This is a book that is going to appeal to a wide range of readers. First, there will be those other ‘Mabwana Karani’ Mervyn Maciel’s fellow-District Clerks and Cashiers, who saw service in the Turkana and Northern Frontier Districts, or in any of the smaller stations of up-country Kenya. With them will be their many relatives and collaterals broadly scattered from Bombay to Birmingham; for the Goan people are a closely-knit community and with their long tradition of clerical service are to be found not only in the courts, offices and counting-houses of Goa and India, and a score of places in East Africa, but in this country as well; and, indeed, in any place where loyalty, industry and scrupulous dependability are properly valued.
Then will come those from whom Mervyn learnt his trade, and those that he, in his turn, instructed in the arts and crafts of the clerical side of the Provincial Administration: and, after them, ex-Government Servants of Colonial days hankering for a detailed account of the routine of a District Office, and for a description of the everyday duties that fell to the charge of a District Commissionerin a small station. There will, too, be those that duty or relaxation have taken to the outlying parts of Kenya, and who still experience a nostalgic pang at the sound of place-names such as Wundanyi, Voi and Taveta; Amudat, Lodwar and Lokitaung; and Laisamis, the Kaisut, Gof Bongole and Loiangolani.
Finally, there will be those such as myself, eager to refresh recollections of earlier days, and to read of old friends, many, alas, no longer with us but still remembered with affection, who appear in Mervyn’s narrative. If the introduction of a personal note may be forgiven, I should like to mention ‘Miti’ Wood, the guiding hand in all matters concerning personnel, and the author of Mervyn’s Letter of Appointment; Ayub Ali, that great gentleman of the Establishment section of the Secretariat; Willie Pereira, whom I first met at Garba Tulla close on fifty years ago; Germano Gomes, partner of many arduous fourteen-hour days when he and I were caring for that Ethiopian host which had sought refuge in Kenya from the Italian invasion, and Francis da Lima, a most valued colleague and companion to whom I am indebted for years of painstaking help in my Isiolo office. These and a dozen others all figure in the pages of the book.
From the first sentence of the Introduction to Bwana Karani until four-fifths of the way through the book, you will be reading about the Provincial Administration; and most of the characters that you will encounter will have been members of it. So it is proper that I should give you a brief description of what it was:
A Provincial Commissioner was, within the limits of his Province, the principal executive officer of the Government, and was personally and directly responsible to the Governorfor the peace and good order of his Province and for the efficient conduct of all public business therein. It was his duty to supervise not only the work of his administrative staff but also what was done in his Province by all Departmental Officers. The Provincial Administration was the machine by which the Provincial Commissioner’s responsibilities were put into operation; in addition it was both a chain of command and a service — a particularly élite one. Let me not forget, though, that twenty years and more have elapsed since the end of the Colonial regime, and in this time — amounting to four or five school generations — what were once the commonplaces of everyday living have taken on the aspect of legend; and it is not unlikely that the majority of those that read this book will know nothingof how the old Colonial machinery of Government worked, or of the people whose efforts kept it ticking over.
I spent such a large part of my life being a District Commissioner and sharing the problems and the shop of other District Commissioners, rejoicing with them in their triumphs and condoling with them in their disasters, that it is, I suppose, not unreasonable that I should devote a paragraph or two to explaining what a District Commissioner was and what it was he did.
In his particular area a District Commissioner was the senior representative of the Central Government and, under, of course, the general supervision and control of the Provincial Commissioner, was responsible for the peace and good order of his District, and for the preservation of law and order within it. By the expression ‘good order’ I have in mind the co-ordination, in the field, of the activities of the various Ministries, and the fulfilment of the functions of those Ministries that had no representative in the District. A District Commissioner had to ensure the effective execution of the Government’s policies by making certain that the representatives of the Ministries concernedwere working smoothly together, and that progress was not being hindered by Departmental rivalries or by the personal idiosyncrasies of individual officers; and, as I have indicated, he had through his own District staff to undertake the duties of those Ministries that had no staff of their own in the field.
