British colonial plan to wipe out Kenyans that came a cropper

Members of the Lancashire Fusiliers, King's African Rifles, Kenya Police and Kenya Police Reserve and Government Officers, force the evacuation of Kikuyu men, women and children who are accused of squatting on European farms in the Thomson's Falls area of Kenya on Nov. 30, 1952. Goods and chattel are being loaded into one of the 40 lorries that will take them to the Kikuyu reserve. [AP Photo, File]

This week, Kenya marked 60 years of independence from British rule. The long passage of time and the fact that over 90 per cent of living Kenyans were born after independence has left scant memory of how it was to be a colony and to have a British royal as the Head of State.

More unknown is that the initial colonial plan was – in the words of Sir Charles Elliot, the first British ruler of Kenya – “to make the African race in Kenya go under” and create a purely white man’s country. That is what happened in Australia where black people were wiped out to make it a white man’s continent.

Early last century, in justifying the case to evict the Maasai people from their vast lands and make room for British occupation of Kenya, Sir Elliot had made this startling declaration: “We should face the undoubted issue which is that the territory (Kenya) will and must be a white man’s country. The Maasai and many other tribes must go under. It is a prospect which I view with equanimity and clear conscience.”

Permanent occupation of Kenya was such a foregone conclusion that the British government considered being ‘generous’ enough as to ‘donate’ part of its territory around Uasin Gishu/Trans Nzoia area for the creation of a Jewish nation. At the time, the State of Israel didn’t exist and Jewish people were scattered homeless all over the globe. However, European settlers in Kenya weren’t prepared to share territory with the Jews and vehemently opposed the plans by their government in London. It turned out that the Jews weren’t interested either and insisted on returning to their original home in the Middle East.

In 1895, Britain seized and declared its territory the entire of what is mainland Kenya. At the same time, Arab rulers of Kenya’s 10-mile coastal strip were arm-twisted to surrender it to the British. Together with the mainland, the new territory was named the British East African Protectorate. In quick time, European settlers flocked the new territory and allocated themselves its most fertile and arable sections. The Africans (they derogatorily called them ‘natives’) were squeezed into tribal reserves where it was hoped they would slowly be vanquished through hunger and disease. In the meantime, they would be a useful source of cheap labour.

The name British East African Protectorate was dropped and the territory was renamed the Kenya Colony. The ‘father’ of white settlement, Third Baron Delamere who allocated himself almost a third of the total land seized from Africans, would boast from terraces of the Norfolk Hotel as he gobbled whiskey that Kenya would soon prove to be “forever a white man’s country”.

In quick succession, the President of the Colonialists’ Association in Kenya demanded that Britain formally declare Kenya a white man’s country and quipped: “In time, it will be found that without the white colonialists, this country would stagnate and possibly degenerate back to a black man’s country. That must not be allowed!”

Smith Hempstone, the adventurous American journalist who lived in colonial Kenya before he returned a generation later as the US ambassador in the independent nation, reckoned that among the Europeans who settled in the colony with no intention to ever leave “were miscreants whose previous lives where they had come from couldn’t bear close scrutiny, adventurers looking for a fresh start in a country where there were no police records.”

For others, wrote Hempstone, Kenya Colony offered a little slice of England’s farming districts of Devon or Sussex. For them, Kenya would be an “idyllic, wife-swapping, polo-playing, lion-shooting place in the Sun for the restless, titled, but often impecunious younger sons of the empire.”

In addition to vast arable land and a good climate for agriculture, Kenya’s other great asset was the large congeries of wildlife. To date, Kenya’s wide range of game remains to foreigners what iron fillings are to a magnet. Indeed, Nairobi is the only world capital with a game park right in the middle of the city! In the colonial days, the ditty was that you could shoot a lion in the morning before a breakfast of antelope chops; watch a caravan of elephants before a lunch of buffalo steak, and cross a hippo-invested river before a dinner of roast crab and night-cap of hare-soup. Besides, there was big money to be made from sales of ivory, rhino horn, leopard skins and snake venom.

To leave no doubt that Kenya was indeed meant to be forever a white man’s country, in 1907, Kenya’s first Parliament known as the Legislative Council (Legco) was established with an exclusively white membership. Ten years later, the membership was expanded to include two Asian and one Arab representative but no mention of Africans. Apparently by then, Africans must have been expected to be extinct!

 In 1919, the colony got its first governor in the name of Sir Edward Northey. Before then, the title of the colony’s top administrator was ‘Chief Commissioner’, holding the fort for the King and later the Queen of England. In regard to the future of the colony, Governor Northey immediately pronounced his position as follows: “The principle has been accepted at home that this country is primarily for European occupation and settlement. Although the interests of Indians would not be lost sight of, the Europeans must predominate in all respects.” There was no mention of the Africans anywhere in his speech. To him, they didn’t exist and if they did, it was by default and for numbered days!

It was followed by a visit by soon-to-be British Prime Minister Winston Churchill who declared to a cheering crowd of white settlers thus: “We do not contemplate any settlement or system which will prevent Kenya becoming a characteristically and distinctly British colony with an entirely British leadership residing in Kenya.”

The dyed-in-the-wool racist went on to gloat: “We shall apply broadly and comprehensively, so far as practical, the principle of equal rights for all civilised men. That means Indians and others who reach and conform to well-defined European standards shall not be denied the fullest exercise and enjoyment of civic and political rights. However, we are pledged by undertakings given in the past to reserve the highlands of Kenya exclusively for European settlers and do not intend to depart from that pledge… And may it be taken as a matter which is definitely settled.”

Like his junior functionaries domiciled in the colony, the future British premier and World War 2 hero didn’t mention Africans – or ‘Natives’ for that matter – anywhere in his speeches while in Kenya. Maybe they fell in the category of those he had referred to as “others”!

Africans so offended by remarks made by Churchill met in Nairobi under the leadership of a young man by the name of Harry Thuku and told off the future British premier. They insisted that Kenya was, and had been a black man’s country and told European settlers they were in Kenya for a borrowed time and had better start packing.

Thuku was immediately arrested and deported to the faraway Kismayu islands in the Indian Ocean. Courageous Africans led by a brave lady named Mary Muthoni Nyanjiru picketed outside what is today Central Police Station (at the time it was called Kingsway Police) and demanded Thuku’s release. Again, they demanded the return of the lands “stolen” by the whites and insisted that Kenya is a black man’s country.

From Central Police Station, the African demonstrators marched on to the outside of the Norfolk Hotel where white settlers, as a habit, were at the terraces gorging on hooch.

The white settlers, so offended by the audacity of the Africans to demand what was rightfully theirs, opened fire instantly killing 23 of the demonstrators as the rest fled with bullet wounds.

Inadvertently, the senseless killings, rather than extinguish, only lit the flame of freedom that would henceforth prove hard to put out as the British flew into the colony its full force of terror – troops, guns and combat aircraft – to bludgeon Africans into submission. Though it would take another four decades after the Norfolk massacre, finally on the night of December 12, 1963, the Union Jack was lowered and independent Kenya’s flag went up. Sir Elliot’s plan to make “Africans go under” to create a white man’s country in Kenya was gone with the wind!

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