Business and British decolonization: Sir Ronald Prain, the mining industry and the Central African Federation

Larry Butler

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24 Citations (Scopus)


One of the most intractable challenges to emerge during British decolonisation was the need to reconcile the competing political aspirations of settler and African populations in Central Africa. During the 1950s Britain sought to construct a ‘multiracial’ Central African Federation, financed largely by Northern Rhodesia's copper industry. Of the two major mining groups involved, the Rhodesian Selection Trust, under the chairmanship of Sir Ronald Prain, arguably played an important and unusual role in the Federation's politics and eventual demise. Having supported the Federation at its inception, Prain quickly reassessed the Federal project and concluded that its expected benefits had failed to materialise, and that a new political orientation was necessary for Northern Rhodesia, his companies' host country. Whereas expatriate business interests were often ‘weak’ political actors during decolonisation, Prain, through pragmatic readjustment, evolved a forward-thinking strategy of accommodation to the rise of African nationalism, and to the corresponding eclipse of settler power. Adapting with unusual success to political change, he became actively involved in the political developments which led to Zambian independence in 1964.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)459-484
Number of pages26
JournalJournal of Imperial and Commonwealth History
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2007

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