The Ambiguous Geography of Imperial Citizenship: Opportunities and Constraints of African Membership in the British Empire in the 1930s

Sunday, January 8, 2012: 11:40 AM
Michigan Room A (Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers)
Jinny Prais, West Virginia University
This paper examines the issue of citizenship in the British African protectorates and colonies and the ways that Africans living in these territories understood and exercised their inclusion in the empire during the interwar years. It focuses on the case of E.S. Ajayi, a Nigerian student in England whom British authorities forced to return to Nigeria owing to the fact that he was a protected subject of a Nigerian protectorate territory and did not have the rights of colonial peoples elsewhere. Protectorate subjects were inhabitants of territories without a settled legal status, therefore, British authorities could therefore choose to include or exclude them in the empire as it suited their agenda. In 1933, Ajayi’s case was a cause cÚlèbre. It introduced new information about the limits of imperial inclusion—Africans born in the colony proper were members of the empire, but those born in the protectorate did not and were considered alien. This news seriously disrupted the plans of West African intellectuals who had been using their status as members of the empire to justify their interest in international and imperial affairs, including reform measures, and to support their claim for autonomy and participation in the affairs of the empire. His case offers an opportunity to examine the ways that different imperial geographies—protectorate and colony—provided both the colonial administration and colonial subjects with various platforms for decision and claim-making. At the same time, it allows us to see the ways that so-called stateless individuals like Ajayi worked within this circumstance to establish rights for themselves.