Disillusion on the Bright Continent

My Personal Report from Kenya, Africa

Nairobi, Kenya, March 2007

Assisted by review and comments by
Kioko Kitusa and Otieno Ogweno

Page contents:
        My People
             Doing Wrong
             Is it True?
             Hit Men
             A Problem?
             A Solution?
        More from my Trip

Copyright © 2007, 2015, . All rights reserved.

I grew up knowing that the Europeans had had colonies in Africa, but my understanding of what that meant was colored by what I knew about colonies in America. American colonies were essentially European encampments that had occasional fights with the surrounding natives, whom they beat back further and further into the hinterlands. As the colonies grew and absorbed more property, the whites eventually won out and the natives mostly perished.

The big difference with Africa seemed to be that during the very earliest years of my own life, European governments were granting independence to African countries, turning the reigns back over to native-run governments. By applying my American picture of colonies to this phenomenon, it looked like in this case, the whites lost, and the natives got to keep their land.

On my 2½-month stay in Kenya in early 2007, I have learned two things that I didn’t previously understand about the European colonization of Africa.

  1. The colonies were not isolated foreign communities, but were essentially slave camps that pervaded most of the populated territory of the continent.
  2. Foreign governments and companies today continue to control the economies of the so-called “independent” countries in Africa and that control amounts to, essentially, stealing their natural resources.

My People


The first thing I didn’t understand about European colonies in Africa was what went on inside them. My American picture was that they were essentially self-contained encampments where whites lived, separate from the native people. I assumed, since the natives weren’t beaten back all the way as they were in America, that the colonies consisted of relatively minor pockets of occupied land that had been taken either in battle or in trade for something. Independence, I supposed, meant that the Europeans gave up their claims to those properties and went home.

   European imperial powers and the United States meet in Berlin in 1895 to carve up Africa. Notice the black caricature in the bottom left corner is the closest Africans got to representation at the conference. (From Wikipedia.)

I learned that’s not quite how it went. In 1895, a meeting was convened in Berlin to hammer out an agreement on who would own what in Africa. The participants were the six European imperial powers plus the United States.1 That the US was there is interesting because it shows America was involved and probably looking out for its economic interests in the region even though it did not claim any colonies directly for itself in Africa. The Europeans carved up African territories like so many trading stamps. The natives of those territories essentially became the legal property (under the laws of the colonists, of course) of the respective European governments, which used different techniques to turn those residents to useful purposes on their behalves.

In Kenya, the British instituted policies that essentially turned the native black population into their slaves. Cynically, although the Berlin Act outlawed the slave trade, this mainly prevented Africans from selling each other; it made no comment on the enslavement of an entire native population by its European overlords. The ingenious policies of the British included:2

           Kipande, an identity card required to be carried by all adult black men in a tin container hung around the neck, like a dog collar. The information in the kipande included the name and employer of its bearer. Since the agrarian natives had no concept of employment in their own culture, this system forced black men into jobs on white plantations or public works projects, such as building roads and bridges, in order to satisfy the kipande requirements.
           Hut tax imposed on native dwellings. The pernicious thing about this tax was not its amount, but the requirement that it could not be paid in agricultural goods, but only in currency. Again, the native culture had no concept of currency, so the hut tax forced farmers and craftsmen to work for whites who could pay them in money needed for the tax.

It’s interesting that the introduction of a national identity card in the United States is opposed mainly on the basis that it would be an affront to civil liberty. Kenya has a national identity card, which must be carried by everyone over 18, a direct descendant of the British-imposed kipande.

What was really hard for me in learning all of this was that this was not something that took place hundreds of years ago, but in the twentieth century. The kipande system was introduced in Kenya by the Native Registration Ordinances of 1915 and 1920! Fifty years after Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves in the Unites States, the British were just getting started at enslaving the blacks of Kenya.

Of course, enslavement cannot be done on friendly terms. Forced labor requires the slave owners to have the power of life or death over their subjects, and that power was exercised freely by the British in Kenya. Successive uprisings by natives were put down brutally by British soldiers and warplanes, with untold numbers of Kenyans massacred.

The Hero of World War II

I grew up learning that World War II was a fight for the freedom of the world against the forces of tyranny. Winston Churchill was one of the heroes of that war, leading the brave British people through their darkest hour of bombardment by the evil Germans. Yet, I learned on this trip that old Winston had been the Colonial Secretary of Britain in the 1920s. The man who saved the world for freedom was the same man who oversaw the enslavement of the entire native population of Kenya and presumably Britain’s other colonies less than two decades before the rise of Hitler.

Not only that, but the enslavement and murder of African natives continued right through World War II and into the 1960s. As I learned about this, it seemed to represent the height of hypocrisy. At the same time that Churchill was leading Britain’s fight against Hitler’s brutal and racist tyranny, as prime minister he also oversaw Britain’s own brutal and racist tyranny in Africa.

Let me say that again. Churchill was in charge of the brutal and racist enslavement and murder of Africans on their own soil at the same time that he was being lauded for saving the world from brutal and racist enslavement and murder at the hands of Hitler.

