The British Empire Library

Getting my knees brown: day-to-day episodes in colonial Kenya

by Tom Askwith

Courtesy of OSPA

Review by Veronica Bellers (Daughter of Hal "Ng'ombe" Williams) (Kenya Administration 1930-1957)
Tom Askwith's book is an account of a gentler time in Africa. Populations were smaller, food supplies better organised and moral boundaries clearer. His book demonstrates also the friendship which existed between the Colonial Servants and their "parishioners"; a fact that has been largely ignored by today's commentators and politicians, bent as they are upon point scoring or trying to wring out larger aid donations.

In a hundred years' time when scholars look back beyond the turbulence of today's Africa, they may be surprised by Mr Askwith's chapter "Riots and Disorders" when he states that he:

"had always gained the impression that one of our main preoccupations as District Officers would be to quell tribal disturbances and adjudicate in boundary disorders in a lordly fashion."

Checking the accounts, deciding which menial task the detainees should perform, inspecting the tribal police lines and trying petty criminals were in fact the rather tedious reality. But one day the Luo and Kipsigis livened up his routine when tempers ran high and he had to yell in his sternest tones in order to persuade the rival clans to cease belabouring each other. It was not always so uncomplicated of course. But for the man on the Kisumu or Kericho omnibus Kenya was a pleasanter and safer place before the blights of bomb, bullet and corruption.

Mr Askwith points up an important shortcoming in our administration of Kenya Colony. He was offended by the social indifference of Europeans towards Africans educated abroad. And, although I was only a child at the time, I agree. We should and could have done more to integrate the races socially.

The United Kenya Club, of which Tom Askwith was the founding Chairman, was a small but brave effort to rectify this failing. Founded on a spirit of cooperation between the three races, it eschewed discriminatory practices. Yet he feels that those early members were regarded as cranks. It is this failing which has, in part, given credence to the hurtful misinterpretation of the great work of the Colonial Service in Africa. Tom Askwith's honesty in acknowledging the shortcomings of his generation also points up his moderation, compassion and uprightness; essential qualities for all those who served in Africa.

British Empire Book
Tom Askwith
T. Askwith


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