The original reference to Uganda as the “Pearl of Africa” seems to have begun being strongly attributed to Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill during the past three to four decades in Uganda. In reality, the “Pearl” that the world would most significantly associate Spencer-Churchill with, is Pearl Harbor. A handful of literature displays that Spencer-Churchill did refer to Uganda as “Africa’s pearl.” But he certainly was not the origin of the term “Pearl of Africa,” one which may even have been uttered before Churchill was born. Churchill was born in 1874.
The late 19th Century and early 20th Century colonial literature overwhelmingly attributes Uganda ‘the pearl of Africa’ to Henry Morton Stanley. Many consider Stanley the most significant early explorer of Africa. Stanley chronicled his extensive journeys and observations in remarkable detail. It would seem that Churchill, who did not traverse Africa as extensively as Stanley, actually borrowed a lot of what he wrote on Uganda from Henry Stanley.
A handful of quotations fuel the evidence on Henry Morton Stanley.
James Home Morrison (page 171) writes: “On November 15, 1875, a remarkable letter appeared in the Daily Telegraph….written by Stanley in Uganda….Stanley speaks of Uganda as ‘the Pearl of Africa’ (in The Missionary Heroes of Africa, Negro Universities Press, 1922).
In the article, “Uganda” in Proceedings of the Royal Colonial Institute, Volume 25 Captain W. H. Williams states, “…their descriptions…led to…Uganda being looked upon as a…fairyland….is it any wonder that England came to think that the Pearl of Africa was a jewel of great price? (1894: 105).
George S. Mackenzie, on page 23, states: “‘The Pearl of Africa,’ as Uganda has been…named by Mr Stanley…first brought to notice in Europe by the celebrated travelers Speke and Grant” (“The Troubles of Uganda,” in Fortnightly Review, Volume 52, 1892).
On the world stage, the name Winston Churchill is far more significant than that of Henry Stanley, perhaps a major publicity-laden fuel for the strong attributing of “Pearl of Africa” to Churchill. On the other hand Henry Stanley was aggressive and ambitious, but he also came to be notorious for cunning, deceit and for exaggerating himself and his stories. He could also be opportunistic and cruel. Stanley is most notorious for his later brutal exploitative campaign in the mineral-rich Congo for King Leopold of Belgium. Apparently, his audaciousness made Stanley an efficient tool for colonial aggression, conquest and exploitation.
When Henry Stanley died in 1904, Spencer-Churchill had not even written his acclaimed, “My African Journey,” in which he describes “Africa’s pearl.”