How many Africans did the Churchill regime enslave? United Nations figures put the population of Africa in 1950 at 229 million, the vast majority of which were natives. British colonies constituted at least 30% of this population, making the number of African natives under British control at least 50 million. Hitler only saw that many slaves in his dreams. And that number is just for Africa.

As the grandchild of Jews who fled from anti-Semitism in Eastern Europe in the 1920s, I now find myself asking this very painful question: For the Africans of Kenya, Rhodesia, South Africa, and other British colonies, was Churchill any less a force of evil than Hitler? Okay, he didn’t gas them, but he did corral them into squalid reserves, which he would bomb mercilessly from the air when they misbehaved, killing thousands at a time. The man I was taught to be grateful to for rescuing my people from concentration camps in Germany and Poland was at the very same time operating his own concentration camps in Africa.

My Own Childhood Hero

Learning about this history took my mind back to another childhood hero of mine. I was a proud Boy Scout in my youth and Lord Baden Powell, the founder of Scouting, was one of my role models. I remember to this day reading in the Boy Scout Handbook about how Baden Powell conceived Scouting after seeing the important role young boys had played in the Siege of Mafeking in the Boer War. But just a minute, my mind said to me at one point on this trip. The Boer War? Wasn’t that in South Africa? And who was Baden Powell fighting for? The British. What was he doing fighting a war for the British in Africa? Oh, no! My fabled Baden Powell was part of the forces of oppression that came here to enforce the tyranny of white people over black. The man who taught me righteousness, chivalry, and self-discipline was a racist thug.

Not surprisingly, my friend Ogweno Otieno tells me that when he was a Boy Scout, he learned about Baden-Powell being the founder, but he does not recall any mention of Baden-Powell’s role in the Boer War in materials prepared for Scouts here.

My People in the Wrong

I think that before this trip I was like most Americans in looking at the colonization of Africa as something from a bygone era, something that people in our modern age would not do. I was wrong. I think Americans have the feeling, and I believe I was taught in school, that we in the modern world have become more civilized, more humane, that we conduct politics and warfare with a new kind of civility and high moral purpose that serves the needs of all mankind. It hurts me deeply to find out in a new and emphatic way how much that is a bunch of chauvinist propaganda. The “Great War” that my parents spoke of so reverently was a bold, two-faced lie.

Some people will object and say that we have been good because the Europeans governments did eventually pull out of Africa in the second half of the 20th century and they were forced to do so in no small part by public opinion that was sympathetic to the plight of the oppressed natives. But it occurs to me that to the extent that is true, the benefactor was more modern technology than modern people. It seems to me that governments and the public alike were embarrassed by graphic photographs that brought the realities of colonial oppression into their homes in those cases where the press could and would cover it. While an important role in ending colonization was played by a handful of people in Europe and the US who sympathized with and supported the African resistance movements, it seems to me that most of the public was content to not know about it when they could ignore it and quietly reap the economic benefits the colonies provided, such as diamonds, gold, and cheap coffee and pineapples.

Others will argue that African natives from the colonies fought bravely for Britain in World War II, so they must have been loyal subjects of the queen, not slaves. That naive assessment ignores the glowing promises that were made to young black men of admission into free society upon their return from the war. They were literally fighting for their freedom — or so they thought. Those promises were simply ignored when black soldiers were dumped back in their squalid reserves at the end of the war, while returning white soldiers were granted land and given government jobs.

I was two years old when the British executed Dedan Kimathi, one of the leaders of the Kenyan Mau Mau resistance movement, as a criminal. I was nine years old when that relentless resistance finally routed the British from Kenya. This is not ancient history.


Having criticized my own people, this next section is harder to write. I told some of my new friends in Kenya that after helping them learn about the technology that allows them to tell their stories and promote their causes on the Internet, maybe it is best that I leave it to them to talk about themselves and that they and the world don’t need to read my outsider’s point of view of their culture. But the ones I’ve said that to have disagreed strongly and have encouraged me to go ahead and write honestly about the thoughts I’ve shared with them. When I said that Africa has suffered enough from outsiders telling them what to do, they reminded me that the suffering I refer to has come when those outsiders backed up their viewpoints with weapons. They told me that my words will not hurt them, but will only help their people think about things in ways that might not have occurred to them. So here goes.

Given my disillusionment at learning about the roles of Churchill and Baden Powell in slavery and murder in Africa, it’s tempting to imagine the Africans as noble, innocent creatures victimized by this oppression. But both foreign whites and native blacks in Kenya quickly disabused me of that fantasy. It turns out that the difference between the colonizers and the natives was not so much that the first were bad and violent while the second were good and peaceful, but that the first had guns and the second didn’t. Moreover, while the Africans were certainly afraid of the guns, that doesn’t mean they looked at them as bad. In fact, part of the reason the Europeans were so successful at taking over the continent was that for a long time, many Africans, far from seeing the white invaders as bad people to be resisted, honored and respected them for the awesome power they wielded.

