British Empire Article

Courtesy of OSPA

by J A Nicholas Wallis
First Posting in Kenya
Imperial College of Tropical Agriculture
After a two-year period of post-graduate study as a Colonial Office Probationer in Cambridge and at the Imperial College of Tropical Agriculture, Trinidad, my first posting as an Agricultural Officer was in August 1955 to the Machakos District of Kenya. I was told to learn the duties of a District Agricultural Officer for about a year before being posted to take up that duty in Kitui District. In fact I spent only ten months in Machakos, a period of great interest and family development; my wife joined me in a few months and our first daughter was born just before Christmas 1955. In this period, in addition to learning my job, we made life-long friendships and had many memorable experiences of which the following two remain most clearly in my mind.

An American Visitor to Machakos

An American academic or diplomat came to Machakos to see what the British colonialists were doing about development in marginal areas of Africa. I was assigned to show him around, so first I drove him to the new Makueni settlement scheme in the South of the District where bush was being cleared with pairs of bulldozers linked by very heavy naval chains.
First Posting in Kenya
This was intended to remove the habitat of tsetse flies and so make the area suitable for human and livestock settlement. We saw several dead rhinos killed by impact with the bulldozers and others shot by John Hunter and his team who had been hired by the Department of Agriculture to clear dangerous game from the area to be settled by landless Wakamba from the North of the District. We then joined the main road to Mombasa and drove down to Kikumbulu where boreholes for water were being sunk to prepare the area for human settlement. It was getting dark before we reached our night stop at a Government Rest Hut. On the way we were lucky to see two lions crossing the road and later we had to stop for several elephants standing on the highway. While we were having our supper in the Hut we heard a loud drumming nearby. I asked the keeper of the Rest Hut to enquire if we could see what was going on. We were welcomed to the ngoma celebrating some clan event and spent several hours under a full moon watching the traditional uninhibited dancing of the young Wakamba men and women. A Hollywood film director could not have improved on the scene lit by the moon and firelight. On our return to Machakos the American visitor congratulated me on my arrangements, but in fact we had just been lucky. I had made no prior arrangements and I had never seen lions or elephants in the wild before, or been present at an ngoma. I never did discover how he reported in the USA on his visit to Machakos District.

Justice at Sultan Hamud Railway Station

Just before I left Machakos District, as I was returning from inspecting the progress of bush clearing in the Makueni settlement scheme, I stopped for a drink at the Sultan Hamud railway station on the Nairobi-Mombasa line. The buffer strip of European settlement between the Masai and Kamba tribes ended near this point. It was therefore from near this point that young Masai moran regularly crossed the rail line to steal Kamba cattle and sometimes girls. I arrived in the middle of adjudication by a District Officer (DO), I think Philip Haddon-Cave, following the theft by Masai moran of 14 head of Kamba cattle. He ordered the Masai to return 15 head of cattle to the Wakamba, but after many hours of debate the Masai refused to return more than 14.

First Posting in Kenya
Sultan Hamud
I was interested to see how this confrontation played out. I knew that less than ten years previously, at a similar meeting, the District Officer Hugh Grant had been speared to death by a Masai tribesman because he insisted that a particular white cow should be included in the fine. The situation was now different because, as it was still during the Mau Mau Emergency, the policemen were all armed with rifles and the DO had a sub-machine gun. Eventually the DO's patience ran out so he took up his gun and let off a stream of bullets that felled two nearby acacia trees. This so shocked the Masai that the daylong meeting came to an immediate end with the Wakamba driving off 15 head of cattle, while I drove back to Machakos relieved that on this occasion no blood was shed.

In May 1956 I was transferred to the post of Agricultural Officer (Investigations) at the Jacaranda Coffee Research Station about 20 miles from Nairobi. At the time I was rather disappointed not to be moving to Kitui, but the move determined the rest of my career. I was in Kenya for eight years before Independence and then for a similar period after that key event. Throughout these years my work centred on coffee; until 1962 promoting the expansion of the area under coffee and then, in view of the world surplus of coffee, promoting the diversification of farm production in coffee-growing Districts. When eventually we left Kenya early in 1971 I joined the staff of the Diversification Fund of the International Coffee Organization for almost four years and then the World Bank for nearly twenty years.

map of Kenya
1955 Map of Nairobi Region
Colony Profile
Originally Published
OSPA Journal 101: April 2011


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