October 25, 2020

7 Major Reasons Britain Adopted Indirect Rule in British West Africa

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So why did the British adopt the Indirect Rule system in administering their West African colonies during the colonial period?

Well, you will now know the reasons why Britain introduced Indirect Rule to British West Africa.

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But I think it is proper for us to get a clear meaning of the term “Indirect Rule” first.

The Meaning of Indirect Rule

From the 1920s onwards, the British adopted a system of administration known as Indirect Rule to administer their territories in British West Africa.

Under this system, the traditional rulers (chiefs) were the main instruments by which the British executed their polices.

Where there were no chiefs with traditional authority, the British appointed so-called “warrant chiefs” to constitute traditional authorities.

The British constituted the traditional administrative set-up into what was known as Native Authorities. The head of a Native Authority was the traditional ruler. They were assisted by councils of elders..

Indirect Rule was first introduced into Northern Nigeria by Lord Frederick Lugard.

The British, unlike the French rejected the idea of imposing European culture on Africans. In the words of governor Gordon Guggisberg “We must aim at the development of the people along their own racial lines and not at the wholesale replacement of their civilization by our own”.

They therefore maintained the traditional African political institutions and ruled indirectly through the local chiefs.

Reasons for the introduction of Indirect Rule

You can now have a summary of the reasons why, unlike France, Britain chose Indirect Rule to administer the affairs of her West African colonies.

1. Lack of finance

The colonies were large and recruiting British officials at all levels would be costly. Indirect rule was cheaper since local rulers could be used.

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2. Shortage of personnel

Most British nationals were unwilling to work in the colonies because they thought they were primitive and under – developed.

3. Laissez-Faire policy back in Britain

The British themselves were practicing a liberal, decentralized form of political administration and wanted to do same into the colonies.

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4. Desire for minimal interference in local affairs

The British would not like to be seen as interfering too much in the affairs of the indigenous people. This might cause anger among them and work against the objectives of colonial rule.

5. The existence of an efficient centralized political system

This was particularly the case in Northern Nigeria

The British only needed to use this well-established bureaucracy. E.g. courts, police, prisons, tax system etc.

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6. Problems of communication

Language and travel barriers necessitated the use of indigenous rulers at the local level.

7. Experience elsewhere

Lord Lugard who introduced indirect rule in Northern Nigeria had had a successful similar experience in Uganda. Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles was also successful in Malaya and Singapore. The British were therefore convinced it was the best system to adopt.

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Ralph Nyadzi

Ralph has a passion for the teaching and learning of Language and Literature mainly because these two help him to understand and appreciate why people act the way they do. Over the past two decades, he has coached over 5000 students and adult learners to achieve their educational goals. Ralph is the founder and CEO of Cegast Academy.

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