Culture of Domination

There has never been a homogenous African culture, but to the extent we can generalize, I believe one can say the original African cultures were hierarchical, authoritarian, and paternalistic (like the European cultures invading them). The weak existed to serve the strong, and this included women and children, whose role was to serve men and elders. Insubordination and disobedience were punished with violence, which might under some circumstances acceptably include death. Some tribes carried this culture of domination into aggressive warfare on their neighbors, from whom they would steal cattle and other property and perhaps also kidnap men, women, and children for indentured servitude. For other, more passive tribes, warfare consisted mainly in fending off such raids. This was life before the white man.

In a way, the white man fit neatly into this culture of domination as a new, stronger tribe. Its strength did not come from greater physical prowess or mental discipline, but from technology, primarily the “magic stick,” which could be pointed at an enemy or prey and, with a loud bang, cause them to die instantly. The cause of this death could not have been too mysterious, given that the natives were using the bow and arrow for the same purpose, but the range and effectiveness of this weapon seemed to render its users godlike in their power.

There was a natural sequence of reactions to the appearance of this powerful new tribe. The first and most obvious thing you knew was to not piss them off. Next, if you were a man of some authority in your tribe, or if you were from an aggressive tribe that enjoyed dominating your neighbors, you were very interested in the powers of these white people and you wondered about ways those powers might be brought to bear to increase your own or your tribe’s authority and domination over others. If enhancing your power over your own people came at the cost of becoming subservient to the newcomers, that’s just how life is. In fact, you were already subservient to the gods (or to God, since many African cultures were monotheistic), who wielded over you the power of weather, health, and the food supply. It might have seemed in a way even more satisfying to be subservient to godlike creatures that walked among you instead of living in the sky.

Cooperation and Collusion

There were some African prophets and seers who foretold great human suffering and consternation at the hands of the white invaders. There were some tribes that resisted their settlement from an early stage. But other tribes studied their ways and formed alliances with the Europeans against their enemies. Other tribes were more neutral, but their chiefs might accept gifts from the settlers in return for cooperation. Such gifts might include guns, cotton clothing, and money, while the cooperation might include building rights, mining rights, and access to native laborers.

So while the white man fit in with the African culture of domination, his presence changed the dynamics of that domination in two important ways:

           Extraordinary power. Before guns, the severity and scope of damage one tribe could inflict on another was fairly limited. I have the impression that raids and battles between neighboring tribes were often somewhat more akin to what we would think of today as sport than warfare. Loss of life, in particular, was not that common in these skirmishes. That changed dramatically with the introduction of guns, after which intertribal rivalry became very serious business.
           Extraordinary domination. Before guns, the expectations that one tribe had of the people of another that it dominated were moderate. The ability to enforce more severe controls was limited. Again that changed when guns showed up. However, in this case, any increase in domination of one native tribe over another was far overshadowed by the previously unimaginable (by the Africans) lust of the Europeans to own and control everything. I think the Africans were really caught off guard in this regard. It seems that it never occurred to them that these godlike creatures that had come among them could turn out to be so greedy and cruel.


“So,” I hear someone reading this back in America say, “yes, those Europeans were really bad in Africa, and yes, America played a role in the tyranny. But although it really wasn’t that long ago, at least it’s behind us now. The last remaining colony got independence in 1994,3 so now we can move on to build a better world together.”

Yeah, right.

Foreign Economies Looting Africa’s Resources

The second thing I didn’t understand before this trip about the colonization of Africa was that when the European governments pulled out in the middle of the last century, they left structures in place to enable them and their industrial allies to continue to control economically the regions they had been forced to give up politically. This external economic control continues to this day and results in the constant flow of valuable commodities out of Africa with precious little compensation to the people of the continent in return.

There are numerous factors contributing to this ongoing foreign control of African economies:

           White elite.4 When a European government pulled out, it left behind a number of its citizens who continued to own vast ranches and plantations, as well as most of the industrial capacity of the newly “independent” country. These white elites faded into the shadows in terms of public exposure, but controlled, and continue to control today, much of the infrastructure and economic activity of the country.
           Sabotage by planned incompetence. They also left behind native populations that lacked all but the most basic education and certainly had no training or experience in management of either governments or industries. This made the new African governments dependent on those white elites as well as outside assistance and also made them vulnerable to guidance and influence that was slanted in favor of external interests.
           Puppet dictators. European, as well as the US, Soviet, and now Chinese and Japanese, governments have supported despotic, “puppet” rulers, even those that have been ostensibly democratically elected. The foreign powers provide “aid” in forms that are convertible to the personal accounts of these rulers or their families, as well as military aid that is often used to subdue the countries’ own populations. In return, the rulers issue contracts providing cheap access to valuable mineral and agricultural resources.
           Loans that benefit the lenders. Foreign governments, as well as supragovernmental bodies like the IMF and World Bank, have made huge loans to African nations in return for setting in place of national policies that decidedly favor and benefit the lenders’ economies and companies.
           Worthless charity. Overseas charities have poured into the continent with well-meaning projects that address specific points of need without any hope or intention of addressing the underlying problems above. This has created a continent of beggars who think their only hope of prosperity is to be rescued by the very same outsiders who are causing their poverty by stealing their resources.
           Cultural rot. American television and movies titillate and mesmerize the population (here as in the US) with images of wealth, freewheeling fun, and gratuitous violence that induce both despair of ever achieving such a lifestyle and certainty that there is nothing else worth striving for.

