Obituary: Brian Hartley

"Masai" Hartley, as Brian Hartley was sometimes known, fell in love with Africa in 1929 when, as a 22-year-old junior agricultural officer in the Colonial Service, he was posted to Mwanza in what was then western Tanganyika. Over the years, he was decorated MBE, OBE and CMG for his services to agriculture, and he spent most of his pension on a project that successfully introduced camels to the Masai along the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro in the dusty north of Tanzania.

Hartley would have been the first to remark upon the neat symmetry of these two parts of his life. The tall, strapping Englishman with the twinkling eyes and open face never matched the caricature of the strutting colonial administrator; he was always happiest with the African people in the villages and bush. A benevolent host, he would sit at the head of his table, wielding a glass of red wine, and recite Tennyson's "Ulysses", "Come my friends, 'tis not too late to see a newer world . . ."

As a young man, Hartley was struck with le mal d'Afrique - and though he ventured as far afield as Aden, Iraq, Turkey and Trinidad, he spent much of the next 67 years thinking up ways to give something back to the continent he loved.

He was born in Leicestershire in 1907, the son of a civil servant, and grew up as a country boy in a large family. After some initial training, he entered the Colonial Service which sent him to Wadham College, Oxford, and then to the Imperial College of Tropical Agriculture in Trinidad. Offered the choice of running coffee farms in the West Indies, rubber plantations in Malaya, or cotton production in Tanganyika, Hartley chose to go to Africa.

As a junior agricultural officer, he was expected to buy a car out of his own salary, and, although he spent pounds 200 on a Box Ford, he found when he got to Mwanza that he preferred to walk. Travelling at the head of a line of porters, he became known for the swinging stride that remained so characteristic of him. He got to know every corner of the huge province, learned KiSukuma and quickly made friends with the local Sukuma tribespeople. Later, he would also learn to speak fluent Arabic, Somali, KiMaa and of course perfect KiSwahili - not what is known as "KiSettler".

Hartley's main job was to encourage the Sukuma to become self-sufficient in cotton, which they sold at auction in Mwanza to Asian traders who were telegraphed from Liverpool every week with the cotton exchange prices. Hartley's isolation from other colonials fed his independent spirit and gave him an intense, passionate love of Africa that never left him.

In 1938, he was posted to Aden as the agricultural officer. Aden was the place after Tanganyika that would most profoundly hold his affections. He and his best friend, Peter Davey, were determined to join the RAF at the start of the Second World War, but as fluent Arab speakers were considered too valuable to send home. Instead, Hartley was made assistant com-mandant of the camel corps at Subeihi, near Aden. His job was to dress up in Arab dress and patrol the beaches, identifying German and Italian submarines that were forced to surface in the Bab el-Mandeb straits. The post gave him a lifelong interest in camels and how they flourish in desert conditions.

After the war, Hartley added the job of political officer to his responsibilites, and in 1946 he was appointed Director of Agriculture in the Aden Protectorate. The two jobs went well together, as when an attempt to broker peace between the warring Fadhali and Lower Yafai tribesman succeeded only after Hartley started a cotton scheme at Abyan, 50 miles north of Aden port. He was appointed CMG for the Abyan scheme. In three years, the project made more than pounds 1m profit, and both tribes referred to cotton as "white gold". His nickname among the Arabs was "Al-Zerai", "the farmer".

It was in Aden that Hartley met Doreen Sanders, the daughter of an Indian Army officer, whom he married in 1951 at the age of 43. Africa, however, became their home. Hartley had already bought a 2,000-acre farm at Mweiga in 1934, and in 1952, during the Mau Mau, they bought and began to develop Langaseni ranch between Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Meru in northern Tanganyika.

Starting off with 16,500 acres of arid acacia bush, Hartley turned the ranch into a showpiece that eventually stretched over 89,000 acres and raised Boran beef cattle, sheep, goats and horses. In 1953, he became a trustee of the Tanganyika National Parks, and when the ranch was nationalised by the government in the mid-1960s he turned his talents to Rhodesia, Somalia, Turkey, Yemen, Ethiopia and Uganda, where he worked as an adviser on livestock for nomads for the United Nations and the World Bank. When his son Aidan covered the Somali civil war for Reuter, many Somali leaders recognised the Hartley name.

From 1980, Hartley worked as a volunteer for Oxfam, Action Aid and Farm Africa. The Karamoja famine in northern Uganda, which had killed hundreds of thousands of people by 1982, was the start to his next great life adventure. He travel-led to Karamoja to advise the local people on rebuilding their devastated agriculture. Two years later, he again visited Uganda, and from there went on to Tanzania. Travelling by matatu (bush taxi), he revisited all the areas where he had been an agricultural officer in the 1920s. His return to Tanzania came at a time when the Tanzanian government was beginning to turn its back on the socialism of the 1960s and instigate a wide range of economic and agricultural reforms.

Hartley realised he would never again farm the land as a settler; instead he was determined to help the local tribespeople. He was eventually allowed once again to live on his old ranch, and embarked on a project to introduce the camel to the Masai. It was no easy task, for the Masai are particularly attached to cattle. Camels, they argued, were the product of mating a giraffe with a lion, and besides everyone knows that camels spread the desert.

Helped out by his son, Kim, Hartley persevered. The Masai could come and drink the camels' milk, and talk to the Somalis who tended them. Soon they came to realise that milk was still to be had in the dry season, and that camels ignored the grass that the cattle favoured, preferring instead to browse.

Hartley's camel project, which started with eight beasts and now numbers 300, was largely financed out of his Colonial Service pension. It was typical of the soft-spoken modest man who could always be relied on to think up a small-scale private solution to Africa's many problems, whether it was importing fish-hooks for a village in Sudan or asking his wife, in the truck to Karamoja, to carry a batch of guinea-pigs on her knees so that the starving tribespeople could breed them and have something to eat.

Brian Joseph Hartley, agriculturalist, colonial administrator, conservationist: born Kegworth, Leicestershire 31 July 1907; MBE 1934, OBE 1945; CMG 1950; married 1951 Doreen Sanders (three sons, one daughter); died Mombasa, Kenya 5 June 1996.

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