Sunday, 11 September 2011

A Must Read: Ghosts of Empire: Britain's Legacies in the Modern World by Kwasi Kwateng

**Nope I haven’t read it yet, but hope to do so -soon. The following is one of the many reviews doing the rounds…

Ghosts of Empire by Kwasi Kwarteng: A review By George Walden
Dated:  02 Aug 2011

Kwasi Kwarteng, a Tory MP of Ghanaian descent educated at Eton, has come up with a book about empire that it is hard to imagine any of his colleagues writing. Generations of colonial rulers and officials from privileged backgrounds, he claims, wayward folk, often, were responsible for much of the disorder and chaos that afflicted the British Empire. Worse, he sees them as responsible for many of the problems former colonies suffer today.

The fact that colonial servants were usually public schoolboys selected largely by “character” did not mean that men of quality failed to find their way into their ranks. But so did many cranks, oddballs and romantics. Vast distances and slow communications meant that policy could rest in such people’s hands, sometimes with appalling results.
Too often, Kwarteng writes, the British “transplanted the status, petty snobberies and fine gradations of rank and privilege which prevailed in Britain itself”, a practice that could reinforce reactionary local hierarchies. Something to bear in mind as we lament the corruption and social backwardness of countries like Afghanistan or Pakistan.

A survey of key episodes in the history of empire illustrates his thesis. He allows that there was often a genuine idealis
about what the British saw as their civilising mission. Iraq was clearly better off under their administration than that of the Ottoman Turks. But he also believes that it was the establishment by the British of the Hashemite Kingdom under King Faisal in 1921, with no historical legitimacy, that led to the bloody 1958 uprising and eventually to Saddam Hussein.

It was we who manufactured the Anglo-Arab royals, with their well-cut suits and old-Harrovian accents, just as we had spawned the Arabist dreamers and eccentrics who played key roles in their rise to power. Lawrence of Arabia was passionate about Arab self-government, but not just yet; the Iraqis, meanwhile, must have a king.

Then there was Gertrude Bell, daughter of a steel magnate and a multi-talented woman. As Oriental Secretary to the British High Commissioner, she was emotionally as well as practically involved in the establishment of the ill-fated monarchy. She died shortly after, perhaps by her own hand, unmarried, with instructions that her dog, Tundra, should be cared for.

Another idiosyncratic Arabist was Harry St John Philby. A minister of internal affairs in Baghdad, he left the colonial service after scheming against the Hashemites in favour of the Ibn Saud dynasty. Eventually, he went native, became a Muslim, bought a 16-year-old bride in a slave market, and ended as a fascist. His son, Kim, spied for Stalin.

In Kashmir the colonial adventurer Francis Younghusband, another oddball, became Resident. Infatuated with Britain’s imperialist mission, and later a proponent of free love, he fantasised about a mistress giving birth to a “God-child”. None of which was of much help to the colony.

The British bequeathed democracy to India, but in Kashmir there was none of that.There the system of Indian princes (“The Raj, it seemed, was happiest when dealing with a 'feudal order’”) led to the rule of Hindu Maharajas over an overwhelmingly Muslim population. Mountbatten sought to persuade the fat and fatuous autocrat Sir Hari Singh to accede to Pakistan on independence, but it was too late.
In retrospect, who was to blame? “Short-sighted individuals,” is Kwarteng’s reply, “often described as men on the spot, who were responsible to no one.” Something else to reflect on as we contemplate the Indians and Pakistanis training nuclear weapons on one another.

Social background also played a role in the Biafran War. Colonel Ojukwu, leader of the secession, was a public school, Oxford man with a high estimation of his talents. The chic that attached to his British supporters, Kwarteng believes, was a modern manifestation of an old colonial problem: “The natural snobbishness of some commentators made them sympathetic to the Biafran cause, just as snobbishness had made the northern emirs [of Nigeria] attractive to an earlier generation of British imperial administrator.”

Kwarteng is equally outspoken about his fellow Tory Chris Patten, the last Hong Kong governor, whose appointment he sees as little more than a consolation prize when he lost his seat. Patten’s style, he writes, was very different from “the calm and considered manner” of the best of the Imperial Civil Service. “He had a glib turn of phrase but knew very little about China or diplomacy.”

In the run-up to the return of the colony to China, the governor managed to antagonise the mainland Chinese as well as the Hong Kong business community, to no lasting benefit, Kwarteng insists, to the Hong Kong Chinese or to democracy. Self-indulgence, he suggests, was the problem: “He had a photogenic family which would be the envy of any democratic politician, but in terms of a legacy it is difficult to see what he achieved.”

The empire’s tolerance of eccentrics, misfits and egotists proved a boon for biographers and novelists, though not for the colonies themselves, and the book provides a running historical commentary, often melancholy, on the problems they left behind. Hence the title.

Yet the style is neither tiresomely polemical nor drily academic. While lamenting the consequences of our preference for “character” over policy, Kwarteng has produced a highly readable book, not least because of its cast of wilful, perverse or semi-crazed figures who exercised power without responsibility in the build-up and downfall of empire. With his unusual background, the author knows whereof he speaks. The reaction of his political colleagues will be interesting...


**To purchase Ghosts of Empire: Britain's Legacies in the Modern World by Kwasi Kwateng visit Amazon on:

More Info...
Dr Kwasi Alfred Addo Kwarteng (born 26 May 1975 in London is a British Conservative Party politician. After the retirement of Conservative MP David Wilshire, Kwarteng was elected as Member of Parliament (MP) for Spelthorne in Surrey in the 2010 general election, winning the seat with 22,261 votes and a majority of 10,019.

Kwarteng was born in London. His parents migrated to the UK from Ghana as students in the 1960s.

He attended Eton College as a King's Scholar, and then read classics and history at Trinity College, Cambridge. He was a member of the winning University Challenge team in 1995, in the first series after the programme was revived by the BBC in 1994. He attended Harvard University as a Kennedy Scholar and completed a PhD in Economic History at Cambridge University.

Prior to becoming an MP, Kwarteng worked as an analyst for hedge fund manager Crispin Odey. He has written a book, Ghosts of Empire, about the legacy of the British Empire, published by Bloomsbury in 2011.

Political careerHe was Conservative candidate for Brent East at the 2005 General Election, but was beaten into a distant third place by the incumbent Liberal Democrat MP Sarah Teather, who had won the seat in a 2003 by-election, and Labour challenger Yasmin Qureshi. Kwarteng was chairman of the Bow Group in 2005-6. In 2006, The Times suggested that he could become the first black Conservative cabinet minister. He was sixth on the Conservative list of candidates for the London Assembly in 2008.

After Conservative MP for Spelthorne David Wilshire became mired in controversy arising from the Parliamentary expenses scandal, and announced his retirement from Parliament at the 2010 general election, Kwarteng was selected as Conservative candidate for Spelthorne at an open primary in January 2010. He was described by a local paper as a "black Boris". He was elected with a majority of 10,019 but was heckled by Liberal Democrats with shouts of "he was a scumbag" during his acceptance speech while paying tribute to his predecessor, who used his expenses to pay £100,000 to an unregistered company. Credit:

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