The University of North Carolina at Charlotte
Department of African-American and African Studies
9201 University City Boulevard
Charlotte, North Carolina 28223 USA
(This paper is very much in its early stages. It should not be quoted without the writer's knowledge and permission.)
ni upuzi kuandika barua ndefu ambayo sikufahamu ni afadhali uje hapa mwenyewe na utowe safua zako [it is bothersome for you to write me a long letter which I cannot understand. It would be better for you to come here and tell me your problem].
This paper examines the impact of military service on the health of askaris and how colonial and military authorities, on the one hand, and askaris in Kenya, on the other, tried to deal with health and medical problems that askaris contracted during the colonial period while serving in the military. The story of how African soldiers began to serve in the colonial military is a long one. In his book, Disease and Empire: The Health of European Troops in the Conquest of Africa, Philip Curtin provides an appropriate starting-point, a concrete context within which European powers came to depend on African troops in the conquest and domination of their colonies in Africa. European troops were vulnerable to tropical diseases such as malaria, and water-borne diseases such as typhoid and bilharzias. Although great strides were made during the nineteenth century against such diseases, especially after the discovery of quinine for the treatment of malaria, the fate of European troops was no better than those who served back in Europe. Whereas medical revolutions in the understanding and treatment of tropical diseases had led to a dramatic drop in the number of European troops dying from diseases abroad, with estimates of the drop reaching ninety percent, these soldiers were still not completely immune from these diseases. In fact, European troops on campaigns and expeditions continued to die "at rates as high as ever, in sharp contrast to the drop in barracks death rates." European powers thus placed a high premium on the recruitment and service of local troops as a way of both shielding their European troops from serving in places where they could be vulnerable to tropical diseases, and replenishing their military ranks whenever they got depleted through diseases and during combat. These African troops were then used to facilitate the colonial control and domination of Africa. Many scholars who have studied the service of African troops in European colonial armies in Africa have similarly observed that it was the high rate of European casualties to diseases that prompted European powers to create colonial armies, and which relied specifically on the service of African troops. Myron Echenberg discusses the creation of Tirailleurs Senegalais in French West Africa, giving credit to General Louis Faidherbe, the Governor of Senegal since 1854, and the principal architect of this colonial army. The Germans created the Schutztruppe, as the German Colonial Defence Force was known. The British created the West African Frontier Force to dominate their various colonies in West Africa, and the King's African Rifles to be in- charge in British East and Central Africa. In fact, "the use of politically marginal foreign troops to pacify and garrison newly occupied territories was a well-established practice long before European powers began to colonize Africa at the end of the 19th century." In spite of European anxieties over the loyalty and reliability of their subject troops, and compunctions over the idea of relying on despised, foreign peoples for the defense their colonies, and the protection of the Europeans, the European powers understood that the dictates of realpolitik far outweighed such little things as whether whites ought to depend blacks for their own defence. It was within this context that the colonial government recruited Kenya Africans to serve in the King's African Rifles.
Early Military Service and Askaris' Health
Kenya African soldiers served in the British military in East and Central Africa that was known as the King's African Rifles. This colonial army was created in 1902. Its advent was inconspicuous; when it was first created, it was made up largely of displaced people from Sudan, and the East African coast. The earlier story of the King's African Rifles (KAR) has been well covered by Lieutenant-Colonel H. Moyse-Bartlett, and also recently by Timothy H. Parsons in his Ph.D. Dissertation, and the book he culled from that dissertation. We learn from both writers that the British in East and Central Africa relied on a rag-tag of irregulars before finally settling on idea of forming a formal colonial military. According to Timothy H. Parsons, "the first colonial armies were created in the 1880's and 1890's by British officers and administrators who needed an armed body of men to impose their will on the local population." Most of these men were recruited on a very informal basis. Some came from the troops of loyal African chiefs such as the Kabaka of Buganda, Nabongo Mumia of the Wanga, and Laibons of the Maasai. Others came from the Zanzibaris, the Sudanese Nubians, Indians, and ex-slaves. The majority of the early African soldiers in the KAR were foreign born Muslims.
It was the Imperial British East Africa (IBEACO) which created the first European militia in British East Africa, the territory that later came to be known as Kenya. When IBEACO started operating in British East Africa, it "recruited an irregular paramilitary police force of Zanzibaris, Sudanese, Indians, and ex-slaves" And when William Mackinnon surrendered his charter and the administration of the protectorate was formally taken over the British Foreign Office in 1895, the irregulars were re-organized into the East African Rifles (EAR). The EAR became part and parcel of various forces that the British had created in the outlying regions. Already, in Central Africa, Captain Frederick Lugard had created a militia force in 1888. Determined to break the power of Muslim slave traders in that area, he had started recruiting an informal body of soldiers. Three years later, this irregular militia was transformed into the Central African Rifles. Writes Parsons:
At that time, the CAR consisted of six companies of 120 men (primarily Tonga and Yao) and a 175-man 'Sikh contingent.' In 1898, the CAR added a second battalion under the direct War Office control. It sent the second battalion to garrison the coaling station at Mauritius one year later because the Anglo-Boer War created a shortage of metropolitan British troops. Over the next two years, the battalion also saw service in British Somaliland, the Asante Campaign, and the Gambia expedition.In the meantime, the British had created an irregular militia in Uganda in 1890. Like the CAR, this force was created by Frederick Lugard, an employee of William Mackinnon's IBEACO. The primary aim of this force was, writes Parsons, to give the company "teeth" in its dealings with the Buganda Kingdom. This force, writes Parsons, consisted of:
70 Sudanese recruited directly from the Egyptian army in Cairo and 2,000 of the Khedive's soldiers who had been stranded in the southern Sudan after Khartoum fell to the Mahdi. Britain declared a Protectorate over the Kingdom of Buganda in 1894, and Lugard's Sudanese became the Uganda Rifles one year later.It was these three different and separate militias that were combined in 1902 to form the KAR. The KAR was thus a conglomeration of African soldiers, that is askaris, to give them their most well-known moniker, and who came from various British territories in East and Central Africa. It was often not a large body. Its size fluctuated and oscillated according to the demands and dictates of the times. During peacetime, its numbers would shrink to between five to seven battalions, each consisting of 400 to 600 askaris. During times of crisis, strife and stress, the army would bulge with African men, recruited by the British administration at a moments' notice to serve a particular purpose. Once this purpose was met, these men were dispensed with, demobilized and sent home, often without adequate compensation or wherewithal. During the First World War, the KAR grew to 32,000 uniformed men, and were supported by an estimated half a million non-combat men, recruited as Kariokor (Carrier Corps) to carry bullets, food, and other types of military supplies. After the war, the KAR resumed its peace-time size. During the Second World War, the KAR once again increased in size, with the British government frantically recruiting askaris from East and Central Africa to fight against the Axis Powers. At its apogee during the Second World War, the KAR consisted of nearly 320,000 uniformed men, and among these were nearly 100,000 askaris from Kenya. Besides, there were several hundreds of thousands of laborers recruited during the war, and who served in the Panyako [Pioneer Corps].
