Ugandans have, for decades, been enamored with the designation “Pearl of Africa,” which conferment on their country is commonly attributed by them to Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill. Only some appear to strongly associate the phrase with explorer Henry Morton Stanley. And the Ugandans have reason to be proud of Spencer-Churchill, the universally legendary British adventurer, warlord, writer, traveler,sportsman, orator, artist, literature Nobel prize winner, politician, statesman and prime-minister for generously and exceptionally describing the natural environmental beauty of the then British Protectorate Uganda and her peoples.
In his book “My African Journey” Spencer-Churchill describes Uganda as, “…from end to end a beautiful garden” (1908:88), “…the exuberance of vegetation…scarcely describable” (1908: 151). Spencer-Churchill describes the kingdom of Buganda as, “…a fairy tale..,” one endowed with unique environmental attributes, with a remarkably and unexpectedly vibrant, structured and cordial social and political system nestled out of reach of the outside world (1908: 86-87). Compared to the prevalent literature of that time which tended to describe Africans as savagery, backward, disorganized and in need of guidance and civilizing, Spencer-Churchill’s book that described Africans as very wonderful beings will always be exceptional. On page 197 of the book, Spencer-Churchill simply remarks, “Uganda is the pearl.” I am hard pressed to come across evidence of Churchill writing specifically of Uganda as, “The Pearl of Africa.”
So, was the quotation attributed to Churchill’s slightly altered to help describe Uganda’s uniqueness in Africa, was Churchill merely paraphrasing what others in the past had written and said about Uganda, or have people attributed “Pearl of Africa” to Spencer-Churchill simply because of his outstanding iconic world presence?
Some years ago Jeff Davis Bass a young Rhetoric professor in the Department of Communications Studies professor at Baylor University in Texas assured me that it was Henry Morton Stanley and not Winston Spencer-Churchill that had originally designated the future Uganda area as “the Pearl of Africa.” I was surprised but I believed him. I was more familiar with Churchill’s book than I was with Henry Stanley. Bass’ doctoral thesis, completed at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, when he was 26 is, “The Ideological Uses of Myth: the British and Uganda, 1863-1895.” Bass told me that he had wanted to, but it had not been ideal for him to research in Uganda at that time; but that he had greatly relied on archival records that he researched in London. Henry Stanley was born John Rowlands in Wales, then at age 18 migrated to the United States and became employed and befriended by a wealthy New Orleans trader named Stanley. American literature heavily attributes, “Pearl of Africa,” to Henry Stanley.
To begin with, Spencer-Churchill, one of the Spencer aristocratic family was born two months prematurely on November 30th 1874. Morton Stanley was already in Africa. In 1871, Stanley had met with explorer Dr. David Livingstone, “I presume.” Norman D. Harris implies that “Pearl of Africa” may have been coined by more than one person, or by one out of at three major European adventurers.
“Uganda had been visited as early as 1858 by Captain [John Hanning] Speke and [Richard] Burton and again in 1875 by Stanley, all of whom were enthusiastic over the fertility of its soil and the intelligence of its people. They referred to it as the “pearl of Africa… “(Harris 1914: 90).
Frederick John D. Lugard writes, “Stanley was even louder in his praises of Uganda than Speke had been, and described it as the “Pearl of Africa” (1893: 3). Lugard also suggests that the praises Stanley lavished on Uganda that included that quotation greatly influenced the prompt dispatching of Anglican missionaries that Stanley lauded for. The royal office of Queen Victoria authorized the dispatching of the missionaries to the Kabaka Mutesa Mukaabya’s court in Buganda. Notably, the use of gemstone name-words like, “Pearl,” reached their apex in the late Victorian era. The ship that carried missionary David Livingstone from Liverpool to the mouth of the Zambezi river, in 1858, was HMS Pearl.
In 1890, teenager Churchill joined the Harrow Rifle Corps (now known as the Combined Cadet Force) and excelled in English, History, and fencing. there are hints to the coining of, “Pearl of Africa.” In the same year Henry William Little writes of the northern and western Uganda part of the Anglo-Egyptian colonial province Equatoria under the governance of the Pasha Dr. Mehmet Emin as referred to as, “…’the pearl of the Soudan,’ one of the fairest and most fertile, and most populous, of the Central African States” (Little: 1890). Soudan/ Sudan was a generic designation for “Land of the blacks,” or the areas south of Egypt that were prevalently occupied by Negroids. There were fleeting considerations, by the General Charles Gordon the governing overlord ‘Pasha’ of Egyptian-Sudan, to annex Uganda. A military contingent under Mehmet Emin was dispatched to Mutesa’s capital in 1876. The proposed treaty with Mutesa did not achieve fruition, the political relationship with Gordon ended and Emin’s contingent withdrew. The ‘pearl of the Soudan,” may have partially been a reference to Uganda.
