Monday, May 6, 2019

Learning about Rwanda

 A version of this appears on the May 2019 edition of

 Books about Rwanda (from my bookshelf)

Prior to the genocide, not much was written about Rwanda. Rene Lemarchand’s Rwanda and Burundi was an academic tome that covered the history and culture of the region. Dian Fossey wrote Gorillas in the Mist about the gentle creatures she encountered.  Diplomatically, a Doonesbury strip poked fun at Rwanda when a group of political contributors bought embassies at auction. “No bid, Rwanda goes to a career diplomat.” “Those people are so good in sticky places.”   However, the genocide sparked off many books - histories, analyses, memoirs, explanations, polemics and fiction.  Given that several were only published during the past year, the parade seems to never end.  Why not? If someone has something to say or a new perspective to offer, then publish, let readers learn and decide.

Books are ordered more or less as a chronology of central developments.

Gerard Prunier’s The Rwanda Crisis - History of a Genocide is an excellent overview of the situation and events leading up to the violence.  Ambassador David Rawson’s Prelude to Genocide goes into detail about the Arusha negotiations designed to bring peace between contending parties.  The final accords were fatally flawed and led directly to the genocide.  Kigali DCM Joyce Leader’s forthcoming From Hope to Horror: The making of the Rwandan Genocide  ably recounts what was going on in Kigali - political maneuvering, assassinations, intimidations -  in the months before and during the first few days of genocide.  We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families by Philip Gourevitch provides gripping intimate details of how the genocide affected a set of representative individuals.  Another gripping compendium of personal stories is the Human Rights Watch publication Leave None to Tell the Story.  General Romeo Dallaire, commander of the UN peacekeeping operation UNAMIR laid bare his soul and regrets in Shaking Hands with the Devil.
Colonel Tom Odum, who arrived just after the genocide as the U.S. Defence Attache wrote about the internal and regional turbulence in Journey into Darkness. Shaharyar Khan who became the Secretary General’s Representative in 1995 expanded on peacekeeping problems and troubled relations with the new Tutsi led government in The Shallow Graves of Rwanda. Robert E. Gribbin’s memoir (mine) In the Aftermath of Genocide - The U.S. Role in Rwanda continues the chronology of events including return of refugees and wars in neighboring Congo. It also details how Rwanda began the process of returning to normalcy.  On a lighter note Rosamond Carr’s memoir Land of a Thousand Hills recalls her long happy life in Rwanda, but culminates in her decision at age 85 to open an orphanage for victims of genocide. 

Gerard Prunier returns again to the list with his book Africa’s World War - Congo, the Rwandan Genocide, and the Makings of a Continental Catastrophe.  Prunier grinds an anti-Rwanda (and anti-U.S.) axe in this exposition of how the genocide spilled over into the Congo. Colin M. Waugh weighed in with Paul Kagame and Rwanda, an authorized biography of Rwanda’s leader.  Stephen Kinzer’s  biography  A Thousand hills - Rwanda’s Rebirth and the Man Who Dreamed It is better giving more details about Kagame’s early life.

American diplomats who dealt with Rwanda devoted chapters or comments regarding their involvement in after-office retrospectives.   Assistant Secretary for Africa Herman J. Cohen described his involvement in the Rwandan crisis in Intervening in Africa - Superpower Peacemaking in a Troubled Continent.  He began with the RPA invasion in 1990 and continued with the Arusha negotiations.  He lamented that the American effort was not more productive. In Madam Secretary Madeleine Albright recounted how the April 6 downing of Habyarimana’s plane was viewed in New York and how the Security Council was stymied from action over the next two months, in part due to U.S. reluctance. In Freedom on Fire- Human Rights Wars and America’s Response Assistant Secretary for Human Rights John Shattuck provided insight into the policy deliberations in Washington, how the dimensions of the catastrophe, and guilt from non-action, began to shift the dynamic.  Included in a more appropriate response was creation of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), which Shattuck began and which was continued by David Scheffer, Ambassador at large for War Crimes.  Scheffer presided over the implementation of the ICTR . In All the Missing Souls - A Personal History of the War Crimes Tribunals he related all the difficulties inherent in getting such an undertaking operational.  Finally, President Bill Clinton mentions Rwanda in his memoir My Life.  Recalling his visit to Kigali in March 1998, “I acknowledged that the United States and the international community had not acted quickly enough to stop the genocide or to prevent the refugee camps from becoming havens for the killers, and I offered to help the nation rebuild and to support the war crimes tribunal that would hold accountable the perpetrators of genocide.”

