Kenya's "forgotten" engineer and colonial proconsul: Sir Percy Girouard and departmental railway construction in Africa, 1896-1912.
Sir Percy Girouard's governorship of the East Africa Protectorate (EAP), as Kenya was known before 1920, has received mixed reviews from scholars because of the way his administrative career ended. Anthony A. M. Kirk-Greene has advanced the view that Girouard was a successful administrator in Kenya, since he engineered the most impressive economic development in Kenya's history. (1) During his governorship, the EAP was able to balance its budget, which impressed the imperial government. Because of the economic success, the grants-in-aid--which the EAP had received since 1895--were dispensed with in 1912. It is true that Girouard took over when the protectorate's annual revenue had reached 250,000[pounds sterling], while the government expenditure amounted to about 500,000 [pounds sterling]. (2) Yet, even with the annual grant-in-aid of 130,000 [pounds sterling] that the imperial government gave to the protectorate, the budget ran a deficit, and the fact that Girouard was able to bridge the budgetary gap within three years of his governorship demonstrates his brilliance. Nevertheless, Robert Maxon challenges Kirk-Greene's contention by showing that the success of the Kenyan economy was the result of African production, which the governor was not keen on promoting. (3) Sir Percy Girouard's policy supported the settler economy, which was producing very little at the time. According to John Overton, the African contribution to exports constituted about 70 per cent of the total in 1912-13. (4) Thus, the African sector responded more quickly than the settler sector to the opportunities offered by the colonial economy despite lack of colonial state contribution to stimulate it. Maxon also observes that Sir Percy Girouard failed as an administrator in the way he handled the Maasai land question. (5) Sir Percy Girouard moved the Maasai from their ancestral land in Laikipia to Ngong to create room for European settlement without informing the Colonial Office (CO). He acted contrary to the 1904 Maasai Agreement that had set aside Laikipia plateau as a Maasai reserve. (6) As a result of his failure to protect the Maasai land rights, he was forced by the CO to abruptly resign in 1912. (7)
Girouard's failure to protect African interests is not in dispute, and the issue has overshadowed any meaningful assessment of his administrative career. Nevertheless, this article demonstrates that Sir Percy Girouard became the first governor adequately to address railway problems in Nigeria and Kenya by encouraging the development of branch lines. During his tenure as governor of EAP, he secured a development loan not only to establish a railway network, but also a deep-water port at Kilindini, which his predecessors had failed to do.
II. Edouard Percy Cranwell Girouard, 1867-1932
It is important to examine briefly the career of Girouard before his appointment as governor of the EAP in 1909, in order to understand his worldview. Percy Girouard was a son of Desire Girouard, a judge of the Canadian Supreme Court to 1910, after which he was appointed Deputy Governor General of Canada. (8) Thus, Percy Girouard came from a politically connected family. His family background notwithstanding, Percy Girouard was a very hard-working person, and his promotions were based on personal achievements. He was educated at the Royal Military College, Kingston, Ontario, where he graduated with a diploma in engineering at the age of nineteen. (9) After graduation, the Canadian Pacific Railway employed him as a surveyor for two years between 1886 and 1888. In 1888, he became one of the few Canadians to receive a commission in the British Royal Engineers. (10) Initially, his father objected to his decision to join the military, for he wanted him to enter the legal profession. Percy refused to heed the advice of his father, who retaliated by refusing to pay for his training. Instead, Percy received assistance from his aunt, who agreed to pay the 100 [pounds sterling] required for a uniform and the voyage to Britain. (11)
He rose through the ranks in the military and, in 1890, he became 2nd Lieutenant, Royal Engineers. His practical knowledge in railway construction became valued in England, and he was invited to give a lecture at the Royal United Service Institution on 24 April 1891 on the topic: "The Use of Railways for Coast and Harbour Defence." Major-General R. N. Dawson Scott, Commandant of the School of Military Engineering and member of Council, chaired the lecture session. It was a peculiar lecture in the sense that a young French-Canadian officer had the audacity to criticize British naval policy. Girouard began by showing that the few naval forts in existence at the time did not securely protect the British coastline. The forts omitted large portions of the coastline, whereas the system of defence he advocated would be applicable to the whole coastline. (12) His proposal was that Great Britain and Ireland had a system of railways that could be put to a practical use for the defence of the country through the mounting of guns upon trucks, which "could travel on these lines and be fired from them." (13) He further observed that with:
Their proper utilization the country could be formed into one huge fortress, and prompt communication ensured between the ports. Such would be the elasticity of the system that an enemy would have opposed to him at any exposed point of the coast the armament of a first-class fortress. (14)
He observed that firing lines, consisting of guns stationed at vulnerable points along the coast, or concentrated at junctions from which they could readily move up to threatened points, would, within a short time, support and reinforce any section. He then went into engineering details and the economic Secretary of Statecale to show how easy it was to implement his project. The lecture was thought-provoking and a challenge to past British military planners.
The chairman of the lecture session observed that the officers had listened to a very instructive lecture upon a subject, new to most of them. (15) Definitely, the lecture seemed utopian in nature, and an old lieutenant general, Laurie, thought it was interesting and funny that the first Canadian military college cadet would speak of protecting the shores of England instead of Canada. He thought Girouard was suggesting "too much and so may overdo his proposal. (16) It was his observation that Girouard wanted Britain to lock up a large portion of their guns permanently, and suggested that trucks should only be used to receive guns, so that they could be utilized. He thought it was unwise for the trucks to take the place of forts. Nevertheless, Colonel E. R. Wethered, who in 1871 had come up with similar ideas that were rejected by military officers, supported Girouard's ideas. Like Girouard, he noted the weaknesses of the British defence system at the time, especially the distances their ships had to travel round the coast, which meant that some vessels were on the move constantly. (17) He further observed that, with mounted trucks, it would be easy and fast to move troops and guns in "one quarter, or one-tenth, of time that it would take to get a ship round from point to point of our extended seaboard." Thus he proposed:
To utilize generally our railway system for defensive purposes, and would mount all our guns on wheel carriages, so that they could be moved along any of our lines from point to point: the advantageSecretary of Stateuch a system must be obvious, as not only would it enable us to concentrate our artillery with overwhelming force at any given point, but guns on such movable carriages could be fought with infinitely less exposure to the men. (18)
Reinforcing the sentiments voiced by Colonel Wethered, the chairman noted that Girouard's proposals would enable "one gun to do the work of two or more, for, by having the guns concentrated and moved to different places on the coast where they might be wanted, they could do great deal better service than if they were kept locked up in one or two places. (19) Furthermore, at a time of invasion or attack, when every available horse would be probably taken up, defending forces would have the advantage of rapidly getting the guns by rail somewhere near the places where they would be wanted, instead of having to rely exclusively upon horse power for that purpose. Admittedly, what Girouard was proposing in 1891 would have revolutionized British military technology as Britain would have been the first nation to have armoured trains. In retrospect, Girouard should be considered the brain behind the idea of building armoured vehicles engaged in modern warfare.
