Oldest edifice of colonial era left to rot in Kikuyu


Built to a Greco-Roman design walls are made of compacted clay brick, under a heavy gauge corrugated iron sheets roof. FILE photo | nmg

The unification of Germany after the Franco-Prussian war (1870-71) upset the balance of power in Europe.

The Germans were of the opinion that acquisition of colonies in Africa would help to restore equilibrium of power in the European arena. Having recently discovered that the source of the Nile lay in East Africa, the region assumed strategic importance in control of the Suez Canal.

East Africa had been a valuable source of fresh supplies from the days of Portuguese conquest in the 15th century. It was also believed that the region contained pockets of precious minerals waiting to be exploited.

The plan to occupy East Africa was seen as a means of achieving the “altruistic” goal of wiping out the slave trade and replacing it with legitimate business.

The Berlin Treaty of 1885 failed to fully resolve the rivalry between the Germans and British in East Africa. The partition of the region was achieved through two treaties namely, the Anglo-German Agreement of 1886 and the Heligoland Treaty of 1890.

The former facilitated the peaceful settlement of German and British claims in the region giving the Sultan of Zanzibar the 16 km (10 mile) coastal strip from Vanga to Lamu.

The Sultan also acquired the islands of Zanzibar, Pemba, Mafia, Witu, Lamu, Pate and the towns of Kismayu, Mogadishu, Merca and Brava.

The Germans acquired the coastline of Witu, the region between River Umba in the north and River Ruvuma in the south. The British got the territory north of River Umba up to River Juba. However, the treaty failed to determine the western boundary leaving Uganda an intense theatre of rivalry between Karl Peters and Fredrick Lugard.

This tension led to the signing of the second treaty in 1890. In the latter, Germany recognised Uganda, Kenya, Zanzibar and Pemba as British protectorates while abandoning her claim over Witu in exchange for the island of Heligoland in the North Sea.

Germany also acquired a strip of land on Lake Tanganyika from Britain and the coastal region of Tanganyika from the Sultan of Zanzibar thus ending the scramble for and partition of East Africa.

Due to fear of the enormous cost of effective occupation and administration, the British Government granted a royal charter to the Imperial British East Africa Company (IBEAC) of Sir William Mackinnon, to administer the protectorate of Kenya.

Sir Mackinnon had been trading in India and the east coast of Africa for more than 30 years and had invested heavily in the region therefore was ideally suited to the task.

The company established a series of forts at Kibwezi, Machakos and Dagoretti, which were to form the basis for colonial administration in Kenya.

In 1890, the famous Kikuyu leader Waiyaki wa Hinga entered into a treaty with Fredrick Lugard of IBEAC for a garrison to be built at Kiawariua, present day Dagoretti.

After a month Lugard left for duty in Uganda, leaving the stockade in the charge of his assistant, the Australian George Wilson. As soon as Lugard left, Wilson and his men started to pillage the neighbouring villages for food, goats, firewood, water and even women.

Waiyaki was incensed by this behaviour and ordered his men to attack the stockade. In the early days of 1891, they set upon the garrison and razed it to the ground.

Fortunately, for Wilson, he had been forewarned of the impending attack and fled with his men to Machakos under cover of darkness.

In April of 1892, yet another expedition, under the command of Major Eric Smith was dispatched to Kabete where they built a garrison at Ndumbuini, which they named Fort Smith.

While W.P. Purkiss was in charge at the Fort in August 1892, Waiyaki visited the garrison and a quarrel ensued during which he was over powered by troops on guard duty.

Waiyaki was badly beaten and it is said he spent the night tied to a pole. The next morning, he was dragged to a small courthouse where he was found guilty and sentenced to deportation. Waiyaki died 21 days later on 6 September 1892 at Kibwezi where he was buried.

The Waiyaki story is wonderfully narrated in Njoroge Regeru’s book Muthamaki Waiyaki wa Hinga: The Untold Story 2016.

During my visit, I arrived to a hostile reception from one of the workers who unleashed a pack of canines of dubious pedigree, forcing me to hobble back into my car.

He let me know, in no uncertain terms, that I was not welcome without permission from the owner who happened to be away at the time. I beat a hasty retreat to safety but having a trained eye I was able to take a mental note of much of the detail and a picture.

Built to a Greco-Roman design walls are made of compacted clay brick, under a heavy gauge corrugated iron sheets roof, timber panel doors, glazed wooden casement windows, cement screed floor on a stone plinth with a verandah supported on stone columns to the frontage.

The main building is currently used as a private residence but is in a derelict state.

The building and ancillary structures were gazetted as national monuments on 5 June 2005, but nothing has been done to maintain their decorative or structural integrity. It is unfortunate that this structure, the oldest edifice of colonial power and injustice is wasting away with such precious memories of our history.