Both African and foreign governments make a lot of speeches about fighting corruption, but they are mostly window-dressing. While they institute laws that crack down on offenses of minor officials, neither the politicians in power nor the foreign governments want to stop the real thing because it is how they are all making a killing.

There is no natural reason for Africa to be a poor continent. Africa still has extraordinary wealth in its mineral resources and fertile soil, even after centuries of plundering by European invaders. The only sensible reason for Africa’s continued poverty is the ongoing looting of its resources by foreign interests — with the complicity of domestic despots they support.

This point was first brought to my attention by the 2006 documentary film, The Empire in Africa. A synopsis reads:

The rebels who started the civil war in Sierra Leone 15 years ago wanted only one thing: to reclaim the richness of the country from foreign corporations in order to end the exploitation of its people. In response, the international community decided to wage a war on this country with bombs, executions, torture, rigged elections and manipulation of the international media, creating one of the worst humanitarian disasters of the 20th century.

Part of the motivation for my trip to Kenya was to see for myself whether the case made by this film holds water. Clear on the other side of the continent from Sierra Leone, without (yet) the same spectacle of armed hostilities (except next door in Sudan and Somalia), I see exactly the same kind of foreign exploitation here that the movie was talking about.

A century of colonial rule together with aspirations of the people to emulate their captors have destroyed the native cultures. On top of that, persistent war and poverty after so-called “independence,” as supported by the above list of negative foreign influences, have left the population hopeless and demoralized. This is the real poverty of the African continent.

Can this Really be True?

I am scaring myself here. What am I doing? I have written above that Churchill was as bad as Hitler and that the rich countries of the world, while making motions of giving them charity with one hand, are robbing African countries blind with the other. Have I become some kind of conspiracy-mongering lunatic? It can’t be true that the United States of America, that stalwart beacon of freedom, and our democratic allies around the world are a gang of economic thugs, can it?

Well, this trip didn’t come out of nowhere. I came to Kenya for the World Social Forum because I was already concerned about what I was learning about what America has been doing in other parts of the world. In my research, I found 17 documented cases where the US government has actively allied itself with brutal dictatorships or warlords or actively participated in or carried out slavery or genocide or the overthrow of popular or democratically elected leaders of other countries. The following table lists those cases, plus the US participation in the Berlin Conference on partitioning of Africa that I learned about on this trip.

Documented Atrocities of the US Government
and its Colonial Precursors
1500s - 1900sNorth AmericaGenocide of Native Americans (20 million estimated unnatural deaths)Land
1619 - 1865United StatesSlavery of imported Africans and descendentsLabor
1846 to todayColombiaSupport of repressive governmentTransport route (Panama, 1800s), bananas (early 1900s), oil (late 1900s to now)
1893Hawai’iOverthrow of popular native kingStrategic outpost
1894 - 95AfricaParticipation in Berlin partition negotiations1Access to goods
1946 to todayLatin AmericaVarious brutal leaders trained at School of the AmericasPolitical influence
1950 - 53KoreaAt least a million North Korean civilians killed in Korean warIdeology
1952 - 54GuatemalaMilitary overthrow of elected presidentBananas
1953IranSupport of coup that replaced elected prime minister with shah (king)Oil
1950s - 80sPanamaSupport of dictator Manuel NoriegaTransport route
1950s - 80sSouth AmericaSupport of Operation CondorIdeology, oil
1964BrazilSupport of military overthrow of elected presidentOil
1973ChileSupport of coup that replaced elected President Allende with dictator Augusto PinochetIdeology, copper
1979 - 89AfghanistanSupport of warlords, the MujahadeenOil, natural gas
1980sNicaraguaSupport of warlords, the ContrasIdeology, bananas, coffee, oil
1983 - 91IraqSupport of dictator Saddam HusseinOil
1990 to todaySaudi ArabiaSupport of totalitarian oligarchy, House of SaudOil
2003 to todayIraqInvasion of nonthreatening country, occupationOil
     Original source for many of these cases: Addicted to War: Why The U.S. Can’t Kick Militarism by Joel Andreas and What I’ve Learned About U.S. Foreign Policy, a video compilation by Frank Dorrel (transcript)
     The Why column contains my own interpretation after reading about the cases and their historical backgrounds. These are not authoritative because I am not an expert on these issues, but I believe that it is very important to understand the reasons behind things and I have not seen a unified analysis of this elsewhere, so I’ve done my best to include the information here. I’d be happy to hear from others with additions, corrections, or alternate points of view of what is presented here.

Given this sordid history of my country, it seems less unbelievable that we would be similarly involved in such nefarious activities in Africa.

