Two Paths Ahead: The Ideological Struggle between Capitalism and Socialism in Kenya, 1960-1970

John Graversgaard

Shiraz Durrani

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Shiraz Durranis book: Two Paths is a crucial work to understand the tragedy of an African liberation being stolen and degraded to the benefit of a new African ruling class. To the satisfaction of British imperialism that wanted to keep its key position in support of the white settlers and capitalism.

Kenya was part of the British Empire and in 1963 Kenya became an independent republic. The book documents the long struggle for freedom and land before independence and after. With key documents from the main conflict between capitalism and socialism. The treason of the new black bourgeoisie is revealed. Imperialism was able to take the air out of the liberation by using all kind of violent and dirty tricks.

Socialism was popular after the war and workers and peasants wanted a peoples republic with nationalization of land, free education and health. But the white settlers was not willing to give up their privileges in the form of stolen fertile land and control of the state. Expulsion from their lands and being reduced to servants of the white rulers meant there was constant rebellions against this tyranny. This landgrabbing was systematic and the Pan-Africanist W. E. B. Du Bois wrote about this as the Africans in the 1920s protested the landgrabbing by the British colonialists. In the book The New Negro he writes:

“Here was a land largely untainted by the fevers of the tropics and here England proposed to send her sick and impoverished soldiers of the war. Following the lead of South Africa, Britain took usurped five million acres of the best lands from the 3,000,000 native inhabitants, herded them towards the swamps giving them nothing as compensation, even there, no sure title; then by taxation the British forced sixty percent of the black adults into slavery for the ten thousand white owners for the lowest wage. Here was opportunity not simply for the great landholder and slave-driver but also for the small trader, and twenty-four thousand Indians came. These Indians claimed the rights of free subjects of the empire—a right to buy land, a right to exploit labor, a right to a voice in the government now confined to the handful of whites.

Suddenly a great race conflict swept East Africa—orient and occident, white, brown and black, landlord, trader and landless serf. When the Indians asked rights, the whites replied that this would injure the rights of the natives. Immediately the natives began to awake. Few of them were educated but they began to form societies and formulate grievances. A black political consciousness arose for the first time in Kenya. Immediately the Indians made a bid for the support of this new force and asked rights and privileges for all British subjects—white, brown and black. As the Indian pressed his case, white South Africa rose in alarm. If the Indian became a recognized man, landholder and voter in Kenya, what of Natal?”

The British Government speculated and procrastinated and then announced its decision: East Africa was primarily a “trusteeship” for the Africans and not for the Indians. The Indians, then, must be satisfied with limited industrial and political rights, while for the black native—the white Englishman spoke! A conservative Indian leader speaking in England after this decision said that if the Indian problem in South Africa were allowed to fester much longer it would pass beyond the bounds of domestic issue and would become a question of foreign policy upon which the unity of the Empire might founder irretrievably. The Empire could never keep its colored races within it by force, he said, but only by preserving and safeguarding their sentiments”.

Tired of the humiliations a more open liberation struggle against the British started with the so called Mau Mau. The British tried by propaganda, splitting and harsh repression like hanging to subdue the militants.

The rebellions also called The Land Freedom Army gave hope to millions of Africans tired of the foreign rule of white racism. The settlers tried to reduce it to   “an irrational force of evil, dominated by bestial impulses and influenced by world communism”. Using not only racism reducing the fighters to animals, the civilized against the uncivilized primitives, but also a cold war rhetoric to gain support from white racists and imperialism.

The main protagonists are described with Jomo Kenyatta in an important role. Kenyatta was able to sideline his opponents that wanted justice and land reform and became a willing tool for the British. And he was able to profit by becoming a big landowner and using the tribal card by divide and rule, to privilege his own tribe and loyalists with positions and land. The party KANU(Kenya African National Union) was established and was divided on ideology and the future of a liberated Kenya. British intelligence was hard working to corrupt the incoming African politicians and Kenyatta that the British earlier had prisoned became their favorite. The opposition with people like Pio Gama Pinto and Oginga Odinga challenged the land and money grabbing they could see. Pinto became a key enemy for the new rulers and was brutally assassinated in 1965. A hard blow to the socialist collective that Pinto was part of. KPU(Kenya People’s Union) was formed in 1966 as a protest to Kenyatta and his capitalist policies. Imperialism tried to reduce the struggle to a tribal warfare or a struggle between personalities, but for the first time in Kenya a political party openly advocating socialism was formed. In 1969 the Kenyatta government banned KPU and arrested its leaders.

One of the tricks of Kenyatta was to talk of his policy as an African Socialism. The KPU Manifesto from 1966 talks about this “African Socialism” as a meaningless phrase and a cloak for the practice of total capitalism. Promoting the development of a small privileged class of Africans. With control of the economy by foreigners growing every day and without any nationalizations. In contrast to socialism`s basic principles on equality in the distribution of income, control over the means of production and the minimization of foreign capitalist control of the economy. KPU put the finger on the fact ministers owning big estates, and demanded that land be available for the Wananchi(the masses). Shiraz sees the murder of Pinto as crucial in the class struggle for Kenya`s future. The Wananchi Declaration of 1969 says more clearly that the people wanted their land returned to the owners and that they wanted all the Mau Mau had fought for. They wanted economic and social changes fulfilling KANU´s earlier pledges to the people. This progressive nationalism was met with terror and arrests to the delight of the British settlers and imperialism. One of the more chocking details in Durranis book is the scorn and contempt that Kenyatta expressed, shortly after his release from prison: “At Githunguri, an African-run Teacher Training school turned into a butchery during the revolt, where over one thousand Kikuyu were hung by the British forces of law and order, Kenyatta referred to the Mau Mau as `a disease which has been eradicated and must never be remembered again`”(p.178)

Kenyatta made deals with the British that forced people to take loans if they wanted to buy their stolen land back. A system whereby he and his loyalists profited and installed a regime where looting, landgrabbing and corruption became systematic. Market principles with the “willing buyer/ willing seller” was introduced. A disgrace to the freedom movement where land rights always had been at the very heart of the struggle. . Kenyatta was giving himself and his loyalists the same privileges for land grabbing as the British. The rights of the British Governor were transferred to the President, and destroyed the prospect of a more just and equal Kenya.

A betrayal that continues to this day as the class struggle in Kenya to a high degree concentrates on the land issue, see Klopp & Lumumba(2017).

Kenyatta was chosen and picked by Britain to ensure their interests, but also USA was involved to build acceptance of capitalism and western economic interests. The activist trade union movement had to be controlled and here Tom Mboya played a crucial role(p.130). Through him CIA poured money into the country to support capitalism and an African elite against the demands from the people that wanted to break the chains of colonialism. Susan Williams documents this in her important book: White malice. CIA and the covert neocolonisation of Africa(2021).

Two Paths brings justice to brave people from the Land and Freedom Army and people like Oginga Odinga, Pio Gama Pinto, Bildad Kaggia and Makhan Singh and many others fighting for justice and socialism. And contains central documentation on their political position.

Thanks to Shiraz Durrani and Vita Books for publishing this important book. That ought to be widely read by the young people of Kenya in the struggle against capitalism and imperialism.

John Graversgaard is a political activist from Denmark


Alain Locke: The New Negro, New York(1925)

Jaqueline M. Klopp & Odenda Lumumba: 'Reform and counter-reform in Kenya`s land governance'. Review of African Political Economy, Vol. 44, No. 154, 577-594 (2017).

Susan Williams: White malice. CIA and the covert neocolonisation of Africa (2021).

This review was first published in Countercurrents.

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