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Summary of Career History

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1947 - 1964

Richard (Tim) Dening in Mwinilunga 1948

The Main Story - Northern Rhodesia

On leaving Cambridge, I was appointed to the Colonial Administrative Service. I spent nine months in the Colonial Office, assisting in the recruitment of engineers and other technical people, and was then offered a choice of the following year's overseas vacancies. The Director of Recruitment, a noted economist who subsequently became General Manager of the United Africa Company, recommended Northern Rhodesia.

Frontispiece of the Administrative Service Handbook.  

So in July 1947, I found myself in Ndola (Northern Rhodesia), about to drive an elderly vanette 370 miles, mostly on earth road, much of it newly constructed, to Mwinilunga in the far north west. I spent most of my time there, with a spell in Ndola District when I got married, until I returned on home leave and my Cambridge year in 1954, having taken over as District Commissioner in October 1949.

In those days, the atmosphere was peaceful and non-political. Only forty years previously, within living memory, British law and administration had taken over from widespread lawlessness, slave-raiding, inter-tribal conflict, and the frequent use of brutality by tribal chiefs to maintain their authority. Our arrival provided a feeling of relief among the inhabitants, and our management was still being welcomed.

There was of course a great deal to be done. Even the access road had only recently been completed. Before that time, everything had been carried by porters up the old Congo Border surveyor's track. Funds were available from the newly profitable copper mines, and were not yet being filched by the Federation subsequently imposed upon us (shades of the EU!).

A village scene in Northern Province, Northern Rhodesia.. Our Districts were about the size of Wales, but with small widely distributed populations.

Initially we bicycled to each village about twice a year, hearing appeals from the local courts, sorting out complaints and land disputes, ensuring the payment of tax to the local chiefly authorities, and so forth.

I actually mapped every village, using my old army compass and a cyclometer.

Rebuilding the Kabompo Bridge We built hundreds of miles of road, including great timber bridges across major rivers. This required large labour forces, which had to be fed far from home, necessitating a supply organisation.

This in turn provided a market for local villagers. They also produced valuable commodities, such as pineapples and coffee, which we were later able to market on the Copperbelt.


Rebuilding the Kabompo Bridge

There were public buildings to be constructed, brick works to be established, and my Field Engineering Pocketbook was invaluable. Christian Missions had been established in the early days, so a small number of English-speaking and competent local clerical staff could be trained.

Sometimes I looked after the District entirely by myself, but normally I had one or two other British staff. As a Magistrate Class 2, I had to become a lawyer, and I had also to achieve a Higher Standard in the Lunda language. We had no police, just a force of local constables, known as District Messengers, who acted as our agents throughout the District.

Apart from ourselves, the District thus functioned entirely with local people. But these satisfactory arrangements did not last much beyond the middle 1950's, when the emergence of all kinds of political pressures imposed complex problems and masses of paperwork, and turned us into a bureaucracy.

After Mwinilunga, I was in charge of two further Districts, Mumbwa and Samfya, and then moved into central government, first in the Treasury, and then on the production of a programme for up-dating staff housing in the Territory. I also served as the first Registrar of the new College of Further Education. Finally, I was the government representative on the Seers Economic Survey Mission, 1964.


1965 - 1971

Agricultural Economics in Zambia

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All of Richard (Tim) Dening's papers relating to his career, first in the colonial administration in Northern Rhodesia and then as an agricultural economist, have been donated to the Bodleian Library  of Commonwealth and African Studies at Rhodes House, in Oxford, England.

Tim kept very comprehensive records of all aspects of his working life. Anybody wishing to consult the archived papers should contact the library first for advice:

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Website: Copyright B.Corker 2008     Images: Copyright EGL Dening 2008