The British Empire Library

A Circle of Trees

by G.H. Barker

Courtesy of OSPA

Review by T.W.G.
This book contains an account of an expatriate officer in Colonial and post-Colonial Uganda, much of which echoes the perceptions of his reviewer. It is compulsive reading, rather like the Uganda Kobs Newsletter, for its nostalgia and its shared experiences. There are also sections covering his previous and post-Uganda life story. It is a personal success story of "an ordinary Englishman emerging from a lowly beginning into a life packed with adventure". The author has no literary pretensions, nor any analytical skills, but despite a slender formal education, he improved himself, and ended his Uganda career teaching business studies, and marking Cambridge Overseas "O" level exams. Then back in U.K. he joined the Distribution Industrial Training Board, which was not to his liking, and after working his notice, returned to East Africa in 1975 to develop his "Diani Beachalets" - another chapter in his success story.

Andrew Cohen (Governor of Uganda 1951-6) and his Fabian revolution lurks behind this curious story. One of Cohen's schemes was to create a prosperous middle class of Africans in a field dominated by Asians - no easy task. A 1956 advertisement in the Daily Telegraph for three Trade Development Officers in Uganda caught the eye of this Loughborough shopkeeper, and propelled him on an upwardly mobile career to what eventually he felt was the pinnacle - Chairman of the Royal Society of St. George in Mombasa in 1985, sitting down with Ambassadors, Consuls and the British High Commissioner, in a romantic neo-colonial ritual, complete with baron of beef.

Some painful conclusions emerge from between the lines. The problem of developing African trade against the competition of the Asians could not be solved from below by just three regional officers and their principal. Even the drastic solution attempted by Amin when he expelled all the Asians failed. He simply filled the vacuum with opportunists and cronies, and almost succeeded in eliminating all trade. Even well-trained administrators were unequal to the challenges of emerging independent Africa, so what chance had well-meaning amateur consultants with little time to produce answers? We must not blame the actors. It is the impractical Fabian idealists who wrote the script for the post-war Labour Party who must bear the responsibility. The author and his family found great interest and pleasure in their parts, which no doubt led to this book, as well as his desire for a family record. I shall not bore the reader with the errors - I shall send them to the author. Although we have divergent views on race and the capability of different races, I conclude by congratulating the writer, since normally it is the pro-consuls and their biographers who produce books which deal with life at, and as viewed from the top. This is a story by and about a man in the middle. It represents a solid achievement reflecting his views. This is a real world story, and one day may be of interest to historians examining our questionable Colonial record. Here is recorded a frank and revealing account of what it was really like. Old Uganda hands in particular will enjoy this interesting read.

Review by I.A.
Progressing himself from sapling to mature oak, after a lowly beginning the author joined the leading frigate of the first flotilla hunting U-Boats in the Atlantic and was torpedoed at Christmas 1944 while endeavouring to rescue survivors of a sister ship. Thus ended his war service and a career in Uganda began, where he prepared indigenous business men for economic independence. After various ventures in remote regions he became head of his Ministry of Commerce department and General Manager of the National Trading Corporation set up by Uganda's parliament.

With experience of Dr. Obote's and General Amin's atrocities, Mr. Barker returned to the UK with his wife and four children. Lured back by the beauty of East Africa, however, he was sent by "British Executive Service Overseas" on voluntary assignments to Malawi, Fiji, Tonga and Zambia. His recent travels have included trips to Russia and China.

An interesting story of a life packed with adventure.

British Empire Book
G.H. Barker
Merlin Books Ltd.


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