How Kikuyu People were forced into Wage Economy

4 colonial government regulations that forced Kikuyu people (And other natives) into the exploitive wage economy.

1. Establishment of the African/Kikuyu Reserves.

These were defined areas meant to confine people in the same place.

“With insufficient land in their reserves, many Africans had little choice but to migrate to the European farms in search of work and survival”

2. Hut tax

The hut tax and the poll tax were equivalent of “almost of two months of African wages at the going local rate”.

To be able to pay the introduced tax forced Kikuyu people to migrate in search of work.

3. Introduction of Kipande

Due to the increased number of people migrating in search of work, the colonial government introduced Kipande (A kind of pass). This was meant to keep a record of “a person’s name, fingerprint, ethnic group, past employment history, and current employer’s signature”.

“The Kikuyu put the Pass in a small metal container, the size of a cigarette box, and wore it around their neck”. ~ Mbugi

4. Limiting the African agricultural production to the Marketplace

On seeing that the Kikuyu people were advancing in agricultural production and hence selling their produce at lower prices, the settlers put pressure on the colonial government to intervene.

“The natives were forbidden to grow the most profitable cash crops such as tea, coffee and sisal and limited only to grains.”

This worsened even more after the second world war when the colonial government introduced Agricultural Boards which required that the natives sell their grains at a fixed price.

Other excerpts

In conclusion to “With a prehistoric people” book, Routledge observes that “The Akikuyu are an industrious people….”

The couple also talks about how the British government was looking for ways to induce “Native Labor”.

“There is yet a third and attractive method of solving the problems connected to labor. The black man is neither compelled to work nor to be allowed to remain idle. He is to be stimulated to acquire new wants and to be impelled to labor on his own free will in order to satisfy them. That he is encouraged to abandon the simple life for the complex ways of civilization”


  • Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story OF Britain’s Gulag in Kenya by Caroline Elkins
  • With a prehistoric people, the Kikuyu of British East Africa by William Scoresby Routledge (1910: P330-333)

Cover Image: Kipande holder “Mbugi” by Nura Qureshi

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