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

General positivity


Photographic scenes of a boat being loaded with produceAn article by newspaper editor Kiea Epelle entitled: Self-help in eastern NigeriaFrom the mid-1950s, West African writers filled an increasing amount of space within the West African annual and occasionally used this platform to praise development progress.

In 1956, for example, runner-up writing competition entrant Yahaya Isa wrote of the ‘tremendous effort’ of the Northern Nigerian Adult Literacy Campaign, thanks to which ‘upwards of a million people are now literate in less than five years.’ 

Whether this view was representative of popular opinion is unknown, as articles critical of development were deliberately not published. But as a competition entry, presumably written off the author’s own bat, it is at least a valid contribution.

Newspaper editor, Kiea Epelle similarly portrayed development as progress, in the article reproduced on the right. He states that ‘Villages of the modern type have a higher standard of living than the backward ones’, a view that was presumably shared by the residents of Atcha where ‘Morale is high, and the people are rightly proud of their achievement.’

These positive views are summed up by an enthusiastic questioner in If you ask me… ‘As I look at the map of Africa I think there are no limits to the possibilities of development’.


These articles could not have been published without editorial oversight. Under the weighty hierarchy of colonial administration both within the colonies and the Colonial Office itself, the pro-development agenda was likely imposed upon the literature to some degree.

However, it is important as an historian not to generalise research conclusions, nor to ignore evidence out of hand through excessive caution. Positive views almost certainly existed, despite the convenience to British propagandists. Dorothy Hodgson has shown that the Maasai of Tanganyika openly welcomed development projects that were palpably advantageous to them, so long as they were timely, and the work and funding was not disproportionately reliant on local resources.

The following sections of this online exhibition will look at some of the ways that positive attitudes to development can be traced among the African population.

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