The nature of service of African troops from Kenya in the military was dictated by the mentality of the Europeans, the IBEACO, and the British government. African military service was perceived at best as an unavoidable nuisance, something that the colonialists relied on only because, and only when, they could not do without it. African soldiers were often viewed as a potential threat, unnecessary yet unavoidable. Europeans feared their colonial subjects, more so if they were armed and trained in the use of the latest arms that the Europeans had. Yet they knew they needed these men to control their colonies, given the fact their own troops from Europe could not withstand the tropical heat and diseases. This European ambivalence towards their African troops, an avoid-approach mentality, led to the establishment of colonial armies in many parts of Africa that generally did not acknowledge the needs and welfare of the African soldiers. In South Africa, the government recruited African soldiers but did not arm them. In East and Central Africa, the soldiers were kept at the most minimum number. Their function was mainly to provide internal security by coercing fellow African people into obedience without rising to the level where they could threaten the Europeans themselves or the colonial system altogether. These askaris thus served as agents of the colonial system. Their value to the colonial system lay in the protection of that system rather than in their value as people, human beings whose welfare needed to be catered for. Although the colonial administration sought to give them privileges that stood them above other colonial African employees of the government, they were often subjected to a lot of suffering and discrimination. Whereas their pay and terms of service were often higher than those other African colonial employees [and there are even those who considered themselves a privileged class], in the end, they often had little to show for their service in the colonial military. Most of them were basically "a labor aristocracy." But unlike the other class of labor aristocracy in Africa, that is, "the class of skilled and educated African workers whose expertise was needed to run the colonial economy [and who] served as artisans, technicians, and clerks in return for superior pay and benefits," most African colonial recruits were rural dwellers, unskilled illiterates whose value lay in their "willingness to accept military discipline … to follow orders and use a gun." Within the colonial system, it is true, they were privileged lot, but their privileges were kept to a bare minimum. Their pay and benefits were little. During peacetime, the colonial administration became stingy with funds, and this affected how they were paid and treated. Their pay consisted of mostly of some packets of posho mill [cornmeal], and a few rupees per month. Outside of the military, they were often left on their own, generally left to fend for themselves. Askaris never received any pension until the 1950's. They largely depended on their relatives for food and shelter in old age. Timothy Parsons argues that the KAR, and indeed, most other colonial African troops were much cheaper than European troops to maintain.
The service of Kenya African askaris thus exposed them to numerous medical and health problems. These problems were not unique to African soldiers; even ordinary civilians faced similar problems. The only difference was that military service often exposed askaris to more dangerous hazards than ordinary civilians. In 1912, for instance, the Native Labor Commission while examining the conditions of labor in Kenya discovered that food, housing, and medical care were inadequate. Men suffered from bad water, unusual food, too much maize in the diet which was often badly cooked, and a lack of vegetables. Drastic environmental and weather changes in far-away land were espacially risky. The Luo were susceptible to the cold weather of the highlands, and the Kikuyu suffered from malaria at the Kenyan coast. In 1912, two companies of 2 KAR had to be disbanded at Seneli [Jubaland] following heavy mortality from beri-beri, caused by heat, lack of exercise and an unvaried diet of rice. Dr. C. J. Wilson, a medical officer who joined the KAR, thus proposed a new diet, but which was rejected as unnecessary because it was argued that maize has always been the food of the African. But maize, as Geffrey Hodges tells us, was a relatively new food. The Luo were only beginning to turn to it from millet at the turn of the century. Compare this, Geoffrey Hodges writes, to the diet of many workers on the mines in South Africa and Rhodesia, which by this time, was many years ahead of East Africa.
There [South Africa], the need for a balanced diet was well-understood. Consequently, mealie, beans, meat, vegetables, groundnuts, salts, beer and a pint of hot soup, coffee or cocoa after night shift were provided to the miners.Many Kenyan askaris were thus given food that they were not used. During the First World War, a Uganda District Officer, E.L. Scott decided to give Uganda askaris in the KAR millet flour made from matama and wimbi instead of maize. The intentions were good, but these were not food that the Baganda askaris were used to traditionally. Moreover, matama [sorghum] and wimbi [millet] could develop weevils especially when kept for over six months. Because of poor food supply, many soldiers carried sieves with them for shifting their own flour otherwise they would be too coarse for their health. Shortly thereafter, the administration started providing askaris with standardized sieves. Apart from maize, matama, and wimbi, the government also provided askaris with beans for cooking maharagwe [mixed maize and beans], that is nyoyo [Luo], or githeri [Kikuyu], or bijanjalo [Buganda], but because they were "too hard to cook" and "too old" [sometimes over one year] they could cause diarrhea. Maharagwe also took too long to cook. Askaris were also susceptible to diseases due to lack of cleanliness and proper sanitation. Dysentery was thus a major problem. Pneumonia was caused by the poor diet, exhaustion, and cold.
During the First World War, one military unity was subjected to severe military service that affected the health of askaris. This was the Kariokor [The Carrier Corps]. The problems it encountered during the war have today become part of the legend of askaris in the colonial army in East and Central Africa. In 1914, there was only 1 doctor for each Carrier Corps of 1,000 men. In 1915 many of these doctors were transferred to other combat units, leading to a dearth of medical officers in the Kariokor spite of the large numbers of the Carriers serving in the war. Many Carrier Units did not have doctors. When the Military Labor Bureau tried to have its own medical staff, its request was not granted until November 1917. Even so, by this time, every Carrier Depot had a hospital. Many of these hospitals were kept busy with the number of casualties coming from the field either due to diseases, fatigue, or injuries incurred in the frontline. According to one Dr. Kauntze, "dysentery formed the cause of admission in at least 50% of cases, and led to one third or more of all deaths." Intestinal infections, including dysentery, caused 50% of all deaths, pneumonia and bronchitis another 12 to 20% especially among men from warmer climates, whereas highland men suffered from malaria. Small pox and cerebro-spinal meningitis could also push up the death rate. Geoffrey Hodges argues that many of those who died probably lost the will to live, a recognized cause of death.
