Review: Promoting Agricultural Export Crops & Co-operative Societies in Tanzania – Somo ML Seimu

I have a confession (or more) to make regarding Promoting Agricultural Export Crops and Co-operative Societies in Tanzania during the British and Post Colonial Era, c 1914-2014. The book appealed to me for a number of reasons:

1. It took me back to Tanzania, and one of my favourite towns – Moshi – which is where the main coffee co-operative is based. The KNCU coffee shop was a good place to meet and have a coffee. Discovering how it fits into the wider co-operative movement and its influence on the rest of the country was fascinating. Little had I realised its national significance.

2. I love coffee so gaining a better understanding of how it came to be a dominant part of the Kilimanjaro economy has been a bonus.

3. World War 1 features – this is a longitudinal look, over a century, at the development of export commodities, mainly coffee, but also cotton and rice. Seimu traces the start of mass production under the short German colonial rule and the consequence of the 1914-1918 war leading to the British taking over. How they built on, and further developed, the German system making it British, until the Africanisation from post-WW2 is the main focus of the book. In dealing with what could be rather politically sensitive matters, Seimu has maintained an objective view by keeping the focus on primary source material. Gaining an idea of what is held in the Tanzanian archives (also referred to as TNA – the same as The [British] National Archives] has been great. Returning to World War 1, from as early as 1916, civil administration was being re-introduced in the Kilimanjaro area with colonial officials working with the Chagga community to improve their lot and to give them an opportunity to hold their own against the white and Asian settler communities. It’s a reinforcement of the importance of having the right people in place to enable collaboration, irrespective of background.

4. I worked closely with the author to get the book published – through the GWAA.

So, yes, I am biased, but for anyone wanting to discover how coffee and other co-operatives developed and changed over time in Tanzania, as well as getting an insight into Tanzanian economic policy and how politics influences such, then this is a book worth reading. All due to the legacy of World War One, but more significantly Africans taking the initiative.

Review: Battle for Hurungwe – John Padbury

Battle for Hurungwe by John Padbury is not about WW1, but rather an account of John’s involvement in the Zimbabwean civil war of 1965-1979 as part of Special Branch. 

It’s not the typical ‘bush war’ type book detailing battles and engagements. Instead it traces the evolution of a group of white men who saw the cause they were employed to protect being one of ultimate destruction and that the way forward to a better future for all was to work and live together. 

Using Mao’s Little Red Book, John discerned the thinking behind communism and used the same methods against the ‘terrorists’. A policy which bore positive results in the area of Hurungwe until politics denied Bishop Muzorewa an African solution to the struggle and the situation dissolved into a different violence.

This is a detailed, meticulously referenced book, verified by independent research conducted by Joshua Chakawa. In a few places, clearly annotated, the names and identities of individuals have been changed to ensure their and their families’ safety. Numerous maps, reports, air logs and photos are included. Apart from the strategies and tactics employed, John also covers the role of the Viscount plane shot down. 

What appeals with this account is the striving for peace within the armed struggle – changing minds and building trust in the face of counter-propaganda is no easy task. The book contains a blue-print to help bring other conflicts to a win-win conclusion. A point summed up in ‘politics is war without bloodshed; war is politics with bloodshed’ – and as Kitchener discovered, all the progress that soldiers make towards peace is so often undone by politicians. And for politicians wanting an insight to what they have to overcome, perhaps a reading (and intellectual digestion) of The Challenge for Africa by Wangari Maathai might help.

Review: A prophet without honour by Alex Mouton

FS Malan’s position in South African society was brought home strongly by a soliloquy by Susan du Toit in A Dry White Season. She was explaining to her husband, Ben, why he shouldn’t challenge injustice against South African blacks. Although it is not explicitly stated in Andre Brink’s A Dry White Season (also a film), Malan’s view was the reality that all had to live and work together – it was therefore imperative to fight for equal rights – in his case, keeping the Cape voters’ roll as it was before 1936.

There are no doubt other cases – Robert Powell’s short recording of his participation in the film Shaka Zulu during the Apartheid era is a case in point.