In 1893, Churchill left Harrow Rifle Corps in the hopes of attending the prestigious Royal Military College at Sandhurst. After three attempts, Churchill passed the entrance exam and went into cavalry other than infantry which required of him a higher mathematical acumen. Spencer-Churchill was not fond of mathematics. In December 1894, Winston commendably graduated eighth out of a class of 150. He became commissioned as a Cornet (Second Lieutenant) in the 4th Queen’s Own Hussars in February 1895. He, later in the year, traveled to Cuba as a war correspondent. He would return home in the same year to bid farewell to his nanny, surrogate mother, and “favorite friend” Mrs. Elizabeth Everest who was close to death. She died a week after Churchill returned. Winston’s birth mother, Lady Randolph Churchill (Jeanette Jerome), a daughter of an American millionaire, relied on nannies and limited her participation in her two sons’ upbringing. And Winston’s father, Randolph Spencer-Churchill died young at age 45.
In October 1896, Winston Spencer-Churchill was transferred to British India in Bombay (Mumbai); later in 1898 to Egypt. He resigned from the British Army in 1899, intending to get into British politics.
In 1898, Henry Morton Stanley writes.
“Uganda, the pearl of Africa, discovered by Mr. Stanley, snatched by Captain Lugard from the hands of the French, and now in the throes of a mutiny, is the cockpit of Central Africa. Heathens, Protestants, and Catholics are always struggling for mastery. It is the land of romance and of the unexpected. It commands the northern shores of the Victoria Nyanza and the head waters of the Nile” (Stanley 1898: 63-64).
It was in late 1899 or early 1900 that Churchill arrived in South Africa to act as a correspondent regarding the second Boer War between Britain and the Boer Republics. After capture and imprisonment in a POW camp in Pretoria, Churchill managed to escape 300 miles away to Lourenco Marques in Delgoa Bay. After another series of adventures, Churchill returned to England in 1900.
Meanwhile, published in 1899 is, “…British East Africa, stretching from the Indian Ocean to Lake Victoria, and having within its borders Uganda, ‘the pearl of Africa,’ discovered by Henry M. Stanley, and now fast developing into a prosperous and modern community, with merchant and war ships aiding its commerce on the lake and railroads connecting it with the ocean and the interior” (School Journal, Volume 59: 1899).
And here is a piece from Samuel Henry Jeyes.
“If Lord Rosebery had certain difficulties to surmount within the Cabinet in regard to Egypt, they were trifling in comparison with the resistance offered to his policy of strengthening British control over Uganda. In June 1892, the directors of the British East Africa Company announced that they had finally decided to withdraw from a region which the late Sir Henry Stanley described as the pearl of Central Africa, but which had shown no indication of paying, or becoming likely to pay, for the expenses of the administration” (1906: 147).
And Henry Stanley writes.
“There were two main motives for which the British nation voted the money for the construction of the Uganda Railway. The first was the suppression of the slave trade, and the second was to effect an uninterrupted and speedy communication between the sea and what was called the “Pearl of Africa,” and to-day, as the reader of the paper had said, those two objects had been accomplished (1902: 171).
Also, “The Sleeping Sickness has become so serious in the British Protectorate of Uganda, called by Stanley ‘the Pearl of Africa,”‘that the English Government has sent a commission to determine the reasons for the spread of the disease and if possible to find a remedy” (Wheeler and Crane 1903: 426).
Here, Norman Harris refers to the late 19th century. “Uganda had been visited early by Captain Speke and Stanley, both of whom were enthusiastic over the fertility of its soil and the intelligence of its people. They referred to it as the “pearl of Africa” (Harris 1909: 207).
There is a section largely implying Buganda and the Baganda in Chambers’s [sic] Encyclopaedia; Winston Churchill who had already visited Uganda and written on Africa is not mentioned in reference to the “Pearl.”
“Uganda: a British protectorate in East Africa, extending along the north-west shore of the Victoria Nyanza, and lying on both sides of the equator. It was first visited (in 1862) by Speke and Grant, and by Stanley was called the ‘Pearl of Africa.’ The country is partly mountainous, partly undulating, partly a plain, very fertile on the whole, and well wooded. The climate is mild and singularly uniform throughout the year, the variation being from 50° to 90° F. The Waganda, who may number three millions, are a warlike and highly intelligent people speaking a language of the Bantu stock, with well-developed native industries” (1912: 359).
An interesting colonial view of the Buganda at that time is offered by the American Medical Association.
