Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Realities in Post Colonial Kenya

The extent to which the colonial socio-economic infra structure remained squarely intact in the post-colonial Kenya remains a major paradox. The independence struggle presented a group of people committed to establishing a social order that would mark a total break from the notorious colonial past. The persistence of the colonial tactics in the subsequent agrarian
policies, however subtle, is particularly surprising given that the entire independence struggle can effectively be reduced to the question of land and the related agrarian policies.
Ironically, the majority of the very same people who strongly condemned the oppressive colonial socio-economic institutional infrastructure actively supported its continuity.

The fact is that the much-touted agrarian revolution was never attempted in earnest. Even though settlement schemes were intended to redistribute land rights, it is estimated that 75-80 percent of the large scale settler farms were transferred into African ownership intact – mainly to senior politicians, civil servants and parastatal employees. The magnitude of success of the agrarian revolution depended on the extent to which it could bring back labour power on independently owned farm plots.

The manner in which the mounting resistance to the preservation of large-scale farms was blocked is reminiscent of the colonial tactics of management and administration. The Kenyan government came up with a credit policy which was meant to facilitate land redistribution through the market mechanism. However, the policy was crafted in such a way as to create a small but powerful class of people who could support the policies of the state. The intent of the credit policy is aptly captured as:

under the doctrine of applying scarce resources where objectively the returns would be the greatest, the differential provision of both credit and technical help benefited a category of land owners whose support the regime needed.

The credit scheme thus gave priority to those who were supportive of the redistribution of land rights through the free market mechanism. The reason settlement schemes fell through was, therefore, not so much a question of overwhelming expenses but rather as a deliberate ploy to create a pool of cheap labour for the new owners of the large scale farms. In addition to the overplayed importance of large scale farming to the Kenyan economy, it was argued that the trickle down benefits from large scale agriculture to wider economy would entitle every citizen to a decent standard of living in the shortest time possible. Entry into the cultivation of lucrative crops continued to be dependent on quota limitations. Likewise, marketing boards, which, ironically, generated unprecedented resentment throughout colonial history, were retained without even any slightest modification in their institutional infra structure.

The activities of the Maize Control Board deserve special mention. Just like in the colonial period, the board was used to protect the interests of large-scale farmers. In 1972, for instance, the large-scale farmers used their hegemonic power to sabotage the government’s intention to introduce a uniform price for both large and small producers. The large scale farmers used the board to deliberately create scarcity of maize grain by diverting available supplies into black markets and illegal exports markets. The board also made it particularly difficult for smallholders to sell maize at a profit. They were not allowed to move more than ten bags of maize from one point to another within a district, or two bags of maize across district borders unless they had the written consent of board officials. All this was done with the intention of protecting the monopolistic position of the board and hence controlled the levels of prices accordingly.

Interesting parallels exist with the Malawian policy process after independence. Much as the land question did not heavily dominate the independence struggle there, Malawi’s subsequent agrarian policies, however, have shown a great deal of colonial leanings. The consolidation of landholdings into a large-scale farming sector was an outcome of a thoroughly calculated policy.

The 1967 Land Act, three years after independence, for example, not only reaffirmed the existence of customary land but also declared that all customary land was ‘vested in perpetuity in the President’. This particular Land Act, with the benefit of hindsight, was intended to reinforce the post-colonial agricultural strategy that distinguished two sectors, namely estate farming and small holder agriculture. The sectors differed in terms of landholdings and the types of crops which they could grow. While those engaged in estate farming were at liberty to cultivate a variety of crops without limit, those within the small holder sub-sector were on the contrary legally prohibited from producing lucrative crops such as tobacco, tea and sugar.

Similarly, the range of auxiliary agrarian policies were designed to facilitate the use of the market as an instrument of political control and exploitation. For instance, the land market created following the 1967 Land Act provided only for one-way transfer ability of land. Land could only be transferred to the estate sector usually at prices that were far below the prevailing real market levels. Marketing and pricing arrangements further discriminated against the small-holder sector. While the estate sector enjoyed a direct access to remunerative world prices, smallholders earned substantially lower prices dictated by the marketing board. The rents extracted from the marketing arrangements for small holder crops were used to extend cheap loans to the politically favoured few, mostly party functionaries, senior civil servants, chiefs and high ranking parastatal and industrial employees, in order to accelerate estate expansion.

Land was deliberately alienated from smallholders in order to create a readily available pool of labour for the estate sector. Low small holder agricultural prices were intended to achieve the same goal. Several studies, in fact, conclude that it was more profitable for peasants to work on estates as tenants than till their own plots since crop prices were low, but prices for farm inputs were enormously high. The government also discontinued migrant labour to the South African mining industry to further create a lasting pool of cheap labour for the estate sector. It was generally believed that ‘land, wage and income [policies] designed by the party and the state controlled by Banda [were intended] to facilitate expansion of the estate sector at the expense of the peasants...’

Ghana’s parallel experiences shed further light on this subject. Rice farming, which was largely a monopoly for politicians and high-ranking civil servants and parastatal employees, enjoyed preferential treatment. The rice farmers earned domestic prices that were well above the world market prices. The Ghanaian government also used the differential credit policy to clamp down the mounting resistance to its exploitative pricing policy for the cocoa industry. It instituted a parallel cocoa grower’s association whose members had either previous debts written off or granted a range of inputs on very soft credit terms. The result was that even the most militant protesters were seduced, and the resistance movement eventually crumbled.

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