The Rise and Fall of the Central African Federation

HOW WAS THE CREATION OF THE CENTRAL AFRICA FEDERATION (CAF) VIEWED BY AFRICANS IN THE TERRITORIES OF NYASALAND AND THE RHODESIA'S

The Central African Federation (CAF) or the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland was a federal semi-dominion entity formed by the three southern territories of Southern Rhodesia, Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland. Of these three territories at the time of the constitution of the CAF, Southern Rhodesia was self-governing territory whereas Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland were British Protectorates. The CAF existed between 1953 and 1963. It was constituted under the Rhodesia and Nyasaland Federation Act 1953 and the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland (Constitution) Order in Council 1953. During the time of its existence, the CAF had a Governor-General who acted as the representative of the Queen at the centre. When the CAF came to an end in 1963, the causes of the failure of the entity were political in nature, as it was opposed by the African inhabitants of these territories. The African nationalists were opposed to the CAF. After the dissolution of the CAF, Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) and Nyasaland (Malawi) became independent states. Southern Rhodesia (Rhodesia) too declared its independence from the British colonial rule in 1965.

Considering this history and background of the formation of the CAF, a valid question is raised as to how the creation of the CAF was viewed by the African inhabitants of these territories. This question is sought to be answered in this essay with the help of primary documents. The first document is the Memorandum by the Secretary of the State for Commonwealth Relations dated 4th July , 1956 (hereinafter ‘Memorandum’). The second document is the Annex to the memorandum entitled Proposal for Enhancement of the Status of the Federation (hereinafter ‘Annex’). The third document is the Statute of Westminster 1931 (hereinafter ‘Statute’), clauses 2-6 of which are analysed. The fourth document is a resolution of the Nyasaland African Congress dated 1st January 1952 (hereinafter ‘Resolution’). The fifth document is the Memorandum of the Nyasaland African Congress dated 28th August 1951 (hereinafter ‘1951 Memorandum’). The sixth document is the autobiography by Kaunda (1962).

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Applying a close reading of these documents, this essay will respond to the question as to how the African inhabitants of Southern and Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland viewed the establishment of the CAF. This essay argues that the majority of the African inhabitants of these territories were not completely in favour of the creation of the CAF and that they had to be convinced about the creation of the CAF by assuring them of protection of their interests and restraint against any furtherance of the federation without the consent of the majority of the people.

The Resolution clearly states that the people of Nyasaland are opposed to any union between them and Rhodesian people. The Resolution also mentions the reason for their opposition to union with Southern Rhodesia being the latter’s white minority government appropriating all power to themselves. This is also clarified in the 1951 Memorandum. Zambia too appears to have harboured ideas of freedom from British rule and self-governance (Kaunda, 1962).

One of the reasons why we may argue that the African inhabitants of the territories of Southern and Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland were opposed to the creation of the CAF is given in the second paragraph of the memorandum in which it is clearly noted:

“It is likely that when the Gold Coast becomes fully self governing we are going to be faced with a majority (9 members representing African interests may oppose) request from the Federal Legislature and the Europeans in the Federation that there shall be a political advance in the status of the Federation” (Memorandum, p. 1).

The creation of the CAF seems to be more an idea of the Europeans and the Federal Legislature and the Memorandum clearly alludes to the understanding of the Secretary of the State that the 9 African members representing the interests of the Africans would oppose the advancement of the federation under the CAF. Thus, it is clearly understood by the British that the Africans would not be in favour of the further advancement of the federation. This indicates that either the Africans were opposed to the formation of the CAF in 1953 or for some reasons between 1953 and 1956, they have become opposed to the further advancement of the federation.

One of the reasons why the Africans may oppose the furtherance of the federation could be that the position of the Africans in the federation was not considered to be equal to that of the other inhabitants. Moreover, the federation even if formed would not be self-governing like the case of the Gold Coast. The Annex provides some insight into this where it is mentioned that one of the reasons why it is not practical to recognise the CAF as a fully self-governing member of the Commonwealth with an equal status as regards to other members of the Commonwealth is because of the substantial limitations with respect to the territories in the CAF, “particularly in respect of the position of Africans both in three component Territories and in the Federation itself” (Annex, p. 1).

Indeed, the status of Africans appears to have received much attention in the Annex. One of the essential conditions that is mentioned in the Annex relates to the safeguarding of the interests of Africans in terms of the promises made in 1953 (Annex, p. 1). However, this protection appears to be the protection of the limited rights that the Africans had at the time vis a vis the European inhabitants of the same territories. The Annex mentions that in order to ensure the protection of the interests of the Africans, the same safeguards that were then provided would be continued to be provided and the functions of the African Affairs Board, “to which Africans attach great importance,” would be preserved” (Annex, p. 2). The mention of the African Affairs Board and the fact that the Africans attach great importance to the functions of this Board, is mentioned as a way for ensuring that something that Africans care deeply about is being respected. This appears to be in response to the understanding of the fact mentioned in the Memorandum that 9 African members who represent the interests of the African inhabitants would oppose the creation of the CAF. In other words, anticipating the opposition of the Africans, the proposed furtherance of the federation is based on the idea that there is a need to ensure that some of the areas that Africans care deeply about, particularly existing safeguards of interests and the functions of the African Affairs Board would be safeguarded.

