"The White Man's Burden"

This reading calls for the further support for Britain's involvement in Northern Nigeria.  The document is especially noteworthy for its description of life in the region, the self-concept of the English, and the way in which the author argues his case for increased intervention.  Readers should critique this document not as a source of "objective truth" but as a statement of perspective from a promoter of imperialism, colonialism and indirect rule.

The White Man in Nigeria

Chapter I

The Grant-in-Aid

A plea for more money--The immensity of Northern Nigeria--The Fulani, tile ruling race--Their deterioration after Othman Fodio --Slave-raiding revived---Why Great Britain went to Northern Nigeria--The value of Hausaland as a market and for raw material--What must be done ?

It is said that more than half of the Government Grant-in-aid of the cost of administering Northern Nigeria goes for the upkeep of the West African Frontier Force, without which the old and profitable West Coast Colonies would not be safe, and that the sum at present allotted to the Civil Administration is absurdly inadequate. If this is so, why cannot Government do the thing properly? It surely cannot be that there is any fear of the British public not willingly finding all the money that may be necessary. If it were only a question of the Coast Colonies, it would be highly advisable to retain control of Northern Nigeria as a buffer State, and that, too, if it were as barren as the Great Desert and as unpopulated as the Poles. Luckily, it is neither one nor the other.

If anyone asks, he is told that the population of Northern Nigeria, or the Hausa States, is '20,000,000 to 25,000,000,' with a frank ignorance as to the mere fives of millions, which should provide food for thought. It is not because we have only recently heard of the country, and have as yet had no opportunity of estimating its people. We have been in touch with the Hausa States for centuries; and the Hausa traders have for centuries been in evidence throughout the whole of Northern Africa--from Lagos to Tripoli, from Fez to the Nile. It has been known for centuries that the land was fertile beyond all dreams and teemed with people, swarming in vast cities of anything up to a quarter of a million souls--we suppose black men have souls. It has been known as the great negro preserve for centuries, and therein lies the reason of our uncertainty as to how many people--to 15,000,000--there are up the Niger. We do not know how many there are left. We have known for centuries that the innumerable villages have swarmed with kiddies, but we do not know how many have been let live.

We know that about a hundred years ago the rough and ready intertribal man-catching was stopped by the founding of the Fulani Dynasty by Othman Fodio, the first Fulani Sultan, which has lasted until now, organizing government, justice, and revenue, and protecting the people from the outside raiders of the Coast, who found a happy hunting-ground there for 'black ivory.' For a hundred years this dynasty has been all-powerful. Even the Londoner heard with interest from time to time of the alleged 2o,ooo breast-plated cavalrymen of Sokoto, and of the chain-armour of Kano. For a hundred years all caravans have paid heavy toll on passing in and out of Hausaland; and for a hundred years even white men have paid subsidies to native chiefs for the right not to have their stores unreasonably plundered, or their carriers ' caught' for slaves--too often. Yet for a hundred years the profits on trade with Hausaland have been so good that the stream of caravans to the Mediterranean has never ceased. It is appalling to think of the skeletons buried in the drifting sands of the Sahara, of the countless bales of valuable goods ruined in the rush of the raid, as the helpless traders fell into the clutches of the thousand-and-one robber tribes of the desert. Thirst, lions, storms, thieves, and panic, gathered their doles year by year; but year by year caravans came through, and year by year Kano swarmed with Tripoli Arabs, as Tripoli swarmed with Kano Hausas.

