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Kenyan Race Relations Essay

1300 words - 6 pages

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 had a monopoly over trading plots and trading, meaning Africans were unable to compete, leading to many bankruptcies.4 These problems for the indigenous population were made worse by the Asian community’s determination to maintain their dominant position; when the government proposed African Social Welfare Centres in 1945, which included trading plots for Africans, Asian politicians took rapid action to protect their own interests.5 Although it is clear that this dominance was a primary cause of the poor race relations, argument should not be taken to the point at which it is asserted that Asians sought to subvert Africans. Instead, Asians were on the whole willing to work much longer hours and operated more efficiently than African traders were ever able to6, meaning that the Asian dominance of trade was unavoidable. Therefore, although a main cause of the hostile race relations was the monopoly over trade that Asians held, this was not a deliberate act to undermine Africans.
While the domination of trade created a general feeling of envy towards the South Asians, it was the illicit and corrupt actions of a few that led to the creation of an Asian stereotype, which contributed greatly to the acrimonious race...

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