An East African Israel

In 1903, during the premiership of Arthur Balfour (later the author of the Balfour Declaration of 1917), the British government offered a territory of 5,000 square miles on the Uasin Gishu (Gwas Ngishu) plateau in the British East Africa Protectorate to the World Zionist Movement in order to establish a Jewish settlement. In this regard the Commissioner of British East Africa, the multi-linguist Sir Charles Eliot, produced a memorandum contemplating the potential consequences of establishing, what might have become, a Jewish homeland or Israel in modern day Kenya.

Uasin Gishu (Gwas Ngishu Plateau), FO 2/785, TNA

In his memorandum dated 4th November 1903 Sir Charles Eliot makes what may be construed as a near prophetic remark seen through the prism of post-1948 Middle Eastern history. He states that “It is not likely that non-Jews will much frequent the Jewish settlement, but their rights should be carefully reserved. When circumstances permit the persecuted to become persecutors, they are apt to find the change very enjoyable [my underlining], and it would not be convenient for Christians if they were compelled to observe the Jewish Sabbath.”

The proposed settlement scheme known as the ‘British Uganda Programme’ was turned down by the World Zionist Organisation in 1905.

Eliot to Lansdowne, 4th November 1903, FO 2/785, TNA

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Earthquakes in Japanese Economic History

Situated at the confluence of four tectonic plates, the islands of Japan is subject to a high level of seismic activity. Large scale earthquakes has historically occurred in fifty-year cycles with the most recent Tōhoku earthquake of 11th March 2011 also being the largest on record, measuring a magnitude of 9 Mw. Until the unfolding of the last few days devastating events, the most deadly earthquake since 1960 took place 20 kilometres outside Kobe 17th January 1995. Measuring 6.8 Mw it took 6,434 lives  and caused an estimated $102.5 billion worth of material damages, 2.5% of Japan’s contemporary GDP.  Although not being of a relatively large magnitude, its proximity to a urban area magnified its destructive potential.

Japanese Earthquake Magnitudes vs GDP/Capita Development Y-o-Y (%) 1960-2011

A rough comparison of Japanese GDP/Capita development and historical seismic activity reveals the predictably negative effect earthquakes have on the Japanese economy. With the 2011 tremor being on an unprecedented magnitude of 9 Mw, causing a devastating tsunami which laid North-East Japan’s coastline destroyed, killing upwards of 10,000 people and included damage to several nuclear reactors which again is likely to cause severe environmental damage. As such the 2011 earthquake will also be unprecedented in human, ecological and material cost.

Current preliminary estimates range to upwards of $200 billion, however quantifying such massive disasters is a virtually impossible task. It is however clear that Japan needs the global community’s help, humanitarian and economic in order to see it through this terrible ordeal. In lies not in the proud and mild mannered Japanese nature to accept assistance, but then one must insist for it is in the best interest of us all to overcome this apocalyptic vision as soon as possible.

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Dominoes of Revolution

The first months of 2011 has seen the fall of two autocratic regimes and the imminent toppling of a third. It is a period which will be on the receiving end of scrutiny by  historians speculating in the causes of what is unfolding before our contemporary eyes in generations to come. In order to provide an explanation of why these changes have taken place today one must look to the economic, political, social, demographic and technological factors that has aligned to form a ‘perfect storm’ igniting popular risings.

Hosni Mubarak Facing the Tunisian Domino-Effect (Latuff, 2011)

It is easy to oversee the fact that the financial crisis of 2007 that primarily hit the developed economies also affected the economies of the third world. In the case of Northern Africa, their large tourism industries were affected, causing an economic rippling effect that increased unemployment rates and lowered standards of living among the socio-economic strata that constituted the largest demographic element of these societies. In the case of Tunisia and Egypt, the recession also served to weaken the regimes’ state apparati, reducing their retaliatory capabilities. Another demographic factor would be the large proportion of youths and young adults, especially of those in an age bracket susceptible to politicisation and without dependent families. Their opportunity cost in terms of the risks associated with political activism is lower than of those in older age strata. The principal technological factor was the widespread use of social media enabling both a rapid dissemination of information and a demonstration effect; making manifestations of political discontent more visible. Lastly there was the domino-effect, once one regime could be toppled by popular risings it was clear to others residing in similar societies that their actions could be copied with predictable success. The extent to which this ‘Arab Spring’ will herald the beginning of a more democratic Arab World is yet to be seen, but it is already certain to have left a mark on history.

