Open main menu

The Empire and the century/The East African Protectorate

< The Empire and the century



The eastern side of Africa is so little known that it may not be amiss to remind the reader of the various political spheres now recognised there, chiefly in consequence of arrangements made towards the end of the last century. The mainland is divided between Germany, Great Britain, Italy, and Portugal, the share of France being represented by the large island of Madagascar. The extreme south, of course, is British, and inland our territory runs northward uninterruptedly to Lakes Nyassa and Tangan3dka; but on the coast Portuguese territory begins at Delagoa Bay and occupies about fifteen degrees of latitude. North of it comes German East Africa, which stops about five degrees south of the line, where begin our own equatorial possessions. The remainder of the east coast, from the equator up to and round Cape Guardafui, constitutes the Italian sphere. Our inland territories near Tanganyika and Nyassa, which are conterminous with Rhodesia, but separated from the sea by the Portuguese possessions, are known by the name of British Central Africa—a somewhat misleading designation, since they are not really central, but southern, and have no connection with our two equatorial Protectorates of Uganda and East Africa, which form the subject of the present article and are, to a certain extent, central. But even these territories are very distinctly eastern, and do not extend into the heart of Africa. They occupy, roughly speaking, the eastern third of the continent, and the extreme western boundary of Uganda is on about the same meridian as Alexandria.

It may be said, without undue national pride, that the British sphere is the most important and hopeful part of the east coast In the Italian and Portuguese territories European influence is practically confined to a few ports, and little effort has yet been made to control or develop the interior. The Germans have seriously undertaken the task of investigating and improving their possessions, and their long coast line, which in many parts possesses a rich and fertile hinterland within easy distance of the sea, has enabled them to obtain gratifying results. But they also suffer, though in a less degree than the Italians and Portuguese, from want of communication with the interior, and the consequent difficulty of maintaining order or encouraging trade. Though the British Protectorates are in some ways less favourably situated, inasmuch as the healthy and fertile interior is separated from the coast by a jungle from 70 to 200 miles wide, yet there is easy communication by rail and steamer from the Indian Ocean to Entebbe, on the further side of Lake Victoria, and a good road from Entebbe to Lake Albert.

Our equatorial possessions are organized as two Protectorates, known as East Africa and Uganda. The former, which is a definite administrative division, and not merely a general designation for this side of the continent, is the country between Lake Victoria and the Indian Ocean. It is traversed by the Uganda Railway, which connects the lake with the port of Mombasa. The Uganda Protectorate, on the other hand, consists of our territories which lie to the west and north of the lake, and is not very definitely divided from the southern Sudan.

It is a curious fact that Uganda, though about 700 miles from the sea, created considerable interest some time earlier than the nearer, and in some ways more important, territories which now form the East Africa Protectorate, and which have become known only in the last five or six years. Uganda was visited by Stanley, and the reports of the large and intelligent native population anxious to accept Christianity and European civilization speedily inspired active sympathy among all the friends of missions. In virtue of the Anglo-German agreement of 1890, the British East Africa Company occupied Uganda, but finding that the administration was a heavier drain on then* resources than had been anticipated, soon became anxious to hand over their new acquisition to the Government. Meanwhile, Christianity had made extraordinary progress, not unmarred by bickerings between the various sects, and there was a strong feeling that for religious and philanthropic motives the country ought not to be abandoned. This sentiment was supported by an estimate of its wealth, which was, perhaps, somewhat exaggerated, and our Protectorate was proclaimed in 1894. As it was difficult to hold the interior without communication with the coast, it was decided to construct the Uganda Railway, which was begun in 1895. It was only during the construction of this railway that people became alive to the fact that the road to Uganda was more valuable than Uganda itself.