In the years after the genocide there was an effort to look back, to determine the causes, to spot warning signs and to speculate if anything could have been done differently. The most definitive of these works is Rwanda - The Preventable Genocide, the Report of International Panel of Eminent Personalities to Investigate the 1994 Genocide in Rwanda and the Surrounding Events. Sponsored by the Organization of African Unity the report is a quite readable summation of what transpired.  Academics too weighed in. Howard Adelman and Astri Suhrke edited a number of essays in The Path of Genocide - The Rwanda Crisis from Uganda to Zaire.  Essays cover a range of topics from, for example, the role of France, UN Peacekeeping Operations, U.S. television coverage, etc.  John Pottier also took an academic approach to the sweep of events in Re-Imagining Rwanda focused primarily on communications - how narratives drove the genocide, framed initial understandings of it (and drove policy) and how narratives were revised afterwards.  Bruce Jones’ Peacemaking in Rwanda - The Dynamics of Failure analyzed why the various efforts - negotiation, external influence, mediation, peacekeeping - failed to jell.

Rwandans too finally began to publish. Marie Beatrice Umutesi wrote of her ordeal and tribulations as a Hutu refugee on the run in Zaire in Surviving the Slaughter.  Another more recent book on the travails of refugees is The Girl who Smiled Beads by Clematine Wamariya. It is the harrowing story of a girl who fled the genocide at age six, her wanders around Africa and finally settlement in the U.S.  Back in Rwanda two defectors from the ruling Tutsi elite recite their fallings out with the power structure. First former Speaker of Parliament Joseph Sebarenzi in God Sleeps in Rwanda tells how he was hounded from office on account of policy disagreements with the president.  Even more disturbing is former Rwanda Patriotic Front chief Theogene Rudasingwa’s Healing a Nation - A Testimony a book which details the inner workings of the current government. Ambassador Rudasingwa does not hesitate to levy charges of abuses against his former colleagues.  Judi Rever picks up on that theme in her polemic The Price of Blood - Crimes of the Rwandan Patriotic Front.  She marshaled an impressive array of “evidence” to support her strong condemnation of the Kagame regime.

In Stuck Marc Sommers took a hard look at contemporary Rwanda and found that social engineering  by  government fiat, while appearing to be progressive, in reality undermined traditional cultural norms which govern everyday rural life.  As a result tens of thousands of young rural citizens are stuck in a non-escapable cycle of poverty.  In Rwanda - From Genocide to Precarious Peace Susan Thompson went further in chronicling the incumbent government’s dictates to regularize and control all aspects of Rwandan daily life.  She concluded that while the ruling hierarchy is now sufficiently strong to counter any challenge, things might change.

Works of fiction certainly contribute to understanding of events, especially as fiction can delve deeply into individual emotions and motives.  Running the Rift by Naomi Benaron and Baking Cakes in Kigali by Gaile Parkin describe how every day people dealt with ethnicity, how they confronted the genocide - what they did or did not do - how it affected them and whether they persevered or not.  Another novel The Rebels’ Hour by Lieve Jaris set in Zaire relates the story of a Tutsi boy who became caught up in the Rwanda/Congo war and rose to prominence in Kabila’s entourage before he became disillusioned. 

Conclusion: As this list indicates, there is much to choose from and much to ponder in looking back at the tragedy that swept across Rwanda twenty-five years ago.   

Saturday, May 4, 2019

What the Sahel Am I Doin' Here?

