order for any African to be assimilated, there were different conditions/criteria that would enable him/her to be assimilated.

Some of them were as follows

Should be fluent in French language both spoken and written

Africans should practice monogamy

Military training was a must to those who wished to be assimilated

Anyone to be assimilated was supposed to be aged 18 years and not above 50 years.

At least should be with ten years of experience in government service

Should be ready to succumb to western culture in practice e.g. Christianity etc.


The French Assimilation policy covered different aspects in its operation. These areas/aspects were Administration, political, Economic and social Assimilation. In other words, the French wanted to assimilate their subjects in the four aspects of life as follows.

Administrative Assimilation.

Through this aspect, the French wanted their colonies to have administrative identity that was similar to their mother country (France). The colonies would establish their own municipalities elected on the same model as the French one. In short, what the French wanted was the administration in the colonies to look that one in France.

Political assimilation.

In this aspect the French wanted political identity between their colonies and that in France. This meant the Africans (the assimilated) had to enjoy the right French citizenship and also a right to vote and to be voted. Moreover, the French colonies through this aspect had the right to send representative to the French parliament in Paris, France (however, the number was small as compared to the French).

Economic assimilation.

Through this aspect the French wanted the economies of their colonies to look like that in France. This was done by integrating the economies of their colonies with those of France. This meant that economic activities like agriculture industries, mining, commerce and other economic, infrastructure were to resemble with those in France.

Social Assimilation.

In this aspect, the French wanted to assimilate the Africans into French culture. Africans were to abandon their culture and abide French culture. They wanted the Africans to speak French language like French people.

Also they wanted the African to be assimilated and follow French marriage system of monogamy and abandon their system of polygamy. They wanted also to assimilate Africans into French education system. Also Africans had to abandon their traditional belief and follow Christianity Religion.

In general, Africans were to be changed in their ways of life in such a way that they would look like French people.


The French employed a number of mechanisms that would help the process of assimilating Africans in their colonies. Some of these methodologies are as follows: –

French colonial education.

Through education, the Africans adopted French cultural tendencies like clothing (dressing) eating, personal hygiene to mention the few. French education also calculated a sense of French culture in the mind of Africans which helped the French to assimilate Africans.

French Christianity religion.

Through Christianity religion, the Africans abandoned their traditional beliefs and adopted new ways of worshiping that were also practiced by the French.

Through French health services.

The African were to attend health services established by the France in the colonies. In this way Africans abandoned traditional medicines and other ways of treating diseases and they adopted new modern health service of the French.

Trough importing French goods.

There were goods like clothes, food stuff and drinks, furniture and utensils etc. attracted Africans to buy them. In this way Africans who bought them became familiar to the French ways of living.

Through creating French economics.

The French created new economic elements like cash crop production, money economy, marked places, industries and transport infrastructures. By adopting these elements, Africans become assimilated as they practiced what the French were doing in daily life.

Through military training.

The French created military apparatus like police, army and paramilitary training where Africans were to attend training. What the French wanted was to make Africans adopt military skills and techniques of the French and behave military like the French.

Through French citizenship.

In the Africans who were assimilated, they were promised by the French to be granted French citizenship (to enjoy right of French citizenship). In this way, the Africans would be free to visit and live in France and feel like other French people.


There were a number of reasons as to why the French opted to apply Assimilation Policy in their administration in colonies. Some of those reasons are as follows.

Cultural superiority.

The French believed that their culture was superior and better than other cultural all over the world. They wanted to civilize other people all over the world by assimilating them into French culture. This made them to employ assimilation policy.

The French Revolution of 1789 – 1795.

The French Revolution had revolutionary ideas of equality, fraternity and liberty which were not to be applicable in France only but also in other parts of the universe. Therefore, the revolution influenced the French to use Assimilation policy to as to maintain the revolutionary ideas.

The idea of overseas provinces.

The French considered their colonies as overseas provinces. With this reason, the citizens in those provinces had to enjoy the same rights as French citizens. This made the use of Assimilation policy to be inevitable.

To undermine African resistances.

The policy was able used so as to undermine appositions from Africans. This was due to the fact that the assimilated would help the French to consolidate their colonial domination.

To create a submissive class.

The policy also aimed at preparing (creating) a class of people who could help the French in the fulfillment of their plans and objectives in Africa. The French sought to have people with a “Yes” in their mouth, so as to realize their motives in Africa.

To create a working class.

Through assimilation, the French wanted to get man power that could be used administration, business and other colonial sectors for the French interests. The policy would help Africans to have enough knowledge to be used in agriculture, business, miming and other established French colonial sector so as to maximize production.

Administrative simplicity.

The French wanted to apply the policy so as to allow the use of administrative system similar to the one applied in France. This would help them to use the same officials from France. They thought that the experience and efficiency of those officials in France would be applied also in Africa so as to realize their interests.

To help effective colonization.

The French applied this policy in their administration so as to colonize effectively the colonies in all spheres of economic, political, ideological and socially. By doing so, the French colonial interests would be easily realized.


In the 20 th c, in different French colonies, the Assimilation policy proved failure.

In practice, the policy encountered a number of problems that made the policy to become unhealthy.

Therefore, the French began to think an alternative policy that could viable and practicable in Africa so as to take vacuum left by Assimilation policy.

They abandoned Assimilation policy and they introduced Association Policy.


Refers to the policy employed by the French in their colonial administration so as to Associate (incorporate) or include Africans into their administration.

It was a policy that aimed at allowing Africans to operate at the lower level of the French colonial administration so as to serve the colonial interests.

The policy was introduced in French colonies in West Africa at different times in the 20 th c after the failure of Assimilation policy especially after the Second World War.


(Reasons for the use of Association policy)

The failure of Assimilation Policy and the use of Association policy by the French were influenced by a number of factors like:

Oppositions in France.

In France there was much opposition to Assimilation policy. They criticized the policy that it used of a lot of French resources for nothing. What these people argued was the French colonies to remain as colonies in Africa and finance themselves. This led to the failure of assimilation policy.

Conflicts in democratic assemblies.

France administrators were integrated to the democratic assemblies which contained Africans. The Africans posed challenging questions to the French policy and officials, a thing which the French could not tolerate hence failure of the Assimilation policy.

Assimilation was expensive.

This was because the assimilated Africans had to enjoy the same privileges of French citizens such as education, medical service, military training and housing etc. But the resources available to the French were not sufficient for the Africans and the French. Therefore, the policy created a burden to the taxpayers in France hence failure of Assimilation policy.

Failure of capitalist economy.

The policy threatened the capitalist economy in the French colonies. This was due to the fact that the assimilated Africans grouped themselves in the higher class to the extent that they could not participate effectively in production (capitalist economy). Also in the National Assembles the African representatives were likely to dominate over the French members in decision making hence failure of the policy.

Cultural disparities between France and colonies.

There were great differences between France and the overseas territories. There were several differences in many areas such as marriage system, where Africans practiced polygamy whiles the French monogamy. Also in France most people followed Christianity while in the African colonies people were mostly Muslims or practiced traditional religions hence failure of the policy.

Difference in legal institution.

There was difference in legal institutions between Africans and French were in Africa all people observed customary laws in matters of inheritance, land cases and marriages. But in France, people observed civil wars as stipulated in the legal framework hence failure of Assimilation policy.

Stiff opposition from West Africa.

The policy also faced stiff opposition from well – organized societies in West Africa. They wanted to defend their culture and Customs which were threaded by the French Assimilation policy failure of the policy.

Religious influence.

Assimilation policy was mostly being promoted in French government schools. Unfortunately, education sector was in the hands of the missionaries whose interest was to convert the Africans into Christianity. Therefore, this brought a lot of consequences, as most of Africans refrained from joining the schools for fear of being converted into Christianity hence failure of the policy.

The Portuguese in her colonies in African applied the policy of Assimilation, which was called “Assimilado” in the Portuguese language and had the same tenets like those of Assimilation policy.



Both were imperialist instruments of administration that aimed at exploiting the colonies to the maximum so as to meet the demands of monopoly capitalism i.e. cheap labour, markets, raw materials etc.

Both were supported by coercive instruments i.e. colonial police, army, prisons and courts so as to ensure peace and order in ruling the colonies.

Both direct and indirect rule based on racial segregation, hence encouraged European racial superiority over the Africans.

Both made use of African assistance in the process of promoting colonial exploitation e.g. British indirect rule used African local chiefs and the German direct rule made the use of liwalis, Akidas and Jumbes.

Both encouraged conflict and disunity among the African so as to rule them easily.

In both systems the Governors were heads of the colonies and worked according to the will of the imperialists.


Indirect rule was adopted mainly by the British in her non-settler colonies while the direct rule was mainly practiced by Germany, Belgium and Portugal.

Direct rule was more brutal in ruling colonies hence faced by many African resistances while indirect rule which used more democratic means hence avoided more African resistances as compared to direct rule.

Direct rule showed open and direct exploitation and oppression of Africans while indirect rule showed hidden exploitation and oppression through the use of African local chiefs.

Indirect paid some respect to the African rulers and their local or traditional institutions while direct rule did not.

Under direct rule colonial orders passed directly to the Africans so as to be implemented while under indirect rule colonial orders were conveyed indirectly to the Africans through local chiefs.


Both aimed at maintaining their colonial control so as to ensure their effective occupation.

Both were exploitative systems since they aimed at preparing a ground for establishment of colonial economy.

Both destroyed African culture since indirect rule and assimilation policy ignored African culture such as language, education and norms.

Both systems were oppressive since they based on forcing Africans to implement their laws and policies through coercive apparatus such as police, army, prison and court.

Both fractured to meet their demands because African did not accept colonialism hence fought against colonialist.

Both faced resistances from the Africans.


Indirect rule was applied by the British while assimilation was applied by the French.

Indirect rule used local chiefs in administration while assimilation policy did not prefer to use local chiefs.

Indirect rule was cheap economically since it used local chiefs/rulers in administration while assimilation policy was very expensive since it used a lot of resources to transform African into Frenchmen.

Indirect rule avoided resistance while assimilation policy met a lot of challenges from both Africans and the Frenchmen hence shift to association.

Indirect rule was easy to manage while assimilation policy was difficult to manage.

Indirect rule needed small man power while assimilation needed large man power to implement their policies.

Indirect rule did not aim at turning Africans while assimilation policy aimed at turning Africans.

Indirect rule considered African tradition while assimilation policy did not consider African culture.


Both colonial military and legal institutions were introduced in Africa purposely to enforce Africans to accept to follow different colonial administrative systems such as direct rule, indirect rule, assimilation policy and association policy.

Therefore, colonialist in order to ensure control of Africans effectively by following their new administrative system they introduced these colonial military and legal institutions such as police, prisons, army, court etc.


Colonial military refers to the coercive apparatus such as police, army, prison and courts introduced by the colonialist in order to maintain laws, order and security of colonial state.

Colonial militaries were introduced by the colonialists in order the colonial state to meet their interests. Therefore, colonial military which were introduced in African colonies were depended on the nature of the people found in that colony. For example, colonies which were militant and conservative against colonial militaries were also aggressive or harsh to the Africans.