The peculiarity of the East Africa Protectorate is that, though it is equatorial, large parts of it possess a temperate climate which has been shown, by an experience now amounting to about fifteen years, to be suitable to Europeans. Not only can they reside continuously in the country, but they can rear children there. This surprising fact seems most improbable to those who are not acquainted with the Protectorate, but it must be remembered that temperature and climate depend on elevation as much as on geographical position. The best-known equatorial countries—such as West Africa, Brazil, and the Malay Archipelago—are comparatively low and flat. It is only rarely, as in Bolivia and East Africa, that we find the much rarer combination of equatorial position and considerable altitude. On the mountains of the Man, which are actually on the Equator, the days often resemble an English October, and at night there may be a degree or two of frost. The salient feature in the geography of East Africa is that volcanic action has thrown up a plateau, varying from 5,000 to 10,000 feet high, between the sea and the great lakes, which are largely formed from the waters which run down from this elevation. In British territory this plateau begins about 200 miles from the coast and extends about 800 miles in the direction of Lake Victoria. Less accurate information is forthcoming as to the interior of the German and Portuguese possessions, but it seems probable that a strip of high and healthy, though possibly not everywhere equally fertile, country runs down continuously to Rhodesia.

Uganda, which lies beyond this plateau, cannot at present claim to offer a climate suitable to European residence, though perhaps further exploration and improved communication may enable us to use the great Ruwenzori range and the mountains which border the Upper Nile for the establishment of stations. At present its importance is largely political. It looks both south and north, and commands the highways leading to Egypt and the Cape. It thus affects our two most important interests in the Continent In Northern Africa we have chosen Egypt and the east as our sphere rather than Morocco and the west. Now, the main factor in the prosperity and safety of Egypt is the Nile, and by the possession of Uganda we control the whole course of this river from its double source in Lakes Victoria and Albert to its mouth in the Mediterranean. In Lower Egypt the rise and fall of its stream are regulated by a dam built at Assouan, and it is now proposed to exercise a similar control over the upper portions of the river by means of various works, among which will be dams built on or near the two lakes. In any case it is clearly most important that the power which occupies Egypt should also occupy Uganda, for a rival in the possession of the sources and upper course of the Nile might have opportunities of seriously injuring the territories which depend on its rise and fall. Uganda has another aspect which is important for Egypt and the Sudan. It is a Christian native state. Probably in no part of the world have the efforts of missionaries met with such rapid and thorough success. Elementary education and a taste for European civilization are generally diffused; and if all the inhabitants are not really Christians, it may be said, without exaggeration, that those who are not are regarded by the others as backward and barbarous. The country has definitely thrown in its lot with Christianity, and—here is the point—it is anti-Mohammedan. It is, therefore, not likely to originate any fanatical movement, and forms a barrier against the spread of any such movement southwards. In view of the power which Islam has shown of spreading among African races, and the damage done on the Upper Nile by the Khalifa and the Dervishes, the existence of this Christian state must be regarded as a great guarantee for the preservation of peace.

Looking southwards, the importance of Uganda for all projects of opening up communications between the north and south of the continent is obvious. It lies on the highroad from the Cape to Cairo and in the middle of the road. The objections to making a railway between these points are two. As things are, there is no prospect of any traffic at all commensurate to the cost of construction; and, secondly, this construction is likely to encounter serious difficulties in the southern Sudan, where the line must either make a considerable diversion from the direct route, or else pass through marshes, where the necessary works will be enormously costly, if not impracticable. Nothing, however, is more likely to stimulate traffic and the need of communication than the development of Uganda and the establishment in its neighbourhood of colonies of Europeans connected with South Africa by business interests. The fact that such colonists from South Africa are actually settling in considerable numbers in the neighbouring East Africa Protectorate will probably prove of great importance for the future of the country and determine the direction of its development. If it is ever decided to construct the Cape to Cairo Railway, Uganda will be able to supply plentiful and intelligent native labour, such as is rarely found in Africa.

To the west, Uganda borders on the Congo Free State, and these frontier lands still merit the titles of darkest and unknown Africa, The shortest route to the eastern side of the Congo is undoubtedly by the Uganda Railway, and though the Belgian authorities have naturally a preference for roads which open up their own territory, this route is beginning to be used.

Politically the East Africa Protectorate is less important than Uganda—that is to say, it does not contain many points which are of strategic value or affect the neighbouring lands. But it offers a series of excellent harbours along the coast, and since ships could be supplied with practically unlimited quantities of meat and European vegetables, it might be valuable as a provisioning station in time of war. Mombasa, with its adjacent land-locked harbours, is capable of accommodating the largest fleets, and is a rapidly increasing port, somewhat handicapped at present of its defective water-supply. This defect, however, will probably soon be remedied by the construction of waterworks, bringing water from a neighbouring stream at a cost of about £100,000.