My review of  What the Sahel Am I Doin’ Here?  - 30 Years of Misadventures in Africa by Steve Wisecarver

This cleverly titled book by an experienced well-traveled American in Africa is a compilation of anecdotes that collectively paint a mostly amusing portrait of bumbling Americans interacting with Africa, in all its manifestations. Author Wisecarver was a Peace Corps Volunteer, a USAID expert and a Peace Corps director. During his thirty years on the continent he saw it all.  The book is evidence of  the stories that African hands recite: inexplicable relations with locals, communication gone awry, beasts encountered, and troubles with bureaucracies - theirs and ours.  Yet throughout the humor serious lessons of cross-culture contact convey.  Especially telling are pieces about high level U.S. government delegations and the havoc they cause,  particularly for the beleaguered embassy personnel who have to put them together. 

On a serious note, Wisecarver was inside embassy Nairobi in August 1998 when it was bombed. His first person recollection of that event is compelling.  

I found probable error in the piece about flying into the northern Congo to visit the forest, elephants , gorillas and pygmies.  Wisecarver says their flight left from Bangui when it was certainly Brazzaville.  I was the ambassador in Bangui at the time and there were no flights from Bangui to Ouesso.  Also, the folks on the trip the author describes were from Brazzaville. 

My nit picking aside, I thoroughly enjoyed the book. It provides insight and brings back floods of memories of similar misadventures.  I recommend it for anyone who wants to get a different feel for Africa.

Twenty-five years after the Rwandan genocide

Following is an article that I wrote for publication for  It is on their May 2019 edition. 

The Rwandan Genocide Revisited by Robert E. Gribbin 
Twenty-five years ago in April 1994, the havoc of genocide visited Rwanda. In a three month long paroxysm of violence almost a million souls died.  The country was devastated. The remaining population cowed, government non-existent and the economy in shambles. Today, Rwanda has bounced back. It is an economic success, politically stable and mildly progressive. It delivered victors’ justice to perpetrators of genocide. It has prohibited ethnic labels and has become a more responsible regional partner.  Politics, however, are tightly controlled by the ruling clique led by President Paul Kagame.  American relations with Rwanda are good.  The U.S. was helpful in redressing the wounds of genocide and in encouraging the nation to focus on rural development, political and civil imperatives. As true elsewhere American counsel was not always welcomed or followed.  Nonetheless, today the U.S. and Rwanda have a mature mutually satisfactory relationship. 

During my diplomatic career I was involved in Rwanda as desk officer, DCM in Kigali, DCM in Kampala, Uganda during the RPF invasion and finally as ambassador in Kigali.  However, in April 1994 I was ambassador in Bangui, Central African Republic. News of the shooting down of President Habyarimana’s aircraft on April 6 was followed by reports of wide-spread violence.  Embassy Kigali quickly went dark as all personnel evacuated to Burundi.  Soon no one from the outside world was left in Kigali to observe and report. French military aircraft from Bangui evacuated French personnel from Kigali. I learned that Madame Habyarimana and her family transited Bangui en route to Paris courtesy of the French Air Force and that her husband’s remains had been left at Gabadolite in neighboring Zaire with President Mobutu.

As diplomatic reporting and news evaporated, I consulted regularly with local Rwandan friends, one Hutu and two Tutsi, all of whom tracked events as best they could. They were terrified by what information did filter out. The situation was grim, but slowly during April and May the magnitude of the catastrophe was revealed.  A methodical genocide was underway, a sponsored deliberate effort to murder a million people on account of their ethnicity.  Even as those facts emerged, the international community - including especially the United States - refused to recognize reality.  At few times in history has the U.S. government looked so inept and feckless by refusing even to use the word “genocide” to characterize events. 

American policy makers in the Clinton administration were new to the job. They were hamstrung by a policy of “non-interference, except when U.S. national security was at stake” adopted in the waning days of the Bush administration as a result of the debacle of black hawk down in Somalia. Certainly, no one made the argument that American national security was a risk in Rwanda.  Initially no one was willing to think outside that box.  The tone was set the day after the genocide began  when Secretary Christopher, on his own counsel, acceded to the withdrawal of the Belgian battalion from UNAMIR.  Nebulous dithering characterized internal U.S. deliberations for weeks. 

