A history of the African labourers of Nyeri township, 1902--1945
Kiruthu, Felix Macharia
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This study focuses on the creation of urbanization and an African labour force in Nyeri Township right from 1902 when Nyeri Fort was established by the colonial authorities to the end of the Second World War in 1945. During these years, several colonial policies were promulgated which created fundamental changes in the lives of the Africans both in the Town and in the surrounding villages. Colonial penetration was accompanied by appropriation of African land and labour which inevitably altered the majority of African lives. Right from the start of colonial rule, the colonial government used force in order to acquire labour. Young men were forced to build roads, bridges and forts. Infact, the British had to exploit the pre-capitalist modes of production in order to acquire labour. Consequently, the loot captures from the resisting communities was used to reward the British collaborators in Nyeri. Thus pre-capitalist formations were deliberately preserved partially by the British in order to assist in the reproduction of the African Labour Force. The socio-economic life of the Africans was interrupted by the colonial forces. The African laborers who were forced to settle in Nyeri Township and provide labour to the Europeans and Asians encountered serious problems, including insufficient native area for settlement of the labourers. Hence, crowding and disease outbreaks were common. Similarly, the British paid meager wages to the African labour force in town. The labourers, in turn, responded by maintaining some interest in the reserves as a form of social security. As a result most of them belonged to two economic spheres: wage earning in the town became complementary rather than an alternative to the produce of the family in the reserve. Since the basis of the new mode of production was the exploitation of the indigenous modes of production, serious contradictions inevitably emerged. In Nyeri, the spurge of nationalism that accompanied the two World Wars is a good example of these contradictions. The Western education imparted to some Africans in mission schools enabled them to rationalize that the comfortable lives of the Europeans in Kenya was the direct result of the African drudgery and poverty. It is in this light that the emergence of welfare, religious, and political associations in Nyeri is analyzed. Moreover, the exposure of the African Carrier Corps and soldiers of Nyeri to other countries and ways of doing things gave them confidence in dealing with Europeans. Indeed the modes of production paradigm contends that the articulation of various modes in the colonial state eventually leads to violence. In Nyeri, this was demonstrated by the violence that shook the township shortly after the Second World War in the name of Mau Mau resistance. The majority of the Mau Mau in Nyeri were African squatters, demobilised soldiers and petty businessmen. The common characteristic of all the members of Mau Mau was poverty and disillusionment with the colonial establishment.