A HIS­TORY OF CUR­RENCY IN EAST AFRICA FROM 1895

From the tra­di­tional barter trade sys­tem to the in­tro­duc­tion of for­eign coins by the Arabs in the 1800s, the evo­lu­tion of cur­rency has re­flected the multi-na­tional na­ture of the In­dian Ocean sea trade and in­flu­ence of colo­nial set­tle­ment

The Star (Kenya) - - Big Read / Money Matters - BY KARI MUTU @TheS­tarKenya

From salt bars to bank notes, the sys­tem of trade in East Africa has come a long way over the course of 100 years. The nu­mis­mat­ics ex­hi­bi­tion tak­ing place at the Nairobi Na­tional Mu­seum traces the evo­lu­tion of cur­rency and ex­change in East Africa, from pre-colo­nial through to mod­ern times, as part of the 50 years’ cel­e­bra­tion of the Cen­tral Bank of Kenya.

Long be­fore East Africans came into con­tact with out­side traders, tra­di­tional African com­mu­ni­ties were ex­chang­ing goods and wares through barter trade, a sys­tem dat­ing back to prehistoric times. At mar­ket days, which were a cus­tom­ary part of cul­tural life, some of the most valu­able items of ex­change were live­stock, iron­ware, salt, weapons, beads, cowrie shells as well as were food­stuffs.

Arab traders trav­el­ling through East Africa’s in­te­rior in search of ivory, slaves and other goods, were the first to in­tro­duce money as an al­ter­na­tive to the cum­ber­some salt bars nor­mally used as pay­ment.

The cur­rency in­tro­duced by the Arabs was an as­sort­ment of for­eign coins which re­flected the multi-na­tional na­ture of the In­dian Ocean sea trade. There were In­dian ru­pees and an­nas, pice bronze coins, Bri­tish florins, and sil­ver Maria Theresa thalers that orig­i­nated from Aus­tria.

When the 1885 Berlin Con­fer­ence carved up Africa among the Euro­pean pow­ers, Uganda and Kenya were al­lo­cated to Bri­tain. The Im­pe­rial Bri­tish East Africa Com­pany (IBEAC) that ad­min­is­tered East Africa be­fore it be­came a for­mal pro­tec­torate is­sued the Mom­basa Coins be­tween 1888-1890. Th­ese were minted in In­dia and were in a mix­ture of ru­pees, an­nas and pice.

In 1896 the Bri­tish be­gan building the Kenya to Uganda rail­way us­ing labour­ers from Bri­tish In­dia who were paid in ru­pees. This fur­ther spread­ing the use of cash in East Africa and the ru­pee ac­quired dif­fer­ent lo­cal names such as ziru­pia or chirupa in Luhya, ru­pia in Luo, iropiyani in Maa­sai, ru­bia in Kikuyu and ropyen or ro­bia in Kalen­jin.

In the Kenya and Uganda pro­tec­torates, lo­cal coins were minted start­ing in 1906, such as the East Africa Pro­tec­torate pice, and the East Africa and Uganda Ru­pee.

New coins were pro­duced with each new English monarch, typ­i­cally as one cent, five cents, ten cents, twenty-five cents and fifty cents. Be­tween 1837 to 1964 East Africa’s money de­picted the por­traits of Queen Vic­to­ria, King Ed­ward VII, King Ge­orge V, King Ed­ward VIII, King Ge­orge VI and Queen El­iz­a­beth II.

The coins of­ten had a hole in the cen­tre so that they could be strung to­gether for ease of car­ry­ing in the days be­fore wal­lets and purses. To­day th­ese vin­tage go­ings are now col­lec­tors’ items.

With the growth of in­land trade, agri­cul­ture and colo­nial set­tle­ment, banks be­gan set­ting up shop in East Africa giv­ing peo­ple a safe place to keep their money. The Na­tional Bank of In­dia was the first to open with of­fices in Zanz­ibar, Mom­basa and Nairobi in 1892, 1896 and 1904 re­spec­tively.

In 1919, the colo­nial ad­min­is­tra­tion com­bined the Uganda and Mom­basa

THE COINS OF­TEN HAD A HOLE IN THE CEN­TRE SO THAT THEY COULD BE STRUNG TO­GETHER FOR EASE OF CAR­RY­ING IN THE DAYS BE­FORE WAL­LETS AND PURSES. TO­DAY TH­ESE VIN­TAGE GO­INGS ARE COL­LEC­TORS’ ITEMS.

