Kenyan Race Relations Essay

Kenyan Race Relations Essay

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South Asians, predominantly Indians, have a long history in Kenya and East Africa as a whole. They first migrated to east Africa in the 1890s for the building of the Ugandan railway, and then began to concentrate themselves in trade and professional occupations, such as doctors and bankers, thus meaning they were, and somewhat still are, integral to the socio-economic condition of Kenya. Historically however, race relations between black Kenyans and Asians have been acrimonious. The reasons for this are subject to debate. In general, Kenyans felt that they were marginalised by the domination of trade by Indians, leading to a relationship of envy between the two ethnicities. Furthermore, there was a popular view that the Asians were corrupt, engaged in illicit practices, abusive towards the indigenous population, which sometimes led to outbreaks of active opposition against the traders. Although some may view this as a compelling explanation, it is largely too simplistic. Instead, anti-Asian opinion was created by the envy of Asian dominance combined with the corrupt and illicit actions of the few, which were then embellished and spread around, creating an Asian stereotype which became engrained in the minds of the Kenyan people.
In both colonial and post-colonial Kenya, Asians dominated retail and trade. They controlled 75% of medium and large scale manufacturing firms, while they only comprised 1% of the population.1 In contrast to this, Africans only controlled 5% of these firms2, which led to a great level of resentment amongst Kenyans. For example, in the Nakuru district, squatters moved into urban areas in order to find trading plots after World War II. However, with 5047 Asians living in the Nakuru district in 19483, they...

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...r a decade before this became a reality.19Furthermore, during the late 1920s, the East African Indian National Congress, a key Indian political group in Kenya, consistently made demands for the abolition of colonial laws that disadvantaged and oppressed Africans.20 For example, they spoke out against the ban that prohibited Africans from growing cash crops such as coffee, which at the time greatly hindered Kenyan’s ability to succeed in agriculture, as well as the extortionate levels of poll and hut tax.21 The fact that many politicised Indians cared for Kenyans and were working in the interests of them, contrary to the popular belief that they were the corrupt exploiters of Africans, sheds further light on how the fractious race relations of Kenya’s history were largely created out of exaggerated stories that did not accurately represent the true actions of Asians.

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