12/8/10 - britain takes kenya

In today's excerpt - it was only relatively recently, during the late 1800s and early 1900s, that Britain and other European powers raced to conquer almost every part of Africa. The men who conquered Africa were hard, motivated by the hope of wealth, and unconcerned with decorum or morality. These powers, now greatly diminished, did not fully exit from the African debacle until the 1970s:

"In 1905 ... the Nandi tribal orkoiyot (chief) Koitalel encountered another imperial entrepreneur in the highlands of Kenya. This ... was a commissioned British military officer named Richard Meinertzhagen. In 1905, he was on secondment to the King's African Rifles, Britain's ragtag but grandly named East African colonial army. ... Koitalel was fully aware that this twentieth-century imperial soldier was a serious threat. Indeed, for the previous decade the Nandi had fought a war of attrition against the encroaching British Empire.

"At first glance, it might seem odd that a supposedly 'tribal' people such as the Nandi held a 'modern' western power at bay for over ten years. Firmly entrenched in the cool, well-watered East African highlands, the Nandi had a conventional mixed agricultural and pastoral economy. Politically, they had no centralized institutions of authority and could be properly described as stateless. ... The Nandi may have been stateless, but they were a significant military power in the highlands. ... The Nandi were much better prepared than their neighbors to face the British imperial menace.

"Richard Meinertzhagen personified that threat. When he met Koitalel under the equivalent of a flag of truce he did so as the military representative of the East Africa Protectorate (EAP), which became the Colony and Protectorate of Kenya in 1920. ... Under ... Koitalel, the Nandi raided passing caravans and stole copper telegraph wire and raw materials from construction parties building a railway from the port of Mombasa to Uganda. The EAP mounted successive 'pacification campaigns' against them, but the Nandi wisely avoided a direct confrontation with its Maxim [machine] guns and other western firearms.

"Fed up with Nandi intransigence, the British demanded that Koitalel and his followers pay a fine of three hundred cattle or face the consequences. They knew full well that the Nandi would refuse, and Meinertzhagen was part of a massive punitive expedition consisting of eighty British Officers, fifteen hundred African soldiers and policemen, thirty-five hundred armed and unarmed porters, one hundred Somali 'levies,' one thousand Maasai 'auxiliaries,' ten machine guns, and two armored trains. This represented the protectorate's ultimate solution to the Nandi problem. The force's mission was to provoke the Nandi into standing and fighting by seizing their cattle. ...

"Likening the Nandi people to 'a troublesome schoolboy' that had to be whipped, Meinertzhagen had no reservations about using brutal and morally questionable tactics to achieve his goals. He admitted frankly in his memoirs: 'I have no belief in the sanctity of human life or in the dignity of the human race. Human life has never been sacred; nor has man, except for a few occasional cases, been dignified.'

"Meinertzhagen put this ruthless pragmatism into practice when he met Koitalet on October 19, 1905, to discuss a truce. The Nandi orkoiyot ... made the fatal error of assuming that Meinertzhagen would behave honorably. Claiming that Koitalel was plotting an ambush, the British officer brazenly shot the orkoiyot to death when the two leaders met to shake hands. Meinertzhagen's men then opened fire and killed twenty-three more members of Koitalel's entourage. Accounts differ, but it appears that Koitalel was holding nothing more than a bundle of grass, which was the Nandi symbol for peace. In retelling the ambush story in his memoirs, Meinertzhagen professed to like the Nandi and claimed that he saved them from further destruction by removing a tyrant.' "


Timothy H. Parsons


The Rule of Empires: Those Who Built Them, Those Who Endured Them, and Why They Always Fall


Oxford University Press


Copyright 2010 by Timothy H. Parsons


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