Seeking socially acceptable descriptions for land theft in Kenya

As European settlement spread through Kenya’s highlands early in the 20th Century, considerable amounts of African land were included in what became known as the White Highlands. In later years, defenders found a variety of justifications for these alienations of land.

Some land, it was said, was unoccupied or so sparsely occupied as to be virtually unoccupied. Some was taken by right of conquest. Some areas, it was maintained, were buffer zones between hostile “tribes” and European settlement was merely a means of bringing peace to the land. In other cases, mistakes were allegedly made and later on some minimal compensation was offered.

I’ve never understood how the term “tribe” has survived into the 21st Century as a supposedly acceptable usage. Its meaning is indistinguishable from the meaning of the phrase “ethnic group” (or perhaps “small ethnic group”) except that it is never used to describe white people. In other words — with whatever apologies may be due to my colleagues who are anthropologists — it looks like a racist usage to me.

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What does Winnipeg need in a mayor? I

With the mayoral election approaching, (it’s Wednesday, October 22nd, in case you’ve been hiding under a rock) it’s time for an assessment. For a change, Winnipeggers are blessed. In past races it has not been unusual to have a choice between a mere two candidates who appear to be both serious about wanting the job and capable of handling it. This time, I count five such candidates among the seven who remain in the race. (Buy me a drink and I’ll tell you who they are.) Continue reading

What does Winnipeg need in a mayor? II

In my previous post, I made an exception to my usual rule that my commentary will be research-based, and offered some comments on homelessness and crime –— both spheres within which I claim no expertise beyond that of a concerned citizen. In this post, I return to a topic within my expertise: urban growth and development. Continue reading

Here’s an audit that would help us know how well we’re governed

Note to my readers: Some of the comments posted at the end of the next blog entry, entitled “Are businesses more efficient and effective than governments?”, are relevant to this blog entry. Check them out.
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City land deals have dominated Winnipeg’s news this summer. Reviews of fire hall land swaps and the development of a new police headquarters have turned up a string of irregularities in the way the city did business. The provincial government appropriately took time to assess the findings and then, in mid-August, referred the file to the RCMP.

All eyes now turn to the police, and question whether the irregularities will be seen to warrant criminal charges. If no charges are filed, many will conclude that the matter is resolved. That’s not good enough. We should not concede that, if Council and city officials have avoided criminal behaviour, they’ve done their job. It is their obligation to defend the public interest, and nowhere is the public interest less well defended than in matters related to land use. Continue reading

Are businesses more efficient and effective than governments?

A particularly disheartening feature of the world we’ve been living in since the 1990s is the assumption — widely held and expressed in many ways — that anything governments can do, private enterprise can do better. It’s not exactly a lie. There are indeed many things private enterprise can do better than government, but the generalization of that proposition to any and all government programs doesn’t hold water.

My August 12th (2014) entry in my Passing Scene column points — too cryptically, I’ve decided — to two examples of the misapplication of market principles to governance — one from a recent newspaper article and another from a study a student and I did a few years ago. The newspaper article is written by a competent journalist and is self-explanatory.

The academic article is a different matter, Continue reading

Justifying the colonization of Kenya: European attitudes and African reality

In order to understand what happened after Europeans took over the country we now call Kenya, we have to know something about both the attitudes of the invaders and the reality of African life.

Elspeth Huxley, a writer who was popular with residents of what used to be called Kenya’s White Highlands, has done those of us who want to understand what happened the favour of speaking plainly in her defence of colonialism. She argued that colonization was founded, among other things, on

“…an inherent conviction that civilization in itself was good. In [the early days of European settlement], when abstract morality had a concrete meaning, there was a Right and a Wrong, people did not doubt that it was better to be civilized than savage… There could be no question therefore, but that the white man was paramount, and must remain so until the native became — if he ever did — the intellectual equal of the European.” (Huxley [see below], pp. 80-1)

Savage?
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Kenya’s Land Freedom Army: Why Africans couldn’t get over their hatred of colonial rule

My search for the truth about Kenya’s Million-Acre Settlement Scheme turned me into a student of history, and helped me understand why, in the 1950s, Kenya endured a bloodbath. Kenya’s freedom fighters, known to Western journalists as Mau Mau, took to the forests of central Kenya in a bloody, seemingly hopeless battle with handmade weapons against the might of Kenya’s colonial regime.

In the kind of contradiction that never seems to deter purveyors of media myths, much of the Western press portrayed Mau Mau as bloodthirsty savages on one hand and crafty agents of Communism on the other. To Africans in Kenya, they came to be known as the Land Freedom Army and in retrospect it’s clear that their apparently suicidal assault on the colonial regime was in fact a turning point on the road to Kenya’s independence. Continue reading