Those of us blown out of our colonial outposts by Macmillan's 'wind of change,' may
wish that he had heeded Shakespeare's words, "Ill blows the wind that profits
nobody." (Henry VI, Part 3, Act 2, Scene 5.) In the last forty years or so, it has been a
rare event for us to read a tribute to our "incorrupt, beneficial and just ideals."
This tribute comes from the pen of a distinguished historian, Andrew Roberts, in his
recently published A History of the English Speaking Peoples since 1900.
This is a weighty tome of some 700 pages and Roberts has given me permission to
quote from his book in this article. I first contacted Roberts after listening to him
debating our colonial record on the radio with the usual suspects, the Left/liberal critics
of the British Empire. They have, as we all know too well, waged a relentless campaign
against us, calling for apologies for our colonial role abroad and inculcating a sense of
guilt here at home for our alleged tyranny and exploitation.
Since the 1960s, some of us have tried "to set the record straight" by writing books
and letters to the press. We may have thought that we were winning when The Times
leader on 1 July 1997 thundered, rather prematurely, that, "The years of post-colonial
guilt and imperialism have, at last, given way to a more balanced, historical assessment."
This encouraged me to publish my own book. You Have Been Allocated Uganda. The
title comes from the Colonial Office telegram which informed me of my appointment to
Uganda in 1954. Glen McKnight, who reviewed it for the Canadian Journal of African
Studies, described it both as "a compelling read" and as "a primary document for use by
scholars." Thus it seemed a good idea to send a copy to Roberts.
To my surprise, he sent me some draft paragraphs for his latest book based on my
account of the assassination of sub-commissioner Harry St George Galt in Ankole
District in 1905, just eleven years after Uganda had been declared a Protectorate.
He rightly described this incident as "a minute footnote in the history of the British
Empire." But it has lessons for us all today. He asked me for more details of the
subsequent inquiries. I was able to help him by drawing his attention to an article by
Henry Morris in the Uganda Journal (Vol 24, No. 1) from which Roberts recorded, "It is
a complicated story that incorporates witchcraft, cover-ups, buffalo-poaching, at least
two double crosses, exile, a drinking party, smallpox, infected milk and a hunch-backed
dwarf, one of the most terrible cases of distorted mind and body."
Roberts was clearly impressed that the long and complicated investigation into the
assassination ended, not with the conviction of two chiefs at the High Court at Entebbe
for aiding and abetting the murder of Galt, but with their acquittal by the Court of
Appeal for East Africa at Mombasa - some tyranny!
Roberts wrote of Uganda, "A country of nearly 94,000 square miles with a population
in 1955 of just over five million, including 48,000 Asians and 5,600 Europeans, might
have been considered hugely difficult to police; those who seek to portray the British
Empire as a tyranny need to explain why places like Uganda produced so little popular
insurgency against British rule."
Roberts was keen to know the strength of the King's African Rifles, and
Col John Dent, MBE was able to inform Roberts of their strength in the 1950/60s.
Roberts continued, "It is certainly not enough to argue that the native people lived in fear
of reprisals from the single battalion of the King's African Rifles, led by some two dozen
British officers, ten British senior NCOs and 850 Ugandan soldiers and junior NCOs.
It is far more likely that they recognised the benefits that British rule brought. As early as
1901, the great Uganda Railway was built; this huge four-and-a-half year project
involved constructing a railroad 550 miles into the heart of Africa."
Roberts quoted George Santayana, the Spanish-born American philosopher, who
described the "sweet, just, boyish masters" who ruled the British Empire in its final
phase. He continued, "they tried their best to rule some twenty different peoples in
Uganda, derived from three racial groupings, speaking some twenty different languages,
who lived in four kingdoms and ten districts." That they "managed to achieve this
without more Britons than poor Harry Galt being killed is an astonishing tribute to their
incorrupt, beneficial and just ideals."
Readers of my book will know that I once spent a sleepless night close by the
Galt memorial stone, some seventy miles north of the district headquarters at Mbarara,
wondering if I would become the second administrative officer to be murdered.
That evening I and the Sekibobo of Mitoma County had been having a beer after a long
day on tour, when we were told of a triple murder a few miles along the road past the
memorial. We went to the scene and sent runners to Police HQ at Mbarara. There was
little else that we could do and I returned to my tent.
I might have slept if I had then known about the administrative, as opposed to the
judicial, reaction to Galt's murder. Sir Hesketh Bell, the Governor, considered that the
two chiefs who had been acquitted should nevertheless be punished for their negligence.
They had failed to report facts which would have led to the arrest of the suspected
assassin, who later committed suicide. Bell ordered that they should be exiled to the
coast. In his Glimpses of a Governor's Life Bell recorded his further action of fining the
Omugabe and his senior chiefs hundreds of heads of cattle and levying a special tax to
pay for the building of the Galt Memorial Hall. Bell wrote, "These proceedings may
appear high handed and arbitrary, but it was essential to impress upon the natives
throughout the Protectorate the sanctity of the lives of our small staff of officers, and the
lesson that was given to the people of Ankole was so striking that it is unlikely that it
will ever have to be repeated."
It was never repeated because Galt was the only administrative officer murdered in
Uganda. Who knows, Bell's actions may have kept me safe that night fifty-one years
ago? But I did not then know of his action to promote Pax Brittanica, without which
nothing could have been achieved. The usual suspects should have been at my tent that
night to learn that law and order, so sadly lacking in Africa today, was, and will always
be, the basis for all social, economic and political development.