Although Girouard's proposal was not implemented, he had initiated new thoughts in military operations using guns mounted on trains. General Horatio Kitchener must have read Girouard's suggestions on how railways could be used to advance military success, and he therefore asked for the latter's deployment to his command. (20) This engagement to construct the Sudanese railway opened a career for Girouard in railway development and colonial administration. In 1896, the British government was preparing to conquer the Sudan in revenge for the killing of Gordon by the Sudanese. Kitchener, the commander of the Anglo-Egyptian Army, was ordered to advance up the Nile to Dongola. (21) Kitchener realized that an effective military campaign would require movement of troops and provisions across the desert. Such a venture could only be accomplished by means of an efficient railway transport system. Thus, on arrival in Egypt, Girouard was made Director of Sudan Railways and given the responsibility of constructing the railway across the desert at the rate of a mile a day to enable the quick mobility of the troops. He organized the railway battalion effectively enough that, on a good day, it could construct three miles. (22)
The literature on the conquest of Sudan and the battle of Omdurman generally praises the commander, General Kitchener, but it overlooks the role of an efficient transport system that facilitated the movement of both troops and provisions. More often than not, if other things were equal, the side with the best supplies won the battles. The contribution of the railway to the victory cannot be underestimated and, as Winston Churchill noted, "Fighting the Dervishes was primarily a matter of transport. Khalifa was conquered on the railway." (23) Under the directorship of Girouard, 588 miles of railway were laid within a short time, enabling General Kitchener to defeat the Sudanese at the battle of Omdurman. (24) Winston Churchill was greatly impressed by Girouard's railway construction skills. Churchill wrote:
Lieutenant Girouard, to whom everything was entrusted, was told to make the necessary estimates. Sitting in his hut at Wady Halfa, he drew up a comprehensive list. Nothing was forgotten. Everything wanted was provided for, every difficulty was foreseen, every requisite was noted. The answers to all the questions, and many others with which I will not inflict the reader, were set forth by Lieutenant Girouard in a ponderous volume several inches thick, and such was the comprehensive accuracy of the estimate that the work parties were never delayed by the want even of a piece of brass wire. (25)
Girouard's efficiency in constructing the railway was recognized and appreciated by the military; he was therefore awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) at the age of thirty-one. (26) Once the railway was completed in 1898, he was promoted to President of the Egyptian State Railways and Alexandria Harbour, a position he held for almost two years. (27)
In October 1899, when the Anglo-Boer War broke out in South Africa, Girouard was recalled to the military to co-ordinate railway transport. He became Director for Railways for the British operation and went a long way toward implementing his ideas of creating armoured trains. After one reviews his organizational ability and the merging of the railway networks, Girouard's genius in railway and military matters clearly emerges. He notes in his elaborate work on the South African campaign:
When later we had all lines in our possession, with fortified posts every few miles along the railway, and the enemy's artillery had become scarce, the armoured trains which now carried guns, were invaluable for protecting the line, and frequently succeeded in damaging the enemy. There is no doubt also that the enemy disliked them intensely, and the presence of armoured trains had a great moral effect. (28)
Girouard's railway organization enabled quick deployment of troops, helping to ensure the success of the British troops. Thus, Davis Bishop and Keith Davis have noted Girouard's contribution to the war effort in South Africa by observing:
Perhaps the most famous example is the armoured trains that operated so ignominiously on the British side during the South African Boer War at the end of the 19th century and almost caused the death of the future British Premier [sic] Winston Churchill. Its notoriety quite obscured the fact that, before the war ended, no less than twenty similar though better armed trains were proving invaluable both in harassing the Boers and in protecting the many miles of friendly and "hostile" railways being used to supply the advancing British armies as they laboriously "cleared" Boer territory. (29)
They further note that it was that war that gave:
At least the British most of their early experience in military operations of civilian systems; they not only imposed a degree of military control on the civilian systems in the British provinces but operated the former Netherlands South African Railways as a completely military system. The lessons learnt in speedy ways of repairing demolished lines and bridges were to be of tremendous value later and right conclusions were drawn by other nations also. (30)
It is no wonder that, in 1900, Girouard was knighted (KCMG) in recognition of his service in the South African campaign. (31)
After the war, in 1902, Girouard became the Commissioner of Railways for Transvaal and Orange River colonies, a post he held up to 1904. (32) During his service in South Africa, he married into a famous Afrikaner family. Richard Solomon, his father-in-law, was a key adviser to Alfred Milner and a member of the committee that negotiated the Peace of Vereeniging that ended the war. (33) Richard Solomon, the Acting Lieutenant Governor of Transvaal, also stood for the 1907 election for the post of Prime Minister of Transvaal Assembly but lost. During the election, Winston Churchill, as Parliamentary Undersecretary of State for Colonies, and a friend of Girouard, wrote to the king supporting Solomon's candidacy. Churchill even requested that the king have a private meeting with him. Churchill observed about Solomon:
No one can more easily reconcile or at any rate alleviate the racial differences that prevail. No one has the same grip of the actual and practical details of the administration of the country, and I think we are fortunate in finding such a good, capable, loyal man to tide over a period and a transition not free from anxiety. (34)
Nevertheless, the political situation was very fluid after the war in South Africa and a conflict of policy ensued between Girouard and Alfred Milner. Alfred Milner, the High Commissioner, thought that the railway should not be controlled by the military in a time of peace and therefore forced Girouard to resign in 1904. Milner accused Girouard of lacking fiscal constraint and therefore preferred a civilian manager that he could control. (35) Girouard returned to his regimental duties with the military in Britain. In 1906, he became Assistant QuarterMaster General, Western Command, based in Chester, England. (36) Thus, by 1906, Girouard had distinguished himself as a hard-working and successful officer, both in the military and civilian positions that he held. He had also become a friend of Winston Churchill, who had entered politics as previously noted. Apparently, the CO (perhaps because of Churchill's advice) noticed Girouard's achievements, and the officials there thought of enlisting him in the colonial administration after a vacancy arose in Northern Nigeria.
