My father was flummoxed when a visitor asked him, "What does a DC do?" His mind went blank. He always felt a bit like A. A. Milne's sailor his grandfather knew who had so many things which he wanted to do, that whenever he thought it was time to begin, he couldn't because of the state that he was in.
Margaret Perham, when pondering on the work of a "political officer" as she called him, concluded that it demanded conscience more than brains. The officers themselves would be the first to agree that they were indeed jacks of all trades but masters of none. In each location to which they were posted, they had to get to know the people, to establish a confident and friendly rapport with them, to ensure that the people could live, farm and trade peacefully, to fight their corner when necessary, to collect their taxes, to stave off famines in the lean years and to improve communications. As magistrates, they could not hope to be lawyers, as road makers they were not engineers. But, they undoubtedly tried their hardest and they did what they considered to be right, with the knowledge and advice available at the time.
A major task of the government was to try to make the colonies pay; to shift the burden off the British tax payer. The salaries of the Colonial Service were paid for by the British Government, as are, indeed, their pensions today. The fledgling colonial governments in the early years could not hope to cover from taxes the major capital costs of, for example, railways and military expeditions to pacify the recalcitrant or enforce the abolition of slavery. In April 1896, the cost of Government for the East African Protectorate was £91,464 whilst revenue only came to £32,670.
One of the main sources of revenue to the East African governments in the very early days were the rich hunters which, as W. S. Rainsford described it, were "unable to resist the 'red god's calling.'"
Today it may be incomprehensible ot many of us that people should wish to shoot African wildlife. However, it is worth bearing in mind that in a continent as sparsely populated as Africa was before the advent of medicines and peace, the plains and forests teemed with animals, reptiles and birds to an extent that is almost impossible to comprehend today. Indeed, even when I was a child in the late nineteen forties, it was unremarkable to see, as one drove across the floor of the farmed and populated Rift Valley, impala, zebra, giraffe, wildebeest and Grant and Thompson Gazelles. The less easy to see from the car were there in numbers too: eland, ostrich, warthog, hippo, every possible type of bird and, of course, the predators, lion and cheetah especially. Africans, and later European farmers, had to compete with them for space. Hunting by wealthy Europeans in Africa's untamed vastness was not only exhilirating adventure for both African and European alike, but it also increased the supply of mat and its byproducts. These certainly helped the African who had hitherto relied upon being able to obtain them with spears, arrows and daring. Animals were vital for meat and skins.
Some of the hunters left interesting accounts. IN 1908, W. S. Rainsford, an American, wrote of his experience in "Kenia" in his book "The Land of the Lion". He included a couple of thoughtful chapters on "A Plea for the Native East African and His Missionary" and "The Country". In this latter chapter he compared the Government to "A strong but ragged eight-oar crew. Individually they are a fair lot, but stroke does not know his own mind and looks a good deal out of the boat, so the men behind him cannot get together. Naturally the boat rolls and has not much pace on and the men growl at each other. Worst of all, the coach is too far away to see properly the crew's work, yet is constantly shouting contradictory orders to stroke, whose one aim seems not to be to win a race so much as to avoid an upset. The crew, too, has a pretty good German boat to race against."
He described the English Civil Servant in British East Africa as "a clean, honest capable gentleman. He is the class of man that England above all other nations has succeeded in rearing and binding to her service. A man that under circumstances of loneliness, disheartenment and danger has done more than any other class, I don't even except the soldier, to hold unbroken, in spite of its vast extension, what Kipling in an immortal verse as called her 'Far-flung battle line'"
But Rainsford had criticisms too and these were directed at "coach" in Whitehall and "Stroke" sitting in Government House. He pointed out that the six provincial commissioners administering the six British East African districts, who knew the country best, were not given a seat on the Council charged with suggesting local laws and regulations and which was chaired by the Governor.
Rainsford quoted from Professor J. W. Gregory's book called "The Foundation of British East Africa." After lamenting the "persistent ill luck" which British East Africa had suffered through "pestilence, drought and famine" he opined:
"But the blame for the confusion is not all extra human. The clumsiness of men, the conservatism of government systems have been only too powerful for evil. The main cause of disaster in the rule of the Foreign Office (at present the Colonial Office has taken over the Protectorate) ...has been the lack of a policy based on a scientific knowledge of the country and its people, framed in accordance with the views of the local authorities as to what is practically and economically possible..."
The Professor suggested that the primary need in equatorial Africa was for a special service of men appointed by open competition.
Rainsford generously counters this by declaring:
"...the ordinary young Englishman, employed by his country to do one of her difficult and thankless jobs in a distant land with but little to reward him and much to discourage him, is the most honest, conscientious and successful civil servant in the world."
Thank you, Mr Rainsford. He even believed that the East African civil servant should be better paid, better pensioned and better supported at his outpost. "'Ah, there is no money,'[they say] 'There are limits to the English taxpayers' capacity to pay up margins of expenditure for unprofitable colonies.' Admitted! But one wrong is done him which might be quickly righted without the cost of an extra sovereign. He should be listened to, and he is not.".
Frederick Jackson (later Sir Frederick) was one of those early 'oarsmen' in British East Africa and his book "Early Days in East Africa" is an historical classic. Sections from it give some flavour of how he went about his tasks before Kenya was a colony of that name. First, his contacts with "the German boat" (and this is positively the last allusion to Rainsford's metaphor) in Uganda in 1894.
"It was while I was acting between Colonel Colvile's departure and Mr Berkeley's arrival, that Naval Lieutenant von Kalben, who was himself acting for Captain Langheld, the officer in charge of the Nyanza Province in German East Africa, paid me a visit.
Colvile and Langheld had been conducting a far from friendly correspondence on the subject of the misbehaviour of our [African] canoemen in German territory, when employed on water-transport work between Mwanza and Entebbe; and it fell to von Kalben's and my lot to smooth over matters.