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Demographic Composition and Economic Development

There is often a causal relationship between a country’s demographic composition and its relative economic performance. Ceteris paribus, the greater proportion of working age individuals in a population, the greater capacity a country has for production of goods and services relative to their commitments in terms of schooling, pensions, healthcare &c to the non-working generations. These factors would be most pronounced within states having a strong institutional framework and also often above a certain economic threshold.

Belonging to a large generational cohort as opposed to a small one brings many economic and political advantages. As a modern welfare state is structured around an ‘inter-generational social-contract’ whereby the working age population provides for the younger and older generations, a linear population development pattern is optimal. However human history has rarely afforded such stability, a fairly recent example disrupting social stability is WW2 resulting inter alia in a post-war ‘baby boom’.

Demographic Composition vs GDP per Capita Growth Norway 1845-2010

Whilst undoubtedly bringing much joy to their parents, the large cohorts born after the war put a substantial economic strain upon the contemporary older and smaller generations financing their (largely in the Western World) substantially free education. Upon reaching working age the so-called baby boomers, through sheer weight of numbers, caused arguably a socio-cultural revolution but also an unprecedented level of economic growth. Combined with the entry of women into the workplace and the smaller generations preceding and succeeding them, they also enjoyed relatively low taxation levels as their short-term social financial commitments were accordingly lower. Adding to this was the economic benefit of steadily rising property prices due in large part to this demographic anomaly.

In failing to produce a correspondingly substantial succeeding generation, the baby boomers, whilst enriching themselves when being in the working age stratum, simultaneously sowed the seeds for a potentially impoverished existence as old-age pensioners. This is due to the structure of national pension schemes which are based on a pay-as-you-go principle, as there will be substantially fewer tax payers to finance social commitments in terms of pensions and healthcare over the coming decades.

Historical and Projected Demographic Composition vs Historical GDP per Capita Growth (Norway, 1845-2060)

The political and economic problems affiliated with this marked rise in pensioners is currently at its very beginning in most Western states, with retirement rates set to increase markedly from 2011 onwards. Luckily for the baby boomers they still constitute such a substantial cohort that they retain the political power to effectuate the political reforms needed to maintain their wealth levels, this will however be reduced in tandem with increased death rates over the next 10 to 15 year period. The ways to mitigate the effects of this demographic transition is increased immigration, increased taxation increased fertility rates and increasing the standard retirement age, the latter two being the only sustainable solutions for the long-run. Increased life-expectancy and technological innovation increasing work efficiency are positive factors in this regard, however the Western welfare states will still face the greatest challenges to their continued existence since their inception.


GDP Data: Angus Maddison, University of Groningen

Historical Population Data: Statistics Norway

Projected Population Development: Statistics Norway, Medium Scenario


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Glass Beads for the African Trade

African Trade Beads Mid-19th Century

A favourite currency among European and African alike during the 19th century was glass beads. Inexpensive and portable for the European explorer or trader and having a high intrinsic value for the natives, it was used extensively for the exchange of goods and services. It would prove invaluable for those engaged in long-distance expeditions as explorers often remained completely dependent upon the foodstuffs provided by the local inhabitants. Although employing porters often numbering in the hundreds to carry the equipment and supplies required for treks lasting months or even years, it goes without saying that it would be impossible to bring an adequate amount of food along from the very start. Potential carrying capacity would also be reduced on behalf of the biological peculiarities of Central Africa with the Tsetse fly barring the use of beasts of burden, making human porterage the only viable option. Another popular bartering tool was brass wire, this however posed a greater logistical challenge due to its bulky nature.