III Girouard and Railway Development in Nigeria
In 1900, the British government took over the responsibility of administering Nigeria from Sir George Goldie, the former chairman of Royal Niger Company, which had previously administered the country. (37) Sir Fredrick Lugard, who was involved in "pacifying" some communities in northern Nigeria, was appointed the High Commissioner for the area from 1900. Lugard wanted his region to have autonomy from southern Nigeria and therefore floated a proposal to construct a railway in the protectorate to stimulate cotton production and trade, as well as to ease the movement of troops and administrators.(38) But instead of proposing the railway extension from Lagos, he preferred a line starting from Baro, a port on the Niger River. When Lugard presented the estimates to the CO, the officials there thought they were a bit high and therefore rejected the proposal. (39) Nevertheless, the government faced pressure from Lancashire industrialists who wanted more cotton from the region. Their agents required a railway to take the goods to the coast. (40) Incidentally, the CO was not very happy with Lugard's pacification policy in northern Nigeria, and Lord Elgin, the then Secretary of State, was planning to replace him. He observed:
In Lugard's last few months as High Commissioner and pacifier, there was more blood shed, massacre, destruction, and loss of life than there had ever been in the course of British intervention in Nigeria. (41)
Winston Churchill, who had become Parliamentary Undersecretary of State under Lord Elgin in 1905, considered Sir Percy Girouard to be the most competent officer for constructing the railway, based on his experience in Sudan and South Africa. Churchill admitted later to Lord Crewe that he was "responsible in fact both for the railway and for sending Girouard to build it. He [Girouard] personally guaranteed the cheapness of construction and on his estimates and assurances all calculations and statements to parliament were made." (42) Instead of posting Girouard as director of the railway, the CO appointed him also the High Commissioner for Northern Nigeria to replace Lugard. Thus, when Reginald Antrobus, Permanent Undersecretary of State, wrote Girouard an appointment letter, he was keen to tell him:
In deciding to offer you this employment, Lord Elgin has been influenced by the consideration that your experience in railway construction would assist him in arriving at a conclusion with regard to the project for a light railway from Baro on the Niger which has been put forward by Sir F. Lugard. His Lordship desires, more particularly, to have your opinion as the nature of construction and cost of such line as has been proposed. (43)
Girouard was impressed by the honour bestowed upon him to serve as High Commissioner, and he was ready to prove his effectiveness in managing the railway and in protecting his subjects. He was very innovative in initiating "departmental railway construction policy in Africa." (44)
Through departmental railway construction, the government utilized Public Works engineers to construct the railway instead of using private contractors. In this endeavour, Girouard knew the operations in the CO and how to procure goods. Thus, his railway development proposals not only seemed economically viable to the CO, but also got valuable support from the Crown Agents (CA). Furthermore, his departmental railway construction method was popular both in Britain and in the colonies because it was a collaborative effort between the CA, the CO, and engineers in the field thus easing administrative problems on the projects. As David Sunderland has noted, there was also reluctance by the CO to use private contractors because of the high cost of contractor-built lines, harsh local conditions, and the small scale of some lines, which discouraged reputable firms from tendering for work in Africa. (45) It is worth noting that the use of government engineers made railway projects cheaper and follow-up repairs easier to undertake. The fact that Girouard was able to develop a major policy that received backing by London demonstrates that he was an important player in the building of the empire. However, it would seem the CA benefited greatly from the arrangement, since the officials became the main procurers of government stock, which also ensured their continued employment. (46) As A. W. Abbott has noted, the CA department was self-sustaining and did not get funding from the Exchequer; rather, it depended on the profits or commissions charged to colonies for the services the department rendered. (47) Furthermore, a loan raised under the Colonial Stock Act (CSA) of 1900 gave the CA power to monitor its expenditures, which guaranteed a good source of income for them. In addition, Abbott has observed that the CA had no formal constitution and was not even part of the United Kingdom civil service. The CA thus wielded a lot of power, for they acted as business and financial agents for the governments of all territories under the administration of the Secretary of State for the Colonies. (48) As a result, the CO sought their advice before any project was approved. Richard Kesner has observed that the CA exercised enormous influence over the CO and the Treasury since they acted as both bankers and national debt commissioners for the Crown Colonies. (49) They also performed all the operations connected with the issue of loans, payment of interest on the loans, inscription of stock, management of sinking funds, and payment of loans. The CA watched over colonial insurance funds, officer pension funds, post office and saving bank funds, and note security. After every transaction rendered, they charged fixed fees. For instance, they charged 1 per cent on all stores obtained through them. They received 0.5 per cent commission upon the issues and repayment of loans and 0.25 per cent commission on the payment of interest. As with any income-generating venture, the CA charged overdrafts on prevailing bank rates. (50)
Consequently, the CA was one of the most economically stable institutions in Great Britain. They used their commissions to pay attractive salaries for their staff, rent, staff insurance, and pensions. The balance was put in a reserve account that could be given to a colony with interest, while waiting for a loan to be processed by the slow bureaucratic system. They maintained an impressive office block, which greatly attracted the attention of Leo Amery on his first visit to the CA, after taking over as Parliamentary Undersecretary of State. He wrote in his diary on 14 October 1919:
I went and lunched at the Crown Agents' Office, a building in every way superior to the Colonial Office, as indeed most of the arrangements of the office. I am not sure that real solution of the problem of organizing the CO does not lie in transferring it to the Crown Agents. (51)
As a follow-up measure, the next day, he told his superior, Lord Milner:
Like Christopher Columbus, I had discovered a new world in the Crown Agents' Office 200 yards from this doorstep. He was delighted with my discoveries but suggested, we should say nothing about them till we could really make effective use of them. (52)
Thus Girouard, as a keen administrator, worked in collaboration with the CA to procure materials for his projects, which won continued support. On his part, Girouard did not fail his superiors, for he economized on materials and labour. Consequently, he was able to construct the Nigerian line very cheaply, at the rate of 3,915 [pounds sterling] per mile, in a relatively short period, compared to other West African lines. (53) The inspection engineer, appointed by the CO, praised the construction standard of the railway. Consequently, the departmental railway construction policy became popular in British colonies in Africa for being more cost effective than privately constructed railways.
