British Empire Article

Courtesy of OSPA

by Dick Horrell
(Agricultural Officer, Uganda 1953-1964)
Agricultural Officer in Uganda
Alan Lennox-Boyd at Serere
Four of us arrived together in Uganda in 1953, to 'strengthen' a small Department of Agriculture. We had all been together for 2 years of post-grad training, paid for by the Colonial Office, at Cambridge and at the Imperial College of Tropical Agriculture (ICTA), Trinidad, and we were told, 'Lucky young fellows. We only send our best to Uganda, you know.' (My best pal, going to Malaya, had been told the same.) We travelled out third class on the Dunnottar Castle. Three weeks glorious voyage followed by thirty six hours on the train from Mombasa to Kampala.

I was impressed, on arrival at age 23, to find that in order of seniority and then alphabetically in the Department's Staff List I was only 23 from the top which suggested the possibility of moving up to be Director of Agriculture in very short time!

My 3 colleagues soon became District Agricultural Officers each in charge of one of Uganda's 13 large Districts.

I was sent to work at Serere Experimental Station under the care of a wartime Indian Army major, who by now was a noted agriculturalist and something of a disciplinarian too. Today I believe he was the 'making' of me.

The first task was to obtain a second-hand car for official and private use, the purchase facilitated by an interest-bearing government loan! Next step was to set up a bachelor household in a government bungalow for which I was charged 5 percent of my salary; and then to provision the house from 2 Asian shops (dukas) some 17 miles away (foodstuffs and kerosene for the fridge and the lamps). Then to obtain kuni (firewood) for heating water; then to find a reliable servant to manage all these unfamiliar things. After a day or two one started work in earnest, called out by drumbeat at 6.30am to report, with all the others, to the Major. In-service training then began seriously; running an estate with some 300 employees counting junior staff of mixed ability and labourers, including a regular contingent of healthy jocular inmates from the nearby open prison (aka Kingi George Hotel). Exciting times! 10 years later I was still there but now in charge of what had grown into a main Agricultural Research Station, well regarded throughout East Africa.

During that first tour Agricultural Officers had to pass exams in two tribal languages - on pain of losing a precious annual increment if unsuccessful. Sure enough I lost increments two years running; true to form, my mates would say, and I suffered some stress till these were restored. For sure those early years were no financial picnic. After 30 months we were entitled to 5 months home leave; I returned to UK with 60 pounds, hardly a princely sum even then, and I had been careful with the bar bills!

Recompense in terms of job satisfaction was huge however. Cameraderie in the Service was tremendous. All involved seemed so well-motivated and dedicated and great things were done for the welfare and security of the people. This did not go unrecognised by the people themselves, who rewarded us with status and respect. When we handed over to an independent government in 1962 it was with pride in a job well done - though perhaps finished, we thought, a little prematurely. No doubt in years to come a true evaluation of our legacy will be made.

map of Uganda
1963 Map of Uganda
Colony Profile
Originally Published
OSPA Journal 106: October 2013


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