This film is held by the BFI (ID: 54521).


Shot in Uganda, this film deals with the activities of Makerere College, which provides higher education for Africans from all over East Africa, as shown through the experiences of a typical female student.

The film opens with shots of 'tropical Africa' and of market life, a map of East Africa is then presented, before the commentator explains that 'this film tells something of the story of what is being done in this small section of a mighty continent'. After shots of schoolchildren at a mission school for girls in the village of Toro, the film introduces Marjorie, a former student, who is now a teacher here. Marjorie attended Makerere College. The white principal of Makerere addresses Marjorie and her fellow students. Further scenes from Makerere follow: the library, art classes, agricultural education, medical students, psychology class, sport (tennis, cricket, athletics, and boxing), 'social training' with students and teachers mixing informally and dancing. The film concludes by assessing the importance of Makerere in the future of Africa.



Although Makerere College was established as a government college in 1922, it was not until 1949 that the Inter-University Council for Higher Education in the Colonies ‘agreed to recognize it as having attained the status of a university college’. A report in The Times explained the ‘special relationship with the University of London’, which ensured that ‘students at the college will now be able to read for the degrees in Arts and Science of the University of London’ (The Times, 9 March 1950, 6).

Cherry Gertzel argued that in Africa ‘university education saw its real beginnings in the 1950s’ (Crowder ed., 1984, 446). The Asquith Commission in 1945, which became the ‘basis of official higher education policy’, recognised the need for ‘true university, rather than professional, education’ and emphasised the importance of preparing students for University of London exams (The Journal of Negro Education, Autumn 1957, 521). Gertzel suggested that ‘tertiary education went ahead much faster in East than Central Africa’ and further suggested that ‘the force of nationalism and the dictates of manpower planning accelerated the pace of expansion’. Governments increasingly looked to African manpower and sought ‘to create that new ruling class to whom they hoped to hand over power’ (Crowder ed., 1984, 445). The Journal of Negro Education suggested in 1957 that ‘Makerere graduates have begun to play a part in nascent nationalist movements’, yet critics complained about the ‘traditional’ British education provided, which they argued created leaders and educators ‘far removed from [their] people’ (Chilver, 1957, 524:Africa Special Report, 2, October 1957, 4).

East African College was available for schools and training colleges from the Central Film Library. A letter from the Treasury to the COI in June 1947 had considered the production  – ‘it might be possible to show something of both school and higher education in one film’ – and suggested that in the interests of economy only one film on education in Africa should be made. The letter further claimed that ‘the purpose of these films is mainly to show non-African audiences what we are doing to further the development of the colonies’ (Vaughan, 1983, 160). An article in Colonial Cinema in 1947, reprinted from a COI booklet, stated that ‘a film dealing with higher education will take the form of a career story’, following a male student (Colonial Cinema, June 1947, 39).

The production company, Editorial Film Productions, was one of the many independent documentary units which proliferated from the late 1940s. By 1950, it was already beginning to specialise in international subject matter, and would do so again in coming years when it became the preferred production company for films sponsored by Unilever. Although Robert Kingston Davies, who had returned to East Africa in 1946 to produce films for the Colonial Office, is credited as the director on this film, COI correspondence indicates that Stewart McAllister was more directly responsible for the production (Vaughan, 1983, 158). McAllister is best known as the editor of Humphrey Jennings’ wartime documentaries and one of his diary entries from 1947 states that ‘I have been up to the eyes – first of all finding all about Makerere, the university sort of place here and then writing a script on it and now trying to film it all’. McAllister further noted the troubles he was experiencing on the shoot, with ‘everything going wrong needless to say and all my time spent taking the film cameras to bits and trying to make things work’ (Vaughan, 1983, 160).



East African College, in seeking to highlight the continued importance of British influence and development within Africa, sets up a clear distinction between a modern British world and traditional Africa.

First, the British commentator introduces traditional African life: ‘Here in tropical Africa the old traditions can still be seen; nomadic herdsmen still wander over the plains with their cattle’. This representation of ‘traditional’ Africa is supported by ethnographic shots of locals transporting food on their heads, but the commentary suggests that ‘there is evidence of new habits and new needs; the desire for a better way of life’. The film thus immediately prioritises modern life and then aligns these developments with British education.

The film offers a distinctly British voice – the British commentator refers to ‘their country’s problems’ – and this is significant in further differentiating and promoting the British influence within Africa. When the commentator does speak on behalf of the Africans, the language used – ‘a different world opened its door to Marjory’, a ‘strange and exciting world, a stimulating world of new people and new ideas’ – similarly highlights existing divisions and privileges the British way of life. The film repeatedly emphasises that this is a British education at Makerere. The commentator asserts that ‘the key to those ideas was language – the English language’, while Marjorie’s failure to speak English is described as a ‘handicap’. This English education offers a ‘new enlightened viewpoint’ to the Africans, and this extends beyond mere classroom teaching.

The students are depicted playing tennis, cricket, and taking part in athletics, boxing and ‘many English games and sports’. The film then cuts to ‘social training’ as two white English people sit outdoors having tea with African students. The commentary explains here that ‘education, sport, social behaviour and the ability to hold one’s own are all facets of the training given at Makerere’. While the film talks of modern teaching methods – for example examining the children at play – the film shows an educational system that still seeks to ‘civilise’ the Africans into British ways.

The influence of the British within Makerere is thus evident, and the film in turn emphasises the influence of Makerere, and the ‘expert knowledge and understanding’ of those educated there, on the future of Africa. The film calls for ‘balanced, cultured people with a humane social outlook capable of a deep sympathy with the land, people and problems’ and suggests that Makerere offers a ‘broad curriculum … based on the human realities that underlie their country’s problems’. Again the examples used depict a ‘primitive’ Africa – ‘they are shown how to bring to an end the ancient drudgery of carrying water from sources miles away by using modern methods’ – in order to highlight the need for British assistance in forging a modern Africa. The film’s conclusion acknowledges that Africa is changing: ‘a strange Africa is arising, a bewildering Africa … the air of Africa is laden with a sense of change’. Yet the film, through the work of Makerere, seeks to ensure that Britain retains a strong influence and identity within this increasingly self-governing Africa.

Tom Rice (April 2008)


Works Cited

Aliker, Martin, ‘Education in British East Africa’, Africa Special Report, 2, October 1957.

Chilver, E. M., ‘Makerere: The University College of East Africa’, The Journal of Negro Education, Vol. 26, no. 4. (Autumn, 1957), 520-524.

‘Film Plan for East Africa’, Colonial Cinema, June 1947, 38-40.

Crowder, Michael ed., The Cambridge History of Africa, Volume 8 from c. 1940 to c. 1975 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984).

‘East African College’, Monthly Film Bulletin, Vol. 17 : 193/203 (1950), 52.

‘University College for E. Africa’, The Times, 9 March 1950, 6.

Vaughan, Dai, Portrait of an Invisible Man: The Working Life of Stewart McAllister, Film Editor (London: BFI, 1983). 




Technical Data

Running Time:
16 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
35mm Film
1406 ft

Production Credits

Production Countries:
Great Britain
DAVIES, Robert Kingston
Central Office of Information
Colonial Office
Production Company
Editorial Film Productions