Academic journal article Journal of Emerging Trends in Educational Research and Policy Studies

Labour Dynamics in Kenya's Pre-Capitalist Bukusu Economy and Society

Academic journal article Journal of Emerging Trends in Educational Research and Policy Studies

Labour Dynamics in Kenya's Pre-Capitalist Bukusu Economy and Society

Article excerpt


The study investigated the nature of the pre-capitalist Bukusu society in Kimilili, Kenya and the role of labour in the economy, using the dependency theory. The theory states that the underdevelopment of the Third World was due to the historical evolution of a highly unequal international capitalist system. Contact between the developed and underdeveloped countries leads to intensification of underdevelopment in the peripheries. The issue of labour is presently a central theme in Kenyan history. However, the study on labour dynamics in Kenya's pre-colonial societies has been one of the most neglected areas. Labour dynamics in the pre-colonial Bukusu society in Kimilili has not been properly studied with earlier works focusing on labour on European farms and towns. Early studies are also generalised hence the need to present a systematic analysis (document) of the social, economic and political processes as pertains to pre-colonial labour in Kimilili. The study was based on archival research, oral interviews as well as analysing the existing literature on socio-economic history in general and labour history in particular. The study examined how the Babukusu provided for their livelihood by harnessing the natural endowments of their environment. It surveyed the main economic activities, stressing the economic options open to them. This involved a closer examination of the various practices of production among the Babukusu in the period 1895-1963. Further, it examined land tenure system, forms of pre-colonial labour, labour organization and economic practices among the Babukusu. It was further revealed that the Babukusu were a dynamic community with their pre-colonial economic structures adapting to changes in the environment. In addition to subsistence needs, the Babukusu economy encouraged the development of surplus disposal. The study contributes to a wider understanding of labour dynamics in pre colonial Africa and labour history in Kenya. Policy planners can apply knowledge from this study to inject dynamism in labour issues by designing favourable policies. Scholars, on the other hand can use this study to further research, innovate and expand the frontiers of knowledge on pre colonial economies in Africa.

Keywords: Kenya, pre-capitalist bukusu society, role, labour, economy.


Hopkins (1970) and Bernstein (1976) have discussed issues relating to pre-colonial labour. Bernstein (ibid.), in Underdevelopment and Development, postulates that colonialism destroyed the indigenous economy which was characterized by kinship production and exchange through withdrawal of labour from traditional forms of production and by monetization. Thus, the indigenous economy was constrained, forcing rural producers into either wage labour or commodity production. However, the whole reproductive cycle of the African economy was not destroyed but was only partially altered. In Kimilili, Kenya, the nascent agricultural capitalism never dismantled African production, it was altered to adapt itself to the interests of capitalism. African labourers continued to be producers through their access to land and use of family labour.

This paper supports the view that despite wage labour on the European farms, the Babukusu still continued with their agricultural production.

Writing with reference to pre-colonial economy of West Africa, Hopkins (ibid.) maintains that the area exhibited a diversified economy characterized by agricultural pursuits, trade and craft. Hopkins (ibid.) further contends that a constricted market constitutes a major impediment to complete development or transformation of these economies. There is need to examine these issues in relation to pre-colonial Bukusu economy and labour systems in particular. Demanding scholarly attention is the analysis of the features of the Babukusu pre-colonial economy which made it resilient to colonial capitalist penetration particularly in the initial stages of encounter. …

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