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Friday, October 12, 2012

Like They Say

Kenya has only been independent from Great Britain since 1963 and has only been practicing multiple party democracy for about 10 years. It is interesting to live in an emerging democracy and like they say, “democracy is messy. “ I’m not sure there’s a country in the world that is as of yet practicing true democracy…government by, for, and of the people!  It may just be a matter of evolution, and that has a lot to do with history. 
From the early  1800s on, after East  Africa was discovered and mapped, adventurers  from around the world ventured into its interior and learned of its incredible natural resources  and beauty.   Earlier than that, many traders  came through and established enterprises in this part of Africa due to its coastal access to the Indian Ocean and therefore points east. East Africa became a major source of interest for explorers, entrepreneurs , missionaries  and imperialists alike.  Everyone wanted a piece of this pie, it seems ! This is clearly a very abbreviated and simplistic assessment of early East African history, but you get the gist.
Sadly, and somewhat astonishingly, the Western European nations  decided,  around 1884,  that they should   divvy  Africa up amongst themselves. They held a big meeting, called the Berlin Conference, to which NO Africans were invited, and they made quick work of dividing  up the entire continent to their benefit and to keep the peace among themselves.  Africans were not given ANY sovereignty over their land.  It was as if there were no people living here. England got most of the eastern part of Africa which was then called the East African Protectorate until 1920 or so, while France, Belgium, Portugal, the Netherlands, and Germany got the rest. Having lived in West Africa years ago, and having studied colonial Africa, I have fairly strong feelings about the whole colonization of Africa.  The histories of the African independence movements are both powerful and interesting but the end result was that the continent was left in a relatively calamitous and unfortunate circumstance after a lot of brutal and unjust treatment.  Well, nothing too new there, but I think  it’s important when hearing the news coming out of Africa to keep in perspective the not so happy, pretty recent  history of the individual countries.
Kenya is a country of about 40 million people and there are more than  40 tribes ranging in sizes from 300 to 3 million individuals. The country is 80 % agricultural to this day. One of the most destructive things the British did, besides take their land and remove the people from their tribal homelands, was to pit the various tribes against each other in terms of power sharing. Not long after colonization and the  settling of Kenya by the British government,  it became clear  to the British apparently, that the Africans were not going to just submit and let them take their land and call it a day. The Africans were quite aware that they were being cheated out of their land and there was conflict right away.  The whole situation was not unlike the tragedy of the Americans moving in on the Native Americans.  Lots of lies and inhumane treatment of the natives, lots of arrogant subjugation and punishment and certainly some collaboration on the parts of Africans. Basically as ugly as ugly can get.
It seems pretty clear that years of manipulation, subjugation, and trauma take a long time to heal no matter where it happens. When Jomo Kenyatta was elected Kenya’s first president, after the Mau Mau rebellion and the incarceration and murders of thousands of Kenyans by the British, he chose not to deal with the anger and hostility that had become part of the national culture, but rather wanted to “move on.”  Now Kenyatta was a beloved and strong leader, and he did a lot to help get Kenya on its feet and moving forward as an independent African nation, but there was still a large wound festering and we are seeing the continued results of that today in the various tribal conflicts that are occurring around the country. There certainly were some efforts made to get people back to their land but there seem to be a lot of issues to this day around land creating continued conflict. It would be presumptuous of me to try to discuss this in too much detail because I don’t know the post independence history well enough, but suffice it to say, from what we can understand and have read, that had those land issues and wounds been dealt with back in the days of early independence, perhaps this country would be further along in its development as a democracy.  The conflicts between the peoples of Africa are in great part a result of the colonial history of the continent and that should not be forgotten .  There are many other issues playing in this developing democracy including the egos of leaders, economic strife, and misplaced alliances,  just like at home, but this particular issue stands out due to recent troubles of which you may be aware.
political rally/parade on market day in Eldoret

the other guys rallying as well!
A great, but horrific resource for the period during the independence movement  is a book by a Harvard professor , Caroline Elkins, called Imperial Awakening.  Very enlightening albeit disturbing.


  1. Hey Lizzy. Love these thoughtful blog entries!

    Please look at this web site when you have a chance if you want to find information on more effective democracies.

  2. Actually, there are newer studies based on different criteria. Google Happiest Countries in the World and then look into how democratic they really are.