The prosaic title of this Ph.D dissertation (now available to a wider lay audience)
does not do justice to what is both an insightful academic account of early
administrators of the colony of Kenya and a highly entertaining read. Cashmore's
account combines what was then ground-breaking professional historical analysis, with
memorable quotes, sharply drawn characters and revealing vignettes of a pioneering
period of colonial administration.
At the time of writing Dr Cashmore's Ph.D dissertation was an antidote to traditions
of imperial history-the view from on high-providing instead what the (mostly
'unaccompanied') men on the ground termed 'the worm's eye view of the world'. If
such a subject matter, i.e. the doings of relatively lowly colonial officers, was unusual
then, it later became unfashionable, since the study of African history in its own right,
quite rightly focused on the 'agency' of Africans.
Nevertheless if African figures are not quite so clearly depicted as their colonial
counterparts, Cashmore's central thesis - the importance of local African actors on the
practice of colonial policy - demonstrates that interactions between administrators and
their new subjects shaped the foundations of rule in the East African Protectorate. Nor
were these interactions between especially unequal protagonists, in spite of the value the
British placed on their own 'prestige' as rulers. At times the dependence of ruler on those
he claimed to rule was all too clear; there are numerous examples where "there was
cause to wonder who was the ruler and who the ruled" (p.186).
This was in part because British colonial rule in Africa was, and especially in the
early years, "a shoestring operation". While force, or the threat of force, was always
present, after the first campaigns of pacification the resort to armed actions was actively
discouraged; it was expensive and disruptive. Instead Cashmore's would-be civilising
administrators looked for local 'collaborators' (see especially Chapter III, pp. 77-85),
and in so doing, assumed, consciously or not, distinctly 'African' formulations of power.
Finessing the politics of local collaboration between British administration and African
society was the art to be learned by both parties, and inevitably brought a meeting of
minds, rather than a clash of civilisations. The risk was that overly sympathetic
administrators became 'mere chameleons' (p.32) though hardly surprising when "in
effect, the District Officer had to become the paramount chief of the African society over
which he ruled" (p.214).
Despite their sympathy with 'their people', the men on the spot, especially when
frustrated by what they saw as conservative, recalcitrant or downright rebellious peoples,
might advocate "hell-fire", while senior bureaucrats in first the Foreign Office then the
Colonial Office in London restrained with a policy of "glaxo" (p. 174). The irony was
that it was not the societies who resisted hardest and longest in the early years, but rather
the central highlanders who had, more often than not, put up little early resistance, who
became the early 'nationalists' - the 'men in trousers '(p.215). Cashmore's fascinating
study ends with the impact of the First World War that did much to stimulate political
consciousness of a new generation of African actors, but also saw the end of the
pioneering breed of British administrators.