Archive for February, 2015

Henry Morton Stanley Takes Credit for Naming Uganda the “Pearl of Africa”

February 17, 2015

“Since my return from Africa, I have persistently maintained that so long as there are no facilities of transport between Lake Victoria and the sea, nothing in the way of progress can be hoped for from East Africa. Just as Stanley Pool on the Congo is our objective in West Africa, we must take the Victoria Nyanza as our objective in East Africa. The first commands the commerce of 16,000 miles of river banks; the second is the centre of a region which is inhabited by millions of the finest people in Africa. The lake has 1500 miles of coast line of its own. At one point it is but 150 miles from Lake Tanganyika; from Beatrice Gulf it is only sixty miles; from Lake Albert it is barely a hundred, and the navigable Nile is also within easy reach; so that by this lake we have, roughly speaking, access to about 3000 miles of lake shores and 5000 miles of river banks. To join these with the sea would be a scheme equal in importance and prospective advantages to that of the Congo, because, though we should not at once control so vast a region as the Congo, the natives of these parts are so immeasurably superior to those of Western Africa, that we should only have to appear with our goods in order to establish a vast trade. I take but little interest in the region through which the railway must run, because of itself it is scarcely worth a thought. I regard the region as only a means to an end. By itself it is not worth the luxury of a railway. The point to be reached is the fresh-water sea beyond. Let that be made accessible and the intervening region becomes naturally of great value. We may be sure that those who need fat pastures, farm-lands, and cheap labour will not neglect the opportunities provided for them by the railway.

It is the “Pearl of Africa” that is our object. I applied that somewhat  grandiloquent term to Uganda because of its frequent use by the Portuguese, who spoke of Cabinda at the Berlin Conference as the pearl of the Crown of Portugal. Many have sneered at it since, and dense-headed travellers have tried to account for the term by adducing the fertility of the soil and the variety of its products; but the truth is that the term aptly illustrates the superior value of Uganda because of its populousness, the intelligence of its people, its strategic position for commerce, and for spreading Christianity–all of which make it pre-eminently a desirable colony for a trading and civilizing nation like ours.

No one, however, has called Uganda a paradise. It is simply a superior region of East Central Africa possessing unusual advantages by its position between the Three Lakes and the Nile, and inhabited by a remarkably intelligent people, who, because of their undoubted adaptability, are more capable of being trained, educated, and civilized than any other between Assfian and Cape Colony. I have twice crossed the continent; I have tested to the full the capacities of the best Congo tribes, the Zanzibaris and Wanyamwezi; I have had hundreds from the West African coast tribes under me; I have been into Upper Egypt, Ashanti, and Abyssinia; I have had two hundred Zulus in training; but I have met none who impressed me so much with their mental, spiritual, and moral capacity as the Waganda. Remembering these qualities, look over the map of Africa and tell me where there are such possibilities as with such a people, occupying such a country as they do. Had the Waganda, held together as they have been by their traditions, nature, and customs, inhabited the country of the Basutos, or the Zulus, or the Matabeli, they would long ago have made their mark as a progressive race; but being where they are, stretched along the northern shores of an inland sea, and dominating the whole of the intra-lake region, it is a marvel to me that English people are so slow to perceive the uses to which Uganda and its nation may be applied. Administered by a British Commissioner, assisted and directed by British officers, educated by British missionaries, and trained in industrial crafts by British teachers, Uganda and its people are as capable of astonishing Central Africa as the Japanese have astonished the Far East.

In 1862 Speke and Grant found the entire Waganda nation clothed in home-made robes of brown bark cloth. Thirteen years later the king and his court, the chiefs and officers of the army, were dressed in the finest white cottons, cloaks of broad cloth and fez caps, and were inclined to the Mohammedan religion. In another thirteen years some 5000 had become Christians, and many of them were able to read and preach the Gospel. Cloth dresses had become almost universal, firearms had become common. In the last six years the progress has been still more rapid. The Christians have trebled in number; they possess a cathedral and nearly 200 churches; the art of reading and writing has been acquired by many hundreds, and a perfect mania for instruction has developed among the young.”


Henry M. Stanley

Work Cited

Stanley, Henry Morton. “The Uganda Railway” [Excerpt]. Saturday Review of Politics, Literature, Science and Art , vol. 79 (1895): 719-720.

Jonathan Musere