This film is held by the BFI (ID: 1973).


An account of the contribution made by the Imperial Tobacco Company towards raising the living standards of many thousands of Africans in the Rhodesias and Nyasaland (now Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi).

Introduced as 'a story about the tobacco industry in Central Africa', Achievement in Africa shows local scenes of the Kariba Dam and Salisbury before recalling the story of Imperial Tobacco Company since its arrival in Nyasaland and Rhodesia in 1907. The film shows all aspects of the industrial process (planting, picking, drying, sorting, auctioning and exporting), before focusing on a young man who leaves his father in Nyasaland to work in a leaf-handling and packing factory near Salisbury. He visits a modern village built by the company and the film outlines the social developments provided for the workers in Limbe. The film depicts African children at school, the Brownies and Scouts, a game of football ('Sport, the controlled expression of man's urge to compete'), a women's clinic and, later, a church and mosque. It concludes with the return of a thousand men to Nyasaland at the end of the tobacco season, and the reunion of father and son in the final shot.



In December 1960, Roger Clarke, the chairman of the Imperial Tobacco Company, gave a reception at Claridge’s in London ‘for the showing of the company’s new film entitled Achievement in Africa’. Amongst those at the screening were members of parliament, of the Colonial Office, of the Monkton Commission, and representatives from the High Commission of Rhodesia and Nyasaland (The Times, 15 December 1960, 12).

Monthly Film Bulletin described the film as ‘a straightforward example of present-day sponsored documentary’ – a form of filmmaking which it took to be in creative decline (MFB, 28:324/335, 1961, 38). As a sponsored documentary, Achievement in Africa was available from the Public Relations section of the Imperial Tobacco Company, or from Sound Services (a distributor of sponsored films). The Times in 1963 referred to the company’s ‘films available on the tobacco industry in the Rhodesias and Nyasaland’ – implying further productions – and in the same year it also released Virginian Venture, which showed the development of the industry within America (The Times, 18 March 1963, 17 and 19 August 1963, 14).

Reviews for Achievement in Africa responded to the film’s welfare message. Film User included a picture from the film – ‘this delightful scene of domesticity’ – and stated that the film ‘shows that the Imperial Tobacco Co. took a way of life in addition to work to the people of Africa’ (Film User, March 1961, 145). The Times noted that the film showed ‘the part played by British industry in the development of territories overseas and the subsequent improvements in the standard of living of native employees’ (The Times, 16 January 1961, 16). However, Monthly Film Bulletin still recognised the promotional aspects of the film, arguing that ‘the sponsor’s aim to commend his goods shows up, in fact, rather obviously from behind the surface of African welfare’ (MFB, 28:324/335, 1961, 38).

The Imperial Tobacco Company emphasised its role in the welfare and development of Africa through other media as well. To mark the fiftieth anniversary of the company’s organisation in Central Africa in 1957, the company published a history of its work in Africa entitled ‘Fifty Years of Progress’. In his foreword to the book, Lord Malvern explained that ‘the story unfolded here shows how an enterprising British company can not only help its shareholders but also contribute to the development of an undeveloped country’. Malvern added that ‘one of the main themes is the happy results secured by the enlightened treatment of the Africans in the factory and in the villages provided for them by the company’ (Twiston Davies, 1958).

These claims were reiterated during this period at the company’s Annual General Meetings. In 1958 the chairman, Lord Sinclair of Cleve, emphasised that ‘the welfare of these Africans and their families is a matter in which the company has always been deeply concerned’. He further added that ‘at both Massa and Limbe we have made for our African employees villages of modern brick-built houses and have provided amenities, which include hospitals, schools, churches, and sports grounds’ (The Times, 19 March 1958, 18). His successor Roger Clarke reported in 1961 that ‘our capital investment in the Federation (at original cost) now amounts to £3,000,000, which includes some £600,000 on the housing schemes for our African employees. We can thus claim that we have played a not insignificant part both in the economic development of the country and in the social advancement of its people’ (The Times, 22 March 1961, 20).

Achievement in Africa was produced during a period of enormous change and unrest in the Central African Federation. In early 1959 all three territories declared states of emergency, with riots and resistance to white rule particularly strong in Nyasaland. In March 1959 there were prominent demonstrations in Limbe, which halted work at the tobacco firms. The Imperial Tobacco Company employed 170 Europeans and over 5,000 Africans, but the company maintained that ‘despite a good deal of disturbance… our African labour has been completely loyal and relations between them and our European staff are as good as ever’ (The Times, 25 March 1959, 16). By the middle of 1960, a new constitution was devised for Nyasaland, which paved the way for self-rule. The Federation was formally dissolved at the end of 1963, with Nyasaland and Northern Rhodesia gaining independence during the following year (Brendon, 2007, 583).



