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