His first act, at my request, was to renew his correspondence in English, and he also accepted an invitation to pay me a visit at some future date, to discuss various matters of mutual interest and importance.
In those days it was difficult to notify ahead the actual date of one's expected arrival, and my guest arrived and departed by steam-launch before his letter by runner reached me. The result was that while he arrived resplendent in uniform, I received him in an old flannel suit, and I am inclined to think that our mutual embarrassment, he at finding himself unexpected, and I at his sudden appearance, helped greatly to foster our spontaneous regard for each other.
I have always regarded Uganda as particularly fortunate in having as neighbours in charge of adjoining German territory such men as Langheld, von Kalben and von Strumer, with whom negotiations were always conducted in the most friendly spirit and on the principle of give and take.
Among other things which von Kalben and I discussed and agreed to represent in the strongest terms to our respective Governments, were the disadvantages of the one degree of South latitude as our frontier, in place of the Kagera River which the former crossed and re-crossed in several places.
The small areas within the various bends were mostly marsh and of no value, but were regarded as a harbour of refuge for all sorts and conditions of 'wanted by the police,' who, when hard pressed, found it easier and safer to step across an imaginary line, and defy their pursuers, than to face a deep river full of crocodiles. However, no notice was taken of our pleadings and nothing was done. I have always understood that politicians at home like to have a little bit of land to play with, particularly if it is an annoyance to a neighbour; it may some day come in handy as a useful bit to exchange for a bit elsewhere. In the meantime, local annoyances, that might lead to unpleasantness, are of no account."
A year or so later Jackson went to Ravine to take over from "little Martin" (who was said to be one of the very earliest, if not the earliest, district officer in British East Africa). A one-eyed man, apparently from southern Kamassia, who Jackson described as a "Lybon" or witchdoctor, came to see him and was introduced as a very useful man:
"...and for a few months he proved himself to be so. But he was not a Kamassia at all; he was a Uasingishu Masai, and, true to type, he soon began to stir up trouble. It first started through his followers, one small lot after another, leaving him, and joining Mirumbi [a neighbouring Kamassia chief]. I confess to being prejudiced against the man from the first, as even when pleased, or when his face was in repose, there was always an evil look in that one eye of his.
However, I gave him every chance, until he proved himself to be a real disturbing element, when I first cautioned him, and then warned the Kamassia themselves against him. But it was no use, he had more power and authority over them than I had, and to show it, he one night sent a raiding party to attack Mirumbi's one 'manyatta' [homestead] at the foot of the hill just below the station.
It occurred about 2 a.m. in bright moonlight, and was so well and expeditiously carried out that, in a matter of a few minutes, they had killed two moran of Mirumbi's cattle guard, lost two of their own, set fire to all the huts, except Mirumbi's which was enclosed in a small stockade, and got away with all his cattle, some forty odd head. In one of the huts a poor old crippled woman was burned to death.
I had heard the 'kalele' (noise) but took no notice until the bugler sounded the 'alarm' and 'fall in', when I was out in a jiffy in gum-boots and a dressing-gown; but the raiders had too long a start and got clean away.
Such a direct challenge was impossible to ignore, and as I was a firm believer in the principle that it was better and more merciful to hit hard and get it over, when it was deemed necessary to hit at all, a strong punitive force was raised and commanded by Colonel Ternan, at that time Acting Commissioner and O.C. Troops.
Raids and counter-raids were well understood by most tribes, as they had been accustomed to them for generations, but a real good knock-out was something new and was generally well remembered. In my experience, no punitive measure ever resulted in the killing of many of the enemy; they did not give one the chance, and as often as not they killed as many of the punitive force, and sometimes even more. Punishment was mostly confined to an attempt to capture their stock and, failing that, to the destruction of their huts and food supplies. The number of times a tribe laid itself open to punitive measures depended a great deal on the force of the knock they received; and also very largely on the time the punitive force remained in the affected area; a dash in, and a hasty return, even with cattle, had little effect. It was nothing new to them. But even a short stay, living in the country, and keeping them on the move, was something they did not like; and it at least showed them that the invaders were not afraid of them. The Nandi, admittedly, were an exception, as they received some fairly hard knocks on six occasions, and were only knocked out in the seventh round by a drive by three columns, extending over a period of many weeks.
The result of our punitive measure in Kamassia, though we crept and crawled along too slowly to capture their cattle, was quite effective, as we found and destroyed their well-stocked granary, hidden away in dense forest near the top of Martean Hill.
After the expeditionary force had returned to Uganda, the Kamassia made several attempts, at varying intervals, to sue for peace, through the usual channel, an old woman; but each time I declined to have anything to do with them, unless and until they excluded their alien, one-eyed 'lybon' from their councils, as he alone was the cause of their troubles.
What I expected was that they would bring him in and hand him over to me, when, as a political prisoner, he would have been deported to some other part of the Protectorate where he could do no harm. Instead of doing that, or packing him off to northern Kamassia, they killed him; and then, without so much as asking leave, a deputation of elders carrying grass and green twigs, came to tell me all about it.
Their story was that they had done their best to get rid of him, but he declined to go, defied, and even threatened them with his magic powers, so in the end they invited him to a carousal, made him drunk, knocked him and his son on the head, and threw both of them into a deep wooded ravine. It was, of course, a brutal act, but the fact remains that the Kamassia never again gave any further trouble."
I copy Jackson's next story in its entirety partly to give a little more of a taste of life for a district officer early in the century but also because it demonstrates the immense gulf which divided the two races when the colonial administration was in its infancy and how much was demanded of both races to adjust to life "Under the shelter of the British flag, safe from external menace or internal broil", (as Churchill put it). It also shows, that there was considerable goodwill on both sides.
