The British Empire Library

An Earthly Paradise Memories Of A Forester In The Bechuanaland Protectorate/Botswana, 1963-68

by P.W.T. Henry

Courtesy of OSPA

Peter Wood (Vice-President, Commonwealth Forestry Association)
Volume 1 of Mr Henry's forestry memories was reviewed here. It covered his first posting overseas and described some of his experiences in western Nigeria where he served from 1950 to 1962, covering the period before and after independence.

The author's second book is devoted to his next overseas posting from 1963-68 - to "the earthly paradise" of the protectorate of Bechuanaland, later the nation of Botswana. As in Nigeria his service covers the pre- and post-colonial periods. Indeed, his five years coincide with a number of momentous happenings in southern Africa starting with Prime Minister MacMillan's seminal "wind of change" speech in the Union of South Africa in 1960, Nelson Mandela's imprisonment in 1963 and the declaration of UDI in Rhodesia in 1965. Solidarity among the countries still under white minority control was still firmly in place and, as an official, the author is occasionally caught up in, for example, moves to prevent terrorists/"refugees" passing to and from the independent African countries to the north. The British South Africa Police still carried that name and were active throughout the region. By contrast, the author later acts as an official in national elections in independent Botswana.

For the whole of his service in the country Mr Henry was posted to the paradise of the book's title, Kasane in Chobe District. He obviously enjoyed the time he spent on vegetation surveys, (indeed an valuable part of the book is his enumeration report on Chobe District, included as an appendix). As with his first book this one offers a personal archive of social conditions and land use management at a crucial time in African history. The author's day to day experiences (he was the sole professionally qualified forester in the country for much of the time) show him as a colonial official quietly getting on with his job. His frequent confrontations with big game animals add a note of excitement and he also includes many graphic character sketches of the people he met and worked with, officials, locals, settlers, expatriates. The story also gives an interesting sidelight on changing colonial forest policy. Thus, it starts by addressing the need for a permanent estate of government-owned forest reserves, develops a programme of plantations for production of fuel wood (mostly of eucalypts) and seeks to reconcile competing land uses, not least increasingly well-funded conservation and tourism.

Increasing national wealth derived from diamond mining affected all aspects of government and before his retirement the author played a key role in preparing an up-to date forest policy for Botswana and ensured that his successor was experienced and well trained. One is left feeling that he, like foresters in many other parts of the world, could not always convince politicians of the importance of forests to the nation. But his time in Botswana ends shortly after independence, and he admits to having hoped for another tour of duty.

The book is a handsome slim paperback, sporting a colour picture of a fine Baobab tree on the front cover. It contains four maps and plans, 32 of the author's monochrome snapshots and 15 colour pictures. There is a short bibliography of nine references (though not all text references seem to be included in the bibliography) and a worthwhile four page index.

British Empire Book
P.W.T. Henry
The author
978 095 659 011 4


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