Category Archives: Africa

J. Chamberlain on Annexing Colonies

From Britain at War with the Asante Nation, 1823–1900: “The White Man’s Grave” by Stephen Manning (Pen & Sword Books, 2021), Kindle pp. 201-202:

A change of government saw the appointment of Joseph Chamberlain as the new Colonial Secretary. Chamberlain was arguably the most expansionist secretary the Colonial Office had ever seen, and he was a devotee of all the political intrigue that surrounded the Scramble for Africa. He saw events in Asante as being part of the process by which Britain would extend its influence and empire. Chamberlain had anticipated a French challenge into Asante and this he was not going to permit. Thus, he latched onto [Gold Coast Governor] Maxwell’s proposal and replied by cable in September 1895 that [Asante King] Prempeh must be told that the government now expected the 1874 treaty to be met and honoured in full. In addition, he informed Maxwell that Prempeh must also be told that Asante must refrain from attacking neighbouring tribes and that he had to accept a British resident at Kumasi. Crucially, Chamberlain was prepared to back his words with military intervention.

This tougher stance was fully supported by the British Chamber of Commerce as well as many of the British newspapers. For example, The Times of 21 January 1896 claimed that Asante had long formed a block of savagery between the British coast and the interior. This had prevented trade and that the French were taking advantage of the situation by opening their own markets, which may now be lost to Britain.

On receiving Chamberlain’s instructions, the governor despatched Vroom to Kumasi with an ultimatum for Prempeh which required of him either a written reply or a personal interview with the governor before the end of October. Although treated with courtesy, Vroom received no direct answer from Prempeh, and he returned to the coast. It seems Prempeh was putting all his hope in his deputation that had been sent to London and he sent a sword bearer and court crier to the coast to inform the British that he was awaiting a response from his messengers to Queen Victoria. As no written response was received to the ultimatum it was taken by Maxwell, Scott and Chamberlain as a rejection. Maxwell had already informed Scott that he would be in command of the proposed military expedition and preparations were well under way.

Chamberlain had already warned the Cabinet in November 1895 that private enterprise was now inadequate for opening Britain’s vast ‘underdeveloped estates’, and that the government must lead the way with money and troops. Without consulting the prime minister, he announced a punitive expedition to Asante.

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Who Led the Scramble for Africa?

From Britain at War with the Asante Nation, 1823–1900: “The White Man’s Grave” by Stephen Manning (Pen & Sword Books, 2021), Kindle pp. 193-195:

When examining the British government’s actions before 1895, it seems evident that ministers felt no urgent requirement to expand British influence in West Africa. They were not interested in using imperial power and capital to work in West Africa for the purpose of investing in new markets and resources. It is often thought that the empire existed to create more business for Britain, yet, according to Robinson and Gallagher in the seminal work Africa and the Victorians, in the Gold Coast, before 1895, it would be truer to say that the merchants were expected to create empire and that the British government expected them to do so without imperial rule, to make do with the limited protection and to pioneer their own way inland.

The ‘Scramble for Africa’ was to change that thinking. This term refers to a period in the late 1880s and 1890s during which many European powers, including Britain, France, Belgium and Germany, sought to expand their own empires or spheres of influence across the African continent. The motives behind such actions were often economic enhancement or dominance, but the nations were equally driven by the desire for their European rivals to be excluded from a region. Although this was true across Africa, West Africa was to be dominated by a strong rivalry between the British and the French.

At the height of the Scramble it was common that local officials were several steps ahead or even led opinion as to what action should be taken. Often the Colonial Office in London was slow in offering definitive guidance and policy could be made by the officials in situ. This was certainly true of the Gold Coast. The Governor Brandford Griffith had already alerted London that French colonial ambitions were being extended by exploration westwards into the hinterland of the Gold Coast, from their colony of the Ivory Coast. In 1886 a French officer, Captain Louis-Gustave Binger, had been tasked by the French government to lead a reconnaissance mission along the Niger River. To avoid arousing British suspicions he started from the interior and by 1889 he had covered a huge area between Bamako, Kong and Wagadugu and he encroached on British influence in Salaga and Kintampo. In 1888, Binger even managed to secure a treaty of protection with the Bontuku under the noses of a British mission. Brandford Griffith feared that the French might even penetrate into northern Asante and so in 1886 he informed the Colonial Office that Asante territory should be quickly brought under British jurisdiction.

