Beyond the settlers and their influence on our civil service

Colonial traffic police officers, 1960s. [File, Standard]

The British settlers and other nationalities left their footprints in Kenya in terms of big houses that dot the once white highlands.

We must note that our history has failed to acknowledge the presence of other nationalities that once made Kenya their home.

They range from Australians to Czechs, Jews, Germans, Norwegians, Americans, South Africans among others.

Archaeological evidence suggests the Chinese came earlier than the Britons and even Portuguese, around 1418 led by Zhang He.

The Portuguese ruled the coast for 200 years. Their rule was enigmatic, they failed to evangelise, teach their language or intermarry.

They remained in Angola and Mozambique for another, 300 years after leaving our coast.

One nationality that got a foothold in Kenya but was perhaps confused with British is Australian.

They were here as early as 1886, introducing eucalyptus and grevillea trees and merino sheep.

I have written about the Whites family who once farmed in Nyandarua and Laikipia. One of their progeny Geoffrey White became the Australian High Commissioner to Kenya from 1982-1986.

The history of the British and other nationalities in Kenya is too slanted towards settlers, the Mau Mau, explorers and missionaries.

The settlers like Lord Delamere I, introduced modern agriculture with Njoro as the epicentre.

The Mau Mau shocked the British empire. Like the Vietnam war with the US, no one has publicly determined who won.

But we know in both cases. The missionaries brought education, modern medical services and new religion. Their grip on our minds is reflected by the fact that all meetings nowadays start with a prayer.

We have more churches in Kenya than schools. Today, we write about another category of immigrants to Kenya who did not farm but ran the civil service.

We had David Livingstone, an Australian who worked as an economist with the Treasury in Kenya before Uhuru (independence).

I got his story from his daughter, a prominent banker and corporate executive, Catherine Livingstone in Australia. She was born in Nairobi.

This David Livingstone is not the one every schoolboy or girl knows about. He produced a report on maize dated 1959. The same problems we face today were the same then. It seems maize farming has not evolved for 60 years.

Catherine writes about her father, “My father sailed to Kenya, leaving the UK in February 1954, to take up his role as an economist, working in Kenyan Treasury.

He met my mother, a teacher, on that voyage and they were married in Nairobi in December 1954.

My mother had already been in Africa for a few years, first in South Africa, then Uganda, and was returning from home leave in Ireland when she met my father on the voyage. I was born in 1955 and our family returned to live in the UK in 1957 - before emigrating to Australia in November 1959.”

David died in Australia in 2012. Australians played a prominent role in Kenya’s civil service. We can add former speaker, Sir Alfred Simpson.

The former civil servants left their jobs after Uhuru through Africanisation as it was called. Through their reports like that by David Livingstone, they left their indelible mark on this country.

What is not accepted openly is that such experienced civil servants were an asset, just like German scientists who immigrated to the US after the second world war (world war 2).  Did we fill their vacuum fast enough and with the right skills?

Did that “filing” contribute to some of the problems we face today like the emphasis on tribal arithmetic, not skills set?

Today, we no longer see Mzungu (Whites) in the civil service or even among elected officials. Curiously, we now have Asians as MPs in Kenya just like in the UK.

Wazungus are running their businesses or are expatriates working for NGOs, the UN or embassies. And we can’t tell who are tourists.

Keen observers will note that not much has changed in the civil service system the British system set, apart from allowing civil servants to run their private businesses as they work for the government.

That was the output of the Ndegwa report of 1973. We still hear and feel its reverberations to this day. After Uhuru, the former civil servants left in all the directions of the compass. Some went back to the UK, Australia, South Africa and other countries.

They had choices. I doubt if we have choices ourselves. It is one of the least researched areas: where did wanzungus go after Uhuru? Did they prosper?

My hunch tells me they prepared for the reality of majority rule. Some like Boers left for South Africa to come under majority rule 30 years later.

To the curious, you can check the reports of these men and women written, well researched and futuristic.

I got an impression they had made this country their home before the winds of change blew them away.

Despite all the excesses of colonialism, there is something we can learn from it, long after the sunset on the empire. Today we celebrate Jamhuri day 58 years since the queen of England ceased to be our Head of State, just as Barbados did this year.

The generation that interacted with mzungu is slowly leaving the scene replaced by a generation that only interact with mzungu through media.

This has led to a more positive view of mzungu. Headlines on corruption have not made matters any better.

Today, the younger generation hope to study in the UK or US or even become dual citizens, the latest status symbol. We love using mzungu names like Ian Burton or Jane Caroline.

The young generation has “mellowed” unlike our fathers who fought for Uhuru. One Mau Mau veteran told me that if mzungu was still here today, there would be no one to fight him.

Was he right? Happy Jamhuri day as you reflect on 58 years since we became a republic and 126 years since we became a protectorate.

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