A frontispiece shows the author, among other members of the
Commonwealth Telecommunications Council, meeting President
Kenyatta in Nairobi in 1971. Was it then that the author was smitten with
Kenya? Certainly, this long book - with 16 appendices ranging from a
nineteenth-century Anglo-Zanzibari slave-trade treaty to no less than six on
different facets of the Mau Mau 'Emergency' - is a labour of love. The author
readily admits that he has relied on published secondary authorities rather
than on original research. But there is no slipshod superficiality here: the
detail is meticulous and is the main value of the work.
The book's character is most concisely seen in its bibliography. Of the 68
books or reports listed only eleven were published since 1990; of these six
are military histories and five focus on Kenya's white settlers, three being on
such outstanding figures as Elspeth Huxley, Ewart Grogan and Wilfred
Thesiger. None of Jomo Kenyatta's three biographies is mentioned and the
only two works that focus exclusively on Mau Mau are Frank Corfield's
officially blinkered report of 1960 and Fred Majdalany's State of Emergency
(1964), which relied largely on Corfield in answering the question 'What was
Mau Mau?' At least eight academic histories of Mau Mau and Kenya's
decolonisation, fully researched in British and Kenyan archives or in oral
tradition or reminiscence, were published between 1990 and 2012; not one
seems to have been consulted.
So this is an old-fashioned story, with old-fashioned virtues, especially its
insistence on the nuts and bolts of economic and social development. The
one constant theme is the Kenya-Uganda railway, its finances and freight rates,
and how these shaped both white settlement and African production.
Shipping lines, airlines and telephones all have their subsidiary parts to play.
And all these means of communication, as also their political corollary in
colonisation, are shown to have had their origins in the nineteenth-century
British campaign against Indian Ocean slavery. The railway's finest hour
came in its industrial support for Kenya's role in the Second World War. Nearly one hundred pages are devoted to the Eastern African campaigns in
both world wars.
But it is difficult to find an argument here for the evolution of Kenya's
independence promised in the title - even in the soberly Interesting
Afterthoughts, where African politics is seen as subversive rather than
evolutionary. Indeed, independence under African majority rule seems to
come as rather a surprise - after a detailed account of the Mau Mau
'emergency', which makes the crucial, often overlooked point, that the British
won the 'forest war' by means of Operation Anvil in the city of Nairobi (page
This book, therefore, does not explain Kenya's independence. With loving
detail it accounts for the country's colonial development in terms that colonial
officials and white settlers would have understood. The African side of the
story is looked at, somewhat askance, from over the fence.