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Coping with the Contradictions: The Development of the Colonial State in Kenya, 1895–1914

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 January 2009

John Lonsdale
Trinity College, Cambridge
Bruce Berman
Queen's University, Ontario
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By drawing on the current Marxist debate about the nature of the capitalist state, this article argues that the colonial state was obliged to be more interventionist than the mature capitalist state in its attempts to manage the economy, since colonies were distinguished by the way in which they articulated capitalism to local modes of production. This posed severe problems of social control, since the capitalist sector required the preservation of indigenous social institutions while also extracting resources from them. In early colonial Kenya this problem was mitigated by a rough compatibility between the needs of settler capital and the patronage exercised by African chiefs within a peasant sector which was expanded to solve the colonial administration's initial need for peace and revenue. The peasant sector was not destroyed, rather it was represented in the state, which never ceased thereafter to be plagued by the conflicts between the two modes of production over which it presided.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1979


1 Transatlantic collaboration has not proved to be easy. This final draft represents merely an arbitrary caesura in a continuing dialogue of exchanged ideas which we hope to pursue at more illuminating length elsewhere.

2 One of the earliest essays in this enterprise is the Introduction to Kay, G. B., The Political Economy of Colonialism in Ghana (Cambridge, 1972)Google Scholar. The project has been carried furthest with regard to South Africa. For an instructive guide to the current state of the argument see Clarke, Simon, ‘Capital, fractions of capital and the State: “Neo-Marxist” analysis of the South African state’, Capital and Class, v (1978), 3277CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Good, Kenneth, ‘Settler colonialism: economic development and Class Formation’, Journal of Modern African Studies, xiv, 4 (1976), 597620CrossRefGoogle Scholar, emphasizes, as we do, the interventionist nature of the colonial state but without noting the constraints on its action with which we deal below.

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42 It was in the 1890s, according to missionary recollection, that the term Mau Mau was first coined to described a gang of bandits in southern Kikuyu; see Church of Scotland Foreign Missions Committee, Mau Mau and the Church (mimeo., Edinburgh, Feb. 1953), 5.Google Scholar

43 Hobley, C. W., Kenya from Chartered Company to Crown Colony (London, 1929), 124Google Scholar; hut tax proportions of revenue calculated from figures given in Mungeam, British Rule.

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47 For land policies see Sorrenson, Origins; Ghai, and McAuslan, , Public Law, 2530Google Scholar, 79–83; Redley, M. G., ‘The politics of a predicament: the white community in Kenya, 1918–1932’ (Ph.D. thesis, University of Cambridge, 1976), ch. 2Google Scholar; Weisbord, R. G., African Zion (Philadelphia, 1968), chs. 46.Google Scholar

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63 Huxley, E., No Easy Way: a History of the Kenya Farmers' Association and Unga Ltd. (Nairobi, 1957), 4.Google Scholar

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71 For squatter motives see Land Settlement Commission, British East Africa (Nairobi, 1919), 15Google Scholar, 17, 25; Kershaw, G., ‘The land is the people: a study of social organization in historical perspective’ (Ph.D. thesis, University of Chicago, 1972), 100–1Google Scholar; Furedi, F., ‘The Kikuyu squatters in the rift valley, 1918–1929’, in Ogot, B. A., ed., Hadith 5: Economic and Social History of East Africa (Nairobi, 1975), 177–94Google Scholar; R. M. Wambaa and K. King, ‘The political economy of the Rift Valley: a squatter perspective’, Ibid. 195–217. By the 1940s the squatters would seek ‘Land and freedom’ by other means, in the Mau Mau movement, when the increased capitalization of settler farming required that they be transformed from tenants to labourers.

72 For officials' cries of alarm see Cashmore, ‘District Administration’, 97; Hodges, G. W. T., ‘African responses to European rule in Kenya to 1914’, in Ogot, B. A., ed., Hadith 3 (Nairobi, 1971), 95Google Scholar; Tignor, , Colonial Transformation, 106Google Scholar; Munro, , Kamba, 92–3.Google Scholar

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77 Cynthia Brantley, The Giriama and British Colonialism in Kenya: a Study in Resiliency and Rebellion, 1800–1920 (forthcoming).

78 We hope to follow up this point at greater length elsewhere.

79 These internal conflicts in the state are discussed in Berman, B. J., Control and Crisis in the Colonial State (Philadelphia, forthcoming).Google Scholar

80 Leys, Colin, Underdevelopment in Kenya (London, 1975), 2840.Google Scholar

81 Cf. von Freyhold, M., ‘The post-colonial state and its Tanzanian version’, Review of African Political Economy, viii (1977), 79Google Scholar. See also Iliffe, J., A Modern History of Tanganyika (London, 1979), ch. 10CrossRefGoogle Scholar; for the Kenya government's fear of pan-tribal consciousness in 1917, see Lonsdale, J. M., ‘Some origins of nationalism in East Africa’, J. Afr. Hist., ix, i (1968), 132 n.Google Scholar

82 The exercise of social control in early Nairobi is a subject on which we await the findings of Frederick Cooper, Carla Glassman, B. A. Ogot and Luise White.

83 Wallerstein, , ‘Stages of African involvement’, 41.Google Scholar

84 Cf. Ehrlich, C., ‘Some social and economic implications of paternalism in Uganda’, J. Afr. Hist., iv, 11 (1963), 275–85CrossRefGoogle Scholar, and as implied in Bauer, P. T. and Yamey, B. S., ‘The economics of marketing reform’, Journal of Political Economy, lxii, iii (1954), 210–35.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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