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The African Crowd1 in Nairobi: Popular Movements and Élite Politics*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 January 2009

Frank Furedi
Affiliation:
S.O.A.S., University of London

Extract

The absence of popular participation in the political process of post-independent Kenya should be seen as the outcome of a political tension, which has its roots in the colonial period. The growth of Nairobi, a colonial urban centre par excellence, provided unequal opportunities for its African population. The majority of the Nairobi Africans came to constitute the African crowd—domestic servants, the majority of workers in private and public employment, and petty traders. This group should be distinguished from the Nairobi African middle class which formed the ‘political élite’. The African middle class possessed a fairly high level of education and had remunerative positions with government or were wealthy traders. By the mid-'forties, this group had become well integrated within the colonial system.

The different, and often contradictory, interests of these two groups of people was strikingly manifested on the level of political action. The ‘popular movements’ of the African crowd were direct and often extra-constitutional. Their organizations, e.g. the 40 Group, were characteristically militant, and were often based on mass support. The ‘élite politics’ of the African middle class were strictly constitutional and moderate. Their goal—to consolidate their position within the colonial system—had obviously only limited appeal. The conflict between these two social groups was resolved by the elimination of the African crowd as a political force.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1973

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References

2 Ross, M. H., Urbanization and Political Participation; the effect of increasing scale in Nairobi (ASA, Boston, 1970), 23.Google Scholar

3 Ibid. 22.

4 Werlin, H. H., ‘The Nairobi City Council: a study in Comparative Local Government’, Comparative Studies in Society and History, VIII (19651966), 187.Google Scholar

5 Nairobi District Annual Report, 1938.Google Scholar

6 Central Province Annual Report, 1938, 18.Google Scholar

7 Nairobi District Annual Report, 1943, 5.Google Scholar

8 Report by the Senior Medical Officer of Health, On the Housing of Africans in Nairobi (1941), 4.Google Scholar

9 Central Province Annual Report, 1939, 34.Google Scholar

10 For the complete story of the anti-wage reduction campaign, see Furedi, F., ‘The Development of Kikuyu Political Organizations’, M.A. Thesis, SOAS (1970).Google Scholar

11 East African Chronicle, 9 July, 1921.Google Scholar

12 East African Chronicle, 20 August, 1921.Google Scholar

13 Central Province Annual Report, 1939, 70.Google Scholar

14 Central Province Annual Report, 1938, 19.Google Scholar

15 Ibid. 22.

16 Central Province Annual Report, 1945, 10.Google Scholar

17 Central Province Annual Report, 1950, 52.Google Scholar

18 Municipal Native Affairs Dept., Annual Report, 1941, 2.Google Scholar

19 Central Province Annual Report, 1943, 12.Google Scholar

20 Nairobi District Annual Report, 1941, 25.Google Scholar

21 Central Province Annual Report, 1947, 1.Google Scholar

22 Ibid. 1.

23 Interview, 9 June, 1972.Google Scholar

24 Nairobi District Annual Report, 1947, 6.Google Scholar

25 Nairobi District Annual Report, 1948, 10.Google Scholar

26 Rosberg, C. G. and Nottingham, J., The Myth of Man Mau: Nationalism in Kenya (New York, 1966), 265.Google Scholar

27 Central Province Annual Report, 1951, 7.Google Scholar

28 Central Province Annual Report, 1952, 4.Google Scholar

29 Central Province Annual Report, 1953, 2.Google Scholar

30 Kenya Legislative Council Debates, 5 May, 1953.Google Scholar

31 Nairobi, DC, Annual Report, 1954, 1.Google Scholar

32 Ibid. 1.

33 Interview with Kigera, Thuo, 19 February, 1972.Google Scholar

34 Central Province Annual Report, 1952, 61.Google Scholar

35 Population figures for Africans living in Nairobi at this time are very unreliable. Estimates as to what percentage of the African population was Kikuyu around 1952 range from 45 to 75 per cent. Table I indicates that 47 per cent of the African working population was Kikuyu. Since the overwhelming majority of African traders and of African women in Nairobi were Kikuyu, it would seem that an estimate that Kikuyu made up 65–70 per cent of the total African population is not unreasonable.Google Scholar

36 Nairobi District Extra-Provincial Report, 1962, 1.Google Scholar

37 Ross, op. cit. 10.Google Scholar

31
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