It is, however, not so much of the political importance of the East Africa Protectorate that I would speak as of its commercial and economic possibilities. Uganda is a black man's country; East Africa is fitted to be a white man's country, and is rapidly becoming one. As explained, this Protectorate rises gradually from the sea into a plateau varying from 5,000 to 10,000 feet in height, excluding peaks which attain an altitude of nearly 19,000 feet. This plateau is cleft down the middle by a depression known as the Great Rift Valley, which, though some thousand feet lower than the surrounding heights, shares their temperate climate. For purposes of colonization and cultivation, the Protectorate may be divided into two parts—the highlands composed of this plateau and of the Rift Valley, and the lowlands, consisting of the coast and the country round the shores of Lake Victoria. The lowlands must be regarded as a planter's country, suitable for most forms of tropical agriculture, but not for the permanent residence of Europeans, though they can perfectly well reside there and superintend cultivation. The shores of Lake Victoria are not healthy, though it is hoped that they may be much improved by drainage. The sea coast, however, must be given a high rank for health among tropical climates. Mombasa and Lamu are certainly not inferior in this respect to Calcutta and Bombay, considering that they are tropical towns; the temperature is moderate, and there is a continual breeze from the sea. For practical purposes the healthiness of the coast is increased by the proximity of the highlands, which can be reached in twenty-four hours from Mombasa when a change of air is needed. The chief products of the lowlands are rubber, copra, mangrove, bark (which is used for tanning), and various kinds of valuable fibre. The indigenous rubber, which is obtained from a creeper called landolphia, is of good quality and plentiful in many districts, particularly in the forests near Melindi and Witu. It is also found in various parts of the highlands, and is abundant in Uganda. The copra is said to be of extremely good quality.

It is not, however, these tropical lowlands which are the most valuable and characteristic feature of East Africa, but the temperate highlands, which are not merely a planter's country, but suited to the permanent residence of Europeans. It is somewhat difficult to define their extent, as the country at some distance from the railway is not known as well as it should be, but the belt of good land is about three hundred miles wide in the part where it is traversed by the railway, and it is gratifying to report that those who explore the less-known districts nearly always report the discovery of fine land in some unexpected place. Thus the Commission which has recently been delimitating the boundary between British and German territory report the existence of a new escarpment called Isowri, and excellent grass about eighty miles from Lake Victoria. The best-known districts, taking them in the order in which they lie along the Uganda Railway, are the Athi plains, Kikuyu, the Rift Valley, the Mau, and the Uasin Gishu plateau.

Perhaps there is no better and more practical way of giving the reader an idea of the country than to make an imaginary journey by the Uganda Railway from the Indian Ocean to Lake Victoria. In doing so I should say that I follow the time-table which was in force a year ago. The service of trains may have been altered and accelerated since then.