"...an old Andorobo Teriko, his shrivelled-up wife and his family of two grown-up sons, two small boys and a pretty little girl of about nine, lived in the forest close by the Ravine station in funny little bowers of green branches neither rain-proof nor wind-proof, at the foot of some giant trees. They knew that vast forest from A to Z and all about everything that lived in it, and subsisted almost entirely on Colobus monkeys, honey and any flour they were able to obtain in exchange for the skins at the station. One day I went out with the old man, two sons and the little girl to see how they hunted the monkeys and saw them kill three, with their barbed wooden-pointed arrows freely smeared with poison.
When a small troop was sighted and began to disperse each of the party followed and kept their eye on a particular monkey, but no attempt was made to shoot until it stopped and tried to hide itself. To any one who knows little or nothing about them, Colobus monkeys, though a very distinct black and white, are extremely difficult to see in the giant tree-tops, as they generally lie along on a bough, with just their face and drooping tail showing on one side or the other. Black as their faces are, they are very far from easy to 'pick up', but the practised eye of the Andarobo spots them at once. It is then necessary for the bowman to manoevre until he stands practically plumb under the peeping monkey, in order not to lose the arrows in case of a miss. If he misses the shooter cocks his head on one side and intently listens for the arrow to fall. That day not an arrow was lost.
While the old man and sons had been fully occupied the little girl kept calling at intervals, as she stood guard below the father of the troop of monkeys who was lying flattened out on a bough a little too thin to hide his bulk, and a bulge in his stomach showed up rather prominently. The first two shots at him were misses, but the third pinked into the bulge, and stuck. For five minutes or so the poor beast never moved, but then began to get fidgety and after several distressing attempts to retain his hold, he toppled over; I hoped he would crash to the ground and have all life knocked out of him. But it was not to be as his fall was broken by the thick 'boxwood' undergrowth. Then followed a struggle between him and the suddenly transformed and fiendish little barbarian of a girl who finally strangled him. It was one of the most revolting sights I ever witnessed.
That little girl was later taken into service by Martin and his wife. They were both kindness itself, fed and clothed her well and she had a warm hut to sleep in; but in less than six months the call of the forest was too great and she returned to savagedom.
Outside the forest Teriko and his sons were absolutely useless. They were, I believe, afraid of being out in the open. I took them out several times hoping to pick up a few hints on stalking and bush-craft and even carried a notebook so as to jot anything down of interest on the spot. But all they thought about was honey, and they were far more intent on listening for the chattering call of the Honey-guide (Indicator indicator) than on keeping a look out for game. The last day the old man and a son were out with me I was suddenly prompted to give them a real good fright. We had cut the quite fresh spoor of a rhinocerous leading up-wind, and I at once noted they were very averse to following it. However, I decided to do so and although the country was open, and there was no possible chance of blundering on to it, they went very slowly, hesitated and played the fool generally, until the spoor suddenly changed about and led direct down-wind. Then they plucked up courage and stepped out gaily, heading straight for a large bush in the far distance that looked a likely spot for a midday rest; we found, a little later, that the old rhino had walked round it, and then gone on. When within a couple of hundred yards, and with a strong wind behind us, the old man began to try and impress me with the importance of extreme caution and absolute silence by walking on tiptoe and making a variety of signs with his hands, sometimes pointing to his ears. Dear old Ramazan was by that time inclined to be a bit restive, but was checked in time, for I was as anxious as he was to bring such tomfoolery to an end, but in my own way. We advanced to within some sixty or so yards of the bush when the silly old ass began to stoop and to signal me to do likewise; but instead of doing so I gave vent to a screaming yell, as unearthly as I could make it. Those two Andorobo received, at that moment the fright of their lives. Later on I heard that they had declared that they would never again go out with Lambala (my native name); but as I had no intention of asking them to do so it did not matter.
Silly old man though the head of the family was, an incident occurred while I was at the Ravine in 1896, in which he proved himself to be the real hero of a little romance.
At the time, the Kamassia, through the machinations of the one-eyed Lybon, were openly hostile, and I had had no communication with them for a week or more, when old Teriko came in to tell me that his wife, who had gone in to exchange monkey skins for food, was held as a prisoner by them and was closely guarded in a hut, and to ask if I could help him to obtain her release. I had to admit frankly that I could do nothing, and he went away very disconsolate.
However, about a week later hecame in again with a beaming face, and accompanied by his more than ever emaciated and shrivelled-up old wife, also beaming. Their joy was so obviously genuine as to be almost pathetic.
And this is what the old man told me. He had started off by himself, and by lying up, hidden in the bush, near huts and listening by day, he located the position of his wife, and eventually found the actual hut, one of a small group, in which she was confined, with the door shut and fastened and with two men on guard outside at night. By crawling round to the back of the hut and scratching on the wall, he attracted the old lady's attention, made a little hole, whispered instructions to her, returned next night, and directly the two guards were asleep silently approached and unfastened the door; and all was then plain sailing. The old man wound up by saying he had been sorely tempted to kill the guard as they slept, but considered their own chance of escape would be imperilled if a hue and cry was raised. He also informed me that the real reason for detaining his wife was that the Kamassia were preparing for trouble as they were moving their food supplies into large granaries hidden in the forest and were busy making fresh arrow poison, and they did not want it known.
All this subsequently proved to be correct."
From those early days onwards the daily tasks performed by an administrative officer were extremely varied and often they had to react to the unexpected and fly by the seat of their pants, so to speak. Colonial service was perhaps the most diverse employment that has ever been offered before or since. But most of them did not see it like that but as rather humdrum. My Godfather, Colin Campbell, was given the job of opening up a new district at Bungoma. I asked him what it was like. His reply was matter-of-fact.
"To be accurate I was DO Kavujai, not Bungoma, in 1949. It was a chief's camp with a banda for visiting officers. Rather than hog it myself, I pitched and lived in a tent near by. Also in a tent, not far off, was a Kenya Police Inspector who commanded a detachment of askaris.