IV. Girouard and Railway Development in Kenya: The Nairobi-Thika Tramway
When Sir Percy Girouard took over the governorship of the EAP, the country had one railway line- the Uganda Railway, constructed between 1896 and 1901. He was convinced from the outset that white settlers would make the protectorate economically viable if they were assisted with good infrastructure. He observed that the Uganda Railway, in particular, needed urgently to acquire new rolling stock to facilitate the movement of goods to and from the coast. (54) In addition, it was his view that the protectorate faced economic problems because all the revenue generated reverted to the British Treasury to service grants-in-aid and thereby left the country with no surplus. He came up with economic policies that enabled him to balance the budget and also develop branch lines. Thus, during Sir Percy Girouard's tenure as governor, two railway extensions were started--namely the Nairobi-Thika tramway and the Konza-Magadi Railway--while a proposal was mooted to construct the Kisumu-Mumias Railway.
The progenitor of the proposal to construct the Nairobi-Thika railway was actually not Girouard, but Sir F. Tryer. In 1906, Tryer submitted a scheme to the CO to construct an electric railway to connect Nairobi, Thika, and Fort Hall (Muranga'). (55) Winston Churchill was thrilled by the proposal and noted "the Nairobi-Fort Hall line is urgently needed and should be begun through some urgency without delay. Do not let us waste precious time." (56) It was his view that private capital should be carefully directed and narrowly controlled, for it would be hard to find a country where conditions were more favourable to a practical experiment of state socialism. In other words, Churchill supported private investors in developing railways with some degree of state control. Unfortunately, there are no follow-up records to show why Tryer was unable to construct the line.
In December 1907, Captain A. G. Stevenson conducted a reconnaissance survey for a railway from Nairobi through Thika and Fort Hall to Embu. (57) Captain Stevenson's survey was financed by the East Africa and Uganda Corporation, which had economic interests in the area. Stevenson argued in his report that the line was easy to construct because the valleys were open and not too deep. Nevertheless, he noted that Fort Hall did not have sufficient traffic to warrant the construction of the line and therefore suggested that the line be extended across the Tana River from whence the bulk of the produce came, carried by porters. (58) Thus a railway across the Tana to the Tiba River was crucial to tap the rich and cultivated slopes of Mount Kenya. He estimated that the line would cover 99 miles at a cost of 4,482 [pounds sterling] per mile. His observation of the agricultural potential of the area agreed with what Churchill had noticed during his East African tour in 1907. Churchill noted: "Fort Hall station is hardly well selected, being perched upon a hill out of reach of any railway and unhealthy nevertheless." (59) However, Churchill was impressed by what he saw between Fort Hall and Embu. It was his observation that, "on every side the soil was cultivated and covered with crops of a large and industrious population." (60) Thus, it was proper to support an application to construct the railway since it passed through a productive region. Ultimately, by the time Girouard arrived in EAP, there existed unimplemented proposals to construct several branch railways in the country.
Following his arrival in the EAP in 1909, Girouard toured various districts in the protectorate and was impressed by the developments that settlers were undertaking. At the time, the area around Thika had attracted a number of European settlers who had developed sisal and coffee farms, but their efforts were hampered by lack of transport infrastructure. It is worth noting that the value of coffee exported from the region had greatly increased over the years. For instance 4,031, 3,539, 16,012 and 44,728 rupees (the Indian currency used in East Africa at the time) were earned in 1907, 1908, 1909, and 1910 respectively. (61) In 1910, the area produced 150 tons of coffee, and the total yield of sisal was about 50 tons, fetching between 28 [pounds sterling] and 30 [pounds sterling] per ton respectively on the London market. (62) The sisal production increased rapidly so that by 1913 about 7,500 acres were under cultivation. These statistics indicated that a certain degree of progress had taken place, convincing Girouard that, with provision of an efficient transport system, the settlers would be motivated to produce more cash crops to improve the economy of the protectorate.
At the same time, the Uganda Railway was doing relatively well and had helped to enhance trade in the protectorate. In 1909-10, the railway carried 60,213 tons, which comprised 31,395 tons upwards freight (imports) and 28,818 tons downwards (exports), while in 1910-11 it carried 77,478 tons, which comprised 40,776 upwards and 36,702 downwards. (63) In a dispatch Girouard sent to the CO in July 1910, he demonstrated that the railway earnings were improving greatly. The gross receipts on the railway had increased from 131,000 [pounds sterling] per annum in 1903-04 to 246,000 [pounds sterling] in 1909-10. While in 1903 the railway made a loss of 60,000 [pounds sterling], it made a profit of 66,000 [pounds sterling] in 1909. (64) These figures suggest that more exports were required to sustain the railway and therefore that there was a need to construct more branch lines to serve productive areas.
