Colonialism in Kenya

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Colonialism in Kenya lasted roughly 68 years, from the end of the 19th century until Kenya's independence from Great Britain in 1963.[1]

"Africa's precapitalist forms of production were subjected to a historic break in their autonomous development; in the terminology of the time they were literally 'opened up'. They became part-economies, externally orientated to suit the dynamic of a capitalism which had been imposed upon them from outside... East Africa's pre-colonial relations with the global economy had been based too exclusively on the production of two rapidly wasting assets, slaves and ivory. In the inland area which became the hub of Kenya there had barely been an exportable surplus at all when, suddenly, in the first decade of the twentieth century, production was intensified beyond all previous experience by the demands of colonial rule and, concurrently, by the opportunities of the commodity boom, itself in part created by the political and capital investments with which the imperial powers competed for preferential access to markets and resources."[2]

Settler Expropriation of Kenyan Land

The first European settlers arrived in 1902. In 1915, the Crown Land Ordinance recognized "native rights" in lands reserved for the Kenyans. In 1926, this was further defined by the creation of "African Reserves" for each of Kenya's "tribes," leaving the "White Highlands" for the Europeans. The White Highlands consisted of large parts of Kiambu and Murang'a, as well as areas farther north around Nyeri and Nanyuki, and "great tracts of land in the Rift Valley, and far to the west on the plateaus beyond."[3]

"The establishment of capitalist estate production depended upon the appropriation of African land. But this partial separation of Africans from their means of production did not have an immediately adverse effect upon their well-being save in the case of the pastoralists, who suffered immeasurably larger losses than the cultivators. On the contrary, African farmers enjoyed an enormous access of exploitable land, as both the British pax enabled them to use areas previously left empty for reasons of defence, and as white landownership made available to their tenants' hoes the acres which settlers could not yet afford to plough."[4]

British "Encouragement" of African Labor

"The colonial state introduced settler and corporate production as the mainstay of the colonial economy. The state forcibly seized land, livestock and other indigenous means of production from certain regions, communities and households on behalf of the settlers and corporate interests. By the mid-1930s about one-fifth of all usable land in Kenya was under the exclusive control of the settlers. In addition, the state provided the settlers and corporate capital with the necessary infrastructural, agricultural and marketing services and credit facilities. And above all, the state sought to create, mobilize and control the supply of African labour for capital. The state itself, of course, also required massive supplies of labour to build and maintain the colonial economic infrastructure and the administrative bureaucracy."[5]

The British used five main policies to secure and control African labor. First, it established African reserves, "eventually with official boundaries... where each African ethnic group in the colony was expected to live separately." As Africans lacked sufficient land in their reserves, they "had little choice but to migrate to the European farms in search of work."[6] Or, stated another way, "Through the initial act of alienating land to settlers, the colonial state deprived some Africans of their means of production and laid the basis for the entry of Africans in ever-increasing numbers into the wage labour force."[7]

Second, they imposed taxes.[8] The government imposed a hut tax and a poll tax, "together amounting to nearly twenty-five shillings, the equivalent of almost two months of African wages at the going local rate."[9] "But taxation was a double edged sword: it encouraged peasant commodity production as much as wage employment. In fact, peasant commodity production increased precisely in those regions from where the colonial state and capital expected to draw their labour, namely the Central and Nyanza Provinces."[10]

Thus, to keep Africans from competing with British farmers, the government imposed the third means of "encouraging" African labor: forbidding them to grow the most profitable cash crops (coffee, tea, and sisal). It was not actually illegal for Kenyans to grow coffee, but coffee growers needed a license and it was very difficult for Kenyans to obtain a license.[11] Kenyans could continue growing and selling maize until marketing boards established after World War II set a two-tier system that benefited European settler farms.[12]

Fourth, was forced labor.

