Wednesday, 30 May 2012

The Logic of Indirect Rule in Colonial Kenya

The colonial policy is usually presented as if there were no exceptions in their application to the subject population. To understand how the policies worked, it is imperative that we fully grasp the under lying logic of indirect rule on which most of the policies were premised. To effectively penetrate the countryside, the
colonialists needed at least some base of support from some segments of the native population. The indirect rule structure proved tremendously useful in this respect. The scheme largely targeted chiefs and significant others in the countryside by allowing them the unhindered accumulation of wealth under the aegis of the state.

The differential access to the means of accumulation, therefore, created a subset of natives whose interests coincided with those of the colonialists. In fact, indirect rule turned out to be a schematic ingenuity that ultimately ‘inhibited the coalescence of the [natives] resistance into a colony-wide challenge to the colonial order... kept political tensions divided and, in large part, contained within villages and compounds... offered the [natives] no arena for political debate wider than tribes’.

In Kenya, to emphasis the point above, a story is often told of Harry Thuku who started out as a very militant opponent of colonial rule but dramatically softened his stance once he was allowed to consolidate his landholdings with title deeds and granted entry into the market on terms akin to those of the settler farmers.

To what extent do the traits of the logic of indirect rule show up in the policy choices of the post colonial Kenya? The desire for a decisive break with the colonial past notwithstanding, evidence abounds that the Kenyan government has attempted to adapt the logic of indirect rule to regulate the market in a way that it could likewise salvage a reliable constituency of political support. In the language of institutional economics, Kenya just like many other nations on the continent, has miserably failed to elude the dictates of path dependence, that is, the constraints of the circum stances and institutions inherited from the colonial past. Government business has largely been executed in the shadow of the colonial heritage.

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