To Fight or to Go: The Dilemma of White Africans


ERROL WHITTALLis an Englishman who managed a coffee plantation near i\airobi and who then fought through six years of the war with one dream in mindto hare his own forest home and Ayrshire herds in Itw remote hills of Kenya. lie secured it on friendly terms with his A frican neighbors; he told the story of his farm in his graphic book, DIMBILIL: THE STORY OF A KENYA FARM: and note, with other while Africans, he is face to face with grim alternatives.

AFRicA south of the Sahara had no history ot achievement until the arrival of the white man at the turn of this century. This fact is a point of departure for the arguments which insist that the European and Asian minorities have as much right to remain in black Africa as the indigenous Bantu and Hamite inhabitants, who were themselves invaders from the north about four centuries ago. Except for the palaces and forts built by the Arab and Portuguese colonizers along the eastern coast line, there is no vestige of a stone building in Central Africa.

In the latter part of the last century, the disturbances in the missionary field in Uganda caused thc British government to construct a railway from Mombasa on the east coast to Lake Victoria, in order to eliminate the foot caravan and also in the belief, later justified, that the railway would tap the wealth of Central Africa.

The Uganda Railway cost the British taxpayer considerably more than was estimated; and so, with a view to putting its operational costs on an economic footing, European settlers were encouraged to take up land along its route in areas where there were no African tribes. It was hoped thereby to create trade and agricultural production, and the hope was justified, since £25 million worth of produce was exported from East Africa in 1958. The railway traverses the mountainous flanks and the plains of the Great Rift Valley; and the land was made available because it was uninhabited, owing to its vastness, and also owing to the depredations of the warlike Masai tribe, who created a no man’s land between themselves and the small agricultural tribes who were their prey.

Into the empty lands settlers began to come, encouraged with gifts of land. By their efforts, and in the face of incredible difficulties, the country of their adoption began to flourish. There was no extermination of the indigenous peoples, as had happened in previous colonial penetrations; and for many years there was room for all, white and black.

The great enemy was the diseases endemic to Africa. East Coast fever and rinderpest took a heavy toll of farmers’ stock; deficiency of cobalt caused pining of cattle within the Stargrass pastures of the Rift Valley, for it had not been noted that the wild game migrated yearly on this account. Stem rust in wheat ruined farmers and caused the establishment of plant breeding stations, which worked in close liaison with scientific organizations in America’s wheat belt. In spite of setbacks, progress had brought some measure of security by the time that World War I called men to the colors to fight an aggressive German force based in Tanganyika. Production had to be stepped up to feed the men at the front, so that many of the men in uniform were alternately lighting and planting their crops in the season.

After the war, land was alienated to soldier settlers of British and South African stock, and the surveyed area became known as the White Highlands to describe the mountains and plains, ranging from 5000 feet to 9000 feet, which had been diverted for farms and for plantations. The settlers drove their ox wagons north to the Uasin Gishu Plateau, with its vast herds of game; and over the years the pattern of development emerged: coffee at the lower altitudes, maize at six thousand feet, and wheat and cattle in the mountains.

IT WAS at the close of this second period in Kenya’s history that I arrived in the country. The people were still primitive after only twenty-five years of contact with civilization: roads were almost nonexistent, and transport was done at the pace of the ox. After a period on the coffee plantations near Nairobi, the capital, I set out for the fringe of the Nandi tribal lands and discovered Africa in the raw. One morning I found that all my work oxen had been stolen, and so, taking the law into my own hands, I rustled some Nandi cattle and stood guard over them until the evening, when some warriors walked up to claim their cows. After bargaining, they agreed to return my oxen in exchange for their cows, and I was never again molested.

Then, one day l was walking through the acacia thornbush, looking for a buck to shoot for my supper, when I saw an old man sitting under a tree in the distance. When I reached the tree he had gone, and when I mentioned the incident to one of my Nandi workers, he looked at me aghast and said that I had seen the witch doctor Kapuso, who had been killed in the Nandi rebellion in 1906 and who haunted that very place where I saw him sitting. Those who saw him suffered a violent death in their homes. Two months later, a European shot himself iii my during my absence. What was the use of trying to convince the Africans that it was a coincidence?

After the Wall Street crash of the thirties, the country staggered under the slump, and then, in 1932, came the locust invasion from Arabia and from the Western Sahara. Wave after wave swept down Africa in a holocaust of destruction which brought both Africans and settlers to the verge of starvation. Brazil was throwing coffee into the sea, and the price fell to £45 per ton. War came once more, this time in Abyssinia, where we drove the Italians out of a land which they had invaded in defiance of the League of Nations, and no sooner had those six war years passed than the Kenya government once more extended a helping hand to ex-servicemen. On a September morning of 1946 l saddled my horse and rode out of the gates of the ranch I was managing, over the rolling uplands of the mountains west of the Rift, and down through the winding forest glades which had been allocated to me and my family.