Example of famous colonial military force which were introduced by the British to maintain colonial control in Central and East Africa including Kenya, Uganda and Malawi in 1902 – 1904 was known as King African Rifle (KAR). Soldiers who were recruited to join these military forces such as KAR and police force were taken from within the colony or outside the colony. For example, Nubians were the soldiers taken from outside the territory (colony) who were mainly preferable since they were very strictly in terms of treatment compared to the native policemen or soldiers.


To maintain colonial interests. Colonial military aimed at safeguarding the interests of the colonialist that is to control and exploit Africans smoothly.

To suppress African resistances. Colonial military aimed at punishing Africans who were militant and opposed colonial government.

To maintain peace and harmony. Colonial military ensures that people within the colony maintain peace and harmony by following laws and orders.

To maintain security of the colony. Colonial military force was established to protect the colony from internal and external invasion from other military forces.

Power to arrest criminals. Colonial military was responsible to arrest people who committed crimes or offences to the court.

To defend colonial boundaries. Colonial military forces such as KAR was responsible to defend colonial boundaries.

To collect information and supervision of colonial activities. Colonial military forces were responsible to collect intelligent information which threatens the public interests and supervising different activities such as tax collection.

To facilitate colonial economy exploitation.

Military forces enforced colonial control in Africa.


Colonial legal institutions refer to institutions which deals with legal matters within the colony. Colonial legal institutions consisted with legislative council (LEGCO), council of elders, prisons and courts.

The colonial legal institutions were dealing with:

  • Advising the society
  • Educating the society about legal matters.
  • Receive people’s legal claims.
  • Give legal aid.
  • Directing legal procedures to be taken on army cases.

The legal institutions were also established for the interests of the colonialists since they were influenced by colonial administration within the colony and metropolitan states.


Colonial legal institution was dominated by colonialist.

Colonial legal institutions based on interests of the colonialists.

Were coercive in nature i.e. very harsh, oppressive and punish Africans.

Colonial legal institutions varied from one colony to another foe example in Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) legal institution which was introduced in 1898 varied from other areas e.g. settler’s colonies laws were harsh to Africans.

Colonial legal institutions were mainly based on the influences of the colonial administrators within the colony and in metropolitan states.


To make laws, acts and ordinances. Since every colony had its demand of colonial matters, the legal institutions took the responsibility of making laws or ordinances enforcing Africans to undertake various matters and also responsibilities.

To handle claims on various issues. The legal colonial institution handle white claims and canal elders handle African claims.

To direct procedures to be taken in a certain case. Colonial legal institutions had to direct the legal procedures to be taken in handling certain cases in collaboration with courts and prisons.

To advise and educate people on various legal matters.

To amend laws, acts and ordinance. The colonial legal institutions had a duty to amend laws, acts and ordinances in order to affect and to felt the colonial administration influenced or as a result of social, political and economic change in the colony.


The two colonial systems determined the traditional defense and legal systems that prevailed during the pre-colonial period.

The Africans stopped caring for the public property such as government buildings, equipment and vehicles because they regarded them to be properties of colony.

All the Africans who were employed in the reference forced the colonial government were considered to be traitors their follow Africans, due to the business and brutality done by colonialist.

The Age of Imperialism

-Bases for trade & military ships
-Power & security of global empire
-Spirit of nationalism: each country determined to plant its flag on as much of the world as possible - more colonies = more power.

Zulu Expansion: Using highly disciplined warriors & good military organization, Shaku created a large centralized state. However, his successors were unable to keep the kingdom enact against the superior arms of the British invaders -> Zulu land became part of British-controlled land

Boers & British Settle in the Cape: Dutch first came to the Cape of Good Hope to establish a way station for their ships sailing between the Dutch East Indies and home, Dutch settlers known as Boers gradually took over native Africans' land and established large farms. When British took over the Cape Colony the two groups clashed over British policy regarding land and slaves. To escape the British, several thousand Boers began to move north - the "Great Trek" . Took lands of Zulus and other African groups -> fierce fighting

Colony: A country or a region governed internally by a foreign power.
Somaliland in East Africa was a French colony.

Protectorate: A country or territory with its own internal government but under the control of an outside power.
Britain established a protectorate over the Niger River delta.

Sphere of Influence: An area in which an outside power claims exclusive investment or trading privileges.
Liberia was under the sphere of influence of the U.S.

Indirect Control:
-Local government officials were used
-Limited self-rule
-Goal: to develop future leaders -> local population to govern itself
-Government institutions based on European styles but may have local rules
Examples: British colonies such as Nigeria, India, & Burma, and U.S. colonies on Pacific Islands

-French Revolution creates interest in area -> modernization
-Strategic location at the head of the Red Sea which appeared valuable to Britain & France

Dutch Expand Control
claimed Melaka, Java
discovery of oil & tin and desire for more rubber plantations -> gradually expanded their control, soon ruled the whole island chain of Indonesia - Dutch East Indies
Large dutch pop: created a rigid social class system where they were on top, & forced farmers to plant 20% of their land in specified export crops

British Take the Malayan Peninsula
British needed to compete with the dutch -> the opening of the Suez Canal and the increased demand for tin & rubber -> Singapore one of the world's busiest ports
also gained colonies in Malaysia, which had large deposits of tin & oil and became the world's leading rubber exporter, and Burma, which provided teak & exported oil
Needed workers to mine the tin & tap the rubber trees, encouraged Chinese to immigrate there -> Malays now a minority in their own country -> conflict between resident Chinese & native Malays

French Control Indochina
During the rule of an anti-Christian Vietnamese emperor, seven French missionaries were killed -> church leaders & capitalists who wanted a larger share of the overseas market demanded military intervention -> Napoleon III ordered the French army to invade southern Vietnam. Later added northern Vietnam, as well as Laos & Cambodia, to the territory - French Indochina
Tried to impose their culture on Indochinese using direct control management.
Rice shipped out of the region -> peasants' consumption of rice decreased -> anger over this set stage for Vietnamese resistance against France

Module Eighteen, Activity Two

In Activity One we learned about the geography, cultures, politics and natural resources of Central Africa, discovering that it is an area of great diversity.

Activity Two will focus on the historical evolution of Central Africa from the first occupation of the area more than 2000 years ago, through the development of centralized kingdoms, the colonial experience, to the period of independence. Like all regions in Africa, Central Africa has been in constant change, particularly over the past five centuries. Indeed, most of the region’s current characteristics were shaped since the fifteenth century and the current states of Central African states are the products of the colonial legacy. Colonialism impacted the region socially, economically, and politically.

Unlike other areas of Africa, no remains of early humans (hominid) have been found in Central Africa and the knowledge about the earliest inhabitants of the region is still limited. However, it is believed that the first inhabitants of the region were forest-dwellers who lived in the tropical forest of the present Congo, or sometimes in the savanna. Evidence suggests that the Ancient Egyptians knew about these first inhabitants many millennia ago (5,000 BCE).

The first forest dwellers were hunter-gatherers highly skilled in taking advantage of their forest habitat. They lived in small communities and used tools made of wood and stone and cooked their food over the fires. These early populations are the ancestors of the Mbuti, Twa or the Mbenda people who still live in the region and who are ‘insultingly referred to as ‘pygmies’ because of their uncommonly short height. They comprise only a very small percentage of the current population of Central Africa. [For more information on the theses peoples go to Module Nine, Activity Two]

Approximately 2,000 years ago a new group of people started moving into the region. The new migrants are commonly referred to as Bantu-speakers, because they spoke related languages that linguists have classified as belonging to the Bantu (or Niger-Congo) language family . Historians believe that these peoples originated from the region of the present day Cameroon and Nigeria. They (the Bantu) traveled toward the south, into eastern or southern Africa, in successive waves of migration. By the year second century CE Bantu speaking peoples had reached the present Democratic of Republic of Congo and other parts of the region. The new immigrants, who came with metal working and agricultural skills were able, during the next millennium displaced the majority the existing hunter-gatherer communities, or absorbed them into their communities. Consequently, the vast majority of the current population of Central Africa are Bantu-peaking people descendant from the earlier Bantu-settlers. [For more information on African language groups go to Module Eight Activity Two for more information on the Bantu Migrations go to Module Six, Activity Five

The Bantu settlers introduced pastoralism and cattle breeding in the region along crop cultivation. They were farmers who also developed other technologies like the art of making tools out of iron and other metals and pottery.

Agricultural & Metallurgy

The new immigrants were agriculturalist, having developed the skills necessary for the domestication of animals and the cultivation of plants—grains, tubers, vegetables, and fruits. In addition they brought with them the skills of metallurgy—the mining of minerals such as iron and copper, and the manufacture of metal tools and weapons. As we learned is some detail in Unit Two, particularly Module Nine (Activity Two) and Ten (Activities Two and Three), the capacity to raise food and to make tools out of metal greatly increased agricultural productivity and the availability of food.

Increased quantities and reliability of food supplies brought about by agriculture and metallurgy allowed for the development of more permanent communities as the necessity to constantly move or migrate in search of food was reduced. Stable communities with growing populations necessitated, in turn, the development of more centralized systems of rules and governance that resulted in the rise of chieftainships and, eventually, significant kingdoms. These historical processes in Central Africa are similar to those that occurred in other regions of Africa, although the dominant environmental factor in Central Africa–tropical rainforest—resulted in economic, political and cultural processes that were unique to Central Africa.

The Iron Age, the period when people started using tools made of iron, is coincidental of agricultural development in Central Africa. The Iron Age in Central Africa is divided into two main periods: The early stage of the Iron Age (1 st century CE to 10 th century CE ) and the later Iron Age ( 11 th -18 th century).

The main characteristics of the early period in Iron Age were among others the domination of the iron-work, sedentary and semi permanent life development of pottery work and the use of fire by the Bantu-speaking communities.

The later Iron Age saw the development and advancement of the early age carried over with an improvement in skill and technology. This Age was characterized by a more specialized agricultural economy, high population growth, better fed people, with an increase in immigration and a careful use of the land.

The development of copper had an important impact on the region. Many peoples looked for products among their resources that could be traded for other precious metal and exotic goods in addition to copper.

Salt, textiles and dried fish were the main products of trade in the region. The salt industry in central Africa developed from the necessity of salt in life. The salt lagoons of the west coast became particularly important, and salt tracks ran into the interior to agricultural communities without salt of their own. The importance of salt to human existence and its absence in the interior of the region resulted in a long distant salt trade the control of which contributed to the development of political power and the formation of centralized states in the region.

The textile industry, just like the salt industry, led to long distance trade because specialized cloths were made for export to neighboring regions. This trade was controlled by politically powerful individuals who dominated the markets and supplied protection to the long-distant traders who carried the bales of cloth. For the most part textiles were manufactured from fibers obtained from raffia palm.

Cloth was the most durable possession in almost every household and as such it was preferred for social payments. The bride’s wealth for example was paid in cloth and the control of weaving was in the hand of old men since they no longer have the strength to go hunting. In controlling the cloth industry, old men also controlled marriage and could get married to several young women, insuring that their family line would be dominant in the next generation. Marriage was an important link between communities and men were not expected to marry into their own clan. It was therefore necessary to maintain contact with neighbors.