Kavujai was a few miles from Bungoma which comprised a railway station on the Eldoret - Uganda line. When I was at Kavujai, a hospital was being built at Bungoma. This became the nucleus of a sub-station which was built round it and some years later the complex was expanded and hived off from Kakamega District and turned into a District in its own right.
My main role as DO Kavujai was closer administration of the main tribe, the Kitosh, to check any resurgence of the Dini Ya Msambwa [see "Looking Each Other In The Eyes"] My job was to travel round the area, liaise closely with the Chiefs, hold barazas and do any jobs allocated to me from Kakamega. These mainly entailed hearing land cases, which were appeals from the Native Courts. I covered a lot of ground hearing these appeals and also got off the beaten track. I don't remember having a bicycle but I probably borrowed one on a few occasions.
I also encouraged better farming practices. Kakamega had an outstandingly able and dynamic Agricultural Officer, Fergus Wilson, who had a number of schemes on the go, such as composting and planting vacant land on road verges with ground nuts. I also kept a fairly close eye on the progress of Bungoma Hospital on [Doctor] Howard Murcott's behalf, which was being built by an Indian contractor.
Another job was to supervise the work of the road gangs. A road network was the classic way of promoting closer administration. The gangs were directed and administered on the ground by a tough old Dutchman from Eldoret called Snyman, who, as so often happened with the Boers, got on better with the Africans than we did and was more on a wavelength with them. The labour was found from convicted Dini Ya Msambwa minor offenders and were really inmates of mobile detention camps without bars. Very few ran away and those that did were quickly returned by the tribal authorities. When I visited these camps I received very few complaints or shauris. [problems] I strongly suspected that discipline was aided by a kiboko [whip] but I received no reports from the labour, nor did I invite any!
There was nothing magical or romantic about starting up as DO Kavujai. It was just an extension of the safaris which all district officers carried out from HQ. I didn't set up an office as such, as the aim was to remain as mobile as possible so I presumably was pro-active!
I used to go into Kakamega most weekends to deliver reports, collect new law case files and to use the clerical and typing facilities there. I usually parked myself on your long-suffering parents and it was on one such weekend that I met Jackie who was hitchhiking with a girlfriend from Kisumu to Kitale, via Kakamega. The Agricultural Officer found them out on the road rather late at night and, considering this unsuitable, packed them into his car and delivered them to your ever longer suffering parents.
So indirectly there was some romance at Kavujai!"
At about the same time Tom Watts was in Turkana "concentrating on the maintenance of tribal discipline and security by stopping intertribal raiding, killing and stock theft between the nomadic tribes along our Ugandan, Sudan and Abyssinian borders. There was tax to collect, an efficient way of keeping tabs on the male tribesmen. There was livestock to purchase with which to feed the troops down-country. Early on in my service with the Turkana I received a basic lesson in economics from an elderly tribesman who had been asked whether he had paid his tax. He looked at me disapprovingly and then replied, "When have I had a chance to buy some money?"
Locust control was not usually the prime concern of an administrative officer but, of course, everything that happened in the district was his and his colleagues' responsibility. In 1942 the weather conditions of rain and warm sand created a particularly perfect breeding ground for these voracious insects in Turkana.
"As Kenya was providing an important amount of food for the North African Campaign a great effort was made to kill the newly hatched "hoppers" before they reached maturity in the warm desert areas to fly away to devastate the crops in the agricultural areas of East Africa. A large expensive transport organisation was set up to bring in poisoned bait (the husks of the coffee berry) by the thousands of sack loads, and water with which to damp them before laying the bait across the path of the marching hoppers. Companies of the East African Pioneer Corps were employed not only on laying the bait but also in digging trenches across their path whose density was so great in places that they smothered each other in the trenches before they could crawl out. The last line of attack, when the hoppers were reaching the final instar by developing wings, was to use flame throwers to scorch the almost mature beast before it could fly away in its vast swarms. It was deemed necessary even to burn war-time petrol in the attempt to protect the crops.
The Administration was the buffer between the tribes-people and the pioneers. Every effort was made to warn these simple people of the dangers of the poisoned bait but even so women gathered them up and boiled the coffee husks as food for their families, fortunately with no apparent fatalities. This campaign kept men in the bush for many weeks. One dreamt of these hoppers with their large eyes peering at one. During one night a band marched through my camp and tackled the bags of maize meal rations and made a meal of the puggree on my helmet."
The dread of famine was a constant worry to many administrative officers, one of whom, in Tanganyika, said that "to allow a famine to develop without early warning was the worst offence a district Officer could commit." [Perham] After those early years when Sir Frederick Jackson burnt granaries as punishment, this policy went into reverse and district officers were required to inspect the granaries. If they were low it was up to him to ensure that corrective measures were taken, or to report to his superiors in order that the shortages could be dealt with in good time. Brian Carlisle faced a famine in Beja district in the Sudan:
"The rains of 1947, 1948 and 1949 were all very poor outside of the Gash and the Beja started to suffer real hardship through lack of grazing and failure of their rain crops. In the Summer of 1948 the Sheikhs brought in reports of some people really going hungry and some action was clearly needed by the Administration. Although still a very new boy I was acting in charge of the District and wondering exactly how to play it with Province H.Q.; I turned to the excellent filing system in force throughout the S.G. offices and discovered lengthy correspondence about a previous famine situation some years earlier: this discovery assisted me to put up a cogent case for some free grain to be distributed through tribal circles. As the situation worsened more grain was requested and constant supervision became necessary of the worst hit areas."