In 1916, Dr. Kauntze and Dr. Pirie tried to develop a vaccine against the deadly dysentery, which they determined was of the bacillary type. A total of 76,000 men were vaccinated. But it was not effective against the amoebic dysentery. The vaccine was also given at a short notice, and was not given enough time to work before the men were deployed into the field. As a result, many people continued to die from dysentery. But it appeared to have started to work in the subsequent years. Once a soldier was admitted to the hospital, he was put on a convalescence diet. To improve their morale, beer was also provided. After recovery, they were sent home. The aim was to send the soldiers home as soon as they were fit to travel. A porter returning to Mombasa Depot was sent either to the Carrier Hospital or to the Convalescence Hospital. An expert from Britain fitted artificial limbs to the disabled.
In 1918, the Spanish influenza epidemic came. The Kikuyu referred to it as kimiri. In Seyidie, 40% of the population caught it, and 4,500 died. Those who were afflicted by the disease often died within two days. Many soldiers also died from cold, rainy weather, and exhaustion after traveling for long distance carrying heavy luggage. Others succumbed to cruel and inhuman treatment. The 1912 KAR Ordinance on punishment is particularly instructive. Here the exact type of punishment is set out. If an African soldier was misbehaved, his officer could order up to 24 lashes, 42 days imprisonment with or without hard labor, and 21 days loss of pay. A detachment commander could order 14 days imprisonment and 10 days loss of pay. Lashes were given with the buttocks covered by wet cloth, 12 hours after sentence and under medical supervision. Many European soldiers breached these orders, and gave their own version of brutal treatment. Many askaris died due to this sort of treatment. As a result, many soldiers deserted the military, and, in particular, the Carrier Corps. The number of Kariokors who died during the First World War ranges from 40,000 to half a million men. Their counterparts in other units fared a little better, but they too suffered heavy casualties, thus demonstrating how stress, mistreatment, and diseases impacted on askaris during the war. By July, 1918, it estimated that, "combat and desertion shrank 3/3 KAR from an official complement of 1,018 African ranks to roughly 100 men [a ninety percent casualty rate]. On the whole, the KAR lost over 3,000 men during the war to disease and malnutrition, compared to only 1,198 askaris killed in action." Kariokor is generally estimated to have lost more than 10% of the total number of those who served in it during the war.
The Impact of the Second World on the Health of Askaris
During the Second World War, medical conditions for askaris had tremendously improved. Indeed, since the Allies were already anticipating a military showdown with the Axis Powers, the colonial administration in Kenya started government preparing medical facilities well in advance. By early 1939, the colonial administration had started preparing for war, just in case. The Medical Department of the Colony inevitably participated in this process of helping put the colony on a war footing. This can be seen from the fact that the Chief Medical Officer of the Colony, in addition to his usual civil duties was involved in ensuring that "all military medical emergencies could be met." Writing about the measures he took in his department in preparation for the Second World War, the Chief Medical Officer noted that he took charge of the Army Medical Services for a brief period as the colony awaited the arrival of Dr. Frost, who arrived in the colony on 1st September, 1939, as Director of Army Medical Department. He placed the services of the Medical Storekeeper at the disposal of the military authorities from the commencement of the war.
Most of the preliminary arrangements undertaken included ensuring that there "were … an extra six months supply of medical stores to the value of about [pounds] 12,000 … before the outbreak of war; the scales of equipment for special establishment Field Ambulance Company, A Casualty Clearing station, A Motor Ambulance Convoy, a Hospital Train, and a General Hospital suitable to local conditions were worked out in detail months in advance and the necessary stores and equipment were obtained and were available for immediate issue; several hundreds of stretchers were manufactured locally and stored for military purposes and air raid precautions services; detailed plans for the conversion of rolling stock for hospital train purposes had been prepared; an ambulance vehicle was designed, constructed and subjected to field trials. Twelve ambulance vehicles were then constructed of this type. Medical officers, private practitioners and others were selected and warned for military or civil duties. In conjunction with the Kenya Women's Emergency Organization, lists of available nursing personnel were prepared and individual nurses were selected for duty should an emergency arise. A week's course of lectures and field observations was arranged for as many as possible of all these officers some months before the war. The Medical Officer also made nominal rolls of 25% of the African staff of all the larger hospitals who would be required for military medical units were prepared. He also ear-marked various buildings and surveyed them for hospitals, and detailed plans were prepared for their conversion and occupation.
