Guanopreneurs and the dynamics of policymaking in the Cape Colony, 1843-1845
MetadataShow full item record
Having identified an opportunity to extract significant income from selling guano, a popular and profitable natural fertiliser, from individual islands within its territorial waters, the Cape colonial administration established loading infrastructure and promulgated a new policy to prevent an uncontrolled rush during the mid-19th century. Given the uneven power relations between the administration and its citizenry and the lack of genuinely representative institutions, the new measures generated significant conflict between the authorities and business community that turned the policy-making process into an acrimonious affair. Individual businessmen with networks in London, the Cape legislative council, judiciary and the Cape Town municipality and who desired free access to the source for trading purposes, opposed the attempt of the authorities to monopolise access to the product through Ordinance 4 of 1845 (the so-called Guano Ordinance) in order to generate income for governance purposes. A complicating factor was the fact that the expenditure connected to the new policy regime (infrastructure, customs control, and policing), still had to be sanctioned by the Imperial Government. Similarly, the new ordinance had to be aligned with and sanctioned by the imperial authorities, allowing politically-connected businessmen to use their influence in London and the Colonial Office, to force the Cape government into a process of bargaining, persuasion and compromise. With seabird guano declared Crown property, Cape Town’s prospective wealthy guanopreneurs had to pay for guano freight while effectively removing their resource-poor counterparts from the race. On an international scale, the Cape Guano Ordinance provided the basis for similar legal measures in other parts of the world and trade during the next decade.