Some administrative officers worked to improve farming techniques, even though there were highly competent and inovative Agricultural officers who were more than up to the task. But land disputes were very much a district officer's area of responsibility and Reginald Davies, also in the Sudan found that, "Many of the disputes which were brought to me for settlement arose over gum-gardens, as patches of gum yielding acacias were called. They were valuable because the gum, which oozes from long wounds in the bark of the braches, made with a small axe, was the principal cash-crop of the region. These acacias have a curious habit of regeneration. The trees are cut down when they become too old to produce gum, to make way for grain cultivation. Five years later the land becomes too exhausted to produce grain and is left fallow. After an interval the acacias begin to reappear, without human effort, and in five years or so are big enough to be tapped for gum." Davies would sometimes have to thread his way between the trees to mark the boundaries of ownership, listening and reacting to the protests and counter protests: "My God it is not thus!" while the other side were suspiciously silent. Thus were the boundaries drawn.
One of the most important tasks for a district officer was to communicate with the people for whom he was responsible. Much of this was done through public meetings. In Kenya they were known as barazas and officers would attend them frequently to announce, discuss and listen. They generally lasted two or three hours. Sometimes they became heated but in the main they were a useful forum for the exchange of information, opinions and ideas. In the Sudan they were known as tribal gatherings and they took place over several days. Brian Carlisle describes one thus:
"As D.C. one met the tribal authorities a great deal and where there was dissent against a ruler one met the dissenters, whom in some cases forced changes in the Authorities. Opportunities for policies to be discussed and grievances aired existed particularly at tribal gatherings, a sequence of which were held in the Winter months at pre-determined places. Grass "rabukas" were erected for the D.C.'s and for visitors from Province Headquarters or Khartoum, and here we camped for a week or so discussing not only tribal matters but education, health, veterinary and agricultural matters. We maintained that for the Beja's of the 1940's this was a more satisfactory sort of local Government than to assemble some councillors, elected under some suffrage system in a red brick building in Aroma or Sinket. In a district with so sparse and scattered a population we foresaw real practical difficulties in introducing universal suffrage and whilst I was in the district it was not attempted."
Colin Campbell has already alluded to unexpected visitors landing on my parents when they lived in Kakamega. From our point of view as children all visitors added greatly to the gaiety of life. I remember Joy Adamson, who later earned fame and fortune by rearing the lioness, Elsa, thrusting her hand into the bosom of her dress and bringing out a bush-baby which she offered to us but my mother refused our heartfelt pleas to keep it because we were off to boarding school the following day.
The Governor, Sir Philip Mitchell, would occasionally sweep into the boma with his retinue all decked out in khaki and scarlet, or so it seemed, and stay in a large camp under the eucalyptus trees, bearing with him dinky toys because he did not think we would like dolls. (He was right.)
Another visitor held me spell-bound as I watched him bend over and tie his shoe-lace within reach of Sandy, the rather bad-tempered ram who was tethered in the garden and had been presented to my father by a visiting chief. I was transfixed as Sandy headed for the visitor's bent over behind, administered the inevitable and sent the poor man toppling on to his head.
Many visitors were on fact-finding missions for some government department or learned body. Many of them considered themselves to be "experts", of course. One DO in Nigeria developed the theory that the most expert of this happy band of men simply needed to fly over the country and look down upon it to reach the right conclusions. "It was admitted that they had to come down to earth at night, of course, but this enabled them to meet Africans and make mental reservations about the Europeans they found there, who gave them hospitality."
A.F.B. Bridges, whose book "So We Used to Do" is an excellent account of the everyday life of a District Officer in Nigeria mildly recounts:
"One day after lunch I noticed a tall figure in a 10-gallon hat walking up the drive and went out to meet him. He said, "Say, can you tell me if there is a ho-tel here?" I found afterwards he had been three months in West Africa and must have been well aware that there wasn't. So I suggested he come and stay. He said his wife was at the "Deepoh" so I went in the Austen 7 and collected one large American female and a very large wardrobe trunk from the railway station. He was a talented artist and a quiet friendly man of whom I saw little as he was always out sketching. She was a holy terror ...She was collecting information for a book, her husband doing the illustrations ...A friend later gave us the book, from which one gathered that they had lived rough in native houses and market places - there was no acknowledgement whatever of the hospitality they had received, but the illustrations were beautiful."
One or two of the more eccentric DC's in the more distant outposts went to some lengths to avoid visitors. One "bog baron" in southern Sudan posted people on the road leading to his headquarters to warn him of any unwanted arrival. The Governor of the Province arrived one day to see the tailgate of his subordinate disappearing in a cloud of dust.
The ceremonial visits provoked W.G.R. Bond to write "one of the best known satirical poems in the Sudan corpus" on the opening of Kosti Bridge by Sir Reginald Wingate in 1910.
Thus wrote Bryan Sharwood Smith in his book "But always as Friends". He was writing of Gwandu in 1931 where the lack of roads meant that crime was difficult to check.
Together with Usumanu, 16th Emir of Gwandu and "one of the most dynamic and, at the same time, most lovable personalities with whom I ever worked", Sharwood Smith devised a plan to create a disciplined mounted police force which would make it easier to move around the roadless areas.
The Resident of Gwandu was the very man to advise his DO, Sharwood Smith, and the warrior prince. Daniels "was a hard riding character with a red wig, frequently worn askew, who loved horses almost as much as he loved the North and its ways, in which he was deeply versed. Not only did he give us permission to go ahead at once, he also told us where we could get second-hand saddlery and equipment...
As soon as it arrived from England, we started serious training....Dickie Carr, our Education Officer, a tough ginger-haired little man, had done most of his soldiering in a lancer Regiment; this project of ours was right up his street, and he devoted all his spare time to ensuring its success. Evening after evening out trotted Dickie, jaunty and erect, while toward him, the dust billowing behind him, drove the Emir. Awaiting them, squatting on the grass by the wayside, were the new recruits, each holding the reins of his newly acquired mount. Then, for an hour, Dickie instructed while the Emir encouraged, or reproved, with blistering effect should anyone fail to put his heart into his riding.