Working with the military, the Colonial Medical Officer designed an extremely detailed procedure that would be used to evaluate the medical status of recruits. This was supposed to ensure that only the best and most fit recruits actually served in the military especially during the war. An analysis of the Medical Handbook shows that the process of evaluating the medical and physical fitness of the soldiers started right at the local recruitment centers, where the recruits were required to pass physical and medical check up, but it is also clear that because of the urgent crisis of the need of manpower for the war, the recruiters sometimes did not pay attention to these rulers and regulations, leading to a situation where many men were recruited "essentially to fill new units as quickly as possible and training had either to be hurried or dispensed with altogether." The Medical Handbook provided a schedule of physical standards, that was supposed to guide recruiters in checking and selecting potential askaris. This schedule was often subject to revisions and changes from time to time, depending on the needs and vacancies available in a given unit, and on the urgency and seriousness of the need for men. The physical and health standards, which the recruits were required to pass were as follows:
KAR NRR AFV EAE EAA EA EAASC EAAMC Signals EAMLS AAPC Age: 18-30 18-30 15-18 18-40 18-40 Height: 5'3" 5'3" - 5'2" 5'3" Weight: 120 120 - 120 120 Chest Measurement: 31 31 - 31 31 Chest Expansion: 1˝ 1˝ - 1˝ 1˝ Eyesight-normal in one or both eyes: both both w/glasses - one both Hearing - normal in one or both ears: both both both one one Education: normally 75% Kenya Std. Kenya normally normally intelligent V&VI, Std. IV intelligent intelligent 15% III&IV 10%.The schedule provided certain exemptions for exceptionally good and talented recruits to join the army, even if they did not meet all the requirements in the Schedule of Physical and Health Standards. According to the Assistant Adjutant-General, the weight standard could be reduced to a minimum of 112 where the examining medical officer was able to "certify that the recruit a) has exceptional physique for weight, b) is likely to gain the necessary weight, c) has special educational qualifications.", Clerks, storekeepers and dispensers who applied to EAAMC, EAAOC, EAASC, and EAE could be recruited as along as they were between 18-40 in age, minimum of 5ft in height, minimum of 110 ibs in weight, and their eyesight was normal with glasses. Signalers probably had the most exemptions. Even those as young as 15 were accepted into the army, with no standard for height and weight laid down. Most signalers joined the army at between 15 and 18 years of age and Regimental Signalers at between 15 and 22 years of age. But the educational eligibility for signalers to join the army was high, sometimes as high as that of recruits for the Army Medical Corps. Minimum educational standard for signalers was Std III, and Std. IV for Regimental Signalers. Besides intelligence, signalers were supposed to be not "dull or too old." When Lieut-Col. P. G. Gooden-Docker found a number of old recruits in his Signals Corps he wrote that, "it is obvious that whoever selects these recruits for specialist training does not realize or understand that it is impossible to train an old African as a specialist…. May the people responsible for selecting specialists be ordered to give writing test and to personally interview potential signalers before they are posted for training. Can it be forcibly pointed out that OLD men [emphasis is in the original text] are useless, and that, although the recruit may state he has attained the correct standard of education, it is no good selecting him if he has left school several years ago." Recruits for EAAMC who had not reached standard V were required to be physically fit - like members of KAR. The loss of one eye was not to be "cause for rejection if the sight of the remaining eye is good" for those wishing to join the EAAMC. Scabies and other treatable skin diseases, those that "appear likely to yield readily to treatment" were not causes of rejection in the EAAMC and AAC. Artillery recruits were expected to be as literate in English as possible. In all the given exceptions, the medical officer was to "clearly record the extent of relaxation of standards and note for what duties the men are enlisted."
The government appeared to be more lenient on physical standards than on medical and health conditions for those wishing to join the army, with virtually no exceptions given for those with medical problems. Soldiers with eye problems like trachoma and severe conjunctivitis requiring prolonged treatment were rejected. A squint was a cause of rejection for fighting units and military transport drivers. Discharges from the middle ear and an inability to hear a forced whisper from ten feet in each ear separately led to rejection. Recruits with bad teeth, which could prevent proper mastication, large septic tonsils, heart problems, chronic lung disease like asthma, spleens greater than four fingers put together, and obvious enlargement of the liver were rejected. Venereal diseases such as "syphilis in all its stages … chancroid, and acute gonorrhea unless clinical cure can be achieved prior to attestation" were causes for rejection, but "…. chronic gleet of long standing which is unlikely to cause incapacity may be passed provided there are no complications such as orchitis and epididymitis." Skin conditions, chronic ulcers and dracontiasis led to rejection, but scabies and other minor skin diseases, which could be treated could not bar one from joining the army, especially the EAAMC and AAC. Epilepsy, mental conditions, and other recognizable instances of "mental backwardness" automatically led to rejection. All recruits were required to have normal joints. Mutilation of extremities or deformities which could prevent efficient performance of labor or the use of weapons or of marching, chronic synovitis, major degrees of flat foot, tertiary yaws (crab yaws), severe cases of cracked feet which "may not clear up when boots are worn" were to be rejected. Recruits "with hernias except small umbilical hernias should be rejected. A small variococele may be passed, but hydroceles, severe varicose veins and elephantiasis must be rejected."
Recruits who passed this preliminary examination were then required to provide urine specimen for examination. Here, again, detailed regulations were provided. "If trace of albumin is detected two further examinations should be made. If no more trace is found and if there are no other signs of cardiac or renal disease, the recruit may be passed. Microscopical examination of the urine should be carried out to exclude schistosomiasis in recruits from areas where the disease is endemic. Recruits with bilharzias will only be passed after a full course of treatment has been given." As a result of these stringent regulations, recruitment for the EAMLS in Kilifi, Malindi and Kwale in 1940 was hit by a high number of medical rejects. In 1942 in Kitui, out of 150 men examined, 132 men passed medical examination.
In general, the kind of check-up given at recruitment camps near recruit's homes was generally a rough and haphazard affair. Most chiefs only checked the physical qualities of the candidates applying to join the army because that was what they could easily perform; they did not have the knowledge, training, and expertise to detect relevant but hidden health conditions of the recruits; the only qualities they could identify were the fitness and strength of those who came to join the army. Consequently a number of apparently healthy and fit young men were recruited and transported to major recruitment camps, only to be rejected as unfit for military service and told to go back home. In the first eight months of 1941, 8,000 men were transported to Maseno Depot in western Kenya, and "of these 14% were rejected as unfit." In his report for 1942, the Nyanza Provincial Commissioner reported that rejection rate for medically unfit ranged from 13% for recruits to 20% for conscript labor. Standards for medical examination improved a great deal with time, and in places like Kisii, the Medical Officer informed H. A. Carr, South Kavirondo District Commissioner that "this examination is so strict that he cannot deal with more than 25 men per day." By September, 1942, medical rejection rate of recruits in the whole of Nyanza Province had dropped to 8˝%, an improvement attributable to stringent medical examination performed at various local recruiting and holding depots in Nyanza Province and undoubtedly in the whole country as well. Sometimes the chiefs just recruited any young man who turned up for enlistment because of pressure from the government to fill certain quotas without the input and advice of the chiefs themselves. This was especially the case at the beginning of the war in 1939, and towards the middle of 1940, when Italy joined the Axis and brought the war onto the doorsteps of the Kenya Colony. Chiefs were forced to use all the means and powers they had to get recruits, and their actions often led to conflicts with the people, and to interference with family life and economic production in their locations. But during a conscription drive in 1943 in Alego, many men were "left off on the grounds that they were required at home, because all their brothers were in the Army etc."
Because of the pressure on chiefs to meet their recruitment quotas, chiefs announced the date and place where recruitment would be done where a rough and quick check up was given to those who responded to the call for enlistment. After this, a trip to a Civil Reception Center in the districts followed. The recruits were normally not held up at Civil Reception Center longer than was necessary for preliminary medical examination. Charles Akoth Apamo of Kochogo was rejected at Maseno Depot as "medically unfit."