On leaving Mombasa, which is situated on an island fitting rather closely into an indentation of the coast, the railway crosses a long bridge, and reaching the mainland, at once begins to climb a somewhat steep ascent to Mazeras, about fifteen miles from the starting-point This first section of the line is also one of the most beautiful. The scenery is tropical; the hills are covered with groves of cocoanuts and bananas, and from their summits are obtained wide views over the island of Mombasa and the many inlets round it—Port Reitz and Port Tudor, and the beautiful valley of the Mwachi River. Around Mazeras there is a good deal of cultivation, but shortly after it begins the least profitable and most uninteresting part of the journey—the Taru Jungle, a belt of forest and scrub nearly two hundred miles wide, which divides the highlands from the coast This jungle contains very little visible water, but the fact that it supports a thick vegetation, and that the land responds with a wonderful outburst of green and flowers to every shower, or the most rudimentary irrigation, indicates that the soil is rich and may some day be utilized. At present the whole stretch produces nothing which is of any use except fibre plants, spiky, sword-like growths of forbidding appearance but considerable commercial value. There are some oases in this district, such as the beautiful Teita Hills, but one must commend the arrangement by which the train passes through the greater part of it during the night. Leaving Mombasa at noon, it reaches Makindu at the end of the jungle very early in the morning, and about sunrise 3ie traveller awakens between 8,000 and 4,000 feet above the sea-level, and in scenery which will astonish him if he is making the journey for the first time, and make him think he has travelled several thousand miles and not two hundred and fifty, which is the actual distance. The air is clear and cool and the grass dewy. On either side extend prairies covered at most seasons of the year by herds of zebra and antelope, and dotted with trees of fair size. A little further on, near Nairobi, the plains become undulating, treeless expanses, but here there is a certain amount of scattered vegetation and abrupt, grassy hills. If fortune favours, a glimpse may be obtained of the great snow-covered dome of Kilima Njaro, on the German boundary, but the mountain, though visible from many points, is seen best from Makindu, which is passed in the day-time on the return journey. After threading its way through the hills, the train strikes across the Athi plains, as the open country is called, and reaches Nairobi about midday. All this part of the Protectorate is a game reserve in which no shooting is allowed, with the result that the most extraordinary spectacle of wild and fearless animal life may be seen quite close to the train. The commonest animals are zebras, a large antelope, called the hartebeest, of somewhat bovine appearance, and two very graceful smaller antelopes, yellowish, with a black stripe, known as Grant's and Thomson's gazelle. Ostriches are also abundant and conspicuous, and with luck the traveller may get a sight of giraffe, lion, or rhinoceros, especially early in the morning. There is probably no place in the world which can show an even approximately similar display of large game, or offer better shooting in the districts where shooting is allowed.

Nairobi, about 5,500 feet high, and the second capital of the Protectorate, is reached about noon. It is a European settlement which has sprung up in the last five years, and is growing so rapidly that I do not venture to state what its present population may be. But it probably retains the appearance which it had about a year ago of a West American mining town formed of tin shanties, though not devoid of comfortable bungalows. It is said that hotels and a bank are being constructed, which will certainly add to the comfort and possibly to the appearance of the town. Nairobi, though not beautiful in itself, is the connecting link between two dissimilar regions, each very beautiful in its own way. Before it stretch the spacious Athi plains; immediately behind it rise in gentle, wooded slopes the hills of Kikuyu. This distinct extends from Mount Ngongo on the south of Nairobi to Mount Kenya, a snow-capped mountain rivalling Kilima Njaro, in the north, and is perhaps the most favoured district of East Africa, combining, as it does, agricultural with pastoral land, plentiful water, a sufficient supply of native labour, but also a sufficiency of unoccupied land which can be taken up by Europeans. It is difficult to make those who have not seen the country believe that it recalls an English summer landscape with its green lanes and sunny parks, and one often feels that it would not be out of keeping to see some village spire rising above the trees, which are so curiously European in appearance.

In crossing Kikuyu the train reaches an altitude of about 7,500 feet, and then suddenly descends into the Rift Valley. Probably there is no place in the world where a railway effects such a sudden and thorough transformation of scenery without the aid of a tunnel. The line makes a great curve, and almost in the space of a minute passes from the fertile, comfortable fields of Kikuyu and emerges on the sides of a wild, desolate, wind-swept valley, bounded by strange volcanic mountains. This is the Rift. The first few miles of it, though impressive, are somewhat arid, and the good grazing-ground does not begin until the neighbourhood of Lake Naivasha, which is followed by Lakes Elmenteita and Nakuru. Here the quantity of stock attests the excellence of the pasture, and one may sometimes see the curious spectacle of gazelles which have strayed into the flocks grazing unconcernedly among the sheep and the native herdsmen. The grazing of the Rift Valley is decidedly good, but the idea prevalent among many Europeans in East Africa that it is better than in other parts may be erroneous, and it is probable that the pasturage on the higher levels of the Mau escarpment is really superior, though the land has not been crazed down by native flocks, as, owing to tribal quarrels and the coldness of the climate, the natives do not much frequent the upper regions.

