The Kenya Forum | The Colonial Hangover: blaming the Brits and the African renaissance - The Kenya Forum

May 23, 2012


The Colonial Hangover: that weighty legacy. How can we shake it off and experience the African Renaissance?

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The Colonial Hangover: blaming the Brits and the African renaissance

The Colonial Hangover: blaming the Brits and the African renaissance


It has been five decades since the British colonialists ended their party at our expense in Kenya whilst we served the drinks. All these years later, however, this Kenya Forum correspondent is still left on occasions wondering whether it’s us or them still suffering from a post-colonial hangover.

Dr Lukoye Atwoli, writing in The Sunday Nation awhile ago (‘Time to kill this colonial ethnic ideology’, April 8), argued that “cultural associations” and their leaders have traditionally had an influence in the political process in Kenya. ‘This has been the case’, he wrote, ‘since pre-independence days when the colonial government would not register any political organization, and only allowed ethnic or “regional” organisations’.

The colonial administration was trying to ensure that the Kenyan population was ‘divided into ethnic enclaves for ever in conflict with each other’, continued Dr Atwoli, ‘leaving the mzungu government alone to exploit the best of our resources’.

‘After Kenya’s independence’, Dr Atwoli suggested, ‘successive governments failed in their stated objectives of uniting the country behind a common cause’.

Well ‘divide and rule’ has been a standard policy of occupying powers of all types for a few thousand years or so and there’s no doubt the Brits deployed the same tactics here but they could only make the use of the divisions between tribes that already existed. Or was Kenya a veritable Garden of Eden, a land of milk and honey where peace reigned between ethnic groups before the white man turned up?

As for post-independence, surely our own politicians (and many a Kenyan in their support) used a similar strategy of divide and rule?


Michael Holman, a former Financial Times Africa editor, in an article for The East African in early March of this year, wrote that the British were missing out on ‘a new era for Africa’ and of taking advantage of the continent’s growing capacity to help itself’.

‘How ironic’, declared Holman, ‘that while a youthful continent breaks free from this [colonial] legacy, welcoming new investors from Turkey and Malaysia and elsewhere, it should be Britain – not Africa – that at times seems burdened by the past’.

Perhaps Mr Holman’s viewpoint is not without merit. It might be the case that the British, or at least some of them, still can’t break from the mindset that they once ‘owned’ Kenya in the days when 25 percent of the world map was coloured red. On the other hand, perhaps they are just not very good businessmen.


Time and again the columns of our national newspapers lament that it was the British colonialists who introduced into Kenya tribalism, corruption, political deceit, bad weather and toast that always falls down to land on the buttered side.

Even if there is some truth in this line of thinking, so long as we as Kenyans take this attitude then we will forever cast ourselves as victims in a country and a world we cannot change. The new Kenya cannot be built on the foundations of victimhood.

And again, even if true, the mzungu colonialists packed up their bags nearly 50 years ago. We’ve had nearly five decades to run Kenya in our own way. Most of us were not even born when the Union Jack was lowered in Nairobi on December 12, 1963.


Thabo Mbeki, the former President of South Africa speaking in 1998, uttered words that have resonated through the years since. He said, ‘The African renaissance, in all its parts, can only succeed if its aims and objectives are defined by Africans themselves, if its programmes are designed by ourselves and if we take responsibility for the success or failure of our policies’.

The British will have to look after themselves. It is high time that some Kenyans sobered up and recover from the colonial hangover. We must hold ourselves responsible and stop blaming others.


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