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British intelligence and Britain's end of empire in Africa

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Britain’s end of empire is a vast historical subject, which by now has a voluminous historiography. However, the ‘missing dimension’ of the existing literature is intelligence. Even the best and most recently written studies on Britain’s retreat from empire fail to discuss the role performed by Britain’s intelligence services. In reality, as I shall discuss in my paper, the British intelligence community performed a significant role in British decolonisation after 1945. The recent declassification of Security Service (MI5) files allow us to document and analyse, for the first time, the role performed by British intelligence in British decolonisation movements, both in Africa and elsewhere. These records reveal the influence that intelligence exerted on British policy-making when presented with ‘independence’ movements in Africa, and the impact that intelligence had on national and international relations. My talk will focus on West Africa (Ghana) and East Africa (Kenya), but I shall argue that these examples were part of a much wider picture. In fact, Britain’s intelligence services played a role in every major colonial state that gained independence after 1945. Furthermore, some of the lessons that can be derived from this period are still useful for governments and intelligence agencies today.

This talk is part of the Darwin College Humanities and Social Sciences Seminars series.

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