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

  • John Lonsdale (a1) and Bruce Berman (a2)


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.

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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). 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), 3277. Good, Kenneth, ‘Settler colonialism: economic development and Class Formation’, Journal of Modern African Studies, xiv, 4 (1976), 597620, emphasizes, as we do, the interventionist nature of the colonial state but without noting the constraints on its action with which we deal below.

3 Foster-Carter, Aidan, ‘The modes of production controversy’, New Left Review, 107 (1978), 4777.

4 Roberts, Andrew, ‘Nyamwezi trade’, in Gray, R. and Birmingham, D., eds., Pre-Colonial African Trade (London, 1970), 3974.

5 Hopkins, A. G., An Economic History of West Africa (London, 1973), chs. 4 and 5; Wallerstein, I., ‘The three stages of African involvement in the world economy’, in Gutkind, P. and Wallerstein, I., eds., The Political Economy of Contemporary Africa (Beverly Hills & London, 1976); Munro, J. Forbes, Africa and the International Economy, 1800–1960 (London, 1976), ch. 4; Wrigley, C. C., ‘Neo-mercantile policies and the new imperialism’, in Dewey, C. and Hopkins, A. G., eds., The Imperial Impact (London, 1978), 2034.

6 Iliffe, J., Agricultural Change in Modern Tanganyika (Nairobi, 1971); Cliffe, L., ‘Rural class formation in East Africa’, Journal of Peasant Studies, iv, ii (1977), 195224; Parkin, D., Palms, Wine and Witnesses (London, 1972).

7 Cowen, M. P., ‘Capital and peasant households’ (mimeo., University of Nairobi, 1976), 21.

8 Waller, Richard, ‘The Maasai and the British 1895–1905: the origins of an alliance’, J. Afr. Hist. xvii, iv (1976), 529–53; Feldman, D. M., ‘Christians and politics: the origins of the Kikuyu Central Association in northern Murang'a 1890–1930’ (Ph.D. thesis, University of Cambridge, 1979), ch. 2; Spencer, P., ‘Drought and the commitment to growth’, African Affairs, 293 (1974), 419–27; Lonsdale, J. M., ‘How the people of Kenya spoke for themselves, 1895–1923’ (mimeo., Proceedings of the African Studies Association (U.S.A.), 1976), extensively available in Ranger, Terence, ‘Growing from the roots: reflections on peasant research in Central and Southern Africa’, Journal of Southern African Studies, v, i (1978), 128–31.

9 This insight is the particular contribution of Rey, P.-P., Les Alliances de classes (Paris, 1973), as presented in Foster-Carter, ‘Modes of production controversy’.

10 For helpful guides to the main arguments see Jessop, Bob, ‘Recent theories of the capitalist state’, Cambridge Journal of Economics, i (1977), 353–73. and the editors' Introduction, ‘Towards a materialist theory of the State’, in Holloway, John and Picciotto, Sol, eds., State and Capital, a Marxist Debate (London, 1978), 131.

11 See in particular Hirsch, J., ‘The State apparatus and social reproduction: elements of a theory of the bourgeois State’, in Holloway, and Picciotto, , State and Capital, 57107.

12 For discussions of this relative autonomy of the state, implicit and explicit, see Miliband, R., The State in Capitalist Society (London, 1973); and Poulantzas, N., Political Power and Social Classes (London, 1973). For an instance in the early development of relative autonomy see Hay, D., ‘Property, authority and the criminal law’, in Hay, al., Albion's Fatal Tree (London, 1975).

13 But the complexity is a matter of degree; as Anderson, Perry reminds us in Passages from Antiquity to Feudalism (London, 1974), 22, this combination of different modes of production is to be found within all social formations.

14 Lamb, Geoff, ‘Marxism, access and the State’, Development and Change, vi, ii (1975), especially pp. 131–2.

15 This schematic presentation is elaborated in later sections of the article.

16 For the distinction between force and power see Luttwak, E. M., The Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire (Baltimore, 1976), 195200.

17 Cf. Marks, Shula with Trapido, Stanley, ‘Lord Milner and the South African State’ (mimeo., Cambridge Commonwealth and Overseas History Seminar, 1979), 15.

18 van Zwanenberg, R., ‘Primitive colonial accumulation in Kenya, 1919–1939: a study in the processes and determinants in the development of a Wage Labour force’ (Ph.D. thesis, University of Sussex, 1971), chs. 1 and 2; for a fictional portrayal of antagonism between settler and banker, see Ruark, Robert, Something of Value (London, 1955), 25.

