This is the ‘Provisional Unchecked Edition’ of the colossal six-sheet masterplan of Nairobi made by the British Army in the immediate wake of World War II. Measuring nigh 2 metres (if the sheets were joined), and done to scale of 1:10,000 (6.33 inches to 1 mile), the map showcases the entire city and its environs in unprecedented detail. Every street and laneway are sharply delineated; every building is shown in outline; all major edifices and institution are labeled; while the city’s many parks and greenspaces are well defined. One of the most impressive plans of any African city of the modern era, the map captures Nairobi just as Kenya was about to commence is final (albeit bloody) march to independence, and before it was utterly transformed by explosive growth (the city then had around 100,000 residents, today it has over 4.5 million!).
Nairobi had by this time been for almost four decades the military, commercial and political hub of East Africa, and during World War II is played a key role as the British forces HQ for the greater region. In August 1945, once the armed forces were largely free of their wartime duties, mapping Nairobi to an ultra-grand scale with precise accuracy became a priority. The responsibility for the project was given to the East Africa Survey Group (EASG), a special cartographic corps of the British Army formed in August 1940 in Nairobi, that had the responsibility producing high quality maps of sectors of the war theatre in East Africa and the Indian Ocean. Led by Major J.E.S. Bradford, the crack corps employed numerous engineers, surveyors, draftsmen, photographic technicians and printers who were veterans in working in challenging conditions in Africa or Asia.
Specifically, a special photographic squadron of the Royal Air Force took photographa of the Nairobi area employing ‘controlled mosaic’ photographic techniques, by which aerial photographs are made in a systematic fashion to unform standards, anchored to basepoints determined by astronomical observations.
These photographs were then given to the 157th (East Africa & Southern Rhodesia) Base Survey Company, a division of the EASG, who combined and edited them at their Nairobi workshop, producing a giant manuscript, a process that took months, due the need for precision nda accuracy. This manuscript was published in April 1946 by the No.1 (East Africa Reproduction) Section on the press of the Survey Directorate, East Africa Command, in Nairobi, making it likely the largest and most exacting map ever issued in Kenya to date. Even though this first state is noted as being a ‘Provisional Unchecked Edition’, any errors or omissions it featured were probably quite minor and were easily cleared up for subsequent print runs.
Focusing in on the map, the central business district appears in the middle of the view, distinguished by a great concentration of large edifices built upon a rational grid of streets, while to the south are the massive yards the Uganda Railway, the economic lifeline of Kenya. Beyond, the city, which then had the form of something like a semi-rural bucolic landscape, spreads out along plains amidst small rivers and streams, punctuated by ample woodlands and greenspaces. Wide avenues connect various residential subdivisions and estates, while the urbanscape features numerous institutions of government (ex. the great neo-classical Government House, built in 1907); healthcare (ex. the modern European Hospital); education (ex. Kenton College, Indian Boys School, Prince of Wales School, the Coryndon Museum); religion (St. Andrew’s Church, Sikh Union, St. Austen’s Mission); recreation (the City Park, Royal Nairobi Gold Club, Muthaiga Club); the airport, the ‘Civil Aerodrome’, is located to the city’s south; while and the magnificent Ngong Forest Reserve is appears in the southwest. Indicative of the city’s fast growth, many planned, or in progress, subdivisions can be seen in Nairobi’s outskirts, especially to the east.
The present map proved highly influential, as it become the basis for the succeeding, continuously updated masterplans of Nairobi, printed as the City of Nairobi: 1:10,000 Cadastral Series, published in the form of 3 large sheets by the Survey of Kenya from 1950 to 1976.
A Note on Rarity
The present map is extremely rare, which is not surprising given that it would have been issued in only a very small print run for high level official use. Moreover, its survival rate would be very low due to its large size and fragility.
We can trace only 2 institutional examples of the map, held by the British Library and the Library of Congress. We do not know if these examples are of the ‘Provisional Unchecked Edition’ or of a revised issue. Moreover, we are not aware of any other examples as having appeared on the market.
Nairobi: The Commercial and Military Epicentre of East Africa
For centuries, the place that would become Nairobi was inhabited by the Maasai and Kikuyu peoples, although it traditionally never had any significance.