However, soon images of scores of bloated bodies floating down the Akagera River and reports of thousands of dead murdered by the road side, in churches and homes galvanized the world to action. The UN peace keeping operation, hamstrung by the withdrawal of the Belgium battalion when the violence started, was further thwarted by the Security Council’s inability to reconstitute it effectively.  In June France stepped into the gap advising it would send a force to restore order. An undertaking the Council reluctantly approved. 

On June 22, only hours after the UNSC vote, a telephone call woke me up about midnight. A colonel from French headquarters Bangui advised that French aircraft were on the ground in Goma and Bukavu and troops would move into Rwanda at dawn.  In turn I advised the State operations center of the notice. The senior watch officer told me my information could not be true. “Why?” I asked.  He replied, “Because the U.S. has not been contacted by the French in Paris.”  Astounded, I told him to blame it on me, but to be sure to put it in the morning brief. 
Operation Turquiose was not a success. By the time the French arrived, much of the killing was already done.  The Rwandan Patriotic Army occupied half of the nation.  A million Hutu peasants fled advancing troops to Tanzania and a million others were departing for Zaire.  The French occupied the southwestern quadrant of the country, where they did protect some Tutsi from death, but their control there also permitted much of the genocidaire military and power structure to flee safely to Zaire.  Over the next few years genocidaire elements would agitate the region by mounting an insurgency back into Rwanda. Genocidaire control of vast refugee camps and their enduring presence just across the border posed a national security threat to Rwanda and was the root cause for two wars in eastern Congo where unrest continues today.
Kigali fell to the RPA on July 4 and by July 15 the genocide was over.  The tally was enormous. About 800,000 people died; identified and sought out on account of ethnicity. No place was safe. Homes were invaded; citizens killed at road blocks or in places of refuge - churches, stadiums or government centers. Victims were hacked to pieces, bludgeoned to death, raped by Interahamwe  militia thugs. The few lucky ones were shot or killed by grenades thrown into crowded sites.  As many as a half million residents were complicit in the murders.  About three million people were displaced, some internally, but most in refugee camps in Tanzania and Zaire.  The nation was prostrate.   There was no government.  The educated class -civil servants, teachers, health workers, etc. were gone - either dead or in exile. The victorious mostly Tutsi Rwandan Patriotic Army filled the void. Even as the dust settled, the RPA too engaged in atrocities and retributions, documentation for which is scant.  Meanwhile, the political wing, the Rwanda Patriotic Front, took the reins of government and began a process to reconstitute government, rebuild human and physical infrastructure, return refugees, deliver justice, wipe out genocide sentiment and promote reconciliation.  Intertwined in these noble goals was the underlying mantra of “never again”.  And to ensure never again the new Tutsi rulers insisted upon Tutsi control of the security and political apparatus. 

American policy had shifted by this time.  Leaders - President Clinton, Madeleine Albright, Tony Lake, Brian Atwood and Susan Rice - recognized the terrible error of not recognizing genocide or trying to stop it.  Consequently, efforts were underway to support the new regime in Kigali across the spectrum of issues - justice, returns of refugees, rebuilding the economy, reconstituting government, demining and military assistance.   I was to have solid support. 

I arrived as ambassador in January 1996, presented my credentials to President Bizimungu on the first morning, then hosted Senator Nancy Kassebaum.   We traveled to isolated Nyarubuye parish church where thousands had been slaughtered. Their unburied desiccated corpses stacked like cordwood in church buildings gave mute witness to the terrors inflicted.  This sobering experience drove home the horror of genocide and provided me with some understanding of the intensity of the “never again” mantra.  
Over the next few years the U.S. government worked closely with the victorious RPF government to accomplish mutual goals.  We helped reconstitute the judicial system. We reorganized ministries, provided succor - food, tools, seeds and housing materials to returnees, empowered women headed households, demined conflict zones, supported UN human rights and justice initiatives and promoted reconciliation. I also argued for tolerance, cessation of military abuses against civilians, and expanding the political pie. 