The interests of the Africans also appear to be safeguarded for another reason in return for the furtherance of the commonwealth as one paragraph in the Annex indicates. It appears that unless an assurance were given to the Africans that there interests would be protected while accepting the federation as a part of the Commonwealth, there would be a feeling amongst the non European members of the Commonwealth that the newer countries were being given a smaller status as compared to the Europeans and through this a control could be exerted in the polity of the Commonwealth. This is indicated as follows:

“Pandit Nehru might take the line that what in effect the Prime Ministers were being asked to accept, was a multi-racial community run by a tiny minority of Europeans, The answer could be that we were continuing to give the fullest protection to the African” (Annex, p. 4).

Thus, there is a possible issue of discontent in the Africans and how they were not treated as equals, which may be central to the creation of the CAF and its reception from the African inhabitants of the Rhodesian and Nyasaland territories. To go back to how the African inhabitants may have viewed CAF, some indication of this may be found in their opposition to the furtherance of the federation in 1956 as the Memorandum indicates. The proposals for the constitutional advances of the Federation have come from the Prime Minister of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. At the same time, the 9 African members who represent the interests of the African inhabitants are most likely opposed to the furtherance of the Federation. Therefore, this appears to be more a demand from the European side and not the African side. It can be inferred from this that the African side was not too enthusiastic about the federation in the first place when it was created in the form of CAF in 1953.

The arrangements of 1953 when the pledges were made before the Parliament are also relevant to understanding the views of African inhabitants in 1953 before the CAF was constituted. The pledges are contained in the Preamble to the Rhodesia and Nyasaland Federation Act 1953. There are two pledges that are of relevance here and these are noted in the Annex. The first pledge relates to the ascertaining of the ‘desire’ of the inhabitants of the territories before taking any decision with respect to the furtherance of the federation in terms of full membership of the Commonwealth. The second pledge relates to the ‘categorical assurance’ by Lord Chandos that “unless the majority of the people so desire it . . . nothing short of that will enable any Government to approach a scheme of amalgamation or of a status which will end in Dominion status without the agreement of the inhabitants. I give a categorical assurance about that" (Annex, p. 3). Thus, it appears that in 1953 there were already some feelings amongst the African inhabitants that the establishment of the CAF will compromise their future determinate political position by furthering the federation without their consent and that furthering of the federation will be detrimental to their status.

Why else should there be a specific assurance being given to the majority of the people who happen to be Africans, unless the need for such assurance arose at the time of negotiations of discussions around the creation of the CAF? The need for this specific assurance arises because the majority of the people at the time were opposed to creation of CAF and they had to be reassured that the creation of the CAF did not mean any future steps would be taken for the furtherance of the federation without their consent. This may be because the furtherance of the federation meant that the question of sovereignty would be compromised. This is not clearly written in any of the documents analysed, however, an inference can be made that this was so.

The Statute of Westminster 1931 if applied to the new Federation strengthens the rights of the federation and gives it more autonomy. Clause 2 in particular provides that once the Dominion comes into being and this law is applied to it, laws of the Dominion shall not be void only because these laws were repugnant to the law of England, or to the provisions of any existing or future Act of Parliament of the United Kingdom. The problem with the application of this law was that the African inhabitants may object to the federation being given more autonomy so that they could dilute the provisions that afforded them greater protection for their interests. Thus, the Annex clearly notes that the application of this law can be made only if “on their side Federal Ministers were prepared in their public references to the arrangements, to make it quite clear that they accepted the present distribution of powers between the Federal and Territorial Governments and the present safeguards for Africans should remain unaltered (p. 4). Again, this indicates that the federation is problematic for Africans for whom the furtherance of the federation raises issues regarding the continued protection of their interests as per the guarantees given them by the British government.

To conclude this document analysis, the documents analysed in this essay indicate that African inhabitants were not in favour of the establishment of the CAF. This is made clear from the fact that the British recognised that Africans would oppose the furtherance of the federation. The possible reasons why Africans may not have been in favour of the federation could be that apart from the guarantee given them in the 1953 Act, that there interests would be protected and that no further federation work would happen without their consent, they did not have part of the governance.

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Bibliography

Kaunda, Kenneth D. (1962). Zambia shall be free: An autobiography. London: Heinemann Education Books Ltd.

Memorandum by the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations C.P.(56) 165 (4th July, 1956)

Memorandum of the Nyasaland African Congress (28th August, 1951).

Nyasaland African Congress (1st January, 1952).

Proposals for Enhancement of the Status of the Federation, Annex to Memorandum by the Secretary of State fc-r Commonwealth Relations C.P.(56) 165 (4th July, 1956)

Statute of Westminster 1931, Clauses 2-6

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