This is a story about British imperial rule in Africa during the middle decades of the 20th century. It asks four questions: why was Kenya's operation so idiosyncratic and spartan compared with other British colonies? Why did a transformation from social welfare to community development produce further neglect of the very poor? Why were there no equivalents to the French tradition of community medicine? If there was a transformatory element of colonial rule that sought to address poverty, where and why did it fall down? The answers chart a new history of administrative thought and practice in colonial Kenya, looking at the ways in which white people tried to engineer social change, and opening up the dynamics of rule within the late colonial period.