Academic journal article The International Journal of African Historical Studies

African Collaborators and Their Quest for Power in Colonial Kenya: Senior Chief Waruhiu Wa Kung'u's Rise from Obscurity to Prominence, 1890-1922

Academic journal article The International Journal of African Historical Studies

African Collaborators and Their Quest for Power in Colonial Kenya: Senior Chief Waruhiu Wa Kung'u's Rise from Obscurity to Prominence, 1890-1922

Article excerpt

Introduction

African collaboration was a pillar of European colonialism in Africa because collaborators were the nexus between the colonizers and the colonized. Collaborators were active or passive, educated or uneducated elites, and they collaborated commercially, administratively, educationally, and ecclesiastically. There were formal and informal collaborators such as chiefs, headmen, mission workers, teachers, dispensers, policemen, soldiers, and interpreters. They were collectively "an indispensable channel through which the dictates of imperial rule are handed down; and up through them are transmitted the responses and reactions of the governed."1 There were many individuals who aspired to collaborate because the allure of what colonialism had to offer. Collaboration attracted those who hoped to benefit from the wealth, power, prestige, and influence derived from the colonizers, and thereby preserve or improve their social, political, or economic standing.2

In the early days of colonial rule, the office of chief was the highest rank that an African could attain in the civil service. There were, therefore, many individuals, such as Waruhiu wa Kung'u, who aspired to be made chief because the position surpassed all other forms of collaboration; it offered the holder more opportunities to acquire wealth, prestige, influence, and power. On the other hand, the chiefs made colonial rule far less costly because they were poorly remunerated functionaries. Their incentives and rewards were partly commercial but mainly governmental-the perquisites of office, honors, contracts, social services and all the favors that could be given or taken away through its administrative, land, fiscal, and education policies.3 The chiefs not only legitimized the presence of the British, but also acted as buffers, since the immediate repercussions against the harshness of colonial rule were not directed at the colonizers but against the chiefs.4 However, the chiefs found themselves caught between governmental pressure and popular criticism; the government demanded their undivided loyalty while their people expected favors that they could not provide without being accused of corruption and inefficiency.5 As one colonial official wrote, the chiefs had either "to work in our interests and risk unpopularity ... or they had to side with their people against us and thus become the instruments of their subjects while they pretended to help us. Most of them tried to do both and failed all around."6

The life of Senior Chief Waruhiu wa Kung'u before 1922-the year he became chief-provides an ideal illustration of an African collaborator's quest for power in colonial Kenya. As a chief, Waruhiu was among the most loyal and distinguished participants in the colonial administration. He never spared himself in his efforts to serve the government as he was wholly committed to his duties as a chief. The Europeans believed he was a good example of what their civilizing mission and Christianization efforts could achieve in Kenya. For example, Negley Parson wrote that Waruhiu "was about the only man I met in Africa in whom I felt that the teaching of Christianity had completely fulfilled its mission."7 That was why Waruhiu's assassination in 1952 shocked the colonial administration and prompted it to declare a state of emergency-something it had been reluctant to do in spite of mounting Mau Mau violence and pressure from leaders of the local European community. That reaction demonstrated that Waruhiu had not only been an outstanding and distinguished chief, but also the high esteem in which the colonial government had held him.

Although Waruhiu was one of the most prominent and controversial chiefs in colonial Kenya, little is known about his life prior to being made chief. In order to understand why Waruhiu was such a staunch collaborator, it is imperative to examine his life history before 1922 because those were the crucial, formative years that shaped his subsequent life. …

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