7 - Cinema and Wage Labour in Colonial Kenya

by Samson Kaunga Ndanyi


In the early 1920s, the first generation of African nationalists in colonial Kenya rejected capitalism and called for its abolition. The ‘agitators’ demanded that women and girls be exempted from compulsory labour and taxation. ‘Riots’ against the two most essential pillars of capitalism – labour and taxes – erupted in Nairobi, and the agitators paid for the agitation dearly, some with their lives. Responding swiftly and violently against an unorganised assembly consisting of low-wage workers, the British government in Kenya made a bloodbath out of the encounter by firing at men and women who, according to its own admission, were armed with sticks. The fallout was swift and immediate. First, it compelled the colonial administration in Nairobi to respond to a concerned international community that questioned its excessive use of force. Secondly, it influenced policy makers to replace force with a ‘soft approach’. This article is a labour history that employs instructional films produced in London for colonial subjects in the colonies, including Kenya, to shine a spotlight on the intersection of wage labour and cultural programmes for Africans.

Samson Kaunga Ndanyi, Assistant Professor, African History and Africana Studies, Rhodes College, Memphis. Email: skaunga23@gmail.com