The projection of Britain's 'New Empire' in Africa 1939-48
The situation faced by the British Government during the Second World War demanded a total effort to fight a total war. And a cooperative effort was demanded not only by Britain and her allies, but equally of Britain in partnership with her empire. The importance of Britain's empire to her war effort meant that the British Government had to ensure unity of purpose and the mobilisation of maximum commitment. British colonies in East and Central Africa became increasingly important in supplying raw materials, food stuffs, monetary contributions and manpower. With advances in mass communications public opinion could not be ignored and had to be mobilised to support the war effort at home, in the colonies and abroad. This involved the British Government in a propaganda campaign about the mutually beneficial relationship, to explain the war to the populations in the empire and to educate the British public about the contributions made by the empire to the war effort. A reluctant Colonial Office entered into a new field of activity, public relations in uneasy cooperation with the Ministry of Information. The nature of this official British propaganda changed as the war progressed. In Africa it became increasingly apparent that 'win the war' propaganda was insufficient, the colonies would have to be told why they had a common interest in defeating the Axis. With the collapse of British power in South-East Asia and the resulting criticisms of the British Imperial system in general, particularly from the United States, it was clear that British policy would have to be articulated in a new way. The theme adopted was of a new imperial relationship of 'partnership' to replace the old policy of trusteeship. In publicising the positive economic and social aspects of 'new' Empire through the commitment of the Colonial Welfare and Development Acts the British Government hoped to reduce criticism and avoid the controversial issues of the future political developments in the empire. In the post-war period the economic problems faced by the Labour Government and the need to mobilise the resources of the Empire to support the British economy threatened the rhetoric of the 'new' Empire relationship of 'Partnership' as attempts were made to utilise the resources of the African El Dorado to maintain British independence and ensure its continued great power status. The colonies in Africa were also seen as under threat from the new menace of communism and the racial policies of the Union of South Africa. Official British propaganda continued to project the mutual benefits of 'partnership' while realising that the colonies could not be coerced but would have to be persuaded to play an active part in the imperial relationship. This long-term educative process aimed to contain the political aspirations of the Africans and the white settler communities in East and Central Africa raised as a result of the war within the framework of gradual evolution towards self-government within the British multi-racial Commonwealth.