In addition to reconstructing a working government, economy and society, the Rwandan government focused on national security issues, especially eradication of the genocidaire inspired insurgency spilling over from Zaire. As the refugee camps were dismantled in 1996, it carried the anti-genocide effort to Zaire resulting initially in the ouster of Mobutu, then when Kabila proved unacceptable, an effort to overthrow him.  The impact of Rwanda’s extra-border activities had immediate fallout for relations with the United States particularly requiring a halt to nascent military cooperation. Nonetheless Rwandan leaders remained convinced as to the validity of their commitment to eliminate all vestiges of genocide, both externally and internally.  Remembering the failure of the international community to halt the genocide - and often playing that card on us - leaders stubbornly forged ahead to create the new Rwanda they imagined.  

The new Rwanda was to be different, a society free from ethnicity.  A society not encumbered by the narrative of ethnic differences and strife.  It was to be a modern state with a viable economy where citizens could realize their individual potential.    Yet to move ahead on these goals, the leadership then firmly under the thumb of Vice President Paul Kagame who became President in 2001, reverted to use of control mechanisms deeply rooted in Rwandan culture.  Traditionally Rwandan society was highly regimented and hierarchal.  People knew their place and respected and obeyed their superiors.  It was this ethic of subservience that rendered the genocide so effective. People did what they were told. They were told to fear and then kill Tutsi on account of years of oppression. So they did.  Now the new government opened re-education camps to revise the narrative.  Ethnic differences were the fault of colonizers. Rwandans historically lived in harmony.  Ethnic tags were dropped.  Henceforth all citizens were “Rwandans”.  Espousing genocide, advocating a countervailing theory of the violence or denying “genocide against the Tutsi” were unacceptable leading to loss of status, land, jobs, ostracism, imprisonment or worse. Indeed the charge of genocide participation or denial has been used effectively by the Rwandan leadership for the past twenty-five years to stifle dissent. 
Upon taking power in 1995 the Tutsi victors quickly adopted the power sharing formula set forth in the never- implemented  Arusha Accords. All the non-genocide parties got parliamentary seats and positions in the cabinet. So quickly the new government was majority Hutu, even the president Pasteur Bizimungu, although a RPF stalwart, was Hutu.  Although an encouraging start, reality was that the Tutsi military power structure dominated.   Soon defections and expulsions began, first of Prime Minister Twagiramungu, followed by other Hutu cooperators, then a slew of Tutsi insiders.   Subsequently manipulated elections and intimidation cleansed the ranks of all principled opposition.  Even though Rwanda now boasts the most women in Parliament of any nation in the world and some power has devolved downward to localities, there can be no realistic challenge to President Kagame who has been re-elected three times.   So rather than gradually expand the political envelope, Rwanda has kept it narrow. 

Economic and social indicators demonstrate Rwanda has moved forward remarkably well in the past twenty-five years. GDP grew at over five percent per year reaching 8% in 2017. Rwanda expanded high end agriculture exports, especially coffee. It increased overall agriculture productivity through more and better inputs, but small plots circumscribe large scale mechanization.  There is a growing middle class, including many Hutu, and the beginnings of high tech in call centers, software startups and international banking.  Gorilla tourism has flourished.  Rwanda undoubtedly benefited from illegal exploitation of mineral resources, gold and coltan, from neighboring Congo.  Rwanda joined the East African Community and strengthened trading links with neighbors.

 Primary school enrollment is above 90 %, but the level of instruction in rural zones is poor. Secondary and college numbers are also way up. There standards are better.  Health indicators are also improved. Life expectancy has risen to male 66/female 70. Most children are immunized.  Malaria and HIV are at bay, but population growth continues apace. Over half of the nation’s 12 million people are under twenty-five (so have no personal memory of the genocide). Reflecting an orderly society is an orderly environment.  Rwanda banned plastic bags. Kigali’s streets are swept clean on a weekly basis.  

