NOWADAYS the emergence of one former colonial dependency after another into independence has become almost a commonplace in Africa and Asia. The subsequent pattern of events is unhappily nearly always the same. The new country seeks and gains its political freedom from alien rule by clamoring for “one man, one vote.” Independence celebrations take place; high-flown speeches about individual rights and principles are made as the new flag is run up. Then, sometimes within months, on one excuse or another, autocratic or oligarchic party rule is imposed, and no more is heard about “one man, one vote.”
In the case of Kenya, whose independence was declared on December 12, there is some prospect that a different course of events may follow. This is because for the first time a nation-state is to be created with virtually no natural homogeneity; and only mutual tolerance can hope to maintain national unity.
The two main features of the regrettable autarchic trend in Africa — namely, the reversion to chieftain veneration in a new political form after less than a century of alien domination, and the fact that few of the emergent countries have any natural cohesion because of the haphazard frontier-drawing of nineteenth-century European imperialists — are peculiarly present in Kenya. In most of the new states tribal stresses and strains have been overcome either by the acceptance, to a degree, of federalism or by the repression of the minority groups by the strongest tribe or tribes.
In Kenya it is unfortunately not just a matter of different tribes living within the “national” boundaries, but of wholly different races, with little or nothing in common except the color of their skin. For, this part of Africa, in the East, is a confluence of eight million beings: Hamitic, Nilotic, Somali, and Bantu peoples, with centuries of internecine hostility behind them.
If one adds to this historical racial hodgepodge the additional ingredients of the Asian and European communities (200,000 and 80,000 people respectively), it is not hard to understand why bringing Kenya to independence with any hope of future stability has proved so difficult.
Can the Kikuyu control?
The first problem, only quite recently overcome, was to persuade the European community, born and bred there to a position of political and economic dominance, that the standards they had set before conceding any political advance to their nonwhite compatriots simply could not survive in a continent of independent African states all based on rule by simple head-counting. When at last this lesson had been learned, it was already too late to replace European paternalism with communal “partnerships” without regard to numerical proportions, which many moderates of all races had hoped might be the next stage in political evolution.
In the early 1950s the infamous Kikuyu Mau Mau uprising took place, and Europeans in alliance with a majority of other African tribes joined together to fight the first attempt of the two million Kikuyu to become the rulers of the whole country by a campaign of ritualistic murder and sadistic terrorism. It was, however, this internal civil war that led inevitably to a realization that African political advancement could no longer be stemmed. First, the Kikuyu had to be persuaded that peaceful pressure would gain them more than bloody revolution would; and, second, all the other tribes in Africa which had adopted the unusual stand of backing Europeans against people of their own color had to be rewarded for the faith they had placed in advancement without recourse to arms.
Now, paradoxically, it is these same Kikuyu who form the mainspring of the Kenya African National Union, currently the governing party, under the still exuberant but aging leadership of Jomo Kenyatta. As first Prime Minister of Kenya, he is to lead this new nation into independence. It was Nkrumah of Ghana who said that to qualify for the leadership of a British excolony one first had to have been jailed by the British. This is certainly true of Jomo, who spent several years in prison because of his role in the organization of, if not participation in, the Mau Mau revolt. It is he, too, whom the last British governor then described as a “leader to darkness and death.” Public indignation against him among Europeans, Asians, and non-Kikuyu Africans was increased by the fact that while the revolt lasted he could never be persuaded to say a word of outright condemnation against even the most brutal of the bloody orgies of the Mau Mau revolt.
Nevertheless it is true that since his release in 1961 this African nationalist has constantly preached the need for inter-racial and intertribal tolerance and cooperation. And he has given new heart to those who still want to believe that Kenya can provide an example of harmonious race relations despite all the economic and social complexities involved. There is little doubt, too, that Kenyatta is a force for moderation within the present KANU government. For instance, shortly after the defeat of the opposition party, when it talked openly of setting up a rival state to escape KANU domination, it was Kenyatta who refused to countenance the imprisonment of the opposition leader involved.
Age may well have played a part in mellowing Kenyatta’s outlook; but also, it is beyond doubt that he has a deep-seated, sincere longing to be not just the leader of Kenya as leader of the strongest tribe, but a generally acclaimed leader with popular support irrespective of tribal affiliation, such as Julius Nyerere enjoys in neighboring, more closely knit Tanganyika.
Rivals for power
On historical precedent the Kikuyu will not accept a leader from other than their own tribe; but neither the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr. Murumbi, nor the Finance Minister, Mr. Gichuru, who are moderate, balanced men from the right tribe, can compare as a personality with arrogant thirty-two-year-old Tom Mboya, Justice Minister, or flamboyant Odinga Oginga, Minister for Internal Affairs. Both of these derive from the Luo peoples, of almost pure Nilotic stock, who with the Kamba, the third, and only warrior, element in the KANU coalition, have, through their rather uneasy alliance with the Kikuyu, enabled the present government to gain a majority of the voting strength of the country.
Odinga Oginga is indeed a strange figure: hail-fellow-well-met one moment, then breaking into rages of epileptic intensity without warning; strongly Communist inclined, and openly deriving his political financial support from Red China. Odinga’s real strength, however, flows from the fact that he is the undisputed leader of the Luo and the parliamentary members they send to Nairobi, and that in his bitter rivalry with Tom Mboya he has ousted the latter from virtually any share of tribal support.
