The role of colonial chiefs in Kenya

Their impact on Kenya`s security standards, educational system and agricultural sector

Research Paper (postgraduate), 2019

10 Pages, Grade: 5.0


Role of colonial chiefs to the development of Kenya


Colonial chiefs in Kenya form a strong part of the country history, as they are the ones who facilitated the operation of the colonial regime in the country. Though they have been criticized as collaborators by most of the existing historical studies, they are also credited in contributing towards the sustainable development of Kenya. Their governance played a significant role, particularly in maintenance of high security standards, promotion of education, growth of the agricultural sector among others. The essay first briefly summarizes an overview description of colonial administrators, chiefs. It then widely explains the colonial chief’s role in relation to the trajectory development of Kenya.

Overview description of colonial chiefs

British, among other European powers, colonized many parts of the world. They used different methods of colonial administration to carry out their plans such as direct rule, indirect rule, and assimilation among others.Inorder for the British to successfully govern the Kenyan colony as explained by Lange ( 2004), they used the system of indirect rule. This is because any attempt by the British to rule directly would result to failure in their governance. The indirect rule involved creation of the chief system, establishment of local native council and native tribunals (Ndege, 2009). Despite the fact that the ethnic communities were ruled by council of elders in the ancient period, the British had to appoint paramount chiefs whom they could manage and control.

The colonial chiefs who comprised the chief system were to act in the interests of the British for economic, political and social development. The effective administration carried out by the colonial chiefs’ who collaborated with the British , played an important role in enhancing the country’s development. Other than collaboration, the colonial chiefs such as warrant chief Okugo,Lenana Laibon who practiced resistance also contributed to development. These were as a result of organized strikes by the chiefs to protest their grievances against the British ( Ahluwali , 1996).The multiple factors discussed below explains the contribution of Colonial chiefs towards the development of the country .


Qualitative studies that have been carried out, such as the research by Schmitt (2015) reveals that, one of the key factors towards the development of a certain place is availability of high standards of security. The role of the colonial chiefs such as Ogola Ayieke ,to maintain law and order attributed to development as it eradicated crime crisis (Deflem ,1994). Land dispute which was the major dispute among communities was resolved by the chiefs who made binding orders and final decisions over the matter. Through the demarcation of land boundaries and creation of public meetings the chiefs advocated for peace and unity among conflicting parties. Other than land disputes, the chiefs also played a role in minimizing cattle raiding which also caused insecurity among the civilian population.

Military units are of significant contribution for any political development as explained through the pioneered work of ( Finer 2017). Recruitment of men into military units was another important role carried by the colonial chief that enhanced political development. The men were used to construct local administration and military centers thereby improving the domination by the colonial chiefs in the realm of politics.


Extensive research that has been carried out by researchers such as Owuor (2008), brings about the necessity of education for any sustainable development. The construction of schools enhanced literacy among the children of the colonial subjects as they acquired knowledge, skills that enabled them to seek employment opportunities. This led to increase in numbers of Kenyan elites. The tremendous efforts of colonial chiefs such as Nyandusi, Nindo in promoting education by supplying children to mission schools enhanced their popularity. Donation of land for the construction of learning institutions by colonial chiefs like Wambugu wa Mathangani, Njiiri clearly indicated their desire also in promoting education. In relation to land donation, chief Ogola Ayieke donated land for the construction of Maseno University which is currently ranked among the best universities.

The study carried out by explained by Ndege (2009) , showed that the governing of the schools enhanced school –community partnership. The partnership between the chiefs governance, parents active participation in relation to school administration positively impacted the society. The language ,English, that was used in schools increased access of Kenyans to qualify higher jobs rather than wage labourers.These is because of the believe that failure to understand the British language led the Kenyans into subordinate positions i.e. colonialism.

Medical facilities

Author Harry Russell Tate said that, the failure to safeguard the health ,working conditions and legitimate rights of the native population is a policy of sacrificing the future for the needs of the present. Therefore emphasizing on health issues as complex phenomenon all over the world. The colonial chiefs like Karuri wa Gakure have played a pivotal role in the health sector by mobilizing persons to construct health facilities. Through the health facilities ,the health technicians with the help of the chiefs among other local administrators provided health education and also created awareness through various programmers on the importance of immunization. This played a great role in reducing the loss of lives among people during cases of diseases and famine. Ethnic communities such as the Maasai’s led by colonial chief Lenana Laibon that practiced hunting and gathering as explained by Anangwe, (2008), experienced disease epidemics due to scarcity of land and their close interaction with both domestic and wild animals. Therefore the medicines provided in the health centers played a key role in achieving an increase in population growth.


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The role of colonial chiefs in Kenya
Their impact on Kenya`s security standards, educational system and agricultural sector
Mount Kenya University
M.A history
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
governance, colonial chiefs
Quote paper
Stephen Irungu (Author), 2019, The role of colonial chiefs in Kenya, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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