Dried fish was also a source of wealth in central Africa. Not only did the control and management of fish ponds contribute to the increase of the political power but it also contributed to the power and wealth of the ancestors of the Luba, whom for example, were able to control all aspects of the fishing industry. You may wonder why ‘fish’? Out of all food products in central Africa, dried fish was a strong source of protein that was not perishable. It could last months and was easily transportable from one area to another without going bad, fetching a high price. The fishing technique and technology have been modernized in the twentieth century, making this activity one of the major economic activities of the area.

1. How many phases does the agricultural revolution in central Africa have? Briefly explain the main characteristics of two of these phases

2. What characterized the later Iron Age in Central Africa?

3. Identify two important items in the growth of trade in Pre-colonial Central Africa and briefly explain how they contributed to this growth.

A. Kingdoms of Central Africa

Historical records show that there was no centralized power uniting all the population of Central Africa before the arrival of Europeans in the early 16 th century. However, there were some exceptional cases of well developed political societies (like the Kongo, the Bakuba and the Luba-Lunda kingdoms) governed by kings and councils who demonstrated exemplary governance. This section will study three of the main pre-colonial kingdoms of central Africa before the European came: the Kongo, the Bakuba and the Luba-Lunda kingdoms.

Kingdoms of Central Africa

The Kongo Kingdom was founded in the thirteenth century. It developed into the most centralized of all the pre-colonial kingdoms in Central Africa. As shown on the map the Kongo Kingdom was located on the western coast of Central Africa and covered an area between the current countries of Angola in the South, the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo to as far North as southern Gabon.

Central Africa, unlike other parts of the continent, had very little contact with the Muslim, Berber, and Arab traders from North Africa or the coastal regions of east Africa before the 19 th century. As a consequence, the Bantu-speaking peoples who migrated to the area were not influenced by Islam as were Bantu-speaking migrants who had migrated into East Africa during the same era. This relative isolation from the outside world ended in the fifteenth century, specifically in 1483, when the Portuguese landed on the western shores of the Kongo kingdom. Life for the Kongo people and their rulers was never to be the same again.

Manikongo Afonso I of Kongo

King Afonso was an important figure in the history of the Kongo kingdom. It was during his rule that the kingdom had first contact with Europeans.

As you will recall from the discussion in Module Seven B in the late 15 th century CE, the Portuguese began a quest to sail around Africa with the goal of making it to India, (south and south-east Asia) the source of the spice trade that was so important at the time in Europe. As Portuguese expeditions gradually circumvented the coast of Africa, they came into contact with various societies along the west coast of Africa. The most important and long lasting of the contacts that the Portuguese made in West Africa was with the Kongo Kingdom

It all started with an incident that happened when Diego Cao, a Portuguese naval officer, decided to explore the interior of the Congo River in 1482. He wanted to navigate further up on the river and commissioned four of his companions go to the Kongo to visit the king. However, his companions were captured by the ManiKongo (title of the king), who was at the time, Afonso’s father, Nzinga Kuwu. The Manikongo had captured these men because he wanted to learn more from them about the Portuguese Kingdom.

On his trip back down the river Diego could not find his companions anywhere. He concluded that they had been captured by the Kongolese. In retaliation he forcibly captured four of the Kongolese young men and took them back with him to Portugal. There, they were educated in church schools, became fluent in the Portuguese language, and converted to Christianity. These four Kongolese young men can be regarded as the first ambassadors of the Kongo to Portugal. When they returned to their kingdom after nearly a decade in Portugal, they brought gifts from the King of Portugal to the Manikongo, who in return, as a gesture of goodwill, released the four Portuguese captives.

How did Afonso come to power?

Afonso was appointed governor in the northern province of Nsundi after a disagreement with his father Nzinga Kuwu. He remained in Nsundi for about ten years before deciding to return, following the death of his father, to Mbanza Kongo, the capital of the kingdom, in 1506.

Kongo was highly politically centralized compared to neighboring Central African societies. This level of organization was best exemplified in the elections of new kings. After the death of Joao I (Afonso’s father) a council of eight men and four women were selected to elect the new monarch from among the children of the dead king. Afonso was expecting to be appointed king but to his disappointment, his brother was appointed king by the council. Their choice put a hold on his secret goal to use the power of the position to spread the Catholic faith if he was chosen as king. This decision did not stop his determination to become King. Leading a group of 37 Christians in July 1506 he attacked the forces of the Manikongo (his brother). Afonso was victorious, killed his brother and renamed the capital city Sao Salvador (the Savior) because he believed God helped him overthrow his brother.

There are three key aspects of Afonso reign that are worth mentioning: his international relations, his determination to develop his kingdom, and his fight against the slave trade.

One of the first decisions taken by Afonso when he took power was to appoint his cousin Don Pedro de Souza as ambassador to Rome. His goal was to spread Catholicism in his kingdom, and as part of his strategy to realize this goal, he sent young, 12 year old boys (including his own son Henrique) to study in different monasteries in Italy. Henrique became a bishop in 1518 and officiated in Rome for two years before returning to Kongo where he was appointed by his father to lead the local church.

Afonso’s ambition was also to develop his kingdom. For that purpose he asked King Manuel I of Portugal to send him missionaries, masons, carpenters, physicians, and architects to train and work with local artisans. However, only a few missionaries and technicians were sent by the king of Portugal. Among those who were sent were former convicts who had little interest in working on educational and development projects. Indeed, a few months after their arrival, these new missionaries and technicians became involved in initiating the capturing and trading of slaves. Many Kongo were seized and then shipped to Brazil (Portugal colony in South America) where they were sold into a life time of slavery. Upset by the devastation caused by the raiding for slaves Afonso asked the Portuguese King Manuel I for legal and military assistance but the latter sent only a book of laws and an ambassador as a military adviser a corrupt adviser who asked for payment for his services.

Although slavery existed among the Kongo, its practice was different from the new style of slavery brought by the Portuguese. Traditionally, slaves held in Kongolese society, once acquired, were not sold again and often were integrated into the families that ‘owned’ them, and they had defined rights. The Portuguese slave raiding and trading in comparison, was brutal and harsh. In their search for slaves many people were killed and villages were decimated. Moreover, individuals captured as slaves were shipped off to South America where they were permanently separated from their families.

Afonso I appointed a committee that was charged with stopping the kidnapping and selling of slaves. Unfortunately, the first attempts in stopping kidnapping were not successful as some of the Portuguese moved into the interior of the kingdom and continued their hunt for captives. His failure to control the activities of the Portuguese slavers was facilitated in part by silence of the Pope (whose help Afonso I solicited twice). Moreover, the slave trade weakened Afonso’s authority and negatively impacted his credibility with some of the nobles who governed districts within the kingdom who lost faith in his power and ability to rule, increasingly ignoring his edicts.

The Portuguese were also very interested in minerals and sent prospectors in to the interior of the kingdom searching for minerals and precious stones that the believed to be in abundant supply in the Kongo. Fearful of further Portuguese encroachment, Afonso attempted to prohibit prospecting in the kingdom. Afonso’s decision not to cooperate in this endeavor did not sit well with the Portuguese. In retaliation King Joao III of Portugal rejected the Manikongo request for sea-going vessels and shipbuilders that needed to establish their own trade with Europe.

The relationship between the Kongo and Portugal continued to deteriorate to the point that the Portuguese tried, unsuccessfully, to assassinate Afsonso, in 1540. In retaliation he ordered the killing of a number of Portuguese traders and clergy. Three years later, Afonso died after a thirty seven years of reign marked by somewhat mixed results: his son, Bishop Henrique could not build a native clergy and his hopes for a development of the Kongo were undermined by the Portuguese greed and the slave trade. Afonso I in the end could not protect his people. Afonso was succeeded by a number of Manikongos who, as the consequence of the increased slave trade, became weaker and weaker. By the end of the 16 th century, the Kingdom of the Kongo was a mere shadow of its greatness a century before.

The relationship between the Portugal and Konga started out with great promise, but was compromised by Portugal’s greed, particularly their desire for slaves to work in the mines and sugar plantations in Brazil. Write a short essay in which you speculate how the Kongo kingdom may have developed had the Portuguese collaborated with Afonso to fulfill his vision for the Kongo and had not engaged in the slave trade.

Unlike the Kongo kingdom that was located on the coastal area of the continent, the Bakuba kingdom was in the interior of what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo. Founded in the 17 th century CE, the Bakuba kingdom was able to prosper in large part due to its innovative and peaceful leader Shamba Bolongongo. In many respects this kingdom exemplifies what Africa could have been without outside influences.

Who was Shamba Bolongongo?

Shamba Bolongongo was a ‘self-made man.’ Because he was born to a slave woman, he lacked status in his own community few of his peers would have believed that one day he would become a powerful political leader. However he was intelligent, curious, and energetic. Shamba found his village too limited and small and expressed the need to see more of the world. Consequently, along with three other former slaves, he embarked on a series of adventures in a quest for knowledge and new places. Traveling through what is now the central region of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Shamba questioned people, observed and experimented with different things. He was able to interact with farmers, craftsmen, herders and musicians. Satisfied with the amount of knowledge he amassed from these places, he left for new adventures with his companions.

In 1620, he made it to the land of the Bakuba. This land was a federation of approximately twenty groups of closely related people who shared the same Bantu language. The federation was dominated by the Bushong, the most powerful among them. Shamba decided to establish himself and was determined to become the next ‘Nyim’ (Bakuba for King). Against great odds he managed to convince the Bakuba to make him king. The major obstacle he faced was fulfilling the Bakuba obligation to have a member of the royal family spit on him. Shamba was aware that no royal family would agree to do this for him. He therefore hid himself under a pile of rubbish near the royal palace and waited until a member of the royal family passed by. His plan worked, when unknowingly a member of the royal family spit on the trash pile where he was hiding. This act led him to the throne.

As the Nyim he proved to be a peaceful and innovative ruler and helpful to farmers. Shamba introduced products like maize, cassava and tobacco that were imported from the Americas to his farmers. Cassava became one of the most important foods for the Bakuba, with its root that can be pounded into flour. Maize presented the advantage of being able to be stored and preserved, making it useful during droughts. Sorghum and millet, which were already grown in other parts of the continent for centuries, were also introduced. The increased availability of food resulted in population growth and the expansion of the Bakuba kingdom.

Good governance was one of Shamba’s major concerns he divided Bakuba into provinces, and appointed councilors and ministers for each province. He appointed a prime minister and a great council for the capital of the kingdom. Shamba implemented a participative governing system in which every citizen felt respected and important in the governing of the society. He also encouraged and promoted the production of music and art in the kingdom.

Shamba had many wives but could not have children. This meant that he had no direct heir to take over as Nyim when he died. It was a testimonial to his political skill and commitment to good governance that there was no succession crisis after his death. Indeed, based on the traditions of governance created by Shamba the Bakuba kingdom remained influential long into the 18 th century, long after his death.