To an immense extent the Fulani Dynasty was beneficial: it consolidated the innumerable Hausa tribes into one people, and it saved the country from the depopulation of the Coast raiders; but it was based upon a false economy. Protection was a baby to the monopoly of the Fulani, and it could not last. Othman prophesied on his death-bed that the dynasty he had founded would last but a hundred years, and well before that time it had indeed run its course. The Fulani was a great organizer, a born governor, an astute statesman, and an intrepid soldier; but his government degenerated into a mere collecting of tribute, his justice, excellent in theory, was bought and sold in practice, and his revenue was collected in slaves. The current coin of the realm was a slave; and as the power of Sokoto weakened, and outlying districts--until then protected from outsiders--were depopulated without retribution, the loyal tribes (i.e., those which were near enough to be terrorized into submission) had to supply as much 'revenue' as the whole country had done before. Failure of tribute was the inevitable result, and punitive expeditions, tax-gathering tours, slave raids--slave raids pine and simple, call them what you will--began again.

Then, again, every woman about to become a mother went and hid in the bush like a wild beast until the baby was old enough not to be a fatal encumbrance in case of a hasty flight; then, again, the rumour that the Fulani were coming emptied great villages, and scattered the people over the face of the earth; then, again, the old and feeble were put to the sword; then, again, children became scarce, the fields lay idle, and the land flowed with blood.

It was to save the country from this that Great Britain stepped in. It was to save this ancient people from extermination. . . .  It was to change the darkest spot in darkest Africa back again into a land flowing with milk and honey that Great Britain took over the tremendous burden of administration from the Niger Company, and sent one of its greatest ' Africans ' (Sir F. D. Lugard) with a small body of earnest men into the 'White Man's Grave.' Is it to be thought that the British public will grudge the money for a work like this? France is doing her share. With Timbuctoo, Dahomey, Zinder, Chad, and the Congo, she has, as the Americans put it, ' chawed off about as big a lump as she can chew.' Germany, in the Cameroons and AdamaWa, has more than she wants. And are we, muling and puking, to follow the finger of the Little Englander, invest all our moneys in electric railways, schools, and scientific experiments, and leave the real work of the world to be done by nations who can breed men like those who made Great Britain the leader in civilization ? We are the leading nation amongst the peoples, and it is our clear duty to take the place of the leading nation.

It is not a question of charity. Those who ask for money for the civilization of Northern Nigeria do not want it for tilting at windmills, and do not consider they are asking a favour. They are advising an investment. They do not promise l0 per cent interest; they do not hold out hopes of doubling capital; they do not even say the capital will ever be paid back. But they do say that the Hausas, who are sending their goods to London byway of the Desert, Tripoli, and Marseilles, will shortly ship them down the Niger direct to Manchester; that Manchester and other goods will go the same way in return; and that the land which now, with no cultivation beyond a little scratching, produces several heavy crops a year, may be made to produce abundance for our markets after satisfying all its own people; that the people who now grow their own cotton, weave their own cloth, and make their own clothes, beads, ornaments, and household utensils, will form a long-lasting market for the better stuff we can turn out for comparatively nothing; and that, when our electric railways, schools, and scientific experiments want renewing, our intercourse with the great Hausa people will mean to us funds and material for further progress.

This is the picture, and even now some can see its commencement. The great trade routes have been opened ‘by the Power of the White Man,’ so that they say even a woman can pass unmolested wherever the White Man has gone; the river was never so full of trading canoes; the land is burdened with crops, and the villages are swarming with children. This is the beginning. What will be the end? Are we to stay and reap prosperity, trade, and progress? or are we to back out, and leave the country to the raider and the sword ? Are we to leave the Fulani, with shattered power and prestige utterly lost, to fight it out with the feckless Hausa and the cannibal pagan? or are we to stay with him, and nurse his undoubted organizing and governing ability into modern lines, weaning him from the slavery which is, after all, only out of date, and from the corruption which, at the worst, is not much worse than Tammany ? If the question is fairly put to the public of Great Britain, what will the answer be? Why, if it were not our bounden duty before God and man to step in to stop the slavery alone, we ought surely to find the money to secure one of the most promising openings the world has to offer for our inevitable expansion in the future. If it were not a solemn duty, it is a capital investment. It is, none the less, an investment, because it is for the future; and that nation will last longest which looks furthest into the future--the inevitable future.