Pre-Colonial History of Kenya – Part 4

But during the iniquitous era of the ‘Scramble for Africa’, East Africa was partitioned into German and British spheres of influence by the Anglo-German agreement of 1890.

Witu came within the British sphere and the Germans withdrew. Ahmad, however, who also had the support of the Arab landowners of the northern coast whose livelihood appeared threatened by Zanzibar’s anti-slavery moves, was eventually caught and executed, and Witu demolished, in 1893 by the Sudltan’s forces.

European interest in East Africa at this time was developing fast, although most of the contacts were being made in Zanzibar, Tanganyika (now Tanzania) and Uganda: Zanzibar, because it was now the Sultan’s headquarters; Tanganyika, because that was where the slavers operated and Uganda, because it was thought to contain the source of the Nile and, to be a wealthy country.

The first Europeans to take an interest in the Kenya interior were two German missionaries, Krapf (encouraged by the ‘Sultan to start his work in 1844 near Mombasa) who was joined by Rebmann, in 1846, in their patient probing of the hinterland.

In Uganda Protestant and Roman Catholic missionaries were already established amidst fierce factional infighting. In the 1880s, the Imperial British East Africa Company set up a string of posts through Kenya to open up a new route to Uganda but soon proved to have neither the men nor the money to develop the huge areas involved.

On 1 July, 1895 the British Government declared itself responsible for what is now Kenya. It was at first known as the East Africa Protectorate and stretched from the coast as far as the east side of the Rift Valley.

The area west of this, to the present Uganda border, was administered as the Uganda Protectorate but was transferred to Kenya in 1902. Looking back, the apparent importance of all this activity and interaction at the coast falls into a different perspective today.

The history of modern Kenya has been largely shaped by events in the heartland of the interior, whose starting-point may be said to be the shifting by Chief Engineer George Whitehouse of the staff and workshop of the Uganda Railway in 1899 to Nairobi, a site then described by an assistant engineer as’a swampy stretch of soppy landscape, devoid of human habitation of any sort, the resort of thousands of wild animals’.

At the same time the colonial government’s administrator moved his headquarters there from Machakos. Inevitably the influence and importance of events at the coast waned and geography dictated that the peoples of the interior would henceforth control the destiny of Kenya.

The process of movement and migration among the people of the interior had shaken down considerably in the nineteenth century. Those who were predominantly agriculturalists had their settled spheres of occupation and in-fluence.

The pastoralists and especially the Masai, roamed over the vast plainlands separating the agriculturalists with their herds of cattle. But the isolation and alleged hostility of the different peoples was never complete.

Alliances were forged during hardship and drought and were often preserved through the years. Internally trading relationships between the various groups gradually expanded.

The impact of the slave trade on inland Kenya was not significant but contact with the coast developed as the ivory trade grew. Most of this was handled by Kamba traders in the early nineteenth century and brought down to the coast in Kamba-organized caravans.

This process was only reversed when Seyyid Said established himself in Zanzibar.

Colonial Rule in Kenya

The Uganda Railway dominated early British policy in Kenya. First, it had to be built. This meant peace had to be maintained along its route and near the forts stretched along its length.

Second, it had to be supplied. This meant either stealing the crops of the people through whose land it went or trading with them. The foreigners ensuring that the railway got built were not all men of peace and throughout the 1890s and, indeed, up to the First World War, there, was violent opposition to the British occupation through the length and breadth of the land that was to become Kenya.

The Giriama, the Taita, the Kamba, the Kikuyu, the Kisii, the Nandi and the Elgeyo were all the receivers of brutal and vicious ‘patrols’ which ruthlessly killed men and women and exterminated their stock.

The Nandi waged a memorable guerilla campaign for over ten years against the best that could be brought against them until, in a final act of treachery, their leader, Koitalel, was shot during peace talks.

The British paradoxically called it ‘pacification’ but there was nothing peaceful about it. When the railway had been completed, the next step was to make it pay. The only way to do this was to fill it with freight and this meant farm produce and European settlers.

They began to arrive in numbers from 1902 and they were reinforced over the next sixty years by two special ex-soldier settlement schemes after each World War. Thus was the scene set for the political history of Kenya up to independence.

These settlers did not occupy ’empty’ land. They were allocated land to which the Kikuyu and other peoples laid legitimate claim. The Kikuyu had been expanding even before the Europeans arrived. Now they were con-fined to `Reserves’.

There were other grievances: the harsh tax and labour laws imposed; the racial barriers that were erected in the civil service, in business and in day-to-day life; the economic trap that was leading to increasing poverty from which the strict racial divisions prevented any escape.

African politics began almost from the beginning of colonial rule. In warfare the men with guns will always beat the men with spears. But politics is a different game.

It was learnt quickly and the age of protest, petitions, delegations and Commissions began. By the early 1920s several African political associations had been started, including the East African Association, the Kavirondo Taxpayers Welfare Association and the Kikuyu Association.

In March, 1922 the first violence erupted in Nairobi when Harry Thuku was arrested and deported. 21 people were killed outside a Police Station on the site of the present University of Nairobi.

In the late 1920s Jomo Kenyatta emerged as a leader of the Kikuyu Central Association, by whom he was sent to England to represent African grievances in the seat of metropolitan power.

The British Government which had accepted the paramountcy of African interests in the Devonshire Declaration of 1923, had to be made aware of the growing dissatisfaction with the settlers and the colonial administration.

In the 1930’s protest grew and spread to other areas of Kenya. More associations were formed at district level, the Taita Hills Association, the Ukamba Members Association and the North Kavirondo Central Association.

The Second World War intervened but before its end the first national organization was formed, the Kenya African Study Union, later renamed the Kenya African Union (KAU), to back up

Other Pages That May Interest You

Pre-Colonial History of Kenya – Part 1
Pre-Colonial History of Kenya – Part 2
Pre-Colonial History of Kenya – Part 3

Kenya > Pre-Colonial History of Kenya Part – 4