Nantang Ben Jua
Indirect Rule in the Colonial State
Indirect rule in the post-colonial state


Effective 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).

Indirect Rule in the Colonial State

Instructions 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.
The 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).
Indirect 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.
Social 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 Divisional Officers, qua virtual presidents, were referred to as tafon, 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.
Intent 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.
Undeniably, 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).
Ranger 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.
While 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).
The 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.
With 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 comprador class.
Access 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).
Indirect 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 Chinua Achebe's Arrow of God 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.
However, 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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