The Somaliland Diaspora and Poll-Tax Agitation in Kenya: 1936-41


Enroute to Kenya in the 1800s

Somalilandsun – Poll-tax agitation has been a fairly common phenomenon in Africa. On most occasions it has involved little more than vocalized protest. In a few instances, however, it has led to resistance that has been both serious and violent;

The earliest example of the latter is probably to be found in the widespread Fante uprisings that occurred immediately after the introduction of the Gold Coast Poll Tax Ordinance of 1852; a later example is the Natal uprising of 1906 which has been attributed in large measure to the introduction of poll tax at the end of the previous year.

Yet the agitation by the Isaq Somali in Kenya did not follow either of these two patterns. In several respects it was a highly unusual movement: first, the Isaq were campaigning to pay higher taxation; secondly, in order to secure their aims they attempted to mobilize the whole Isaq diaspora, so that Somali in Uganda, Tanganyika, British Somaliland and Britain were all involved in this agitation.

The tomb of Sheikh Isaaq the founding father of the Isaaq clan in MaydhThe Isaq are one of six Somali clan-families (the widest level of segmentation amongst the Somali) and are divided further into clans, sub-clans and primary lineages. Traditionally their home is along the northern coast of the Somali peninsula, though for centuries a number have settled in Arabia. The emergence of an Isaq diaspora, however, only dates from the end of the nineteenth century and seems to have been encouraged by three different factors. First, there was the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869. Then, during the jihad of Muhammad Abdille Hassan between 1899 and 1920, the Isaq found themselves on the whole supporting the British Government and subject to increasing political and economic pressure. Lastly, there was the constant problem of poverty and population increase and the opportunity of alleviating this by temporary or permanent emigration.

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