Source: TNA, FO 84/2097

With the opening of the African interior during the Scramble, demand for hard currency in the form of beads increased and Italian suppliers such as ‘Ceresa-Millin’ eagerly offered their services. Being shrewd businessmen they advertised their services much the same way as being done today, sending marketing material directly to potential customers. Identified as one such client was the Africa department in the Foreign Office, where ‘Ceresa-Millin’ offered ‘Glass Beads for the African Trade’ in ‘every kind, size & colour’.

Source: The National Archives at Kew, FO 84/2097

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The Arab Slave Trade in East Africa

Report on the Mombasa Victoria Lake Railway Survey

Chapter VIII – Slave Trade in Connection to the Projected Railway

by Captain J.W. Pringle R.E.

12th May 1893

A caravan of Swahili porters and Arab masters marches up country to trade for ivory. This is their ostensible purpose, but they always combine a certain amount of slave trading with this more legitimate object. The caravan fixes upon some spot as its head-quarters, makes a strong stockaded camp, and then smaller parties of men are sent out in various directions to trade for ivory. The head-quarter camp awaits the return of these parties and purchases food for the return journey, or employs the time in hunting elephant. Here and there a few slaves, chiefly women and children, are bought by the various parties, and children are also kidnapped. On the return of these parties to their head-quarters, the caravan moves on, and the same procedure is followed. When the stock of trades goods is exhausted, the return journey to the coast is commenced. So long as the caravan marches through unfrequented country, no attempt at concealment is made; but through districts where detection of their slaves is possible, the following system is adopted. The caravan splits into two parties; one with the bulk of the ivory and Swahili porters marches by the usual roads openly, and pays recognised customs dues at the Company’s posts.

They account for the diminution in their numbers by epidemics of small-pox, by the recurrence of famine or war, and will related most circumstantially how such and such men were cut up in the Suk or Nandi country. Meanwhile the other portion of the caravan, the remunerative portion, marches by unfrequented roads to the coast, making detours wherever the proximity of a caravan with a European leader necessitates such a move. On arrival at the coast, the same system of deceit is carried out; one portion of the caravan marching into Mombasa with the bulk of the ivory, and the same story of their losses. The second portion further subdivides into smaller parties which march to various Arab shambas. The ivory and slaves they get rid of piecemeal as opportunity offers, the former being sold to Indian traders, the latter to Arabs or Swahilis. The slaves are employed in the shambas by their masters, who thus obtain cheap labour. The women generally become wives or concubines of their owners, and their children growing up consider themselves Swahilis. So far as is known these women and child slaves are treated well, as there is no reason for the employment of cruelty. This is a sketch of the programme as related by gentlemen of experience in the Company’s service, such as Messrs. Jackson and James Martin

East African Slave Routes, 19th Century

The number of slaves and slave caravans is variously estimated, some saying that the practice is very prevalent, others that it is not so. One of the oldest officials of the Imperial British East Africa Company has given it as his opinion that this form of slave trade is increasing, and shows no sign of diminution. So far, however, I think we are justified in assuming that no Swahili ivory caravan returns to the coast without some slaves. Several well known Arabs on the coast are reported to send an annual caravan more for slaves than for ivory.

The railway survey parties were joined by runaway Usoge slaves at Nzoi, and by Chaga (Kilimanjaro) and Masai boys at Machako’s, and by Wawavi women at Tsavo. All of these had deserted from Arab caravans who avoided the survey parties. In Sotik large parties of armed natives collected in commanding positions near villages on the approach of our caravan, and in reply to a question regarding their intentions, would say: “We are here to prevent your men from kidnapping our young men and women.” This would point to the general custom of Swahilis in the country, as European caravans but rarely travel by this road.

