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The Colonial Office, British Business Interests and the Reform of Cocoa Marketing in West Africa, 1937-1945

David Meredith
The Journal of African History
Vol. 29, No. 2 (1988), pp. 285-300
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/182385
Page Count: 16
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The Colonial Office, British Business Interests and the Reform of Cocoa Marketing in West Africa, 1937-1945
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Abstract

This article examines the actions of the British Colonial Office and British business interests in the international marketing of cocoa from Ghana and Nigeria in the later 1930s, when problems in cocoa marketing were brought to head by the expatriate firms forming a 'Pool' and the farmers responding to this - and to a sudden fall in their terms of trade - with a 'hold-up', which was followed by a British commission of inquiry, and during the second world war and immediate post-war era, when the C.O. imposed a marketing system designed by the expatriate merchant firms and subsequently decided to make it into a permanent peacetime reorganization. The close contact between the C.O. and British firms such as the United Africa Company and Cadbury Bros. is brought out, as is the support given by the officials to these companies before and during the war. A further theme is a certain antipathy displayed by the officials for African capitalists in general and cocoa traders in particular and the way in which the war-time scheme squeezed African and other non-British small cocoa-export firms in many cases out of business. The war-time scheme convinced the C.O. that a peacetime system of fixed buying prices which were set well below the world price was desirable as a means of eradicating 'middleman abuses' and of building up large 'stabilization funds' to protect the cocoa farmers in future years when prices might fall. Continuation of the scheme was thus seen as an act of trusteeship. It was also attractive to the British Treasury because it maximized U.S. dollar earnings for Britain from the sale of West African cocoa. In contrast to interpretations put forward by some other historians, this article argues that the Colonial Office had close, day-to-day contact with the leading British firms involved, that it strongly supported the 'Pool' system before and during the early stages of the war, and that the post-war marketing structure was an outcome of the war-time scheme and not of the Nowell Commission report of 1938. Finally, having lost in an unequal struggle with the expatriate firms and the Colonial Office between 1937 and 1944, African international shippers of cocoa were permanently excluded.

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