19 Salvadori, Max, La Colonisation européenne au Kenya (Paris, 1938); Meyer, F. V., Britain's Colonies in World Trade (London, 1948); Colonial Office minute by Melville, E., 10 June 1940, on Report of Delegation from the East African Territories: CO.533/518/38103/2B.

20 By Douglas Rimmer, in his review article on L. H. Gann and P. Duignan, eds., The Economics of Colonialism, in j. Afr. Hist., XIX, ii (1978), 269.

21 Robinson, Ronald, ‘Non-European foundations of European imperialism: sketch for a theory of collaboration’, in Owen, R. and Sutcliffe, B., eds., Studies in the Theory of Imperialism (London, 1972), 117–40; Kiwanuka, M. Semakula, ‘Colonial policies and administrations in Africa: the myths of the contrasts’, African Historical Studies, iii, ii (1970).

22 Low, D. A., ‘Empire and social engineering’, in his Lion Rampant: Essays in the Study of British Imperialism (London, 1973), 5370.

23 Leys, Norman, Kenya (London, 1924); Ross, W. McGregor, Kenya from Within (London, 1927). For discussion of their role see Wylie, Diana, ‘Confrontation over Kenya: the Colonial Office and its critics, 1918–1940’, J. Afr. Hist., xviii, iii (1977) 427–48.

24 Leys, , Kenya, 318 (emphasis in original).

25 Mungeam, G. H., British Rule in Kenya, 1895–1912 (Oxford, 1966), 281; Sorrenson, M. P. K., Origins of European Settlement in Kenya (Nairobi, 1968), 241.

26 Cashmore, T. H. R., ‘Studies in District Administration in the East Africa Protectorate, 1895–1918’ (Ph.D. thesis, University of Cambridge, 1965), 83–7, 118–19.

27 C. C. Wrigley, ‘Kenya: the patterns of economic life, 1902–1945’, and Low, D. A., ‘British East Africa: the establishment of British rule’, in Harlow, V. and Chilver, E. M., with Smith, A., eds., History of East Africa, ii (Oxford, 1965), 209–64 and 1–56 respectively.

28 Clayton, A. and Savage, D. C., Government and Labour in Kenya, 1895–1963 (London, 1974).

29 Ghai, Y. P. and McAuslan, J. P. W. B., Public Law and Political Change in Kenya (Nairobi, 1970).

30 A start has been made in Morris, H. F. and Read, J. S., Indirect Rule and the Search for Justice (Oxford, 1972).

31 Munro, J. Forbes, Colonial Rule and the Kamba (Oxford, 1975); Tignor, R. L., The Colonial Transformation of Kenya (Princeton, 1976).

32 Wolff, R. D., The Economics of Colonialism (New Haven and London, 1974); Brett, E. A., Colonialism and Underdevelopment in East Africa (London, 1973).

33 R. Palmer's conclusion with regard to Shona, Ndebele and Kikuyu agriculture in the 1930s, in Palmer, R. and Parsons, N., eds., The Roots of Rural Poverty in Central and Southern Africa (London, 1977), 243.

34 At current prices African export earnings tripled from 1922 to 1929, from £180,000 to £543,000; and, after a slump to £214,000 in 1931, again more than doubled, to £488,000, by 1940. See tables in Salvadori, , Colonisation européene, 129; Spencer, I. R. G., ‘The development of production and trade in the reserve areas of Kenya, 1895–1929’ (Ph.D. thesis, Simon Fraser University, 1975), 367; P. Mosley, ‘Agricultural development and government policy in settler economies: the case of Kenya and Southern Rhodesia 1900–1960’ (forthcoming article,.cited with permission). That peasant export values could have increased still more rapidly without settler dominance is clear, especially if the prohibition on African coffee had been lifted before 1933; but the existing literature concentrates too gloomily on the relative decline in African exports compared with settler export production.

35 From a large literature see Waller, R. D., ‘The Lords of East Africa: the Maasai in the mid-nineteenth century, c. 1840–1885’ (Ph.D. thesis, University of Cambridge, 1979); Muriuki, G., A History of the Kikuyu, 1500–1900 (Nairobi, 1974); Hay, M., ‘Local trade and ethnicity in western Kenya’, African Economic History Review, ii, i (1975), 712; Lonsdale, J., ‘When did the Gusii (or any other group) become a tribe?’, Kenya Hist. Rev., v, i (1977), 123–33; Cowen, , ‘Capital and peasant households’, 1720; Munro, , Kamba, 730; Marris, P. and Somerset, A., “African Businessmen’, Kenya Hist. Rev., v, i (1977), 123–33; Cowen, , ‘Capital and peasant households’, 1720; Munro, , Kamba, 730; Marris, P. and Somerset, A., African Businessmen (London, 1971), 2547.

