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The Uganda Railway

For mixed motives, writes C.E. Hamshere, the construction of the British East African railway was begun in 1892,  to which the development of modern Kenya and Uganda is greatly indebted.

In these days when ‘Imperialism’ is often regarded as an evil, it may be reassuring to recall how Britain’s connection with East Africa first began and how the building of a railway between the Indian Ocean and Lake Victoria was undertaken—not as a commercial enterprise, but for a peculiar mixture of philanthropic and strategic reasons.

When the survey for the railway began in 1892, the most important centre along the East African coast was Zanzibar, whose Omani Sultans, after transferring their headquarters from Arabia to the island, had exercised a tenuous authority over the string of ports between Kismayu and the Rovuma River for over half a century before any acquisitive interest had been taken by the European powers.

Then things suddenly began to happen. Until 1884 the Sultan’s authority had been undisputed: six years later the Germans had founded their Deutsch Ost Afrika, Britain had set up the Imperial British East Africa Company for the control of her sphere of influence and in 1890 had assumed her Protectorate over Zanzibar.

Explorers and missionaries had preceded their governments into the country. In 1877, in response to Stanley’s appeal, members of the Church Missionary Society first reached Buganda, where the explorers had found an African kingdom superior in its organization to every other tribal unit in the eastern half of the continent.

The explorers, Speke, Grant, Baker and Stanley, had also found that Uganda contained the sources of the White Nile. After the British occupation of Egypt in 1882, control of the Nile sources became a chief concern of British Imperial policy.

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