The modern day agricultural economy has its roots in the colonial policies taken to establish a viable exploitation of land and establishment of colonial authority in the territory.
The first move was the imposition of English property laws on Kenyans and the subsequent pushing of local populace from the land proximate to that targeted by settlers.
This alienation and acquisition of the land within the protectorate and the later exit policies adopted prior to independence form part of the body of historical land issues that today create the tensions that arose from the skewed ownership structures.
But it was the construction of the Kenya-Uganda Railway from Mombasa to Lake Victoria that saw the first major expropriation of land in the interior when the Commissioner for the Protectorate invoked the Land Acquisition Act of India (1894) to acquire land for the railway project.
Settlers were encouraged to settle in to make economic sense of the Uganda Railway, a controversial project that was meant to integrate Kenya, Uganda, India and Egypt into the British Empire.
To encourage these European settlements, the British Government, acting under the Foreign Jurisdiction Act of 1890, promulgated the East African Lands Order in Council in 1897 which, inter alia, empowered the IBEA Commissioner to expropriate available land.
Thus, the Commissioner for the Protectorate used the Land Acquisition Act of India (1894) to appropriate a mile on either side of the Uganda Railway and it was felt that since Kenya did not have minerals, the European settlers would farm the “idle” land along the railway to repay the investment.
What followed was a series of laws enacted to expropriate land and encourage colonial settlements. The first was the 1902 Crown Lands Ordinance, which gave the Crown right over any undeveloped land and powers to sell or rent any land vacated by “natives” to Europeans.
The Land Titles Ordinance was passed in 1908 to cover the land formerly under the Sultan at the coast.
Those with claims were asked to present them to a land registration court or the land would be deemed Crown land. But in essence, after the 1902 Crown Lands Ordinance, all African enjoyed temporary rights on their land.
The two sets of laws operated in the country until 1915 when the Crown Land Ordinance of 1902 was repealed, declaring all land, including that occupied by Africans, as Crown land. Thus after 1915, Africans were turned to “tenants at will” of the state, and therefore beneficiaries of a trust established by the state to administer the land they occupied.
This saw the British Crown obtain radical title to any land if it was not administered by any other authority or if there was not “a settled form of government”.
It was as a result of these that the British Protectorate authorities assumed full ownership over all land.
This saw the rise of plantations in Kenya, some of which have continued to exist in the coffee, tea and sugar farming.
By the time Kenya became a British Crown Colony in 1920, a body of laws had developed and Kenya built an economic structure around the settler land use and in disregard of the local populace.
In essence, these legislative measures had far reaching effect. They kick-started the massive expropriation of lands belonging to the indigenous peoples to British settlers and other foreigners, who would otherwise never have qualified to own such lands under African customary laws.
With the best farmlands in Kenya reserved and allocated to white settlers, the local communities who may have previously occupied such lands were forcibly moved to make room for the white settlers. At the end of the World War I and II, any British ex-servicemen who arrived to settle in Kenya were duly facilitated and allocated free land as a reward of their military duties.
The settlers established a vibrant agricultural economy that was assisted by the government through subsidies, loans and marketing boards for virtually every crop grown by the white settlers. The locals were, by law, prohibited from growing any cash crops. This structure was part of the source of the land inequities and cries of injustices that led to the pre-independence freedom struggle, heightened by the Mau Mau uprising in the 1950s.
Land and the Mau Mau uprising
Discontent on the colonial land tenure system turned to be a violent uprising by the peasantry after 1948. The level of disaffection in the Kikuyu reserves saw the emergence of the Mau Mau, also known as the Land and Freedom Army. The group wanted to violently disrupt the colonial economic and administrative system by targeting white settlers, African loyalists and administrators.
The terror spread significantly in the White Highlands and in the Kikuyu, Embu and Meru Reserves of Central Kenya, leading to the declaration of a State of Emergency in 1952 and the arrest of political leaders of Kenya African Union (KAU) led by Jomo Kenyatta. It also led to the detention of thousands of Kikuyus, Embus and Merus – and a complete shutdown of the central Kenya economy.
The movement advocated for land and political rights and as the crackdown continued, the Swynnerton Plan was put into place and land consolidation began. This plan saw millions of Kikuyus arrested for being part of the Mau Mau lose their land creating a new group of landless Kenyans.