Caravans from the German sphere of influence starting from Pangani, Duseri, and other places are known to travel into the British sphere and take down slaves with them, the facilities for slave trading being undoubtedly greater by these routes than by the Company’s trade route. Unless such slaves are actually caught in the slave sticks which are now rarely employed, it is exceedingly difficult to prove anything. The women are said to be wives of some member of the caravan, and all are warned not to say anything to the “Mzungu” (European), who will do unheard of things. The slaves, mostly women and children, often carry light loads for their masters; but their value is not as carriers.

Freeing a Slave from his Shackle on HMS ‘Sphinx’ off the East Coast of Africa 1907

The slaves once purchased by Swahilis or Arabs, are as a rule well treated. Their lives are valuable, each represents so much in the way of trades goods paid down, and so much additional money value at the coast. Children that have been kidnapped have also a marketable value, and, so long as they do not attempt to run away, are also fairly well treated. But it must not be supposed that this form of slave trading is free from horror. Apart from the discomforts and hardships incidental to the long weary march, there is the fact that, through a foodless or waterless tract of country, it is the slaves who suffer the greatest privation, and not their masters. Again these slaves that are purchased though not separated or torn away from their homes and relatives by the Swahilis, have previously undergone that fate at the hands of their former masters.

An Arab Slave Merchant

They are, in fact, generally captives of war. They represent part of the spoil of a successful intertribal campaign. For some cause or other, generally with a view to obtaining cattle, sheep and goats, one tribe attacks a weaker neighbour, sets fire to the villages, carries away their flocks, spears the men, and carries off so many of the women and children as fail to make good their escape. The women may become the wives of their captors, in any case are employed as domestic slaves; but on the arrival of a Swahili caravan they will be sold for iron, or brass wire, or some article of barter. In fact so cheap are these slaves in certain districts, that west of Mt. Elgon women prisoners of war are sold for two large coloured beads apiece.

There are other cases where, on account of famine from failure of crops, or from loss of cattle by disease, natives have been known to sell their offspring for food, or for the wherewithal to buy food. The Masai were doing this in 1892, round Lake Naivasha, under pressure of the cattle disease. Sometimes children voluntarily run away from their homes and join a caravan for the sake of obtaining food, and subsequently are sold by the Arabs into slavery. Other tribes, such as the Wasoga, even without the excuse of famine, sell their relations.

Still, as a general rule, it may be accepted that the bulk of slaves purchased are captives of war.


Report on the Mombasa Victoria Lake Railway Survey, 12th May 1893 by Captain J.W. Pringle R.E., Chapter VIII – The Slave Trade in Connection to the Projected Railway (National Archives Reference: FO 83/1240)

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McLeod of the Niger

An old soldier neglected by an ungenerous country. (The Morning Leader, October 1892)

Captain Lyons McLeod, F.R.G.S., 1860

English governments have a rather unpleasant reputation for neglecting the humbler heroes of the nation; and another instance of the kind which goes to support the public impression has been brought before the notice of The Morning Leader. The story of Capt. Lyons McLeod, R.N., is a sad one. At 67 he finds himself penniless, prospectless, and broken in health, although he has served his country by many brave deeds.

HM Brig ‘Arab’ in hot pursuit of a Slaver in 1856

In November, 1841, he entered the British Navy, and while a midshipman on board the Illustrious, he volunteered for service on the West Coast of Africa in the suppression of the slave trade. There he saw some very stirring movements, and one of his own achievements was heroic. While in command of the Albert’s boats on detached service he captured three slavers in one week on the Rio Pongas. The last of the three was the Venus, which was lying securely hidden in a creek with her hull out of sight, and branches of trees lashed to her masts, so that she seemed part of the forest. The young middy had only three white and two black men in his boat, and the Venus had a crew of 26; but when, by signs known only to sailors, they discovered her position the lad and his followers made such a gallant fight that they captured the ship, warped her out of the creek under a heavy fire and got her away to sea. The approach of a vessel with what appeared to be growing trees for masts caused no little sensation at Sierra Leone, and the midshipman and his crew were all promoted. McLeod became a lieutenant at the expiration of his sea time. He again volunteered for service on the African West Coast, and spent some time in doing good work on the Penelope and the Centaur. In 1853 he laid before Sir Roderick Murchison and the Royal Geographical Society a plan for opening the Niger to commerce, by ascending th river on the rising of the waters. He was confident that he knew the cause of the failure of the Niger Expedition of 1841-2, and placed faith in the native story that the bursting and overflowing of the lagoons along the banks at the end of the rainy season raised the level of the river sometimes as much as 60ft. in 24 hours. The delta was then submerged, there was no malaria, and the river was healthy. His theories were justified by the result. His plan was adopted, and an expedition commanded by Dr. Backie ascended the river, and returned with the loss of a man. The Niger was thus opened through McLeod’s agency to civilisation and commerce.

