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Monthly Archives: June 2009

Was Lord Lugard really an evil 12-year-old prodigy who pinched a dimestore fake mustache with his upper lip as a disguise?

Was Lord Lugard really an evil 12-year-old prodigy who glued a fake dimestore mustache to his upper lip as a disguise?

Lord Frederick John Dealtry Lugard was one of the biggest assholes of history, and he had the ‘stache to prove it.

You know those pesky civil wars that kept popping up across Africa in the last 50 years? Like Biafra, Rwanda, Sudan, Congo, etc.? There’s probably no individual in history who played more of a direct role in making them happen.

As the newly appointed High Commissioner of the Protectorate of Northern Nigeria in 1899, the Indian-born Lord Lugard faced a huge challenge. With only a handful of colonial administrators to aid him, he had to enforce Mother Britain’s absolute control over a vast area and a multitude of local people. To do so, he pioneered a new method of government called Indirect Rule.

Indirect Rule worked like this: Lugard reasoned it was impossible and costly to try to directly control the local populace and make them do stuff you needed to enrich the empire, like give up their land, rights to resources, equal protection under the law and participate in communal work (i.e. forced labor) programs. So Lugard chose the most corruptible African political leaders — or, in chief-less societies, created them — and told them that, if they’d accept British suzerainty over major political issues, they could run their chiefdoms and kingdoms as they pleased. The promise of British resources and mighty military back-up meant that the new rulers could govern with an arbitrariness that was previously impossible. Worse, Lugard’s system involved attaching people’s rights and land-ownership to their tribal identity (if you were fuzzy on which tribe you belonged to, British census takers would help figure that out for you).

That meant that if you were, say, a Yoruba speaker who lived in a Fulani-designated area, you suddenly were branded a foreigner and might have had your land or other rights taken away from you. Suddenly one’s ethnicity became extremely important — maybe even important enough to go to war over.

For the British, it was a great way to divide and conquer. Other colonizers, impressed with the Brits’ handy work, adopted similar policies. And the inheritance of that legal framework formed the basis for South African apartheid and postcolonial legal systems and prejudices like those that led to the Rwandan genocide and the war in Darfur, Sudan.

But in implementing the plan, there was just one problem: Lugard apparently resembled a 12 year-old boy with rickets and a sun allergy. How was he to impress upon the chiefs he visited the vast power of the British empire?

He seems to have settled on a long, thick, luxurious mustache that resembled Yosemite Sam’s. And it worked — until just like Bugs Bunny, Africa’s liberators (most did not sport ridiculous facial hair) ran Lugard and his ilk out of town, starting in the 1950s.

Lugard may have been the inspiration for a famous hater of rabbits.

Lugard may have been the inspiration for a famous hater of rabbits.

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