"Forced or compulsory labour was widely used and became institutionalized during the first few decades of colonial rule in Kenya. This was a period when massive supplies of labour were required to lay the very foundations of the colonial economy: rail lines and roads had to be built, dams and bridges constructed, administrative centres erected, and forests cleared and settler farms established... Forced labour inevitably became the most reliable means of securing labour. Few government officials or settlers ever questioned the need for some form of labour coercion. For many it was even an act of benevolence, a necessary 'shock therapy' for people deeply mired in idleness and indolence."[13]

Fifth, with thousands of Kikuyu migrating to look for work, the colonial government introduced the pass or kipande system "to control the movement of African workers and to keep track of their employment histories."[14]

Kipande (Pass) System

The Kipande system was first passed into law in 1915, implemented by 1919, and abolished in 1947.[15]

"By 1920 all African men leaving their reserves were required by law to carry a pass, or kipande, that recorded a person's name, fingerprint, ethnic group, past employment history, and current employer's signature. The Kikuyu put the pass in a small metal container, the size of a cigarette box, and wore it around their necks. They often called it a mbugi, or goat's bell, because, as one old man recalled to me, "I was no longer a shepherd, but one of the flock, going to work on the white man's farm with my mbugi around my neck." The kipande became one of the most detested symbols of British colonial power, though the Africans had little recourse but to carry their identity at all times; failure to produce it on demand brought a hefty fine, imprisonment, or both."[16]

Emergence of Different "Household Types"

"Colonialism in Kenya, as in much of Africa, pitted the peasant household against capitalist enterprise... The differentiated response of peasant households to capitalist labour demands resulted in the emergence of different household types: commodity-producing households, labor-exporting households, squatter households and working-class households."[17]

Squatters

"Squatters were Kenyan Africans living, cultivating, and generally grazing [their livestock] on land that did not belong to them."[18] Settlers allowed African squatters to live on their land in order to secure a continuous supply of cheap labor. "By 1930 squatter labour had become the main source of labour on settler farms and estates, and the total number of squatters was in the neighbourhood of 120,000 people. They occupied at least 20% of settler land."[19] Many of the early squatters were actually the original inhabitants of the land taken by the settlers. Later, squatters came from the reserves "to escape the restrictions of reserve life, especially conscription during the war, and the rigours and abuses of communal labour after the war."[20] Food shortages in the reserves also played a role in pushing Kenyans to become squatters, as did the desire to escape the education and missionaries, which were more pervasive in the reserves than on settler farms.

In 1918, the Resident Native Ordinance was passed to demand that squatter payments were made in labor and not in kind or in cash. This was done to keep the squatter farms from competing with or even eclipsing settler farms. "Conditions for squatters began deteriorating from the mid-1920s, at first imperceptibly, then dramatically from the 1930s. As reserves became more crowded, more people left them to become squatters and then they lost the ability to return. Over time, squatter plots became smaller and the amount of time they were required to work for settlers increased. In 1918, a squatter must work for a settler for three months, but this increased to six months in 1925 and eight months in March 1944.[21] After World War II, the labor requirement increased still further to nine months, and squatter plots grew yet smaller.[22]

Squatters were also not allowed to raise cattle "because the white settlers were eager to protect their imported, exotic herds from diseases."[23] One account reports that some settlers would even shoot squatter "stock" (cattle?) and "forced seizure, sale or repatriatoin of squatter stock by both settlers and the Forestry department became commonplace and were given the force of the law."[24]

"By the end of the Second World War the settlers were determined to press the squatter relationship to the point of crisis. In some areas squatters were barred from keeping any livestock at all, and where livestock were allowed they were restricted to an average of only 15 sheep. Although they were usually allowed to cultivate between one and a half to two acres of land, with increased labour demands (ranging from a minimum of 240 to 270 days) and with no wage increases, it would appear that their subordination was virtually complete."[25]