Having been recruited, many soldiers were deployed into permanent military units. Askaris who served in the Second World War generally assert that they were given high standard of medically care. Many soldiers attest with pride to the high level of medical care given in the military.
This good care, paradoxically, was the cause of many casualties during the war. This was because askaris knew if they were injured during combat, they would be accorded high medical care. Many of them readily approached the enemy with "bravery" and "without showing fear of death." The good standard of medical care offered by the military went a long way in emboldening them to face danger and even death. The majority of veterans still remember with pride the high standard of medical care offered to them when they fell sick or got injured. Askaris are in total agreement with the fact that medical services in the army were the best they had ever had. They were vaccinated against diseases and were well taken care of whenever they fell sick. In his reports on life in Somalia John Ogola thanked the government for taking "pains to knock off the diseases which are trying to attack us." Whenever askaris fell sick or got injured, they were taken to the best army hospital and given very good care by the best doctors, and their families were informed about it. Men who were discharged from the army on account of a newly discovered disease were first treated before going home because the government stated that it was important that, "African ex-servicemen should receive free medical treatment from the Civil Authorities whether their ailments were a direct cause of their military service or otherwise." Those injured in the battle-field were given immediate necessary medical attention and then ferried to a more equipped and advanced army hospital.
By 1943, the government had decided, for the benefit of injured or sick askaris, to attach "convalescence homes … to all dispersal centers and that if necessary the Nairobi Rehabilitation center should be enlarged to accommodate the type of casualty with which it deals at present." The government also decided that, "African ex-service men should receive free medical treatment from the Civil Authorities whether their ailments were a direct cause of their military service or otherwise." Thus when Okoth Muranda was diagnosed with "contagious leprosy;" Sakani Chegero with "T.B. at elbow joint;" Senjena Ndegwa with "pulmonary T.B;" Murage Kamunyu with "chronic synovitis on the right knee;" and Chemboi Chelagat with "psychopathic state," they were all, with the exception of Chemboi Chelagat, dispatched to hospitals in their home areas "for further treatment and discharge to their homes." After receiving treatment at the main government hospital, Pte. Odhiambo Onjere, who had been suffering from "peripheral neuritis following relapsing fever," was released to "out- patient hospital treatment and I should be glad if you will arrange for this with the Medical Officer-in-Charge of the nearest hospital." The government also tried to make sure that discharged askaris received a thorough medical check before release. Coming back from far places where they were exposed to different types of disease environments, these soldiers were examined to ensure that they did not go back to their homes carrying foreign pathogens. From the hospital, the recovered askaris joined the rest of ordinary discharged askaris at discharge centers.
At the biggest and oldest base hospital, No. 1 Hospital [Nairobi], patients were provided with "games, papers, cigarettes, sweets and other comforts, and [from 1941] a .. wireless installation with loud speakers in every ward by means of which the sick can hear programs in all languages from Nairobi, the English and foreign programs from Europe as well as gramophone records and talks such as is being made now from the microphone." Many of the medical cases were related to injuries, and war-related psychological and mental trauma which often led to drunkenness, suicide and mental breakdown, while others were related to sexually transmitted diseases. The spread of sexually transmitted diseases often caused disagreements between military authorities and civil administrators with each blaming the other of not doing enough to control infections. Even askaris chimed in with their own perspectives. While askaris like John Ogola Sana admitted that they would some times get infected while away fighting, the army tended to believe that most of the infections occurred when askaris were on leave at home, while the civilian administration tended to blame the army for not doing enough to control the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases.
Injured askaris were often given some monetary compensation based on financial arrangements made when they enlisted, but the mode of calculating awards was very subjective, dependent on the officer calculating it. At first, it appears that, when the government came up with the idea of financial compensation for war injuries, it only had the Civil Defence Force - civilians, that is, - in mind. The Bill entitled "Statutory Rules and Orders, 1939 No. 1143, Personal Injuries [Civilians] Scheme, was published in 1939, and dealt with compensations for civilians. The first bill made provisions for a financial arrangement, gratuity, and a pension scheme for civilians injured while serving with the Control and Report Centers [including messengers]; First-Aid Parties, First-Aid Posts, Ambulances and Casualty; Rescue Services; Decontamination services; Gas Detection services; Respiratory Distribution services; Auxiliary Fire services; and Demolition of Dangerous Building services. This scheme was made with the assumption that Italy would not join the war on the Axis side, and would not threaten British presence in Kenya. When Italy joined the war formally in 1940, the government decided to extend the scheme to other members of the Civil Defence Forces, for instance telephone operators, realizing that the existing financial compensation scheme would be inadequate.
In 1940, the Chief Secretary wrote to the Attorney General and asked him to draft a bill "to make provision for personal war injuries sustained by ARP and other personnel engaged in emergency duties." The bills also made provisions for dependants of Civil Defence workers injured or killed or who succumbed to a war injury. Such dependants were entitled to a pension from the government. On 8th May, 1941, the Government published an amendment to a law entitled "Non-European Officer's Pension Ordinance, 1932." The amendment, according to the government, was "to make clear that, for the purpose of the Pensions Law, a non-European Officer who is killed by enemy action when traveling to and from the colony is to be regarded as killed on duty." Financial awards were made to families of deceased African army officers. If the deceased officer left a widow, the document stated, a pension was to be made to his widow, if unmarried and of good character at a rate not exceeding ten-sixtieths of his pensionable emoluments at the date of the injury or a [British pounds]10 a year, whichever be the greater, and also a gratuity not exceeding twenty shillings multiplied by the total number of their years, starting from their ages at the time of their father's death and ending with fifteen years, to each child alive at the date of the father's death, and a gratuity not exceeding [British pounds]15 to any posthumous child." It provided that gratuity "so granted shall not in the aggregate be less than [British pounds]10 nor more than [British pounds] 60. If the wife of the officer was dead and had left children behind "who would have been eligible for gratuity if a pension had been granted to the widow, gratuities of twice the amount of the gratuities for which they would have been eligible in such circumstances." If on the other hand, the officer "does not leave a widow, and if his mother was wholy [sic] or mainly dependent on him for her support, a pension to the mother, while of good character and without adequate means of support, at a rate not exceeding the rate of the pension which might have been granted to his widow ... provided that if the mother is a widow at the time of the grant of the pension and subsequently remarries such pension shall cease as from the date of remarriage ... and if the mother is not a widow and it appears that the deceased's father is in position to support her, such pension shall cease from such date as the Governor in Council may determine."
