Kenya's "Forgotten" Engineer and Colonial Proconsul: Sir Percy Girouard and Departmental Railway Construction in Africa, 1896-1912

By Mwaruvie, John M. | Canadian Journal of History, Spring-Summer 2006 | Go to article overview

Kenya's "Forgotten" Engineer and Colonial Proconsul: Sir Percy Girouard and Departmental Railway Construction in Africa, 1896-1912


Mwaruvie, John M., Canadian Journal of History


I. Introduction

Sir Percy Girouard's governorship of the East Africa Protectorate (EAP), as Kenya was known before 1920, has received mixed reviews from scholars because of the way his administrative career ended. Anthony A. M. Kirk-Greene has advanced the view that Girouard was a successful administrator in Kenya, since he engineered the most impressive economic development in Kenya's history. (1) During his governorship, the EAP was able to balance its budget, which impressed the imperial government. Because of the economic success, the grants-in-aid--which the EAP had received since 1895--were dispensed with in 1912. It is true that Girouard took over when the protectorate's annual revenue had reached 250,000[pounds sterling], while the government expenditure amounted to about 500,000 [pounds sterling]. (2) Yet, even with the annual grant-in-aid of 130,000 [pounds sterling] that the imperial government gave to the protectorate, the budget ran a deficit, and the fact that Girouard was able to bridge the budgetary gap within three years of his governorship demonstrates his brilliance. Nevertheless, Robert Maxon challenges Kirk-Greene's contention by showing that the success of the Kenyan economy was the result of African production, which the governor was not keen on promoting. (3) Sir Percy Girouard's policy supported the settler economy, which was producing very little at the time. According to John Overton, the African contribution to exports constituted about 70 per cent of the total in 1912-13. (4) Thus, the African sector responded more quickly than the settler sector to the opportunities offered by the colonial economy despite lack of colonial state contribution to stimulate it. Maxon also observes that Sir Percy Girouard failed as an administrator in the way he handled the Maasai land question. (5) Sir Percy Girouard moved the Maasai from their ancestral land in Laikipia to Ngong to create room for European settlement without informing the Colonial Office (CO). He acted contrary to the 1904 Maasai Agreement that had set aside Laikipia plateau as a Maasai reserve. (6) As a result of his failure to protect the Maasai land rights, he was forced by the CO to abruptly resign in 1912. (7)

Girouard's failure to protect African interests is not in dispute, and the issue has overshadowed any meaningful assessment of his administrative career. Nevertheless, this article demonstrates that Sir Percy Girouard became the first governor adequately to address railway problems in Nigeria and Kenya by encouraging the development of branch lines. During his tenure as governor of EAP, he secured a development loan not only to establish a railway network, but also a deep-water port at Kilindini, which his predecessors had failed to do.

II. Edouard Percy Cranwell Girouard, 1867-1932

It is important to examine briefly the career of Girouard before his appointment as governor of the EAP in 1909, in order to understand his worldview. Percy Girouard was a son of Desire Girouard, a judge of the Canadian Supreme Court to 1910, after which he was appointed Deputy Governor General of Canada. (8) Thus, Percy Girouard came from a politically connected family. His family background notwithstanding, Percy Girouard was a very hard-working person, and his promotions were based on personal achievements. He was educated at the Royal Military College, Kingston, Ontario, where he graduated with a diploma in engineering at the age of nineteen. (9) After graduation, the Canadian Pacific Railway employed him as a surveyor for two years between 1886 and 1888. In 1888, he became one of the few Canadians to receive a commission in the British Royal Engineers. (10) Initially, his father objected to his decision to join the military, for he wanted him to enter the legal profession. Percy refused to heed the advice of his father, who retaliated by refusing to pay for his training. …

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