Economic Hit Men

Several years ago, a man named John Perkins came forward with the astounding claim that he had spent the 1970s as what he calls an “economic hit man.” He described what he meant in the opening paragraph of his book on the subject:

Economic hit men (EHMs) are highly paid professionals who cheat countries around the globe out of trillions of dollars. They funnel money from the World Bank, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and other foreign “aid” organizations into the coffers of huge corporations and the pockets of a few wealthy families who control the planet’s natural resources. Their tools include fraudulent financial reports, rigged elections, payoffs, extortion, sex, and murder. They play a game as old as empire, but one that has taken on new and terrifying dimensions during this time of globalization.

An article in The Guardian added:

His task, he says, was to ensure that US business interests came out on top, regardless of who won an election, and that the American wealthy were further enriched, regardless of who was impoverished as a result.

… His first task was to persuade foreign governments to take large loans for huge engineering and construction projects conducted by US companies such as Halliburton and Bechtel. To achieve this, Perkins produced reports that would vastly exaggerate the benefit such projects would bring to the nation’s economic development, thereby making it vulnerable.

Then, he writes, “I would work to bankrupt the countries that received those loans so that they would be for ever beholden to their creditors, and so they would present easy targets when we needed favours, including military bases, UN votes, or access to oil and other natural resources.”

Essentially, Perkins was claiming to have been employed to carry out what I described in my above list under the heading Loans that benefit the lenders, taking advantage of the Planned incompetence and Puppet dictators. I had read a bit about Perkins before this trip, but it wasn’t until one of my friends here reviewing a draft of this Web page said, “Don’t forget the economic hit men,” that I did some in-depth research on his story. I read the favorable account in The Guardian as well as the official rebuttal from the US State Department and a negative account in the Washington Post. In reading all this stuff, I was frustrated by the difficulty of knowing whom to believe, that it was his word against the whole US government. I thought his case would be a lot stronger if he could produce a few accomplices to corroborate his story.

As luck would have it, Perkins produced his accomplices just in time for this writing. On March 19, 2007, the sequel to his book was released, called A Game as Old as Empire. The first chapter is available online for free. The important thing about this book is that it’s not just by Perkins, but also written by ten other people claiming to have similar kinds of inside information on the same kinds of nefarious dealings that Perkins was talking about. Now, this is going to be interesting. The State Department’s rebuttal of Perkins’ book attacked his credibility on several fronts. I look forward to seeing if the State Department will come back this time with dirt to discredit all the authors of this new book, or if they’ll just keep quiet this time, hoping it will go away.

Blatant Evidence

Another bit of information showed up serendipitously during my trip — supporting the contention that foreign economic powers support corrupt dictators in Africa.

   US ambassador praises Kenya’s dictator turned business tycoon. The Standard, March 8, 2007, page 5(Enlarge.)

Daniel Moi ran Kenya with an iron fist for 24 years until the people couldn’t take his abuses any more and managed to push him out of office peacefully. His government operated a torture chamber for political opponents and credible agencies accuse him of having used both electoral fraud and political killings to win elections. It is alleged that he left office with billions of dollars stolen from the Kenyan treasury and the Kenyan people in shady deals that his successor in the “presidency” has politely declined to investigate seriously.

Moi, who was raised by a single mother and worked as a primary school teacher before entering politics, is now one of the wealthiest men in Kenya, operating a diversified family of businesses and living on an estate with a runway for his private jet. There appears to be no legitimate source for this extraordinary wealth. Moi is an excellent example of despotic African rulers who funnel billions of dollars of their countries’ money to their personal accounts.

Certainly, we would expect the US government to stand for prosecution of such a brutal and corrupt tyrant, freezing his offshore bank accounts, and returning the money to the Kenyan people, right? Well, not quite.

On March 8, 2007, the Kenyan newspaper, The Standard showed the US ambassador to Kenya, Michael Ranneberger, visiting the home of the former dictator turned business tycoon, carrying official greetings and praise from Washington.

Shortly before leaving Kenya, I saw television coverage of the opening of a new session of Parliament. I cringed when President Kibaki talked about his ongoing campaign against corruption. As long as Daniel Moi walks around free and rich, anything the government does here to avert corruption is a sham. Moi stands as a model for Kenyan politicians of how to achieve success in office.

And now the United States government has officially reiterated its record of support for this endemic corruption.


Is there a Problem?

Europe's New Grip on Africa! -- Economic Partnership Agreements with the European Union
   Card for StopThinkResist.org protesting proposed, benign-sounding, Economic Partnership Agreements between Africa and the European Union (See back of card.)

The first step to finding a solution is to identify the problem. In this light, let’s notice two facts:

  • Most don’t know. I think that most people in the US and Europe, like me before this trip, just don’t know about the economic abuses against Africa by our own governments and companies.
  • Others approve. Those people in government and business who are responsible for our relationships with Africa, by and large just do not consider what they are doing to be abusive.

Here are two more facts: America and Europe are strong, while African nations are weak by comparison. We live in a culture, in the US and Europe, as well as in Africa, in which it is considered natural and acceptable for the strong to dominate the weak. While there are some influences to the contrary, such as requirements in the US that public buildings provide wheelchair ramps, we for the most part live by the law of the jungle: survival of the fittest. On such terms, it is completely normal that Africans should be poor and getting poorer. They are weak, so we steal their stuff. That’s life.