The Lunda kingdom is the third example of a pre-colonial kingdom in Central Africa. It is actually a kingdom built on the demise of the Luba state. (See map)

The Luba state originated around the 11 th century CE when the Sonye, a group of Bantu speakers from the savanna lands of Katanga settled on the Lubilasha River (among the Kalundwe communities near Lake Kisale). Oral tradition indicates that there they found the Kalundwe, a people without centralized strong leadership even though they had a tradition of a queen who weakly governed the people. The Sonye, who had a tradition of strong chiefs, were able to manipulate the local political system when one of their own married the Kalundwe queen. With the support of other Sonye, he used his position as ‘queen husband,’ (the Kongolo) to introduce changes in the political system that resulted in greater centralization under the control of the Sonye. He became influential in every aspect of the administration of the Kalundwe communities including the social, political, military and the religious life of the community. The newly integrated and expanded society became known the Luba Kingdom with a new capital at ‘Mwibele’ near Lake Boya. The Luba flourished under the authority of the Kongolo who delegated many of his responsibilities to his subordinate officials.

According to their traditions, the Kongolo lost power the same way they gained it. Around the middle of fifteenth century a Bantu group called Kunda from the north settled east of the Kisale Lake. Chief Mbili, the Kunda leader visited Kamwana, the then current Luba Kongolo. The King gave Mbili such a warm welcome and offered him two of his sisters to marry. One of the sisters gave birth to a boy that was named Kala Ilunga. Ilunga who grew up in his uncle’s (the Kongolo) palace, became a power hungry warrior who claimed the Luba leadership by matrilineal descent. This action drew his uncle’s wrath, who then tried to kill him. He escaped to his father’s community (Kunda), where he gained support, and then he came back to fight and defeat his uncle. He managed to kill his uncle and declared himself king. Kala Ilungi started a new dynasty that would rule Luba until the nineteenth century

The Kunda dynasty followed the end of the Luba kingdom. It expanded so much that it became the Mwata Yamvo kingdom, an empire that developed from the enlarged Lunda kingdom.

Kala Ilunga had an overwhelming influence on the kingdom. He introduced a centralized authoritative and autocratic system of governance with a hierarchical structure and the abandonment of the hereditary system. This proved to be effective disputes over succession became almost non-existent. The king (Mulopwe) was on top of the hierarchy followed by the vice-king (Nsikala), the ministers (Mwite) and the sub-chief (Malopwe). The king was very powerful and engaged in expansionist conquests. His administrative system and power could not, however, please everybody at the same time.

Kibinda Ilunga, a prince and dissenter broke away from the Kunda dynasty under the authority of Ilunga Walefu around the sixteenth century and established his own independent state on the banks of the Kasai River among the Lunda people. The Lunda were mostly farmers, iron smelters and fishermen who did not have any centralized authority like the Luba people.

Ilunga and his military were warmly welcomed by the Lunda. Genealogically, the foundation of the Lunda Kingdom can be traced back to Lusenji who was Kibinda Ilunga’s son born from a second marriage. Kibinda Ilunga first married Lueji who could not give birth so he married Kamonga who gave him a son in the name of Lusenji. Lusenji became a leader through his mother lineage.

Around 1600, Maweji succeeded his brother Lusenji. His reign was likely the most impactful in terms of changes and territorial expansion. Maweji laid foundations for what became known as the ‘Mwata Yamvo’ Empire. He changed the title of the King to Mwata Yamvo (‘Lord of the Viper’ or ‘Master of Wealth’) and through conquest and -possibly- peaceful persuasion was able to expand his kingdom to the point where it became known as the Mwata Yamvo Empire.

This empire had a well-defined political organization that equaled or resembled the Luba’s centralized system with few nuances. Mussumba became the capital city of the kingdom and the king had only a small army that was mainly devoted to protecting subordinate chiefs and helping them to collect taxes. Taxes were collected in the form of goods like ivory, copper, slaves, salt and labor that were traded with the Portuguese and the Swahilis. The kingdom remained intact up until the arrival of the Belgian and British colonial powers at the end of the 19 th century.

Diagram Of the hierarchical organization of Mwata Yamvo (Luba-Lunda)

The histories of these pre-colonial kingdoms in central Africa clearly demonstrate the region had strong and dynamic centralized states with sophisticated political systems that were supported by diversifying economies supported by long distant trade, well before the arrival of intrusive European trade and colonial conquest in the late 19 th century.

  • Why did it matter? Explain
  • What differences would it have made if they were regular people?

1. You have read in the text that Shamba Bolongongo was ‘smart.’ What in his story demonstrates that he was a smart man?

2. The story of Shamba is that of a leader. Do you know of any great leaders? What do you think make her/him a great leader? Having read Shamba’s story, identify the qualities and virtues that make a great leader. Compare and exchange your responses with another group. What was the most common characteristic(s) cited by either of you? Do you think Shamba was a great leader?

C. The Luba Lunda

1. What does ‘Mwata Yamvo’ mean?

2. In this section you have read that the ‘Mwata Yamvo’ empire had a ‘well defined political organization.’ Do you agree with this statement? Justify your answer.

The Colonialization of Central Africa

The story of colonization in Central Africa has much in common with the colonization of other regions in sub-Saharan Africa. However, with the exception of the colonization of the interior of southern Africa by Cecil Rhodes and his British South African Company, in no other region was colonization so closely identified with specific personalities. Three important late 19 th century European men played a central role in the colonization of central Africa: King Leopold of Belgium, the German chancellor (prime minister) Otto von Bismarck, and the French colonialist, Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza.

King Leopold Otto von Bismarck

Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza

These three historical personalities were crucial to the colonial venture of their respective countries (Belgium, France and Germany) in the region. [For an overview of the Scramble for Africa visit Module Seven B Activities Two and Three. Module Nine Activity Four addresses the economic aspects of colonial penetration, and Module 10 Activity Three deals with political systems and processes that supported colonial rule in Africa]

From 1886 (the conclusion of the Berlin Conference) to 1908, the Congo Free State (as the colony was known) was ruled as the private domain of King Leopold II of Belgium. Using the guidelines for colonization established by the Berlin Conference, Leopold employed personal aides and representatives who used deceit, thuggery, and violence to gain control of the Congo as his own personal fiefdom. As a consequence, in the eyes of Europe, all of the natural resources (including land) belonged to Leopold and all of the peoples of the Congo were his personal subjects. Leopold, through his representatives, put in place a barbaric system similar to that of the plantation in the Americas, where human beings were degraded, brutalized and denied any human rights.

To finance this enterprise, the King leased nation-size lands to private companies. These companies had the license to make a profit, but in return had to pay taxes and tribute to the king. Companies like the Anglo-Belgian India Rubber Company, and the Antwerp Company took over the exploitation of rubber in the tropical rain forests. These companies forced local inhabitants to collect wild rubber without compensation for their labor. Able-bodied men were given a quota of rubber that they were expected to collect and turn into the companies. Failure meet the quota had dire consequences—one of the hand’s of the ‘defaulter’ was cut off (see photo below).

For an detailed and accurate account of the atrocities committed in the Congo Free State check out from your local library (perhaps your school library has a copy) a copy of King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa, by Adam Hochschild.

Congolese showing chopped off hands

One of the rivals of the Belgian King in having colonies was Otto von Bismarck, the German Chancellor. Most of the colonies claimed by Germany were outside the central African region. But the Germans were able to control the old kingdoms of Rwanda and Burundi to the east of the Congo river basin and the Cameroon in the far western part of Central Africa. Bismarck viewed these Germany colonies as important to Germany prestige in Europe and as way to block the expansion of Belgium and France in the region. However, the German colonial endeavor in all of Africa was relatively short. As a consequence of its defeat in World War One Germany lost control of all of its colonies in Africa, including Rwanda, Burundi, and the Cameroon.

In addition to Germany and Belgium, France was another important power in the region. Unlike the short-lived German presence in central Africa, the French presence was more lasting and led to the creation of a large colonial empire comparable to its West African territories which they called French Equatorial Africa. The French colonial presence in Central Africa was the result of the work of a French explorer (who later on will become a governor) Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza. The French presence in the region started with Libreville (Gabon), where they established a refuge for freed slaves—hence the name Libreville—similar to the British haven for freed slaves in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

Brazza’s grand plan was to join the coastal enclave with the middle stretch of the Congo River. Brazza also aimed at claiming territories for France as far east as the upper Nile river valley in current Uganda and Sudan. This made the French the rival of both King Leopold of Belgium and also of the British. The French lost the contest to control the Nile but were compensated with the Ubangi-Shari land located in the Northern Central Africa, which later became the Central Africa Republic. French Equatorial Africa had its administrative capital in Brazzaville that was located directly across the Congo River from Leopoldville (now Kinshasa) the administrative capital of the Congo Free State—renamed the Belgium Congo after 1908.

Colonial Map of Central Africa, 1914


Colonial rule in context

There are three major points to focus on in order to understand the colonial past of Central Africa: the natural resources of the area, Africans’ perception and occupation of the land, and the European definitions of their empire.

One of the implications of colonialism was the creation of new boundaries. In some cases these new boundaries resulted in a reduction of tension between pre-colonial African kingdoms and societies. In other cases, political tensions were created where political groups or language communities were divided by arbitrary colonial boundaries. And, in some situations, economic decline and increased poverty resulted where existing trade routes were restricted or blocked by new colonial borders.

A critical part of the colonial enterprise and for colonial administrators was the low population density of the region. This low density can be explained by the misfortunes that characterizes the population of the region due to the consequences of the slave trade, endemic tropical diseases, and horrific colonial practices such as those initiated by King Leopold in the Congo Free State. Another contributing factor was the relatively poor selection of edible food in the forest areas that made it difficult to support a high density of population.

Overall the success of the colonial enterprise in Central Africa rested on the ability of the colonial administrators to cope with realities of a large geographical area with a small and dispersed population, as it attempted to realize the colonial agenda of exploiting the vast natural resources of the region for the on-going enrichment of the European colonial powers.

Colonial economy by the second world war

Several economic policies were initiated and implemented in Central Africa under colonialism. The region did not produce in the pre-colonial era any commodity of important value to European powers. Consequently most investments were in infrastructure but gains from these investments were very disappointing despite the fact that territories such as the Belgian Congo were naturally rich in copper, cobalt and uranium. The population size unfortunately did not help create the conditions for a stable, prosperous economy. European powers therefore adopted changing policies which at times included the management of the colonies by private companies and the encouragement of export. Changes in the colonial administration policy exacerbated the consequences of the world-wide economic depression of the 1930s, forcing France, for example to incorporate French Equatorial Africa (Afrique Equatoriale Francaise-AEF) into ‘the economy of the metropole.’

With this new vision of the colonies, Europeans’ policy in Central Africa changed. The colonists moved from the coastal area and became more active in the inland export markets, that required innovation and expansion of the transport system. They also introduced new exports products. This new development policy was somehow unbalanced. Some areas like Gabon that has lumber, timber and rubber, and the ‘fertile crescent’ of Cameroon benefited more than other areas that remained poor and in some cases suffered a major decline in welfare. This was one area where the European strategy and the realities of equatorial African often confronted each other.

After the failure of private companies to generate a viable economy in the colonies, the colonial government became more active in promoting the development of an adequate regional and local transportation system. The least expensive way to do this was to build infrastructures on the navigable rivers that dominate the region. However, the task of creating roads and river transportation systems was difficult and costly.

