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The Commonwealth and modern technology

In the early 1960s one dominant vision of Africa was that of a young and optimistic continent setting out towards a newly independent future. Image of Zambian miners (see below), taken from the front cover of the October 1964 edition of the Commonwealth Journal which celebrates Zambia’s independence, is characteristic of these optimistic discourses. It was accompanied by a special message written by the country’s new President, Kenneth Kaunda. The image shows two Zambian miners set against the paraphernalia of modern industry. Heads tilted upwards and towards the light, the vision is of a modern country looking forward, both optimistic and prepared for the challenges ahead. Another photograph, 'Young Africa looks to the Future' , taken from the Commonwealth Journal of the previous year, shows a similar scene, this time with the words beside it to underline its meaning.

Zambian miners

Image of Zambian miners that appeared on the front cover of the Society’s journal in October 1964, to celebrate that country’s independence
Commonwealth Journal (1964) 7:5

Young Africa looks to the Future

Captioned 'Young Africa looks to the Future' this image is taken from the Commonwealth Journal (1963) 6:2 , p. 76

Schemes such as that for the Owen Falls dam in Uganda (visited by CISGO East Africa, images below), and the larger Kariba Dam on the border between Zambia and Southern Rhodesia were evidence for the technical progress and development of Africa in partnership with Britain and other ‘western’ powers. These words, from Derek Ingram’s Partners in Adventure (1960 p74) illustrates this vision of Africa:

CISGO East Africa at the Owen Falls Dam in 1969

CISGO East Africa at the Owen Falls Dam in 1969
RCS VII (a) 49

CISGO East Africa at the Owen Falls Dam in 1969

CISGO East Africa at the Owen Falls Dam in 1969
RCS VII (a) 54

‘In a dramatic gorge along the treacherous, blue Zambesi River, where lived ten years ago only elephants, leopards, black mambas and baboons, there now stands a vast gleaming dam. This is Kariba, one of the major engineering feats of the mid-twentieth century. The £113,000,000, 420-foot high dam is a symbol,... of the great material progress and prosperity that is now beckoning the emergent countries of Africa. The completion of the first and major stage of the dam scheme in 1960 marked the end of another great Commonwealth adventure.’

However, these optimistic visions of the early 1960s were fading by the time CISGO East Africa visited the continent. By 1969 Nigeria had been fighting a bloody civil war for two years and Ian Smith’s breakaway government had been in charge in Southern Rhodesia since 1965. Optimistic visions were always fragile; decolonisation was linked in the British popular imagination not only with optimism but also with disorder and violence.

Photo opportunities in Britain and abroad reflected and produced different visions for the modern Commonwealth. The Royal Commonwealth Society collection provides a record of a wide variety of Commonwealth endeavours. Through these, it is possible to explore different ideas about Britain - and its place in the world - in this period of rapid decolonisation.

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