The following year the governor gave a further warning to London of German encroachment into Asante from Togo in the east. These warnings were not, initially, taken very seriously and the secretary of state, Henry Holland, 1st Baron of Knutsford, even wrote, ‘If Ashanti is to be annexed to any European power let it be by the Germans.’ However, over the next few years such complacency disappeared from the Colonial Office in light of further European penetration of the interior of West Africa and diplomatic disagreements in Europe. It was felt that some action, at least to the north of Asante, would have to be considered. Here diplomacy within Europe secured two important agreements. The Anglo-French Agreement of 1889 defined the western boundary of the Gold Coast according to treaties made with the local chiefs. Similarly, the Anglo-German Treaty of 1890 established a neutral zone to the north east of Asante in which European nations bound themselves not to acquire protectorates. The treaty also defined the southern Gold Coast–Togoland boundary in general terms, but detailed interpretation on the ground aroused local resentment and the king of Krepi was outraged that the new boundary split his lands. Furthermore, the creation of the neutral zone merely heightened colonial rivalries in the adjacent territories. When the king of Attabubu approached the British seeking protection from German encroachment, the governor was delighted to recommend that a treaty of friendship and protection should be drawn up and this was executed in 1890, much to the annoyance of the Germans.

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Dutch-British Swap in the Gold Coast

From Britain at War with the Asante Nation, 1823–1900: “The White Man’s Grave” by Stephen Manning (Pen & Sword Books, 2021), Kindle pp. 74-76:

The Dutch had first traded on the Gold Coast in 1580 and in 1637 they had attacked the castle at Elmina and seized it from the Portuguese. From Elmina the Dutch continued the slave trade begun by its former owners and developed a strong relationship with both the king of Elmina, who controlled the surrounding lands, as well as the Asantes who supplied the Dutch with slaves in exchange for European goods and weapons. The king of Elmina had secured a supportive relationship with the Asantes over the years, which was based on trade and a mutual distrust of the British. The people of Elmina traded fish and salt to their immediate neighbours, in exchange for food stuffs, such as maize and cassava, as well as cattle. There was also an important trade with much of the Akan hinterland, including the Asante, in which the traders of Elmina exchanged goods, such as cotton cloth, leather goods, powder, ammunition and weapons for palm oil, food stuffs, animal skins and slaves.

Over the following centuries, the Dutch, working alongside Elmina traders, very much concentrated their efforts on economic activity. Although the abolition of slavery severely limited the trade in human cargo, it did not eradicate it and the Dutch continued to play a part in this trade, but not in such an overt manner as before. The Dutch maintained a neutrality in conflicts between the Asante nation and the British and their native allies and this can be partly explained by the fact that the Asantes, through conquest, held the ‘Notes’ to Elmina Castle and the Dutch would pay a yearly rent to the court at Kumasi in return for good relations between the two. Yet, this placid relationship was to alter as the nature of trade changed throughout the nineteenth century. The Dutch found it more and more difficult to make their economic activities along the Gold Coast financially viable and in the 1860s they began to negotiate with the British as to how both countries could benefit by working together.

In March 1867, in the hope of introducing and operating an effective tariff along the whole of the Gold Coast, and to reduce budgetary losses, the Dutch and the British agreed to consolidate their trading interests into two blocks. Elmina was used as the dividing line and the British took the area to the east and the Dutch to the west of the castle. In true imperial style, neither country gave any thought as to how the local population might react to a change in governance and none of the local chiefs were consulted. The treaty came into effect on 1 January 1868 and in its terms the British handed over control of the forts and trading posts of Apollonia, Dixcove, Sekondi and Kommenda and in return gained Dutch Accra, Moree, Apam and Kormantine. Crucially, the British also relinquished to the Dutch the protectorate over the peoples of Eastern and Western Wassa, Apollonia and Denkyira.

