Built on the Ruins of Empire

British Military Assistance and African Independence

Blake Whitaker

During the Cold War the British government oversaw the transition to independence of dozens of colonies. Often the most challenging aspect of this transition was the creation of a national army from colonial forces. In Built on the Ruins of Empire, Blake Whitaker examines this process in Kenya and Zambia and how it set the course for the creation of the army in Zimbabwe. He also looks at three themes as they intersect in African military history: British decolonization, race relations, and the Cold War.

While the transition to independence was a difficult process in places such as Ghana and Nigeria, it was compounded by the racial tensions in Kenya, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. All three were settler colonies home to a sizable community of white Europeans who controlled the levers of power and economic prosperity. Built on the Ruins of Empire focuses on the difficulties that arose in creating a cohesive and apolitical military force in these racially charged Cold War environments and demonstrates that the challenges faced by the British training missions in Kenya and Zambia taught London important lessons about the emerging postcolonial world.

“In Built on the Ruins of Empire, Blake Whitaker throws fresh light on British policy in postcolonial Africa by focusing on military assistance programs. These programs involved the inculcation of doctrine and training as much as arms transfers; they built on the residual influence and prestige of British traditions and procedures; and they reflected the persistence of imperial interests and global outlook in Whitehall into the late twentieth century. Whitaker underscores the limits and conundrums of military assistance, but he is neither dismissive nor cynical about the attractions. Considering recent events in Afghanistan, his book is as timely as it is original. Built on the Ruins of Empire will reward readers concerned with issues of security and state-building in the developing world as well as those interested in the history of British imperialism, decolonization in Africa, and the global Cold War.”

—Peter John Brobst, associate professor of history, Ohio University

Whitaker uniquely analyzes the successes and failures of the British military assistance programs and their quest to solidify British influence while examining how Britain’s position and influence in the wider world was fading just as Zimbabwe was achieving independence.

About the Author

Blake Whitaker is a historian of the British Empire and a Psychological Operations (PSYOP) officer in the US Army Reserve. He holds a Ph.D in history from Texas A&M University. 

Additional Titles in the Modern War Studies Series