If it was by accident that Johnston had been involved in the politics of West Africa, his entry into those of East Africa was clearly by his own design. It is interesting that by the time he came to write his autobiography he had forgotten this fact, that he had come to picture for himself a situation in which he had acted throughout as the confidential agent of the Foreign Office officials on one hand and of Sir John Kirk on the other. Yet there is no evidence either in the official archives or in his own contemporary papers that the real object of his mission was other than the purely scientific one of making collections of the flora and fauna of Mount Kilimanjaro with a view to ascertaining their relationships with those of other African regions. It is true that the expedition owed its origin to Kirk, the Consul-General at Zanzibar. But Kirk was himself an ardent botanist; and probably it was quite genuinely in this capacity that he proposed the idea of an expedition to his friends at Kew, which had led to Johnston's employment for the purpose by the Royal Society and the British Association.
This is not to say that Kirk was oblivious of the fact that the expedition might have political consequences. No doubt he had it in mind that Kilimanjaro, besides being a botanist's paradise, was very strategically situated for the political future of East Africa, a great geographical landmark, barely two hundred miles from the coast, yet beyond what could be seriously claimed as the dominions of the Sultan of Zanzibar and therefore of what could be in some measure protected from political interference by the position of Zanzibar as an internationally recognized state. Moreover Kilimanjaro, with its temperate upper slopes and its fertile, well-watered and densely populated foothills, was as yet unoccupied by any of the four British missionary societies then working in East Africa whose inland stations lay strung out along the main Arab trade-routes to Buganda and to the slave and ivory hunting grounds around the Nyasa and Tanganyika Lakes. No doubt Kirk, who was beginning to be aware of the danger that European annexations might start in the rear of the
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Publication information: Book title: Sir Harry Johnston & the Scramble for Africa. Contributors: Roland Oliver - Author. Publisher: Chatto & Windus. Place of publication: London. Publication year: 1957. Page number: 52.