As is true in every nation the blessings of economic progress are not shared equitably.  The new ruling elite, the Rwandan Patriotic Front, its military leadership and progeny are the major beneficiaries.  The rural peasantry hemmed in by lack of land, insufficient education and few opportunities are stuck in an endless - and even worsening cycle - of poverty.  One of the most densely populated nations of the world with almost 12 million inhabitants, farm size might total only an acre or two. What are families to do when sons need land?  Government edicts to prohibit further sub-division, establish housing standards (a house is necessary for a man to marry), and to grow coffee, not food; lead to quiet frustrations and unrest.  Similarly another government policy raising the marrying age to 18 has unintentionally generated a cadre of unhappy unmarried young women whose prospects for marriage (no eligible men with houses) and families are limited.  Education success is also hampered by the fact that there are few jobs for graduates in rural areas which leads to expanding rates of urban migration and unemployment.  
Internationally Rwanda refurbished its reputation. It has evolved from a regional trouble maker arising from military undertakings in the Congo, where it still keeps a careful eye on developments, to become a stalwart participant in African peacekeeping operations.  The well disciplined RPA renamed as the Rwandan Defense Force has proved itself a competent partner in UN peacekeeping forces in Darfur and South Sudan.  In recognition of Rwanda’s more mature regional role, President Paul Kagame was elected to chair the African Union in 2018.

By 2000 American policy towards Rwanda was settling into the continental norm, which continues today.  We maintain an active USAID program focused on rural development.  We work to combat HIV/AIDS and malaria. We restarted the Peace Corps.  We applaud Rwanda’s pragmatic economic and trade policies.  Even while recognizing the legacy of genocide, we seek greater respect for civil rights and democratic processes. We protested Rwanda’s mischief making in neighboring Congo, but appreciate its positive peacekeeping role elsewhere in Africa.
So what is the verdict twenty-five years after the genocide?  First, if the genocide had succeeded, the resulting government would certainly have become an international pariah. Ultimately, the international community would probably have been compelled to take action against it.  But that did not happen. Instead a largely Tutsi army and its political leaders took power after a calamitous genocide and pledged that such an event would never happen again.  Confident in their vision and goals, disdaining outside advice and eschewing internal counsel, the new rulers reshaped the nation to conform to their view.  Their vision is a society where economic and social progress obviates old divisions. That entity is Rwanda today. It is stable, economically sound and mildly progressive.  Certainly the issue of overt ethnicity has been put to rest.  The vision is overseen by a narrow cadre of believers around President Kagame that hew carefully to the “never again” mantra.  This group is determined to stay in control and have structured the state apparatus to that end. There is relentless oversight. Opposition is squashed. 

So the question remains, how long can this last?  Ethnic tensions - and there are certainly still some however mightily the government tries to sweep them under the rug - are being replaced by class tensions: haves versus have-nots (where unfortunately almost all Tutsi and many Hutu are haves and almost all have-nots are Hutu).   But how this political/economic dynamic might be mobilized remains to be seen.   For the time being, certainly for this generation and probably the next, Rwanda has achieved what author Susan Thompson has dubbed a “precarious peace.” That is an apt description, but Rwanda is not a powder keg. Only time will tell whether progress towards prosperity can override the reality of third world poverty and the lingering impact of genocide.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Arabs and Brits in Colonial Kenya

Arabs and Brits in Early Colonial Kenya

reviews of Sir Ali bin Salim  and the Making of Mombasa and Northrup - the Life of William Northrup McMillan, both by Judy Aldrick, Old Africa Books, Nairobi, 2017 and 2012 respectively.
These two books by the same author cover different aspects of Kenya in the 19th and early 20th centuries.  Both are definitive biographies of important personages in the history of Kenya, both of whom - prior to these studies - were largely neglected in histories of the era. Ms. Aldrick corrects that oversight. Through her astonishingly well researched works, readers gain insight into Kenya’s complicated origins.

First chronologically is the biography of Sir Ali bin Salim, which does not begin with him but with a history of the East African coast. Independent city states of a thousand years ago contested among themselves, came under Portuguese suzerainty in 1498 for over a hundred years, achieved self governing status again before succumbing to the Sultan of Zanzibar in the early 19th century and then the British.   In the latter era, there was much intrigue.  Arab families sought favor from the monarch in Zanzibar and maneuvered against him and each other.  The height of power was to be appointed Liwali, i.e. the embodiment of the Sultan’s authority over a mainland district.   In turn leaders of the twelve Swahili tribes of the coastal towns endeavored to manipulate and constrain their rulers.  Adding to the complications were the arrivals of Europeans - missionaries, explorers, businessmen, soldiers, railway builders and imperial bureaucrats.  Additionally, England and Germany competed for territory.

