Tax Resistance in Kenya in 1924

I found this one-sentence filler article in the Western Daily Press for :

Passive Resisters in Kenya.

A number of prominent Indians have been committed to gaol for refusing to pay poll tax, says a Reuter’s message from Nairobi.

That got me curious, so I did a bit more hunting, and found quite a bit.

Here’s an article from the Northern Advocate:

Indians’ Grievances.

Protests in Kenya.

Poll Tax Unpaid.

Advices from Nairobi state that Indians in the Kenya district have commenced an intensive non-co-operative campaign as a protest against alleged political grievances, the initial step being refusal to pay the poll tax. Lengthy lists of summonses have been issued. Four Indians in Mombasa have been committed to prison.

The movement is extending. — Reuter

The poll tax boycott was the result of a resolution by the East Africa Indian National Congress.

In response to a question raised the House of Commons about the tax protest from Lieutenant-Colonel Hugh Meyler on , the British Secretary of State for the Colonies responded:

A number of Indians in Kenya have refused to pay the Poll Tax as a protest against the white paper policy. The Poll Tax ordinance provides that persons defaulting shall be imprisoned for a term not exceeding six weeks or until payment is made if earlier, provided the magistrate is satisfied that the defaulter has the means to pay and that his default is intentional. I am not in possession of particulars of the number of Indians who have been imprisoned, but the law is being enforced impartially on defaulters of all races.

The White Paper or Devonshire Declaration (Indians in Kenya: Memorandum) was a reponse to growing Indian political power in Kenya (and to the worries of white Kenyans about this). The paper ostensibly asserted that the British colonial government in Kenya was dedicated to running the colony on behalf of the native Africans there and not for the benefit of “immigrant races”, but this was a coded way of saying that the white minority would be making what it liked to characterize as paternalistic and benevolent decisions for Kenya and would not be allowing for democratic input by the increasingly Indian polis of British citizens. In all of the Indian members of the colonial legislature resigned.

The tax strike ended within a few months. Some attribute this to the forceful response by the government in imprisoning strike leaders, others to the behind-the-scenes negotiations between Indian activists and the colonial governor.

The way this played out strengthened the hands of independence activists in India itself, who were able to use this as another example to show that the British empire never intended to treat its Indian subjects as citizens with equal rights.

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