The Mau escarpment bounds the railway on the west, and its level, excluding peaks, is often as much as 9,000 feet. The railway, which naturally follows the lowest and easiest route, attains an elevation of about 8,000 feet. The train reaches the Mau summit in the early morning; and if the traveller has been incredulous of the coolness of equatorial regions, and not provided himself with several blankets, he will be convinced of the reality of the cold, and pass a most uncomfortable night. By a curious coincidence the coldest part of the journey is also that nearest to the equator, which is only about ten miles north of the railway. The plateaux of the Mau extend to a considerable distance north and south of the railway. They are not well known, owing to their being almost entirely uninhabited, but the character of the whole district appears to be the same, and its quality and suitability for European residence has been tested at several points. What is said of it applies equally well to the Settima Range and the plateaux on the eastern side of the Rift Valley, considerably to the north of the country traversed by the railway.

I have compared Kikuyu to English summer scenery; the Mau and Settima somewhat resemble Scotch moors. Frost and mist are frequent; the open spaces are covered with strong grass, diversified by shrubs resembling blackberries and large heath. There are many forests of fine trees, sometimes in the form of patches, sometimes as continuous tracts. Watercourses are numerous, but game is not abundant (or, at least, not conspicuous), and native inhabitants are almost entirely absent. This last fact is to be attributed, not to any secret unhealthiness in the district, but to the preference of African races for low, swampy districts, where they find in abundance the food which they require, and where they have become immune to the fevers which torment Europeans.

To the west of the Mau, the railway descends rapidly, by a remarkable system of viaducts, to the shores of Lake Victoria, a region which is fertile indeed, but better suited to cultivation by Africans or Indians than to be even the temporary residence of Europeans. To the north of the railway, however, the Mau is prolonged in the Nandi country and Uasin Gishu plateau, districts which rival Kikuyu in their beauty and fertility. The latter is in the locality which it was proposed to hand over to a colony of Oriental Jews, as part of the movement known as Zionism. This proposal however, appears to have fallen through, and it is to be hoped that the district will be opened to British colonization.

Brief as has been this sketch of the more accessible parts of the Protectorate, I hope that I have succeeded in making the reader feel that it is not a swamp or a desert, but a very beautiful, potential colony, possessing special importance from its unusual position, which in some ways makes it the door to a new world. The criticism most commonly passed on it by those who are acquainted with Natal, the Transvaal, and Rhodesia is that it is like South Africa, but better. I have not myself visited South Africa, but pictures and descriptions leave on one the impression that it is an arid and yellow country. East Africa, on the other hand, is, as a rule, a green country, and offers a rich spread of grass. Severe drought is rare, and, it would seem, always partial The famine of 1897 was formidable because there were no means of communication to combat it; but had the Uganda Railway then been in existence it might have been easily overcome.

The settlement of Europeans in these districts is now proceeding rapidly, but experienced some difficulties in the beginning. The plan proposed in 1904 by the Foreign Office, which then administered the Protectorates, was to make the portion of the Rift Valley lying along the railway a native reserve, in which no private European might hold land, though a tract of 500 miles in the same territory was riven to a syndicate. This arrangement would have been disastrous, for it would have excluded Europeans from some of the best land in the country, which had for them a peculiar value on account of its accessibility and nearness to the railway, whereas the nomadic tribe of the Masai, in whose favour the reservation was to be created, could not in any way utilize the advantages of the railway, and had no desire for access to it. I am glad, however, to say that this policy has been reversed. It is recognised that the welfare of the country requires that the land of the Rift Valley should be developed by Europeans, and the Masai have been induced to trek to a reservation on the Laikipia escarpment at some distance from the line.

One important native question appears to be thus settled, and there is hope that the others will not give much trouble. By a happy combination of circumstances, the lands which are most appreciated by natives are not those most coveted by Europeans, so that there is room for both races. There are, however, two desiderata for a successful settlement of the native question. The first is that British officials should make a more strenuous attempt to learn native languages. There can be no doubt that many quarrels which have led to serious and costly punitive expeditions could have been amicably settled had the parties been able to discuss the situation in any common language, for it must be remembered that the greatest talent and one of the great passions of the African is the use of words. In North America the negroes are most successful as clergymen and lawyers, and in Africa serous difficulties can often be avoided if they are heard with a large patience and the aggrieved parties are allowed to argue for two or three days. Secondly, though native reserves are a good thing if they mean that the land necessary to natives is secured for their use and cannot be taken up by Europeans, they are not a good thing if they mean that natives are to be left to themselves, and that no attempt is to be made to induce the nomadic tribes to adopt a settled life and abandon raiding. We know that these tribes are not incurably nomadic, for many have settled down within the last few generations, and no effort should be spared to make the Masai and other races adapt themselves to new conditions, for the continuance of their wandering and predaceous habits can only mean their rapid extinction.

