Control & Crisis in Colonial Kenya: The Dialectic of Domination

By Bruce Berman | Go to book overview

Five
The Colonial State and the African
The Political Economy of Colonial Control

In late 1921 and early 1922 a new form of African political activity appeared simultaneously among both the Luo and the Kikuyu peoples. In Nyanza a Young Kavirondo Association emerged under the leadership of several young, mission-educated Luo and, with the support of several official chiefs, held a series of mass meetings in which grievances were presented to the local administration in the name of 'Piny Owacho' ('the Country says' or 'We, the People say'). 1 In the Kikuyu areas an East African Association appeared in 1921 under the leadership of Harry Thuku, a clerk in the Treasury in Nairobi. In both cases there was opposition to increased taxes, unpaid compulsory labour on public works, the use of compulsion by officials to force Africans to work on settler farms, the kipande registration system, and the alienation of tribal lands to white settlers. Following an eruption of violence in March 1922 during a demonstration in Nairobi, which left 21 Africans dead and 28 wounded, the government moderated its labour policy, and in July 1922, announced a reduction in hut tax, the disbanding of government labour camps, and the end to active labour recruitment by the chiefs and the Provincial Administration. 1

Pre- 1914 conflicts had essentially represented 'primary resistance' by segments of independent tribal societies against an alien invader whose power and intentions were only dimly perceived. 2 By contrast, the 1921-2 protests were against specific economic conditions and state policies, and provide a signal indication of how deeply the Luo and Kikuyu had already been affected by their incorporation into the political economy of colonialism. The troubles burst forth against a backdrop of the Depression, which saw a disastrous drop in commodity prices for both settler and African producers, a one-third cut in African wages, a one- third increase in African taxes, the use of administrators and chiefs to force Africans to work on the settler estates, and the 'horribly mismanaged' conversion of the currency from the Indian rupee to the

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