The Forgotten Minority: The Origins of the Asian-Owned Sugar Plantation Agriculture in Kisumu County, Kenya
Osamba, Joshia Otieno
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Abstract: This paper traces the origins and development of Asian sugar plantation agriculture and industry in Kisumu County of Kenya. The sugar plantation economy still remains the cornerstone of the County’s economy. The study examines the factors for the emergence of the sugar plantation economy such as the completion of the Uganda railway, colonial land policies and the climatic conditions among others. The study points out that the colonial government in Kenya established and maintained authoritarian labour policies characterized by forced labour, land alienation and taxation. These colonial labour policies gradually induced Africans to join wage labour. Even though the colonial labour policies were mainly aimed at assisting the European settlers, coincidentally the Asian settlers to some extent benefitted too. Material for the study is derived from archival research, oral interviews and analysis of existing works on socioeconomic history in general and agriculture in particular. The study is informed by the underdevelopment theory. Using the perspective, the study demonstrates how colonial land and labour policies led to the underdevelopment of peasant sector in Kisumu County. The local people from the surrounding locations tended to work in the nearby Asian sugar plantations because of economic and social reasons and also because the locations were set aside for labour within Kisumu County. Although there was only a limited land alienation for Asian settlement in Kisumu County, its negative effect had become pronounced by the Second World War period. The article contends that colonial capitalism had numerous negative effects on the African peasants in Kisumu County. First, land alienation which was meant to provide land for Asian settlers and to force the local people into wage labour limited the land available to the local people. It concludes that colonialism in its manifold forms intensified the underdevelopment in Kisumu County. The study contributes to the Asian historiography in Kenya. In addition it explores the contribution of African labourers to Asians’ agricultural endeavours. Keywords: Capitalism; labour; plantation; sugar industry; underdevelopment.