Britain's Colonial History on the African Continent. Influence on Kenya's Culture and Society


Pre-University Paper, 2020

7 Pages, Grade: 15 Punkte

Anonymous


Excerpt

Index

Britain's colonial history on the African continent

Arabic and European settlement

Oppression by the colonial government

Resistance by the locals

Individuals coping with the aftermath of imperialism

Cultural heritage and society

Britain's colonial history on the African continent

The British Empire is known for being the biggest empire the world has ever seen. In 1922, 458 million people lived under the rule of the British crown, more than 20% of the world's population.1 Originally the British were not among the first European nations to discover our planet. Portugal and Spain acted as pioneers in the 15th and 16th century, discovering the world and building great empires that boosted their economies.2 The British, along with other European countries such as France and the Netherlands, started to follow this example. During the 17th century the British Empire established colonies in North- and Central America and Asia.3 Driven by commercial interests, the British also wanted to dominate the African continent which was widely recognized as being extremely rich in resources. The first regions were mainly controlled by companies and businessmen who were widely independent from the crown.

The crown soon took over controlling the economic side of things. At first those colonies were self-managing; the British designated African tribe leaders who controlled the procedures.4 But the exploitation of resources was not the only economic factor. European nations captured many indigenous people and sold them as slaves on the American continent. During the 19th century, the British started to expand inwards and discovered many opportunities for agricultural projects that could benefit the European market. Competition aroused as many nations fought for land and resources. In 1984, the German chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, arranged a conference in Berlin to stop European conflicts on the African continent. The Berlin Conference - also known as the Congo Conference - is widely known to be the historic event were the “Scramble for Africa” was finally organized.5 Within a few years, European Empires had already colonized the entirety of the continent; only Liberia and Abyssinia remained independent. The British goal was to form a trade route from Cairo (Egypt) to Cape Town (South Africa).6 As a result they concurred numerous region, one of which was Kenya.

Arabic and European settlement

Kenya's geographical location is one of the main reasons for its colonial history. Prior to the invasion of European settlers, it was involved in trade partnerships with Arabic and Persian businessmen who worked with the local people on the Port of Mombasa, a city located on the Eastern Coast of the country.7 The Arabs have had a massive influence in Kenya's culture when it comes to food, language and music. In 1498, the Portuguese took control of the Port of Mombasa as they were interested in developing trade relationships with the country. They went on to leave in the 1600s; Kenya was now under the Islamic control of the Imam of Oman up until the British came along after the Berlin Conference in 1984. The East African Company took control of the region and founded the East African Protectorate in 1992. The British dealt with financial issues, thereupon the British government took matters into their own hands in 1895, opening Kenya for British settlers in 1902 (cf. footnote no.4). Kenya was officially declared a British colony in 1920 and gained independence in 1963 following numerous rebellions and uprisings by the local population.

Oppression by the colonial government

Due to its history Kenya was and still is a multicultural country made up of Asians (mainly Indians), Arabs and Bantu People. It is as rich in diversity as it is in culture. Even the indigenous population is very diverse; there are more than forty ethnic groups, the major ones being the Kikuyu (22%), Luhya (14%), Luo (13%) and the Kalenjin (13%).8 This heterogeneous society has led to a wide variety of cultures which the country is known for today.

Nevertheless, the British reign has caused great damage to the people as individuals and as a society. Although it is widely known that British interests in Kenya were based on commercial and financial interests, authorities often operated under the cloak of bringing emancipation and civilization to the indigenous people. One of the first political actions taken by the colonial government was to open doors for British settlers in 1902.9 The fruitful Highlands, traditionally the homeland of thousands of indigenous people, were exclusively “reserved for settlers of European origin”10 who renamed them “The White Highlands”. All those people that lost their homes and their land were stripped of everything they have ever worked for and left behind with absolutely nothing. Segregation between the white minority and the local population was instantaneously normalized. Ahead of this in 1895, the colonial government started a colossal railway project, “The Uganda Railway”, which was supposed to help transport the goods from Kisumu, a Western city, to the Port of Mombasa. Kisumu and Uganda are close to Lake Victoria, where the colonial government hoped to profit from the fertile land..11 At this point, the British had already pushed many people into forced labor; they even brought in 30,000 workers from British India to help with the construction of the railway.12 The end of this project was a starting point for the westward expansion by the British settlers. As the settlers entered the Western regions, even more locals were stripped of their land. All over the country Kenyans worked for European settlers, especially in urban areas around cities and towns like Kisumu, Nairobi and Mombasa. Those areas are still particularly diverse and highly populated. Although these settlers were extremely rich in comparison to the locals, workers did not earn much money considering how hard their work must have been. In certain regions, where locals still had their land, they could not grow certain goods as a result of government regulations. As one would assume the Kenyans had no say in colonial politics as well. They were systematically oppressed, therefore being powerless towards the colonial superpower and its government. As a result of this, they had to fully focus on building a new existence and a new life, involuntarily leaving hundreds of years of traditions behind. Whole ethnic groups and communities were separated and had to find a “new homeland”. But it did not stop there. The government regularly tightened the regulations, so more Kenyans had to become low-paid workers. Settlers justified these actions by saying that the indigenous people "were [like] children and should be treated as such"13. To make things even worse, they had to pay taxes to their landlords and the government. After World War I which ended with the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, many British soldiers were rewarded with valuable land; this led to even more expropriations.14 The continuous exploitation displeased thousand of locals, some of whom were brave enough to oppose the regime.

