Labour Monthly, September 1944
Source: Labour Monthly, September 1944, p. 285-286, review by Leonard Barnes;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.
Race and Politics in Kenya by Elspeth Huxley and Margery Perham, (Faber, 12s 6d.
Mrs Huxley may be labelled a Tory imperialist and Miss Perham a Liberal imperialist. The one approves of the settlement of white landowners in Africa, the other does not. This series of letters exchanged between, them is instructive because many of the consequences, and possibilities of a policy of white settlement are set out in detail both from the “pro” and from the “anti” side. The reader will learn much about social and political conditions in East Africa, as he goes along.
The ladies quarrel so vivaciously over such a multitude of matters that they almost give the impression of representing fundamentally opposed points of view. Actually, however their agreements are more important than their differences. For both are at one in believing (in Miss Perham’s words) “that Africans are not yet ready to play their part as full citizens of a democratic state.” Both hold that discrimination as between white and black in the ownership and use of land should remain. And, although the book purports to work over the recent history of Kenya with a fine tooth-comb, both writers have a tacit understanding not mention the most discreditable of all features of British policy – I mean the Kakamega gold ramp of 1932. 
Apart from its direct interest as a description of the East African scene, the book deserves attention from Socialists as indicating the current state of mind of the imperialist intelligentsia if such a phrase may be allowed). A study of this state of mind is one factor in the prediction of ruling class behaviour, and its results will have relevance to a far wider field of action than that of colonial affairs.
From this standpoint certain salient points come into relief.
Confronted by modern social problems, even the very small-scale ones that Kenya has to show, the imperialist mind loses the power of constructive thinking. Its efforts are directed to piecemeal adjustments of local tensions, as and when they arise. The thought is fussy thought, all on the plane of tactics unshaped by any strategical conception.
Absent also is any idea of an organic connection between Kenya’s problems and those of the world economy as a whole.
In the sphere of political and social organisation the imperialists can only divide. New forms of unification seem to be beyond them not merely in practice, but even in idea. For example, both these authoresses favour territorial partition as a means of solving the racial problem in Kenya (compare Ireland, Palestine, India). They want to divide the colony into two areas, one for occupation by Europeans plus their African servants, the other as a parking-place such Africans as are not needed or suited for employment by Europeans.
Both writers are highly knowledgeable about African Problems, yet both lack the gift of seeing them from an African point of view. It is well known that Mrs Huxley and Miss Perham both have many African friends. But if it were not well known, it would be hard to believe on the evidence of this book. There is nothing here to suggest that either lady has ever had ten minutes conversation with an African on equal terms. Neither thinks of African energy and African initiative as having any effective contribution to make now. In ten; twenty, thirty years’ time – possibly. Now, no. For both ladies, “sympathetic,” as they are, the African people, are a backward race, a child be laughed at or wept over, to be helped and prodded, steered and curbed, but not enrollable as friends and fellow-workers in a common cause with ourselves – the cause of democracy.
The effect of all these mental blinkers is to make the discussion between Mrs Huxley and Miss Perham largely unreal. The suggestion the disputants leave in the mind of the reader is that the problem of the political and economic relations between white and black is insoluble in Kenya conditions Actually it admits of a straightforward solution either on an imperialist or on a Communist basis.
On the former, the white settler group could be bought out and repatriated to Europe on a generous compensation formula for some £8 millions. The scale of the problem is as small as that. Some 1,700 landowners and less than 10,000 square miles of land are involved. After all £8 millions is not a large sum to people who (through Mr R.S. Hudson) were in 1939 offering £1,000 millions for the development and welfare of Nazi Germany, and who in 1940 actually paid £90 millions to the Turks to keep out of the war.
As for a Communist, basis, I do not suggest that that is practical politics in Kenya at the moment. But in view of what has happened in Soviet Central Asia in the last twenty years; it could have been very relevantly discussed in a book of this kind. In point of fact, Soviet experience receives only a couple of perfunctory mentions. The astonishing social achievement by which the colour bar has been exterminated root and branch, throughout the whole of Soviet territory, and, in its place a racial equality has been built up which is not a mere name or legal form but a vigorous and fruitful creative partnership – this entire record has failed to arouse even a languid interest in our two authoresses.
1. In 1930 a Native Lands Trust Ordinance was passed which reserved certain specified areas “for the benefit of the native tribes for ever.” Within a year or so gold was discovered at Kakamega in the Kavirondo reserve The Kenya Government thereupon passed in 1932 an amending ordinance excluding the gold-bearing land from the reserve, without providing equivalent land elsewhere for the use of the tribe.