As you will see from what I have written, it was necessary for a District Commissioner to have a good grasp of the technical problems facing the various Ministries, and to be able, by the exercise of tact and diplomacy and by a well-informed and sympathetic approach, to bring about a harmonious dovetailing of the various aspects of the Government’s activities.
He had, further, a whole range of routine responsibilities, such as the preparation of annual estimates of revenue and expenditure for his District, for the control of expenditure, and the bringing to account of public funds, and for the development and control of African Local Government bodies. He also had to be a practical man, for in a small station he had to supervise the siting, construction and maintenance of the Government buildings; to purchase station stores; and to oversee the rationing arrangements for the Tribal Police, the Prisonand the local school. He might, too, have had to select suitable runways for emergency air strips and to supervise any construction work that was necessary; and hold himself in readiness to conduct, in co-operation with the Locust Directorate the campaigns that had so often to be undertaken against this scourge. These internal administrative duties when added to his more general commitments, such as liaison with the Ministries, made up a corpus of widely diversified responsibilities, scarcely one of which did not involve, in its handling, clerical work of one sort or another; and rare was the District Commissioner who could not congratulate himself on having at his call a clerical staff that was both professionally expert and personally dedicated to the efficient and punctual completion of the tasks with which they were concerned. Court records had to be maintained, prison registers kept up to date, cash books and vote books meticulously entered-up, any number of returns submitted, papers properly filed, and a seemingly endless flow of correspondence maintained with various headquarters offices. It would be tedious to itemize in detail all the duties that fell to the District Clerk and the Cashier; it should be enough to say that, although these small stations may have appeared to be quiet backwaters as far as the flow of work was
concerned, the clerks would, as often as not, find themselves at work in their offices long after they should have been relaxing on the tennis court or in their homes. Yet not once, in all my experience in the field — and, equally, in the offices of the Central Government — did I hear even the hint of a murmur or criticism, let alone an expression of discontent on the grounds of an excess of unrequited overtime. What gifted and conscientious men they were that we had working with us!
It was indeed a splendid service — a service to which one is proud to have belonged; and how gratifying it is to hear our author rejoicing at having been a member of it.
In the larger sort of District, such as Kisii, where Mervyn served before he was transferred to the Ministry of Agriculture, it was unusual for the various Ministries not to be well represented; and the District Commissioner himself would have had the support of several District Officers. In such circumstances, the business of co-ordinating departmental activities presented no major problems.
The normal procedure was for the senior Departmental Officers to organizethemselves into what was known as the District Team, under the Chairmanship of the District Commissioner; and it was in this forum that the proper handling of matters affecting more than one Ministry was debated. By the exercise of common sense, and the adoption of a series of readily acceptable, interlocking compromises, potential difficulties could, as a rule, be satisfactorily side-stepped. There was, of course, enough staff, administrative and clerical, to ensure that any scheme that was embarked upon could be properly supervised and properly maintained.
Elsewhere, although the one-man stations that had been fairly common in pre-war days had, by Mervyn’s time, virtually ceased to exist, the remote stations of Turkana and the N.F.D. were still run on a shoe-string of manpower. For the administrative philosophy that underlay the governance of these northern areas was based on two principles, neither of which demanded much in the way of technical staff; first, to prevent the weak from being oppressed by the strong, and secondly, to protect the grazing ranges, the well systems and the man-made water pans against destruction by over-grazing and undisciplined usage. In the Frontier Province what mattered was security and the preservation of a properecological balance, not for the fulfilment of a conventional urge for economic and social development. As a result Ministerial representation in places such as Lodwar and Mars bit amounted to little more than occasional visits; and the District Commissioner had to make do with his own efforts and those of his District Officer, if he had one, and with what help he could reasonably expect his clerical staff to give outside the scope of their usual. duties. It was in circumstances such as these that, during his time in Mars bit, although officially the District Clerk/Cashier, Mervyn found himself taking charge of tax collection and pay safaris, supervising stock sales, and, during the absence from the station of both District Commissioner and District Officer — from time to time unavoidable — carrying out inspections of the gaol and performing other duties that would normally be undertaken by an Administrative Officer.
