Forgotten History: Colonization of Kenya (1888- 1920)


British-colonialists-standing-guard-over-KenyansThe British East African Company was granted a charter in 1888, which led to the colonization of present day Kenya. When the company became bankrupt the British government took over administration of the colony which they intended to use a gateway to Uganda, Buganda and Bunyoro because there were no minerals to exploit in Kenya. In order to subdue the colony, the British authorities forcibly took land, introduced forced labor and passed legislation that ensured natives became subjects of the British settlers.

The road to colonization of Kenya was difficult for the British because by the turn of the 20th century Indians outnumbered whites 2:1 and the Indian rupee was Kenya’s main currency. It is reported that there were approximately 23 000 Indians and only 10 000 whites. As a means of consolidating power, the British introduced the hut tax in 1902. A certain amount of taxes was to be paid to the government for each hut a family owned. This meant that native Kenyans had to earn money which could only be achieved by working for someone else that could pay them wages. The punishment for not paying hut tax was a fine and which often when not paid led to forced labor thereby providing the British settlers with the cheap labor they were searching for.

British-colonial-officers-stand-guard KenyaAs demand for labor increased, British settlers then introduced poll tax which was required of every citizen in the country. In addition, Kenyans had to work for 60 days a year for the government unless they were already employed by British settlers. This led to the creation of native reservations which were often situated far from major roads and rail and whose soil was not conducive for farming. A lot of measures employed by the British settlers in Kenya were imported from South Africa and Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe).

In 1913, the government passed a land bill that gave the white British settlers 999 year leases on the land and effectively created a monopoly on land use. Later, in 1919 British settlers introduced the Kipande system that required all Kenyan men to wear identity discs similar to the chitupa introduced in Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) which limited movement labor.

However, by the 1920s Kenyans began to organize and resist the British settlers.


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