Courtesy Reuters

The White Settler's Role in Kenya

AT the dawn of the twentieth century, a railway, widely regarded as a project either of crazy quasi-idealism or rash imperialism, was telescoping its way from Mombasa on the Indian Ocean to Lake Victoria, leaving a pile of problems in its wake. The decision to undertake this great and arduous enterprise had been made for a number of reasons. It was prompted partly in order to discharge Britain's responsibilities under the Act of Brussels to put an end to the slave trading by establishing law and order in the interior; partly to make possible the retention of Uganda--where missionaries of the Church Missionary Society had been precariously settled since 1876--as a British "sphere of influence" and later as a Protectorate; and partly to secure Britain's position at the source of the Nile waters on which the Sudan and Egypt were so greatly dependent.

In reaching the decision to build the railway no heed was paid to the possible development of the Highlands of Kenya. In 1894 the British Government declared a protectorate over part of Uganda and in 1895 over the rest of East Africa. At the same time it leased a coastal strip, ten sea miles in width along the littoral of Kenya, from the Sultan of Zanzibar. That strip remains today the Protectorate of Kenya. The rest became the Colony of Kenya, by formal annexation, in June 1920.

The deficits on the Protectorate and the railway had to be borne by the British taxpayers, by way of grants-in-aid from the Treasury. The only way whereby both Protectorate and railway could be set on a sound economic basis was by the development of the raw and almost empty lands on either side of the railway. If that task had been left to the Africans there would have been little chance of the railway paying its way within 20 years. The subsistence economy of the African tribes was so precarious that they did not even produce surplus foodstuffs as an insurance against the recurrent famines.

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