THE WHITE HIGHLANDS (KENYA)

September 2, 2020

CONTEXT: Britain was among the nations that carved up the continent of Africa in the 1880s and subjected it and its diverse people to the violations of colonialism. What is now Kenya was part of the British Empire and a Crown Colony in 1958 by which time the British had driven the Kikuyu and other tribes out of an area they considered to be the most attractive and built ranches, farms and retreats on it. They called it the White Highlands and no Kenyan was allowed on the land unless in their capacity as a servant of a white settler. The Mau-Mau grew out of resistance to the theft of their ancestral lands by the Kikuyu tribe. What follows is verbatim extracts from a debate that took place in the House of Commons regarding the White Highlands, on 30 October 1958, filled with paternalism and an unwavering belief in the superiority and supremacy of the British:


Mr John Stonehouse (Labour MP for Wednesbury):

 Tonight I want to raise the subject of the White Highlands in Kenya. Kenya has been torn by strife and hatred for the last six years, but now we hope the emergency is coming to an end and that it will be possible for us to forge ahead with economic, social and political advance in Kenya which will improve the lot of the 6 million people who live there.

This is an object for which we must strive and for which we must make our contribution in this country. Two fundamental points must be emphasised if this policy is to be a success. First, we must declare that Kenya will eventually have her self-determination on the democratic basis of universal adult suffrage, and secondly, that there must be no discrimination among the communities that live in Kenya. Any community, any member of a community, any European who cannot stomach that policy, will have the opportunity of leaving the country if he does not wish to live with the other races in Kenya.

Tonight I want to refer to one of the most outstanding injustices in the colonial world. That is the injustice of the exclusive reservation for purely European use of the vast area of the White Highlands in Kenya. This has been one of the causes of the tension in Kenya between the races.

When I was in Kenya in 1952, just a few weeks before the Mau-Mau emergency broke out, I remember that at that time the Kikuyu I spoke to, as well as the Luo tribes, were most alarmed by the failure of the British Government to pay any attention to their just pleas with regard to land hunger from which their people were suffering.

A very heavy responsibility indeed rests upon the Colonial Secretary of that day for failing to listen to those just pleas.

If we had listened to the pleas of the African people who were suffering from land hunger at that time and given them an opportunity of constitutionally expressing their fears about their land, it is quite possible that this whole awful business of Mau-Mau would have been avoided.

We have gone through an awful period of six years. Now we have reached the stage in which there is a new future ahead in Kenya, provided that we in this country have the courage to eliminate the discrimination and the economic privilege which still exists for the few whites in the White Highlands.

The history of the White Highlands is thoroughly ignoble. The first white settlers to arrive in Kenya took the best land that they could find for their farms, and some years later they laid claim to the whole area in the Highlands which was suitable for European occupation. It is sometimes claimed that few non-Europeans, if any, were displaced by this process. [HON. MEMBERS: “Hear, hear.”] I see that that argument is even shared by some hon. Members opposite who should be better informed. It does not stand up to the facts because the Kikuyu themselves had substantial tribal holdings in the Highlands which they took over from the Dorobo tribe, and even as late as 1939 some 4,000 Kikuyu had to be displaced from their land and resettled elsewhere, for which they received the princely compensation of 30s. each.

It is also not right to say, as some do, that the position of the White Highlands has grown up by custom and practice in Kenya and that it is therefore purely a problem for Kenya itself to work out. In fact, the Secretary of State for the Colonies in 1932 was directly responsible for the direction given to the Carter Land Commission to give Europeans a privileged position in the White Highlands. It was not until February, 1935, that details of this secret direction were extracted from a reluctant Secretary of State. I should like to quote from the HANSARD report of Question Time of 14th February, 1935, col. 2077, in which the Secretary of State said that he had given a direction to the Carter Land Commission to the effect that persons of European descent were to enjoy a privileged position in the area known as the Highlands. That privileged position involved: …that no person other than a European shall he entitled to acquire by grant or transfer agricultural land in such area or to occupy land therein.”—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th February, 1935; Vol. 297, c. 2077.] 

The decision to impose the White Highlands on Kenya is clearly one for which we in this country are directly responsible, and it is therefore up to us in this country to put this injustice right.