In order to stimulate economic development, Girouard argued further that the railway should be treated as a development line that needed to charge low shipping rates. It was his view that the "railway should be made as flexible an instrument as possible in the development of the protectorate." He asked to control the rates on particular items, which would assist in the development of the country. (65) Consequently, the government requested that railway management lower the transport rates for maize, and in response to reduced rates, the settlers exported about 20,000 bags of maize to London in 1910. The Manager, Uganda Railway, praised the policy and further suggested, "if this policy of quoting low rates for export of country produce is further extended, it will be greatly to the advantage of the country's [sic] and the railway." (66) The initiative of lowering rates became a common policy to assist the settler community in the country. Unfortunately, the settlers spent their profits rather extravagantly. The European farmers spent only 23,000 [pounds sterling] on farm implements while 30,000 [pounds sterling] was spent on importing whisky, gin, brandy, and beer in 1911. This pattern was not unique. The settlers developed a high-class mentality and spent their income on luxury goods; the EAP thus came to be referred to as "happy valley." (67)
Girouard, nevertheless, used the available statistics to convince the CO to sanction funds to develop branch lines. He proposed to the CO the construction of a branch railway 120 miles from Nairobi to Thika, Fort Hall, and on to Mount Kenya, but even with a conservative figure of 3,000 [pounds sterling] per mile, it pushed the budget for construction to 360,000 [pounds sterling]. (68) Because this estimate seemed too high, the CO did not approve the project. Nevertheless, Girouard did not give up; in Northern Nigeria he had had a similar experience, when the Treasury rejected his initial estimates, but accepted new figures once they were adjusted downward. (69) In this instance, he developed a proposal to construct a temporary "tramway" from Nairobi to Thika, where most of the settlers were concentrated, a distance of 30 miles. (70) The total cost came down to 60,000 [pounds sterling] at the rate of 2,000 [pounds sterling] per mile. The Manager of the Uganda Railway also supported the proposal and promised to take over the administration of the line once it was completed. He strongly argued that once the line was completed it would open up one of the best parts of the highlands and would at once be called upon to carry considerable traffic. (71) In other words, the project was economically viable based on the manager's assessment. Girouard's idea worked, and the British government agreed to provide the protectorate with a development loan of 250,000 [pounds sterling], from which the Thika tramway was allocated 60,000 [pounds sterling], while Kilindini Harbour received 100,000 [pounds sterling] for the development of a deep-water pier. The remainder, 90,000 [pounds sterling], went to the Mombasa water supply. (72) This was a major achievement on the part of Girouard, since the Treasury agreed to give a development loan even before the grants-in-aid were abolished. The action demonstrates the trust that the CO had in him at the time.
Girouard did not let down the CO on the prudent utilization of meagre resources. As had been his policy in Northern Nigeria, he engaged engineers from the Public Works Department to construct the line. (73) But it is interesting to note that, although Girouard had convinced the CO that he would construct a weak tramway with a narrow gauge compared to the main line, in reality he sanctioned the construction of a line whose gauge matched that of the Uganda Railway. The line was constructed at the rate of 2,051 [pounds sterling] per mile, making it the cheapest in the history of railway extensions in Kenya. (74) However, William McGregor Ross, then the Director of Public Works Department and engineer in charge, cannot escape blame for his labour-saving mechanisms. Quite often, the line was constructed with free labour provided by prisoners and tax defaulters to cut construction costs. (75)
Moreover, the administration of the Thika tramway became a headache to the protectorate government once it was completed. Since the funding of the Thika tramway came from the British Treasury, the protectorate government was responsible for servicing both the sinking fund and interest on the loan at the rate of 4 per cent. (76) But somehow Girouard struck a favourable deal with the Treasury so that the funds generated by the line would be shared on a "half-hall" basis. (77) Through that arrangement, the protectorate government retained half of the profit for local development while the other half was paid to the Treasury in Britain to service the loan. The protectorate government was responsible for any loss upon its working on the line.
However, local conflicts of interest derailed the smooth operation of the line. The line faced structural and financial problems because the officers from the Uganda Railway refused to extend free services to it and treated the Nairobi-Thika tramway as a foreign and independent line. (78) Ultimately, the governor failed to utilize railway engineers to construct the line, preferring instead to use Public Works engineers. The arrangement was disadvantageous to the Thika line because most of the profits went into paying overhead costs. For instance, S. R. Rodrigues, the local Treasury Book-Keeper, was paid 60 [pounds sterling] per annum for balancing the books of the line, while a similar amount was allocated for clerical assistants. (79) No wonder that, in the 1912-13 financial year, the tramway registered a loss of 75 [pounds sterling]. (80)
In an effort to meet the cost of operation and realize profit, the line charged twice the rates and fares of the Uganda Railway. However, after the performance of the line was evaluated, it was evident that it could have made a profit had the overhead costs been removed. Thus, on 17 September 1913, the Chief Accountant of the Uganda Railway wrote a proposal to merge the Thika tramway with the main line from October 1913. (81)
According to the proposal, the merger would lower both the fares and rates charged by the line after spreading out the administrative costs for the railway network in the protectorate. The proposal received support from the General Manager of the Uganda Railway, who wrote a strong recommendation to the Chief Secretary. (82) A week later, on 26 September 1913, the acting Governor, Charles Bowring, wrote to Secretary of State, Lewis Harcourt, supporting the proposal. Bowring's letter made it clear that the merger would not alter the conditions imposed by the Lord Commissioners of the Treasury and that the accounts of the loan would be kept separate from those of the main line. (83) Since the changes only involved internal adjustment on the part of administration, the CO accepted the merger. Thereafter, the annual estimates were put together with those of the main line, which sorted out the management crisis faced by the line. (84)
Although the line was completed after Girouard resigned, it is worth noting that his initiative opened room for future railway extensions in Kenya. Furthermore, he also introduced the departmental construction policy that was later used to construct other branch lines, except the Konza-Magadi and the Uasin Gishu railways, which were constructed by private companies.
