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

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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. 


Rinderpest Brings Disaster in the 1890s

Rinderpest Brings Disaster in the 1890s In the 1890s many of the early European visitors to what became Kenya commented on the famine that had hit the country. What had happened? The famine was largely caused by the disease rinderpest, which had started to infect cattle in 1889 and raged until 1897. Rinderpest is a viral disease, with symptoms of diarrhoea, nasal and eye discharge, and mouth ulceration. It was airborne and therefore difficult to prevent, as well as being spread by contaminated water and direct contact. The cattle herds of communities all over East Africa were decimated, causing economic and social chaos, because the staple diet of many communities was milk and meat. The disease also affected buffaloes, large antelopes, giraffes, wildebeestes and warthogs. Most animals died within six days of contracting the virus. How did the disease reach East Africa? The cause is not really known, but FD Lugard, an official of the British East Africa Company, said that it came from Somaliland via infected cattle imported from India and Aden in 1889, to assist the Italian army in its campaign in Abyssinia [Ethiopia]. There is also an alternative explanation – that the disease crossed into sub-Saharan Africa from Egypt where contaminated cattle were imported by the British army for the Nile Valley campaigns of 1884-5. The disease was first recorded in 1891 in Maasailand on the slopes of Mt Kilimanjaro. Raiders brought diseased cattle back to the interior from the coast at the end of 1890 and within months the Loitokitok cattle were destroyed. Efforts to replenish stocks by raiding the herds of the neighbouring Kamba...

When did Electricity Come to Nairobi?

When did Electricity Come to Nairobi? In order to supply electricity for lighting and power in the district of Nairobi, the Nairobi Electric Power and Lighting Company Limited, with a capital of £30,000, was founded in February 1906. Its originator was Clement HA Hirtzel (misspelt Hertzel in most sources), who had arrived in East Africa from South Africa in January 1904. Described as ‘a penniless counter-jumper from the Cape’ by McGregor-Ross, Hirtzel had actually been born in Exeter and had obtained engineering qualifications. He also had a motor car and motor cycle business in Nairobi, where he lived at Parklands, and he obtained a farm at Limuru. He was awarded an OBE and became a freeman of the city of Exeter, to which he later retired. In April 1904 Hirtzel obtained a concession for fifty years from the Governor, Sir Charles Eliot, to supply Nairobi with electricity. He signed a draft contract to do so in 1905, and set up a company named the Nairobi Power and Lighting Syndicate. Charles Udall was chief engineer and the managing director was RC Bayldon, formerly a lieutenant in the Royal Navy, who later became chairman of Nairobi’s Chamber of Commerce. The general scheme was to generate electricity by means of water power, then running to waste, to supply Nairobi and the surrounding country. In November 1906 the company chose to use the first fall on the Ruiru River below the Fort Hall road, some 18-½ miles by road from Nairobi. A bungalow for the engineer was erected near the site of the works and the task of damming the river was undertaken....

How did Christianity come to Kenya?

How did Christianity come to Kenya?   The first Christians to visit East Africa were Vasco da Gama and his crew, including Roman Catholic missionaries, in 1498. He did not, however, leave any of these in East Africa and the next missionary we hear about is Francis Xavier, the pioneer missionary, on his way to India, who had talks with Muslim leaders in Malindi in 1542. In 1564 the Portuguese Viceroy of India ordered that the gospel be preached around Mombasa and three years later an Augustinian monastery was established there. Fort Jesus, with its Christian name, was begun in 1592 by the Portuguese, who occupied the town intermittently for the next century and a half. In 1597 the Augustinian friars at Mombasa claimed that they had 600 African converts, including slaves, Swahilis and Bantu people from the interior – among them the exiled King of Pemba. This is hard to believe, but the following year three Augustinian priests were stationed on the islands of Lamu, Pate and Faza. The Muslim governor of Faza also helped to build a chapel, resulting in a flourishing Christian community, and the Portuguese also built a chapel at Shela, on Lamu. In 1607 the Brethren of Mercy arrived in Mombasa to care for the converts from Islam. The main buildings in Mombasa’s Ndia Kuu were the Convent of the Augustinians, the parish church and the church of the Misericordia.These were mentioned by a French visitor in 1846, but they have now all disappeared. In 1846 part of the Augustinian Convent had become the kadhi’s house, the small Misericordia church was the home of...