Land after Independence
During the colonial period, land in Kenya was divided into three parts: the Scheduled Areas, The Coast, and the Trust Lands. The latter was also known as Native Reserves or classified as non-scheduled area.
In the Scheduled Areas, also known as the White Highlands, land was vested in the Government. Here the land had been alienated by creation of leasehold titles and in some cases freehold titles.
The Coast was leased by the British government from the Sultan of Zanzibar and was integrated into the Republic of Kenya after independence.
The Trust lands, also known as Native reserves, were held by a British Government Trust Board and are today held in trust by County governments as stipulated under the Constitution.
The colonial economy rested on European monopolies and the high-potential land that they held in the highlands under the White Highlands policy meant that they could utilise their land and market the produce. Before Mzee Kenyatta’s release, one of the pending issues that bothered many white settlers was their land rights in an African-led government.
While the matter had become critical at the Lancaster Conference, it had not been concluded. It was, therefore, a surprise when on November 30, 1960, at Buckingham Palace, the Queen signed the Bill of Rights as an addition to Orders in Council implementing the Lancaster Constitution and prohibiting racial restrictions on land.
This secured the rights of white settlers and their ability to sell the land on a willing buyer willing seller policy.
African leaders remained deeply divided on land issues, with KADU preferring a Majimbo or federal government that would have administered land in their territories. On the other hand, Kanu advocated for a unitary state and respect of the institution of property rights wherever established.
It was the clause on the right to property that was key to the Bill of Rights. It gave property owners right to appeal to the Supreme Court and “prompt payment of full compensation”.
The clause said that no property, movable or immovable, shall be compulsorily taken possession of, except where such possession is necessary in the interest of defence, public safety, public order, public morality, public health, town and country planning, or the development and utilisation of any property to the promotion of the public benefit. Thus, owners of such land, or rather those who held the titles were entitled to full compensation.
Small scale agriculture
Two main schemes were mooted to settle landless Africans in Kenya in early 1960s. The first was the Assisted Owners Scheme, previously known as Yeomen Scheme, and the second was the small holders or peasant schemes. All the land available was on a willing-buyer willing-seller basis.
While there was no fixed deposit on the purchase price of any assisted-owner land, there were several factors that were considered before any person could be allowed to purchase such choice land.
There were two funds available to the Government for resettlement. The first was the British Government’s initial grant of £5 million meant to buy-out white-owned land. The second was the money made available over a period of 20 years by the World Bank and the Colonial Development Corporation for the development of land. This latter amounted to many millions of actual development capital, the use of which was controlled by experts in the Ministry of Agriculture to ostensibly ensure wise investment in stock, machinery, fertilisers, dips, fencing and other farming activities.
On paper, and in theory, this was workable. But it posed a major problem at the implementation stage. But overall, this policy saw big farms cut into small pieces to settle the landless in the former White Highlands.
In 1962, the Lands minister had negotiated in London a new Kenya Land Settlement Scheme for 50,000 to 70,000 families on one million acres to be purchased over a period of five years. This included the high and low density settlement schemes and cooperative farms under what was called the Million Acre Scheme. There was also the Jet Schemes and other smaller settlements outside the Million-Acre programme.
In 1964, great emphasis was placed on agricultural development but by June 1965 the rate of land settlement was deliberately slowed down to consolidate agricultural development.
Some areas that were classified as Non-Scheduled, Trust land and Reserves were never adjudicated and have over the years turned troublesome since the locals have no titles.
Devolution of agriculture
The Constitution of 2010 brought several reforms and the most important was the devolution of agriculture. This is anchored in Part 2 of the Fourth Schedule, providing that the National Government shall have exclusive responsibility of agricultural policy formulation whilst the county governments shall facilitate, implement and oversee all other agricultural related matters.
There was also the creation of a National Land Commission to govern land acquisition and distribution and address historical injustices.
Agriculture still remains the mainstay of the Kenyan economy, accounting for about 24 per cent of GDP and 74 per cent of employment.
It is also a key sector in the economic pillar of the Kenya Vision 2030 as it directly relates to food security and employment creation. This directly impacts the poverty incidence levels, the health of Kenyans and their general quality of life.