The book begins to jell with the introduction of Salim bin Khalfan, an Arab civil servant from the prominent Al Busaidi clan who rose to become the Liwali of Mombasa in 1884. He subsequently employed his son Ali bin Salim as his deputy. Ali bin Salim then succeeded him as Liwali in 1904 and served until 1931. The two of them presided over the fortunes of the Kenya coast for over fifty years.  It was a turbulent time because the power of the Sultan waned and was replaced in erratic fashion by the British.  Issues of slavery, land ownership, public works, justice, legal framework, taxes, etc. troubled the region. The Liwali’s authorities changed as well i.e. diminished, but the two Liwalis, seeing that change was inevitable - especially the abolition of slavery - did their best to ensure peaceful evolution.  They were always caught between whimsical overlords, either the Sultan or British authorities, and the needs and expectations of the Arab and Swahili communities of the coast.

Sir Ali, who was a gracious, courtly gentleman was well placed to serve as the interface.  Although he earned the approbation of those who saw their prosperity being curtailed, for example Swahili families who lost slaves and could no longer farm, Sir Ali gained confidence of new British rulers and the expanding merchant class of Mombasa.  Under his tutelage Mombasa expanded from a cluster of houses jammed into Old Town to a real city with roads, a modern port, a railway terminus and potable water.  Both Sir Ali and his father became wealthy and both became generous patrons of schools, hospitals and other community oriented institutions.

Author Aldrick’s book does justice to the two men, but it is more than a biography. It is a detailed history of the era - of the issues, of the politics, of the intrigue, of the economics and the social issues that transpired during the transition from Zanzibari rule to the Kenya Colony. 

Ms. Aldrick’s second book set in the first twenty five years of the last century focuses on the life story of William Northrup McMillan.  Northrup - he went by his middle name - was an American of imposing stature - 6 feet five and 300 pounds - and grandiose fortune.   Scion of a box car builder from St. Louis, Missouri, Northrup never took to the family business, but he lavishly spent the funds that flowed to his coffers.  He arrived in Mombasa at the turn of the century as a big game hunter.  He found the Kenyan plains to be the paradise he longed for, where one could bag a lion from one’s doorstep. He purchased land just outside Nairobi for a hunting camp, then expanded it to include Ol Donyo Sabuk, the nearest mountain to Nairobi.  Additionally he built a substantial house dubbed Chiromo in town around which the University of Nairobi would ultimately grow. Northrup was a generous donor to worthwhile causes and could always be counted on to write a check.  After his death his wife Lucie built and named the public library in Nairobi in his honor.

Northup and his wife Lucie were great entertainers hosting Theodore Roosevelt among others. Their various residences were often sites for lavish parties and safaris.  Even though Northup tried to make his farms and ventures profitable, they never were.  Yet he soldiered on including some real soldiering when he enlisted in the war effort, for which he was recognized.  Inevitably Northrup became involved in politics. He joined with Ewart Grogan and Lord Delamere as an advocate for settlers’ rights. He sat on the Legislative Council for many terms, where he was more a follower than an outspoken leader.  Although early politics are tracked in the book, it is more a social history than a political one.    

With Northrup as the centerpiece, Ms. Aldrick has produced a marvelous inside look at the settler community in the early years, before it was tainted by the Happy Valley set.  She located and quotes from many diaries, letters and other documentation to shed light on what the settlers did and what they thought about each other.  

Each of Ms. Aldrich’s two books stands on its own, but read sequentially they provide keen insight into two sides of the history of early Kenya. 
(Disclaimer: I knew Judy and her family in Mombasa in the mid-eighties. I am pleased, but not surprised, that she went on to become a scholar and superb writer of Kenyan history. )