Navigation on the rivers was hindered by ‘rapids and seasonal shallows.’ Similarly, the construction and use of roads was hampered by heavy rains. The shortage of African labor and the absence of ‘pack and draught’ animals due to tsetse flies (which caused sleeping sickness among domesticated animals) further frustrated attempts to construct a viable transportation infrastructure. For imperial strategies, road construction was always second to that of railways. Railways were not built for the growth of internal market but for connecting the export regions of the hinterland with the oceanic ports.

An example of colonial development of transportation system: Here is the first locomotive in Leopoldville 1898. (Democratic Republic of Congo)


The politics of development under colonization commonly held that investment in roads and transport would result in the substantial increase in the production of commodities (agricultural and mineral) for the world market. In Afrique Equatoriale Francaise (AEF), however, the spontaneous response expected from the market did not automatically follow the development of transport infrastructure because moving goods in AEF continued to be a problem. Additionally, in contrast to West Africa, AEF had a persistent weak indigenous market, which according to the French, derived from the lack of enterprising spirit among Africans.

Colonial critic Andre Gide asserted that “it is understood that the native never knows the real value of anything. In this whole region there is no market, no supply or demand not a single native owns anything but his wives, his herds, and perhaps some bracelets or spearpoints. No object, no clothing, no cloth, no piece of furniture-and even if he had money, there is nothing for sale which could tempt him.” (Quoted by David Birmingham & Phyllis Martin ‘History of Central Africa’ Vol. 2, N.Y, 1983.p.57)

According to colonial officials, the nature of the local market (dominated by subsistence farmers) hindered the development of an open economy in equatorial Africa. Many western companies that were already operating in West Africa were not able to make it or prosper in Central Africa. Even those who were able to make it could not achieve the kind of profit they were making on other products in West Africa. In spite of these difficulties, by the 1930s there were pockets of colonial economic activity in Central Africa. Examples of an enclave economy were the copper mines of Katanga (Belgium Congo), the timber industry that developed at this time in Gabon, and the cocoa industry that developed in western Cameroon.

Production for export in central Africa followed different phases. First, the colonial policy gave priority to the white settlers and the concessionary society. And then gradually Africans were included in the circles of planters between 1920-1930 through a policy of encouragement of independent African planters. It was a process started by the Germans in their colony of Cameroon. But despite the inclusion of Africans among the planters, they were allowed to grow only selected crops. Just like the Germans, the French also allowed African planters in their colonies after the 1930s especially when forced labor was abolished in 1946.

Before the 1930s, the planting enterprises were concentrated more on large-scale operations. By the middle of the decade they had to shift to smaller-scale operations, due among other reasons, to the consequences of the depression and migration.

Cotton production in the savanna regions of Central Africa slowly developed in the 1930s in response to demand in Europe. However, peasant farmers were not really given incentive to cultivate cotton, rather they were mostly coerced into its cultivation. This explains why the Africans resisted cultivating cotton. Their common attitude was that its production was for the white man (colonizer, concessionary). This feeling was reflected in the slogan adopted by the first Chadian political party: ‘No more cotton, no more chief, no more taxes.’ [Compare to the history of cotton production in Mali—Module Nine, Activity Seven]


The central economic goal of the colonial powers to lower the direct cost of the colonial endeavor was challenged by the realities of the real cost of colonization in Central Africa and the scarcity of revenue generating potential in much of the region. The colonies in Central Africa were different from the colonies in other parts of the continent. With the notable exception of the Belgium Congo and the Cameroon, the region lacked the agricultural and mineral resources that were the basis of colonial economies in other regions of Africa. Moreover, the geographical realities of the region, particularly the presence of the tropical rain forest, required substantial inflows of money (capital) to develop the transportation infrastructure necessary for the exploitation and export of the region’s raw materials—agricultural and mineral. Consequently, unlike other regions of Africa, from early on colonial powers were forced to subsidize the colonial endeavor in some colonies in Central Africa. They did this primarily through loans to their colonies (which they expected to be repaid). These loans were directed to meet the costs of developing transportation infrastructure, police and military, and limited social services (which were almost non-existent in most of the region). However, the French colonial enterprise in the region (AEF) was never able to achieve solvency. Most of the AEF colonies were not able to pay their debt to France.

In order to generate revenues, the colonial regimes, as in other regions of Africa, initiated a system of taxes on the subject population. The most common tax was the so-called head tax that was levied on each adult male in the colonies. This tax is a classic example of ‘taxation without representation’ since the colonial subjects had no voice in colonial system. In addition to generating some revenue for the colonial state taxes were used to generate labor for colonial projects and the production of export crops. In order to pay their taxes in the currency of the European colonial power, as was required, African colonial subjects had two choices: they could sell their labor for wages in mines or on infrastructure development projects (such as railroads), or they could generate cash through the production and sale of export crops such as cotton.

The burden of taxes differed from one colony to another, mostly from one colonial power to another. The Germans in Cameroon levied taxes on the male adult only at a bearable cost compared to the French who levied much higher taxes. The sparseness of the population and the difficulties in expanding exports products made these taxes even harder to collect. But the colonial administration made the effort to collect those taxes from men and after 1909 from women. Moreover, the tax burden in Central Africa was higher than in the more prosperous areas of West and East Africa. Sadly, the only benefit that the African population received from these taxes was the development of a very minimal social service infrastructure, mainly in the form of community schools and clinics which serviced only a tiny minority of the population.


As elsewhere in Africa the question of colonial investment in social welfare was controversial. Mission societies and some colonial officials asserted that the colonial states had an ethical obligation to provide schools, clinics, and adequate sanitation for its colonial subjects. However, most colonial interest groups—mining and trading companies, commercial farmers and the majority of colonial officials did not view social welfare provisioning as state obligations. This perspective was strengthened by the political and economic realities of Central Africa. The colonial states did not have the revenues available to adequately address the varying social welfare needs and they were unable to borrow funds for this purpose. Moreover, given the un-democratic nature of colonialism—the African colonial subjects were given not voice in the political arena—there was no real political incentive to address these needs.

As will be detailed in the next learning activity, when colonial officials did invest money in developing a skeletal public health care system it was based more on its own economic self-interest than it was on an altruistic response to an ethical obligation. In that case, the sleeping sickness epidemic significantly reduced the availability of labor for colonial projects.

An Example of a Health Center in Central Africa. This picture show the health center of Mitzic in 1962 (Gabon) (Copyright:

The colonial educational policy everywhere in Africa centered on the debate of whether formal education (that is schooling) should be extended to Africans or not. It seems undeniable that education is important to the development of any nation. But this belief was not shared by all of the colonial actors. While mission societies were generally strong advocates for schooling (they believed that literacy was essential to the spread of Christianity) some colonial actors thought that education for Africans was a dangerous drug that should be dispensed in minute quantities to avoid untoward consequences. This group was convinced that education would result in an African population that would no longer be docile subjects of colonial rule, but who would resist the many negative aspects of colonialism. However, regardless of perspective on the desirability of educational access the economic realities of the colonial system greatly restricted public funding to education. Yet, differences in perceptions lead to differences in colonial policies across the region, ranging from limited access to education to an almost complete denial of education for Africans.

The limited educational systems that were allowed to develop in the colonies were modeled on that of the metropole (colonial power) and the content of schooling was heavily Europeanized (based on European education models). Consequently, school curricula in the colonies were oriented towards Europe and seldom focused on Africa students fortunate enough to attend school learned about the history, geography, and environment of Europe but not of Africa. Students who completed primary or secondary school had the skills to assist the colonial state or mission societies, but were not equipped to address the economic and social problems confronting their own communities.


The French, who controlled most of Central Africa, and Belgium investment in the region in the 1930s was low and their political involvement was reduced to maintaining minimal colonial regimes. This approach was called minimalist colonialism. The minimalist approach to colonialism changed as a result of the increased strategic importance of the colonies as a consequence of the end of the world depression and the outbreak of World War II. As a result of the region’s increased importance the actual practice of colonialism in Central Africa came under increased critical scrutiny that led to calls for political reforms advocating expanding the capacity of the colonial state and its ability to address the economic needs of the metropole which were in great need of financial stimulus after the depression and World War II. However, the suggested reforms did not address the political aspirations and the social welfare needs of its African citizenry. Indeed, the increased capacity of the colonial state facilitated its ability to intrude and make demands on their colonial subjects. Increased state intrusion, in turn stimulated the first expression of anti-colonialism among the people which eventually result in full-fledge nationalist movements in the 1950s.


Many changes occurred in Central Africa after the Second World War. One of the changes brought to the colonies came with the 1946 constitution for French Equatorial Africa. Under its provision, Africans lost their subordinate status as subjects the indigenat and the corvee were abolished [See Glossary at the end of this activity for the definition of these terms]. The gradual and incremental expansion of Africans participation in the colonial administration was outlined in the constitution. Africans were granted, in stages, the right to elect representatives to territorial assemblies and to the National Assembly in Paris. But this participation was very limited and did not lead to political autonomy. African leadership under the colonial regime was subordinated to the goodwill of the colonizer.

The political progress achieved in the colonies under the late colonial regime was the result of the interplay between four major factors: the metropole (constitutional change), the colonial state (carried out reform), the white settlers (protect their economic interest and capture some of the power devolved in the colonies) and the politicized Africans. (See David Birmingham & Phyllis Martin ‘History of Central Africa’ Vol. 2, N.Y, 1983 p.88)

Radical nationalism did not develop in the French colonies of Central Africa. This was a clear victory for French who were almost confident by the mid 1960s that their long-term goals in Africa would not be threatened by African leaders. Many of these leaders who were anti-colonialist in the beginning ended up being pro-French in the post independence era and advocated special political and economic ties with their former metropole.

1. In the section above it was mentioned that colonial powers had to resort to concessionary companies to rule and govern the colonies can you say why? Imagine you are an African of the concessionary years. What would your response be to the demands made by the concessionary companies?

2. You have learned in the earlier section that one of the key issues under colonization was whether to extend the colonial education to Africans or not. Do you think that it was a good idea to let Africans have access to colonial education? Why?

3. The prior section also mentioned the moral responsibility of the colonizer to invest in health care infrastructure. Do you think that was the only reason why they invested in the health care system? If not, why else was it important for the colonizer to invest in the colonial health care system?


A. The Road to Independence

The previous sections have described the very harsh conditions under which many African nations were colonized. Facing such harsh political and economic conditions, many Africans resisted the most brutal aspects of colonial rule. In the post World War II era, resistance coalesced around nationalist movements, which by the 1950s were advocating political independence from Europe. However, unlike the situation of the European settler dominated colonies in southern and east Africa, the nationalist movements in Central Africa did not have to resort to mass civil action or violence to achieve independence. Indeed most of the colonies in this region gained independence peacefully in 1960.

The territory of French Equatorial Africa was a base for the Free France’s Forces during the Second World War. Right after the war, many of the leaders of these territories started asking for the autonomy of their territories to the point that in 1946, the Oubangui-Shari, Gabon, and the middle Congo became overseas territories in the year 1958. In the same year, French President Charles de Gaulle granted internal self-government to many of these territories. The self government did not last long within two years after the decision almost all of these territories became independent states, giving central Africa the configuration we have today.

