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Why white settlers were against scrapping of 'kipande'

By Hudson Gumbihi | Dec 13th 2021 | 2 min read

Kenyans applying for 'kipande', May 1954. [File, Standard]

A second attempt to abolish the kipande (identity card) system was vehemently opposed by Europeans who used it as an oppressive tool.

It was a rule for Africans working in white settler farms to carry a kipande. Introduced just after the First World War in 1919, every African labourer was required to display the kipande made of a small red book in a metallic holder hung around the neck.

There was widespread uproar among the European community in 1947 when the colonial government declared that it was scrapping kipande, and in its place, introducing a biometric identification card (ID) that entailed taking fingerprints of all races.

The Europeans had at first welcomed the idea of the ID, but opposed it when they realised it meant taking everyone's fingerprints. There was a storm, especially in Rift Valley, where there was a heavy presence of white settlers farming.

The first proposal to abolish kipande was made in 1931, but it was shelved after the whites accused the government of betrayal. The settlers wanted the system in place so they could be assured of a supply of cheap labour.

Sixteen years later, the government made a second attempt, which was again met with resistance. In fact, the whites formed a civil rights society to campaign against abolishment of kipande.

“This action group toured the country, and public opinion was so whipped up that many people declared they would boycott the ordinance,” wrote Michael Blundell, in his memoir: A love Affair with the Sun.

Having just been elected a member to the Legislative Council representing Rift Valley, Blundell faced the daunting task of convincing the white settlers to accept the transition to a new identification system.

Several town hall meetings were held, culminating in a major one in Nakuru, where white farmers travelled from as far as Kitale to register their displeasure about the ID issue.

“Finally, after a great uproar, the vote was taken and the chairman (EH Wright) deemed the voting equal. A recount was ordered, but by this time the hall and outside was a scene of great confusion, and as the second vote was almost identical to the first, I decided to ignore the whole affair and carry on as the member of my constituency,” recalled Blundell.

Not only was it discriminatory, but the kipande system was open to abuse by employers who could make it impossible for workers to leave work by refusing to release the kipande

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