The Crown Land Ordinance Act 1902: “Africans have no recognized title to waste, unoccupied or uncultivated land.”
In layman terms, seven years after Kenya was declared a British protectorate in 1895, the Crown went a step ahead passing legislation barring Kenyan land holders from being proprietors of their own land. Essentially, the Act was a law that ratified the usurpation of land by the British. Rendering Kenyan natives who inhabited these areas prior illegal. This would mark the genesis and nub of colonization. Quite frankly, a landless population is a subjugated one. Broaching the persistent question that still bedevils Kenya to date. The land question.
Granted, in 1920 Kenya would formally be declared a British colony. For the next four decades Kenya throbbed on under the spell of occidental tyranny. Colonial rule of course did not sail on seamlessly. Upheavals in the form of Mau Mau and hordes of nationalist movements limped the status quo. With these pressures mounting to a fever pitch in the late 1950’s, Britain was nudged into reconsidering its stay not only in Kenya but also in the entire African continent.
3rd February 1960 on the floor of the South African parliament in Cape Town. British Premier Harold Macmillan delivers a historic address, the speech titled “Wind of Change”. He goes on record saying,
“In different places it takes different forms, but it is happening everywhere. The wind of change is blowing through this continent and whether we like it or not, this growth of national consciousness is a political fact. And we must all accept it as a fact, and our national policies must take account of it.”
Macmillan and by extension the Crown had acknowledged Africa’s sparring nationalism and its exigent desire to self-govern. It was as much a concession of willingness to renegotiate the terms of engagement as much as it was an expression of Britain’s readiness to leave. But canny as they were, would they really leave for good? Or perhaps there was more than met the eye.
Nonetheless the transition began and here in Kenya an attempt at land repatriation was made. An effort called the “Million Acre Settlement Scheme.”
It was a plan proposed by two prominent settler farmers namely Lord Delamere and Oates. The apparent goal was to sub-divide and transfer European-owned land to thousands of landless Africans over a period of 5 years. Basically, giving back what wasn’t theirs in the first place to the rightful owners – a mere handing over transaction. Sounds good, right? Turns out the plan was all sizzle no steak. It was a Trojan horse with well devised loopholes to benefit settlers and their negro acolytes.
First, the Kenyan independence government were the ones to initially buy back the parcels of land from the settlers at a hefty price. 15 pounds per acre. Then in order for native Kenyans to access them, they would have to take loans from government to buy land then slowly repay. It wasn’t enough that locals were landless but also had to buy back tracts of land essentially belonging to them.
Consequently, people were unable to afford and only the erudite, upper middle-class and government officials bought land. Willing buyer willing seller; the clarion call.
It is also intriguing to note that right at this time, Britain had given Kenya’s independence government grants and loans accumulating to 20 million pounds. Coincidence? No? Meaning those who had access to this cash – politicians and their cronies – were most suitable to bear title deeds. Eventually siring a society that Josiah Mwangi Kariuki dreaded most. The society of 10 millionaires and 10 million beggars. Again is it a coincidence, that at independence, the founding father was categorical that nothing would be given for free? And that for everything you owned you had to earn it?
It is foul but sensible to assume that the independence political class were not eager to form an egalitarian state. However, it so seems they were inveterate on reinstating the caste system that existed before. The difference this time, was they were the masters and ordinary citizens constituted their serfdom. They became gatekeepers; European sanctioned home-guards.
The project Kenya has always been a bargain and an enterprise. The most moneyed carry the day in this elitist flotilla. You’d think the fight against colonialism was to safeguard the interests of all peoples of Kenyan descent. Perceived privileges and talents notwithstanding, equity must have been the intended portion for all those who clamored at British departure. But that was not to be.
Our forebears ended up forming a nation based on economic disenfranchisement. Kenya’s political DNA is centered on deceit. The realpolitik in this country is informed by subterfuge. This is the original sin of our national ancestors.
Fast forward, 58 years after independence. Robust battles to liberate Kenyans from the manacles of constitutional, electoral and economic injustice have been fought. The perching of multi-party democracy in 1992 and the 2010 constitution attest to this. But even with these enormous strides towards a utopian Kenya, strident forces antithetical to development remain ever present.
We have formed bad habits in recent years. Peaked by an unforeseen debt burden, flagrant constitutional violations and an eclectically precarious political economy. Problems that we would not be facing if we just played by the rules in the first place.
Yet once again our snake oil selling politicians have a solution. The Building Bridges Initiative. A document tasked with undoing sordid generational governance. It’s pretty simplistic to think that an isolated document will serve as an elixir to sustained chronic mal governance.
But that’s what the prevailing political dispensation wants people to believe. Because just like colonialists they have a deep seated entitlement to lord over others. As the unassailable northern stars bestowed with the divine duty to chart forth the future of this country. But it won’t be the first time Kenyans are taken for a ride. Neither will it be the first pyramid scheme citizens have signed up for. Similar to the Million Acre Scheme, the BBI and its proponents offer promise but beauty is only skin-deep.
As Kenyans, it is our nature to become fervent fire fighters long after subjecting ourselves to an exercise of self-immolation.
Something to jog your mind on the prevailing attitudes of leaders towards citizens in this country,
“If a man grew a tree and watched it bear fruits… Who has the right to claim it?” Jomo Kenyatta’s take on who should reap the gains of independence.
Look how nations suffer for the sins of their fathers.