Britain and Africa: the search for new forms of engagement

Tony Chafer, G. Cumming

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


By the end of the First World War, Britain’s overseas empire covered a quarter of the earth’s land surface and included some twenty dependencies south of the Sahara. Given the sheer size of this empire, it is hardly surprising that Britain opted for a low-cost system of indirect rule in Africa and elsewhere. Yet, while Britain was reluctant to use taxpayers’ money to support its colonies, it was keen to prevent other industrialised powers from gaining a foothold in its dependencies. In essence, this desire to shore up influence meant that Britain had to develop its own approach to its colonies during the colonial era. In the early post-colonial decades, Britain maintained its predilection for a unilateral approach to its former African colonies but recognised the potential of multilateral agencies such as the World Bank. Britain’s appreciation of the value of multilateral, alongside unilateral, approaches increased in the post–cold war period but there was still no recognition of the value of joint or ‘bilateral’ approaches, where two donors would systematically get together to coordinate their policies for tackling the problems of Africa. This changed when, in December 1998, the United Kingdom, together with France, signed the Saint-Malo declaration, in which the two governments promised to enhance defence cooperation and ‘harmonise their policies towards Africa’.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)167-184
Number of pages18
JournalRevue Française de Civilisation Britannique
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2013


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