If the transition from colonies to sovereign states was peaceful in the French colonies, the story of independence in the Belgian Congo was quite different. The Belgian government planned for the territory to become gradually self-governing and free from the influence and power of the metropole, resulting in complete independence at least a decade later than its neighbors. However, the many Congolese were not pleased with this plan. Two prominent leaders became active along with their political formations in demanding political independence. These were Joseph Kasavubu and Patrice Lumumba. They were, respectively, leaders of the ABAKO party and the Mouvement National des Congolais (MNC). In 1959, anti-colonial riots started in the major urban centers of the Congo. In response, the colonial administration early in 1960 organized a conference gathering the opposition leaders and the colonial administration. The opposition parties were united and adamant in their demand for immediate independence. The Belgians responded by setting June 30, 1960 for independence. On this day Kasavubu became the first president and Lumumba became the first Prime Minister of the independent Congo.

For many European powers, it became impossible to resist the ‘winds of change’ that were blowing on the continent from the north to the south and from the west to the east. Social and political pressures led many of them to grant independence to several African countries by the year 1960.

But taking on national sovereignty was not an easy task for central African countries. Soon the former colonial subjects realized that the ‘flag independence’ was little more than an illusion. While independence fulfilled the longtime high aspirations of Africans, despite their natural riches, many of the newly independent states of central Africa faced a series of problems that ranged from social to political unrest and economic crises. For a full discussion on the negative impact of the colonial legacy on newly independent African nation-states see Module 10, Activities Three and Four.

B. Post independence era

It has been nearly 50 years since the formal colonies of Central Africa gained their political independence. Much has changed in these five decades, however the region continues to confront many of the social, economic, and political problems that confronted the newly independent countries at the time of independence. Historians of contemporary Africa suggest three major reasons for the region’s inability to adequately address these issues: the on-going legacy of colonialism, the impact of the Cold War, and a failure in leadership.

While it is important that we don’t blame all of the issues confronting Central Africa today on colonialism, its legacy has had a powerful impact on the region—as is the case in all of Africa. For an overview of the social and economic legacy of the colonial experience re-read Module Nine (African Economies) Activities Four –Eight. And, for a review of the political impact of colonialism visit Module Ten (African Politics) Activities Three and Four. In reviewing the issues raised in the sections it is important to remember that the colonial experience in Central Africa was exemplified by both brutality (in the early colonial period) and neglect (in middle colonial period). These factors exacerbate and prolong the negative legacy of colonialism in the region.

The Cold War tensions between the United State and its Western Allies and the Soviet Union and its Eastern allies were played out in Africa as well as in Asia and Latin America. The competition between the U.S. and the USSR was very strong in Central Africa, particularly in mineral rich Congo and neighboring Angola where civil wars and internal conflict were stimulated by the both sides in the Cold War. Indeed, the current conflict in the Congo that has resulted in the deaths of nearly two million people in the past decade, has its roots in the Cold War. For a more detailed analysis of the impact of the Cold War on Africa review Module Ten (African Politics) Activity Six .

Finally, the lack of social, economic, and political progress in the region has also been caused by a failure in leadership. Corruption, nepotism and authoritarianism have characterized governance in a number of the region’s states in the post-colonial era. This factor, of course, is directly related to the legacy of colonialism and the impact of the Cold War, however, African dictators, as do dictators in other regions of the world, have to be held accountable for their actions.

1. Patrice Lumumba was the first prime minster of independent Congo. Within a year of taking office he was tragically murdered. Using web resources find out why he was assassinated and the impact of this event on the history of post-colonial Congo.

2. Complete the following table based on your understanding of the above section:

4. In the above Section about Decolonization ( see A. The Road to Independence), you have read about the ‘flag Independence.’ What exactly does this term mean? What is needed to achieve genuine independence?3. In this section you have read about the post independence international relations of some Central African countries. Some leaders decided to keep friendly relationship with the former colonizers, while others decided not to greatly reduce their ties with the former colonizers. In your judgment what is the best approach? Should the former colonies maintain friendly and close ties with their former colonizers? Be sure to give reasons for your answer.

The film on this site will give you an insight on how the continent of Africa was gradually colonized by the Europeans:

Indigenat: It is a French word that derives from the word ‘indigene.’

Indigene means a Native-born or an indigenous. ‘Indigenat’ thus is a system designed to create a set of rule applicable only to indigenous populations.

1. unpaid labor for one day, as on the repair of roads, exacted by a feudal lord.
2. an obligation imposed on inhabitants of a district to perform services, as repair of roads, bridges, etc., for little or no remuneration.

Paysannat: This word is coined from the word ‘Paysan’ that means ‘Peasant’.

‘Paysannat’ is thus a set of rules that relate to the conditions of ‘Peasants.’ Note that these rules and conditions are only applicable to Africans’ peasants under the French Colonization

Go on to Activity Three or select from the other activities in this module:

1933: Construction Expands

In addition to the treasury-breaking economic realities of constructing a defensive wall the entire length of France’s eastern border, there were serious political considerations. One major part of Pétain’s original argument for the line’s construction was that, by forcing the Germans to avoid the line by going around it, they would be required to violate Belgian and/or Swiss territory, and France had pledged to come to the aid of whichever ally was invaded. As historian Anthony Kemp put it, “In view of the alliance with Belgium, how could France morally justify the fortification of their common frontier without giving the impression that, when danger threatened, she would not advance to help? Besides, it would imply lack of confidence in the Belgian army.” Thus, to avoid offending the Belgians, France made the fateful decision not to continue the wall all the way to the North Sea. She trusted that, if the Germans were to invade again, they would not repeat the Schlieffen Plan—an attack through the Low Countries—that had proven so successful in 1914.

The pace of construction picked up by 1933, there were 20 major and 27 minor fortifications, along with hundreds of other facilities, being built in the Alsace-Lorraine angle facing Germany. But, in 1934, Daladier rightly worried that this relatively short stretch of defensive works could be easily outflanked. He lobbied for, and was granted, the necessary funds to extend the line beyond the original structures.

The Maginot Line was organized as a “defense in depth.” Scores of fortresses, bunkers, pillboxes, shelters, miles of underground passageways, and other features made up the most technologically advanced defensive system of their day. An army of planners, architects, engineers, and armament specialists envisioned some of the most diabolical obstacles ever devised to thwart an enemy. The most forward positions, a string of small, outer posts, known as maison fortes, were set directly along the border. In the event the enemy was seen approaching the frontier en masse, the occupants of these listening posts would sound the alarm, fight a delaying action, demolish nearby bridges, and set up obstacles at crossroads before falling back.

Zaire: An African Horror Story

In the convoluted history of Central Africa, the southern Zairean province of Shaba has long been a magnet for mercenaries and swindlers, a center of bloodstained intrigue. Belgian colonizers first exploited Shaba's rich deposits of copper at the turn of the century, in what came to be called the Belgian Congo—the richest European colony in Africa, Conrad's "Heart of Darkness." In 1960, when the colony achieved independence, the short-lived secession of the province, then known as Katanga, helped make the Congo a byword for post colonial chaos and savagery—and also black Africa's first Cold War battleground. It was here, in the provincial capital Elisabethville (now Lubumbashi), that the charismatic nationalist Patrice Lumumba was famously martyred in 1961, with the connivance of the Central Intelligence Agency and a thirty-year-old Congolese colonel who would soon become President of the country, Joseph Deséré Mobutu.

Two rebel invasions of Katanga, in 1977 and 1978, brought Belgian, French, and Moroccan troops to President Mobutu's rescue, many of them ferried by U. S. planes. These episodes cemented Mobutu's position as an utterly dependent but indispensable asset to the West. In the 1980s Shaba emerged as a key strategic outpost for the Reagan Doctrine. Reportedly, the CIA used an airstrip in the remote Shaban town of Kamina in order to channel covert weapons into neighboring Angola. President Reagan hailed Mobutu as "a voice of good sense and good will."

So it is no surprise that Shaba has emerged as a flash point in one of the great unfolding dramas of the post-Cold War era: Mobutu's struggle to remain in power. He is one of the last five-star despots of the Cold War era: Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku wa za Banga, as he is now called—which translates as "the all-powerful warrior who, because of his endurance and inflexible will to win, will go from conquest to conquest leaving fire in his wake." Buffeted by history's changing winds, bereft of his Western backing, embattled by riotous troops and pro-democracy forces, and squeezed for cash to keep afloat his notoriously greedy regime, Mobutu was being tested as never before when I visited Shaba recently, in search of clues to his survival. Despite mounting anarchy and economic chaos, Mobutu was confounding widespread predictions of his imminent demise. I wanted to know how he did it.

"Ethnic cleansing" was the term that Zaireans, diplomats, and aid workers used to explain the cramming of tens of thousands of hungry and destitute citizens into and around two fly-strewn railway stations in the mining towns of Likasi and Kolwezi. They were refugees in their own country, evidence that the time-honored practice of "divide and rule" had been effectively executed. Thumbs were rubbed against forefingers to explain the officially sanctioned looting of the vital state-owned mining installation in Kolwezi, where soldiers, politicians, and all manner of foreign hustlers were operating a none-too-subtle traffic in stolen copper and cobalt and whatever else might earn a few hundred trillion hyperdeflated cash zaires. Three years after Mobutu first promised to share power, amid a wave of popular euphoria over the news of tumbling regimes in Eastern Europe ("Ceausescu! Mobutu! (Ceausescu! Mobutu!" they chanted in the streets of Kinshasa), he seems bent on dismembering the country before the country dismembers him. Talk of the big man's faltering grip, rife in Kinshasa and abroad, had long since ceased in Shaba. "It's important to know that Mobutu is a great strategist," I was told. "He has his ways and means."

The train station in downtown Likasi, a two-hour drive northwest of Lubumbashi, is a crumbling edifice built by the Belgians early in this century. It was part of the sprawling network of rails and roads that linked the Central African copper belt to ports in South Africa and the former Portuguese colonies of Mozambique and Angola. In more prosperous days a substantial portion of the world's copper and cobalt was produced in this part of the world.

Today the station is surrounded by a dense warren of shanties, a maze of burlap and plastic slung over rickety frames fashioned from scrap wood and rusty bedsprings. Across the tracks and beyond a foot-wide open sewer, row upon row of green plastic tents, constructed by Belgian workers from the relief agency Médecins Sans Frontières, extend to the distant horizon. Each tent is crammed with as many as fourteen men, women, and children. The air is filled with the smells of rot and excrement, and with the cacophonous din of scrap metal being pounded into makeshift pots and pans. Five hours west an equally grim scene is unfolding in Kolwezi. The sidewalks there are piled high with desks, bureaus, sofas, cabinets, and other household goods, all for sale to whoever will buy them. Before relief groups moved in to provide vaccinations and running water, sixty people a day were dying from measles, dysentery, malaria, and respiratory infections.

In both towns the refugees are Kasaians, primarily Lubas, born and raised in Shaba but descended from ancestors who were recruited to the mines from the neighboring province of Kasai. Over the past year, in the worst wave of ethnic violence in the region since the Katangan secession of 1960, more than 100,000 Kasaians have been chased from their jobs and homes by rampaging mobs of indigenous Shabans—or "Katangese," as they call themselves. Most Kasaians have congregated at the train stations of Kolwezi and Likasi in the probably futile hope that one of the infrequent trains will have enough space in its sweltering boxcars to take them and their families away to Kasai at a price they can afford. "We cannot stay, because they will cut our throats," I was told.