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The Asante Capital in 1817

From Britain at War with the Asante Nation, 1823–1900: “The White Man’s Grave” by Stephen Manning (Pen & Sword Books, 2021), Kindle pp. 40-42:

Osei Bonsu was correct in his assessment that the British were focused only on trade. Yet, with the parliamentary victory of the abolitionists this trade, as far as the British viewed it, would no longer be based on slavery. Of course, one of the primary drivers of Asante military expansion was the need to secure supplies of slaves. Indeed, the African Company formally recognised as early as 1809 that the Asante nation could not be expected to ‘acquiesce in the destruction of a trade [slavery] not inconsistent with their prejudices, their laws or their notions of morality and religion and by which alone they have been hitherto accustomed to acquire wealth …’. This contradiction of aims would result in further conflict throughout the century and see the African Company losing its role as the main British presence along the Gold Coast. However, this was in the future and in 1817 the major British concern was the urgent need to come to some sort of arrangement with the Asante nation to secure Britain’s immediate economic and political position.

The African Committee in London decided upon a direct course of action and ordered Governor John Hope Smith, who had replaced Colonel Torrance, to despatch a mission to the Asante capital of Kumasi to negotiate with the king for the establishment of a British Embassy at his court. Hope Smith selected four of the company’s officers for the task. Thomas Bowditch, a clerk, was to write a detailed account of the mission and became the lead negotiator for the company. The officers set out from Cape Coast Castle on 22 April 1817, along with a retinue of carriers. The journey was to take them nearly a month before they arrived in Kumasi on 19 May. En route they passed through Fante towns and villages that had been devasted by the Asante army until they reached the jungle belt and the condition of the path slowed their progress. At the town of Fomena, the first in Asante proper, the group met the local chief, who expressed his delight that he was able to greet a white man before he died for he was awaiting execution having offended Osei Bonsu in some way. The chief was, according to Bowditch, philosophical about his circumstances and, seated on a cloth, displayed dignity rather than shame whilst he calmly awaited his fate. The chief’s head duly arrived in Kumasi the day after the mission.

Kumasi grew from a tree-encircled crossroads of trading routes. Tree is kum in the local Twi language. The city itself was situated on a hill overlooking the Subin River and when Bowditch and his party pushed their way through the 5,000 warriors who had been sent by the king to greet their arrival they discovered a city of 27 major streets, the greatest of which was used for significant receptions and parades and was over 100m wide. There were named quarters, or abrono, and trades, such as goldsmiths or umbrella makers, occupied specific quarters. When the mission finally reached the palace, which was the largest building in the city, covering a total area of 5 acres, they were formally greeted by Osei Bonsu. Apart from being the royal residence, the palace also housed a forum in which the council of the nation would debate important matters. Bowditch wrote of the elaborately carved doors and windows and even the lavatories found in the palace and described the wealth he saw, in terms of gold ornaments and rich clothes. When his work was published in Britain it was met with scepticism for the reviewers could not comprehend that Africa could possess such a large and elaborate native city.

Bowditch and his colleagues remained in Kumasi for several months and although treated with respect, they were not given the freedom to explore the local area and at times they must have thought they were little more than prisoners. However, Osei Bonsu was keen to negotiate a treaty with the British and Bowditch was finally able to return to the coast with a treaty signed by the king. In it the king pledged himself to ‘countenance, promote and encourage’ trade between his subjects and Cape Coast Castle and allowed for a resident to remain in Kumasi. In return the officers in charge of the British forts would give ‘every protection in their power’ to such Asante people who might require it. This feature of the treaty, point seven of ten, was quickly tested and the British were found wanting.

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Asante Army Structure, 1800s

From Britain at War with the Asante Nation, 1823–1900: “The White Man’s Grave” by Stephen Manning (Pen & Sword Books, 2021), Kindle pp. 27-32:

The Asante army was not a regular force, although there did exist a small trained cadre stationed in Kumasi to protect the capital and the Asantehene. This formed the nucleus of any expeditionary force. However, in other respects the army was more akin to a feudal levy of the European Middle Ages in that most of the manpower was assembled at the outbreak of war from troops raised by the twenty-four tribal heads and later from tribes that had been annexed into the Asante Empire. At its maximum, the Asante army was said to have been up to 100,000-strong. However, most armies were not as large as this; for example, around 40,000 warriors opposed the British in 1874. The fact that such a force could maintain its cohesiveness and discipline, especially as its ranks did include men taken from recently vanquished tribes, is miraculous and its success can be attributed to several factors.

