British Colonialism & the Kikuyu Resistance

Topics: Colonialism, British Empire, Kenya Pages: 9 (3079 words) Published: October 22, 2012
Colonisation appears to invariably cause conflict. Even where the proto-indigenous population is totally eliminated or absorbed, as in South Africa and Canada, and supplanted by new aboriginals (Canada) or settlers (South Africa), conflict will ensue as either new colonists arrive (Canada) or another wave of settlement arrives and collides (South Africa). The point might be, colonialism ends in violence. It enervates one group to fight the other, no matter the odds. Colonialism must adapt to a new reality for peace to arrive. Much like the North American aboriginal experience, two major shifts occurred in the late 19th century Kikuyu area of Africa. First, a mass outbreak of epidemics took a catastrophic toll its the indigenous population. Then, the ensuing famine forced the devastated populations to vacate the areas they had traditionally farmed. These favourably fertile lands, coined as the White Highlands, became the focal point for British colonialism in Kenya. Parliament then encouraged its subjects (i.e. British citizens, East-European Jews, and United South African Boers) to settle the recently acquired land, marketing it as a “paradise lost”. This marked the second, more influential and important shift in Kenyan society: an influx of white-foreigners. Kikuyu resistance was limited and sporadic, as they ‘lacked a cohesive organized administration’, suppressed by the British colonials as ‘an assault on public order. Violence was sporadic and limited. The East African Protectorate did not command sufficient importance in London politics, and thus received little attention. In 1902, the East African Protectorate acquired fertile lands around Lake Victoria marking the beginning of railway expansion. The completion of the Mombasa-Victoria railway in 1903 shifted London’s perception on the importance of its newly acquired African land. Subsequently, with significant Parliamentary encouragement, European settlement surged into the East African Protectorate. Although seemingly a principle tenet of colonialism, the last priority of the settlers seemed to be the working of the land that they had acquired. Rather, they opted for cheap local labour, namely the Kikuyu, to work their plantation ‘cash crops’. Soon, London issued a sequence of edicts, laws, and policies to “encourage local support”. This ‘general policy’ removed the native Kikuyu from their traditionally perceived lands, and forced them either into remote and infertile reservations or semi-urban communities where they constituted a source of inexpensive labour. Such repressive policies were regarded as appropriate actions on the basis of racial supremacy, and therefore justifiable in the eyes of white-settlers, if executed within that perception of fairness. The locals were black, and perceived by whites as un-equal humans. In their eyes, the natives had no inherent right to the land and certainly it was widely-held by the colonists that they, the kikuyu, didn’t utilize it efficiently anyway. During the 1920s, Kenya’s white society reached a politically critical mass. British administration recognized its increasing affluence and influence. Consequently, London decisively established Kenya (named after the great mountain) as a colony, thereby trapping its indigenous population within a colonial system. They could not get rid of it and instead faced two options: be put to work as virtually another domestic animal, or be forced into a remote reservation. *Despite social repression, a relatively small number of Kikuyu were educated through established Missionary schools. Soon enough, this educated minority realized that the people were being ruled for and by European settlers. Natives were prohibited from cultivating the colony’s primary cash crop, or able to own land in ancestrally-farmed areas. Administratively held to low-wages, natives required ‘settler-controlled passbooks’ to travel freely. In light of these, and...
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