Land alienation in Kenya : During the colonial period, land in Kenya was divided into three parts, namely the Scheduled Areas, the Coast and the Trust Lands. The latter were also known as Native Reserves or non-scheduled areas.
Land alienation in Kenya began with European conquest and expansion into the African interior. This process of dispossession became a feature of the French, British, and Portuguese occupation, which began since at least the 15th century.
Arabs from Arabia and Persia invaded the Coastal Strip in early 1800s. They were heavily involved in slave trade, especially the Sultan of Zanzibar. Their activities led to mass evictions of the indigenous coastal communities from their land. They alienated the coastal communities from their land through forceful evictions to create room for Arab settlers and through their practice of slave trade. For example, members of the Mijikenda community fled their land on the beach to escape being captured and sold as slaves by the Arab traders. The Arabs later occupied this land and obtained certificate of ownership from the Sultan. During independence, the Mazrui Arabs claimed ownership of the 10-mile ‘Coastal Strip’ while ignoring the plight of the indigenous communities that lived there before they scrambled for land in the region.
The colonial government allowed and facilitated European settlers and later Asian immigrants to alienate large chunks of fertile land, thereby displacing Africans from their from their inheritance.
During the colonial period, land in Kenya was divided into three parts, namely the Scheduled Areas, the Coast and the Trust Lands. The latter were also known as Native Reserves or non-scheduled areas.
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 councils, as stipulated under the Trust Land Act. Under the new Constitution, these lands will be under the control of county governments.
Land alienation in Kenya – Laws and Concessions
The British colonialists came up with several laws and concessions to further alienate the coastal and mainland communities from their land. These included the Land Acquisition Act (1894), Crown Lands Ordinance (1902), Crown Lands Ordinance (1915), and the Kenya Native Areas Ordinance (1926). These laws and ordinances saw the eviction of communities to facilitate the construction of the Kenya-Uganda Railway and the leasing of the 20 per cent medium to high potential land to European settlers and multinational corporations for 99 years (the infamous ‘white’ highlands). This is largely since Kenya’s land had been declared ‘Crown’ land owned by the Queen of England to be disposed at her will.
The first Crown Land Ordinance of 1902 provided the settlers with a 99-year lease and subjected them to the control of the State, replacing Ordinance of 1897 that provided for a 21-year lease. Each settler was to be given 160 acres free of charge as an inducement to farm. In 1915, another Ordinance gave the settlers 999-year leases and declared all ‘Waste and unoccupied’ land in the Protectorate ‘Crown Land’ and subject to the Governor’s powers of alienation. It also demarcated the land into either ‘Scheduled Areas‘ (for European settlement) or None Scheduled Areas (for African Reserves)
Sir Charles Elliot used the 1902 Ordinance to evacuate the Maasai from their southern lands which were alienated for settler use.
With these arrangements, even by the time Kenya formally became a colony in 1920 through the Kenya Annexation Order-in-Council and the Kenya Colony Order-in-Council of 1921, there were rules that enabled the British Protectorate authorities to alienate land for settlers.
The Crown Lands (Amendment) Ordinance of 1938 gave legal effect to the dual policy of European “White Highlands” (or high potential areas) and African “Native Reserves” (or marginal lands). Following this policy enactment, all the areas outside the Native Reserves, and any other African claims and interests were extinguished. African customary law was to apply to the “native areas” and the Native Lands Trust Board was to protect “native interests”.
By the time of independence in 1963, these inequities could be seen as follows: White settlers occupied an equivalent of three million hectares of land, half of it suitable for cash crop farming and the balance suited to large-scale livestock farming. In total, an estimated 3,600 farms of between 400 and over 800 hectares were occupied by the white settlers, constituting about 21,000 of Kenya’s 356,000 square-kilometre area or about six per cent of Kenya’s land.
Thus, 3,600 white settler families occupied about 20 per cent of Kenya’s arable land while six million Africans shared the rest.