36 For the lack of Foreign Office policy see Mungeam, , British Rule, 33, 43, 68–72; and for the poor quality of many early officials, Meinertzhagen, R., Kenya Diary, 1902–1906 (London, 1957), 132; Clayton, and Savage, , Government and Labour, 27. For the railway, see Uzoigwe, G. N., ‘The Mombasa-Victoria railway, 1890–1902: imperial necessity, humanitarian venture, or economic imperialism?’, Kenya Hist. Rev., iv (1976), 1134.

37 Eliot, (in fact Commissioner) in 1904, Girouard in 1912.

38 Sorrenson, , Origins, 2930; Mungeam, , British Rule, 132; Wolff, , Economics of Colonialism, 50.

39 Hyam, R., Elgin and Churchill at the Colonial Office, 1905–1908 (London, 1968), ch. 12.

40 For the changing patterns of recruitment to the administration, see Berman, B. J., ‘Administration and Politics in Colonial Kenya’ (Ph.D. thesis, Yale University, 1974), ch. 2.

41 For the connexions between the politics of conquest and early district administration, see Waller, ‘Maasai and British’; Lonsdale, J. M., ‘The politics of conquest: the British in Western Kenya, 1894–1908’, Historical Journal, xx, iv (1977), 841–70; Low, ‘British East Africa’; Munro, Kamba, parts 1 and 2; Tignor, , Colonial Transformation, chs. 16; Cashmore, ‘District administration’; Rogers, P., ‘The British and the Kikuyu, 1890–1905: a re-assessment’, J. Afr. Hist., 20 (1979), 255–69; Thomason, M. A., ‘Little Tin Gods: the District Officer in British East Africa’, Albion, vii, ii (1975), 145–60; Spencer, ‘Production and trade’; Lonsdale, ‘People of Kenya’; Feldman, , ‘Christians and polities’, ch. 1.

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.

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

44 For these early chiefs see Ogot, B. A., ‘British administration in the Central Nyanza District of Kenya, 1900’, J. Afr. Hist., iv, ii (1963), 249–73; Atieno-Odhiambo, E., ‘Some reflections on African initiative in early colonial Kenya’, East Africa J., viii, vi (1971), 30–6; Ochieng, W. R., ‘Colonial African chiefs: were they primarily self-seeking scoundrels?’, in Ogot, B. A., ed., Politics and Nationalism in Colonial Kenya, East Africa J., viii, vi (1971), 30–6; Ochieng, W. R., ‘Colonial African chiefs: were they primarily self-seeking scoundrels?’, in Ogot, B. A., ed., Politics and Nationalism in Colonial Kenya (Nairobi, 1972), 4670.

45 Mungeam, , British Rule, 220–1; for Commissioner Eliot's unguarded comment, see Sorrenson, , Origins, 76.

46 Nyanza's export figures from the Provincial Annual Report, 1910–11; Reed, H., ‘Cotton growing in Central Nyanza, Kenya, 1901–1939’ (Ph.D. thesis, Michigan State University, 1975), 23–6; Tosh, John, ‘Lango agriculture during the early colonial period’, J. Afr. Hist., XIX, iii (1978), 426–8, analyses an early failure with cotton almost exactly parallel to Nyanza's, not least in the African preference for surplus productions of sesame, an oil-seed for which there was a world market (if not with British industry) as well as a domestic use in food preparation.

47 For land policies see Sorrenson, Origins; Ghai, and McAuslan, , Public Law, 2530, 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. 2; Weisbord, R. G., African Zion (Philadelphia, 1968), chs. 46.

48 To quote a local bank manager in 1914: see Redley, , ‘Predicament’, 83.

49 For Lord Delamere's expensive pioneering, see Huxley, Elspeth, White Man's Country, i (second edition, London, 1953), chs. 7 and 8; and for the state's assistance to agriculture, Wolff, , Economics of Colonialism, ch. 4.

50 Ibid. 55.

51 Berman, , ‘Administration and polities’, ch. 4.

52 Redley, , ‘Predicament’, passim; Clayton, and Savage, , Government and Labour, chs. 47.

53 Wolff, , Economics of Colonialism, 74.

54 Redley, ‘Predicament’, passim.

55 van Zwanenberg, R., Colonialism and Labour in Kenya, 1919–1939 (Nairobi, 1975).

