Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Mombasa Club

(This is an excerpt from my current work-in-progress.)

A dinner was held in TR’s honor that night at the Mombasa Club, a gentlemanly bastion of British colonialism. Established in 1896, just thirteen months after the British established the protectorate in East Africa, the club was, according to the Africa scholar P.J.L. Frankl, “a home from home for the European-Christians at the top end of the social scale, to the exclusion of all others.” The bylaws explicitly banned “natives, except servants of the club, or servants of the members.” W. Robert Foran, a reporter based in East Africa, recalled that a minimum annual income of £250 was required for entry into the club. The building itself, Foran wrote, “was neither an imposing nor luxurious Club-house.” Its walls were lined with hunting trophies, mounted animal heads mutely testifying to the vigor with which the British would tame this savage land.

After dinner, the protectorate’s acting governor, Frederick Jackson, read a telegram to Roosevelt from King Edward VII: “I bid you a hearty welcome to British East Africa, and I trust that you will have a pleasant time and meet with every success.” As he rose to respond, a military band heralded Roosevelt with a musical flourish. Roosevelt began his remarks by praising the British for “their energy and genius in civilizing the uncivilized places of the earth.” Then he warned his audience that the British could not expect to achieve in a short time in East Africa what had taken several hundred years to accomplish in America. It was a tad presumptuous for the former president of the United States to lecture the British on the inherent difficulties of colonialism: At the time, the United Kingdom controlled a quarter of the earth’s landmass.

 However flabbergasted, the audience was undoubtedly heartened by what TR said next. Citing his own experience with the Philippines, he “emphasized the necessity of leaving local questions to be solved by the authorities on the spot.” Home rule was dear to the hearts of the British residents of East Africa. TR would be visiting England after the safari. The audience surely hoped he would deliver this same message to London.