EAST AFRICA PROTECTORATE

September 2, 2020

The British East Africa Company

As GermanyBritain, and France were carving up East Africa in the mid-1880s, they recognized the authority of the sultan of Zanzibar over a coastal strip 10 miles (16 km) wide between the Tana (in Kenya) and Ruvuma (in Tanzania) rivers. The hinterland, however, was divided between Britain and Germany: the British took the area north of a line running from the mouth of the Umba River, opposite Pemba Island, and skirting north of Kilimanjaro to a point where latitude 1° S cut the eastern shore of Lake Victoria; the German sphere, Tanganyika (present-day Tanzania), lay to the south of that line. In 1887 the sultan’s territory on the mainland was conceded to the British East Africa Association (later Company) for a 50-year period; this was later made a permanent grant. Because the British government was reluctant to become involved in the administration of East Africa, in 1888 it granted the company a royal charter that authorized it to accept existing and future grants and concessions relevant to the administration and development of the British sphere in that part of the world. The financial resources of the company, however, were inadequate for any large-scale development of the region. The company also administered territory in what is now Uganda; when it became involved with the kingdoms of Buganda and Bunyoro, it incurred a great debt and therefore was forced to limit its activities to regions nearer the coast. This financial problem was finally resolved in 1895 when the British government made Buganda a protectorate and paid the company £250,000 to surrender its charter to the area that is now Kenya. The East Africa Protectorate was then proclaimed, with Sir Arthur Hardinge as the first commissioner. Initially the British government did not attach much importance to the new protectorate because Hardinge continued to reside in Zanzibar, where he already functioned as the consul general.

eastern Africa partitioned, c. 1914
eastern Africa partitioned, c. 1914

The East Africa Protectorate

Resistance to European rule and early administration

During the early years, the new administration largely focused on asserting authority over the territory. Along the coast, the ruling Mazrui family, which had emigrated from Oman by or in the 17th century and came to power thereafter, actively resisted the usurpation of its authority by the British administrators, as did the Kikuyu and the Kamba. Farther west the Nandi did not accept their new overlords until 1905, after a series of British military columns had ranged through their territory. The Maasai were one of the few groups who offered no resistance to British authority, and they even served in the military during the British campaigns against the Kikuyu. Although this caused lasting enmity between the two groups, the Maasai behaved as they did largely because they had been so devastated by disease at the end of the 19th century.

Central Africa, c. 1902
Central Africa, c. 1902Map of Central Africa from the 10th edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica, published in 1902.

The Uganda railway and European settlement

The East Africa Protectorate was valued by Europeans as a corridor to the fertile land around Lake Victoria, but the government’s offer to lease land to British settlers was initially not popular. Two factors, however, changed this negative attitude: a railway was constructed from the coast to Lake Victoria, and the western highlands were transferred from Uganda (where regulations made it impossible to lease land to Europeans) to the East Africa Protectorate in 1902. Work on the railway began at Mombasa in December 1895, and the first locomotive reached Kisumu on Lake Victoria in December 1901; the entire line was completed by 1903. The protectorate was responsible for making the railway profitable, and the export of cash crops seemed to provide the perfect solution for generating revenue. Sir Charles Eliot, who became commissioner of the protectorate in 1901, invited South Africans to settle in the protectorate when European settlers were less than enthusiastic about the proposal, but they too were uninterested.

At first only small areas of land in Kiambu district, which had formerly been occupied by Africans and which the Kikuyu regarded as part of their legitimate area of expansion, were allocated to European settlers, but by 1906 more than 1,550 square miles (4,000 square km) had been leased or sold. Some Africans, such as the Maasai, were confined to reserves; by 1911 the Maasai reserve extended south of the railway to the present-day border with Tanzania.

Prior to the outbreak of World War I in 1914, European participation in political affairs was limited mainly to creating pressure groups. The most prominent of these was the Convention of Associations, which had developed in 1911 from earlier European settler organizations. An Executive Council was appointed in 1905, and the first Legislative Council convened in 1907. When the protectorate was transferred from the Foreign Office to the Colonial Office in April 1905 and the settlers did not gain the increased responsibility they had desired, they launched a campaign in 1913 to elect their own representatives to the Legislative Council. The outbreak of World War I temporarily limited the settlers’ legislative prospects, but the War Council, which was concerned with the effects of the war on the protectorate and included settlers, satisfied some of their desire to have elected representation in the legislature.

