Control & Crisis in Colonial Kenya: The Dialectic of Domination

By Bruce Berman | Go to book overview

Two
Contradictory Foundations
Peasants, Settlers and the Origins of the Colonial State
in Kenya

The foundations of the colonial state and political economy of ' Kenya' materialized out of often unanticipated encounters, as confusing to those involved as they were frequently chaotic and violent, between diverse groups of actors, both European and African, none of whom possessed an overall understanding of or control over what was happening. The importance of starting at the very beginning is not just that it supplies useful historical background, but that it shows us how all of the theoretically relevant dimensions of both state and political economy in Kenya came to be present right from the start. Few historical arenas offer a clearer view of the intersection of powerful social forces with the subjective decisions of determinate actors creating a new and recognizable social and political entity such as ' Kenya'. What is of particular importance for our purposes is the swiftness of the emergence out of these encounters of new structural patterns of political and economic practice, vested interest and conflict. We shall see how in little more than a generation, indeed largely in the decade before 1914, the particular structures of what came to be called Kenya came into being and began to exert a compelling and contradictory 'logic' of development that determined the relations of actors previously scarcely aware of each other's existence.

In the 1880s the inland areas of Kenya comprised a web of domestic economies of complementary nomadic and sedentary pastoral forms of production. For both types of society wealth consisted of the accumulation of wives and livestock. The sedentary pastoralists, located largely in the hillier areas of the eastern and western highlands flanking the Great Rift Valley, also practised a limited shifting cultivation of annual cereal crops based on female labour on a minute fraction of the grazing area. Conflicts tended to occur within rather than between economic zones, as neighbouring groups following similar livelihoods competed for the same resources. The Maasai wars of the mid-19th

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