So it’s really important for us to start by asking ourselves if we really believe that there is a problem. And how realistically we are willing to look at things to understand what the problem is.

What is theft?

If you and I go for a walk on the beach and I find a pretty stone in the sand, I might put it in my pocket and take it home with me. That’s okay, right? Now what if you come to my house the next day with a friend who sees the stone lying on my table and says that he dropped it the day before on the beach?

Tough luck. You lost it. It’s mine now. Leave me alone.

What if the stretch of beach I found it on belonged to your friend?

At that point it might depend on whether your friend is bigger than me and whether I’m afraid of him.

Who is king?

I remember reading a story once where a guy picked a fight with the king. Everyone was horrified and shouted out their allegiance to the king. But then the guy stabbed the king and fight was over. Oops, new king. All of a sudden, everyone was shouting out their allegiance to the new king.

The law of the jungle.

(Just how is it that people have a hard time believing we are descended from apes?)

The foundation of justice

Reading Homer’s Iliad as a college student, I remember being taken aback when Agamemnon complained about being forced to give up a prize he’d taken in a battle of the Trojan war.5

The prize, the beauteous prize, I will resign,
So dearly valued, and so justly mine.

The prize that Agamemnon said was “so justly mine” was Chryseis, a beautiful maiden kidnapped in the battle. Was this a king of the Greeks, I wondered, the same people who invented democracy, claiming rightful ownership of a human being taken from home without her consent? Upon what foundation of justice, I wanted to know, did Agamemnon base his claim that Chryseis was so “justly” his?

Who owns Kenya?

The foundation of Agamemnon’s justice was the same foundation upon which Queen Elizabeth II of Britain still claimed effective ownership of the entire population of Kenya (because they remained in her commonwealth), even as her soldiers and bureaucrats were being escorted out of the country by the hard-won success of resistance like the Mau Mau uprising. I found a proclamation to that effect by the queen still hanging on the wall of the Parliament Building lobby in Nairobi. As far as I can tell from that proclamation and how it is displayed, Queen Elizabeth still feels that way today. More astoundingly, it seems that the government of Kenya is content to agree with her.

The law of the jungle. Me Tarzan, you Jane. You do what I say. Ugh!

So, is there a problem? Well, if you’re Queen Elizabeth or Tony Blair or George Bush or Mwai Kibaki (“president” of Kenya, more like an elected junior king actually), then the only problem is the pesky activists, journalists, and terrorists who don’t understand that God made some people rich and other people poor because that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

Might and Power

In the opening chapter of his new book, A Game as Old as Empire, John Perkins says, “We must transform our country [the USA] back into one that reflects the values of our Declaration of Independence and the other principles we were raised to honor and defend. We must begin today to re-create the world the corporatocracy has inflicted on us.”

I’m sorry, John, but I must beg to differ. The principles of the Declaration of Independence were only intended to apply to white, male, landowners, and the results of that attitude are shown in the table of US government atrocities. The world of today has not been inflicted on us by the “corporatocracy;” the corporations we buy beer and cars from are just doing the best they can to thrive within the legal and regulatory structure we give them based on a foundation of justice we inherited from our ancestors and consent to continue to live by.

If there is a problem with the way the world is run today, I suggest that it is not to be found in political ideologies (capitalism vs. socialism or even democracy vs. monarchy or oligarchy) and it is not to be found in belligerent finger-pointing (“those greedy rich people,” “corrupt politicians,” or “heartless corporations”). I suggest the real, fundamental problem is to be found in the way we think about the difference between right and wrong, our basic concepts, as a planet-wide culture, of justice and morality. And what, therefore, we teach our children.

Is it time that we acknowledge that we live in a culture of domination? White and black, American, European, and African, rich and poor alike, we honor and respect might and power, along with their symbolic surrogate, money. We understand little else in the world.

In the American feminist movement of the 1960s and 70s, women wanted to be acknowledged for the important role they play in society. They wanted to have a voice that was heard. They wanted to be free to make choices about their lives, their careers, and their bodies. If they chose to work in the marketplace, they wanted to be compensated commensurately with their contribution and they wanted opportunities for their successes to be recognized with advanced responsibility. Unfortunately, the debate about women’s rights and women’s freedoms devolved into a fight for power — because that’s all we understand in our culture. Something extraordinarily valuable got lost in the process.

In the Biblical story of creation, after Adam and Eve took a bite of the fruit from the morality tree, they noticed that they were naked and they were ashamed. It’s interesting to note that God didn’t tell them they were naked and he didn’t tell them what to be ashamed of. They figured that out for themselves and God didn’t even tell them if they got it right. He sent them on their way and they went off and populated the planet with a system of justice and morality that made sense to them at the time. At this crucial time, when the future of mankind hangs in the balance like never before in history, we all might want to take another bite of the apple and look around to see what we should be ashamed of today.

Is there a Solution?

There is probably not time for a good, comprehensive solution if the fundamental underlying problem is our culture of domination.