A piece of Africa: remote hills and valleys clothed in forest, and red oat grass winding up and down through the trees like inland fiords biting deeply into the fringe of forest. The vast uncharted bamboo of the Trans Mara, an endless ocean of green, uninhabited except by the migrating elephant, the rare bongo, the lion, and many antelope living on the succulent shoots; a land known only to the Dorobo hunters, who dig their pits for elephant, trap buck with springes, and seek honey from their hives in a manner identical to that shown in the wall paintings found in the middle of the Sahara. A piece of my beloved Africa, after six years of absence.

I have lived in my forest home for fourteen years, and I believe that no man could have lived a more rewarding and satisfying life. Out of an untamed wilderness of forest my wife and I have built a productive home and farmstead. Our Ayrshire cattle graze on paddocked grasslands or wander dowm to the forest glades, where they can be seen mingling peacefully with a herd of elephant. We have Romney Marsh sheep, a deciduous orchard, and we grow pyrethrum for processing into an insecticide. We worked and planned for our children to follow us, and we could seldom look up from the land or from tending our beasts.

The Africans whom we found ready to work for us on that extreme frontier farm were happy-golucky smiling Hamite nomads and Dorobo hunters who knew not nor cared for civilization. They worked for a while and then disappeared like migrating animals; but slowly, one by one, they settled and cultivated some land. We fed them, doctored them, and paid them, and they herded our stock. Since they spent most of their time asleep under a tree, we were forced to find other tribes to do the hard work of development. It was not a Rousseau’s golden age, but we formed a normal community with the usual sheep thieves, unfaithful wives, unruly children, and old men, charming, even if they were rogues.

Civilization, however, insists on exploitation, and though I wished the clock to stand still, ideas were penetrating even our foi’ests. Having molded my way of life on the assumption that I had created something fundamental to living, I asked only to be left out of the race of modernism, with the sole concession that I would produce butter, meat, and wool as my right to the land. Given a loving woman and the tools wherewith to work, I could let the world pass me by.

THE modern town-dwelling African has doffed tribalism with some scorn, and in some cases with considerable ability. He has cast off the tribal sanctions and replaced them with a veneer of civilization which has about it the quality of a parrotlike imitation without the culture and integrity that is the hallmark of Western man. This curious inability to master the finer points of reasoning is demonstrated by the educated African police inspector who was lecturing leading citizens on road safety measures. One of his audience asked why it was that we had to drive on the leit-hand side of the road. “It is just one of those impositions by the white man,’said the inspector, “but when we get self-government you will be able to drive on both sides of the road.”

I he locomotive driver knows how to drive his engine, but he would be utterly unable to draw the plans and construct his charge, and this inability also applies to the machinery of state. We hear the vociferous demands of the African to be allowed to take responsibility, to be made the head of a department: but he cannot understand that he is not yet fitted for the post, so he points to the West Coast states, again forgetting or not knowing that they have had a hundred years start on his mere few years of contact with the Western world. Lacking understanding, he turns the whole matter into racial discrimination and calls for freedom from oppression. The word “freedom” is being bandied about, and the ordinary man understands it to mean freedom from the restrictions of law and order, freedom from taxation, a motorcar for everybody, and a regular wage for doing nothing.

This is not an indictment of the African; rather, it is a warning against too much haste in giving him dangerous weapons to handle before he is capable. Even in Ghana, the veneer of civilization tends to crack when magic and witchcraft rear their ugly heads and confuse cause with effect. A member of the judiciary in that country is careful always to burn his nail parings and hair clippings, as these are throughout Africa the most vulnerable agency for casting spells by sympathetic magic.

I am not suggesting that time cannot alter their growing independence, but Africans are impatient to be leaders in everything before they have learned discipline and before they have served an apprenticeship. This dissatisfaction, plus their inability to match the white man’s progress, was one of the causes of the Mau Mau rebellion among the Kikuyu peoples, whose poverty created frustration when they were faced with the vast gulf which separated them from us. Disregarding the fact that the colonizing power brought not only wealth but also the technical ability so necessary to the development of a new country, the Kikuyu agitators, determined to make a bid for power, preached the policy that a bad government in their own hands, without funds other than the filched wealth of the European, was preferable to a good government in the hands of the white men. In fact, they advocated a return to primitive tribalism, with which I have a great deal of sympathy; but during the Mau Mau rising the Kikuyu rebels introduced unprintable oaths, based on witchcraft and the dregs ol human debauchery, which disgusted even their own kin but which held such power over the mind and engendered such fear of consequences that no antidote was acceptable.

