The Guardian Archive as a resource for learning about African Decolonisation

Placement student Owen Mills talks about using the Guardian archive as a resource for learning about African Decolonisation.

Guest blog by Owen Mills, postgraduate student on the MA in Art Gallery and Museum Studies at the University of Manchester.

An animated map shows the order of independence of African nations, 1950–2011.
An animated map shows the order of independence of African nations, 1950–2011. CC BY-SA 3.0,

The Guardian Archive at the University of Manchester Special Collections held at the John Rylands Library is a vast and valuable resource for anyone looking to research social, political, and cultural developments throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. It holds correspondence and dispatches of journalists as well as records that relate to the Guardian as a business.

Part of this archive focusses on the post-war period of decolonisation in Africa and is an invaluable resource to any student researching that continent during this period. The existence of these rich materials can be partly attributed to P.J. Monkhouse, who as deputy-editor of the Guardian, endeavoured to make reporting on Africa one of the newspaper’s specialities. This period was defined by huge social and political changes across the world. The correspondence files give direct insight into the process of decolonisation, and how it was reported in a left-leaning, liberal newspaper.

I have chosen a file to explore how you can pull out engaging stories from an archive such as this. It contains the political interview notes of a journalist who sat down with the first President of an independent Kenya, Jomo Kenyatta. The meeting took place in March 1965, just 16 months after the country had become independent. The name of the journalist who interviewed Kenyatta is not recorded but I suspect it was either Clyde Sanger or Patrick Keatley who both reported frequently on Kenyan affairs during this time period.

Kenyatta and the Manchester Guardian

Black and white portrait of Jomo Kenyatta. First President of independent Kenya.
Jomo Kenyatta (Source: By Photography department — Government Press Office — Israel National Photo Collection, Public Domain,

The Guardian was a supporter of independence causes throughout the world, a fact that Kenyatta had not forgotten. “For a long period it was, he said, the only British paper that took account of the nationalist case.” Kenyatta conveyed his gratitude of the Guardian’s sympathetic stance of independence causes and the objectivity of their reporting in the post-war period. The Guardian had previously printed a number of Kenyatta’s letters to the editor throughout the late 1920s and early 1930s, a further reflection of the longstanding commitment the newspaper had for countries trying to achieve self-determination.

A letter to the editor of the Guardian by Jomo Kenyatta on African representation published 1 May 1934.
Letter from Kenyatta to the editor of the Manchester Guardian 1 May 1934

Kenyatta’s connections to the newspaper become even closer when he mentions that he met C.P. Scott, the legendary editor of the newspaper. He also spent some time in Manchester in 1945. He was in the city for the fifth Pan-African Congress held at Chorlton-on-Medlock Town Hall, where he shared the company of other future significant African leaders including Kwame Nkrumah, future president of Ghana, Hasting Banda, future president of Malawi, and W.E.B. Du Bois, the prolific African-American academic. It is worth looking at the Guardian’s reporting on the Pan-African Congress and their support for the congress’s aims.

Red plaque on the outside of Chorlton-on-Medlock Town Hall commemorating the fifth Pan-African Congress held in October 1945. Contains the inscription: "Decisions taken at this conference led to the liberation of the African Countries".
Commemorative Plaque (Source: Wikimedia. By KGGucwa — Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Despite the Guardian’s reputation for promoting liberal ideology, the interviewer, at times, almost seems to impose the wish of British military intervention on Kenyatta: “I asked whether he would be disappointed if there was no military action.” A question asked in relation to the developing situation in Rhodesia [Zimbabwe] where Ian Smith’s government was moving towards establishing an independent minority-ruled state.

At another point the interviewer asks “whether he could conceive of circumstances under which British military aid might be called upon.” Military force seems an odd line of questioning for a new nation trying to forge its own peaceful path in a post-colonial world. Kenyatta insists “bloodshed… does not help,” relating to his own commitment of African unity through diplomacy over violence. (Kenyatta, Suffering Without Bitterness, pp. 278–280).

Kenyatta also admits to feeling anxious of accepting economic aid from Britain. This shows the mindset of a man who is trying to create an economically independent future for his country, while being acutely aware of the continued influence Britain will have through its own economic strength. (Kenyatta, Suffering Without Bitterness, p. 267).

These documents provide a candid real time insight to a time and a place in the past, one that any student or researcher should understand, given the widespread destruction of government records during the decolonisation period. The Guardian Archives can present an alternative view on official, or officially missing, narratives.

Image is a typescript headed ‘Meeting with President Jomo Kenyatta in Narobi on March 10 1965’.
Guardian Archive — C5/217/1

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