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Kenya’s long road to independence

Kenya obtained its independence from Britain after a long and tortuous struggle.
10 January 2007 - Zachary Ochieng
Source: NewsfromAfrica

The origin of the name “Kenya” has been a subject of debate for many years. However, the most commonly accepted theory is attributed to an encounter between a German explorer Dr Ludwig Krapf and a member of Akamba, an ethnic group living in the eastern part of the country.

Krapf, passing through Kamba land to the interior is said to have asked the Kamba the name of the snow-capped mountain that he saw. The Kamba told him it was “Kiinyaa”. Krapf then called it Mount Kenya and the land in which the mountain was found later became the land of Kenya.

Kenya as a country developed from the European scramble for Africa, which was motivated by the urge for more territories, the demand for cheap labour and raw materials to support the industrial revolution in Europe and its strategic position in relation to India and the Far East.

The scramble thus marked the beginning of colonization and the establishment of colonial rule in Kenya. Formal colonization, however, did not begin until the colonial powers set out the rules for claiming territories to lessen the possibility of war among themselves.

However, it was not long before rivalry emerged between major powers – Britain, France, Germany, Portugal and Belgium. This culminated in the Berlin Conference of 1884-1885 to map out rules for spheres of influence in Africa.

Subsequently, there was a forceful possession of territories in the region, after which the entire continent was divided amongst the major powers. The British got Kenya, among other territories.

To the British, Kenya was strategic as it provided access to Uganda. Uganda in turn was of strategic importance because it was the source of the River Nile and therefore regarded as important for the control of Egypt and the Suez Canal.

The British later established some form of control in Kenya through the Imperial British East Africa Company (IBEA). But the company became bankrupt only within seven years and the British government declared direct rule over its zone of influence.

The forging of the colonial state began with a complete restructuring of indigenous institutions and ways of life. The colonial administration appointed chiefs, who were given administrative, judicial and executive powers over the people in their area.

But in places where existing traditional leaders resisted colonial rule, they were ruthlessly crushed and deposed, with new individuals appointed in their place. Those who collaborated or cooperated were rewarded in their positions. At this juncture, ethnic and cultural differences among the Kenyan societies became a crucial rallying point for the British colonial administration.

Through divide and rule, the administration played off one ethnic group against another or signed protection treaties with some ethnic groups, thereby cementing the differences between the various groups.

Determined to achieve its goals, the British government then went ahead to create a strong colonial state in Kenya. Armed with the boundaries concluded in the post-Berlin treaties, the first Governor came to establish colonial rule over an entity called the East Africa Protectorate, which included Kenya.

All the ethnic groups within that entity henceforth became subjects of a central authority headed by the governor, whose ultimate loyalty was to the Queen (or King) of England. This marked the beginning of the establishment of long-lasting dependency between Kenya and Britain.

After establishing Kenya as a protectorate in 1895, the British moved to consolidate colonial rule in Kenya in a number of phases. The Government began by building the Kenya-Uganda Railway as a means of quick communication between the cost and its Uganda and Sudan possessions. Later, the railway line was to tap the rich land lying inland from the coast to Uganda. It also served as a basis for import-export trade.

All land in the protectorate was vested in the Crown, meaning the colonial administration took land from the local people and gave it to white settlers. In 1905, the administration of the East African Protectorate was transferred from the foreign office in London to the colonial office.

The Protectorate became a Kenya colony in 1920. Consequently, all ethnic groups were subject to colonial rules and lost their political independence. The colonial authorities then established the growing of cash crops intended for export. The new form of agriculture was managed by European settlers, who exploited cheap African labour.

A settler capitalist class – like the landed upper middle classes (gentry) in England – emerged. Settlers were given more rights than Africans who were controlled by punitive labour laws.
From 1904, native reserves were created, which divided Africans along ethnic lines and created room for the white settlers. To restrict people’s movement, a “Kipande” (identity card) system was introduced.

The colonial state established a government and institutions such as the army, police force and administrative structures. There was also a civil service and a Legislative Council (Legco) for whites only. Africans were not represented in the Legco until mid 1950s.

However, the ill treatment of Africans by the British led to a major resentment against colonial rule. The communities resented and resisted the taking of their land for the railway line and later, land for the white settlers. Thus was born the struggle for independence.

From the early 1920s, Africans formed different associations to express their grievances. Among the leading associations were the Kikuyu Central Association, the Kenya African Union and the North Kavirondo Central Association. But the colonial administration responded by banning some of these associations, which were seen to be organizing resistance.

While the colonial government allowed the formation of organizations deemed to be concerned with people’s welfare, it did not allow the formation of political associations and the few that were allowed to operate had their activities restricted to the ethnic territories of their founder members. This prevented consolidation of a national movement against the colonial regime.

But soon, there was a more organized uprising in central Kenya in the name of Mau Mau – a peasant uprising whose grievances were land alienation, forced labour and the “Kipande” system. It is during this uprising that the colonial state further divided the Kenyan people along ethnic lines.

Nevertheless, the struggle for independence had already gained momentum and in the late 1950s, the colonial administration yielded to pressure and allowed the formation of political parties. Consequently, two main parties – the Kenya African National Union (Kanu) and the Kenya African Democratic Union (Kadu) – emerged in 1960.

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