Although Achievement in Africa makes no direct reference to either the unrest in the Federation or the growing demands for independence, it does indirectly acknowledge and seek to position itself at the forefront of a changing, modern Africa.

Structurally the film narrows its focus from a history of colonial Africa to an outline of the Imperial Tobacco Company’s role in Africa, and then finally to the specific example of an African worker. However, the themes and rhetoric remain consistent throughout, as the film highlights the perceived developments made by the British, and promotes the need for continued British involvement within Africa. The film works alongside other material from the Imperial Tobacco Company as it sets out the company’s welfare aims, which directly claimed that ‘from the beginning the aim was to improve their [African] whole standard of living.’

The film initially represents pre-colonial Africa as ‘primitive’. The commentator describes the Africans as ‘warriors and vanquished, slaves and slavers, men who might have lived on in their primitive pattern of alternating peace and war but for the curiosity and tenacity of an exploring European – Livingstone’. The European influence is ‘revolutionary’, while the language presents the British as conquerors – ‘even the mighty Zambezi bound and tamed’. The film emphasises the rapid changes experienced since the arrival of the British. An elderly European man looks out over what ‘started amidst the bush and tin shacks’ but is now the ‘shining city of Salisbury’. Later, when showing a modern women’s clinic, the commentator again notes that here ‘only fifty years ago was waterless bush’.

As a sponsored documentary, the film also highlights the opportunities provided by the Imperial Tobacco Company. The company provided a ‘major contribution to agriculture’, and enabled workers to re-invest their earnings, in a sewing machine, for example, which the commentator suggests is ‘probably the basis for a lucrative business’. The company is positioned at the forefront of a changing Africa – the ‘company has always planned for the future’, and has a ‘belief in Africa’s future’. Furthermore, it aligns itself with modern developments – ‘very costly equipment’, ‘using the most modern aids’, ‘in contact with up to date methods’.

This contrast between the old and new is highlighted through the example of the African son who leaves Nyasaland to work in a tobacco factory and ‘to learn more of the modern world towards which Africa is moving’. The commentator – speaking on behalf of the African protagonist – suggests that he has a ‘natural curiosity’, ‘everything must seem new, strange yet exciting’. This terminology, often found in British colonial productions, creates a clear distinction between European and African customs. However, the Africans embrace British customs. Children join the Brownies and Scouts, while the son enjoys a pot of tea with a woman who has ‘acquired western habits due to her life in this modern community’. This community though retains ‘its own African dignity’ and serves as evidence of British and African co-existence – ‘a way of living that is European though happily grafted upon African domestic life’.

Achievement in Africa responds to shifts in African society. The African women’s clinic shows Africans, under European supervision, trained ‘to look after the welfare of their own people’, while the company aims ‘to help the African to raise his standard of living and to broaden his horizons’. The film thus seeks to position the Imperial Tobacco Company within a changing, modern Africa and reiterates this need for continued European and African co-operation. The commentator concludes that the Africans’ ‘future is their own. But what they’ve learnt must stand them in good stead as they take their place in this modern, competitive world’.

Tom Rice (May 2008)


Works Cited

Brendon, Piers, The Decline and Fall of the British Empire, 1781 – 1997 (London: Jonathan Cape, 2007).

‘Achievement in Africa’, Film User, March 1961, 145.

‘Achievement in Africa’, Monthly Film Bulletin 28:324/335 (1961), 38.

‘The Imperial Tobacco Company’, The Times, 19 March 1958, 18.

‘26 Africans Killed in Nyasaland Riots’, The Times, 4 March 1959, 10.

‘The Imperial Tobacco Company’, The Times, 25 March 1959, 16.

‘Court Circular’, The Times, 15 December 1960, 12.

‘B.I.A. Sponsors Road Safety’, The Times, 16 January 1961, 16.

‘The Imperial Tobacco Company’, The Times, 22 March 1961, 20.

‘Industrial Films’, The Times, 18 March 1963, 17.

‘Industrial Films : New Trends in Production’, The Times, 19 August 1963, 14.

Twiston Davies, William, Fifty Years of Progress: An Account of the African Organisation of the Imperial Tobacco Company, 1907-1957  (Bristol: Imperial Tobacco Company of Great Britain and Ireland, 1958).




Technical Data

Running Time:
25 minutes
2250 ft

Production Credits

Production Countries:
Great Britain
HORNBY, Clifford
SWINGLER, Humphrey
HORNBY, Clifford
Imperial Tobacco Company
FARR, John
LAVIS, Arthur
Production Company
Film Producers Guild
Production Company
Greenpark Productions
ABBOTT, Ronald