In 1896, the British began building the Uganda Railway, the 1,060 km-long line that was to connect the port of Mombasa with Lake Victoria. In 1899, they established a rail depot at the site of Nairobi, attracted by the location’s high elevation (1,795 metres), which was malaria free with easy access to water; the area was also green, sunny and attractive.
The Nairobi camp grew rabidly, becoming a township in 1900. The British heavily favoured the healthful climate, and established homesteads, businesses and local government offices there. Native Kenyan peoples and immigrants from the Indian Subcontinent followed.
In the early 19-noughts, the British regime that ran the East Africa Protectorate (which became Kenya in 1920), envisaged turning Nairobi into their colonial epicentre. They designed a spacious unbanscape on ‘garden city principles’, with many parks, wide streets, good services, well-appointed insitituons and clubs, and grand public buildings.
Nairobi was made the colonial capital in 1907, replacing crowded, malarial Mombasa. In line with the racist views of the time, the British intended Nairobi to be a ‘White City’, with Black Africans and East Indians relegated to second class status. A form of Apartheid was enacted, whereby non-Whites were compelled to live only in certain neighborhoods and their access to services was limited. Yet, Kenyans and Indians still moved to the city, as the promise of good jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities seemed to outweigh the injustices.
Known as the ‘Green City in the Sun’, Nairobi continued to grow, but until World War II remained a small city with an almost bucolic semi-rural atmosphere and only manageable urban problems.
Nairobi first came to global importance during World War I, when it was the main British base against the German General Paul Lettow-Vorbeck’s surprisingly effective campaign to upset the British and Portuguese colonial regime in East and Southern Africa. While the German threat was eventually contained, many sleepless nights were had at the British HQ in Nairobi.
World War II was a watershed moment for Nairobi, for during this time it was transformed from what was essentially a big town into a major, bustling city. Once again, the British Army HQ buzzed with activity, as during the East Africa Campaign (June 10, 1940 – November 27, 1941), Britain countered an Italian invasion of Kenya and went on to conquer Italian East Africa.
Meanwhile, thousands more Black Kenyans and East Indians moved to Nairobi, in search of jobs, as the local economy went into hyper-drive buoyed by the war effort. Nairobi became a major commercial centre of the first time, while almost 100,000 Kenyans joined the King’s African Riles, the British frontier crack force, many serving with tremendous bravery and distinction.
The impact of the war upon Nairobi’s demography was profound, as from 1941 to 1948 the city’s population grew at an annual rate of 17%, such that by 1948 the city had almost 119,000 residents. These changes shattered the naively bigoted notion of Nairobi a being a ‘White City’, as it was now overwhelmingly Black and East Indian.
In the immediate wake of the war, when the present map was made, Nairobi was a bustling centre of government, commerce and culture. Yet, the British regime paid local workers low wages and heavily taxed the East Indian merchant class, while unemployment rose due the cessation of wartime government spending. Black Kenyans especially came to feel that their noble service to the crown during the war were underappreciated and a general discontent with the British colonial regime prevailed.
Nairobi soon became the heart of the Kenyan independence movement, led by Jomo Kenyatta. Tensions soon boiled over into civil war, in the form of the Mau Mau Uprising (1952-60), whereby the British regime and their local allies brutally crushed the independence movement. Yet, despite this ‘victory’, the British were thoroughly discredited in Kenya, and soon saw the writing on the wall. Nairobi became the capital of the independent Republic of Kenya in 1963.
Meanwhile, Nairobi continued to grow rapidly, reach a population of 400,000 in 1962. Up to then, the growth was overall manageable. However, from that point, economic dislocation in the countryside, compelled tens of thousands of Kenyans per year moved to the capital seeking better lives. By the 1970s, the growth had reached epic proportions, and while the city centre and some suburbs remained orderly and pleasant, numerous giant shantytowns sprung up in the suburbs. Nairobi reached a population of 1.3 million in 1989, and has today swelled to 4.5 million in the city proper (with a metropolitan population of over 10.5 million!).
References: British Library: Cartographic Items Maps MOD GP 2725; Library of Congress: G8414.N2 1946 .G7; OCLC: 497632158, 671866195; LIBRARY OF CONGRESS, Kenya: Subject Guide to Official Publications (Washington, D.C., 1978), p. 183.