King's College London
Exhibitions & Conferences
Hidden voices of Empire

Authorship and perspectives

British reports

More common than articles written by Africans are pieces written by British people, which describe the roles of African participants in development projects, whether as labourers or beneficiaries. For instance, Uganda review regularly updated its readers on the activity at Makerere College, including overviews of available courses, sports teams, and common graduate destinations in terms of employment. 

These sorts of articles also occasionally quote or paraphrase African responses to the ongoing development projects, although these must be read with caution due to their second-hand nature and the aims British writers were no doubt trying to achieve through their inclusion.

Unfiltered questions

A slightly more trustworthy picture of indigenous thoughts and opinions can be found in the questions posed to colonial administrators, published in If you ask me… 

As this periodical was aimed at an audience of colonial administrators, who no doubt had a good idea of local views from their position ‘on the ground’ anyway, and whom the Colonial Office had little reason to convince of the benefits of development, negativity and cynicism in the tone of the questions were not muted. The only limitations with the use of this source, therefore, are:

  • Unless specifically stated, there is no way of telling if the poser of the question was an African or a resident of some other British colony in South-East Asia or the Caribbean
  • Though every question was ostensibly asked by a colonised individual, it cannot be completely ruled out that they were occasionally planted by the editors in an effort to start a conversation they intended to have.

Filling the void

It is also worth noting that some British-penned accounts of development mention nothing of the Africans it was supposed to be benefiting at all. In this case, their voices may seem less hidden than entirely missing. Yet the very absence of these voices may be revealing in itself. Indeed, this may be why one questioner in If you ask me… was moved to ask:

Since you are English and I am African, I am not surprised that I often see you defending what colonial rule has done as good…It would be more convincing if one could hear of something good being said for colonialism by those who are still being colonized. Have you ever seen anything like this? I mean apart from the polite things said at independence ceremonies?

Almost every British voice within the periodicals seems determined to present development as a positive influence on Africa. A general absence of African voices to back this view up implies that either the authors thought local views were superfluous to the argument, or that they simply did not reflect the glowing account they were attempting to present.

This exhibition will detail the results of investigation into African responses to development through the aforementioned methods.

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