V. The Konza-Magadi Railway
Girouard also negotiated the funding and contracts for the construction of the Konza-Magadi railway. This unique railway was specifically planned to tap soda ash from Lake Magadi. The Magadi Soda Company (MSC) wholly financed the construction of the line in return for favourable concessions from the Uganda Railway, the protectorate government, and the CO. (85) What is crucial in this project was Girouard's significant role in creating an environment to attract foreign investment in the protectorate at that early period. He gave an extremely favourable concession to the company. Specifically, the EAP gave land at Kilindini harbour to the company to construct their pier and allocated land at Ngong to construct the company headquarters, while the Uganda Railway gave preferential rates for carrying soda ash. The protectorate government thought that the project would help in generating funds in the form of land grants and royalties to help balance the budget and thereby, to stop reliance on grants-in-aid from the British Treasury. The company promised to export 80,000 tonSecretary of Stateoda ash per year.
In December 1909, two months after Girouard took over the administration of the protectorate, representatives of Messrs. Samuel and Company and Mr. Fredrick Shelford, a consulting engineer, visited the Lake Magadi area to inspect its economic potential. They were convinced that its exploitation would be a going concern. (86) But the location of the lake had certain disadvantages. First, it was far from the main railhead. Second, the climate was also not very friendly to European workers. Third, the place lacked good drinking water. Thus, the company applied for land in Ngong, although it was in the Maasai Reserve, which according to 1904 Maasai Agreement, could not be alienated. Interestingly, Girouard flouted the agreement by giving a land concession to the company, which started a protracted dispute over the issue of Maasai Reserve. But closer examinations of available records suggest that Girouard allowed alienation of only 100 acres for the company to put up residential houses for the workers. It was his successor, Sir Henry Belfield, who increased the area to 1000 acres. (87)
Although Girouard was forced to resign, the CO ratified his decision. Furthermore, the officers in the CO realized that Girouard was possibly correct in allocating the company 100 acres. Herbert Read at the CO noted that the Maasai Agreement clearly did not allow further reserve land to be leased or granted. However, he observed that the concessions given to Magadi Soda Company, although not stated in the contract, should definitely have included land to put up facilities as requested. (88) Thus he considered the grant to be genuinely justified. Sir George Fiddes advised that a telegram be sent to the governor for clarification. (89) Later, the Secretary of State, through his private secretary, advised that the company be granted a settlement site as requested. He argued that private companies should be encouraged in any improvement they intended to make. (90) Belfield assured the CO that he would arrange for an equivalent area to be added to the Maasai Reserve and the rent paid by the company be used for their benefit. (91) The letter by Belfield was well crafted to avoid raising any eyebrows from the CO, but was meant to placate the CO and make officers believe that the interests of the Africans were at centre stage where the land alienation was concerned. Thus, Belfield ended up doing the same thing that had led to Girouard's resignation. On 28th April 1914, the Secretary of State approved the lease of 1000 acres from Maasai reserve as long as the Maasai chiefs did not raise any objection. (92)
One can therefore conclude that, although Girouard lost his job because of the Maasai land saga, he played a significant role in the initial discussions to start the mining project. The CO blamed him for mishandling the Maasai land question, but the same office went ahead to approve what Girouard had put in place. Incidentally, what Girouard started as an incentive to attract foreign investment capital by offering land concessions continued as a government policy during and after colonial rule in Kenya. Soda ash mining, which he was instrumental in encouraging, has remained Kenya's most economically viable mineral export.
VI. Girouard and the Kisumu-Mumias Railway
The third railway project initiated during Girouard's tenure as governor was the Kisumu-Mumias Railway, which was proposed at roughly the same time that plans for the Nairobi-Thika line were taking shape. The Kisumu-Mumias project originated not with Girouard, but with John Ainsworth, Provincial Commissioner for Nyanza; however, it did not take long for Girouard to become involved. In 1907, Ainsworth began to press for the construction of a railway to connect Kisumu to Mumias and even beyond. In his 1910-11 Annual Report, he argued that the district of North Kavirondo--a term used to refer to areas occupied by the Luyhia community--was densely populated and rich in various products. What was required to boost more production was the construction of a railway, which, he opined, would pay from its commencement. He argued further:
Such undertaking would without any doubt whatever pay from the commencement and ultimately as the line penetrated further north it would open up the richest countries of East Africa.... These countries are not rich in theory; they are absolutely and practically rich in fact. (93)
He followed up his annual report with a discussion with Girouard, who became convinced of the necessity of constructing the line to serve African producers. After all, Nyanza Province had witnessed a steady increase in the production of export goods over the years. For instance, the Provincial Annual Report of 1909-10 noted that the area exported 6,800 tons of products, while the following year, the exports increased to 9,600 tons. (94) In 1911-12, the export sent by rail amounted to 16,793 tons, and by 1913 Nyanza province had become the best railway customer, providing 28,000 tons of freight in exports and imports. (95) Consequently, Girouard wrote to the Secretary of State, Lewis Harcourt, strongly supporting Ainsworth's claim. He observed, "the Provincial Commissioner also estimates, and I have no reason to doubt his figures that the present traffic will within the next five years increase by 500 per cent." There was an urgent need to construct the line to enable farmers to take their produce to the market. The General Manager of the Uganda Railway also supported the proposal to construct the line. (96) Furthermore, in order to show the seriousness he attached to the project, Girouard, while on leave in London, followed up the proposal with the Secretary of State, but it would seem the CO wanted to buy more time. The Secretary of State reckoned, at the time, that it would be difficult to get money from the Treasury to construct the line, since the protectorate had just secured 250,000 [pounds sterling] to construct the Thika tramway and the Kilindini Harbor. (97) Harcourt therefore advised the Acting Governor, Charles Bowring, to wait:
a year or two in the hope that the two protectorates [Uganda and EA P] will be so far developed and the railways now constructed so successful that it will be possible to consider the question of finding further funds for railway construction. (98)
This was well-crafted advice, but it did not deter Charles Bowring from ordering a preliminary survey on the line. Just as Girouard had done with the Thika tramway, the Public Works engineers were contracted to do the job in 1912. By February 1913, the survey report was completed, and Bowring forwarded the survey report to the Secretary of State on 11 February 1913. (99) The Secretary of State accepted the proposal and, interestingly, he was willing to forward it to the Treasury for allocation of funds. But it would seem that Sir George Fiddes, Assistant Undersecretary of State, wanted to kill two birds with one stone, for he forwarded two proposals for railway extensions: the Thika-Kenia (Mount Kenya) and the Kisumu-Mumias railways. (100)
Although most of the implementation of the construction of the Konza-Magadi and the Kisumu-Mumias railways came after Girouard had left the country, his foresight laid the foundation for their construction. In addition, the fact that Girouard supported the proposal to construct a railway to serve only African producers in Nyanza province demonstrates that he was not entirely against African interests. Furthermore, as some have written, the result of his initial proposal to construct the Nairobi to Mount Kenya railway was to incorporate both European settlers and Kikuyu producers in Central Province.
