Africa Today 47.2 (2000) 173-175
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This book examines the activities of West Africans, especially students, from the former British West African colonies who were studying in Britain during the colonial period. Although Britain had four colonies in West Africa (Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone, and Gambia), the discussion centers on the activities of students from the first three colonies. Even then, the bulk of the discussion is on the West African Students' Union (WASU), which was formed in the mid-1920s. In this sense, the book compliments Olusanya's (1982) detailed study of WASU and the politics of decolonization in West Africa. However, Adi's study goes beyond the role of students in anticolonial politics. His discussion of the activities of West Africans in Britain revolves around two main themes, welfare issues and politics, although in certain significant respects both are linked.
The book is divided into six main chapters. The first chapter sets the basis for most of the issues that are discussed in detail in subsequent chapters. It examines the problems of racism, harassment, and various forms of discrimination that students of African descent faced in Britain. This issue was of some concern to the British Colonial Office because it was feared that these students, most of whom were from the traditional ruling classes and who might occupy leading positions in their respective countries after their studies, would develop anti-British sentiments. Africans reacted by forming organizations that were aimed at militating against the effects of racism and other forms of discrimination; at the same time, the organizations called for various reforms of the colonial system in Africa. Up to the early 1920s, the main organizations were Pan-African in outlook. The Colonial Office officials and their allies on the one hand, and African organizations [End Page 173] on the other hand, felt that one way of shielding Africans from the pervasive racism was through the establishment of a hostel. The hostel would act as "a home from home" and provide an avenue for social interaction, as well as the promotion of their welfare. Incidentally, the politics of the control of such a hostel became a dominant issue throughout the colonial period. The British colonial authorities saw the hostel project as an avenue for promoting pro-British sentiments among African students. Therefore, they sought to control such a hostel, while the African organizations wanted to establish a hostel that would be under their own control and promote the interests of Africans, rather than serving the interests of colonialism.
This "hostel politics" which became one of the most contentious issues between West African students, especially WASU members, and the British government is well discussed in the subsequent chapters. The 1920s saw the formation of many West African student organizations, but WASU, which was formed in 1925, was arguably the most prominent among them. One of the aims of WASU was "to provide and maintain a hostel for students of African descent" (p. 33). The dispute over who would control such a hostel resulted in the establishment of a hostel by WASU in 1933, and another one known as Aggrey House by the colonial office in 1934. WASU saw Aggrey House as a center for the promotion of imperialist propaganda, while the British administration saw WASU's hostel as a center for the promotion of anti-British sentiments and the spread of Communism. To WASU members, their hostel was based on the principle of self-help, but they could only maintain the "independence" of the hostel so long as they had the finances to run it. The Colonial Office, which was bent on influencing the direction of WASU's policies, used the opportunity of the organization's financial problems by the end of 1935 to achieve its aim through the granting of financial assistance to WASU, a situation which compromised WASU's independence. It has been argued that Ladipo Solanke, the founder of WASU and its...