Transcript of a column from Oxford Mail, 4th June 1958, concerning the inauguration meeting of the Africa Society, on Tuesday 3rd June 1958. The inaugural address was given by Lord Hailey, first honorary president (senior member).
NEW AFRICAN SOCIETY INAUGURATED
A new University organisation, the Oxford University African Society, formed to promote interest in and understanding of African problems, was inaugurated at Rhodes House last night by Lord Hailey, a Rhodes Trustee, the first president.
The society is for African nationals and other interested members of the University. Lord Hailey said he assumed that the most active members would be those expecting to spend the greater part of their lives in Africa.
" If so, the problems which it presents will be for them not merely matter of interest; they will be part of their lives and will be envisaged in a very different light from that in which they will be seen by those who can regard them with more complete detachment.
" It is often feasible to find that a body of interested and responsible persons, though of different racial or cultural origins, will make concessions in principle on contested issues in the cause of national or international harmony.
Source of trouble
" But it is more difficult for persons of diverse origin and racial interests to join in any form of partnership which will in effect commit them to unite in carrying a concrete policy into execution," continued Lord Hailey.
" Mankind seems to be so constituted that the more abstract the proposition, the easier it is to secure agreement.
" It is when one comes to proposals for concrete working that the real trouble begins, because at this stage it becomes essential to put aside that emotional element, born sometimes of tradition and sometimes of private interest, which is actually so much more dynamic than logical thinking or ethical precept."
New spirit abroad
They must assume a progressive increase of the spirit which had shown itself since 1939-45 war for the improvements of the status of Africans.
" So far as my observation goes, the manifestations of that spirit differ materially in strength from one country to another and the objective sought is by no means uniform.
" Everywhere in Africa there is evidence of the most spectacular changes wrought by two world wars - the emergence of the spirit which has given to the indigenous people of Africa a new place in the political and social world.
" It is inevitable that in many quarters this should have resulted in the creation of differences and tensions, sometimes racial in origin and sometimes the outcome of a clash of purely personal interests," said Lord Hailey.
Lord Hailey, William Malcolm Hailey, (15 February 1872 – 1 June 1969) graduated from Corpus Christi College and spent the major part of his career as administrator of British India. In 1936 he was raised to the peerage as Baron Hailey and three years later he was knighted. He subsequently spent times on missions to Africa, during which he produced the African Survey. He advised limited recognition of African national movements and lead the British Colonial Research Council; it included among others Margery Perham, who later became a senior member of the society. The minutes of this council are of public record and held at the National Archives.
When the society was inaugurated, there were only 9 independent African countries. Ghana had just obtained independence from Britain in March 1957 with Kwame Nkrumah the first Prime Minister. In the decade that followed 1958, more than 30 African countries became independent. These were euphoric years for Africans in the continent and diaspora. Those in Oxford would attend the many independence parties organised by Kenneth Kirkwood, first senior member of the Society, but this is a story for another time.
This is a snippet of the series of posts on the work of the Africa Society in Oxford over the years and how it has impacted the African Continent. As we approach the 60th Anniversary, The Society will continue to share more from the archives as we confront the future. Contribute to our fund-raising and help us find more of these stories here.