Corruption today pales in comparison to colonial corruption

Today is Madaraka day in Kenya (46 years of independence). Occasionally I hear someone say something to the effect that at least when Kenya [or some other colony] was colonized, the country worked – the roads were in good condition, etc.

While eating breakfast this morning, I turned the TV to an independence day documentary (I think it was called “White Man’s Country”). All it was a collection of entries from diaries of British settlers and military officers. Granted, all history is selective, but this is not some academic’s revisionist history; it comes straight from the pen of various settlers.

I can’t remember all the details exactly as they were read, but here are a couple statements as I recall them.

  • [From a military officer]: “I had the unpleasant duty of going to the village near where a white settler had been murdered. I gave the order to kill every living thing except for children. Every man and woman was either shot or bayoneted to death. Then we burned down all the huts, destroyed the banana plantations, and took their goats and cows [thousands.]”
  • [another military officer]: “. . . the people in this village showed some resistance to doing the work we required of them, so we charged them with insulting the government, killed nine of their leaders, and hung their bodies from trees . . .”
  • [From or to Churchill]: “We’ve killed far more natives in the last few years of establishing the “Pax Britanica” than the inter-tribal warfare we are supposedly stopping could have killed in a hundred years. If this ever gets out . . .”

. . . one diary entry and report after another, one massacre after another, “punitive” trips, the seizure of thousands of livestock – excused by some measly pretense. Local people were just run off the the most fertile land and it was just given to white settlers (myth of the “empty” land.) One settler writes about how her uncle just got sick of hunting in England and wanted a change, so he came to Kenya with little more than a recommendation letter and was given a nice, large plot.

A Kenyan World War veteran is interviewed and talks about how they came back from the war and were rewarded with a few medals (which meant nothing to them) and a paltry allowance. The same white men they fought alongside were in turn given huge plots of land – right next to where these Kenyan veterans were scraping out a meager living.

It’s not the first time I’ve read similar things, but it still makes me sick to my stomach each and every time. Murder, kleptocracy, nepotism, ethnocentrism, wanton greed, complete disregard for real people? The political corruption of today makes me sick too, but the legacy appears to run long before independance, and today’s corruption seems like child’s play in comparison.

Kenya has come a long way in the last 100 years.

[Special thanks to Leïla, my five year old daughter, who painstakingly typed the first few sentences as I dictated them.]

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One thought on “Corruption today pales in comparison to colonial corruption

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