The European powers that established empires in Africa generally used one of two forms of government in their territories. France, Germany, Belgium, and Portugal practiced direct rule. Great Britain practiced indirect rule.
Direct rule. In colonies with direct rule, the imperial power controlled all levels of government and appointed its own officials to govern the colonies. The Europeans based this type of government on their belief that the Africans were not capable of ruling themselves. As a result of this belief, the Europeans practiced what we refer to as paternalism, the system of governing colonies in much the same way that parents guide their children.
European nations practiced various forms of direct rule. For example, the French encouraged assimilation, in which the people of the colonies abandoned their local cultures and adopted all aspects of French culture.
Indirect rule. Under the British system of indirect rule, a British governor and a council of advisers made colonial laws, but local rulers exerted some authority. The British chose indirect rule largely because they lacked enough workers to staff all the governments of the vast British Empire, which by then covered almost one fourth of the earth’s land surface.