History of a Cash Crop, Colonial Development, and Global Capitalism

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Historically, coffee has been one of Kenya’s most important and profitable agricultural exports. It was first brought to the region by Catholic missionaries and later reengineered by colonial scientists. Coffee quickly became a source of wealth for the colony’s white settlers, who brutally oversaw its production by African laborers. British officials in Kenya and London tightly regulated its production, sale, and marketing to fill the Empire’s coffers and consumers’ cups. After independence in 1963, the Kenyan state failed to reform outdated colonial strategies and embraced neoliberal structural adjustment policies that crippled the industry. This preliminary research project uses materials from British archives, such as trade negotiations, legislation, and correspondence with colonial administrators, to explore the economic and political impact of imperial policies on the development of Kenyan coffee.