If the first step in finding a solution is identifying the problem and if the problem is that our concepts of justice and morality are outmoded and need to be updated, then we are probably screwed because there is little chance that enough of us will recognize that problem before Fahrenheit 451 descends upon us by either nuclear or climatic causes.

What is the likely future for Africa? With President Bush discussing cooperation with Kenyan forces on a new US military command over Africa and with Ross Perot Jr. announcing interest in Indian-style call centers here, Kenya may be well on the way to establishing itself as a prime outpost of the American Empire. I expect this will mean increased prosperity for a rising middle class of Kenyans, along with increased oppression of less established communities, continued looting of natural resources, and increased destruction of the environment. Worse yet is the prospect of an outright war on African soil between Euro-American and Chinese interests over valuable resources here, primarily, oil. With insufficient luck (no worse than the past 115 years), Africa may find itself the primary battlefield for World War III. You know, superpowers like to fight their wars on somebody else’s turf. However, this time we will likely not be able to keep the impact from reaching our shores as well.


Okay, so now I’ve got my deepest pessimistic views off my chest. They may be realistic, but they’re not very helpful. After all, I don’t want to just sit around waiting for World War III. We might as do something positive in the meantime.

Just as I wasn’t sure I wanted to write here in a critical tone about Africans, I’ve also been reluctant to say what I think Africans should do. I’ve said to my friends here that’s where most of the problems on this continent have started. Again, they’ve encouraged me to speak up. The problems have arisen, they remind me, when people come here forcing their views on people at gunpoint, which I am certainly not going to do.

So here’s my list of suggestions on how to fix Kenya, and by extension, Africa and the world.

Colonial connection. Hold a national referendum on whether to withdraw from the British Commonwealth. (If the result is to remain in it, then I abandon all hope for Kenya because it shows that the people are happy to remain colonized forever. If people say it’s just symbolic and doesn’t mean anything, ask them why they want to hold on to a really disgusting symbol.)

Governmental authority. Reconstitute the parliament to receive its authority from the people of Kenya, not from the Queen of England.

Illegitimate land holdings. Investigate the legal status of the land title held by families such as the Cholmondeleys and the Craigs,4 as well as by the families of Kenyatta, Moi, and Kibaki. If the title is found to be invalid on the basis that it dates back to the colonial period or that it was otherwise obtained illegitimately, then divide it into two parts. Sell the least fertile part to wealthy people in Kenya for commercial development. Distribute the most fertile part to landless Kenyan peasants who commit to farm it. Then take the money that was acquired from selling the first part and use it to build infrastructure on the land in the second part, including roads, sewers, electricity, Internet, schools, and hospitals.

Abuses by your leaders. Somebody please file a law suit against Daniel Moi. You know by now Kibaki won’t do it and neither will the next so-called “president.” You must do something to put your leaders on notice that they will not get away with stealing from you. (It’s so easy giving other people advice! Somebody needs to ask me why I don’t go home and file a lawsuit against George Bush. Damn it, don’t change the subject.)

Abuses by colonists. Get behind the formal complaint that I hear the Mau Mau have filed in London seeking an apology and reparations for damages inflicted during colonial rule. And instead of just taking down the queen’s proclamation in the Parliament Buildings, why not issue your own decree charging Queen Elizabeth (who became queen on your soil, by the way — she was vacationing in lovely Kenya when her father, King George, died in 1951) with crimes against humanity.

Economic metrics. Quit using GDP to measure your economy. Improvements in GDP are good for bankers, not farmers, teachers, children, or anyone living in Mathare. Do an analysis of your economic wealth that is not based primarily on the flow of capital, but takes into account the asset value and utilization of your natural resources, the development and management of productive infrastructure, and the quality of life of your people. Consider including a version of gross national happiness (GNH) in your economic analysis. This is not a joke; at least one country (Bhutan) is already doing that.

Economic analysis. Will somebody please do a study that computes these three things? (a) the total economic value of your natural resources and other fixed assets, (b) the total value of exported commodities, and (c) the total value of goods and capital entering in payment for those exports. No, (c) minus (b) does not equal the balance of trade as it is commonly measured.

History education. In the Form 3 history syllabus, in chapter 7 on Kenyan leaders, include a section on Dedan Kimathi. In chapter 8 on Kenya government, include something on the meaning and consequences of membership in the British Commonwealth.

Religious education. For the official, government sanctioned school program called Christian Religious Education, rename it African Heritage and Culture. For the Form 1 textbook in this program, as published by East African Educational Publishers and titled Together in Christ, rename it Together in African Life. Then reorganize the table of contents as follows. Set up two parts of the book. Call the first part Traditional African Culture and Morality and form its content from what are now the last 13 chapters of the book. Call the second part Comparative Religion. Within this part include, a few chapters that are collapsed from the first 15 chapters of the current book, which are about Christianity and the Hebrew Bible. Add a few more chapters taken from the equivalent book that is used in the Islamic Religious Education program. Then add some more chapters on Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Jainism, Atheism, and Secular Humanism. Emblazon the cover of the book with “Don’t believe anything! Learn, Think, and Decide for Yourself.

