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Malnutrition, poor housing and disease: The woes of Tanganyika migrant laborers during the construction of the Uasin Gishu railway 1922-1923.

Author: 
Dr. John Mwaruvie
Subject Area: 
Social Sciences and Humanities
Abstract: 

As scholars get interested in human rights violations during colonial rule in Kenya especially during the Mau Mau struggle for independence, other colonial scandals of lesser magnitude remain unearthed as this article demonstrates. The manner in which the colonial governments constructed the public works and railways in particular has not received adequate scrutiny by historians. The construction of railways required mobilization of tens of thousands of labourers who more often than not worked under appalling conditions. This article examines how labor was procured and treated during the construction of the Uasin Gishu Railway in Kenya where hundreds of workers died due to poor housing, diet and disease. Specifically, the article examines why the Uasin Gishu railway was the only Kenyan project in 1920s to import labor, in this case from Tanganyika Territory and South Africa. Second, labor mismanagement led to a high death rate among the workers, and this necessitated a probe by both Tanganyikan and Kenyan authorities. Incidentally, the colonial Kenyan officials employed various means to cover up the problems experienced by both Tanganyikan and Kenyan laborers during the construction of the railway. Relying heavily on archival sources never used before, this article exposes the weaknesses embodied in trusteeship and mandated territories doctrine. Africans whether from Mandated or a colony were treated the same by British administration.

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