The Asante military leaders quickly realised the important advantage that firearms gave them over their foes and the leadership generated a winning mentality and even a sense of superiority amongst their troops that they had a share in a glorious military tradition. This went even further in that the Asante nation, with each victory and conquest, rapidly gained amongst its people and from those of other tribes and nations, even European ones, a reputation as a self-governing, independent state that was wholly indigenous and not one that had evolved as a result of outside influences.

Once war was declared against another tribal state the decision to do so would be made by the Asantehene, his privy council, the chiefs of the twenty-four individual states that comprised the nation, and, as time went on, the chiefs of the newly acquired vassal states that had been brought into the Asante nation by conquest.

If war was declared, then the chiefs, who also served as the captains of the various states, would return to their lands and call their people to arms. Every male citizen was a soldier and all able-bodied men were expected to ready themselves for military service. However, a quota system existed so that only a proportion of men were called for action with the remainder left at home to provide security as well as, crucially, manpower to ensure that the farming systems continued, and future famines were avoided.

There was a large element of discipline, even subjugation, which was used to maintain the army’s effectiveness. There were severe punishments, including death, for failure to report for duty, for desertion and cowardice. A military police force armed with whips and swords had to be used to encourage some into battle and those few that refused were despatched on the spot with an axe. Yet, overall the command structure centred on the king, his privy council and the army general staff was incredibly effective not only on the battlefield but also in bringing the army to readiness and for ensuring that logistically it was able to fight and achieve victories. Each army group took its own supplies of food and ordnance on campaign. Uniquely amongst African armies, the Asante boasted a corps of medical orderlies, the Esumankwafo, who accompanied the army into battle. This corps attended to wounded troops as well as removing the dead from the battlefield, for immense trouble was taken to conceal losses from the enemy.

A typical Asante battle column was said to have originated by observing ants on a march and comprised a body of scouts, an advance guard, the main body, in which the army commander was found and secured, left and right wings and a rear or home guard. Certainly, in wars with tribal states the battle could be effectively won if the opposing king or general was either killed or captured so the Asante army ensured that their battlefield commanders were well protected in the centre of the formation. The home guard was tasked either with staying in the capital Kumasi or returning immediately to the capital after a battlefield victory, or a rare defeat, to ensure that the security of the capital was maintained. The scouts would first engage with the enemy who would then be drawn in towards the main body. As this was happening the left and right wings would endeavour to surround the enemy for, although the principal aim was to defeat their foe, the secondary one was to capture as many as possible so as to sell them to the slavers on the coast. In addition, in a society in which fetishism and the worship of ancestors was important a number of the recently captured enemy were diverted to human sacrifice, a practice that continued right up to the late nineteenth century.

The Asante army was composed entirely of infantry for the inhospitable forest zone, and the presence of the tsetse fly there meant that horses and ponies would soon succumb. Most Asante troops were equipped with standard European trade muskets, which were poorly made with a limited range. On the West African coast such weapons had the common name of ‘Long Danes’, supposedly named as it was the Danes who first introduced them to the Gold Coast. This weapon was over 6ft in length and weighed nearly 20lb and a more unsuitable musket for forest warfare could not have been designed. In theory such guns had a range of 200yd but were rarely accurate beyond 30yd and although the enemy might be frightened by the explosive fire, it was unlikely to hurt them unless hit at very close range. Yet, the nature of the jungle fighting meant that if the enemy had not already fled at the sound of the approaching Asante army, then fire would often be at close proximity as the two protagonists were unable to see each other through the near-impenetrable forest.

