The British Empire Library

Kenya, Beyond the Marich Pass: A District Officer's Story

by John Russell

Courtesy of OSPA

Review by O.S. Knowles (Kenya 1949-1969)
This is a refreshingly 'politically incorrect' and highly readable account of the day to day life ot a Kenya District Officer mainly in a remote area seldom visited by the Audit Department. It is written with humour (though one could wish for fewer exclamation marks to emphasise the jokes) and would make a good Christmas present for anyone who enjoys reading about the practical problems of life in a remote Kenya out-station, as opposed to analyses of colonial policies by Marxist and other theoretical critics.

After a short spell as a District Officer (Kikuyu Guard) during the Mau Mau rebellion, Russell was sent to Oxford on the Devonshire course and began his career in the Kenya Administrative Service in West Pokot, where he was soon posted as officer in charge of the Sigor Division, at the foot of the Marich Pass and the Kenya Highlands. There he struggled with all the day to day problems of such out-stations as grazing controls, well digging, unreliable transport, flash floods, termites, scorpions, snakes and mosquitoes. There is a full account of the Nginyang incident and the problems with the religious sect Dini ya Msambwa, led by the mentally disturbed Elijah Masindi, whose encounters with Leslie Whitehouse are described by Elizabeth Watkins in Jomo's Jailor.

It is good to have this account of life in Sigor, since the construction of the all-weather tarmac road to Lodwar down the Marich Pass, and the completion of the giant Turkwell barrage, have meant that Sigor today is no longer so remote and has been touched by much development, for better or worse. The book is a fitting tribute to men of integrity who, with very limited resources at their disposal, left some small comers of the world better places than they found them.

The appended list of background reading is far too short, and in addition to Elizabeth Watkins book referred to above, should have included such books as R.O. Hennings' African Morning, J.B. Carson's Sun. Sand and Safari, and P.H. Gulliver's The Family Herds.

British Empire Book
John Russell
The Radcliffe Press


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