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Colonial System of Administration in Gambia
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Colonialism & The System of Government:

British Policy of Direct & Indirect Rule:
Since 1816, The Gambia, West Africa, was ruled under the crown colony system of colonialism with its administration answerable to the Governor in Sierra Leone. The Gambian territory was governed from Sierra Leone from 1821 to 1843 and from 1866 to 1888. When the administration was attached to that of Sierra Leone in 1866, the Gambian executive and legislative councils were abolished.

In place of the executive and legislative councils a small advisory group was created consisting of the administrator, collector customs and the Chef Magistrate. When the administrative link between The Gambia and Sierra Leone were severed in 1888 The Gambia became a separate colony. The country was given its own executive and legislative councils. In 1893 the government of the colony was empowered to make the necessary rules and orders for the extension of British rule to the protectorate.

British Policy of Direct Rule in the Colony:
The head of the colonial administration was the Governor who represented the British Government in the area and was not responsible to the people of the colony, but was directly responsible to the British Government. He was vested with a number of powers including the power of veto. He could make laws by proclamation and was the president of both the executive and legislative councils. The courts, the Civil Service and other institutions of the government were put under his control

Executive & Legislative Councils:
The function of the executive council was to advise the Governor in matters of administration. Before World War II all members of the Executive Council were appointed by the Governor. These included the Colonial Secretary, Director of Medical Services, collector of customs duties and other officials.

The functions of the legislative council were to discuss the affairs of the colony and to make laws for the colony. The laws made by the Legislative Council required the assent of the Governor who could veto them.

Indirect Rule:
The British policy of indirect rule served as the basis of local government administration in all her West African colonies. The policy was first popularised by Lord Lugard who served as governor general of Nigeria between 1914 to 1919. After he left Nigeria Lugard described his theory of indirect rule in a book titled "The Dual Mandate in Tropical Africa" published in 1922 in which he said:

"The British Empire.... has only one mission for liberty and self development on no standardised lines, so that all may feel that their interests and religion are safe under the British flag. Such liberty and self development can be best secured to the native population by leaving them free to manage their own affairs through their own rulers, proportionately to their degree of advancement, under the guidance of the British staff, and subject to the laws and policy of the administration".

The theory of indirect rule was aimed at governing colonised peoples through their chiefs and local institutions. A major difficulty the British had in administering her colonies in West Africa was that there were simply not enough English men prepared to serve as colonial administrators in that part of the empire. Indirect rule had the advantage of be cheap since traditional rulers were less expensive than British officials. For this reason Lugard, and other British Governors in West Africa, adopted the system for the administration of local government in the region.

Indirect Rule in the Gambia Protectorate:
The policy was introduced in Gambia by Governor Sir R.B. Llewelyn of the Bathurst colony in 1893. In that year he appointed two travelling Commissioners for the North and South Banks of the river. The functions of these roving Commissioners, Mr. J.H. Ozane and Mr. F. Sitwell, was to move from village to village to inform the chiefs about the system of indirect rule that was to be introduced by the colonial government. They were also required to assert their position so that the chiefs and people could know that they represented the authority of the Governor in Bathurst.

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  The 27th December, 1894 Ordinance:
The first major legislation for governing the protectorate was "the Gambia Protectorate Ordinance 1894". It was "an Ordinance to provide for the exercise in the protected territories of certain powers and jurisdiction by native authorities and by Commissioners". It established that "All native laws and customs in force in the protected territories which are not repugnant to natural justice nor incompatible with any Ordinance of the colony which applies to the protected territories, shall have the same effect as regulations made under this Ordinance".

Under the ordinance the protectorate was divided into administrative districts and placed under the charge of chiefs. A few of these chiefs were of the traditional royal ruling classes but many were appointed by the colonial government to fill the power vacuum that existed in many parts of the country. Native courts were also created and "the administrator shall appoint fit persons in each district, not exceeding five, to be a court or native tribunal having power and jurisdiction to try breaches of any regulations or any such native laws or customs... and to exercise civil and criminal jurisdiction in causes and matters aforementioned, in which all the parties are natives".

It also spelt out the administrative powers of the chiefs. The head chief of a district was to be the president of the local court of that district and have civil jurisdiction in areas of petty conflict resolution and adjudication. In criminal jurisdiction these courts would have control over matters which would not exceed fines of 5 Pounds Sterling or imprisonment of over 3 weeks. Chiefs were to act as conservators of the peace and executors of any laws passed by the colonial government or the commissioner of the district. Chiefs were also empowered by the 1894 Ordinance to detain and send to the commissioner or the courts of Bathurst persons accused of major crimes "such as murder, robbery or slave dealing".

The 1895 Ordinance:
In 1895 the colonial government enacted "an ordinance to provide for the raising and collection of revenue in the Gambia Protectorate". It was known as the "Yard Tax" ordinance and its purpose was to set up a yard tax  for the protectorate. Although the total expenditure for protectorate services in 1895 was estimated to be 1,455 out of a total expenditure of 29,875, it was the Colonial Government's view that the people of Gambia were to be made to share in the cost f the administration. As a result every owner or occupier of any yard that contained more than 4 huts would pay 4 shillings per annum, and for each additional hut occupied by members of the family 1 extra shilling per year and "Strange farmers" were to pay 2 shillings. In 1904 a total of 3,168 was collected by the yard tax.

The early years of indirect rule were largely experimental and depended to a large extent on the personalities or competence of the travelling Commissioners. Even though a protectorate system had been proclaimed, the conditions in certain areas of the country were still unsettled. The Soninke-Marabout Wars were still continuing during this period and there were certain areas where the Travelling Commissioners would not venture unless accompanied by an escort. Indeed the killings of Sitwell and Silva in 1900 at Sankandi marked a turning point. The British and French military forces managed to kill Fode Kabba which had the effect of convincing lesser chiefs of the determination of the British to impose their rule over the protectorate.

The 1902 Ordinance:
This ordinance incorporated Fuladu into the protectorate system and gave more powers to the travelling Commissioners. Accordingly they were made the chief executives of their districts thereby negating the policy of indirect rule.

An important step taken to standardise the system of protectorate rule was the institution in 1944 of an annual chief's conference, held for the first time in Janjangbureh in the Central River Division (CRD). This gathering of the now 35 chiefs was to provide a forum for them to make suggestions and to criticise programmes initiated by the central government or the Commissioners. It also allowed a forum for the central government to introduce proposals for development within the protectorate area.

The main aim of British rule up to the start of WW 2 was to create and maintain peace in the area with the minimum of expense. The work of the chiefs and Commissioners was to generate revenue to run the administration rather than provide social services. The system of government excluded educated Gambians from taking an active part in the government. For these reasons the system of indirect rule in The Gambia contributed to the social and political stagnation that prevailed in the rural areas up to the time of independence from Britain.

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