After three months we had started show-jumping and tent pegging and gymkhana events in general. We then issued a challenge to Sokoto to send over a team of 12 to take part in a two-day competition, a challenge that was at once accepted....Our gymkhana was a great success, especially as the Gwandu team defeated Sokoto by a narrow margin. We were all delighted, for not only had they practiced very hard, their success made them feel that they were, indeed a corps d'elite.
Soon, in twos and threes, they rode off into the bush with orders from the Emir to harry the robber bands that had for so long plagued the peasantry until they found the land too hot for them. And so it was. After a fortnight or so, in twos and threes, they came jingling back again, and before them in handcuffs came their prisoners, the Emir's renegade brother among them. Crime in Gwandu had, at least for a while, ceased to pay."
Sharwood Smith and the Emir also enthusiastically over-spent their budget on building a road to the remote independent district of Illo, "an historical anachronism."
"During the decades before the British occupation, successive Chiefs of Illo, protected by river, marsh and forest had successfully resisted all attempts by neighouring Fulani to subjugate them. Thus when a British expedition laboriously poled and paddled its way upstream, intent on striking Northward in Fulani territory, Chief of Illo of the time was very willing to help in any undertaking that would embarrass the Fulani. For his services his independence was underwritten and he was made a 2nd Class Chief. The present Chief of Illo, however, though a most personable and magnificently built young man had a tendency, if left unvisited for long, to divert the revenues of his tiny treasury, into projects of a personal nature. There was another reason too, for making Illo more accessible, it lay on one of the oldest trade routes in this part of the world, and we were continually hearing stories of donkey trains being bogged down and of goods being lost on the journey across the marshes on their way to and from Dahomey and the Gold Coast.
One of the Emir of Gwandu's more endearing, but often disconcerting qualities was the speed and vigour with which he got to work on any project in which he took personal pride and interest. I had yet to learn that once such a project was agreed between us, unless I kept an eye on him, he would apply all his boundless energy and all the resources of the emirate in carrying the work through to completion. To problems of finance and accounting he was supremely indifferent. It was the D.O.'s business to look after that sort of thing.
And so it was the case. I returned from my reconnaissance of the Illo route to find the old man, very pleased with himself, waiting to tell me that not only had he pushed through a track to a ferry point on the Niger, he had actually got his own car down to the water's edge.
This was all very fine, but I, the D.O. must now explain ito a ruffled Resident how it was that our road 'vote', already all but foundered, was now well and truly overspent, and with three months of the financial year yet to go. And, in those days of exigence and highly centralised control, there were few sins that a DO could commit that were more nefarious than overspending a vote....
So off I went cap in hand, to Sokoto, my head bowed to the blast that I felt to be inevitable, for L.S. Ward, who had taken over from Daniel, was reputedly somewhat of a purist in matters of native administration finance. However, I was let off lightly, for the Illo project appealed to his imagination. Not only did he secure approval for the release of Gwandu Native Treasury funds sufficient to cover the work which had already been completed, he also got agreement to the more elaborate and more expensive section across the marshes toward Illo. Illo and its troubles had featured so frequently in correspondence between Sokoto and Kaduna in recent years that any scheme that would insure closer administration was welcome.
The crossing of the Niger opposite Illo, our main task, would have to be carried out in two stages. First there would be an approach road across the marshes to the point where deep water would give access to the main stream. Then would come the actual crossing by ferry. This would probably be alarming but not difficult. Our problem would be to reach the main channel, for the marsh at this time of the year was entirely under water except for a number of tiny islands. The only possible way across would be to construct a series of causeways connecting such of these islands as suited our purpose. These causeways would have to be revetted and bridged at frequent intervals to let the current through.
Fortunately the area was thickly studded with borassus palms, which made our task much easier. These great trees, thirty to forty feet high, played a vital part in our construction program. The male palms are impervious to white ants, where all other local timber would rot, they could endure for years, even when totally submerged. They can be used whole as bridge girders or split into sections for decking or revetting.
But when we started to get down to business we ran into trouble at once. The river people declined to co-operate. They alone knew where the water was shallow and where it was deep and which was bog and which was submerged sand, but they felt, with some justification, that a motorable track across the marsh would put them out of business as guides and ferrymen. There was only one way of finding a way across and this was by personal exploration, using our bodies as guages. So a small party of us by trial and error, wading now knee deep, now chest deep, now waist deep, found the shallowest route from island to island, staking the line as we went. It was a crazy thing to do, but I had not then heard of bilharzia and I was sure that there were not crocodile in such weed-clogged water.
Every fifty feet or so we put in a small bridge, and in the center, as the waters began to run more swiftly, we constructed larger ones. Our first causeway was our longest, and it did not seem possible that we should ever reach our goal, a small hummocky island almost five hundred yards distant. But yard by yard the road snaked across the lagoon, enthusiasm mounting as the labourers got into their swing, each gang vying with its neighbor as it strove to complete its allotted section first. We employed a pair of drummers for every gang of twenty men, and these were often supplemented by unpaid volunteers. A gang working in time to the rhythmic beat of the drums and the chanting of the drummers, to which they themselves supplied the refrain, shifted soil and undergrowth with a speed that it was a joy to watch. They never seemed to pause from dawn to dusk.
Long before first light the thud, thud, thud of the drums summoned them from their encampments, and they hacked and stacked and carried, with barely a break for food and drink, until it was too dark to see. Then, still accompanied by their drummers, they wound their way homeward to where, by the light of huge fires, a gargantuan meal of meat and corn and rice awaited them. Then they feasted to the rhythm of the drums until, sated and exhausted, they flung themselves down by the fireside to sleep until first cockcrow heralded another day. We all slept on the job, though I had to run back to Birnin Kebbi every few days to clear my office desk of the mail that had accumulated in my absence."