When Kutuba Masuiki was shot to death by a European officer for trying to steal a sack of coffee beans, the government ruled his death "not on duty -accidentally killed by bullet from revolver fired by ..." and his family was paid nothing "especially so in view of the act that there is no wife or child." After the deaths of Mutoko Mwendando, Wambua Landu, and Kinyere Ndambuki, on 5th January, 1943, in the C. R. S. hospital, Kismayu, which was ruled "the result of alcoholic poisoning," no award was made to their families because "the next-of-kin in each case is stated to be a brother, it is doubtful whether an award is justified, except on grounds of policy." Following the death of Petro Kahuko, caused by blackwater fever, meningitis and labor pneumonia on 30th March, 1943, in a prison hospital, the War Pensions Officer recommended that his family be given nothing because his next-of-kin was a brother. "In view of the relationship of the next-of-kin," the War Pensions Officer wrote, "I do not think a reduced award is indicated, and I would recommend to his Excellency accordingly." The War Pensions Officer's decision to reduce Petro Kahuko's death gratuity was opposed by the Accountant-General, who observed that although there must have been a large measure of misconduct leading to his conviction ... there is no indication that the illness which resulted in his death was due to any irregular action on his part, and the question arises as to whether an award may be made. I am inclined to the view that as he was still in the Army and his death was not directly due to his crime, for which he was receiving his punishment, the full award might be paid."
While in hospital, injured or disabled askaris were given equipment that would make their rehabilitation easy, all at the expense of the government. Since their disability had come in the course of performing their duties, the army picked up the tab for any equipment they were given, and for any subsequent repairs. The only problem is that it was not clear how long or how frequently the army would pay for such equipment. An injured askari was required to get approval from the government first before taking his medical appliance for repair. After his injury, for instance, Pte. Absalom Nyawara Nyangoda was "fitted with a pair of surgical boots on 23rd May, 1945 at the rehabilitation center." After repairs by the Bata Company, Pte. Absalom Nyawara Nyangoda was required to foot the Kshs. 12.60 bill, a hefty amount of money then. When he asked the District Commissioner to pay the bill on his behalf, the District Commissioner sought help from C. F. Atkins, the Officer-in-Charge of Native Civilian Rehabilitation Center, writing that, "I have no funds from which to make such payments, and should be glad to know if you will meet the bill or whether the ex-askari should pay himself." Luckily for Pte. Absalom Nyawara Nyangoda, the Medical Officer informed A. F. Atkins that, "every patient who is supplied with a surgical appliance at Government expense is informed that any future repairs or replacements that may be necessary will be carried out at this center free of charge." After recovery, soldiers who had government medical equipment were required to hand them back.
Thus one sees that the army was trying to provide adequate medical care and compensation to the askaris who were injured or who became sick. If askaris appeared brave and courageous in the battlefield, it was not just because their traditions glorified these values, but also because of the high level of medical care. When one askari was fatally injured during the bombing at Abu Haggag in Libya on June 27th, 1942, his comments before succumbing to death suggested that he was more concerned how he died than with death itself. He wanted his family to know that he had "died a manly death." Although he was badly wounded, he insisted repeatedly that the message should be properly understood that 'he had died a man's death.'" Military accounts of the Abu Haggag incident show that the men and their officers exhibited themselves to the highest levels of bravery and gallantry. The "bravery of the Africans, wounded and unwounded, amazed people on the station who had been in air-raids in England." Most of the wounded men bore their injuries bravely like "real men," one veteran recalls. "There was no moaning," the military records in their account. Many men on the verge of death were more concerned with how they would be remembered; they wanted to be remembered for dying "a man's death." At virtually every place the askaris went to during the war, they were generally concerned with portraying an image of unflinching bravery and courage. In Abyssinia, North Africa, the Middle East, Madagascar, and southeast Asia there are reports of gallantry, bravery, and courage on the part of askaris.
Although askaris, in general, praised the level of medical care in the army, they were not blind to the fact that the African injured and the sick were taken to separate medical units from whites. The biggest and oldest hospital that catered for Blacks, Coloreds, and Asians was the No.1 General Hospital. It was "once the only Base hospital for Cape Coloreds, Asiatics and Africans. The Africans include Nigerians, Gold Coast, South Africans, Nyasaland, Rhodesian and East African natives as well as Abyssinian, and Somali prisoners of war." Burial places were also separate at least until askaris noticed, and complained about it. The government only changed its policy over separate burial grounds when the War Office reported to the East Africa Command that it had received reports from the South East Asia Command that, "many African personnel have noted that European graves are concentrated into cemeteries while their own are not and they are conscious of a difference in treatment."
The other issue that askaris were always complaining about, as Medical Department records show, was congestion. At various army and other government hospitals, the askaris were treated and looked after properly, but congestion dogged them wherever they went. In Kakamega, the Medical Officer observed that in the last six months, they had been receiving, on a daily average, 183.42 in-patients at the Native hospital. These included "daily numbers of repatriated ex-soldiers who are urgently in need of hospital treatment." Since there were only 120 beds, this steady stream of patients led to "gross overcrowding." Based on information he had, Brigadier R. P. Cormack, the Director of Medical Service, estimated that the number of injured and sick injuries who would require medical treatment would reach 7,000 by the end of the war.
It is generally difficult to quantify the number of askaris who perished during this war, and what caused their demise. Official documents are quite sketchy on this subject. Most scholars believe that it was considerably lower than the First World War, even in places like south- east Asia, where askaris encountered swamps, jungle forest, and malaria, a place where it rained constantly, as one askari remembered it. This must have been due to the high quality of medical attention given during the war.