Many others quietly stand their ground, upholding equality and justice, against the majority position, finding ways to deal with the flack they get for doing so. It is through their work and those like FS Malan, Ben du Toit and Robert Powell, working alongside those on the coalface – taking (literally on occasion) the shots which eventually bring change.

But I wonder how much more we could achieve by taking risks and trusting in the prophets – for one, there should be less violence and bloodshed, and healing would be faster. As Julian Walker said at the launch of Multilingual Environments in the Great War “War happens due to a breakdown in language.”

For an insight into a man who challenged the system, Alex Mouton’s biography of FS Malan is definitely worth a read.

Review: Army of Empire – George Morton-Jack

My reading of Army of Empire: The untold story of the Indian Army in World War 1 (2018) by George Morton-Jack was a long time coming. Through some miscommunication I had been led to believe Africa did not feature which seemed rather odd. So, after some investigating, and confirmation that it did, I tracked down a copy and had a good read.

While the full extent of Indian service in East Africa is not covered in Army of Empire, due mainly to the availability of correspondence from and about the theatre, it is a valuable contribution for understanding the social and cultural aspects of the Indian Army and how those who served in both Europe and East Africa experienced and compared the theatres. My one issue with the sections on East Africa, is the reliance on Meinertzhagen’s memoirs and his being the ‘only’ intelligence agent. In fairness to George, many of us, myself included, have made this assumption. In Henry Tyndall’s 11 page diary coverage of the campaign in East Africa from 1916-1918 with the Mussoorie Volunteer Rifles (High Noon of Empire, transcribed by BA James, 2007), there is mention of Intelligence officer Lieutenant Percival and Intelligence Agent Burkitt who worked with his force around Kasinga. (Apart from the usual military coverage, the other point of note by Tyndall is the return of Naick Sanam Gul, with a broken leg, ‘by the enemy under a flag of truce’.)

Back to George’s book, I was able to obtain some answers to questions which have been lurking from when I was working on my thesis 20 years ago. However, some questions remain as British internal politics in India is not the focus of Army of Empire. What was also remarkable on this front, was how little Kitchener featured. Haig was George’s starting point and while there was much I could see carry through from the bit I encountered when writing Kitchener: The man not the myth, it was surprising to register how much had been ignored that K had been involved in. This is not a short-fall in Army of Empire as that was not its focus. What it does, for me, is confirm the antagonisms between personalities and sadly how that impacted on the Indian Army’s preparedness and treatment in the war and especially in Iraq.

Don’t expect to read about troop movements and encounters in this book. There are enough others covering that ground. Review: For the Honour of My House – Tony McClenaghan; Review: Sideshows of the Indian Army in World War 1 – Harry Fecitt; Review: Honour & Fidelity – Amarinder Singh

Army of Empire is the book to fill in the gaps around experience, motivations and desires.

Review: Multilingual Environments in the Great War

Multilingual Environments in the Great War is an eclectic collection of essays around language edited by Julian Walker and Christophe Declercq published by Bloomsbury in 2021.

The aim of the publication is to explore ‘the differing ways in which language has been used to make sense of the Great War’ and in this it succeeds. There is likely to be something of interest for most people with an interest in aspects of language and war. The editors and section introductions deftly pull together the diverse articles finding commonalities to link them together within themselves and with the present. In particular, the introduction which was written during the early months of 2020 draws parallels between coping with war and the Covid-10 outbreak.

A range of territories, languages and texts are discussed. Africa, Eastern Europe, Australia feature, Kiswahili, Portuguese, Esperanto and Romanian are some of the languages which feature while discussions on books cover guide or tourism books, language guides, and the more traditional analyses of novels with an interesting assessment of swearing in The Mint by TE Lawrence (aka AC Ross). Another fascinating contribution was that on ‘genocide discourse’ looking at the Armenian massacres of the war.

Reading through the book, I was struck with how it complements other books to which I have contributed – The Global First World War; Propaganda and Public Relations in Military Recruitment What these books demonstrate, is how much more there is to still discover about the Great War of 1914-1918 and its impact on us a hundred years later. Kudos to all the editors for their foresight.