Symbols of oppression. Just as the Royal College Nairobi has been renamed the University of Nairobi and King George VI Hospital was renamed Kenyatta National Hospital, remove the names of former colonists and dictators from other places, such as Lake Victoria, the Moi Sports Complex, Moi University, and various streets named after Moi. Similarly, take Moi off your coins and replace him with a real national hero.

Overcrowding. You’ve got to get a handle on your birth rate. Get serious about family planning and set up a good program of birth control education, assistance, and incentives.

Pollution. The air in Nairobi is really horrible and the visible source is your busses. If you got your busses to use speed governors, you can get them to use some kind of decent smog control too.

More from my Trip

This page is a report of my experience of my visit to Kenya in early 2007. On this trip, I have also created a number of other sites as gifts to my friends here who are working for a better Africa. The other sites are:

           Who Owns Kenya? — What is the Queen Doing in Parliament?
           The Last Mau Mau — Kenya’s Freedom Heroes or Villains? by David Njagi
           Ogiek Land Cases and Historical Injustices — 1902 – 2004 by Towett Kimaiyo
           Mathare Youth Talent Organization — a site I created for them, currently maintained by MYTO themselves
           How to Make a Website for Free — Simple instructions for beginning activists

These other sites have been set up in Tripod,6 instead of within my own site, in order to give some examples of what can be done with a low-tech site that can be created for free, as explained in the last site listed above.

Version notes:
  • 2007 03 31 S: Page posted
  • 2007 04 02 M: Spelling and other minor changes
  • 2009 06 12 F: Changed links for associated sites from GeoCities to Tripod and added footnote explaining the move.
  • 2012 10 16 W: Replaced dead link on historical African population and revised the number from the originally stated 224 million. Apparently, the UN has revised its estimate of 1950 African population up by two percent since this report first appeared. Thank you to Nicole Stoff of Answers.com for notifying me of the dead link and providing the correction.
  • 2015 06 05 F: Changed the title from its original form, Disillusion and Hope on the Dark Continent. I was uncomfortable with that title from the time I first wrote it. I regret that it’s taken me eight years to finally make it right. There are two aspects to the change:
    • Removed “and Hope.” This also required removing what was previously the third paragraph of the section, Is there a Solution?, which said, “Then what is the hope I speak of in the title of this piece? Sorry, it’s a ruse. I didn’t want to give it the title Disillusion and Despair because that’s too depressing, although probably more appropriate.”
    • Changed “Dark Continent” to “Bright Continent.” There is nothing dark about Africa, except of course the skin color of its natives. Dark skin was normal for early humans, and it stayed that way until some people started migrating north, where they needed lighter skin to survive in darker climates. So Africans are “black” for the very reason that their homeland is so sunny and bright! The rest of the world is dark by comparison. The notion that Africa is a dark place is racist. I’m glad that I’ve finally corrected this error in my report.


1. The Berlin Conference. Wikipedia says that the countries invited were Austria–Hungary, Belgium, Britain, Denmark, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Sweden-Norway, the Ottoman Empire, and the United States. The Evolving World: A History and Government Course — Form 3, page 8, says the countries attending were Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Portugal, and the USA.
2. British policies tantamount to slavery. The Evolving World: A History and Government Course — Form 3 by Felix Kiruthu, Jacinta Kapiyo, and Wilson Kimori, Oxford University Press, East Africa division, Nairobi, 1998, new edition, 2004, page 80, 93
3. Last remaining colony. I originally wrote “1990” here because a map I have showing the years of independence for African nations shows that as the latest date, being for Namibia. (The map also gives 1993 for Eritrea, but that was for secession from Ethiopia, not independence from European colonization.) Kioko Kitusa corrected this, saying that the last country to get independence was South Africa, in 1994 with the abolishment of apartheid. This was an interesting distinction. My map gives 1934 as the year of independence for South Africa, but that was for the political independence of a white-ruled nation, similar to the independence of the USA in 1776 or Canada in 1867, except for the fact that the majority of the population was still black.
4. Land holdings of the white elite. In Kenya, the most famous example is the Cholmondeley (pronounced “CHUM-lee”) family. Hugh Cholmondeley, the 3rd Baron Delamere, moved to Kenya as one of its first white settlers in 1901 and claimed 100,000 acres (400 km2 or 150 mi2), which are still controlled by his heirs. The family operates one of the major dairies in Kenya under the Delamere brand. The baron’s great-grandson, Thomas Cholmondeley, is at the time of this writing standing trial for murder in his second case of killing a native “trespasser” on “his” land. The first case, in 2005, was set aside on a technicality.
     Another example is the Craig family, which turned over part of its land holdings to a 60,000-acre wildlife conservancy in 1995, creating permanent employment for descendant Ian Craig, and has retained a 45,000-acre private ranch on which it entertains the likes of Britain’s Prince William.

5. The Iliad by Homer, translated by Alexander Pope, Book 1
6. Associated sites moved to Tripod. The associated sites were originally set up in GeoCities. GeoCities announced in 2009 that its service would be shut down by the end of the year, so those sites have been moved to another free Web hosting service, Tripod.