Since the Government has changed their policy and begun to favour European immigration, which they did not in practice encourage until the autumn of last year, the country has made most rapid strides, and the increase in trade and general prosperity is greater than the most sanguine would have dared to anticipate twelve months ago. The revenue has increased 50 per cent., imports 88 per cent., and exports 50 per cent. Provision was made for a deficit of £45,000 on the working expenses of the Uganda Railway in the past year, and the most sanguine estimate made was that the line would pay its way in two years' time. Instead of this, it appears that in the period of March 81, 1904, to March 81, 1905, the receipts have actually covered the expenditure, and yielded a small surplus. The chief exports at present seem to be hides, rubber, fibre, and copra; ostrich feathers and wool show a promising commencement I am told by a well-informed person recently returned from the country that a considerable number of sheep have been imported, and that the wool obtained from the first cross has elicited some very hopeful quotations. He also says that the cultivation of ramie fibre in Kikuyu promises to be a certain success. Land is rising rapidly in value, and he thinks that some of the best land near the railway will touch £20 per acre. The timber on the Mau is reported to be excellent both in quality and quantity, and a large concession is being arranged for working the forests, which will probably involve the construction of a branch line. The only crop which has been a failure is cotton, from which great things were expected. It would appear, however, that this failure must not be considered as final. The climate and soil are suitable, and in some places the crops have done well, but, unfortunately, the area selected for the principal experiments was on the banks of the Tana, and the seasons for the rise and fall of the river were not sufficiently investigated, with the result that the plantations were flooded and destroyed. It would appear, however, that inexpensive engineering works would suffice to prevent such disasters in the future, and, apart from this, there are many other places where cotton can be grown without danger of inundation—notably, the Lamu Archipelago, a group of islands close to the mainland, and somewhat resembling those of South Carolina and Georgia. The main difficulty for cotton-planting, however, as well as for other industries on the coast, is the scarcity of labour, but I think it can be met in two ways. Firstly, Indians should be induced to settle in the country. I do not think they should be allowed to hold land in the highlands among Europeans, nor are they likely to be attracted by either the climate or class of agriculture which is profitable there; but they are wanted on the coast where the natives are few and indolent, and where the country and its products strongly resemble Southern India. Secondly, I think that Uganda and East Africa should be treated as a whole, and the dense and intelligent population of the former Protectorate encouraged to migrate into select areas of the latter, due precaution being taken to prevent the spread of the sleeping sickness. The proposal to send natives of Uganda to work in the mines of South Africa did not seem to me feasible, but I see no reason why they should not be encouraged to labour for a period as cultivators on the coast of East Africa, which is comparatively near their own country and not unlike it.

It would appear that the majority of white immigrants into East Africa are South Africans. It has often been suggested that they were not the best class of colonists for the country, and it was suggested that New Zealanders or Australians would be preferable, But the fact of the preponderance of South Africans, if it proves to be true, must be accepted, and is likely to have important consequences which can hardly be disadvantageous as tending to draw two British Colonies together. Among those consequences may be the opening up from Uganda of. communications with Rhodesia by land, and the establishment of a sea-trade between Mombasa and the ports of the South. East Africa can at present supply maize and European vegetables if they are required by southern markets, and to these may shortly be added wheat and barley.

In view of this connection with the south, attention should be given to the question of assimilating the coinages of the two countries and abolishing the rupee currency at present used in East Africa. It is also most desirable that the East African Colonies should be included in the South African Customs Union. This project was mooted a year or more ago, and I believe was not thought favourably of in the South African Legislatures, but a closer connection between two groups of British dependencies may lead to a different result. Perhaps Lord Milner's visit to Nairobi in last spring may be an augury of more friendly relations.