This article has demonstrated that Sir Percy Girouard occupies a central place in the historiography of railway development in Africa. He was able to exploit his railway engineering reputation in Sudan and South Africa to influence the CO to provide funds to construct branch railways in both Nigeria and Kenya. Girouard was also instrumental in procuring funds to develop a deep-water harbour at Kilindini, in Kenya, which later became a major port in Eastern Africa. The projects he initiated directly stimulated economic growth for the benefit of the local population and the British Empire. Moreover, his departmental railway construction policy proved that it was possible to construct railways in Africa at minimal cost. Unlike the private contractors, Girouard utilized the local personnel and resources to construct the railways. Consequently, his policies were later adopted to construct cost-effective railways in Kenya in 1920s.
In addition, Girouard formulated a railway policy to encourage agricultural production by influencing the lowering of railway rates on country produce to entice settler farmers to raise crops for export. Consequently, the EAP was able to balance its budget without provision for grants-in-aid that had bogged down the government since 1895. Girouard's well-focused railway policy targeted areas that were already producing goods for export like the Mount Kenya region and Nyanza province. He used the available agricultural statistics to support his railway projects, a practice that sharply contrasts with later construction of railways to areas that were producing very little for export. For example, Girouard's successor, Henry Belfield, constructed the Uasin Gishu railway to please European settlers who were not producing goods that could sustain the running of a railway. In fact, Belfield changed the Kisumu-Mumias route advocated by both Ainsworth and Girouard for a line from Nakuru to Uasin Gishu, in order to boost forest exploitation by Ewart Scott Grogan in the Ravine area and Boer settlers in the Uasin Gishu plateau. Both decisions caused major controversies. (101)
It has also been established that Girouard occupies an important position in military technology. He was definitely an innovative thinker and used his railway engineering knowledge to suggest the building of armoured trains--and idea that was later adopted without giving him due credit. The blame for non-implementation of his ideas falls squarely on military bureaucracy that lacked foresight, but was proven wrong when Girouard successfully implemented his ideas during the Anglo-Boer war of 1899.
Last, but not least, Girouard had a good working relation with the CO before antagonism developed over the Maasai land alienation. As well, he was a forceful governor, who knew how to move issues forward when the CO seemed disinterested, as when he lowered the cost of construction so the CO could approve the Baro-Kano railway and the Thika tramway. Strong governance and the ability to gain the CO's respect were traits epitomized by Girouard; they were crucial when approval of projects by the Imperial government had to be obtained.
(1) A. Kirk-Greene, "Canada in Africa: Sir Percy Girouard, Neglected Colonial Governor," African Affairs, 8 (1984), p. 207.
(2) Charles Miller, Lunatic Express." The Building of an Impossible 600 Miles of Railway across East Africa (Nairobi, 1971), p. 568.
(3) Robert Maxon, "Judgement on a Colonial Governor: Sir Percy Girouard in Kenya," Transafrican Journal of History, 8 (1989), p. 66.
(4) John Overton, "War and Economic Development: Settlers of Kenya 1914-1918," Journal of African History, 27 (1986), p. 102.
(5) Maxon, "Judgement on a Colonial Governor," pp. 66-67.
(6) Gordon H. Mungeam, British Rule in Kenya 1895-1912 (Oxford, 1966), pp. 263-73.
(8) Kirk-Greene, "Canada in Africa," p. 207.
(11) Michael Smith, "Sir Percy Girouard: French Canadian Proconsul in Africa, 1906-1912" (MA thesis, McGill University, 1989), p. 14.
(12) Percy C. Girouard, "The Use of Railway for Coast and Harbour Defence," Paper presented at Royal United Service Institution, 24 Apr. 1891.
(15) Accompanying remarks by Major-General R. N. Dawson-Scott on Girouard's presentation.
(16) Comments by Lieutenant General Laurie, p. 18.
(17) Comments by Colonel E. R. Wethered, p. 14.
(20) Smith, "Sir Percy Girouard," pp. 16-18.
(21) For more information on this war, read H. L. Wesseling, Divide and Rule (Westport, Connecticut, 1996), pp. 225-58.
(23) Winston Churchill, The River War: An Account of the Reconquest of Sudan (London, 1908), p. 163.
(25) Ibid., p. 170.
(26) A. Kirk-Greene, "Girouard, Percy," in Bibliography Dictionary of the British Colonial Governor, in Hoover Press Bibliographical Series no. 61 (Brighton, England and Stanford, California, 1980), I, p. 134.
(28) E.P.C Girouard, History of the Railways During the War in South Africa, 1899-1902 (London, 1903), pp. 64-65.
(29) Denis Bishop and Keith Davis, Railways and War before 1914 (New York, 1972), p. 1.
(30) Ibid., p. 2.
(31) Kirk-Greene, "Girouard, Percy," p. 134.
(33) Smith, "Sir Percy Girouard," p. 19.
(34) Churchill to the King, 2 Nov. 1906, letter cited in Rundolph S. Churchill, (ed), Winston S. Churchill, 1901-1907 (London, 1969), II, p. 97.
(35) Smith, "Sir Percy Girouard," p. 19.
(36) Kirk-Greene, "Girouard, Percy," p. 134.
(37) D.J.M. Muffet, Empire Builder Extraordinary, Sir George Goldie: His Philosophy of Government and Empire (Isle of Man, 1978), pp. 25-31.
(38) Smith, "Sir Percy Girouard," pp. 22-23.
(39) Ibid., p. 30.
(40) Ibid., pp. 31-34.