Resistance by the locals

In the early 1920s, right after Kenya was officially declared a colony, locals started to demand a say in colonial politics. The East African Association (Young Kikuyu Association), established in 1921, was one of the first organized attempts by the locals.15 The group fought for higher wages and against the agricultural restrictions for Kenyan farmers. Despite the fact that it had very progressive ideas, it was not very successful because other ethnic groups were opposed to the idea of having a Kikuyu leader. Up until the outbreak of World War II, the situation did not change for the better. One of the main causes being that people were deeply divided on how they wanted to achieve social change and an African majority rule. On the one hand, the Kenya African Union (KAU), led by Jomo Kenyatta (left man on the picture above), advocated for a moderate approach that was merely political, the Mau Mau on the other hand, led by Field Marshal Mwariama (right man on the picture above), pressed for a violent revolution.16 The Mau Mau had supporters within the ethnic groups that had to deal with a lot of suffering; many of them claimed the KAU and Kenyatta could never achieve proper results. The violent group went on to plan and execute attacks on white settlers in the early 1950s (cf. footnote no.16). Subsequently the colonial government declared a state of emergency from 1952 to 1960 and sent over 50,000 soldiers to suppress the emerging rebellion (cf. footnote no.16). The result of those actions was catastrophic to the Kenyan population, especially to the Kikuyu. British soldiers detained millions of people for years, even though many of them had no relation to the Mau Mau. Over the course of those years over “90,000 people were executed, [imprisoned and] tortured or maimed”17 according to the Kenya Human Rights Commission. Imprisonment and torture took place in concentration camps. The Mau Mau was soon defeated by the far more superior British military (cf. footnote no. 16). In addition to that, even activists from the KAU were imprisoned although they had openly spoken out against the Mau Mau rebellion and had no connection to the group whatsoever. Nonetheless the rebellion carried on. Following a number of rebellions in Africa, the UK decided to guide Kenya into independence. In 1963, with the “Kenya Independence Act”, Jomo Kenyatta became the first elected president of the nation.18

Individuals coping with the aftermath of imperialism

Even decades after the years of settlement and imperialism, there are still people that were direct victims of the oppression by the British. People still have the scars, still remember the family members they lost and are still traumatized, many have lost their land without receiving any reparations and some have been raped by British soldiers. Hundreds of people have tried to contact British courts to discuss this matter, with some of them actually being successful and receiving repair payments. (cf. footnote no.17)

A story that shows us the struggles the people had to go through is Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o's novel “Dreams in a time of war”. It is solely autobiographical and tells us how his life was influenced by the British Empire. Thiong'o explains how his brother got shot by a British police officer, his family lost their land and how schools were turned into prison camps. This is just one out of thousand examples one could be talking about but it was so remarkably successful because it is one of very few novels/books that provides a new narrative to the topic. It shows the cruelty and the horror Africans had to face during these difficult times. (cf. footnote no. 14)

Cultural heritage and society

Kenya's rich culture still lives on up until today but the colonial rule has undoubtedly shaped the country in various ways. Many ethnic groups were forced to leave their homeland, therefore, having to leave behind their traditions. New multicultural hotspots emerged. Nairobi, the current capital, is a by-product of the railway project initiated by the British. As well as that, the influence of the British and the Arabs can clearly be seen in today's society as 86% percent of Kenyans are Christian and 11% are Muslim (cf. footnote no.8). English, alongside Kiswahili, remains the national language. The influence of the settlers can also be seen in the countries food culture; the Kenyan kitchen varies from Indian and British to Arabic influences. It's the society that has taken a bigger hit by the colonial superpower. The division of ethnic groups started in the 1950s when the Mau Mau and the KAU and their separate views made people choose, they had to pick a side. Different ethnic groups could not solve their conflicts, even after the unity and the “Kenya Independence Act”. The ethnic violence spread prior to as well as after the elections in 2007 is a good example that shows the instability of Kenya's society.19 The country that exists today is clearly the outcome of the events during the settlement of British and Arabic settlers.

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Details

Title
Britain's Colonial History on the African Continent. Influence on Kenya's Culture and Society
Grade
15 Punkte
Year
2020
Pages
7
Catalog Number
V1027029
ISBN (eBook)
9783346431448
Language
English
Tags
britain, colonial, history, african, continent, influence, kenya, culture, society
Quote paper
Anonymous, 2020, Britain's Colonial History on the African Continent. Influence on Kenya's Culture and Society, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/1027029

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