56 Trapido, S., ‘Landlord and Tenant in a Colonial Economy: the Transvaal 1880–1910’, Journal of Southern African Studies, V, i (1978), 2658; J. K. Rennie, ‘White farmers, Black tenants and Landlord legislation: Southern Rhodesia 1890–1930’, Ibid. 86–98; Morris, M. L., ‘The development of capitalism in South African agriculture’, Economy & Society, v (1976), 292343.

57 Furedi, F., ‘The social composition of the Mau Mau movement in the White Highlands’, J. Peasant Studies, i, iv (1974), 490.

58 Wrigley, , ‘Patterns of economic life’, 229.

59 But see Mungeam, , British Rule, 283–5, for the first inklings.

60 Low, , ‘British East Africa’, 33–4; Wrigley, , ‘Patterns of economic life’, 229; Feldman, , ‘Christians and Politics’, 53–5; Uchendu, V. and Anthony, K., Field Study of Agricultural Change: Kisii District, Kenya (Stanford, 1969), 47.

61 The fullest account of the Protectorate's labour policies is in Clayton, A. H. le Q., ‘Labour in the East Africa Protectorate, 1895–1918’ (Ph.D. thesis, University of St Andrews, 1971), now summarized in Clayton, and Savage, , Government and Labour, chs. 13; see also Leys, , Kenya, ch. 8; Ross, , Kenya from Within, ch. 6; Huxley, , White Man's Country, i, 214–36, 274–6, for a settler view; Dilley, M. R., British Policy in Kenya Colony (second edition, London, 1966), part IV, ch. I; van Zwanenberg, R., Colonialism and Labour, ch. VII. The indispensable primary source for the views of officials, Africans and settlers is Native Labour Commission, 1912–13: Evidence and Report, (Govt. printer, Nairobi, n.d.), usefully summarized in Clayton, & Savage, , Government and Labour, 5562.

62 Ross, W. McGregor to Commissioner for Public Works, 15 Oct. 1908: Ross papers, privately held.

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

64 As in Wolff, , Economics of Colonialism, ch. 5.

65 In the words of Governor Belfield, 1913, quoted in Clayton, and Savage, , Government and Labour, 41.

66 In 1912 John Ainsworth calculated that Nyanza‘s agricultural exports represented 1¼ million headload-days per annum, Nyanza Province Annual Report (1911–12), 55.

67 The Kipsigis indeed used the same term to describe both cattle raids and wage-labour: Orchardson, I. Q., ‘Some traits of the Kipsigis in relation to their contacts with Europeans’, Africa, iv, 4 (1931), 468.

68 Native Labour Commission 1912–13, 135, evidence of Provincial Commissioner Ainsworth.

69 For the inflationary tendencies of monetization see Bohannan, P., ‘The impact of money on an African subsistence economy’, Journal of Economic History, xix, iv (1959), 491503; Wrigley, , ‘Patterns of economic life’, 226.

70 Cf. Foster-Carter, ‘Modes of production controversy’. For case studies, see Tignor, R. L., ‘Colonial chiefs in chiefless societies’, J. Modern African Studies, ix, iii (1971), 339–59; Tosh, J., ‘Colonial chiefs in a stateless society: a case-study from northern Uganda’, J. Afr. Hist., xiv, iii (1973), 473–90.

71 For squatter motives see Land Settlement Commission, British East Africa (Nairobi, 1919), 15, 17, 25; Kershaw, G., ‘The land is the people: a study of social organization in historical perspective’ (Ph.D. thesis, University of Chicago, 1972), 100–1; 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), 177–94; 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), 95; Tignor, , Colonial Transformation, 106; Munro, , Kamba, 92–3.

73 Governor Girouard, E. P. C., Memoranda for Provincial and District Commissioners (Nairobi, 1910), 6.

74 Hyam, , Elgin and Churchill, 411.

75 Sorrenson, , Origins, chs. 13 and 15

76 Clayton, and Savage, , Government and Labour, 63.

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).

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

81 Cf. von Freyhold, M., ‘The post-colonial state and its Tanzanian version’, Review of African Political Economy, viii (1977), 79. See also Iliffe, J., A Modern History of Tanganyika (London, 1979), ch. 10; 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.

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.

84 Cf. Ehrlich, C., ‘Some social and economic implications of paternalism in Uganda’, J. Afr. Hist., iv, 11 (1963), 275–85, 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.

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

  • John Lonsdale (a1) and Bruce Berman (a2)


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