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


A question submitted to the publication If you ask me…  regarding exploitationQuestion submitted to If you ask me… from 1959 Additional questions submitted to If you ask me... serve to highlight further cynicism about Britain’s imperial economic policies:

  • ‘I have seen a recent statement that during the period 1945-1955 colonial territories accumulated sterling balances in London totalling £1,446 million. Does this mean that instead of the United Kingdom financing the colonies, the colonies have been financing the UK?’
  • ‘To my mind “development” means spending money, yet in my country, which badly needs development we are always being called on to save money. Why is this?’

These questions, especially when taken together, seem to amount to accusations of exploitation – one of the most frequently discussed concepts in If you ask me… 

The Colonial Office regularly distinguishes within the periodical between good exploitation (simply using resources appropriately) and bad exploitation: ‘taking all the value and leaving a territory “poorer than you found it”.’

A question submitted to the publication If you ask me …  regarding exploitationA question submitted to If you ask me …  regarding exploitationBut this distinction, and the obvious implication that Britain would only engage in ‘good’ exploitation doesn’t seem to have made it into popular colonial consciousness, as questioners often implied that British activity was making the African territories poorer:

  • ‘Isn’t it true to say that … advanced industrial countries always exploit the under-developed, primary producing countries?’ (see the answer to this question reproduced to the right).
  • ‘How can thwarting a people’s rights to run their own affairs promote civilization?’

Exploitation and the sources of cynicism

The fact that these sorts of questions were regularly asked of colonial administrators demonstrates a cynical attitude among some Africans regarding the development of their countries.

Furthermore, since these views are not represented in the FCDO periodical holdings, it reaffirms that British-written propaganda was not the only source of information available to Africans.

African nationalists created their own materials (leaflets, posters, even periodicals) which were not retained by the FCDO library due to a lack of either interest or awareness.

The question reproduced to the right interrogates the cynicism felt within the exploitation of the colonies and the poses the question of recompense owed.

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