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  You are in: Home > History > A Sacred Trust  

A Sacred Trust
The League of Nations and Africa, 1929–1946

Michael D. Callahan

Author text to follow


This book completes a two-volume history of the impact of the mandates system on Anglo-French colonialism in Africa from 1914 to 1946. Volume 1, Mandates and Empire: The League of Nations and Africa, 1914–1931, received the following critical acclaim:

“The best study of the colonial mandates in Africa and raises important questions about the evolution of colonial empires.” The International History Review

“An extensively researched and detailed study.” Journal of African History

“A book of profound historical research…which deserves to become a work of incalculable value to scholars of African history as well as international relations.” Anthony Kirk-Greene, St. Antony’s College, Oxford

The second volume explains how the League of Nations mandates system fused two of the predominant and compelling global forces of the twentieth century: imperialism and Wilsonian internationalism. After the First World War, Britain and France administered most of Germany’s former tropical African colonies as “mandates” under the supervision of the League as “a sacred trust of civilization.” This system of international trusteeship changed British and French rule in Africa. In short, “mandates” were not “colonies.” Mandates meant less militarism, more commercial equality, a greater emphasis on the interests of Africans, and an end to the extension of European national sovereignty over colonized peoples. Accountability to the League also required the British and French to reconsider traditional economic, strategic, and ideological assumptions about their empires. In the process, the “sacred trust” sowed the seeds of self-doubt about the very purpose and future of European imperialism.

The mandates system continued to represent a genuine internationalization and reformation of colonialism and had long-term economic, political, and cultural consequences for Africans and Europeans within the mandated territories. Despite the Depression, repeated Anglo-French foreign policy failures, growing humiliations for Geneva, and war in Africa and Europe, the principles and practices of international trusteeship proved persistent. Mandates demonstrated the relevance of international law, the importance of the League of Nations, and the impact of Wilsonian principles on international relations and European imperialism.

Preface and Acknowledgments
List of Abbreviations
Map of Africa, 1931


1 Mandates and Empire in 1929
The PMC and Imperialism
Wilsonianism in Africa
Germans and Africans
“Belonging to No Country”

2 Transition, 1929–1933
“A Peculiar Obligation”
The Problem of Sovereignty
Conceptions of Colonialism
The Petitions of Africans
Ethiopia and Liberia
Humanitarian Intervention and Territorial Integrity

3 Tribulation, 1933–1936
Mandates and Nazis
Restraint and Reform
“Abyssinia Breaks the Heart”
“Mandated Territories are Not Colonies”
The Plymouth Report

4 Turning Point, 1936
Lugard Leaves the League
Mandates and “Indirect Rule”
The Popular Front and the Labour Party
Mandates between Geneva and Germany

5 Testing Hitler
“Rumour and Uncertainty”
Mandates and Metropolitan Politics
The League of Nations and Africa in 1937
Chamberlain Considers Colonies
“A New Plan Based on Higher Ideals”
“A Complicated New System”

6 Tenacity, 1938 and 1939
Mandates after Munich
Mandates and Preserving Peace
Some Old and New Problems
“As Caesar’s Wife”
War in Europe and “the Local Imperialists”

7 Termination, 1939–1946
The PMC and Mandates, 1939-1940
War and the World Order
Debating the Future of the Mandates System
Continuing the “Sacred Trust”


A. Article 22 of the League of Nations Covenant
B. Text of the Mandate for the Tanganyika Territory
C. Text of the Mandates for Togo and Cameroon
D. Constitution of the Permanent Mandates Commission


“Michael D. Callahan’s second volume completes his well-researched and perhaps definitive history of the League of Nations’ mandates in Africa. Callahan argues against those who dismiss the mandates as no different from colonies and instead presents the mandates as significant steps in the evolution of European colonialism from imperialism towards preparation for self-government.
… Callaghan’s study of the mandates will be an indespensable reference work for historians interested in the League of Nations, European debates about colonialism in the inter-war years, and scholars studying the evolution of colonial ideologies and discourses. Callahan knows the archival material on the League and Africa better than any other historian, and his second volume reflects this meticulousness.
… Callahan’s book is a major contribution, based on extensive and thorough research. His arguments for the importance of the mandates in the history of colonialism should lead to new debates on the evolution of colonial rule in the inter-war years.” The International History Review

“Provides us with the best account we are likely to get of the French and British ‘official mind’ about mandates.” Susan Pedersen, Professor of History and James P. Shenton Professor of the Core Curriculum at Columbia University, in a review essay in American Historical Review (October 2007)

“Callahan argues that the mandate system provided a significant force for the reform and internationalization of Anglo-French colonialism. Drawing on Wilsonian principles, the mandates advanced the idea of trusteeship rather than colonial annexation. The author contends that they led to a decline in militarism, an increase in commercial equality (though this generally refers to equal opportunities for expatriates in the mandates), and greater concern for the interests of Africans…The author bases his assessments on thorough research in British and French archives, extensive use of published primary sources, including League documents, and wide reading of secondary sources.” International Journal of African Historical Studies

“This is the second of two books in which the author examines the history of the League of Nations’ Mandate system in Africa… This volume, the product of equally painstaking and impressive archival research in British and French private as well as official public papers, completes the tale with the setting up in 1947 of effective supervision under the United Nations’ Trusteeship Council …This is an authoritative and valuable work, of interest to historians of colonial Africa as a whole as well as students of colonial policy-making.” Journal of African History


Publication Details

Hardback ISBN:
Page Extent / Format:
320 pp. / 229 x 152 mm
Release Date:
September 2004
  Illustrated:   No
Hardback Price:
£55.00 / $69.50

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