Dual Mandate, Africa

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Dual Mandate, Africa

The dual mandate is an expression of the fundamental principles of European imperialism in tropical Africa as theorized by Sir Frederick Lugard (1858–1945), the best known of the British colonial officers to serve in Africa. In his most important work on British imperialism, The Dual Mandate in British Tropical Africa (1922), Lugard craftily articulated the basis for European imperial design in Africa and the dynamics of the colonial administrative system of indirect rule.

In Lugard's discourse, European imperialism rested on the premise that the resources of Africa, perceived dormant, could be productively marshaled and utilized by the more technologically advanced imperial nations of Europe for the mutual benefits of the colonizer and the colonized. Lugard argued that Africa's enormous resources lay wasted not only because Africans did not recognize their uses and value, but also because they did not possess the know-how to develop and exploit them. Lugard's thesis ascribed to imperial Europe a fundamental right to Africa's "wasted bounties of nature," and also the responsibility of holding them in trust and developing them for the benefit of humankind. As custodian of Africa's resources, however, imperial Europe was committed to Africa's development and the advancement and welfare of its people. Britain as a colonizing power thus had a dual mandate: first, the exploitation of Africa's resources for imperial benefit; and second, the development of the continent.

Lugard's indirect rule became an instrument of British imperial administration in Africa. It was a concept in which existing African traditional political institutions were preserved and incorporated into the colonial administrative system for local governance. Under this system, local administrative powers resided in the native authority made up of traditional rulers or chiefs with jurisdiction over a native treasury and native courts. Lugard believed that, at the grassroots, traditional authority would constitute an effective instrument in enforcing colonial policies, administrating justice in local disputes, maintaining law and order, and collecting taxes. The efficacy of indirect rule thus necessarily rested on the existence of powerful chiefs capable of exercising political authority over their jurisdictions.

As theorized by Lugard, the native authority retained, as much as possible, its traditional powers and character. However, in practice the British turned the chiefs into agents of the colonial administration. These chiefs would lose their political autonomy and become subordinated to the authority of colonial administrative agents such as the resident or the district officer. Ostensibly, the colonial official was a sympathetic adviser and a counselor to the chiefs; in reality, though, the official would dictate colonial policies and regulations to the chiefs. The chiefs were expected to transmit these received instructions to the indigenous people and see to their implementation. Colonial policies thus reached the people through their own chiefs firsthand, giving the impression of a native rule. Colonial taxation was, for instance, in the eyes of the local taxpayer the chief's initiative. Such arrangement in which imperial orders were disguised as those of the chiefs ensured quick compliance by the people. Also, indirect rule, by utilizing the traditional elite who exercised local authority directly over the people, minimized contacts between British colonial officials and Africans, which greatly reduced friction between the two groups.

Indirect rule as a principle of colonial local government became the standard policy in most of British Africa. It was adopted by colonial officials in a number of British possessions such as Sierra Leone, the Gold Coast, and Uganda. It was in Northern Nigeria, however, that the system had its most profound expression. Following the subjugation of the Hausa-Fulani in 1903, Lugard introduced the system among the people. In practice, it proved workable largely because the existing hierarchical political order in Northern Nigeria fit perfectly with the demands of the system.

Following the Fulani jihad of 1804, the hitherto individualistic and competing Hausa states became united under a strong centralized theocratic state known as the Sokoto Caliphate. The administration of the caliphate came under the central authority of the caliph and a number of emirs who headed sub-units of the state, the emirates. The emirs were highly autocratic. In local governance, they utilized an effective system of taxation and a judicial system based on Islamic law, the Sharia. Under indirect rule, the emir's allegiance shifted from the caliph to the colonial commissioner. In Northern Nigeria, therefore, Lugard found the necessary centralized political structure and preexiting taxation and court systems critical for indirect rule to work.

The limitations of indirect rule were demonstrated in Southern Nigeria where Lugard extended the system after the amalgamation of northern and southern protectorates in 1914. As governor-general of a unified Nigeria, Lugard hoped that the system would work in the southern provinces. In the southwest among the Yoruba, it encountered some problems and was less successful. Although, the Yoruba possessed a centralized political system, it was less autocratic than the Sokoto Caliphate. Theoretically powerful, Yoruba traditional rulers, the obas, were restrained by a complex system of checks and balances. Thus, they lacked the authoritarianism of the northern emirs. Lugard aggravated many groups in Yorubaland when he ignored tradition and arbitrarily elevated the status of some rulers. The attempts of rulers to forcibly collect imposed colonial taxes bred discontentment in some parts of Yorubaland. Indirect rule was thus less successful here.

In the southeast, indirect rule proved utterly unworkable among the Igbo and other groups. Unlike northern and southwestern Nigeria, the provinces in the southeast did not possess the centralized political system required for indirect rule to work. The Igbo, for instance, lived in fragmented societies and did not develop a monarchical political institution. In the place of missing authoritarian rulers, Lugard simply manufactured his own chiefs and equipped them with political authority to rule over a people unfamiliar to a system of kingship. The created rulers, the so-called "warrant chiefs," lacked legitimacy and their attempts to exercise political authority in Igboland gave rise to deep resentment against them. In Igboland, indirect rule without legitimately constituted authority was a total failure.

see also Britain's African Colonies; Colonial Cities and Towns, Africa; Indirect Rule, Africa.


Afigbo, A. E. The Warrant Chiefs: Indirect Rule in Southeastern Nigeria, 1891–1929. London: Longman, 1972.

Hailey, William Malcolm. Native Administration and Political Development in British Tropical Africa. Nendeln, Liechtenstein: Kraus Reprint, 1979.

Ikime, Obaro and Segun Osoba, eds. Indirect Rule in British Africa. London: Longman, 1970.

Lugard, Frederick D. The Dual Mandate in British Tropical Africa. London: Blackwood and Sons, 1922.

Perham, Margery Freda. Native Administration in Nigeria. London: Oxford University Press, 1937.