In 1939, the colonial government purchased a large amount of land to relocate evicted squatters. The land was of poor quality, and the Kikuyus, who constituted the majority of the squatters, refused to move to them. Thus, in 1939, there were more than 30,000 evicted, landless squatters. By the time of Kenya's independence, squatter labor accounted for only 4% of agricultural employment.[26]

Labor-Exporting Households

"Free labor" emerged first in the cities, where the majority of workers worked in administrative and service jobs (as opposed to manufacturing). "From the beginning, Kenya's wage labour was segmented along racial, ethnic, regional and gender lines. Generally Europeans occupied the top positions, Asians [Indians] were in the middle, while Africans were at the bottom of the occupational hierarchy. Among the Africans the labour market was dominated by people from the Central and Nyanza provinces, particularly the Kikuyu, Luo and Luyia. Women's participatin in the formal labour market was low because of the combined influences of traditional and European patriarchalism which prescribed a rigid system of division of labour patterned along gender lines."[27]

In this system, women stayed in the rural areas to farm and raise their children, when men migrated to the cities to work. Within the cities "prostitution was one of the few areas open to African women."[28]

"The immediate causes of prostitution were, of course, complex... but what sustained the institution in the urban areas was the demographic imbalance of the sexes and the lack of employment opportunities for women. Prostitution was officially tolerated, indeed encouraged, because it served as a 'wage depressant, disincentive for labours to bring their families to town.' As one official report on African housing in Nairobi candidly conceded: 'whereas the needs of eight men may be served by the provision of two rooms for the men and one for the prostitute, were housing provided for these natives and their families, six rooms would probably be needed."[29]

Free laborers were controlled by the kipande system, discussed above.

Missionaries in Kenya

"Anglicans of the Church Missionary Society, Scottish Presbyterians, the Methodist Gospel Mission, the fundamentalist African Inland Mission, and the Catholics of the Mill Hill order were all firmly established in Kenya" by the start ofWorld War I.[30] "In an act of pious imperialsim that echoed the partition of Africa among the great powers of Europe... these Churches divided the colony into religious 'spheres of influence'. This avoided too much unseemly competition for the saving of African souls."[31] Of these, the Church Missionary Society and the Presbyterian Church of Scotland took the majority of territory in the Kikuyu districts of central Kenya. The missions set up primary schools and set about educating mostly men but some women.

The missionaries were invited onto the Legislative Council "to represent 'African interests'."[32] The missions, in turn, set up "councils of African elders within the churches, .. encouraging Christian Africans to represent themselves." By 1921, various missions had joined together set up a group called the Kikuyu Association. The name was later changed to the Loyal Kikuyu Patriots.[33]

Kikuyu Organizing Against the British

In 1921, the East African Association was formed in Nairobi, taking more radical positions than the Kikuyu Associations. It called for better pay and improved conditions for urban African workers. While it was multi-ethnic, it was dominated by the Kikuyu, "who filled the majority of the better-paid African jobs in Nairobi."[34] The leader was a Kikuyu named Harry Thuku, who had attended the Methodist mission school at Kambui and worked as a telephonist and clerk in the Treasury.[35] "Whereas the Kikuyu Association accepted the leadership of the missions, and bowed to the authority of the government in its polite requests for reform, Thuku and his followers rejected colonial rule and overtly questioned the legitimacy of European domination."[36]

On March 14, 1922, Thuku was taken into police custody. By the next day, a crowd of 7000-8000 of his supporters gathered. The police shot some of the protestors, and reports of the number dead range from 28 to 56.[37] Thuku was then banished from Central Kenya for a few years.

In 1924, supporters of Thuku in Murang'a formed a political group called the Kikuyu Central Association (KCA). In 1927, KCA opened a Nairobi office.[38] By the end of the decade, it had 4000 members. Jomo Kenyatta joined the organization and became its secretary. Kenyatta left Kenya for London in 1929 to represent the KCA to the Colonial Office and he lived there until 1946, with the exception of a brief period in 1930.

