Ideas & Debate

LETTERS: How the colonists shared out East Africa

Business Daily columnist Douglas Kiereini (The Weekender, Friday, December 6 "Bits from Doug") is incorrect when he states that Kenya's boundaries "were determined in a Berlin Boardroom in 1885" since (a) Kenya as a nation state did not exist at that time (b) the Berlin Conference determined no boundaries in the East African region, since there was so little actual physical occupation on the ground by any of the European powers at the time outside those mainland territories claimed by the Sultanate of Zanzibar, and, as a result, only "spheres of influence" claimed by various parties were noted and (c) the actual physical boundaries of Kenya were determined and then twice adjusted, much later.

The "spheres of influence" negotiated at the Berlin Conference included what became British East Africa (most of which is today's Uganda and Kenya), German East Africa (today's Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi) and the Congo Free State, which was then the personal property of King Leopold II of the Belgians. The treaties signed in Berlin on February 26, 1885 were known as the "Congo Basin Treaties", although they covered the area from the Congo Basin to the East African Coast, a large part of what became French Equatorial Africa and Portuguese West and East Africa (today's Angola and Mozambique).

After the Berlin Conference the British and German governments negotiated an agreement between themselves which determined the border between their "spheres of influence" in East Africa in November 1886. This border, running South-East from the eastern shore of Lake Victoria to the mouth of the Umba River north of Tanga and looping round the northern slopes of Mt Kilimanjaro, divided the region into British East Africa to the north and German East Africa to the south. This remains the border between Tanzania and Kenya to this day.

However, the Anglo-German Agreement of 1886 did not determine any border West of Lake Victoria and the Germans attempted to outflank the British in what is now Uganda by means of a proposed expedition in 1887 to rescue Emin Pasha, a German citizen in the service of Egypt, who had been cut off on the Upper White Nile in the province of Equatoria since the Mahdist Rebellion in Sudan. This expedition was to be used to establish German military occupation posts from today's Bukoba north through Buganda and Bunyoro to Lake Albert and the White Nile in what is today South Sudan.

This plan was overtaken by events in 1888 when Henry Morton Stanley relieved Emin Pasha on the Nile by way of the Congo Free State from the west instead and delivered him to the Germans in Bagamoyo in 1889.


Sustained German attempts to outflank Sir William Mackinnon's Imperial British East Africa Company in the British sphere of influence by establishing first a German trading company and then a Protectorate at Witu at the mouth of the Tana River and by attempting to bully the Sultan of Zanzibar into handing over to them the port of Lamu were eventually blocked by an Agreement between the company and the Sultan of Zanzibar concerning the "Coastal Strip."

The Germans were also finally frozen out by an agreement between the Company and the Italian Government which transferred ports along the Somali Coast to Italian control with the Sultan's consent. In August 1889 the British Government and the Italian Government formally agreed this determination of their spheres of influence after what would today be called an international arbitrator had allocated Lamu to the British. The Italian Government notified the signatories to the Berlin treaties that it had formally declared a Protectorate over what is now the Somali Coast from North of Kismayu to the Sultanate of Oppia (in today's Puntland) and the border between British East Africa and Italian East Africa was agreed by an Anglo-Italian Protocol signed in Rome in March 1891.

When IBEA first established its base at Mombasa, its aims were to develop trade with the rich agricultural areas in Buganda and around Lake Victoria for strictly commercial purposes, to control the head waters of the Nile for Britain, to suppress the slave trade and to spread the Christian Gospel. When the British Government took over from the IBEA and started to build the railway from Mombasa to Lake Victoria in 1896 it was called the Uganda Railway for a reason: it was the railway to Uganda and the original terminus at Port Florence (today's Kisumu) was in Uganda.

Only later, when white settlers such as Colonel Ewart Grogan came to understand the economic potential of the Uasin Gishu Plateau, the Kericho Highlands and the Mau Forests, (all in the original Uganda), did the British Government cynically move the eastern Uganda border to its current location, in order to provide more highland land in what was then Kenya Colony for white settlement, which Uganda's status as a Protectorate, rather than a Colony, specifically prevented.

Patrick Gilbert-Hopkins, retired teacher in Nairobi.