The Niger River Delta

A death blow was struck at the slave traffic, and England secured a great trade in palm oil and other commodities. Peiterman and other German geographers have spoken of the services of “McLeod of the Niger,” as they call him; but otherwise he complains that he has had no recognition. In 1856 he became Consul of Mozambique, and by vigorous action he stopped what was virtually the slave trade under the denomination of a “French Free Labor Emigration.” His dispatches convinced a committee, presided over by Prince Napoleon, that the slave trade was very thinly disguised by this name, and the Emperor of the French paid an indemnity of 15 million francs to secure its cessation. Thereafter, however, McLeod’s Consulate was abolished, and he not only received no compensation, but was considerably out of pocket by his residence there. After being disappointed in the hope of official promotion, he was created Consul of the Niger, and spent several years in that very troubled territory. He took part in many stirring events.

Bishop Samuel Crowther

He saved a warship which grounded on the river; he fought fierce battles with the pirates; he rescued Samuel Crowther, the black bishop, only lately dead, from the clutches of pirates; he suppressed many centres of the slave trade, and opened many avenues of trade. His most momentous experience was nothing less than a war with a fierce and powerful native chief who attacked the Consulate, and, failing to take it, invested it for nine months. In the end the chief was beaten, his force dispersed, and a great obstacle in the way of civilisation removed. The privations Capt. McLeod suffered during this trying time brought on acute dysentery, and he was invalided. He got no further than Madeira on his way home, and lay there six months in a state of prostration.

American Sailors Fighting Pirates, Early 19th Century

When at last he arrived in London he found that his Consulate was to be abolished, and the only compensation he got for the loss of a salary of £700 a year was a pension of £50. Since then the man who opened the Niger has held no appointment, and misfortune has followed him fast. Continued illness and necessity, and the long and fatal illness of his only son, made demands far beyond the power of a pension of £50 to meet; and he was in his extremity obliged to commute it. From that time he has been without satisfactory resources. He has written several books. His “Eastern Africa,” published in 1860, has been placed in the Royal Library at Windsor by command of the Queen. He also published in 1865 a history of Madagascar and its people, which was recognised by the native authorities as a work of great value.

Sir Robert Fowler

Besides these works he has published others of considerable worth, and he is the inventor of some useful appliances. This is the story of the old man, now partly blind and suffering internal maladies brought on by privations in Africa. He is absolutely without means – literally penniless – and he appeals to the Government for a grant from the Civil or some other fund which will keep him in his old age out of helpless dependence and poverty. He submitted a petition for such aid in 1885; it was supported by the then Lord Mayor, Sir Robert Fowler, Sir William McArthur, the Baroness Burdett-Coutts, and many others, but it produced no effect. The poor old man is still bright and cheerful, in spite of all these trials, and he laughed like a boy as he fought his battles o’er again with a representative of The Morning Leader. He is very modestly averse to notoriety, and he asks no charity. All he asks is a slight recognition of his undoubted and undeniable services to civilisation and humanity. Perhaps a generous public opinion will now give his petition the greater weight of its support.



The Morning Leader, article published October 1892, as an attachment to a letter from the  Salvation Army to the Foreign Office, FO 84/2263

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