Welcome to Old Africa

your window into East Africa’s past.

subscribe now

Old Africa books

Old Africa books are well-told stories in the same tradition as the shorter pieces

our readers have come to enjoy from the pages of Old Africa magazine.

check out our titles

Old Africa magazine seeks to tell the story of East Africa’s past through well-written stories and vintage photographs. Founded in October 2005, the first issue featured a story about the Royal Navy’s ill-fated attempt to launch a naval presence on Lake Rudolph (now Lake Turkana) and an account of the Kedong Massacre. Since then the magazine has published stories and photos from Kenya’s diverse ethnic groups – African, Asian and European – to preserve East Africa’s history. 

Kitale in 1930

Kitale in 1930 I am grateful to Nick Symes for showing me this letter a farming friend in Kitale wrote to his father: It paints a good picture of Kitale in 1930, the year in which the photographs below were taken.    “Kitale was as far inland and as near the borders of Uganda as any settlers had then penetrated as permanent farmers. The “town” consisted chiefly of the District Commissioner’s house and offices, a little wooden post office and a general store. The nearest railway station was at a place called Eldoret some sixty miles distant over roads in which heavily laden ox waggons generally got stuck in the rainy season. It was not a very attractive place. In 1924, there had been a great Empire Exhibition at Wembley at which Kenya had been well represented. Government officials were stationed in the pavilion to give information and encouragement to prospective settlers. A special and rather extensive pamphlet was issued, giving details of the various industries which were to be developed and painting the future prospects of the Colony in very glowing colours. The Government, in fact, were doing their best to induce people to settle in Kenya. But in this year, and in consequence largely of the publicity obtained at the Wembley Exhibition, many people came out to Kenya and, with purchasers in the market, the price of land increased, and in the more desirable positions as much as from £3. to £5. an acre was being asked and paid, while for proven coffee land anywhere near Nairobi £25 to £35 an acre was asked. About 1928 that...

Should Afrikaans have been Taught in Plateau Schools?

Should Afrikaans have been Taught in Plateau Schools? A large number of Afrikaners on the Uasin Gishu plateau in 1910 approached the Governor to establish a school for their children.  The government did establish two small schools in early 1910 but insisted on the exclusive use within them of the English language, which so dismayed the Afrikaners that the schools were not a success.  The matter was resolved in 1912 when it was agreed that Afrikaans could be used in the schools to Standard Two but after that English was compulsory.  Yet the fight was not over and for the next 25 years Loubser, a prominent Afrikaner pastor, agitated for the exclusive use of Afrikaans in schools.  He said, “We must not go along with foreign customs, we must not set the price of honour as sacred language rights, we must not forget the name and the veracity and the great history of our nation.  Twenty years from now when most of our fathers and mothers will be dead, what will become of our children?  It is not enough to leave the land and capital to them.” Loubser opened his own Afrikaans-medium school at Broederstroom in August of 1911 and a second school at Sergoit.  He employed two teachers from South Africa, Pienaar and de Villiers.  The government refused to give these establishments financial support; Governor Belfield said: “I made it clear to them that as members of a community settled upon British territory they are not entitled to make differentiation between themselves and others residing under the same rule and that no assistance would be given unless it...

Ivory Smuggling in Mombasa

Ivory Smuggling When I was a child I would climb down the Ras Serani cliffs at Mombasa at low tide to swim and forage on the revealed coral reef.  There you could find chunks of ivory obviously thrown overboard from dhows when apprehended by customs boats. The Arab merchants of Mombasa had been running caravans inland for ivory and slaves for hundreds of years, but the slave trade had been successfully put an end to, so all that was left was for the caravans to stock up on ivory and bring it to the coast for export. This was highly illegal when the British took over governance of the area, and the police at Mombasa struggled to put an end to the trade. James Robert Watcham took over command of Mombasa’s police in 1902.  He had excellent Arabic and Hindustani, having been brought up and schooled in Bangalore and elsewhere. What he would do was dress up as an Arab and frequent Mombasa’s Arab coffee houses to see if he could hear rumours of ivory caravans coming to the coast. He got wind of one’s imminent arrival and posted police at the two creeks leading inland from Mombasa island, where the dhows would go at night to load the ivory. He heard rumours that one batch of ivory was buried near Makupa bridge (the causeway was not built till later) and followed the two Arabs he had overheard to a house in Mombasa old town where he gleaned further details of the plan. Apparently the dhow was to go to Juma’s house at the mangrove swamp near Makupa bridge...