“The Waganda may be said to be the French of Central Africa. They are people with ideas, and they lead the fashions. A race which prides itself on descent from remote white progenitors, the Waganda stand out, by reason of their elaborate system of autocratic government, their laws and customs which control all the affairs of life, even the amount of bare leg permissible at court; their higher civilization, which is shown in their dress, houses and sanitary arrangements—as distinct and separate from the naked savages which surround Uganda, “the Pearl of Central Africa.” The Emperor Mtesa, with his barbaric court on the shores of the Victoria Nyanza, his arrogance and cruelty, his intelligence and eager desire to learn, his vast armies and his huge harem, has been described by Speke and Stanley with such minuteness and brilliancy that his name and character will never be forgotten. The Waganda are extremely intelligent, and the missionaries who followed in Stanley’s steps and established a station at Uganda tell wonderful stories of individual converts who quickly learnt to read the Bible in their native tongue, and to write capital letters, and who even suffered cruel martyrdoms for their faith ; but all who have had anything to do with these people agree that, as a whole, they are crafty, lying, murderous thieves. Both men and women are draped in bark-cloth, and immodesty is a crime ; the dwellings are clean, and each householder is obliged to construct a privy away from the house ; the banana and plantains are the staple articles of food, the savory cooking of which is practiced. The Waganda are very skillful with their fingers, and in the making of shields, spears, and canoes they excel all other African tribes; they are extremely fond of music, and have a number of musical instruments; indeed, so fond are all the African races of music, that, in Sir Samuel Baker’s opinion, a man who plays the cornet, or an organ grinder, could pass unharmed from one end of Africa to the other; and that a missionary to be successful ought to be able to dance a jig and play the bagpipes. Women in Uganda are mere baggage and all wives have their price” (1890).
The “Pearl,” was apparently an interchanging reference to Buganda and British Protectorate Uganda. But yes, Buganda was the nucleus of the activity in the British Protectorate. According to Wyatt Tilby, “Uganda had moved the admiration of Stanley, who called it the pearl of Africa” (1912: 192).
And Burton J. Hendrick writes: “…Uganda, “the pearl of Africa,” the land of romance and adventure, which was discovered by Stanley and saved for England by Captain Lugard, is now one of England’s richest dependencies” (1900: 176).
This is a piece by American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. “It is a striking illustration of native manners and customs, and it shows how close are the relations between the missionaries and the government of Uganda, which Mr. Stanley calls the ‘Pearl of Africa’…” (1891: 28)
Certainly, Winston Spencer-Churchill was not the original source of the term, “Pearl of Africa.” The most credible originator of the term seems to be Henry Morton Stanley. Stanley is apparently associated with the phrase, countless times that it is surprising that Spencer-Churchill gets a lot of the credit. Churchill seems to have learned and incorporated into his writing much of what was documented by Stanley about Uganda. Henry Stanley was a major driving force in the exploration and promotion of Uganda to the outside world. He was the bulldozing soldier and adventurer who endured the hostilities of the jungles.
American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. The Missionary Herald, Volume 87. London: Samuel T. Armstrong, 1891.
American Medical Association. Journal of the American Medical Association, Volume 15, (1890): 109.
Churchill, Winston S. L. My African Journey. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1908.
Harris, Norman D. Intervention and Colonization in Africa. London: Houghton Mifflin, 1914.
Harris, Norman D. “European Expansion and East Africa.” The Forum, Volume 42, (1909).
Jeyes, Samuel Henry. The Earl of Rosebery. London: J. M. Dent, 1906.
Hendrick, Burton J. “Twenty Years of Empire Building in Africa.” Frank Leslie’s Popular Monthly,Volume 51 (1900): 172-176.
Lippincott Publishers. Chambers’s Encyclopaedia: A Dictionary of Universal Knowledge, Volume 10, London: Lippincott, 1912.
Little, Henry William. Henry M. Stanley, His Life, Travels and Explorations. London: Chapman and Hall, 1890.
Lugard, Frederick J. D. The Rise of Our East African Empire: Early Efforts in Nyasaland and Uganda (Volume 2), London: W. Blackwood and Sons, 1893.
School Journal, Volume 59, London: E. L. Kellogg and Company. (1899): 709.
Stanley, Henry M. Africa: Its Partition and Its Future. London: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1898.
Stanley, Henry M. “A Great African Lake.” National Geographic Magazine, Volume 13 (1902): 171.
Tilby, Wyatt A. Britain in the Tropics, 1527-1910. London: Houghton Mifflin, 1912.
Wheeler, Edward J. and Crane, Frank. “Sleeping Sickness.” Current Opinion no. 34 (1903): 426.