Walker, Patrick. Towards Independence in Africa: A District Officer in Uganda at the End of Empire.
Patrick Walker caught the African 'bug' in early boyhood in Kenya and after Oxford and the 'Devonshire' course for the Overseas Civil Service, he served in Uganda from 1956 to 1962.
During his return visits, accompanied by his wife, in 1996 and 2000, he saw the country recovering, from the Amin amd Obote years, under President Museveni. They were able to see the two districts in which they had served and their old houses. This provided the inspiration for his memoir.
Divided into twelve chapters, only the last seven shed light on his service in Teso and Ankole districts, interrupted by "Long Leave" which was deemed necessary for the overall well-being of European expatriates serving in the tropics.
Walker's memoir comes to life through various rare photographs which illustrate different aspects of his work as a District Officer. Social life of the colonial ruling elite and the somewhat leisurely style of governing via safaris (tours) are revealed in great detail. Especially interesting is his description of exclusive European clubs which played "an important role in providing support, congenial entertainment and sport for a transitory expatriate community, especially in upcountry stations." (p. xiii, p. 149)
Such clubs also kept official wives busy organizing parties and sundowners. Dancing and heavy drinking were the norm. When not partying, the Europeans played sports: tennis, cricket and hockey. When faced with shortage of European players, the colonially--encouraged racial segregation--which generally kept Europeans, Asians and Africans apart--was relaxed in order to play with or against Asian (Goans and Indo-Pakistanis) and African players and or teams.
And their favorite topics of conversation at European clubs and at their homes? African staff and domestic servants! European civil servants couldn't govern without African Clerk/interpreters who often deliberately misinterpreted their directives to local chiefs. Their wives similarly complained to each other about their 'house boys' (a reference to adult male servants) and 'ayahs '(nannies) who were thought to be deliberately or innately prone to petty thievery; tardiness; absenteeism or abandonment of their duties. (pp. 84-89, pp. 188-89) The explanation for such alleged offenses could be the custom of requiring the servants to work every day from dawn to dusk for barely a living wage. Walker proudly states that he gave his servants half a day off on Christmas day!
Official wives in Soroti, accustomed to hosting parties where alcohol flowed freely, were both excited as well as confused when suddenly faced with arranging a coffee party for a special guest, in October 1957. The Aga Khan, the newly installed spiritual leader of the Ismaili Muslims, was to visit his followers for a day. Walker was relieved that "the visit passed off smoothly." (p. 121)
Despite their demanding social life centered on European clubs, Walker and his fellow expatriates did manage to fulfill their multifarious administrative duties. (p. 101)
Uganda, which like most African countries, had to contend with arbitrary boundaries drawn by European colonial powers. Warring tribes and local African societies with different languages and systems of government were brought under one roof--a British Protectorate. European missionaries with their competing brands of Protestant and Catholic Christianity further complicated pre-colonial differences among the African who embraced these alien religions with fanaticism. This affected politics before and after Uganda's independence. In general, Catholics voted for the Democratic Party; Protestants voted for Uganda People's Congress. (p. 186)
Walker concludes that the British had not sufficiently prepared Ugandan civil servants and politicians to run their country, especially along multiparty lines. (pp. 184, 202-204). Surprisingly, the British colonial culture of partying was to be passed on to the Ugandan successors who were not yet ready to govern themselves. "One manifestation of the move towards independence was the need to introduce the wives of prominent Ugandans to some of the responsibilities they would have to taken on. One was giving parties.... How to given a sundowner .... eating in public .... how to lay a table". (p. 183).
Walker's book is replete with such observations and is useful, for those who want a British civil servant's perspective on Uganda from the 1950s to 2000.
Nizar A. Motani
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|Author:||Motani, Nizar A.|
|Publication:||Journal of Third World Studies|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2011|
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