Written by Gwythian Prins



This article was first published in Briefings for Britain and we republish with their kind permission. 



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[Continued from Part II here]

Language skills and presence. I had seen many acerbic memoranda in the archives from Mr Clay’s pen asking why this or that officer was sitting in his office and not out ‘on tour’ for sufficient days per month. Presence was the prerequisite for detailed awareness about your District. The worst offence in the provincial administration was for local famine to occur without the DC’s knowledge. There were established famine relief measures (public work for food) that could be employed in need. In the maLozi case, in addition the Royal Court could order similar measures that pre-dated the colonial era.

That post-war record of ‘Millennium Development Goal’ type achievement is a matter of fact. It has been long obscured; and today, under the raging of wilfully ignorant Black Lives Matter/Rhodes Must Fall activists bullying craven University administrations – with honourable exceptions like Louise Richardson in Oxford – it is ‘cancelled’, just as the truth of the many thousands’ massed Ndebele royal salute (‘Bayete!’) to Cecil John Rhodes at his burial at World’s View in the Matopos Hills in 1902, close to the bones of Mzilikazi the founder of the Matabele nation, and of the Ndebele guard of honour that was mounted for decades thereafter, is ‘cancelled’. The reasons for that respect are entirely forgotten, if they were ever known by the RMF crew, eg Rhodes’ repurchase of land from settlers to give to the Ndebele. So what’s that about then, one might ask? Legitimated power is the answer. The colonial experience was a subtle, joint creation of many actors, not just the binary boot on the neck. Such gross caricature insults the memories of all involved, black, brown or white. It is to ‘cancel’ the very pith of a century of shared history in Africa.

After I had offered this advice to a hushed DfID audience in the Grand Hotel, I experienced an early sign of what has now come upon us all. For I had uttered rank heresy. Not only had I spoken the ‘c’ word, but with some informed praise and not ritual condemnation. The emotional temperature dropped through the floor. In questions, I well remember a lady DfID official, tight-lipped, who spat out that language qualifications were utterly irrelevant because its ‘governance advisers’ were a precious and scarce resource who might have to be moved across the globe at a moment’s notice; and so learning local languages would simply waste resources and sow confusion.

I saw the lie of the land. Am I therefore to assume, I retorted, that they are possessed of some universally applicable higher knowledge? If so, what is it, and how pretentious is that? I got no reply. An academic adviser (I think from the University of Sussex) leapt to the platform to assert between gritted teeth that while this Professor might think that this was how things had been in Africa, it certainly was not so in India and probably not in Africa either. For the rest of my time with them, I was comprehensively sent to Coventry. My former pupils dared not come near me or speak to me or even to look at me. I was never invited back, not to Eastbourne, nor yet to Jaipur, more’s the pity. But I kept faith with Monty’s muLozi soldier and also with Gervas Clay who after retirement from the Northern Rhodesia provincial administration became Director of the Rhodes-Livingstone Museum (to which I myself was later attached) and whose Lozi name was mutusi – the helper – for his role in trying to defend the 1900 Barotseland Agreement when both the British and the new Zambian authorities welched on it at Independence in 1964.

Four subordinate points to transform performance and delivery

That was my first point of advice to DfID that afternoon. I had four others. Together they still stand as a programme for the humane and realistic as opposed to ideological deployment of British taxpayers’ money. Therefore I offer them to Mr Raab and Ms Trevelyan to complete my five point programme for the reorientation and improvement of British development aid effort in 2021.

In siLuyana, the Court language of Bulozi, there is a wise proverb: liywa limweya ka liolo ndopu: an elephant does not go rotten in a single day – or even thirteen years. May I suggest that it applies here?

How to find out what to support with British money 
  • ‘Other than for emergency relief, adopt the Global Fund (for the elimination of TB, AIDS & Malaria) model of dispensing funding ie, consciously abandon all goal or target setting, all planning, all administrative models, especially all direct subsidy of other government’s budgets: there are African spectres looming over DfID today from that practice in the past, as all know. Instead, invest effort in critical review and invite application from all sources whether governmental or not.’
  • ‘Then fund and re-fund only success. Fund no new initiatives that are thought up in London except the following two – both of which have strong Global Southern roots.’
Education above all 
  • ‘Divert the lion’s share of “good governance” funding to scholarships to pay fees at all levels from primary to university levels of education. Recognise the preferences of people and the realities on the ground and fund private schools – not state schools with all their encumbrances and controls – to administer such competitions. There is no better investment – no better proven investment – than this. As our first Waterford/Kamhlaba student to win a full Harvard scholarship (a girl from a refugee family, to read Chemistry) put it to a room full of wealthy American potential donors in a British Ambassador’s residence, “I am sick of poverty; I was born into it; and I want to help my continent to abolish it. I owe everything to the scholarships that supported me. But you can only raise Africa up one young African at a time.” Put significant International Development money into greatly amplified competitive Rhodes-Mandela/Chevening-type scholarships for the very best local students to attend elite British institutions. Do not leave it all to Anil Seal’s Cambridge Commonwealth and Cambridge International Trusts. Do this soon, before the Chinese, Americans and Indians steal all our trousers.’ [Sadly we are pretty trouserless nowadays. Waterford/Kamhlaba in Eswatini (Swaziland), where I taught as a volunteer before Cambridge, is a multi-racial school consciously established in 1963 on the principles of a British public school to train the next generation of African leaders, which it has done with conspicuous success].
Let the free market rock
  • Recognise where the driving forces of enterprise are and broadcast them with élan. Broadcast them literally. Fund the BBC to develop local variants of “The Dragon’s Den” with local entrepreneurs and with broadcasters of all types – local public service and satellite, including via BBC World. This can become as potent a source of soft power, world-wide, as British football and cricket. It is fortunate that in televisual terms, successful capitalism is as naturally full of drama and spectacle as state socialism is of tedium. DfID infamously sprayed millions over an Ethiopian girl pop group and TV shows, as in Pakistan. So it is no stranger to what the military call InfoOps and MediaOps. The FCDO just needs to get the DfIDys away from the controls and reassert a grip on the messaging from the very start.

Adieu. I shall not lament your passing

So DfID adieu. I shall not lament your passing although others who over-used that ‘great cashpoint in the sky’ may do so. You should never have been created in the first place. You were the wrong answer, underpinned with the wrong basic analysis and created with the wrong motives. The deepest irony, which was fully in my mind as I addressed those ranks of eager young ‘governance advisers’ in 2007, thinking all the while of my maLozi friends and of Gervas Clay and his officers, is that you were far more patronising in the worst colonial fashion than the era which set the standard for good governance in post-war Africa from which we can still learn, if we have the humility to do so. It was an era which left a legacy of goodwill – yes, goodwill – that expresses itself in the grass-roots vitality of the Commonwealth today. That goodwill provides a stock of political capital that global Britain sorely needs to employ and deploy as it rediscovers its freedoms and exercises its natural reflexes and powers once more, today and into the future.



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Gwythian Prins’s book on late nineteenth century Bulozi (The Hidden Hippopotamus. Reappraisal in African History: The early colonial experience in western Zambia, Cambridge University Press, 1980) won the Herskovits Prize for African History that year. 

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