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How two rivaling colonialists created Murang'a Town

One of the matatu terminus in Murang’a in full operation. [Boniface Gikandi, Standard]

After Kenya became a British protectorate in 1895 following the transfer of administrative duties from the Imperial British East Africa Company, two men began a vicious fight for supremacy.

John Ainsworth had joined IBEAC in 1889 and in 1892, posted to Machakos as the sub-commissioner for Ukamba province. On the other hand, George Francis Hall had, at 32, joined IBEAC as the acting superintendent for Kikuyu district in 1892. A year later, he was made commander at Fort Smith that had been built earlier by Eric Smith near Chief Waiyaki’s territory.

Soon though, rivalry between the two men manifested as each felt he was superior and a better administrator than the other. At the centre of the "sibling rivalry" was Arthur Hardinge, first commissioner of the protectorate.

Hall, who loved Fort Smith and had close dealings with the Kikuyu was getting frustrated at the slow pace which the new administrators were handling protectorate matters. Hall was further appalled when Hardinge promoted Ainsworth to a sub-commissioner and asked him to transfer the headquarters of Ukamba province from Machakos to Nairobi. This meant more work for Hall as he wrote “silly dispatches of Ainsworth”.

Things got worse when Hall was transferred to Machakos as Fort Smith was said to be of little use and, as Christine Nicholls writes in Red Strangers: The White Tribe of Kenya, “this was out jealousy since Hall was deemed too friendly to the railway people.”

On the other hand, Hall hated Ainsworth with a passion, stating: “These fellows, brought up behind a counter, get too big for their boots and make life unbearable for others.”

In Machakos, Hall was getting frustrated by the day especially when called on to feed 1,100 starving Kamba people among other misfortunes.

Hardinge noticed Hall’s frustration and, in order to keep the two men away from each other, suggested that Hall moves to Mbiri, 40 miles from Nairobi to establish a new fort. In May 1900, Hall found a suitable hill and constructed the fort with a stone wall.

Unfortunately, Hall (Bwana Hora to the Kikuyu) contracted dysentery and died in March 1901. The fort at Mbiri was renamed Fort Hall in his honour, as was the town that grew from the spot. Fort Hall later changed its name to Murang’a. Perhaps the course, and location of Murang’a town would have been different were it not for the bitter rivalry between Ainsworth and Hall.

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