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October 23 2014 5 23 /10 /October /2014 08:58

Lawrence John Lumley Dundas, sometimes addressed as the Earl of Ronaldshay was an author, politician and administrator who would serve in such capacities as Governor of Bengal and President of the Royal Geographical Society. The most significant early review of "My African Journey" (1908) by Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill was written by Ronaldshay and published in "Bookman" (Volumes 34-35. January, 1909 page 188-189). The review follows.
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Under the appropriate title of “My African Journey,” Mr. Churchill gives us a readable account of the expedition which he made through British East Africa during the latter part of 1907, while still officially connected with the Colonial Office as Under Secretary. The record of his wanderings which he here gives us takes the form of a popular narrative of travel. Facts and figures, as he reminds us in his preface, are already on record in profusion, and--mindful, perhaps, of laborious hours spent in enforced perusal of statistical abstracts and blue-books--he decides to avoid them, a decision for which the reader will doubtless be duly grateful. On two or three occasions only do any figures creep into the narrative, and on one at least of these they would have been better left out, for while we are told at one moment (p. 85) that the Victoria Nyanza is 4,000 ft. above sea level, we are led to infer at the next (p. 129) that its altitude is 3,500 ft. It matters little, however, to the average man whether the height of any particular sheet of water be 3,000 ft. or 5,000 ft.; what he desires is to obtain with as little mental exertion as possible a. vivid picture of lands which he will probably never see, but which constitute a not unimportant part of the British Empire.

In Mr. Churchill’s book the picture is vividly and attractively drawn. Here and there he employs a somewhat extravagant language to describe matters of insignificant detail, as, for instance, when, having presented a dressing gown purchased on the outward journey to a local chief in the Lado Enclave, he tells us that “thus the fabrics of Cathay were by the enterprise of Europe introduced into the heart of Africa”; and now and again the party politician peeps out, as when he describes those who preserve game in England “with so much artificial care, and to the inconvenience of other dwellers in a small island," as “perverse and unenterprising folk”; but on the whole there is little to criticize and much to praise in the story which he unfolds.

From Mombasa he carries us along the Uganda Railway--"one slender thread of scientific civilization, of order, authority and arrangement, drawn across the primeval chaos of the world"--causing us to alight at intervals to accompany him in pursuit of rhinoceros, lion, or pig, to look on at the wildly gyrating figures of a Kikuyu war dance, or to take part in a discussion of the questions of the day as they present themselves to the white community of the East African Protectorate. “Every white man in Nairobi," we are told, “is a politician.” A distracting medley of problems “confront the visitor in perplexing disarray,” of which,
facile princeps, is that of the white man versus the black, and the brown man versus both. To this thorny question Mr. Churchill attempts to supply an answer. East Africa, he thinks, can never be a white man's country in the true sense of the word, for proof is wanting that “the pure-bred European can rear his children under the equatorial sun and at an elevation of more than 6,000 ft.” The same doubt is expressed later on with regard to Uganda. Here “every white man seems to feel a sense of indefinable oppression. A cut will not heal; a scratch festers. In the third year of residence even a small wound becomes a running sore.... Whether it be the altitude, or the downward ray of the equatorial sun, or the insects, or some more subtle cause, there seems to be a solemn veto placed upon the white man's permanent residence in these beautiful abodes.“

In any case the desire of the white man to make East Africa a white man’s country does not bring him into collision with the black aboriginal. The black aboriginal plays an important part in the white man’s scheme, for, whatever Mr. Churchill may have said with regard to a similar question in another part of Africa from his political platform in 1906, he here admits that “the white man absolutely refuses to do black man’s work.“

But the brown man from India is another matter. In all manner of occupations—trading, farming, banking, contracting, engineering, building, accounting—the Asiatic steps in and ousts the European. Here, then, in Equatorial Africa. we find waiting for solution a problem--immeasurably complicated by reason of the fact that the brown man from India is himself a. British subject--which is at the same time perplexing the statesmen of Great Britain in such different parts of the Empire as Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and South Africa. The chances of finding a reasonable solution are, however, greater here than in other countries. The immediate course of sound policy, Mr. Churchill thinks, would seem to lie in reserving the highland areas for exploitation at the hands of the white man, while at the same time encouraging the Asiatic to trade and settle in “ the enormous regions of tropical fertility to which he is naturally adapted."

From Nairobi the railway winds through magnificent scenery to the great lake. At Naivasha we are given a glimpse of a Government stock farm and learn how by judicious crossing the progeny of the native sheep “a hairy animal" is being transformed into "the woolled beast of familiar aspect,” and that of the humped African cattle into a “respectable British shorthorn.”

Beyond the railway lies Uganda. Of its entrancing scenery, its immense productivity, and its attractive people Mr. Churchill writes with undisguised admiration. “The kingdom of Uganda is a fairy tale.” In the rich domain between the Victoria and Albert Lakes “an amiable, clothed, polite, and intelligent race dwell together in an organized monarchy.” Everything grows here better than it grows anywhere else--cotton, rubber, hemp, cocoa, coffee, tea, oranges, pineapples. “As for our English garden products, brought in contact with the surface of Uganda they simply give a wild bound of efflorescence or fruition, and break their hearts for joy.” At first sight, indeed, Uganda appears to be paradise upon earth, and it is not until closer acquaintance is made with this fair country that the dark shadows which overhang it become apparent. Nature resents the intrusion of man, and sends forth her armies in the shape of insects to fight him. The dreaded spirillum tick infests the land and takes satanic delight in spreading the poison of a peculiarly painful 'fever. But far worse than the Spirillum tick is the species of tsetse-fly known as Glossina Palpalis, whose baneful occupation of carrying the germs of “sleeping sickness” from man to man is carried on with hideous success. “In July, 1901, a doctor of the Church Missionary Society hospital at Kampala noticed eight cases of a mysterious disease." By the middle of 1902 over 30,000 deaths had been reported, and by the end of 1905 the number had reached 200,000 out of a population in the plague-stricken regions “which could not have exceeded 300,000.” The story of the war now being waged against this scourge will provide one of the most interesting alike in the annals of British administration and of medical science.

We have no space to follow Mr. Churchill as he trekked north, passing from the regions of equatorial luxuriance to the two great deserts--“ the desert of sudd and the desert of sand ”—to emerge finally in the tourist-ridden land of Egypt, traversed by the “comfortable sleeping-cars of the Desert Railway and the pleasant passenger steamers of the Wady Haifa and Assouan reach." But we note that in spite of his being fully alive to the dark side of the Uganda picture, his first enthusiastic impressions of that country remain uneffaced by subsequent travel. Speeding down the White Nile to the Sudan and Egypt which lie before him, he reverts to his opinion that " the best lies behind. Uganda is the pearl" ; and when finally he comes to sum up the conclusions formed as a result of the journey, they are comprised in the words—“Concentrate upon Uganda." In a concluding chapter the steps which should be taken to develop the immense latent wealth of the country are discussed, and the conclusion arrived at is summed up in the three words--“Build a railway." The Uganda Railway at present stops short on the threshold of that country: with steam transport linking up the Victoria Nyanza with the Albert Nyanza immense stimulus would be given to enterprise and an incalculable boon conferred upon the country.

Jonathan Musere

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