Government information film on East Africa.
A brief historical survey introduces the foreign racial elements - Arab, European and Indian - while characterising the natives as "sometimes delightful, but sometimes surly, not to say boorish". This is followed by a geographical description of the region and a series of generalised comments on the rural economy - peasant farmers, Indian middle-men, large-scale European plantations, etc. Economic diversification is represented by the exploitation of minerals, eg diamonds in Tanganyika. Mines require power - Jinja HEP (hydro-electric power) project. The film then follows the progress of the first thorough census - essential for proper economic planning and administration - emphasising the special regional difficulties, and the contribution of native census workers. Population growth means increased pressure on the land and the danger of soil erosion because of intensive but primitive agricultural methods - progressive measures are represented by native cooperatives, reservoir construction, contour ploughing, etc. Makerere College - East Africa needs a more highly educated class which can assume white responsibilities without becoming alienated from the common people. Simple Africans must be taught a "healthy life". Practical education in simple improvements is the most effective - these people will have to depend on human and animal power for some time to come.
Enhanced data reproduced from COLONIAL FILM CATALOGUE - www.colonialfilm.org.uk
In 1947 a Central Office of Information booklet explained that ‘among the film projects sponsored by the Colonial Office is a new programme of documentaries about East Africa’. ‘Its purpose’, the booklet stated, ‘is to acquaint people in Britain and elsewhere with East African life, and with some of the problems of colonial development facing the colonial powers of UNO’ (Colonial Cinema, June 1947, 38). The Central Office of Information had, ‘with the support of the Colonial Office’, sent Robert Kingston Davies to East Africa ‘for the purpose of shooting material to be sent home and made into further films for the Colonial Office’. Working alongside Kingston Davies was Stewart McAllister, best known for his work as editor on Humphrey Jennings’ wartime films (Vaughan, 1983, 158).
At the opening of Introducing East Africa (No. 1) the commentator explains that ‘this film has been assembled from the material already available to be used as a basis for discussion for those interested in colonial problems in eastern and central Africa’. Colonial Office reports further explained that the film used material ‘shot by Kingston Davies during his first tour’, while Introducing East Africa (No.2) similarly uses existing footage produced by Kingston Davies and McAllister during their second tour in East Africa. This includes material on Makerere College from East African College (1950) (INF 6/712 and INF 6/787).
These films were supplemented by a series of booklets ‘introducing’ the colonies, including ‘Introducing East Africa’. Sir Kenneth Blackburne, the director of Colonial Information Services from 1947 until 1950, explained that ‘a whole range of material, written and pictorial, was produced for each of the five regions of the colonial empire… heavily illustrated they gave a vivid picture of the history, the customs, the lives and the problems of each region’. Blackburne further explained that ‘we also collaborated with the COI in the production of films about the colonies’ (Blackburne, 1976, 96).
Introducing East Africa was released at the end of 1950. Reviews for the film noted that its running time was 20 minutes – the length of part 2 – while the descriptions of the film also seemingly related to this version, as the film showed, for example, ‘the taking of the first population census’. Film User described the film as ‘a well-balanced review of the position of Tanganyika, Uganda and Kenya and an excellent addition to geographical film libraries’ (Film User, November 1950, 647). While Introducing East Africa (No. 2) was seemingly available for non-theatrical hire, Colonial Office files indicate that No. 1 was designed for use in Colonial Service Cadet courses. The files state that only three prints of the film were made – one each for courses at Cambridge and Oxford and one for Kingston Davies’ East African Unit (INF 6/712).
In highlighting the perceived developments made by the British in East Africa, Introducing East Africa (No. 2) represents pre-colonial Africa as ‘primitive’. ‘The people were primitive’, the voiceover explains, there were ‘warlike pastoral tribes’ and ‘war and disease levied their toll on East Africa’. In contrast, the film shows modern Nairobi, which is ‘barely fifty years old. Yet it has grown into a modern city, with broad streets, fine buildings, up-to-date hotels, and stores and shops for every kind of merchandise’.
Further British developments are emphasised. Britain has brought technological advances. ‘To-day’, a voiceover asserts, ‘it takes only 36 hours to cover by train the journey from Mombasa to Lake Victoria which took Joseph Thomson three months less than seventy years ago’. The importance of European industries and investment is also shown – ‘without such capital the natural resources of this rich capital will remain untapped’. The film then shifts from an assessment of 19th century Africa, to a consideration of how the British can work with the Africans in the future. The film promotes continued British assistance at a time when calls for independence were growing: ‘Fifty years of British government had certainly brought tremendous changes to East Africa. But what has been done was only a beginning’.
The film acknowledges changes within East Africa – in particular the greater responsibilities now handed to Africans – yet it still emphasises the role of the British here. For example, when chiefs visit a reservoir, which is being built by their tribesmen, the voiceover emphasises that this is carried out ‘under the supervision of experts in the government service’. The film depicts an African surveyor building the council chamber, yet notes that he was ‘educated at Makerere College’ under British tutelage. The collection of the census indicates how the African workers have gained ‘experience’ from the British, which will help them in the future. The organisation and scientific approach of the British – ‘neatly docketed on these shelves is the information which, correctly used and interpreted, is vital to the future of East Africans’ – further illustrates the supposedly ‘British’ set of skills still required within Africa.
The film also promotes continued British involvement through its ethnographic shots of a still ‘undeveloped’ Africa. It shows African parents treated as children, sitting at classroom desks as they learn about making ‘better, healthier homes’. Furthermore the voiceover explains that ‘the simple African … must not lose their African way of life and the dancing that is so much a part of it’. The ethnographic shots maintain a distinction between the British and Africans – referred to as ‘them’ and ‘us’ – and offer a further validation of continued British involvement within East Africa.
Introducing East Africa (No.2) reiterates arguments presented within other COI films. For example it highlights the need for Makerere to produce a ‘more highly educated class’ to assume leadership, and, in particular, emphasises that any changes must be gradual: ‘simple changes are the most effective at this stage’. Ultimately both Introducing East Africa films serve as a justification of British colonial policy, presenting the historical role of the British in Africa – ‘only in the past half century has the East African started learning how to live’ – and highlighting the continued role of Britain in developing Africa’s future. This is evident in the final shot, as the voiceover talks of ‘two East Africans living side by side: One is of the ageless past, the other of the future’. The future is represented here by an African child who hands a book to a European woman, emphasising the continued role of the British in educating and guiding Africans.
Tom Rice (May 2008)
Blackburne, Kenneth, Lasting Legacy: A Story of British Colonialism (London: Johnson, 1976).
‘Film Plan for East Africa’, Colonial Cinema, June 1947, 38-40.
‘Introducing East Africa’, Film User, November 1950, 647.
‘Introducing East Africa No. 1’, INF 6/712, accessed at National Archives.
‘Introducing East Africa No. 2’, INF 6/787, accessed at National Archives.
Vaughan, Dai, Portrait of an Invisible Man: The Working Life of Stewart McAllister, Film Editor (London: BFI, 1983).
- Related period
- 1945-1989 (content)
- Colonial Office (Production sponsor)
Central Office of Information (Production company)
Colonial Film Unit (Production company)
Editorial Film Productions (Production company)
- Production date
- Place made
whole: Number Of Items/reels/tapes 1
- Catalogue number
- COI 634