Measuring the gradients was an essential part of road building when there was a gradient to measure. In 1927 in Nigeria Bridges fashioned "a builder's spirit level screwed to a pole with with one pin on the siting end, and 3 pins at the far end, representing 1 in 16 down level and 1 in 16 up. While Dike, the interpreter, kept an eye on the bubble I sited on a T-square of the same height as the spirit level, held by another assistant, the road maker driving in pegs to mark the line and level. The trouble was if Dike's attention wandered after a heavy lunch and the bubble wasn't where it ought to be."
In 1928 a young DO in the Embu district of Kenya, remonstrated indignantly with his parents for describing his as being a "roadless district." "We've got lots of quite good earth roads, in fact more than we want because some of them are hardly ever used and are a job to keep up. Lamb, who used to be D.C. here, was a surveyor originally in Uganda, and he seems to have spent all his time making roads. In reserves the roads are usually good because there is so little traffic: there are only 6 cars in the whole district I think, including a Hudson which Chief Runyengi bought for £50 from the duka about a fortnight ago: he keeps a chauffeur too." [Flynn]
When my father was in Mandera in 1933 Gerald Reece was in charge of the District, based at Moyale. Some of his letters to my father* show Reece's character to be that of a mercurial martinet. [See "New Boy at the Office"] My father, though, was devoted to Reece as were almost all his subordinates and there was an extraordinarily compassionate side to his character which particularly came out when he was dealing with the people for whom he was responsible. He "knew the personal character of nearly every man in the region and almost the whole N.F.D....It was like watching a man weave a pattern, using human beings instead of wool." [Farson]
Also in Mandera with my father in the early thirties was the Goan clerk Da Costa. Fifteen years later when the author Negley Farson was travelling with Gerald Reece who had risen to be Provincial Commissioner in the N.F.D., they went to visit Moyale and there was Da Costa, now retired and "doing a small commission business; previously he had been twenty-six years in the Administration at Moyale. Reece and got him the M.B.E. when he was retired in 1942." Farson said he was a kindly-looking old man with grey hair, dressed in a worn but neatly kept brown suit.
Mr Da Costa found it very lonely in Moyale. "I have no one to talk to. My wife? Yes, sir. But...occasionally one wants to talk to other men. I can't do that, sir. Perhaps it is the 'official consciousness,' sir - the reason why they won't talk to me?"
"Oh, you mean the - the white men here?" asked Farson.
"Yes, sir. I'd very much like to talk with them. Sometimes I get tired of reading. I have had thirty years, all told, in the service of the Government....I - I took up business, my little commission business, because I must have something to do. I can't waste my time ..."
Negley Farson told Reece of his conversation who said to the DC as he was leaving "Old da Costa came over and showed Farson his M.B.E. Says he's lonely. Got no one to talk to. Pity, isn't it ... faithful old chap like that - and nobody here will talk to him? Well, goodbye."
"It was," said Farson, "as pointed as a knife-thrust."
On the same safari with Negley Farson, there was a slender native woman "wearing just the scantiest of rags, leading a little girl by the hand. She was darting at anything that the Dubas* might have left, although Reece was adamant about leaving a camping place undefiled....The woman dived like a hawk on any object ...then, with the most rueful expression, examined it. She was a scavenger herself as much as any pinioned hawk wheeling in the sky. When I came near to see what it was that she could possibly find of value, she walked closer to me and gave me a strange smile...
'Most extraordinary creature' I said to Reece when he came back. 'She almost seemed to be flirting with me.'
His face fell. 'Oh is she here? She's mad. It's the only case of love that I've ever known in native life - true love, between man and woman. Her husband was a Gabbra, a very bad Mohammedan. He discarded her. He went off with another woman into Abyssinia. For years I tried to get him to come back - at any rate, to do the right thing by her. And I saw her - right before my very eyes - go mad from misery....Hell of a thing life is, isn't it?...' He walked over, and I saw the woman reach out and take his hand. They stood there like that for a little while, Reece talking gently to her. Then he withdrew his hand, put it into his pocket, and handed her a fistful of money."
'Uncle Reece' would also come down like a ton of bricks on wrong-doers. The story that Negley Farson tells of Reece's wrath shows not only this facet of his character but also how important it was that officials got out from their offices and travelled in their districts and sub-districts.
Reece and Farson were on their way south from Moyale - which is on the Ethiopian border - and they had passed Buna, following the road to Wajir, a much used camel route.
"clunk-clunk ...these great 'ships of the desert' swung to and fro as they stalked majestically past us. On to Wajir, the road to Wajir....there would be over 10,000 camels at the wells by the time we got there....that morning Reece and I came on a scene that showed all the avarice and brutality of Somali life. This was at a 'pan' where some envoys of a Wajir camel-sheikh were in camp, demanding money from incoming Somalis before they would let them water their camels there. If they did not pay, it meant that, with sixty miles still to go, and no water whatsoever in between, all the weaker animals, especially the fresh-born goats, would die before they could get to the Wajir wells. Reece, who took in the meaning of the scene even as we came up to it, went livid with rage.
It was one of the most impudent scenes I have ever looked at. For sitting comfortably under the wide shade of a wild fig tree was a knot of Wajir Somalis, with a couple of bearded, ferocious-looking headmen; and in the partial shade of a grove of acacia trees was parked a large herd of camels and goats, with some stupefied, weak Somalis debating what they were going to do about things. From some thick brush beside the wild fig, marabou storks, with their obscene flesh-coloured sacks dangling, were rising, and hundreds of doves were darting about - sign of the big pool of water there...
Reece, ominously quiet now, stepped from our car and walked up to the aghast Wajir Somalis, who leapt to their feet.