At the end of the 1920s, KCA clashed with the churches over the issue of female genital mutilation, which was a common Kikuyu practice at the time. This episode increased the support of the KCA among the Kikuyu people.[39] The government banned the KCA during World War II. "Out of its ashes, at the end of the war, emerged a new, broader-based nationalist party called the Kenya African Union. With a core of old KCA activists, plus members from other ethnic groups, who were mostly urban workers in Nairobi, the KAU made a promising start."[40]

See more information on the articles on the Olenguruone Scheme and the Mau Mau Rebellion.

The End of Colonialism

"The British Government suddenly and unexpectedly announced in January 1960 that Kenya would move rapidly to independence under an African Government. African and European political leaders were equally surprised and confounded by the decision. Africans were promised independence before they could even demand it through national political parties, since the bar on these had only just been lifted. On what other basis could African political leaders mobilise grass-roots support behind reconstituted national parties? Resentment against the European farming enclave in the 'White Highlands' was one possible basis, but the British Government, under heavy pressure from Europeans, pre-empted this issue through the land resettlement programme[41]

See more in the articles on Transition to Independence in Kenya and Resettlement Schemes in Post-Colonial Kenya.

Resources and articles

Related Sourcewatch articles

References

  1. Tiyambe Zelaza, "The Colonial Labour System in Kenya." In An Economic History of Kenya, William Robert Ochieng' and Robert M. Maxon, eds, p. 171.
  2. John Lonsdale and Bruce Berman, "Coping with the Contradictions: The Development of the Colonial State in Kenya, 1895-1914," The Journal of African History, Vol. 20, No. 4, White Presence and Power in Africa (1979), pp. 487-505.
  3. David Anderson, Histories Of The Hanged: The Dirty War In Kenya And The End Of Empire, p. 21.
  4. John Lonsdale and Bruce Berman, "Coping with the Contradictions: The Development of the Colonial State in Kenya, 1895-1914," The Journal of African History, Vol. 20, No. 4, White Presence and Power in Africa (1979), pp. 487-505.
  5. Tiyambe Zelaza, "The Colonial Labour System in Kenya." In An Economic History of Kenya, William Robert Ochieng' and Robert M. Maxon, eds, p. 173.
  6. Caroline Elkins, Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain's Gulag in Kenya, p. 15.
  7. Caroline Elkins, Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain's Gulag in Kenya, p. 15.
  8. Caroline Elkins, Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain's Gulag in Kenya, p. 15.
  9. Caroline Elkins, Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain's Gulag in Kenya, p. 16.
  10. Tiyambe Zelaza, "The Colonial Labour System in Kenya." In An Economic History of Kenya, William Robert Ochieng' and Robert M. Maxon, eds, p. 173.
  11. Colin Leys, Underdevelopment in Kenya: The Political Economy of Neo-Colonialism, 1964-71 (Berkeley: University of California, 1974), p. 34.
  12. Caroline Elkins, Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain's Gulag in Kenya, p. 16.
  13. Tiyambe Zelaza, "The Colonial Labour System in Kenya." In An Economic History of Kenya, William Robert Ochieng' and Robert M. Maxon, eds, p. 173.
  14. Caroline Elkins, Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain's Gulag in Kenya, p. 16.
  15. Tiyambe Zelaza, "The Colonial Labour System in Kenya." In An Economic History of Kenya, William Robert Ochieng' and Robert M. Maxon, eds, p. 181.