The reader will quickly see that Bwana Karani is by no means wholly devoted to descriptions of the business conducted in a District Office, and of the hour by hour activities of a District Headquarters, from the pre-breakfast inspection of what one might call the domestic economy of the station to the close of public business at whatever hour the climate and local custom and usagedictated, and, in the case of Lodwar and Mars bit, to the sounding of Retreat and the lowering of the standard at sunset. He will find, as well, generous character sketches of local worthies resident in the various Districts in which the author saw service, and of his wide circle of friends both in the small up-country townships and the larger centres such as Mombasa, Nakuru and Kitale; and, amongst other topics of interest, accounts of the long journeys by night that characterized travel in the N.F.D. and Turkana — incidentally, one is amazed that Mr Kaka’s vehicles ever contrived to stay on the road — and of the landscapes that distinguished places such as Fergusson’s Gulf, the Chalbi and Mount Kulal.
There is something of romance, too, with the story of Mervyn’s long courtship, chiefly by letter from Lodwar and from Marsabit, of his future wife, the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Hermenegildo Collaco of Kitale. They were formally betrothed shortly after the Christmas of 1951, and the wedding held in August of the following year. Their married life began at Marsabit, the bride coping bravely with the problems created by being so very much at the end of the line. It is interesting to reflect upon the extent to which the pair, both individually and together, had benefited from the friendly offices and the staunch reliability of old-fashioned ‘transport riders’ such as A. M. Kaka, the Pathan, on the Kitale-Lodwar route, and G. H. Khan, the Kashmiri, (affectionately known by us all as ‘the Safe Driver’) between Isiolo and Marsabit.
The Marsabit days which had started with such high hopes were to end under as heavy a cloud as one can imagine; for Conrad, Mervyn and Elsie’s second son, was found to be suffering from a heart condition that condemned him to the life of an invalid, and which made it necessary for the parents toseek a posting to some place where medical facilities would be more comprehensive and more easily available than they were at Marsabit.
They were loath to leave, but as Mervyn says, “we simply could not afford to risk Conrad’s life by remaining in an area which was miles away from a hospital proper.” And so, cast down at having to move from a place to which they had become so attached, and burdened with anxiety over Conrad, Mervyn and Elsie made their farewells to the Northern Frontier Province.
Mervyn’s departure from Marsabit may be said to have ended the days of his‘Karaniship’; for after a brief spell in Kisii — a spell which sadly saw the death of young Conrad — he applied, and successfully, for the post of Executive Officer with the Ministry of Agriculture; and having achieved this very real measure of advancement, was appointed to be the Provincial Office Superintendent at Machakos, the duties of which post he combined with those of Personal Assistant to the Provincial Agricultural Officer.
He was, as can be imagined, distressed at leaving the Provincial Administration in which he had hoped to remain until the time for his retirement; but it was not long before he came to recognize how substantial were the advantages that attended his new appointment. Being at the Agricultural Headquarters of a populous and rapidly developing Province meant that he came in contact with the Provincial Commissioner and other Administrative Officersof the area, as well as with senior members of the various Departments. He was no longer tucked away at the end of the line. And nobody could fail to be impressed by the quality of the men that headed the Department of Agriculture; it was generally accepted that the Ministry had in its service some of the most brilliant men, in that particular field, in the whole of the Commonwealth. As for the activities of the Department, how could one describe them better than to say that the economic future of the new Kenya depended more upon the policies devised by the Ministry and the efficiency with which they were put into execution than upon any other factor?
And Mervyn became as proud of his position in the Ministry of Agriculture as he was of having served in the Provincial Administration of the Northern Frontier Province.