Given the colonial exploits of the British Empire, it’s little surprise that Freemasonry gained popularity in various parts of the world. A place where the British were long stationed was East Africa, most notably Zanzibar, which was an important trading station and was visited by dhows and ships from all over the world.
Zanzibar was also the center of the slave trade from East Africa, and men who were kidnapped from their families were sold from the Indian Ocean island. But before it became an important outpost for colonial interests, Zanzibar was home to the Sultans of Oman.
After establishing a consulate on the island in 1841, Britain solidified their grip on power, and by 1890 it became a British Protectorate. Although it was still ruled by the Sultan, it was administered by the British, and was essentially an extension of their burgeoning empire.
The Sultan encouraged trade on the island in many commodities, including ivory, spices, and slaves. Naturally, as the economy enjoyed exponential growth, many British settlers arrived in Zanzibar to profit from the excellent trading opportunities. With the arrival of the British in the late nineteenth century came many of their cultural interests and traditions.
It’s little surprise, then, that one such import was Freemasonry, and the inaugural Grand Lodge of East Africa was established in 1904. But the spread of Masonry in East Africa is largely attributable to the construction of the railway between Mombasa in Kenya, to the shores of Lake Victoria in Uganda.
Amongst those overseeing the construction of the railway were many zealous Masons, who brought their commitment to Freemasonry with them to the African continent. They began discussions to form a Grand Lodge in Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, sometime around 1900.
The Masons based in Kenya communicated directly with Sir Edward Letchworth, the Grand Secretary at the time, but their pleas were initially met with resistance. This was because none of the Masons had passed the Master’s chair at the time of their posting to East Africa, and were therefore deemed unfit to take on the establishment of a new Grand Lodge without supervision.
But undeterred, these men continued with their efforts to establish a Grand Lodge on the East African mainland. Their efforts eventually paid off, and by January 1905, their request to form the Lodge of Harmony was granted and the warrant was issued. This followed the lodge established in Zanzibar and became the second Masonic lodge in East Africa.
The efforts of these initial pioneers ensured Freemasonry could spread to new shores. The first lodge in Uganda would soon follow, and Victoria Nyanza Lodge No 3492 was consecrated in Entebbe in 191. One of the most influential brothers during the foundation of Freemasonry in East Africa was Sir Frederick Jackson, who served as Governor of Uganda from 1911 to 1917.
For more information about the Grand Lodge of East Africa, visit their website.