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Foundation of the Asante Nation

From Britain at War with the Asante Nation, 1823–1900: “The White Man’s Grave” by Stephen Manning (Pen & Sword Books, 2021), Kindle pp. 25-27:

The Asante nation we know today, and that came into conflict with the British in the nineteenth century, is also known as Asanteman; a homogeneous society comprising twenty-four individual states, each with its own chief, serving one king, known as the Asantehene who resides in Kumasi, the capital of the Asante nation. The name Asante seems to have derived from a special red clay the people sent to the dominant tribe, the Denkyira, as a form of payment or tribute of allegiance. The Akans call clay ‘Asan’, therefore the Asantes were differentiated from others with the name ‘Asan-tefo’, or those who dig clay.

The foundation of the Asante nation can be dated to the late seventeenth century with its rise as a military power under the leadership of its first king, Osei Tutu, and the inspiration of a priest, Okomfo Anokye. With the ambition of freeing the Asante people from the dominance and servitude of the paramount Denkyira tribe, and thereby forging a nation rather than simply a tribe, these two men realised the vital importance of both a religious and military system with which to bind a new nation together. As the historian R.S. Rattray has rather cynically written of Okomfo Anokye, ‘with a true insight into the psychology of the people with whom he had to deal, he realised that the only way to unite independent and mutually jealous factions [within the Asante tribe] was by playing upon their superstitious beliefs’. According to Asante tradition a wooden stool covered in gold was summoned from the sky by Anokye and this descended upon the lap of Osei Tutu, who was anointed as king. Anokye declared that the Golden Stool contained the spirits of the Asante ancestors and the strength and wellbeing of the new nation depended on its preservation. Every Asante, and heads of each of the twenty-four tribal states, had to show allegiance to the Golden Stool and its guardian the king, or Asantehene, the head of the Asante nation. The British lack of understanding regarding the paramount importance to the Asante nation of the Golden Stool was to be the central reason for the Anglo-Asante War of 1900.

To consolidate and reaffirm his position the king, Osei Tutu, quickly realised that the energy and resources of his new nation should be directed towards military conquest and this would begin, in 1701, with war waged against the Denkyira tribe. Although the Denkyira, under their king, Ntim Gyakari, initially achieved success against the Asante forces, Osei Tutu was able to draw the Denkyira into a trap and at the Battle of Feyiase the full military might of the Asante nation routed the Denkyira army. Ntim Gyakari was captured and beheaded on the battlefield. Having secured independence from Denkyira servitude, Osei Tutu now turned his focus on expanding his new nation. By the end of the seventeenth century and into the eighteenth century slavery was at its height and it is no coincidence that the rise of the Asante nation occurred at the same time. Osei Tutu and then successive Asantehene, such as Opoku Ware (1720–50) and Osei Kwadwo (1764–77) directed forces against neighbouring tribal states. There was a seemingly never-ending series of wars. For example, the Sefwi, Bono and Gyaman states were added to the Asante nation during Opoku Ware’s reign, whilst Osei Kwadwo defeated the Wassa and Banda peoples, annexing their lands. He also expanded the Asante nation northwards into Dagombaland to slow the southward spread of Islam into the region.

However, the thrust of Asante expansion was primarily southwards and was motivated largely by the desire to sell those captured in battle as slaves directly to European buyers on the coast. Even the passing of the Slave Trade Act in 1807 and then the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 did not slow Asante expansion for there were always notorious traders and nations who would buy slaves. Furthermore, the Asante army was now dependent on firearms and gunpowder to maintain its supremacy and the various Asantehene and military leaders considered it imperative to have direct access to European suppliers of weapons, powder and ammunition who were based on the coast.

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British Military Expansion, 1800s

From Britain at War with the Asante Nation, 1823–1900: “The White Man’s Grave” by Stephen Manning (Pen & Sword Books, 2021), Kindle pp. 16-18:

The truly massive expansion in the British Empire throughout Victoria’s long reign (1837–1901) saw British troops (‘The Soldiers of the Queen’) and naval personnel deployed across the world in such diverse countries as Russia, New Zealand, India, Canada, Egypt and South Africa, to name just a few. Such deployments were made to right a perceived wrong, to defeat a European foe, to stop a competing country securing spoils or simply to expand British prestige and power. On many such occasions British troops were placed in direct conflict with indigenous ethnic tribes or nations and the resulting military actions have become an important part of British colonial history, which some view with immense pride and others with shame or even disgust. Whatever personal views are held there is no doubting the immense bravery and fortitude of the British troops and equally these terms can be applied to their foes.

