The Imperial British East Africa Company (IBEAC) was the administrator of British East Africa, which was the forerunner of the East Africa Protectorate, later Kenya. The IBEAC was a commercial association founded to develop African trade in the areas controlled by the British colonial power.
The Imperial British East Africa Company
IBEAC was created after the Berlin Treaty of 1885, it was led by William Mackinnon and built upon his company’s trading activities in the region, with the encouragement of the British government through the granting of an imperial charter – although it remained unclear what this actually meant. It granted immunity of prosecution to British subjects whilst allowing them the right to raise taxes, impose custom duties, administer justice, make treaties and otherwise act as the government of the area.
Mombasa and its harbour were central to its operations, with an administrative office about 80 km south in Shimoni. The company was incorporated in London on 18 April 1888, and granted a royal charter by Queen Victoria on 6 September 1888.
The founding of the Imperial British East Africa Company (IBEAC) was due to the enterprise of Sir William Mackinnon, then chairman of British India Steam Navigation Company running a regular mail service between Aden and Zanzibar as early as 1872. Based in Mombasa, IBEAC had started venturing into the interior, where it established trading forts.
Unfortunately, Nairobi was not lucky to have had such a fort. The turning point came in 1888 when IBEAC was granted a royal charter to “exploit the British Sphere of Inﬂuence” between Zanzibar and Uganda.
The Imperial British East Africa Company (IBEA) established its ﬁrst fort at Machakos in 1889 as the Kamba proved to be better trading partners and were eager to cooperate. The Kamba were also interested in long distance trade, mainly in ivory and salt. IBEAC was given rights to control the land running from the eastern coast of Africa to Uganda to the northwestern shore of Lake Victoria.
It was IBEAC that in 1890 ordered a 110-torme steamship vessel for Lake Victoria to carry cargo and passengers. But the ship, disassembled and loaded in boxes, stayed at the Mombasa port awaiting the building of the railway. ‘lhe IBEAC employed engineers James Macdonald and Jolm Wallace Pringle to survey the route for construction of the Uganda Railway, between 1891 and 1892, but had no funds to undertake the Work. Caught up in factional ﬁghts in Uganda involving the king of the Baganda (the Kabaka), the Catholics and the Protestants, IBEAC failed to start building the railway. Ultimately, it never built its Uganda ofﬁce and became bankrupt.
It was not until 1896 that the ship ownership started the journey to Lake Victoria. The ship was finally assembled in 1898 and Sir William Mackinnon sailed in 1901 when the Uganda Railway branch to Kisumu was completed. This steamship, which operated until 1929, opened cargo business within the three East African countries.
The other IBEAC trading fort was at Dagoretti. It was constructed after Captain Lugard negotiated with the Kikuyu Chief, Waiyaki wa Hinga, to allow him build a food depot and a trading fort for the caravans going towards Uganda.
But the Kikuyus refused to supply grains, antagonising a Captain Nelson’s porters and traders heading to Uganda. In the struggles, Waiyaki was killed as he was being deported to the Coast.
In 1891 – four years after IBEAC had been granted a Royal Charter Captain James MacDonald was dispatched to the interior as part of a railway survey party. Part of his mission was to look for the easiest way from the plains towards the Rift Valley and beyond. But IBEAC did not last and became bankrupt in 1895, the same year the Mombasa Road reached Nairobi and Britain declared their protectorate over Kenya.
The IBEAC commissioner for Ukambani, John Ainsworth, however, decided to stay on and moved the IBEAC office to Nairobi, where he started planning for a new town.
In 1894, the British government declared a protectorate over Uganda, effectively dissolving IBEAC and assuming full responsibility. In 1896, Railway Engineer George Whitehouse sent Engineer Blackitt to examine one of the aligmnents done previously on the Uganda Railway. Engineer Blacke itt proposed a new alignment up the plains, with a suggestion that at Athi River, the railway should run north along the wall of the Rift Valley and descend with little ease. If this had been done, Nairobi would certainly not have emerged. But when Whitehouse came to see the alignment, he favoured McDonald’s because it passed through the Kikuyu territory and had hoped to recruit them as labourers, since the Indians were becoming a problem.
His only concern was that McDonald’s alignment was adjacent to the Nairobi River. He is said to have turned it 90 degrees and ran it over a mile and in the middle, just before it hit the Community Hill, he circled it as the base of a new station. And with that small change, McDonald had not only decided the future of railway headquarters, but also the capital of Kenya.