It was worth paying a ticket of admission to see such a set of scoundrels get such a thorough dressing-down. Without raising his voice or even making a gesture, Reece stood there facing the frightened sheikhs, and struck them blow after blow of verbal insults. He staggered them, literally. As he took each man in turn, the man fell back from him. In the meantime, at a snapped command, our Rendille Duba had gone across to the waiting camel clan and told them to begin watering....
The camels were standing dejectedly, silent, with their loads taken off them. They were terribly thin and emaciated, dirty from lack of water and even sufficient grazing that would have put them in good heart. They seemed immensely tall as they stood here and there among the acacia bushes; and some obediently sat folded up on the ground, from which their owners now began hastily to unstrap the four deep wooden red water-pots. Now a line of smiling, happy men and women began an instantaneous procession back and forth to the pan. Nobody talked....
An uninquisitive passer-by might not have noticed anything unusual in the scene, for, as I have said, the Somali has an immense dignity; and Reece, knowing just how to meet with that, was dignified even in his harangue that was taking the skin off them. He just stood there quietly telling the Somalis who had been trying to hold their brother Somalis up for bribe-money that they were the most mean-hearted, disgusting set of thieves he had ever come across. The strangest part of the whole scene was that there were two armed policemen there who were supposed to guard that pan. Reece put the fear of God into them also.
'There, you see,' he said when we drove on again, 'is what happens when a D.C. does not go out on safari enough in his district.'
"I only ask you to work hard, appreciate other view-points (ie Departments, province HQ, central government), keep calm and unruffled in face of difficulties and set-backs, have a broad plan for your district, respect continuity, and identify yourself with this province.
Visit neighbouring districts and make friends with your D.C.s, Nazirs and Mamurs.
Don't be precipitate or iconoclastic, but go about with reasonable reform. Consult everyone before change. Give your subordinates plenty of rope, but make them tell you what they are doing. Keep an eye on local administration, trade and markets.
Be compassionate, considerate, discriminate, impartial, and philosophic. These are virtues of action, not necessarily of inaction....
This is all rather grandmotherly, but I am responsible for justice, happiness and prosperity to a million Sudanese, and I have to take it seriously. So do you."
This advice was given to John Longe by Douglas Newbold, Governor of Kordofan in the 1930's. The book "Set Under Authority" describes very well the daily round which put into practice the herculean expectations of the Governor: the killing of hopper locusts in their breeding grounds, prison inspection, police drill and musketry, inspection of Government animals, presiding over the annual board for the assessment of business profits (a particularly exasperating task), the estimating of the total sugar requirement, allocation between merchants, arrangements for delivery, storage, distribution and payments of duties. Then there was town planning and siting of factories, tanneries etc away from residential district: "The normal instruments of building control was a weekly town ride. The DC, the medical officer of health, a surveyor, a building foreman, a public security officer, the town mayor (omdu) and the sheikhs."
The variety of tasks and immense amount expected of them should have been daunting but on the whole, they accepted it all with equanimity. Rex Niven was appointed to take charge of an Audit. "This special posting, like all my other ones, was apparently based on my total ignorance of the subject....when we checked the cash balance they were 2 shillings short. There was a fearful hullabaloo: the ancient chief, fierce-eyed and vigilent, was furious, and everyone scurried round. The mats were taken up off the floor of the mud-built Treasury and shaken outside in clouds of dust and, behold, in a dark corner 2 shillings were discovered. Whether they were the ones we were looking for or not, I accepted the omen and called off the search. All sank back with cries of relief."
Accounting for the cash was of course the responsibility of every administrative officer as this sad story from the Sudan demonstrates.
"The safe at District Headquarters was in the daily charge of the Cashier but it was laid down by the Condominium Government that it was to be checked once a month by the Mamur and once a month by the District Commissioner or one of the Assistant District Commissioners. In the Beja District there were three of the latter but one of these would often be on leave and none of us would actually spend many days in each month at District Headquarters in Sizhat.
The Cashier at Sizhat was called Taj es Sirr, a humble man in his 40's, very polite and seemingly conscientious. Now we should have done surprise checks but in this particular year both the Sudanese A.D.C. and myself had been unknowingly deceived by the Cashier because when either one of us said that we were coming to check the safe he had said that the cash needed tidying up and to save our time he would do this first. He must have treated the Mamur the same way.
I don't recall who it was first became suspicious but when a spot check was carried out, instead of £2,000 there was hardly anything there at all. An enquiry discovered that he had been advancing the money to the staff of a religious teacher in the town and when a check of the safe had been ordered he had been slipping down to the market to borrow the money from some of his merchant friends. I don't know how he ever thought he could get away with it at the end of the day, but the poor chap went to prison for several years and all the District authorities including myself quite justly got a severe reprimand. I have never again allowed any Cashier to adjust his cash before I count it." [Carlisle]
Perhaps one of the most difficult jobs was to dismiss someone from their post and Bryan Sharwood Smith found the dismissal of Emir Yakubu of Bauchi for malpractices one of his saddest tasks.
"Yakubu of Bauchi, [was] descendent of one of Shehu dan Fodio's flagbearers... and four places only below the Sultan in chiefly precedence. If ability and charm were all that were required in a chief, Yakubu's position would have been assured, but personal rule was all he understood and all that he was prepared to understand.
The final act took place in the drawing room of Government House. The Emir, his turban more loosely wound than usual, his gown crumpled from his long journey, sat hunched in an armchair. Grouped around him, a little unhappily, were his Waziri and ruling members of the council. The next few minutes would give scant pleasure to any of us.
'Sarkin Bauchi' I began, 'I greatly fear that we have come to the end of the road. You have lost the confidence of both your council and your people, and nothing that your council and I have been able to do has persuaded you to change your ways. It is no longer possible for you to remain in office. You must now make your choice. Either you must go into retiremenmt or face formal deposition. You should let me have your decision by this evening. There is no more to be said.' I rose and the Emir rose with me. We shook hands, and he left. A few hours later, his answer came. He would go into retirement."
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