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We beat colonialism, let’s also shed shackles of graft

Kisoi Munyao
Kisoi Munyao hoisting Kenya’s flag on top of Mount Kenya at Independence Day on December 12, 1963. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

The Colony and Protectorate of Kenya was established on June 11, 1920, when the territories of the former British East Africa Protectorate (except those parts of that protectorate over which the Sultan of Zanzibar had sovereignty) were annexed by Britain. The Kenya protectorate was established on August 13, 1920, when the territories of the British East Africa Protectorate which were not annexed were established as a British protectorate. The Protectorate of Kenya was governed as part of the colony of Kenya by virtue of an agreement between Britain and the Sultan dated December 14, 1895.

The annexation of East Africa is no historical conundrum. It marked no discontinuity in British policy. It formed a continuum, a natural consequence of Britain’s self-proclaimed “civilising mission” rooted in the Livingstonian tenets of “commerce, Christianity and civilisation”.

The historiography analysing the partition of East Africa has focused disproportionately on the events unfolding in the 1890s. Ignoring Britain’s long-standing interest in the region and the immediately preceding events of the mid-1880s is however a mistake, particularly as it runs the risk of misconstruing the motives of contemporary policymakers. That the Nile rose in importance over the following decades arguably led the orthodox historiography into drawing false conclusions falling under the remit of “post hoc ergo propter hoc”.

The Liberal government in Britain had already by October 1884 recognised the potential economic and humanitarian benefits to be derived from annexing East Africa. These plans were, however, foiled by the actions of German agents only some weeks later. But it was the subsequent British reaction to the German annexation, which, largely under the direction of British private interests, led to the formalisation of the British presence in 1890 and 1894-5.

The Anglo-German Heligoland Treaty of 1890 was simply an addendum to the substantially more important 1886-7 Agreement. The declarations of protectorates in 1894-5 were “faits accomplis”, natural conclusions of events that took their origins from the crucial proceedings of 1884-7.

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Despite what has been argued in the Egypto-centric literature, strategic Nile-related motives were wholly absent. Mention of strategic designs towards the Nile did not appear until 1892 and even then, it formed one of many arguments put forward in a public-relations campaign launched by the Imperial British East Africa Company (IBEAC) to save its existence and commercial investments.

There was also a need to neutralise the potential threat of an antagonistic Buganda, a powerful and politically unstable regional ruling tribe.

The plight of British missionaries already present in the Kingdom of Buganda supported the IBEAC’s cause in the eyes of the British public opinion. Once the territories were included in the British sphere of influence, they were colonies in all but name and it was only a matter of time before they were declared protectorates and formally incorporated as imperial possessions.

Direct British administration in the region, it was believed, would also put an end to the East African slave trade. Since Britain had undertaken, at Brussels, to enact new measures against the inland slave trade, in particular sponsoring the construction of railways, it paved the way for the Uganda Railway and thus annexation, as the holding of the territory was made economically viable.

The annexation was, incidentally, the path of least resistance and East Africa was the ideal theatre in which to display Britain’s commitment to humanitarianism and commercial enterprise and to bask in the reflective glory of those values.

Once the colony was declared, the British government intensified exploitation of the vast natural resources of the territory using cheap labour and racially segregated marketing and pricing mechanisms to make the investment economically viable.

Africans were saddled with a punitive tax burden and the revenues raised were disproportionally applied in the development of European settlement areas. As a consequence, commercial links between individual African reserves, with their regional trading centres and urban areas and with the rest of Kenya were sometimes non-existent or mostly weak, intermittent and unreliable. But the consequences of statutory marketing and other aspects of state control and regulation of trade which Africans considered obnoxious manifested themselves fully during the post-World War II period and helped to fan the smouldering embers of general African discontent into the conflagrating flame of nationalism. The rest is history. The Colony and Protectorate of Kenya came to an end on December 12, 1963, when Kenya became a sovereign state.

As we reflect on our colonial history, there is no gainsaying that we have achieved a lot since independence in various spheres of development. We are a regional economic powerhouse, ahead of many other African countries in our economy, education, infrastructure and technology. But we are held hostage by the evil forces of corruption, mismanagement and outright theft by our people compounded by low self-esteem. These forces are even more toxic than colonialism and pose a real existential threat to the gains we have made so far. We have overcome greater challenges before and this is no exception but we have to come together with the common purpose of slaying this dragon.

Good is not good enough for Kenya. Our destiny lies elsewhere, in a higher realm.

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