The Kenya government had been trying to instill into the Kikuyu people the urgent need for rehabilitation of the land and the control of stock diseases for many years before the rebellion. Here again, agitators stepped in and spread rumors with the object of bringing the work to nought, in an adult population with an 80 per cent rate of illiteracy, there was no difficulty in persuading the people that the government was forcing them to lake these conservation measures in order to prepare the Kikuyu land unit for white farmers to take over. The policy envisaged by the authorities was to consolidate holdings with individual ownership. to bench-terrace the steep slopes so as to arrest erosion, to plant exotic trees so as to prevent runoff, and to clothe catchment areas to maintain the flow of rivers.

Resistance became so powerful that the work was almost abandoned, and the topsoil over vast areas was eroding into the rivers and choking the mouth ol the Tana River. A phrase in the African Land Development publication summed up the situation in the following words: “The rules had failed, and the area was devastated.”

It is easy to understand that modern civilization cannot flourish beside an Iron Age husbandry on subsistence and shifting cultivation, because to sustain the economy ol a modern state the land must produce a hundredfold, so as to support industry, which in its turn employs those who are surplus to husbandry. It was clear that, though the White Highlands were producing the wealth of the country, it was nevertheless an anachronism in black Africa and as such would inevitably tempt the black tide to overrun these broad acres — though in point of fact these white areas covered an area only one fifth the size of the African reserves. Farms tended to average a thousand acres, and the Africans drew comparisons in acreage with their own holdings but conveniently overlooked the capital sunk in those farms and the production per unit.

Thus, by the end of the Mau Mau rebellion, while the emergency regulations still imposed some compulsion, the work of rehabilitation was resumed and huge sums of money were made available. Landowners, after establishing their rights, had their holdings demarcated and registered, and agricultural farm planners advised, if not insisted on, cropping, stocking, and rotational grazing. Coffee and tea nurseries were established, and within four years there were 25,000 coffeegrowers.

By 1954 it was realized that colonial rule, as interpreted in the past, was a dead letter. All over Africa, the ferment of nationalism was stirring within the black inhabitants. The apartheid policy of South Africa was described as sitting on the safety valve; Ghana was on the eve of becoming independent; Algiers, Egypt, the Sudan, Uganda, and other countries were crying for liberation; the words “freedom,” “self-determination,” “democracy,” and “liberation” were bandied about the continent with a continual stream of vituperation against the colonial powers.

From the last Accra Conference African leaders returned with the cry for democratic government, “one man, one vote,” and demands for immediate self-government. Pressure of these demands wrung concessions from Belgium, France, and the Federation. Kenya had met the situation to some extent by the Lyttelton plan of a reconstituted legislature, and this was again changed by Mr. Lennox-Boyd, the then colonial secretary in London. The Africans were granted many more seats, but their nationalist leaders refused to cooperate and they boycotted the council in an attempt to win the support of the Labor Party for their sweeping demands for an African majority.

One might well ask why the British government refused to hand over the reins of government to a handful of educated Africans. One obvious reason is that there are very few Africans with the ability to take responsible posts in the civil service, though a fair argument maintains that until they have tried their hand it is impossible for them to prove their worth. More important is the fact that, without the 50,000 Europeans and the 200,000 Asians controlling the economic life of the country, there would be an economic collapse of all that has been built up since 1904. This wealth has been created by the European farmers with Asians as the traders — though, admittedly, with the help of African labor. In the Californian timber industry each worker employed is capitalized to the extent of £10,000. By contrast the African worker is capitalized to the extent of between £100 and £200, and Africans constitute the most expensive labor in the world.

For myself, a farmer, the reason is clear. It is futile to rail against Africans for their lack of desire to work, because, excluding a number of progressives, they have no taste for an occupation which has been relegated to their women for untold centuries. The young men at one time regarded themselves as the guardians of the tribe, and though the need has passed, I can only admire a man who thinks that to wield a hoe is unworthy of a warrior spearman. We have forced our economic pattern onto their tribal life, and the result has been disintegration and a loss of authority, which used to be administered by the elders and which has had nothing put in its place. We have introduced the hypodermic syringe to man and beast with devastating results on population pressure on the land. We cannot force the land into the pattern we wish to impose upon it, but we must fit the use to the land.

These are the real problems of Africa, and of Kenya in particular, but, as in many other parts of the world, political slogans have clogged the mind to the exclusion of the real need for economic independence.

PARTY politics in England has increased tension between races in Kenya and elsewhere. The Socialists have convinced the local African leaders that “one man, one vote” democracy is the panacea for British Africa, but they conveniently ignore the lessons of recent history, in which Ghana shows up as a potential dictatorship, with the removal of the democratic opposition in all but name. In the Sudan, democracy has failed, as was inevitable, and has been replaced by a military dictatorship. The causes are not far to seek, since the peoples of Africa are not just Negro. They have a strong Hamitic infusion (Bantu is a cross between Negroid and Hamitic). The Hamites, who came from the Arabian peninsula and from Persia, are basically nomads and cattlemen. They despise the agricultural Bantu, and here lies the fundamental problem of Uganda.