  16. Caroline Elkins, Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain's Gulag in Kenya, p. 16.
  17. Tiyambe Zelaza, "The Colonial Labour System in Kenya." In An Economic History of Kenya, William Robert Ochieng' and Robert M. Maxon, eds, p. 172.
  18. S. M. Shamsul Alam, Rethinking Mau Mau in Colonial Kenya, p. 18.
  19. Tiyambe Zelaza, "The Colonial Labour System in Kenya." In An Economic History of Kenya, William Robert Ochieng' and Robert M. Maxon, eds, p. 177.
  20. Tiyambe Zelaza, "The Colonial Labour System in Kenya." In An Economic History of Kenya, William Robert Ochieng' and Robert M. Maxon, eds, p. 177.
  21. Tiyambe Zelaza, "The Colonial Labour System in Kenya." In An Economic History of Kenya, William Robert Ochieng' and Robert M. Maxon, eds, p. 178.
  22. Tiyambe Zelaza, "The Colonial Labour System in Kenya." In An Economic History of Kenya, William Robert Ochieng' and Robert M. Maxon, eds, p. 179.
  23. S. M. Shamsul Alam, Rethinking Mau Mau in Colonial Kenya, p. 18.
  24. Tiyambe Zelaza, "The Colonial Labour System in Kenya." In An Economic History of Kenya, William Robert Ochieng' and Robert M. Maxon, eds, pp. 178-179.
  25. Tabitha M. Kanogo, Squatters and the Roots of Mau Mau, 1905-63, p. 105.
  26. Tiyambe Zelaza, "The Colonial Labour System in Kenya." In An Economic History of Kenya, William Robert Ochieng' and Robert M. Maxon, eds, p. 179.
  27. Tiyambe Zelaza, "The Colonial Labour System in Kenya." In An Economic History of Kenya, William Robert Ochieng' and Robert M. Maxon, eds, pp. 179-180.
  28. Tiyambe Zelaza, "The Colonial Labour System in Kenya." In An Economic History of Kenya, William Robert Ochieng' and Robert M. Maxon, eds, p. 180.
  29. Tiyambe Zelaza, "The Colonial Labour System in Kenya." In An Economic History of Kenya, William Robert Ochieng' and Robert M. Maxon, eds, p. 181.
  30. David Anderson, Histories Of The Hanged: The Dirty War In Kenya And The End Of Empire, p. 13, 15.
  31. David Anderson, Histories Of The Hanged: The Dirty War In Kenya And The End Of Empire, p. 15.
  32. David Anderson, Histories Of The Hanged: The Dirty War In Kenya And The End Of Empire, p. 15.
  33. David Anderson, Histories Of The Hanged: The Dirty War In Kenya And The End Of Empire, p. 21.
  34. David Anderson, Histories Of The Hanged: The Dirty War In Kenya And The End Of Empire, p. 15.
  35. David Anderson, Histories Of The Hanged: The Dirty War In Kenya And The End Of Empire, p. 15-16.
  36. David Anderson, Histories Of The Hanged: The Dirty War In Kenya And The End Of Empire, p. 16.
  37. David Anderson, Histories Of The Hanged: The Dirty War In Kenya And The End Of Empire, p. 16-17.
  38. David Anderson, Histories Of The Hanged: The Dirty War In Kenya And The End Of Empire, p. 17.
  39. David Anderson, Histories Of The Hanged: The Dirty War In Kenya And The End Of Empire, p. 18-21.
  40. David Anderson, Histories Of The Hanged: The Dirty War In Kenya And The End Of Empire, p. 28.
  41. John W. Harbeson, "Land Reforms and Politics in Kenya 1954-70," Journal of Modern African Studies, Vol. 9, No. 2 (Aug., 1971), pp. 231-251.

External Resources

Books

  • Caroline Elkins, Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain's Gulag in Kenya, Owl Books, 2005.
  • Frederick Cooper, Africa Since 1940: The Past of the Present.
  • Chloe Campbell, Race and Empire: Eugenics in Colonial Kenya, Manchester University Press, 2007. Review
  • An Economic History of Kenya, William Robert Ochieng' and Robert M. Maxon, eds, East African Publishers, 1992.
  • Anne Thurston, Smallholder Agricultural in Colonial Kenya: The Official Mind and the Swynnerton Plan (Cambridge: African Studies Centre, 1987).

External Articles

The Journal of African History