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British East Africa Company

Historical flag

Last modified: 2022-10-22 by bruce berry
Keywords: british east africa |
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[Union Jack] image by Martin Grieve, 10 Oct 2002 See also:

Prior to World War I

There are two quite different "East Africas" that must be distinguished. Prior to World War 1, Kenya (and Kenya alone) was known officially as British East Africa, just as Tanganyika was officially known as German East Africa in the same period. Subsequently, the term "East Africa" was loosely applied to Kenya, Tanganyika and Uganda collectively because they shared a number of institutions - a common currency (the East African shilling), airline (East African Airways), etc. After independence, the three countries were grouped in an East African Economic Community, administered by an East African Commission for a time. This co-operation collapsed in the 1970's, but was revived in the late 1990's.
Vincent Morley, 08 Feb 2000

British East Africa, which later became the Kenya Colony - the interior of Kenya - was originally colonised by a Chartered Company, the British East Africa Company. I suspect the flag you have there is the Company's, which would be anachronistic as the territory was transferred to the Crown in 1906 (according to my Notebook of Commonwealth History). Certainly by independence the colonial flag was the standard Blue Ensign with a badge of the red lion rampant on a white disc.
Roy Stilling, 14 Feb 1996

This flag was used only in Kenya (prior to the adoption of the name Kenya), not in German East Africa or the Uganda Protectorate. At the time Kenya was called British East Africa, it incorporated a large slice of what is now Uganda, as well as Jubaland. The common British administration of Kenya, Uganda and Tanganyika (later Tanzania) was never formally called "British East Africa", although it was described as being "East Africa".
Mike Oettle, 14 Oct 2002

East Africa Union Jack

The Imperial British East Africa Company, founded by the Scottish ship-owner Sir William Mackinnon in 1887, was granted a Royal Charter in 1888.  Land between Mombasa on the coast and Lake Victoria was leased from the Sultan of Zanzibar.  The aim of the company seems to have been partly political, countering German, French and Italian influence in the area, partly commercial, though it never paid a dividend, and partly philanthropic, supporting the campaign to suppress the slave trade between East Africa and Arabia.  The company proved to have insufficient resources and handed over its leases to the British government; for those areas that are now part of Uganda in 1893, and for the remainder, in what is now Kenya, in 1895.

The company flag and special ensigns were probably granted in the Royal Charter, similar to Article 19 in the charter of the British South Africa Company.  A black and white drawing in 'Zanzibar, Slavery and the Royal Navy' by Kevin Patience shows the paddle steamer 'Kenia' with an ensign at the stern and the Company Flag at the bow, above a triangular pennant bearing the ships name.

There is no obvious reason why the sun should have 24 rays on the ensigns, but only 16 on the jack.  In the arms on which the badge is based the sun has about 64 rays.
David Prothero, 11 Oct 2002

East Africa Blue Ensign

[Blue Ensign] image by Martin Grieve, 09 Oct 2002

I've seen on Jaume Ollé's Historical Flags an image that is similar to the description of the blue ensign, despite some differences: there is a white disc, the number of rays is not exactly the same. The image is shown for Buganda 1889-91 and 1892-93/94.
Olivier Touzeau, 02 December 1999

Hulme in "Flags of the World", published in about 1895 wrote, "British East Africa has the crown and beneath it the golden sun shooting forth its rays, one of the simplest, most appropriate, and most pleasing of all the colonial devices; when placed in the centre of the Governor's flag it is upon a white disc, and the sun has eight principal rays. When for use on the red or blue ensigns, the sun has twelve principle rays and both golden sun and crown are placed directly upon the field of the flag."
David Prothero, 01 Dec 1999

The sun, its rays and the greater part of the crown should be a slightly orange yellow. The cap of the crown should be red. The crown should be very slightly larger, and the sun slightly smaller. The rays are symmetrical elongated tear-drops. The smaller rays are miniature versions of the large rays, in that the width/length ratio is maintained.

On the Union Jack, the badge is on a white disc surrounded by the standard laurel leaf garland and blue ribbon. On the Red and Blue Ensigns the number of rays is increased to 12 large and 12 small.
David Prothero, 03 December 1999

The British flag books published in 1882 and 1902 shows British East Africa Union Flag with 16 rays (8 longer 8 shorter) and the crown in white disc and Blue and red Ensign with 24 rays (8 longer 16 shorter) and the crown without white disc.
Nozomi Kariyasu, 03 December 1999

East Africa Red Ensign

[Red Ensign] image by Martin Grieve, 09 Oct 2002

A brief history of the British East African/Kenyan colonial flags

  • The first British flag of what was to become part of Kenya was that of the Protectorate of Witu. It was a red Arab flag (of Zanzibar) with a small Union Jack in the centre agreed in 1893, by the Sultan of Zanzibar's First Minister and the British East Africa Company's Representative at Lamu and Resident at Witu.
  • It was roughly a 1:2 UJ on a 2:3 red flag. The flag was 37:57. Across the centre of the flag horizontally the dimensions were red 15: UJ 27: red 15. Through the centre of the flag vertically the dimensions were red 11: UJ 15: red 11.
  • Badge on Red Ensign. 6th March 1890. Admiralty Warrant (but see here for uncertainty about this flag).
  • Badge on Union Jack. Presumably 1906 when the Governor was appointed.
  • Badge on Blue Ensign. ?
  • The badge first appears in the Admiralty Flag Book in Amendment 9 to the 1889 edition, (May 1896).

Badge for the Union flag

[Badge for the Union flag] image by Martin Grieve, 11 Oct 2002, after scan by David Prothero, 07 Aug 2002

Badge for Union Jack of the Imperial British East African Company; no garland. Scan from amendment to 1889 Admiralty Flag Book, and ensign badge full size. All yellow except for cap of crown which is red.
Each flag badge was different. Sun on Union badge had 16 rays, but on ensigns had 24. Crown on Blue ensign was red and yellow but, because the red cap was not visible on a red field, only yellow on the Red Ensign.
David Prothero, 08 Aug 2002

Badge for the Ensigns

[Badge for the ensigns] image by Martin Grieve, 11 Oct 2002, after scan by David Prothero, 07 Aug 2002

Scan from amendment to 1889 Admiralty Flag Book, and ensign badge full size. All yellow except for cap of crown which is red.
David Prothero, 08 Aug 2002