(41) Ibid., p. 25.
(42) Churchill to Crewe, 30 May 1909, letter cited in Churchill, Winston S. Churchill, p. 892.
(43) Antrobus to Girouard, 22 Dec. 1906, letter cited in Smith, "Sir Percy Girouard," p. 33.
(44) David Sunderland, "Departmental System of Railway Construction in British West Africa, 1895-1906," Journal of Transport History, 2 (2003), p. 106.
(45) Richard M. Kesner, "Builders of Empire: The Role of Crown Agents in imperial Development 1880-1914," Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, 1 (1977), pp. 315-16.
(47) A.W. Abbott, A Short History of the Crown Agents and Their Office (London, 1959), pp. 12.
(49) Kesner, "Builders of Empire," p. 314.
(51) John Barnes and David Nicolson (eds.), The Leo Amery Dairy. 1896-1929 (London, 1980), I, p. 264.
(52) Ibid., p. 65.
(53) Sunderland, "Departmental System of Railway Construction," p. 106.
(54) Miller, Lunatic Express, p. 568.
(55) Minute by Churchill, 11 May 1906, Colonial Office [hereafter cited as CO] 533/20.
(57) Captain Stevenson's Report on the Proposed Railway from Nairobi to Mount Kenya, 3 Dec. 1907, Kenya National Archives: AWS/19/1.
(59) Winston Churchill, My African Journey (London, 1908), p. 19.
(60) Ibid., p. 22.
(61) East Africa Protectorate, Report of General Manager, Uganda Railway, 1913/14 (Nairobi, 1914), p. 21.
(62) Mervyn Hill, Permanent Way (Nairobi, reprinted 1976), p. 323.
(63) East AFRICA protectorate, Report of the General Manager, Uganda Railway, 1910/11 (Nairobi, 1911), p. 24.
(64) Girouard to Crewe, 8 Jul. 1910, CO 533/75.
(66) Report of General Manager, Uganda Railway, 1910/11, pp. 1-2.
(67) Caroline Elkins, Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain's Gulag in Kenya (New York, 2005), p. 11.
(68) Girouard to Crewe, Confidential Dispatch, 1 Nov. 1910, CO 533/78; Hill, Permanent Way, pp. 307-08.
(69) Smith, "Sir Percy Girouard," pp. 35-36.
(70) Lord Cranworth, The Kenya Chronicles (London, 1939), p. 62.
(71) Report of General Manager, Uganda Railway, 1910/11, p. 3.
(72) Hill, Permanent Way, pp. 308-9.
(73) William McGregor Ross, Kenya From Within, Reprinted (London, 1968), p. 244.
(75) Anthony Clayton and Donald Savage, Government Labour in Kenya 1895-1963 (London, 1974), p. 46.
(76) Bowring to Harcourt, 11 Mar. 1912, CO 533/103.
(77) Miller, Lunatic Express, p. 570.
(78) Eastwood (Uganda Railway Accountant) to Taylor, 17 Sep. 1913, CO 533/122.
(82) Taylor to Chief Secretary, 17 Sep. 1913, CO 533/122.
(83) Bowring to Harcourt, 26 Sep. 1913, CO 533/122.
(84) East Africa Protectorate, Report of General Manager, Uganda Railway 1914/15 (Nairobi, 1915), p. 10. By 1917 the General Manager, Uganda Railway reported that the Thika branch was paying working expenses, and should prove a very great assistance to the Uganda Railway. East Africa Protectorate, Administration Report 1916/17 (Nairobi, 1917), p. 34.
(85) Hill, Permanent Way, p. 310.
(86) Ibid., p. 333.
(87) Magadi Soda Company to Under Secretary of State, 28 May 1913, CO 533/130 and also Belfield to Harcourt, 17 Mar. 1914, CO 533/134.
(88) Minute by Read, 28 May 1913, CO 533/130.
(89) Minute by Fiddes, 2 Jun. 1913, CO 533/130.
(90) Minute by Batterbee, 3 Jun. 1913, CO 533/130. Also minute by Batterbee, 21 Apr. 1914, CO 533/134.
(91) Belfield to Harcourt, 17 Mar. 1914, CO 533/134 and also Belfield to Harcourt, 29 Apr. 1914, CO 533/134.
(92) Harcourt to Belfield, 28 Apr. 1914, CO 533/134.
(93) Robert Maxon, John Ainsworth and Making of Kenya (Lenham, 1980), p. 221.
(94) Robert Maxon, "African Production and Support of European Settlement: The Uasin Gishu Mumias Railway Scheme," The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, 14 (1985), p. 53.
(96) Maxon, John Ainsworth, p. 221.
(97) Hill, Permanent Way, pp. 308-9.
(98) Harcourt to Bowring, 14 Apr. 1912, CO 533/93.
(99) Enclosure, Bowring to Harcourt, 11 Feb. 1912, CO 533/116.
(100) Fiddes to the Secretary of Treasury, 9 Jul. 1913, CO 533/129.
(101) For more information on the Uasin Gishu Railway refer to John Mwaniki Mwaruvie, "Political Economy of Railway Extensions in Kenya: The case of the Uasin Gishu Plateau, 1901-1930" Ph.D. diss. West Virginia University, 2005. Also Robert Maxon, "African Production and Support of European Settlement: The Uasin Gishu-Mumias Railway Scheme," Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, 14 (1980), p. 53.
John Mwaruvie received his BA in History and Government from the University of Nairobi-Kenya in 1985, his M.Phil in History from Moi University-Kenya in 1991, and his Ph.D in History from West Virginia University, 2005. He has taught in high schools in Kenya, and as a lecturer at Moi University from 1991-2001. He is currently Co-ordinator of African Studies, History Department, West Virginia University. He has published a chapter--"Ethnic Imbalance in African States: A Challenge to Ideals of Democracy and Nationalism"--in B.A. Ogot (ed.), Nationalism, Ethnicity and Democracy in Africa, as well as an article, "Political Party Co-operation in Post Election Era as a Method to Defuse Ethnic Tensions in Africa," in Ethno-Net Africa.