The plight of the Kasai in Shaba is less the result of age-old hatreds than of the machinations of government leaders bent on preserving their power. To be sure, there is a history of enmity between the Katangese and their generally better-educated, more successful Kasaian brothers. The Lubas of Kasai have sometimes considered themselves the "Jews of Africa." They predominate among the country's intellectuals, professionals, and entrepreneurs. The Belgians cultivated them as laborers and administrators of the colonial order. Their families were housed by the mining companies their children were educated in company-built schools and made ready to percolate up through even the most oppressive regimes both before and since independence. Resentment on the part of the Katangese has grown accordingly.

"The Kasai are seen as instruments of oppression—on this all Katangese agree," Muyembe wa Banze, a Katangan executive at Gecamines, the state-owned mining giant, told me. "They seemed to be more attached to the white man—that's what we have seen. They have come from far away and have all the advantages. You'll see that the important positions in society are filled by Kasaians. Mobutu has used the Kasai to oppress the Katangese."

Yet in Zaire it has been only at times of great political upheaval and insecurity, such as now, that resentment has turned to terror. What is striking about the current campaign against the Kasai is how President Mobutu, fighting for his political survival, has managed to exploit well-founded bitterness toward his own rapacious regime by deflecting it onto others.

On April 24, 1990, Mobutu declared an end to single-party rule and the beginning of a transition to democracy. The Berlin Wall had recently fallen, and the Cold War was winding down. Mobutu's Western backers—the United States, France, and Belgium—had let him know that the years of reliable support were over. This, together with mounting strikes and protests in Kinshasa and elsewhere, compelled Mobutu to open a "sovereign national conference" to prepare for democratic rule. Opposition leaders returned from exile. Opposition parties proliferated. A raucous public debate enlivened newspapers long subdued by fear.

But problems quickly materialized—not least in Shaba. Barely two weeks after Mobutu's declaration unidentified commandos went on a nighttime rampage on the campus of the University of Lubumbashi, killing a still-unconfirmed number of students. There followed a spate of armed attacks on the homes of prominent opposition figures. Opposition rallies were broken up. Arrests and killings multiplied. Transition governments came and went. More than 200 mutually antagonistic political parties entered the fray, many backed with enough cash from Mobutu himself to compound hyperinflation.

Then came the "pillage." In September of 1991 an astonishing week-long spree of looting and destruction by underpaid troops of the national army laid waste to major cities across the country. More than 200 people were killed. Much of the modern productive sector of the economy was destroyed. The sidewalks next to major military bases became thriving markets for looted goods. Most press accounts described these horrendous riots as the work of "mutinous" troops. But whether the pillage was aimed at toppling Mobutu remains a mystery no soldier was ever prosecuted or disciplined.

Meanwhile, the major opposition parties had managed to form a coalition called the Union Sacrée de l'Opposition. Its candidate to lead the transition to democracy was a well-known activist named Étienne Tshisekedi. Tshisekedi is from Kasai. After the pillage Mobutu met with the Union Sacrée and, remarkably, agreed to allow the formation of an opposition government led by Tshisekedi, who was sworn in as Prime Minister on October 16, 1991. He lasted six days. The problem, like almost all problems in Zaire, boiled down to money. Tshisekedi, with the backing of Western governments, sought control over Zaire's Central Bank. This Mobutu could not abide. Control of the printing and distribution of money is a vital tool of Mobutu's it is not only the means by which he enriches himself but also his means for supporting his friends and co-opting his enemies. When Tshisekedi arrived at his office on October 19, 1991, he found the doors were locked. A replacement moved in three days later. Nevertheless, the Union Sacrée continued to have broad popular support. Something needed to be done to break up the opposition alliance. So Mobutu turned to two men from Shaba: Jean Nguza Karl-i-Bond and Gabriel Kyungu wa Kumwanza.

Whenever Zaireans describe Mobutu's legendary "musical chairs" system of government—the perennial shuffling of his friends and enemies in and out of favor, in and out of money—the first case in point is Nguza Karl-i-Bond. Nguza was Mobutu's Foreign Minister in the early 1970s. He then became the political director of Zaire's sole political party, the Mouvement Populaire de la Révolution (MPR). In 1977 he was accused of treason and sentenced to death. He is said to have been tortured. But a year later he was freed, and a year after that he became Prime Minister. Two years after that he fled to exile in Belgium, where he wrote a book exposing Mobutu's corruption. He later testified before a congressional subcommittee in Washington about Mobutu's ill-gotten riches. Then, incredibly, he returned to Mobutu's fold, and in 1986 was sent back to Washington as Zaire's ambassador. Two years later he was the Foreign Minister again.

By 1991 Nguza was out of the loop once more and heading the Union des Fédéralistcs et des Republicains Indépendants (UFERI), one of the three main opposition parties in the Union Sacrée. Gabriel Kyungu, one of his principal allies, appeared more credible than Nguza as an oppositionist. Along with Tshisekedi, Kyungu had produced a scathing public critique of Mobutu's regime in 1980. The two were imprisoned and tortured. Kyungu was one of the first public figures to decry the massacre of students at the university, and he drew crowds with populist speeches in which he derided Mobutu as an hibou, an owl, traditionally associated with black magic.

But that was before November 25, 1991, when UFERI broke ranks with the Union Sacrée. Mobutu appointed Nguza Prime Minister and Kyungu the governor of Shaba. The violence against the Kasai in Shaba began soon thereafter.

Immediately after Governor Kyungu assumed office, he launched a campaign known as Debout Katanga!—"Rise up, Katanga!" Its motto was "Katanga for the Katangese." In a series of public rallies and radio speeches the governor railed against the "enemy within," the Kasai. Bemoaning the misery of the Katangan population, Kyungu repeatedly blamed the Kasaians. He called them bilulu (Swahili for "insects"). "The Kasai are foreigners," he declared. "The Katangese no longer accept the Kasai here. Their presence is an insult. They are arrogant and don't hide it. It is not possible for the tribes to live side by side." In crude harangues that would have been familiar to Asians driven from Uganda by Idi Amin, Kyungu derided the Kasai as money-grubbing exploiters who were lucky to be allowed to flee with their lives. "The Kasai must go and then the Katangese can have the nice jobs and nice houses," he said.

Then, employing a tactic long used by Mobutu, Kyungu established the JUFERI, a youth brigade in his party, as a vigilante force. Mostly unemployed, illiterate thugs from rural villages, the JUFERI provided a violent accompaniment to Kyungu's menacing radio broadcasts. Attacks on Kasaian homes in rural towns and villages began in late 1991. By April of last year the JUFERI, sometimes backed by mobs of other Katangese, were systematically expelling Kasaians from their homes. Witnesses said the JUFERI were sometimes supplied with gasoline to set houses afire and with beer and marijuana to stoke their aggression. Some Kasaians fought back. The proverbial cycle of violence was set in motion.

Meanwhile, on February 16, 1992, hundreds of thousands of people marched through the streets of Kinshasa, a thousand miles away, in support of the national conference on democracy, which Nguza had ordered closed. Mobutu's troops opened fire on the marchers according to the human rights monitoring group Africa Watch, more than thirty were killed. Mobutu deftly blamed Nguza and soon afterward allowed the national conference to resume. In August the conference nominated Tshisekedi to be Prime Minister again. Kasaians in Shaba celebrated. Reportedly, some marched through the streets of Lubumbashi with leashed dogs that wore ties and signs saying NGUZA. Some threw stones at the governor's residence. The JUFERI, armed with knives and machetes, responded predictably.

Most Kasaians fled to the train station or to the homes of relatives in town. Those I spoke with had no doubt about who was ultimately responsible for their predicament. "It's Mobutu," one of their leaders asserted (few Kasaians were willing to be identified by name). "As President of the Republic, he can't lower himself into the streets to wage war against the Kasai. He needs someone who is malleable. He uses others, like Kyungu—a pawn of Mobutu."

Kasaians were quick to remind me that not all Katangese approve of what is happening: "It's a false problem," I was told repeatedly "it's a manipulation by the politicians." Nevertheless, Nguza and Kyungu have plainly tapped a real vein of resentment. "Monsieur Kyungu expresses the profound aspirations, the soul of the people," Tshibang Kadjat, a Katangan executive at the mining company Gecamines, told me. "From colonization to Mobutu, all the advantages go to the Kasai."

In fact the majority of Kasaians in Shaba have suffered as much as most Katangese under a regime that has plundered the province's resources for the benefit of a few. But Katangan leaders have made a pact with the devil, calculating that, as one put it, "we have to ally ourselves with the finishing dictatorship in order to resist the permanent dictatorship of the Kasai."

"You know," a Kasaian prosecutor in Kolwezi told me over dinner, "Mobutu is the kind of politician who can profit from any situation to maintain his power. Before, he attacked the Katangese using the Kasai, who were among his closest collaborators. Now he realizes that there were radical political oppositionists among the Kasai. He uses old enmities to destabilize his new enemies. Now he uses Katangese to destabilize the Kasai."

A judge interrupted to clarify: "It was not exactly his goal to dominate the Katangese. Mobutu put Kasaians at the head of many enterprises. But this was so that he could enjoy the riches of the province with the help of the Kasai. Now he says it wasn't he who was the cause of the Katangese's unhappiness—it was the Kasai. If you look at the situation more closely, both Kasaians and Katangese are in indescribable misery. Those who benefited are Mobutu and his acolytes. It's just that most of his acolytes were Kasaians, especially here in Katanga. This is a region that he has pillaged a lot."

Soldiers and the police, who might be expected to intervene if Mobutu ordered them to do so, appear in accounts of the violence only intermittently, most often as criminals engaged in thefts and assaults that provoke reprisals, which merely reinforce the cycle of violence. Lawlessness in general, and lawless soldiers in particular, have been a chronic problem in Zaire ever since independence, when the entire army dissolved in mutiny within a week. Armed shakedowns are commonplace. On a single night in Kolwezi, while driving to and from a restaurant in town, my companions and I were held up at gunpoint five times by soldiers who emerged like apparitions in our headlights, pointed their rifles menacingly at the windshield, and then gruffly accepted yet another proffer of five or ten million zaires—just under a dollar at that week's rate.

The UFERI mayor of Kolwozi, P. Anschaire Moji A Kapasu, told me that the authorities had done "everything possible" to stop the violence. I asked if anyone had been arrested and prosecuted. He looked at me with a blank expression, as if the idea had never occurred to him. "It's difficult in the mass of people to know who struck who," he said. "You would have to arrest the whole population. C'est difficile."

On the edge of downtown Kolwozi, past the teeming train station, lies the Gecamines mining installation, a vast, rocky landscape of open pits and coppery waste dumps. In better days this facility produced up to 80 percent of Zaire's copper and cobalt. Belgians built the mines early in the century, and Belgian spies, financiers, and mercenaries known as les Affreux—"the Dreadful Ones"—backed Moise Tshombe's ill-fated secession movement in 1960, hoping to maintain de facto Belgian control over the lucrative mining industry. Mobutu nationalized the mines in 1967. At its high point, in the mid-1980s, Gecamines produced 480,000 tons of copper a year with 35,000 employees, earned three quarters of Zaire's foreign exchange, and educated 100,000 children in company run schools.

