Wednesday, 30 May 2012

The Market for Land in Colonial Kenya

Once the settlers fully consolidated their power, the natives were progressively disenfranchised of their ownership claims to any tract of land. The ownership of the entire Kenyan land was in fact transferred into the hands of the crown. The ownership decree was further supported by a series of laws, which provided for
uncompensated appropriation of land from the subsistence sector. Of particular interest in the present case, however, is how the attendant land market operated. The ‘free’ land market that was established heavily discriminated against the natives. Land could be transferred freely between the white settlers but any land transfer to the non-whites could not be made unless it was sanctioned by the governor.

The land market, inter alia, intended to make it extremely difficult for the natives to gain access to additional tracts of land save for those allocated to them in the reserves. Land was secured in a manner that allowed commercial farmers, as opposed to subsistence producers, to capture the rents created by the growing commercial agriculture. The ultimate policy goal was to create a pool of cheap labour for settler farmers. Increasing population pressure on the land in the reserves forced a greater number of people to migrate onto settler farms in search of wage employment. The statistics presented are quite revealing in this regard. In1912, some 12,000 natives were engaged outside the reserves; by 1927 the number was 152,000, and by the beginning of 1939, the number had risen to over 200,000. The land market, therefore, deliberately created structural constraints that consigned the vast majority of the natives to the market for subsistence.

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