World War I and its aftermath

Germany had hoped that no battles with Britain would be fought on African soil during World War I, but Britain was concerned with its communications with India and with the safety of the Ugandan railway. Britain initiated hostilities, to which Germany responded, with Britain ultimately prevailing in East Africa.

The conflict caused great hardships for the African population. Thousands of Africans were forced to serve as porters and soldiers, often with disastrous results, and a large number of Africans died, mostly from disease. The entire East African economic structure was affected, as food production became geared solely to supplying the troops. The burden of providing this food fell largely on African women, who did most of the farming anyway. Women were forced to use the same plots of land repeatedly, thereby depleting the soil, because most able-bodied men, who were responsible for clearing new land, had been conscripted. Droughts and famines recurred.

Most of the European settlers quickly joined the armed forces; they left their farms to be looked after by their wives, or else the farms were abandoned. An attempt was made immediately after the war to revive the settler sector by introducing a “soldier settler” scheme, but the hopes of prosperity encouraged by the postwar demand for agricultural produce received a severe setback in the early 1920s when a worldwide economic recession brought bankruptcy to many of those who had started out with inadequate capital or had relied on credit from the banks. Stability was further delayed by the replacement of the rupee currency with East African shillings. By the mid-1920s Kenya’s economy had wholly revived, although the Great Depression of the 1930s brought further economic difficulties to East Africa.

Rail communications had been improved when branch lines were opened to Thika and to the soda deposits at Lake Magadi in 1913; during the war a link was made between the main line and the German railway system to the south. The most important postwar project was the building of a new extension of the main line across the Uasin Gishu Plateau to tap the agricultural wealth of the highlands and then to Uganda in order to provide an outlet for the cotton crops of that protectorate. The line was eventually completed from Nakuru to Jinja in January 1928 and was carried on to Kampala, which it reached in January 1931.

Kenya colony

Political movements

In 1920 the East Africa Protectorate was turned into a colony and renamed Kenya, for its highest mountain.

The colonial government began to concern itself with the plight of African peoples; in 1923 the colonial secretary issued a White Paper in which he indicated that African interests in the colony had to be paramount, although his declaration did not immediately result in any great improvement in conditions. One area that definitely needed improvement was education for Africans; up to that point nearly all African schooling had been provided by missionaries. Those Africans who did manage to receive a Western education, though, found no place in Kenya’s legislature, their interests being represented officially by the members of the appointed council and by a European unofficial member, usually a missionary.

World War II to independence

The outbreak of World War II forced the colony to focus on its borders; with the entry of Italy into the war, Kenya’s northern border with Ethiopia and Somaliland was briefly threatened. The colonial government then turned its attention to African political representation, and in 1944 Kenya became the first East African territory to include an African on its Legislative Council. The number was increased to two in 1946, four in 1948, and eight in 1951, although all were appointed by the governor from a list of names submitted by local governments. This, however, did not satisfy African demands for political equality. While the East African Association had been banned after Thuku’s arrest, a new organization, the Kikuyu Central Association, emerged with Jomo Kenyatta as its general secretary beginning in 1928. Kenyatta, who advocated a peaceful transition to African majority rule, traveled widely in Europe and returned in 1946 to become the president of the Kenya African Union (KAU; founded in 1944 as the Kenya African Study Union), which attempted to gain a mass African following. There were, however, Africans in the colony who felt that Kenyatta’s tactics were not producing enough concrete results. One such group, which advocated a violent approach, became known as the Mau Mau. The actions attributed to the Mau Mau caused the colonial government to proclaim a state of emergency from October 1952 until 1960 and also resulted in a massive relocation of Africans, particularly Kikuyu. Kenyatta and other Africans were charged with directing the Mau Mau movement and sentenced in 1953 to seven years’ imprisonment; Kenyatta was released from prison in 1959 but was then confined to his home.

Source: Britannica.com

Editor’s note: SWR would prefer not to use sources written from a European perspective and it is hoped that in the near future, a source from an African perspective will be found.

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