Over the last week I had been going through the last few pages of Glimpses of World History wherein Nehru's description of erstwhile Kenya caught up my attention. Kenya too, like India, was a part of the British Empire then. Nehru portrayed a live picture of brutalities and inhumanities by the British in Kenya. This description is worth to be read in original. After describing the condition of Indians living in Kenya, Nehru writes:
The poor Africans are far worse off. Originally all the land was in their possession and was their only source of income. Huge areas of this were confiscated by the government, and free grants of land were made to the European settlers. These settlers or plantars are thus big landholders there now. They pay no income tax and hardly any other tax. Almost the whole burden of taxation is on the down-trodden African. It was not easy to tax the African, for he possesses next to nothing. A tax was put on certain necessities of life for him, like flour and clothing, and indirectly he had to pay it when he bought them. But the most extraordinary tax of all was a direct hut and poll tax on every male over 16 years old and his dependants, which included women. The principle of this taxation is that people should be taxed out of what they earn or possess. As the African possessed practically nothing else, his body was taxed! But how was he to pay this poll tax of twelve shillings per person per year if he had no money? Therein lay the craftiness of this tax, for it forced him to earn some money by working on the plantation of the European settlers, and thus paying the tax. It was a device not only to get money, but also cheap labour for the plantations. So these unhappy Africans sometimes have to travel enormous distances, coming from the interior 700 or 800 miles away to the plantations near the coast (there are no railways in the interior and just a few near the coast), in order to earn enough wages to pay their poll tax.
This paragraph was written in 1933 describing what the erstwhile Kenya was going through. Kenya was living a life of complete humiliation and had to suffer such life for 30 more years when she got independence from the Great Britain on December 12, 1963. This was the period when the Africans were not allowed to live as human beings. Anything like Fundamental Rights was a completely alien things and reign of brutality was let loose.
Reading this letter from the Glimpses created curiosity in my mind about the present life in Kenya after about 46 years of independence. It was the time when a team of about 25 Kenyan athletes was in the city for Nagpur International Marathon. This further boosted my curiosity about the current Kenya. I was expecting quite a good improvement in the life standard of Kenyans after 46 years of independence, but the picture was not that bright.
The first and most prominent thing I could found was the current water crisis in Kenya. I learn that water is sold in the capital Nairobi at USD 1.3 for 20 liters whereas petrol costs $1.5 per liter. I also found that a large section of the population feels that man can do nothing to help Kenya to come out of this crisis and she needs prayers rather than human efforts. Also I learnt from the environmental magazine 'Down to Earth', and it was quite shocking for me, that just 3% of the country is covered by forests. Furthermore, poverty, illiteracy, draughts, famines, food crisis were all the things that did not create a good enough image in mind.
I was really surprised after quite long googling for not finding even a single thing going good for Kenya. Of course, there was an exception of Wangari Maathai winning Nobel Prize for her work on environmental problems. But, this was exceptional and the general picture seem from where I am standing is of a dark night only.
At last, indeed, I found a blog (which was only of its kind) by an undergraduate Kenyan girl who speaks about her love and her pain from negligence by her lover and ends up hoping for a bright morning after a long nightmare. "Sleeping while hoping this nightmare i might arise from when morning came" she writes and I felt this as a general feeling of the Kenyans, rather general feeling of the oppressed from anywhere in the world.
I have not done any formal study on this subject. I know that what I see can only be one side of the picture and the real Kenya with all these difficulties would be as hopeful and as enthusiastic about future as the undergraduate Kenyan girl. I hope someone from Kenya writing me that most of what I wrote is not the truth, but only a delusion of it. I would not like to see a Kenyan girl standing in a queue for a bottle of drinking water, but forthrightly accusing me for making a false image of Kenya from lack of study. I am hoping somebody to correct me. Let me end with the words of the undergraduate Kenyan girl: "I must begin to see the sun beneath the misty fog. Smile when the morning comes."