Saturday, May 14, 2005

that old anglo-saxon sense of fair play II

The backlash begins. Christine Nicholls' Red Strangers: The White Tribe of Kenya is, she admits, written from the colonist's perspective. Her explicit intention is to justify the ways of the mzungu. This may even be a worthy aim, but one expects some respect for the historical record. However, if the reviews here and here are to be believed, she makes some insupportable claims and disregards various inconvenient vilenesses.

A quick going-over of some of the claims:
Whites also, the book argues, enabled Kenyan farming to move onwards from a
subsistence level towards lucrative cash crops. "The whites made an enormous
contribution to the economic development and wellbeing of Kenya,"

This is at complete variance with well-established fact. Africans were, for most of the colonial period prohibited from growing cash-crops, in order to ensure a supply of cheap labour for large-scale white production. Harry Thuku, anyone?

"(But) much of what they had done was good. Kenya under African rule was
economically and politically viable in 1964, it was a democracy, Africans had
embraced 20th century ambitions and attitudes and advanced farming methods had
been introduced."

This is sheer mendacity. Let's review some salient facts.
Black Kenyans, all 7 million or so of them, were prohibited from participating directly in politics until 1944, and even then were allowed only a single (appointed) representative. White colonials, a population of 60, 000 or so, had 14. The first direct elections in which Africans could participate on anything like equal terms were in 1957, after sixty-odd years of colonial rule, and only six years before independence.
African property rights were disrespected, there were different codes of law for different races, and black kenyans could not enforce legal judgements against white colonials.
It would appear that black kenyans adopted democracy despite , rather than because of, the example of the mzungu.

The Spectator reviewer has managed to dig out a quote from Meinertzhagen's diary illustrating the plans that Charles Eliot (then our governor) had for Kenya (and Meinertzhagen's misgivings):

to confine the natives to reserves and use them as cheap labour on farms. I
suggested that the country belonged to Africans, that their interests must
prevail over the interests of strangers. [Eliot] would not have it; he kept on
using the word ‘paramount’ with reference to the claims of Europeans. I said
that some day the Africans would be educated and armed; that would lead to a

How is it that a man of blood like Meinertzhagen could see the problem with the colonial project yet Nicholls cannot?

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