Except as an electioneering cry, the colonial policy of the Socialists and that of the Tories are almost identical, and while the Tories are honestly trying to establish a democracy, the Socialists are undermining this policy for their own ends, and in the process they are dashing the hopes of white and brown in Kenya to survive as minorities. Business interests and capital investments will probably have the last say in the babel of voices and countersolutions which have caused six political parties to appear. Recently Mr. Blundell, leader of the European Liberal Party, stated: “We consider that land should be regarded mainly as an economic asset, in which the main criterion should be good land management. The whole issue is a difficult and emotional one because both Africans and Europeans tend to regard land as a basic security for their way of life. We must never forget that 40 per cent of the national gross income comes from agriculture and that three quarters is generated in the European areas.” It is. in fact, estimated that 2 per cent of the population produces 75 per cent of the wealth.

Another speaker on these vital matters of economics states: “A government based on undiluted democracy in its fullest sense must mean today, and for many years to come, the complete elimination from political influence of those elements of society which generate the wealth upon which advance depends.”

The African nationalists in Kenya, led by Tom Mboya, call for undiluted democracy in the full knowledge that they will wrest power only to impose an autocracy. The African has not yet reached the stage where personal integrity plays a part in his make-up. One African in power is another African’s worst enemy, because he is imbued with the notion that power begets privilege and its abuse. In West Africa, little can be achieved without “dash” or bribery, and it is looked upon as the right of the strong to extort from the weak. This is a remnant of tribal practice.

During sixty years of contact with Western civilization, education of Africans has increased enormously, but as yet the £30 million required to give every African child eight years of education is beyond the budgetary means of Kenya. The nationalists, besides demanding integrated schools, are demanding universal education, and should a black majority come to power, they would carry out their plan and ruin the country. That a black majority sometime in the future will come is certain, but quite naturally the Europeans are seeking a formula which will protect their survival as a minority before handing over the reins of government. There is a movement afoot for partition of the White Highlands from the black areas, with a delegation of power to local government controlled by a central council. But this proposal is diametrically opposed to the views held in Whitehall, which give encouragement to the nationalists, who are demanding unconditional surrender of the European land rights and an infiltration of the White Highlands. The Asians, as owners of township property and businesses, tend to sit on the fence, not knowing which way to jump.

Democracy cannot be made to work in a country with four races (including the coast Arabs) contending for positions of power and at different stages of culture. It is now no longer a matter of the color bar; it is intrinsically a cultural bar which prevents integration and which maintains tension among the four races.

An eminent American recently said, “The trouble with my people is that they think of Africans in terms of the modern Negro instead of the American Negro of one hundred years ago.” Apartheid is a potent force in South Africa, where the white race, living in fear of black domination, resorts to savage extremes for self-preservation. Similar repressive measures have taken place in Madagascar, Portuguese East Africa, and India. The civil disturbances in Uganda of recent date, though not fully reported in the world press, fall into the same category.

England is determined to avoid violence, and yet in Kenya, when the African majority takes over the legislature, there is the probability of economic collapse. The country is dependent upon an agricultural marketable surplus of £20 million from the European plantations and farms. With the possible collapse of European agriculture, this export figure would shrink to £2 million, and if the White Highlands area of 16,700 square miles were to revert to landless Africans, this developed area, without capital, would sink back to subsistence farming. In addition, the £10 million paid by Europeans in wages would cease to flow, and this wage bill is twice the total value of surplus crops produced from the 52,095 square miles of African reserves.

Nyerere of Tanganyika is enlightened in comparison with Kenya’s African leaders. He has sent deputations to farmers asking them to remain on their farms after independence is achieved so that the economy of the country may be maintained. In Tanganyika, however, there is no land hunger such as exists in Kenya, where the raised standard of living owing to European and Asian enterprise has increased the population beyond the capacity of the land. Only by the establishment of industry could the scramble for the White Highlands be averted, but Kenya is singularly lacking in mineral wealth.

Kenya’s future hangs in the balance. Mr. Macleod, on the advice of Dr. Marshall, the American Negro lawyer, and of other constitutional experts, has proposed a bill of rights for minorities based on that proposed for Nigeria, but this has been received with derision by the Kenya settlers, who point out that an African majority would tear it up. The alternatives are to fight or to go, and as England refuses to send troops to defend the rights of its countrymen, those ex-servicemen who sank their all in the land in the belief that England would hold to its promises consider themselves betrayed on the altar of expediency.