occupation of British Cameroon by British authority required a form of
governance with which the Cameroonians would comply willingly, rather than
coercively. This imperative led to the indigenization of the colonial state
through the adoption of the system of indirect rule. The post-colonial state,
too, embraced indirect rule, albeit in a modified form. A corollary of this
process of colonial and post-colonial state construction has been a
redefinition of power relations at state level. It has also had significant
repercussions at the material level. This paper is a study of indirect rule in
the North-West Province of Cameroon. The present analysis adopts a
multidisciplinary approach focusing on questions of political economy, which
complements E.M. Chilver's analysis of indirect rule in the same region
between 1902 and 1954 (1963).
Rule in the Colonial State
to rule Southern Cameroon on 'the principles of Indirect
Administration' were issued only subsequent to the 1919 Milner-Simon
Agreement (Chilver 1963: 104). Intrinsic to the colonial project was a
European design to dominate physical space, to integrate local economic
histories into the Western perspective and to reform the natives' minds
(Mudimbe 1988: 1-2). One implication of this hidden agenda was the fact that
the Cameroonian had to be 'Anglicized'. The Browne memorandum bore
this out. It stipulated that good English had to be taught to as many people
as possible and that the chiefs had to be educated at Government or Native
Authority schools (cited in Nkwi 1979). The purpose of this policy was not,
however, to transform the Cameroonian 'Others' into Britons.
Rather, it was tantamount to cultural imperialism that served to create the
requisite enabling environment for maximum economic exploitation.
intrinsic ambivalence of this policy becomes striking when examined
diachronically. Early into the mandate period, Britain had decided to educate
Africans to serve in the colonial administration. Some apologists, especially
historians, may ascribe this decision to a lack of European manpower (Fardon
1988: 271) despite evidence that this dearth still existed in the post-World
War II period. The formal policy of 'Africanization' was proposed
in 1948. It stated that the place of the Administrative Service should be
taken by 'an improved system of Native Administration and local
government' (Chilver 1963: 129).
rule involved the use of local chiefs to implement colonial policies. Chiefs
appointed as Native Authorities were empowered to collect tax revenue within
their jurisdictions for expenditure by the colonial Administrators or on their
advice. The fact that this same power was also conferred to some sub-chiefs
threatened to unleash new struggles for autonomy. Sub-chiefs saw the decision
to give them tax discs to distribute as an act of political recognition.
However, an adequate tax collection system was viewed as a necessary catalyst
for the transition from subsistence to cash crop production. One-third of the
proceeds of the poll tax was put into the Native Treasuries. Kilson (1966:
57-86) has argued that elsewhere such indigenous rulers tended to
misappropriate these tax funds. This leakage may have also obtained in the
Bamenda Grassfields but tangible evidence does not yet exist to confirm this.
peace is indispensable to any project designed to foster unfettered
exploitation. To this end, the Native Court system was introduced. In Nigeria
the post of president of the Native Authority court was filled by an indigene.
In the Bamenda region the Divisional Officer (D.O.) acted as the final court of
appeal, reversing a few judgements and modifying others. As a result, these
virtual presidents, were referred to as
i.e. the titular father of the chief (Chilver 1963: 116). This is evidence of
the characteristic deference of the people within their jurisdictions to these
newly appointed presidents. However, the fact that these courts were used not
only to settle disputes but also as a venue for tax collection detracts from
this argument. Giving D.O.s magisterial powers may reveal a determination to
ensure the effective collection of taxes in this early phase of colonialism
when a comprador class did not yet exist.
on developing a fully-fledged parallel administrative structure and plausibly
creating a comprador class, the British also introduced the Native Authority
system. Initially, this took the form of clan councils which dealt with
administration and development. Eighteen gazetted Native Authorities existed
in 1938 and by 1943 this increased to 23 (Chilver 1963: 128). However, the
effectiveness of these institutions was stymied by the inefficiency of its
personnel who were chosen on the basis of inherited title. I subscribe to
Chilver's argument that these councils 'had neither the scope nor
the prestige to attract into its membership the really enlightened African of
education and consequence in the community' (Chilver,1963: 129 citing a
report by E.J. Gibbons). Failing the co-optation of this educated class in
the Native Administration system, the British could not successfully create a
comprador class in these societies. Determined to reverse this situation,
Brigadier E.J. Gibbons proposed a system of elective county councils with
subordinate Native Authorities below them, responsible to a Local Government
Board which would be in charge of a unified local government staff.
this proposed reform was designed to improve local government efficiency, but
it also provided an opportunity for the educated class to be incorporated into
the formal administrative structure. As councillors, this literate group
could easily broach development projects to promote their own welfare and set
up loan schemes for local businessmen. Some European officials actually
acquiesced in the abuses of the new elites in the belief that this provided an
avenue for local notables to become established in business (Kennedy 1990: 54).
argues that the acceptance of effective colonization by the indigenes and the
deflation of traditional power are inversely related (1983: 239). Some
recognition of this prompted the British to create a House of Chiefs in 1957 so
as to provide a formal, albeit illusory, role in policy making on the part of
the chiefs. However, this body was not endowed with legislative powers (Nkwi
1979), in spite of the stipulations of Article 40 of the Federal Constitution.