Askaris generally observed that during the war they bore the brunt of the fighting. The majority of the soldiers in Abyssinia were askaris, one askari pointed out. Another pointed out that askaris formed the bulk of the Allied forces in Madagascar, North Africa, the Middle East and the South East Asia. Majority of the war casualties were askaris. Although there is no clear number of African casualties, Brigadier Cormack estimated that the number would be around 7,000. Other government documents put the number of East African casualties during the war at 7,301, which appears considerably less than the actual number of those who died in the war. But what is not in doubt is that more askaris were injured or killed than soldiers from other races serving with them in the same units during the war. By the end of December, 1941, the number of injured askaris was 1,474 compared to 12 British Officers - invalided out, 17 British Officers who quit on account of ill health, 164 BNCO's discharged medically unfit, 65 Asians discharged medically unfit, and that number "is increasing daily." Anthony Clayton and Donald C. Savage suggest that throughout the war, that is from September, 1939 to October, 1945, 1,388 Africans were killed in action, 128 died from wounds, 20 died in prison, 1,232 died from accidents, 6,872 died from diseases, while 2,298 were wounded. Most other official documents on the health of the askaris only speak to government attempts at providing more medical treatment facilities rather than the number of those treated. Clearly, the number of askaris who died from diseases was considerably higher than those from other causes, but it was also considerably less than during the previous war.
Medical Problems of Askaris after the War.
Although the government often tried to ensure that during the war askaris were given high level medical care, this was not always the case especially after they left the military. This was not surprising; it was but merely a rendition of similar previous experiences among askaris. These medical problems were worsened by the fact that just about the time the war was coming to an end, the government had introduced a new system of demobilization and resettlement of askaris. This system was fraught with problems. For one, the system was new to those who were supposed to implement it. Long-standing policies which had been in operation for the discharge of askaris during the war - for the discharge of those who fell sick, got injured, or were court-martialed, and those with urgent family problems - were shelved once the Committee on Demobilization submitted its report towards the end of the war. A new policy, which was less understood, came to effect. Whereas in the past sick or injured askaris used to be discharged at the Recruitment and Holding Centers, the new policy required the administration to discharge askaris at their district headquarters. Many times the district headquarters found that they did not have adequate documents for the discharge of askaris. Having been used to a system that had been in operation since the beginning of the war, it took time for the administrators to understand the new system.
According to the old system which had been in use since 1939, discharged askaris particularly the injured and sick askaris were released either to the main hospital in Nairobi for more specialized treatment, if they were seriously injured or sick, or dispatched to an hospital in their home areas for further convalescence, if their condition was not very bad or if an initial medical problem had been stabilized. Permanently disabled soldiers without legs and arms were sent to the "Nairobi Rehabilitation Center and then go to their homes in the reserve." These guidelines had been refined from time to time, and they were the ones the Demobilization Officers were used to.
But everything changed with the end of the war when the government changed the process and procedure of demobilization. The project was new, and the civil and army administrators were unable to cope up with at short notice. The process of discharging and repatriating soldiers was long and complex, and delays were common. Immediately the war ended, there was a deluge of askaris demanding to go home; the Records Office and Pay Office were unable to cope, there were delays, and askaris protested. The askaris serving in the EAMLS were the most affected because of their large number; they made almost a half of the total number of askaris serving in the war. Given the fact that most EAMLS askaris were not very educated, their documents were not well kept. Many had lost their Pay Books, and others had books that presented "unusual difficulties." By December, 1945, K. L. Hunter, Nyanza Provincial Commissioner, noted that the process of demobilization in his province was "still fairly slow with only 207 coming out in December, 1945." Injured or sickly askaris reacted to these delays differently. Some askaris tried to speed up their discharge by claiming that they needed to go home early because of urgent family problems which required their presence. Although it is difficult to quantify the number of applications for early discharge, one cannot fail to notice the coincidence of such applications with the end of the war.
Many askaris were anxious to go home. Injured or disabled soldiers rejected treatment and demanded discharge. The Medical Officer-in-Charge of Rehabilitation Center estimated that "90% of the patients seen at No.1 General Hospital refuse further hospital treatment. They want to go home. When advised to enter hospital for further treatment they usually answer that they will go home first and will attend their district hospital later if they become worse." On the other hand, one askari noted that all those who "joined the army in 1939 have now been discharged but that some have refused to return to their homes. Among these he states are 170 Baganda and some Wakamba."
Indeed, after the war, the fate of invalid or disabled soldiers even worsened. After recovering from their injuries, they often were required to appear before a Medical Assessment Board, and which more often than not, discontinued their gratuities, sending many askaris to a bleak and uncertain life. To be sure, and as has already been discussed, the government always tried to help injured and sick askaris, by for instance, giving them treatment before discharge. But once an askari left a government medical facility, it appears as if the government forgot or wanted to forget about them completely. The askaris were often left to their fate, though some individual administrators were compassionate and tried to provide assistance where they could - but it was never enough given the lack of institutionalized structures to support for demobilized askaris. After getting a one-time gratuity, disabled askaris were often left to their fate. Considering the age of some of these young men who were disabled by the war, it is quite clear that their future went to waste, and the amount of money they were paid as compensation for injuries was not enough to sustain them. One wonders how the colonial government expected these disabled askaris to survive after they had exhausted their gratuities.
Take the case of Cpl. Njina Owich, a member of the East African Engineers. He enlisted in the army on 1st September, 1939 and was seriously injured in battle, leading to his discharge from the army on 15th February, 1944, because he was "physically unfit for any form of military service." Although his character was described as "very good" there is no evidence that he received any gratuity, and that even if he received it, that it was enough to sustain his needs in future. After recovering from his injuries, Odongo Osango appeared before the Medical Board for examination and gratuity assessment. Sadly, "his disability has now been assessed at nil. The temporary allowance at Kshs.21 per quarter therefore ceases after 19th November, 1945." Many similar cases abound. Although disabled soldiers were repatriated to hospitals near their homes for further treatment, the nature of treatment they received was often inadequate, though in some cases the mistake was the askaris' and who often would anxiously demand to go home even if they were very sick and needed further treatment. The Medical Officer-in-Charge of Rehabilitation Center observed that "there is a lack of continuity of treatment between military hospitals and civil hospitals." The Medical Officer-in-Charge of Rehabilitation Center estimated that "90% of the patients seen at No.1 General Hospital refuse further hospital treatment. They want to go home. When advised to enter hospital for further treatment they usually answer that they will go home first and will attend their district hospital later if they become worse. This lack of continuity is particularly unfortunate in case of ambulant cases or those recommended by the Medical Board as 'needing further outpatient treatment."
