In the 1920s and 1930s, educated African elite challenged colonial rule using Western political tactics, philosophies, and organizations. For example, they urged the colonial government to create elected advisory councils (even if the elected Africans held only nominal position). The elite also struggled to mitigate the impact of land alienation on African farmers. Defending the rights of Africans, particularly that of their own social class, they opposed the colonial system and its administrative models (direct or indirect rule). Doing so, they initiated a process of reform and modern nationalist movement towards decolonization. Although the scope of their political demands were narrow and their achievements limited, the educated elite laid down the foundations for the mass nationalist movement that finally liberated Africans from colonial rule in the 1950s and 1960s.
Yet their motives and successes are debatable. For example, in their protests, the elite did not include all the colonized people. Instead, their major concerns were focused on the colonial administration’s failure to accommodate them (the elite) and their interests. With their Western education and knowledge of both African and Western languages and cultures, they believed or felt they deserved better and were more qualified to represent African interests than the traditional chiefs. In other words, they fought for inclusion in the colonial administration rather than replacing it. Some of them later on became conservative politicians who were willing to work within the framework of colonial system. For this reason, some scholars consider them as “collaborators.”
Question for discussion:
What do think? Were the educated African elite of the early 20th century (1910s to 1930s) “collaborators” or genuine “nationalists”? Why?