The colonial experience in the East African countries resulted in widespread economic, social and political changes. The exploitation of resources in both Tanzania and Kenya for the benefit of European powers characterizes the colonial experience in both countries. Colonialists sought to acquire immense amounts of land, raw materials, and cheap labour while ignoring the interests of the natives in these countries. What is the extent of the European disruption of the usual social, economic lives of the indigenous communities in Kenya and Tanzania? What was the state of interactions between the populations in these countries and how much did colonial rule influence them? Colonization introduced radical changes in all aspects of the communal living in East Africa, particularly in Kenya and Tanzania which left long-lasting imprints in the socio-economic dimensions of the individual communities, the nation-states, and the region as a whole.
Colonialism Disrupted the Local Political and Social Systems
The entry of European colonists upset the traditional community boundaries in the region. The intercommunity boundaries before the advent of colonialism were fluid. The social and political organization of African communities exhibited a high degree of segmentation except in rare cases where African communities formed kingdoms. Trade, intermarriages, and sporadic warfare characterized interactions between different communities. Colonialism provided a new shape and meaning to inherent dynamism of these communities in the East African region. The colonial mentality developed from imperialism, the highest form of capitalism. Britain and Germany were determined to exploit the resources available in the area to satisfy the needs of their industries undergoing an industrial revolution. The demand for raw materials was palpable, as was the market for European goods. A high appetite for raw materials motivated intrusion into the African social and political systems with the intentions subdue them for the benefit of the Europeans.
The relatively disorganized political nature of the African communities at the time of European invasion enhanced the scramble and partitioning process. African territories provided fertile lands, which in the eyes of the European colonialist, were mostly underutilized. Therefore, the plan was to acquire as much property as possible regardless of the detriment of the affairs of the local communities. The rush for the territorial occupation by both British and German governments led to drawing up formal boundaries during the Berlin Conference of 1884/1885. For the unfortunate communities near the border of the two colonial territories, kin was separated, political organizations discarded and social ties severed as each European power moved to administer its possession. The rush to acquire areas and the erection of artificial boundaries resulted in the Kuria and Maasai communities in both sides of the Kenya-Tanzania border. The Anglo-German agreement and similar other treaties effectively integrated over autonomous communities in Kenya under a single British rule. Consequently, the political autonomy African communities previously enjoyed was interrupted by the European rule.
European powers capitalized on the poorly development technology of Africans in the region to foster imbalanced trade which still exists even in the modern day. At the time of the colonial invasion, the production system was mainly for subsidence. African communities in Tanganyika and Kenya relied on family labor and used crude tools for production. Consequently, the production process yielded minimal returns which inhibited the development of trade. The Germans and British exploited the gap in technology to introduce high-value goods into the interior such as textiles and firearms. The technological gap ensured that European goods competed damagingly with the local products. The imbalance in trade heavily favored the colonial countries by providing raw materials for the industrial revolution. The technological gap continued after the end of colonialism to the present day.
The abolition of the slave trade by Britain facilitated intense participation of the British in the political affairs in the region. The British made it illegal for any of their subjects to engage in the slave trade in the year 1805. Abolition of slave trade ushered in the era of “legitimate trade” in Africa. Determined to put an end to the slave trade at the Sultanate in Zanzibar, Pemba, and Kenyan Coast, the British forced the Arab rulers there to accept their naval protection. In return, the rulers had to make deliberate efforts to eliminate slavery in their territories. Consequently, the Crown interfered with the political system employed at the coast in a scale no other power in the region did. The elimination of the slave trade weakened the financial might of the local kingdoms which benefited from levying taxes on the traders.
The colonial expeditions led by the British and Germans led to forced migrations of people and genocide. The Germans spread diseases which Africans were previously unused to such as smallpox, cholera, and sleeping sickness. Also, they disrupted the patronage and trade systems when establishing the colonial post. Population dispersed, resulting in population decline in parts of the mainland. The suppression of the Maji Maji rebellion in the Southern part of the country also killed an estimated one-third of the local population. The population of colonial Tanzania probably reached a nadir in 1930 due to a combination of massive killings and venereal diseases. In Kenya, communities which met the force of the colonial rulers with aggressiveness such as Agiriama, the Abagusii, and the Agikuyu suffered massive casualties. The subjugation of these communities during the wars to exert European dominance led to a loss in the sovereignty of the people as the colonists appointed rules to replace the original heads of communities. Additionally, the massive casualties occasioned poor economic production in the affected areas.
Tanzania remained starved off from imperialist investments unlike Kenya during the whole colonial period. A combination of factors was behind this state of affairs, including the fact that the company joined the British Empire relatively late. Unlike Kenya, Tanzania struggled to attract investment from London given that Britain had diminished resources after World War 1. Additionally, the League of Nations appointed the British as the trustees of the territory. Therefore, the British had a limited free had as they had in the rest of the colonies, which had a severe impact on the number of investments they were willing to inject into the country. The collapse of the sisal industry established by the Germans in 1920 due to lack of enough labor also complicated economic matters for the country. When her counterparts gained independence, she lagged significantly. The unequal economic development is manifested even in the modern economic climate.
The post-colonial skirmishes in the country manifested divide and rule tactics used by the British in Kenya. Tanzania, by comparison, has gained its rightful place as the hallmark of peace and tranquillity in Africa. The possible reason for this development is that the political parties in Kenya coalesced around gaining the support of the high-capital areas after independence. Political competition between the parties led to hatred and hostility between the different communities in Kenya. Tanzania, on the other hand, had a sparsely distributed population and resources after gaining independence. It followed that the Tanganyika African National Union party easily won the support of the locals as it had no competitors since the high-interest areas were scarce. The difference in economic and population density in the country compared to Kenya and the rest of Africa explains the reason it has maintained a period of relative calmness unlike her peers in the region.
In summary, the entry of colonialism in the East African region particularly Kenya and Tanzania precipitated widespread changes major political, social and economic structure of the African communities. The results are visible even in the present day, including the imbalanced trade between these countries and their former colonial masters, internal skirmishes in one state and relative tranquillity in another, and the disparity in economic development. Each state had a unique set of problems during the colonial era, which influenced the nature of the decisions the colonialists undertook. The entry of colonialists in the region changed the subtle ways of interactions between the native communities. European powers discarded the social and political structures as they exerted their dominance. Eventually, the colonial era left the region with a common problem long after it ended: the exploitation of African resources.