In most of the colonial wars of the Victorian age the British had a significant technology advantage in terms of weaponry over their enemies and this allowed them to achieve some crushing victories such as at the battles of Magdala (9 April 1868) and Omdurman (2 September 1898). Yet, there were occasions when despite this advantage the British were defeated, most famously at the Battle of Isandlwana (22 January 1879). When the British met defeat at the hands of an indigenous enemy such foes became respected and even achieved mythical status. This is certainly true of the British relationship with the Zulu nation, but it also applies to the Maoris of New Zealand, the Dervishes of Sudan and the Sikhs of Northern India. Less well known are the numerous conflicts that the British fought against the Asante nation in what is now modern-day Ghana in West Africa.

Whilst the Zulus did indeed inflict a crushing defeat upon the British at Isandlwana, a minor one at Intombi Drift (12 March 1879) and a more serious reversal as at the Battle of Hlobane (28 March 1879), the Asante nation was a thorn in the side of both British politicians and the military throughout the nineteenth century. Indeed, the casualties endured by the British in the various campaigns against the Asantes were comparable to those suffered during conflicts with the Zulus and the Dervishes. The Anglo-Zulu War lasted a mere seven months, although the unsatisfactory political settlement that was imposed by the British resulted in lesser conflicts which extended into the beginning of the twentieth century. By contrast, the Asante nation and the British were in both political and military conflict for over seventy years during the nineteenth century and three major wars resulted in which there were significant military reversals for the British. This volume is split into three separate parts to reflect and illustrate these wars, each of which possessed fascinating moments and challenges which are captured in this work. Whether this is the death of the British Governor, Sir Charles McCarthy, at the Battle of Nsamankow (22 January 1824), Sir Garnet Wolseley’s brilliant planned and orchestrated expedition of 1873–4, or the siege of the British fort at Kumasi in 1900, all offer a rich and engrossing history. Indeed, the 1900 siege tells a tale of bravery, fortitude and ineptitude that can stand alongside other more famous sieges of Victoria’s reign, such as Ladysmith and Peking. One particularly fascinating aspect of these three major wars is how the unsatisfactory settlements reached at the conclusion of each were the lifeblood for further conflicts.

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Political Winds in Kenya’s Elite, 1930s

From White Mischief: The Murder of Lord Erroll, by James Fox (Open Road Media, 2014), Kindle pp. 46-47:

Before long, out of boredom and an acute sense of his own abilities, the ruling instinct in Erroll began to assert itself and to bloom, encouraged by Lord Francis Scott, who recognised his natural talent for politics. The opportunities for power in that community were infinite: it was a tidy constituency and there was a marked absence of competition. The Premier Earl of Scotland was likely to be a figure of some weight, and he also expressed some forceful political sentiments. In 1934 he became a paid-up member of the British Union of Fascists. Nellie Grant, Elspeth Huxley’s mother, described Erroll’s exploits on Oswald Mosley’s behalf in her posthumously published book, Letters from Africa:

11th December 1934. Wednesday last was Joss Erroll’s meeting at the (Muthaiga) Club to explain British fascism. There were 198 people there, no less, and a very good-tempered meeting, as everybody cheered to the echo what anyone said. British fascism simply means super loyalty to the Crown, no dictatorship, complete religious and social freedom, an “insulated Empire” to trade with the dirty foreigner, higher wages and lower costs of living … All questions and answers cheered to the roof … Whenever Joss said British fascism stands for complete freedom, you could hear Mary Countess [Molly] at the other end of the room saying that within five years. Joss will be dictator of Kenya.

