In 1905, Bell was offered the post of high commissioner to Uganda, his first major appointment. In spite of his reservations about the climate, Bell felt that he could not reject such a promising offer. One of the first major problems that he had to deal with in Uganda were epidemics of sleeping sickness that claimed many lives. Having ascertained that cases of the sickness were generally confined to areas within 2 miles of open water, he sought permission from the Colonial Office to move all communities living by the tsetse-fly infested shores and islands of Lake Victoria to new plots on crown land further away. While the Colonial Office demurred at the political implications of forcibly moving large sections of the population, Bell ordered the moves to be carried out regardless. As a consequence many lives were saved and no unrest was reported. His actions in this matter were recognized with advancement to KCMG in 1908.
During his time in Uganda, Bell continued to develop his ideas on economic development, believing that the region would be best served through nurturing the interests and improving the agricultural methods of the local farmers. He was also determined that the activities of the European planters should be curtailed as far as possible. The role of government, he argued, was to provide leadership, set standards, and bear the cost of agricultural experiments as well as to provide scientific advice, particularly in relation to the development of cash crops. To these ends he introduced the 1908 Uganda cotton ordinance which gave the governor wide powers to control the quality of cotton produced, and wrote his own useful report on the subject in 1909 for the Colonial Office. He worked very hard to improve the transport infrastructure, steering every available penny into the construction of new roads. Port Bell in Kampala is named in his honour.
He was promoted to governor of Northern Nigeria.
He wrote 10 books on his journeys and on the role of witchcraft including:
Setting the Record Straight Article
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