Colonial-Era Land Grabs In Kenya Should Be Urgently Corrected

Land grabs

The African Exponent
By Takudzwa Hillary Chiwanza

Kenyans simply want the former colonial power to be held accountable.

A fundamental aspect that was brought by colonial domination upon Africa was the introduction of private property. Laws were enacted that saw the colonial settlers getting freehold title to most of the land in the respective colonies while the Africans were displaced and denied real ownership of their land.

This was done to pave way for the production of export crops – the likes of tobacco, tea, cotton, etc. – dismantling systems of land ownership that previously existed, systems that catered for the subsistence of African families. Africans were pushed to unproductive land and were only allowed to own such land on leases, while the colonial settlers accorded themselves title deeds that gave them full ownership over the land they stole by brutal military conquests.

In Kenya, just like other former colonial territories, such colonial crimes have gone unresolved up to this day. The Kipsigis and Talai clans of Kericho county continue to bear the brunt of violent colonial-era land grabs that saw them permanently displaced from their fertile lands so that the British settlers could develop vast tea plantations. The poverty faced by these clans – deprived of their source of livelihood (land) – mirrors the callous nature of colonialism. Markets, which yield profits for the capitalist class, are prioritized over human life.

From a period stretching from 1895 to 1963, the Kipsigis and Talai clans were cruelly evicted from their rightful land by British settlers so that tea plantations could thrive. Kericho County boasts of highly fertile soils – but these soils do not feed these clans. Instead, these soils host lucrative tea plantations that provide tea to Europeans and other global markets in a multibillion-dollar industry that has spawned inequality on an unprecedented scale. Kenyans from this area were pushed into “native reserves” where poverty bites them hard, without any hope of respite in sight.

The forcible removal of these people from their ancestral constitutes heinous human rights violations, but up to now, the British government skirts around the issue of restitution. It seems impossible – the concept of private property is a holy one in a capitalist context. And this phenomenon is not peculiar to Kenya only, it characterizes patterns of property ownership across the whole continent.

Although done for populist purposes without a truly revolutionary character, Zimbabwe’s Fast Track Land Reform Program retains its vitality as far as redressing colonial imbalances on property ownership is concerned. It is self-defeating that the interests of capital come first when African people are languishing in untold poverty.

Land redistribution patterns must be drawn up across several countries in Africa so that African people retain ownership of their ancestral lands. For others in Kenya, simply want the former colonial power to be held accountable for its colonial atrocities – they understand the “concrete reality of capitalism/free enterprise” and how entrenched it is. What they desire is an altruistic apology from Britain coupled with compensation. That is how they want the colonial injustices to be addressed.

The fact that multinational companies are getting billions of dollars from stolen land is something that must not be ignored forever – the trauma of all generations since the colonial displacement must be confronted in a way that fosters togetherness in the world.

There should be restraints to the concept of private property so as to create an egalitarian society in which people live harmoniously and have their inherent material needs and wants to fulfil.