The following year Mussolini invaded Abyssinia, and Joss Erroll dropped his membership in the British Union of Fascists. Instead he was elected, aged thirty-four, to the Presidency of the Convention of Associations, the “settlers’ parliament”—a separate and unofficial rival to the Legislative Council. Eileen Scott, who described Erroll as “much improved,” was at the election.

To my surprise and delight, contrary to the expectations of most people. Joss Erroll was voted to the chair, largely outnumbering the Left Wing, and most of the executive are sound men too. It is a pity Joss hasn’t had a year’s more practice and experience; he has a brain like lightning, and it is difficult for him to listen patiently to this slow minded, if sound, community. However, it is a great step in the right direction, he is very able and a gentleman. Nearly everyone expected a Bolshie to be elected.

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Ethnic Status in 1920s Kenya

From White Mischief: The Murder of Lord Erroll, by James Fox (Open Road Media, 2014), Kindle pp. 16-18:

The Masai had been the favoured tribe from the days when Delamere first met them, laughing with pleasure and cracking skulls with their long clubs. Only the feudally minded could make allies of them while they were still raiding cattle from Lake Victoria to the Indian Ocean, killing herdsmen and their women and children as a matter of pride. At first the Masai stole mercilessly from Delamere’s herds, practising their belief that all the cattle under God belong exclusively to their tribe and that even Delamere’s imported Hereford bull had been taken from them long ago. (Hence their withering looks when they came to watch the European cattle auctions.)

There is nothing more valuable to the Masai than cattle, and next to that, perhaps, their passion for physical adornment. Because they never ate meat and never slaughtered or sold their livestock, the Masai chiefs that Delamere befriended owned upwards of 50,000 cattle each, and by 1910 the tribe was estimated to own three million head. But they had consistently lost grazing land in the several treaties made with the white man since the setting up of the tribal reservations in 1905. No consideration was given, for example, to their traditional places of retreat in times of drought or pestilence, and by 1914 they were suffering from land hunger.

The Somalis were the fashionable servants, the top “boys” in any household in the early days. They were immensely proud and elegant, the essence of nomadic nobility, with their waistcoats and gold watch chains, their low guttural voices and their strict Mohammedan ways. Many of them, like the Masai, were rich in cattle in their own country across Kenya’s northern frontier. They were linked in fame and fortune with their employers and associated by name, Delamere with Hassan, Berkeley Cole with Jama, Denys Finch Hatton with Bilea, Karen Blixen with Farah. Blixen wrote that a house without a Somali was like a house without a lamp: “Wherever we went we were followed at a distance of five feet by these noble, mysterious and vigilant shadows.”

The Kikuyu, whose land stretched from Nairobi to the slopes of Mount Kenya, who were later to outstrip all other tribes in political ambition, were hired as labourers and domestic servants. At the outbreak of the First World War, they were drafted, with the other tribes, into the King’s African Rifles and the Carrier Corps as porters, and died in their thousands in one of the most shameful campaigns ever waged by a British Army, in which, at the start of hostilities, 250,000 British Empire troops were held down by 10,000 Germans under Count von Lettow Vorbeck, who had to forage for supplies for the duration of the war. When it was over the British force had been reduced to 35,000 and the German force to only 1,300.

As the monuments were put up to the African soldiery, the usual sentiments were expressed. In this case the natives had “responded most loyally to the call by the Government for porters.” In fact, of course, they had little choice. (One of the unremembered battles of that war was between draft-resisting Masai and the British forces themselves.)

The Kikuyu, in particular, went unrewarded. After the war, a new scheme was devised to persuade ex-soldiers from Britain to settle in Kenya to swell the European population. The land this time was distributed by lottery. As this new wave of settlers invaded the highlands, more pressure was exerted on the Kikuyu. The farm wage was reduced, hut and poll taxes were levied, and identification cards issued, forcing their dependence on the white wage.

By the early 1920s the general areas of production were set up. Gilgil and Nakuru were the centres of the livestock business, Thika was coffee, Njoro was wheat, Naivasha was sheep and cattle and Londiani, in the west, was flax.

All the land schemes had clearly favoured the European at the expense of the African population. It was a short-sighted policy and the Kikuyu made their first organised protest in 1922, only two years after Kenya became an official Crown Colony.