AF­TER AT­TAIN­MENT OF KENYA’S IN­DE­PEN­DENCE, NEW CUR­REN­CIES WERE IS­SUED IN 1964 WHICH DID NOT HAVE THE HEAD OF STATE ON THEM. TH­ESE WERE THE FIVE CENT AND 10 CENTS ‘UHURU’ COINS WHICH HAD NO WRIT­ING ON THEM.

cur­rency boards to form the East African Cur­rency Board (EACB). It was man­dated to man­age the cur­ren­cies in the two pro­tec­torates and in Tan­ganyika, for­merly a Ger­man ter­ri­tory that came un­der Bri­tish ad­min­is­tra­tion in 1920 af­ter World War I. The first coins in­tro­duced by the EACB were sil­ver florins in 1920, although the In­dia Ru­pee re­mained in use for a while longer.

When sil­ver be­came too ex­pen­sive dur­ing the World War I, florin coins were phased out and sub­sti­tuted with florin notes. Then in 1921, the florin was re­placed by the East African shillings and cents, with the one shilling and 50 cent coins hav­ing a sil­ver con­tent of just 25 per cent.

Zanz­ibar changed from ru­pees to the shillings in 1936 af­ter be­ing in­cor- po­rated into the EACB. That same year, five cents and 10 cent coins were made for the newly crowned King Ed­ward VIII. But he ab­di­cated the throne af­ter just 326 days and was suc­ceeded by his brother who be­came King Ge­orge VI.

Shilling bank notes came into cir­cu­la­tion in 1943 be­cause World War II had yet again driven up the cost of sil­ver. The EACB in­tro­duced notes of five, 10, 20, 100, 1000 and 10,000 shillings. They were im­printed with the equiv­a­lent value in Ster­ling pounds and had nu­meric values in Ara­bic and English. Af­ter the sec­ond world war, one shilling and 50 cent coins were made from cupro-nickel and con­tained no sil­ver.

When Bri­tain took con­trol of Ital­ian East Africa (Ethiopia, Eritrea and So­ma­liland) in 1941, they in­tro­duced the East African shilling there to re­place the Lira. Then in 1947, In­dia ob­tained in­de­pen­dence and af­ter this, all new East African cur­rency omit­ted the phrase REX ET IND:IMP, which meant ‘King and Em­peror of In­dia’.

Princess El­iz­a­beth was on a tour of East Africa in Fe­bru­ary 1952, when her fa­ther King Ge­orge VI passed away. Once more, new notes and coins were minted por­tray­ing the face of the new queen. In 1958, a sec­ond series of El­iz­a­beth II ban­knotes were de­signed but with­out the pound con­ver­sion im­printed on them.

An­other ban­knote re­design hap­pened when the EACB op­er­a­tions were re­lo­cated from Lon­don to East Africa in 1960, and the num­ber of sig­na­to­ries rose from four to seven to in­clude those of lo­cal set­tlers.

Af­ter at­tain­ment of Kenya’s in­de­pen­dence, new cur­ren­cies were is­sued in 1964 which did not have the head of state on them. Th­ese were the five cent and 10 cents ‘Uhuru’ coins which had no writ­ing on them.

The new ban­knotes were in de­nom­i­na­tions of 5, 10, 20 and 100 shillings, and, for the first time, had Swahili in­scrip­tion on them. This set of notes were known as the ‘Lake’ series be­cause their de­sign in­cluded the im­age of a dhow on Lake Vic­to­ria which strad­dles Kenya, Uganda and Tan­za­nia.

This was the last set of cur­rency is­sued by the East African Cur­rency Board be­fore it was dis­solved and re­placed by the cen­tral banks of the three coun­tries. In 1966 the Cen­tral Bank of Kenya in­tro­duced its first set of shillings bear­ing the por­trait of Kenya’s first pres­i­dent, Jomo Keny­atta. But since the pro­mul­ga­tion of the new Con­sti­tu­tion in 2010, por­traits can­not be de­picted on Kenyan cur­rency.

/ KARI MUTU

Tra­di­tional barter mar­ket. East African Pro­tec­torate coin 1898 One Thou­sand Shillings 1921. Twenty Shillings ‘Lake’ series 1964. East Africa Pro­tec­torate Ten Ru­pees.

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