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British Colonization of Kenya

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War and Game

January 12, 2008


Filed under: Uncategorized -- critcalmass @ 4:10 am

Tags: History

Eastern Africa was home to a variety of populations, primarily Cushites and Niloites from the north and Bantus from the south. Local culture and language came from the blending of these populations, which had little contact with the outside world until around 500 C.E. with the arrival of the Arabs, who began colonization and trade, linking local products with markets farther east. They also began trading in slaves. On a more positive note, the blend of the local language and Arabic ultimately emerged as Swahili, which became the dominant language of eastern Africa. Successful trading brought other countries to the area, with the Persians establishing in the fourteenth century what became the modern city of Mombasa. Chinese and Malaysian ships are also known to have docked in regional ports.

Further, the British were developing a serious interest in Uganda, and Kenya was a necessary possession to secure that colony and to provide an outlet for Ugandan exports to the coast. The British government declared Uganda a protectorate in 1894 and did the same for British East Africa the following year. Soon, work started on a railroad from the interior, across the Great Rift Valley, through swampland to Africa's eastern coast. It was immediately known as the Lunatic Express. "The works progressed quickly, at the expense of the lives of many workers who died from malaria, dysentery, scurvy, cholera, ulcers, and typhus. Tsetse flies decimated the pack animals and camps were always [subject] to raids and attacks from the local tribes. Besides, the workers had to face a danger that became legendary: the man-eating lions of Tsavo" (Kenyalogy). In 1902, the line running from Mombasa to Lake Victoria was completed after seven years of work.

British colonization was slow, but those who emigrated established themselves strongly under the leadership of the largest landowner, Lord Delamere. In 1905, protectorate status was upgraded to that of colony, with a population of about 3,000 whites by 1912. The city which ultimately became the capital, Nairobi, was established in that time period and the English settlers took over lands along the frontier of the two largest local populations, the Masai and the Kikuyu. They soon bought a large portion of land from the Masai, who moved farther south, but the main trouble the settlers faced was a lack of labor for the large farming estates they were founding. The Kikuyu became the targets of exploitation, in a process of forced labor in lieu of taxes. The Kikuyu soon rebelled, but were brutally suppressed by the Third Regiment of the King's African Rifles, a unit established to protect the settlers. This force was all that was available when war broke out in 1914 in Europe; it was too small to face the German forces in German East Africa to the south. British and South African operations in German East Africa kept the forces under General Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck in that colony, although they were unable to suppress his guerrilla operations until war's end. After 1918, Germany lost all its colonies and Britain was in sole possession of East Africa. London's encouragement of settlement in the area took the white population up to 10,000.

In the wake of the war, and with the emergence of the Cold War, Britain realized both the strategic necessity of Kenya and the need to promote progress so it could maintain order. As is the nature of reforms, however, they did not appear quickly enough for those awaiting them. Kikuyu activists split into two major groups. The more



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