Mboya, at the last election, despite his undoubted abilities and international repute, had to fight to barely win a seat in Nairobi, mainly inhabited by Asians and detribalized African city dwellers. The trouble with Tom Mboya is that all his training gives him a Western outlook and sophistication against his instincts, and this fact, combined with his overweening conceit, has piled so many chips on his shoulders that he may yet turn out to be the most dangerous figure in Kenya politics. Meanwhile, Mboya has worked to get all the funds he can from capitalist, and especially American, sources on the excuse that these are to be used not just to forward his own aims but to combat Odinga’s Red-backed influence.
Both men are unashamed advocates of a one-party autocratic state without the encumbrances of an opposition. and both would like to succeed Kenyatta as Prime Minister when he dies, or even before then.
The opposition’s strength
The Somalis, the Hamitic, Kalenjin, and Masai peoples, long renowned for their fierce pride and fighting prowess, are particularly apprehensive of coming under the leadership of a tribe they have always despised for their physical traits, yet envied intellectually. These are not the only enemies the clever Kikuyu have to face. The Coast peoples, although also of Bantu stock, have over the centuries been much affected by racial intermingling with Arabs and other nonAfricans and consequently are much more easygoing and tolerant than their neighbors in the interior, even in these days of racial tension.
In the northeast part of the country, too, live a tribe, the Abeluya, who feel a burning sense of resentment at the minority role they inevitably have to play in Kenya. Despite the fact that they represent the largest single ethnological unit in East Africa, the accident of history has divided them between Kenya, Uganda, and Tanganyika against their will.
Tensions were heightened at the end of 1963, when last-minute amendments to the constitution, shifting more power to the center, aroused suspicions in the minds of the inhabitants of the rural areas that fresh attempts would soon be made to erode other precious safeguards, including tribal control of individual landholdings. These country dwellers form the hard core of the official opposition party, the Kenya African Democratic Union, numbering at the last election about one third of Kenya’s total population and occupying about two thirds of the whole land area.
Of all the difficulties and dangers ahead it is the Somali problem which presents the most immediate danger to Kenya’s security. The Somalis, Arabic Muslims, are wild, nomadic people, comparatively few in number, who occupy about one third, mostly desert, of the whole country, and who are hostile to Negro rule from Nairobi. Their natural allegiance is across a largely undefined border to the independent republic of Somalia, which is keeping them well-provided with arms and ammunition.
Following Kenya’s independence and the consequent removal of British military support, the three battalions of the Kenya African Rifles, comprising the whole of Kenya’s Army, may have difficulty preventing the secession of an area larger than England and Wales, especially when even these few troops are chiefly derived from tribes with a long history of hostility to the Kikuyu. Kenyatta has privately admitted that his only prospect of preventing the threatened breakup of his new country lies in Ethiopian support, but to many this does not seem a very solid basis for optimism.
The Europeans pull out
With all these undercurrents of disruption facing Kenya, it may be asked why it would not have been simpler to have dismantled the colony, a sixty-year-old European creation, and to have allowed its constituent parts to form two or three intrinsically coherent states. The answer lies in economics. Kenya has little or no mineral wealth or potentialities. Its prosperity, which provides a higher standard of living for all its people, of all races, than the great majority of African countries can hope to possess for decades, arises from its superb climate for agricultural purposes, Kenya is the natural garden of Africa: tea, coffee, sisal, luxury fruits and vegetables, and also pyrethrum can be grown in abundance both for domestic consumption and for export, in some cases producing two crops annually. European and, more recently, nonEuropean farmers alike have waxed fat from these natural resources.
It is this very fact that is causing the biggest headaches to the rulers of Kenya. For as the Europeans, apprehensive about current political developments and unwilling to risk their lives and properties in defiance of the ever-growing clamor of the increasing African population for land, continue to pull out, the yield of their farms, subdivided into small holdings for peasant ownership, falls steadily. As it falls, so too do the export earnings of Kenya, while the import needs for a growing population go on increasing.
Up to now at least 400 European farming families have given up by individual sale, often at knockdown prices. As part of approved African resettlement schemes, covering, so far, one million acres, 750 more families have left or are to go. Another resettlement scheme not yet detailed is certain to increase these figures in the next few years. Moreover, the British government, despite an obvious reluctance to reinforce so economically damaging an exodus, had to provide substantial sums to buy out about 250 more British settlers just on hardship grounds. This category includes age, infirmity, or isolation, especially of families comprising, for instance, widows with young children wholly unable to defend themselves if Mau Mau violence or something like it should recur. And there are grim signs in the revenge beatings and cattle-slashing assaults which have been on the increase.
However, it is not fear alone that is impelling Europeans to leave. Inevitably, under new, inexperienced administrators, day-to-day standards fall, roads are not maintained, telephone and postal services deteriorate, and social life is impaired as each separate departure leaves a gap leading to still more loneliness for those who stay behind.
The only bright side of the picture is that there are welcome signs of appreciation in the new Kenya government that a way must be found to prevent further disintegration of economically viable agricultural units, perhaps through cooperation on leases of evacuated farms to domestic or expatriate persons or firms with funds to run them properly.
It is no exaggeration to say that desire to hold the land, and to gain more, is the heartheat behind every thought and action in Kenya, rousing passions even fiercer than human love. Experience has shown elsewhere, notably in Uganda and Nigeria, that internal frictions of a political or social nature can be kept within limits by federal or quasifederal institutions, as has now been attempted in Kenya. Yet constitutional safeguards mean little to a nomadic tribesman, whose wandering herd of cattle represents not only his food but his social status and his currency too, particularly when he comes up against barriers around grazing land which he has always regarded as his own and which has been converted now to modern farmland. Until this situation is solved, Kenya will continue to be a source of unending anxiety in the councils of the Western world.