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Growth of Colonial Kenya

From White Mischief: The Murder of Lord Erroll, by James Fox (Open Road Media, 2014), Kindle pp. 11-13:

Nairobi was established in 1899, on the frontier between the Masai and Kikuyu, as the last possible rail depot before the track climbed 2,000 feet up the Kikuyu escarpment, the eastern wall of the Great Rift Valley. For anyone looking down into the vast floor of the valley for the first time, the sheer scale of the landscape was over powering—something quite new to the senses.

Tea was taken at Naivasha station, the beginning of the highlands, and from there on, up to Gilgil and then to Nakuru, the promised land was slowly revealed, in all its immense variety and beauty. After some miles of thorn and red rock, you emerged into thousands of acres of rolling English parkland, a haze of blue lawn rising and falling to the horizon, untouched by the plough and apparently uninhabited. Some of it resembled the landscape of the west of Scotland, with the same dramatic rock formations, grazing pastures, dew-laden mists. Streams rippled through the valleys, wild fig (sacred to the Kikuyu) and olive grew in the forests; the air was deliciously bracing, producing an ecstasy of well-being, and the quality of the light was staggering. There were scents too, the indefinable flavour of peppery red dust and acrid wood smoke that never fail to excite the deepest nostalgia.

And yet unless the land was productive and profitable, there was no point to this “lunatic express,” as its opponents had described it in England. It had been built for prestige and super-power competition, and its only effect was to drain the Colony’s budget.

The Commissioner for East Africa, Sir Charles Eliot, a distinguished Oxford scholar and diplomat, produced a scheme in 1901, soon after his arrival, of recruiting settlers from the Empire to farm the land. The idea was simply to make the railway pay for itself, by hauling freight from the uplands to the coast. The development of the Colony was a secondary consideration, indeed almost an accident. A recruitment drive was launched in London, and the first wave of settlers arrived in 1903 from Britain, Canada, Australia and South Africa. The photographs depict them as “Forty-niners” from the Yukon—a much rougher crowd than the later arrivals, who were drawn mainly from the Edwardian aristocracy and the British officer class. Nevertheless, there were many peers among these first arrivals—Lord Hindlip, Lord Cardross, Lord Cranworth, for example—and victims of the English system of primogeniture, such as Berkeley and Galbraith Cole, younger sons of the Earl of Enniskillen.

There were millionaires, too, like the amply proportioned American, Northrop MacMillan, a close friend of Theodore Roosevelt. There was the fabulous Ewart Grogan, a fiercely chauvinist Englishman who had walked from the Cape to Cairo. There were fugitives, wasters, speculators.

Above all there was the man who became the settlers’ unchallenged leader from the turn of the century until his death in 1931, Hugh Cholmondeley, 3rd Baron Delamere, who had first set eyes on the Kenya Highlands in 1897, at the merciful end of a 2,000 mile camel ride from Somalia. He had returned to England for six unhappy years, to look after his estates, but the Kenya bug had infected him too, and he returned in 1901 to buy land.

Lord Delamere was a natural leader of the settlers. He had inherited an enormous estate in Cheshire and vast wealth besides, soon after leaving Eton—where he had distinguished himself as a reckless and unruly boy, untouched by the civilising classics. He was arrogant and wasteful, with a sudden, violent temper; his political instincts were austerely feudal, and physically he was small and muscular, and in no way handsome. But he had the gift of supreme confidence in himself and in his vision of the future for the Colony, which was inspired by an old-fashioned sense of duty to the Empire—the duty, quite simply, being to annex further territory on its behalf.

Kenya was always more fashionable among the aristocrats than Uganda or Tanganyika after the First World War. Uganda was a little too far from the sea, along the railway, and Tanganyika, until then, had been a German colony. The pick of the sites in the Kenyan White Highlands had an English air, almost like the rolling downs of Wiltshire, all on a supernatural scale and under such an immense sky, that when you are first exposed to it, you may be seized both with vertigo—from the sheer speed and height of the clouds—and folie de grandeur. Such grandiose surroundings were irresistible to the English settlers and often went to their heads.

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