The British Empire Library

Men Who Ruled Kenya: The Kenya Administration, 1892-1963

by Charles Chenevix Trench

Courtesy of OSPA

Review by Anthony Clayton (Kenya Government Service 1952-1965, Senior Lecturer in Modern History at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst)
This account of Kenya's Administration appears in The Radcliffe Press series of colonial memoirs; the General Editor is Anthony Kirk-Greene. It will tell readers much of both the daily round and common task, and of work during the periods of unrest and upheaval, of Kenya's Administration from the early days of Hall, Hobley and Ainsworth through to the final tumultuous last decade of British colonial rule.

Emerging very clearly through the pages is the situation at local levels faced by officers of the colonial state, a situation particularly difficult in Kenya. The Administration had to serve its metropolitan masters in Whitehall, in quiet times not greatly interested but capable of assertion at moments of political controversy or any requirement for money. The Administration had also to live with local colonial, usually employers', interests, while its own ambitions were to protect and slowly advance the indigenous population.

The difficulty in reconciling these conflicting interests came to a head in Mau Mau, an apparent failure. But the Administration's overall long-term success was a major reason for the territory's general stability in its first thirty years of independence. Not only did President Kenyatta inherit a flourishing commercial agriculture built up by white settlers, he accrued the benefits of the agricultural revolution brought about by the Administration, Agriculture and Veterinary Departments, and also political communication through a strong, efficient provincial administration whose authority had not been reduced in ways seen elsewhere, and was infinitely more useful than a decaying political machine.

Most of Trench's book is concerned with life at provincial and district level. Of especial interest are the chapters describing the life and work in the north of Kenya and the work of the Administration during Mau Mau. His description of officers at work will flesh out official reports that can read drily in archives, and will be of interest to historians. Some of the private lives and habits of certain officers are very candidly described. Trench is certainly not economic with the truth.

The work focuses on the Administration. Other Departmental officers do not feature conspicuously. Concentrating as it does on the officer in the Boma leaves also certain central government officials not mentioned, in particular the group of highly talented administrative officials who arrived in Kenya in the later 1940s and 1950s, Frank Carpenter, Charles Hartwell ("Kali Charlie" of the telephones flying out of the Secretariat window), John Stow, Richard Luyt and others. These men, bringing experience of more developed economies and societies, played an enormously important role in the transition to Independence and the overall achievement of Kenya's colonial government. There are also a few occasions where Trench's memory has played tricks with names.

In such, this book will have great nostalgic appeal for any who served the Serekali. Being very strong on atmosphere, it will also contribute to the professional historian's understanding of district commissioners' correspondence and reports as he asks himself the historian's stock question: "Who wrote this document and why?"

British Empire Book
Charles Chenevix Trench
The Radcliffe Press


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