Teaching Module

African Scouting (20th c.)


The Boy Scout movement exposes the tensions and divisions in any given society. Official scouting seeks an alliance with authority, and scout leaders interpret the scout canon to reflect prevailing values and social norms. Conversely, unofficial local modifications of scouting can express political and social opposition. National scout associations usually prevail in the struggle to define scout orthodoxy when their ties to political authority remain intact. Problems arise when the political and social terrain shifts before official scouting has time to react. As a result, scout authorities have become embroiled in controversies ranging from the civil rights struggle in the American South, nationalist resistance movements in India, and the contemporary American debate over gay rights.

In colonial Africa, scouting exposed the hypocrisy and instability of British imperial rule. Administrators and educators hoped to use the movement to teach young Africans to accept their subordinate place in colonial society, but the Fourth Scout Law, which declared that all scouts were brothers, gave Africans the means to reject this second-class status. Thus, the two central themes that emerge from colonial African scouting are: 1) the movement's official role in imperial governance and administration, 2) African moves to take scouting over for their own purposes.

Discussion Questions

  • What was the official purpose of the scout uniform? Why would boys in general, and African boys in particular find it appealing? How did the scout uniform and badges both reinforce and disrupt British colonial rule in Kenya and South Africa?
  • Why did the South African Scout Association force African boys to become Pathfinders instead of regular scouts? How did the segregated South African scout movement reflect the larger racial divisions in South African society? Why did Africans find the movement appealing despite its official ties to the apartheid regime?

How to Cite This Source

"African Scouting (20th c.)," in Children and Youth in History, Item #95, https://cyh.rrchnm.org/items/show/95 (accessed August 10, 2021).