In 1888, the Imperial British East Africa Company (IBEA) was granted the royal charter to administer and commercially exploit the British territory in East Africa on behalf the British monarch. The company was responsible for managing the production and exportation of raw materials and the construction of the Kenya-Uganda Railway to facilitate international trade. The company’s sphere of influence was renamed the Kenya Protectorate in 1895 and finally Kenya Colony in 1920. The declaration of the protectorate over Kenya was followed by a systematic legal process of alienating large tracts of land and dispossessing the indigenous people of the same.
According to Prof. Yash Pal Ghai, et al, the Crown Lands Ordinance, 1915, the Kenya (Annexation) Order-in-Council, 1920 and the Kenya Colony Order-in-Council, 1921 vested all arable land in the British Crown and totally disinherited indigenous Kenyans of their land. The Hut Tax Regulations of 1901 and the Hut and Poll Tax Ordinance of 1910 were promulgated to force Africans who were confined to special Native Reserves to provide labour to the white settlers. The settlers lived in exclusive white highlands in plentiful lavishness sustained by taxes collected from African labourers. To entrench the class differences between the colonisers and the African populace, the colonial government created the Kenya Police (KP) and a regimented Provincial Administration supported by a ruthless Tribal Police force (the precursor of the current day Administration Police - AP).
Colonial Chiefs collected taxes thereby forcing their own people to provide near-slave labour to the colonists. Present day Kenya was consequently founded on the politico-legal jurisprudence of international mercantilism which viewed land as a commodity for commercial exploitation and the people on it as a mere a factor of production; labour. Disfranchised of their land and confined to native reserves devoid of basic infrastructure, Africans reeled under the weight of myriad social and economic tribulations.
The struggle for independence was underpinned by the people’s desire to reclaim their land and free themselves from poverty, ignorance and disease. However the historical conspiracy of exploitation continues to thrive and inform our present political leadership. In 1963 the new African leadership inherited and embraced the colonial super structure because it served them well and ensured that they retained all the trappings of power, authority and economic privileges that were previously enjoyed by the colonial administrators.
Forty five years later the same situation persists and our elected “leaders “and “representatives” exhibit great readiness to deploy the Provincial Administration, Kenya Police and the Administration Police (AP) to brutalise their own people for their own selfish interests or at the behest of exploitative multinationals, the rich and politically connected individuals. Kenya is still ruled by the pre-independence generation which does not appear to be in a hurry to hand over political and economic power to a new generation. The political leadership watches passively as criminal cartels and heartless faceless multinationals exploit our people by charging exorbitant prices for food, water, oil and other basic commodities. The political elite enjoy urbane life with unsurpassed luxury protected by state security and continue to hoard and hold large swathes of land while the majority rural and urban poor continue to live in hovels, contend with insecurity and wallow in abject poverty with no place to call home.
Today, wayward politicians thrive on engineering ignorance and orchestrating ethnic violence to the extent that even those with pending corruption related court cases serve in cabinet and fly our national flag on their limousines. Ours is a country where a wasteful state bureaucracy backed by a complacent political class drive around tarred urban roads in paid-for fuel guzzling off-roads and SUVs while the populace in the marginal rangelands of Northern Kenya and the arid North Eastern Province (NEP) live in constant risk of sure death owing to drought, hunger, lack of food, water and basic sanitary facilities. Ministers still make key public appointments on the basis of an individual’s second or surname rather than on merit. And yes, it is the same country where the Speaker of the National Assembly, a Minister of Government and an elected Member of Parliament can publicly equate the payment of tax to philanthropy, folly and misery on the part of their constituents.
This unchecked primitive accumulation of wealth is now untenable. When the late Josiah Mwangi Kariuki, former MP for Nyandarua North quipped in 1974 that it would reduce Kenya to a country of 10 billionaires and 10 million beggars, he was aptly describing the current socio-economic situation in our country. The ordinary people are desperate and restless.
The recent public outrage over soaring food and oil prices and the reluctance by MPs to pay tax are clear pointers that the country is at the brink of a socio-politico revolution. It is not whether, but when and how it will happen that should be bothering the political elite and the rising middle class. The 10th parliament has little choice; they must provide leadership or the country will burn. They must reform the present constitutional order and create a politico-legal framework that advances inter-generational equity and ensures equality and justice across the social strata. If they do not, ordinary citizens of the country will continue to be restive and the 2012 general elections will become the watershed for Kenya. The country will either sink or celebrate 50 years of independence under a new politico-legal dispensation and socio-economic order. For now independence celebrations only make sense to the political elite. To the ordinary Kenyans, the dream of independence from poverty, ignorance and disease remains just that- a dream!
By Capt. (Rtd) COLLINS WANDERI, LL.B (Hons), PGD (HRM), CPS (K), Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE), Advocate, Commissioner for Oaths, & Notary Public.
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