Control & Crisis in Colonial Kenya: The Dialectic of Domination

By Bruce Berman | Go to book overview

Four
The State and the Settlers
The Political Economy of Survival 1918-39

The interwar decades brought important developments in the colonial state in Kenya. At first glance, these are marked by two striking paradoxes. First, there was a consolidation of a particularly coercive state apparatus operated by an intensely paternalistic Provincial Administration. Second, the period saw a simultaneous growth of the state apparatus under the growing pressure and influence of settler interests and the failure of the settlers actually to gain effective control of the state. A closer examination, however, reveals that these paradoxes express the working out of two more of the characteristics of the state noted earlier: the constant tendency to expand its intervention into the political economy of the colony, and the simultaneous limits on its capacity to act as an instrument of class interest.

Except for a brief interval of apparent prosperity between 1923 and 1929, the period was dominated by two major sequences of crises. In each, change and upheaval in the international capitalist economy generated major crises within the sphere of settler estate production. As the state moved to defend and sustain the settler sphere, it undermined its effective legitimacy and control in African areas. New forms of African resistance and struggle appeared, to which the state responded both with increasing coercion and with efforts to reforge the local 'concordats of coexistence'.

In the first crisis the sequence of events was more sharply drawn and compressed, following the brief postwar economic boom and collapse of 1919-22, as the capitalist metropoles attempted to restore previous patterns of production and international trade. With the African reserves drained of manpower and ravaged by disease, and with the prewar patterns of developing peasant commodity production severely disrupted, official efforts at economic recovery focused on the extension of white settlement and the rapid restoration and expansion of settler export production. The sharp economic oscillations of the period

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