Capitalism in East Africa Part 2



Some, at least, of the natives are beginning to have other ideas. Native associations with a strong political bias already exist, and have, during the past year, been steadily attracting attention by open propaganda.


On June 24th representatives of the Kikuyu Association met the Chief Native Commissioner and his underling, the Senior Commissioner of the Kyambu District (the heart of the coffee area). Through the instrumentality of certain missionaries (obviously desirous of keeping native movements in “constitutional” lines), they laid before these officials a memorandum of grievances under ten heads, which are worth quoting in detail.


  1. The Tribal Retainers were charged with conscripting young females (married and single) for labour on European plantations by coercing the chiefs, parents, or husbands, as the case might be, with fines and imprisonment. (Tribal Retainers are native police agents of the Government operating in the tribal reserves.) It was pointed out that this practice led to wholesale degradation of the girls and young women at the hands of overseers, etc., on the plantations. Specific instances were given, but, of course, the Government Officers could not be expected to know anything about them officially, although they are the logical outcome of measures such as the Labour Ordinance.
  2. It was charged against the Administration that Chiefs and Headmen were arbitrarily arrested and imprisoned without the “Kiama” (native council of elders) being informed of any charge of offence against them.
  3. Charges of corruption, extortion, rape, etc., were preferred against the Chief Tribal Retainer, and supported by numerous concrete instances.
  4. Complaint was made that, in spite of Government’s promises to issue title deeds to the natives for the land held, occupied, and cultivated by them, encroachments of a piecemeal character upon such land are continually occurring.
  5. The delegation protested against the registration system. The registration certificate of each native employee must be signed by his employer before he may leave the latter’s service. An employer who wishes to retain natives who may wish to leave him can simply refuse to sign their certificates.* [*note.—These Certificates bear (among other particulars) the native’s thumb-print.] By leaving under such circumstances the employees render themselves open to prosecution for desertion.
  6.  It was pointed out that the heavy increase in taxation, coupled with the reduction of wages, was very oppressive.
  7. The Government were pointedly reminded that they promised the natives “rewards” for their services during the war. Was the policy above outlined to be considered as the reward ?
  8.  Free access to the forests (of which the natives have been deprived by law) was demanded. “We now have to buy the firewood and trees (for building) which once were ours.”
  9.  The arbitrary manner in which “the Europeans”—i.e., the settlers and the Government discussed and adopted measures vitally affecting native interests—was strongly condemned, and a demand was made for what is virtually political representation.
  10. Finally, the delegation made it clear that they were not satisfied simply to work and pay taxes, and claimed universal education for their children at Government expense ‘.


To the critical wage-slave of Europe the above expression of native thought may not appear very revolutionary. The evils described are essentially similar to those which he has become accustomed to regard as inseparable from the social order under which he exists; while the demands in the final clauses can hardly affect that order in a fundamental manner in Africa, seeing that they have not done so in Europe. Yet to the local master class these demands appear as drastic as did Chartism to their early Victorian prototypes, and any independent effort of the natives to realise them will be fought and, if possible, crushed.


It is here that the importance of the political struggle of the Indian bourgeoisie becomes manifest. That they will use (already are using) the discontent of the native peasantry and the ever-growing proletariat as a lever to achieve their aims is only to be expected by those possessed of historical knowledge. It is just as certain that the sympathy of the Asiatic leaders for the natives will evaporate as rapidly as their own objects are conceded, i.e., equality for capitalists irrespective of colour ! But the ghost of democracy once raised is not so easily laid. Two parties can play the demagogues game. If, as seems likely, the white settlers also adopt the weapon of popular agitation, then the natives may reap from the quarrel of their rival exploiters the concession of formal political power. By bringing them into line with other slaves this will make them more accessible to real revolutionary propaganda. It is the fear of this ultimate result of the Indian agitation that is at the back of the settlers’ minds, and adds intensity to their resistance. They feel quite capable of dealing with the natives so long as the latter are isolated, but once let the natives obtain an inkling of the forces at work in the outside world and the settlers may well tremble for the safety of their privileges.


This is typical bourgeois blindness. As Marx has it :—”The progress of social disintegration will take a form more brutal or more humane, according to the degree of development of the working class itself” (Preface to “Capital.” 1st Edn.). Native discontent in Africa will only take on a more violent and reckless character the more it is debarred from scientific enlightenment ; but it is hardly surprising that the intellectual paralysis of the capitalist class should extend itself to their representatives in the tropics. Only from the working class is the native likely to receive aid in developing in a full and free manner both himself and his natural heritage, and it is the writer’s purpose to show that the workers have a direct interest in that development, or, to be more precise, will have, so soon as they emancipate themselves from capitalist control.


Before the rise of Capitalism in Europe the workers found almost within the bounds of their villages (or at most their counties) the means of satisfying most of their wants. To be sure they might (when in a position to do so) enjoy the luxuries produced by foreign lands; but to the workers to-day the outside world is not primarily a source of luxury. It is an indispensable necessity. Elements from every longitude and latitude enter into the environment of even the wage-slaves, and it is this fact which inspires the Socialist slogan, “The World for the Workers!”


In order to find raw material for its ever-expanding industry and even food for its increasing army of industrial labour-power, Capitalism has annihilated geographical and racial boundaries and enslaved to some degree the mass of practically every people on earth. It has turned Asia, Africa, Australia, and South America into agricultural and mining districts of North America and Europe. It has destroyed such degree of domestic industry as existed in these continents and thus made them dependent on Capitalism for finished commodities; thus providing itself with the indispensable condition of its own growth—an expanding world-market.


The workers have suffered most from every crisis through which Capitalism has passed. They are suffering most now. It is upon them, therefore, that the world-problem presses most relentlessly for solution. That solution can be found only in the abolition of capitalist ownership of the means of life and production for profit. A system in which the producers have social utility as their object, in which, therefore, every pair of hands, every brain, every available material resource is welcome, nay, necessary—only such a system, based on common ownership of the world, common rights and common duties, can solve the problem. The African problem, the Indian problem (and the Irish problem) are all aspects of the whole; they will find their solution—can find no other solution than—in the world solution. The workers of Europe and America will find in the slaves of Asia and Africa allies in the struggle against Capitalism, but being the industrial proletariat they must take the lead. Their superior historical experience and technical resources must provide the means to guide and train willing but inarticulate helpers in the task of revolutionary reconstruction. A world-wide propaganda, coupled with every possible material assistance, must supersede the political control of the master-class.


Only thus can the workers make the most of the world and their own inherited mechanical and intellectual powers. The emancipation of the working-class involves the emancipation of all mankind!


Eric Boden