Today Gecamines is eerily subdued. A half dozen tense young JUFERI members in jeans and sport shirts guard the entrance against Kasaians. In the two weeks before my visit roughly 7,000 Kasaian workers—half the work force and most of the skilled employees—had been chased from their jobs at these mines. In all, 40,000 to 50,000 Kasaians in Kolwezi have been rendered homeless. The mines still function, I was told, but expatriate company officials doubt that this will last. The production of copper had already declined to 150,000 tons or less in the previous year, because of rampant corruption and mismanagement. A mine collapsed a few years ago owing to negligence. Most of the skilled expatriates fled after the 1991 pillage. The company is bankrupt.

A week before my visit ten trucks lined up along the wall surrounding the plant. Three hundred thieves pushed a hundred tons of copper up to the wall and loaded it into the trucks, and off they drove to the Zambian border and down to South Africa. There is an ongoing traffic in stolen copper, cobalt, electrical wires and pylons, tires, water pumps, and gasoline. Gecamines is being looted down to the ground. Soldiers, the police, workers, company guards, expatriate Greeks, Lebanese, and South Africans—all are collaborating to ransack Zaire's biggest economic asset.

According to company officials, legal authorities, diplomats, and townspeople alike, at the center of the racket is Governor Kyungu. He is said to be getting a $10,000 kickback for each export license granted to truck goods across the border. It is an old story in Zaire. "Who's using who?" a clergyman asked. "Is Mobutu using Kyungu, or is Kyungu using Mobutu? We ask ourselves this question. If you compare Kyungu when he was in opposition, he was a poor man. Now he is very rich."

The corruption in Zaire is legendary. The "kleptocracy" has its roots in the nineteenth century Congo Free State: Belgium's King Leopold II used profits from the export of the country's extensive natural resources to build a personal fortune—profits extracted under conditions of forced labor that included killing workers and chopping off hands if quotas were not met. Mobutu's ill-gotten wealth is usually estimated at around $5 billion. Stories about his bank accounts in Switzerland and his villas, ranches palaces, and yachts throughout Europe are legion, as are wide-eyed descriptions of his home at Gbadolite, in northern Zaire, his birthplace "Versailles in the jungle," it is called.

Born in poverty, the son of a domestic cook and a hotel maid, Mobutu is reported to have obtained his first few million dollars in the early 1960s from the CIA and the U.S.-dominated UN peacekeeping force that put down the Katangan secession. He was the army chief of staff at the time. Mobutu has steadily augmented his wealth ever since by blurring the distinction between public and private funds, dipping often into the national treasury. Not least among his many lucrative sources of "leakage," as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund call illegal diversions of money, has been Gecamines. By 1980 it was estimated that officials were skimming off at least $240 million a year from the nationalized resource. More recently a World Bank investigation estimated that up to $400 million—a fourth of Zaire's export revenues, most of it earned from Gecamines inexplicably vanished from the country's foreign-exchange accounts in 1988.

Sometimes overlooked in accounts of Mobutu's wealth is the critical role that money plays as a political tool. Even as Mobutu has accumulated great riches, he has had to spend huge sums to reward his allies and buy off his opponents. The word on the street in Kinshasa, impossible to confirm but relayed to me by a diplomatic source who found it credible, is that Mobutu paid Nguza $10 million to break with the Union Sacrée and become Prime Minister. "It's like the Mafia," a Zairean lawyer said. "All Zairean politicians are poor. For survival they have to engage in politics. To earn a living, they have to be on the side of the man in power."

Herman Cohen, who was the assistant secretary of state for African affairs in the Bush Administration, and who first met Mobutu almost thirty years ago, agreed when we spoke that Zaire's central government is "basically a clan a family of cousins acting like the Mafia in Sicily, making these illegal deals, siphoning the money off cobalt and copper revenues." Cohen added, "Mobutu requires a huge cash flow. He has to keep the family afloat. In effect he has about three thousand to four thousand dependents, including women and children. It's essentially his own tribe. The attitude is, 'We've got to all hang together. If we don't, we're dead."'

Among the most important of these dependents are, of course, soldiers. A certain amount of cash has to be on hand for them. When money is tight, as it often is now that the economy is in ruins, Mobutu's tendency has been simply to print more. Hyperinflation generally follows. This was the result last January, when Mobutu tried to meet his military payroll by introducing new five-million-zaire notes into circulation, worth about $2 each at the time. The opposition, led by Tshisekedi, feared yet another round of hyperinflation, and urged shopkeepers to refuse to accept them. The strategy worked. The soldiers found they were unable to spend their money. So they went on another pillage, looting Kinshasa even more viciously and destructively than they had in 1991. This time Mobutu's elite troops intervened, grabbing their share and then summarily executing hundreds of rank-and-file looters. Nevertheless, the newly printed notes were effectively barred from use—everywhere, that is, except in Mobutu's home province of Equateur and in Shaba, where Governor Kyungu successfully coerced businesses into accepting them. Prices took off. The black-market value of zaires, 2.5 million to the dollar in Kinshasa in April, went from 12 million to 24 million to the dollar in Lubumbashi during the first two weeks of that month.

There remains the question of why Mobutu tolerates the gutting of Gecamines, a pillar of the economy and an indispensable source of foreign exchange. The answer is diamonds. By all accounts, Mobutu has managed to work out an alternative racket involving the export of diamonds from Kasai. Zaire is one of the world's largest producers of diamonds. Last year recorded diamond exports came to $230 million. Unrecorded exports? "Anybody's guess," a diplomat told me, "but certainly larger, by a substantial margin." Reportedly, an array of mostly Lebanese diamond buyers, working with silent partners in the Central Bank and in the military, are reaping hefty profits in a complex foreign-exchange scam involving a parallel market in checks worth as much as forty times the official exchange rate. They bring in their foreign currency, exchange it for zaires with their silent partners, and then head for the diamond mines. The proceeds leaving the back door of the Central Bank are keeping afloat Mobutu's extended "family" of relatives, elite troops, ethnic kinsmen, and followers. So Gecamines may be expendable.

The losers in all this, needless to say, are the long-suffering Zairean people. Last year inflation soared to more than 6,000 percent. Unemployment is at 80 percent. Gross domestic product has by some estimates been contracting by as much as 30 percent a year since the pillage. Hospitals and schools have repeatedly shut down. Teachers in Likasi had been on strike for more than a month when I was there their average monthly salary of 30 million zaires was worth four bottles of beer. Many Zaireans eat just one meal a day, some only one every other day. The public-service sector has largely stopped functioning. Tax collection has ceased—except for the "direct taxation" of army shakedowns. The country's banking system has all but collapsed. The nation of nearly 40 million, four times the geographic size of France, is heading deeper into anarchy by the day.

Yet it is precisely these conditions that have made Mobutu's tactics effective. Most Zaireans see a method in his seeming madness, a deliberate strategy of destabilization as a means of discrediting the movement toward democracy and undermining the capacity of the people to mobilize against him. "Mobutu tries to keep the population in fear," a lawyer in Kolwezi told me. "The population is traumatized. Mobutu wants to keep them in this position for a long time. That's how he maintains his position."

Foreigners living in Zaire often marvel at the "passivity" of the Zairean people one I spoke to speculated about a version of the "battered-woman syndrome." But Zaireans point out that Mobutu and his allies still have all the guns and all the money. Hundreds of thousands of people marched in Kinshasa, they reminded me, and more than thirty of them were shot dead. In any event, a clergyman said, "when the population is hungry and tired, it doesn't have the energy to go into the streets."

A U.S. State department paper of earlier this year raised the specter of Zaire's becoming "Somalia and Liberia rolled into one, with vast potential for immense refugee flows, regional destabilization, and humanitarian disaster." Whether Zaire is headed down that path is far from certain. The country is not armed to the teeth as Somalia was, and it is blessed with a lush tropical climate that makes widespread famine less likely. Moreover, the country is so huge and diffuse—Shaba alone is nearly the size of France—that it lacks the implosive potential of Liberia, where the importation of large quantities of arms touched off a conflagration that consumed the entire country in less than a year. What does seem clear is that the longer Mobutu's strategy of progressive disintegration lasts, the more widespread and irreversible will be the forces of anarchy. Already reports of "ethnic cleansing" much like those from Shaba are emerging from the northeastern region of Kivu.

That is why many Zaireans are in favor of foreign intervention. A Katangan executive at Gecamines put it this way: "The West and the United States have a moral obligation vis-a-vis Africa. At the time of the Cold War, the West and the United States produced dictators. They armed them. They organized coups. Now that the Cold War is finished, the West has a moral obligation to get rid of the dictators of Africa. When they created these dictators, they didn't ask for the advice of the African people."

The American policy-makers I have spoken with are clearly at a loss about what should be done. "The solution is not obvious," I was told. Armed United Nations intervention to support an election process—the solution favored by Tshisekedi and many other Zaireans—would be unsalable in the United States even if it were feasible. The strategy of nudging the transition process from the sidelines has withered under Mobutu's endlessly subversive machinations. All along there has been concern that if Mobutu could somehow be extracted from the scene, his departure would create a vacuum into which the soldiers left behind would rush, with frightful results. By this line of argument, Mobutu has stoked the forces of anarchy to such a degree that he has made himself indispensable as a means of controlling them. Après moi, le déluge, he has implied for thirty years. At this late date he may be right.


While the war was now officially over, that did not mean that peace would finally endure. The Japanese for example, who had been invited to the peace negotiations as well, did not sign the treaty as Britain, their closest ally of all the Entente nations, had not supported the Japanese claims on the German colonies in Asia and the Pacific. Japan had occupied the German Kiautschou Bay Concession in Shandong and several islands in the Pacific since 1914 and they had suffered not one single defeat against the Central Powers Relinquishing their gains therefore was no possibility. The war in Eastern Asia indirectly continued until late 1921, when the Tsingtao Accord was signed.

Another trouble spot was the situation in the Middle East. Britain was still nominally at war with the Ottoman Empire and was not willing to evacuate Mesopotamia and the Levant without any significant gains. When the situation threatened to escalate again, an international conference was called in Jerusalem, attended by the British and Turks and supervised by the Americans, Germans and Austro-Hungarians. A deal was only made in April of 1920, the so-called Jerusalem Accord, which established several autonomous zones within the Ottoman Empire, like the Mutasarrifate of Jerusalem, and heavily worsened the German-Ottoman relations, as the former had supported the British and American positions to improve their international reputation.

German-Ottoman relations already had been stained since the removal of the Young Turk government in late 1918 and severely deteriorated after the Caucasus Conference of November 1919, which led to Constantinople having to give up most of their influence in the Caucasus. The Jerusalem Accord now dealt the final blow and the Central Powers alliance would collapse in mid-1920 with the exit of the Ottomans, soon followed by Austria-Hungary, which had been betrayed by Germany over influence in Serbia and Ukraine and de facto had gained almost nothing from the war, as Italy had fallen into civil war, and eventually Bulgaria.

The most drastic impact however had the treaty on France: With the war-torn population outraged by the treaty's terms and having lost any faith in the Republican government, France soon found herself struck by another revolution, which would eventually lead to the bloody French Civil War.