Augustine Ngom Jua, a member of government, recognised this when he addressed
the House of Chiefs in 1960 saying that 'the chiefs (who are to serve) as
a check on the activities of the government and support no political party
should advise the latter' (cited in Nkwi 1979). Revealingly, he
accentuated their advisory role without making any reference to the role of
consent, which is of paramount importance in any body endowed with watchdog
functions. Evidently, not every chief could become a member of this chamber.
Those not co-opted were to be placated by the 'tax dash' that they
received from the British.
indirect rule as practised by the British may largely have rested on the false
belief that it was only sanctioning the status quo, Britain, in fact, was
actively involved in the invention of tradition. Law and administration in
pre-colonial Africa was based on valued custom and continuity, but custom was
loosely defined and infinitely flexible (Ranger 1983: 247). It has been
observed that the original Assessment Reports that proposed the form and
jurisdictional areas of the Native Authority and Native Courts were generally
flawed as they did not reflect the reality of pre-colonial law and custom.
These included often misleading 'historical and ethnological chapters,
and descriptions of the main features of the political system, customary law
and land tenure' (Chilver 1963: 110).
ambivalence and muddling of British colonial policy in the Bamenda region may
simply reflect its uncertain philosophical underpinnings. The British
deference to traditional ruling classes in Britain led them to believe that
established tradition could have the same legitimating force in Cameroon.
However, the introduction of schools led to the creation of a class of educated
Cameroonians who had to be included within this scheme of tradition. Failing
this, the newly educated class might easily suffer rising frustrations, whose
ramifications would vitiate if not obviate the colonization project in a
society where this class was put on a very high pedestal.
hindsight, it can be argued that institutional creation throughout British
colonial rule was designed to enable those who emerged as power brokers to gain
access to the colonial state. However, this was only rendered feasible by the
fact that Britain had fostered the emergence of a comprador class that also
derived pecuniary benefits from this enterprise. Money so obtained was
supposed to finance the transition from a subsistence to an exchange economy.
This was a financial carrot to ensure the collaboration of this nascent
to the state facilitated the acquisition of symbolic capital by members of the
new educated class (see Goheen and Mope Simo, this volume, for illustrative
case studies). Symbolic capital was an invaluable asset to these budding
patrons and Britain, too, drew ample benefits from this emerging patron-client
network as a control mechanism. It is important to realise that patron-client
networks were not the creation of the British as they had existed in the
pre-colonial period. However, there were substantial modifications under the
colonial state. People without access to power in the pre-colonial state were
suddenly catapulted into the role of power brokers. Their education guaranteed
them salaried jobs which provided the money to acquire the symbolic capital
indispensable in clientelism. Over time this has enabled the patrons to
transform themselves into 'ethnic barons' (Kofele-Kale 1986).
Rule was a cost-effective means of imposing British hegemony over the Bamenda
region. However, one ramification was that it led to the emergence of a new
class of barons at the expense of the old barons without access to the monetary
economy. This phenomenon still marks this society even today. So, one
undisputed consequence of colonialism was a contrivance that led to the
replacement of the old wine (waning patrons in the pre-colonial era) with new
wine (waxing patrons in the colonial state) in the same old wineskins (the
client system). Even if the old wineskins were retained, there is ample
evidence to show that they had been considerably deformed. In the pre-colonial
period clientism did not eschew communal values. Subsequently, patrons did not
hesitate to pool their funds in order to provide a European education for one
of their siblings. Even Council funds served this purpose through
scholarships. It is on the strength of this belief in communal values that, in
the fictional Okonkwo could assert that 'we' have sent you to
school to be 'our eyes and our ears' (Achebe 1964). However, what
he failed to realize was the fact that his siblings emerged transformed from
the educational institutions. Whereas primary socialization within the
community emphasized the importance of communal values and space that was
localized, socialization within the schools stressed the primacy of the
individual and space that was non-localized.
this new client system contained the seeds of its own destruction. After
having accommodated British hegemony for a considerable period, the new,
educated comprador class started clamouring for independence. The impact of
this was twofold. On the one hand, these 'evolués' sought
to emulate their masters' lives. On the other, agitations for
independence elsewhere had not gone unnoticed in this territory. Furthermore,
the specific status of this territory as a United Nations trust territory made
it incumbent on Britain to prepare it for independence.
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