As already mentioned, there was often congestion at local hospitals, with askaris competing for limited space with civilians, while the No.1 Hospital, which dealt with serious medical problems plus post-trauma cases, lay idle. During the first six months of 1944, for instance, there had been "a decrease in the numbers admitted directly from the military hospital and an increase in the proportion admitted from their districts on the recommendation of medical boards. This means in effect that there is an interval of many months between the cessation of treatment in the military hospitals and its recommencement in the rehabilitation center."
Indeed, after demobilization, there are many cases where disabled ands sick askaris went back to the government to seek medical help. A circular by the Medical Officer-in-Charge of Rehabilitation observed that many askaris went back to Rehabilitation centers for treatment. After being repatriated to their home medical facilities, there is very little evidence that the army ever tried to make a follow-up on the condition of sick and disabled askaris by trying to contact either these askaris or the hospitals where they were receiving treatment. Instead, it appears that askaris were sent to hospitals and left at the hands of the local administration who were in all probability not likely to empathize with the askaris in the same way that an army doctor who had served with them in the war would. Not a single askari confirmed during my fieldwork that an army officer ever visited them to see how they were doing after being injured and disabled in the war. Only the Medical Assessment Board came to examine them, quite often with the intent of discontinuing their disability gratuity and not to see how they were doing.
Some sick and disabled askaris tried to ameliorate their conditions by appealing to the Pensions Review Board for help. This was especially after the Medical Assessment Board had stopped their gratuities, mostly out of desperation. Most submitted appeals hoping that a review of their service might unearth some money from the army that would ameliorate their conditions. They believed that they had nothing to lose if the government agreed to make any inquiries. While it is not possible to determine statistically how many claims came from sick and disabled askaris, and how many were denied or approved, these kinds of appeals demonstrate how desperate these askaris were; when an application was based purely on the basis of trying one's luck, that is a sign of desperation. That was the situation in Taita District when one day the District Commissioner decided to travel, looking for "anyone [who] was still suffering hardship because they were still unable to work owing to their illness and yet were not getting allowances." Askari David Wakalo Joshua Mwazo tried his luck with an application to the Board, even though he had come to believe that the Pensions Assessment Board was corrupt, and that that was why askaris were "suffering." When he applied for a review of his pensions case and was turned down, an angry David Wakato wrote as follows:
I remember having written to you recently having heard from my father that you wanted him at your office on my behalf but you never told him anything. You wrote to Senior Medical Officer, C/O Nairobi City Council about the same thing in which you asked him if I wanted to appeal of my pension of which I said yes. As regards the appeal pension held at the District Commissioner's Office, Nairobi on the 20th August, they read the following statements to me, I was discharged from the Army with ill health and that I was awarded temporary pension which stopped in January, 1947 and asked me if I had anything to say. I said I still feel pain in my chest, right side, the side involved through military service and that I should like my pension to continue, they dismissed the case by saying that I had no ground of appeal and they said that it was I who raised the appeal. I think it is the Military Authority or rather the War Office which wanted the pension people to be paid some thing as regards their pension or the question to be looked into, probably they were improperly pensioned, how did they again say that I appealed for since I recovered [British pounds] 4 as a result of the Civil Medical Board held on me in October, 1946. I never said anything nor did I grumble knowing that I accepted what I was given by the government. Until you sent for my father, I would not have said anything. So I thought the authority concerned wanted something for the pension people.Michael Richard, who contracted pulmonary tuberculosis during the war and was unable to work was however more successful in his appeal. He was awarded Kshs.67/50 per quarter for life, and a temporary increase in cost of living of shs.5, with effect from 7th June, 1949. These were the kinds of awards that caused confusion in the period after the war, where some askaris were awarded pension for life while others were given absolutely nothing. Besides a pension, Michael Richard was also awarded a gratuity of shs.750. But Michael Richard would die from pulmonary tuberculosis on 30th June, 1950, hardly a year after he was awarded pension for life. Ex-askari Anunga Ochieng' was also given a quarterly pension of shs.36 for life, which was increased due to the high cost of living to shs.45. After award of gratuity and pensions, Anunga Ochieng' was paid shs. 302. But some of these awards came later, long after an askari had succumbed to injuries or diseases contracted during the war.
To really appreciate how sick and disabled askaris faced difficulties and frustrations after the war, particularly in chasing their gratuities and pensions to help them deal with their problems, one needs to follow the case of M. Joseph Lawrence Zaidlerson. In August, 1949, the Pensions Board declared that "No Award" would be given to M. Joseph Lawrence Zaidlerson. At the time he appeared before Pensions Board, M. Joseph Lawrence Zaidlerson was getting a monthly pay of shs.32. An askari who joined the military on 23rd September, 1943, M. Joseph Lawrence Zaidlerson was discharged from the army on 14th June, 1946 because he was by "then physically unfit, twenty percent simple mania." The question then is, why did the Pensions Board turn down M. Joseph Lawrence Zaidlerson appeal for pension after determining that he was mentally incompetent? Why could it not make an award to his family for his medical care? Although how Zaidlerson contracted "simple mania" is not very clear, the impact of military service cannot be ruled out as a cause. Clearly when Zaidlerson joined the military in 1943, he was sane; indeed, he appears to have served with distinction until 1946 when he was discharged in 1946, at which point it is said for the first time that he was suffering from "simple mania." After being turned down, M. Joseph Lawrence Zaidlerson wrote to the District Commissioner on 18th April, 1950, wondering why the Pensions Board had turned down his appeal. Given Zaidlerson's manic state, his letter is almost illegible. P. E. Walters, the Taita District Commissioner complained that Zaidlerson's letters were "unintelligible" because he "is obviously mentally unbalanced." Walters therefore decided to summon Zaidlerson to appear before him because he could not understand the contents of his letters and he wanted him to explain his objective, telling him that "ni upuzi kuandika barua ndefu ambayo sikufahamu ni afadhali uje hapa mwenyewe na utowe safua zako [it is bothersome for you to write me a long letter which I cannot understand. It would be better for you to come here and tell me your problem]." The exchanges between P. E. Walters and askari Zaidlerson went on for many months, and many letters were exchanged, with Zaidlerson writing at least five long letters without receiving any favorable resolution to his grievance. These exchanges were typical of the period after the Second World War. To this date, long after independence, askaris are still complaining about mistreatment and abandonment at the hands of the colonial military. They may have been well-taken care of during military crises when the government desperately sought their help, but immediately the crises passed, they were abandoned to their fate.