The multifaceted culture of Kenya is expressed in different forms. From a variety of tribes to languages and customs, but also experiences and developments that shape who we are.
The Kenya-Uganda railway, as it is known today, is a railway system linking the interiors of Uganda and Kenya to the Indian Ocean at Mombasa in Kenya. A grand vision, a story of tragedy, and a story of man’s triumph. Triumph over enormous odds in his quest to effectively administer the British Protectorate of Uganda and control the source of the River Nile.
“The Lunatic Express”
As it was called by British parliamentarian Henry Labouchere, who opposed its construction, served the purpose for which it was intended. It was meant to provide an access route to landlocked Uganda and pave a way to Egypt. The British government imported more than 32,000 laborers from British India to offer manual labor. When construction of the railway was completed many laborers, Indian coolies, traders and small businessmen stayed on in the region. This created the substantial Indian minority communities in Kenya and Uganda.
The extension of the railway dramatically changed the trade environment in the region. In Mombasa, where the railway had first been built, trade through the Kilindini Harbour grew. According to traveler and historian Norman Maclean, from £1.6 million in 1908-9 to £3.7 million in 1911-12.
“And the journey which cost the early missionaries and explorers three or four months of incredible hardships and peril, can now be done in less than forty-eight hours,” he noted.
Apart from Nairobi, other towns where the train had terminals, like Kisumu, Eldoret, Jinja and Nakuru, also saw an overnight growth in trading activity and population on the back of the train.
Successful as it was, it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows.
Lions preyed on the construction workers of “the iron snake”, as it was referred to by the locals. This happened along the way from Voi to Nairobi. A total of 2,493 workers at an average of 38 dead workers per month, or 5 dead workers for every 2 km, were lost.
It is such incidences that hold a place in the hearts of the locals. When one visits the Nairobi Railway Museum, it’s not just a ‘cool’ place to go take pictures. It is a picture history of Nairobi from its infancy, occurrences and milestones during the railway construction. The museum is a yard with exhibits of the different steam engine locomotives used on the railway system from 1898 when the first train set off on its maiden voyage from Mombasa.
When we take pictures there, we are remembering the memories that are forever stained in our hearts. We are appreciating what our ancestors had to do then that shape who we are today.
Series created and captured by Alekograph