When the Carter Land Commission reported in 1934 there were about 16,800 Europeans in Kenya. They were given exclusive rights to some 16,500 square miles of land, which wa[…]designated as the White Highlands, an average of one square mile each. Today the European population in Kenya is 62,000, whereas the total population is 6,200,000. Some 1 per cent. of the population in Kenya, therefore, has 16,500 square miles reserved for it.

In fact, most Europeans live in the towns and are engaged in commercial activities. According to the Troup Report, the number of Europeans engaged in agriculture is 4,000. This miserable and reprehensible policy is therefore maintained in the White Highlands for a selfish clique of White Highlanders numbering only a few thousand. Some may say that there is plenty of land in Kenya and that European occupation of a part does not harm the rest of the population. This argument is completely destroyed by the figures on rainfall for the Royal Commission Report. Land must have about 20 inches of rain a year to be productive. There are 24,380 square miles of land in Kenya which have such a rainfall. Some 4,700 square miles of this is forest reserve, leaving a total, I am advised by a firm of surveyors who have been kind enough to go into this for me, of 19,645 square miles of land available for farming in Kenya. The amount of this land reserved for Europeans and not forest reserve is 5,960 square miles. It is therefore obvious that 30 per cent. of the good land in Kenya is reserved exclusively for Europeans. This is surely wrong in principle and bad in practice. It is criticised in the Dow Commission Report.

Sir Archer Baldwin (Conservative MP for Leominster): 

Would the hon. Member say how many Kikuyu are living in the White Highlands? Is he aware that about a quarter-of-a-million or more are living in the Highlands?

Mr John Stonehouse (Labour MP for Wednesbury):

There are 250,000 people living in the White Highlands who are not Europeans, but they have no rights there; they are employed as farm workers at wages of about 30s. a month plus their keep.

 A very small minority of the African people are allowed to go into the White Highlands, and those who are allowed to go there are given a miserable income, That is an argument in favour of allowing the Africans to have their own farms on the White Highlands.

The Dow Commission’s Report said: 

But two facts stand out as resulting from the policy of the exclusive tenure of land in the Highlands by Europeans. Firstly, the bitterness which has persisted over the extinguishing of African rights in the area, and secondly, the sense of injustice caused in African eyes by broad acres reserved for a few individuals alongside an African reserve in which land hunger exists. Even those loyal Kikuyu who have been risking their all in the fight against Mau Mau have…questioned the grounds for maintaining unused land for the exclusive use of Europeans when their needs and those of their people are so great. It was seldom that any African suggested to us that any European who was using his land fully should be deprived of that land, but our attention was constantly being directed to the fact of unused or partially used land in the Highlands.

Against the argument that Africans are bad farmers and would ruin the land in the Highlands, the Commission emphasised that there were good farmers among the African people and that if Africans were given a chance to farm in the Highlands there would be more of them.

There are acknowledged to be some 800 square miles of unused land today in the White Highlands and at least 400 square miles of that could be used for farming. We on this side of the House say that this land should be opened up immediately for African farming so that the land hunger in the reserves can be alleviated. As the Report on land development in Kenya in 1955 shows, areas like Kiambu and Fort Hall have a dangerously high density of population. There are too many people crushed together in this area of the reserves trying to eke out an existence. The area of 615 square miles in Kiambu, for example, has a population of 388,000, or 630 per square mile.

I beg the Colonial Secretary to act in this matter.

10.17 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. John Profumo, Conservative)

I am glad that the hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. Stonehouse) has raised this problem tonight, for as well as giving me a chance to answer some of the matters which he raised, it also

gives me the opportunity once more to make clear the attitude of Her Majesty’s Government towards these European farmers who have risked their capital, their skill and their future in developing an area of Africa which has often proved hazardous and intractable. Successive Governments in this country have, of course, recognised the value of the contribution which these people are making to the future of Kenya.

Going back a little, on 7th March, 1946, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Creech Jones):

…He believes in fact that European settlement must be viewed as an integral part of Kenya’s development as a whole.”—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th March, 1946; Vol. 420, c. 130.] 

This statement has been reaffirmed by successive Secretaries of State, and I believe that it still remains the official view of the party opposite. It certainly is the view of my right hon. Friend and myself.

[The Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. John Profumo) then went into some detail regarding how much land was now in use as opposed to how much was in use 5 years before.]

Mr. A. Fenner Brockway (Labour MP for Eton and Slough)

But still all European.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. John Profumo, Conservative)

One moment. I am trying to show that the land is being properly worked, and that is what really matters.

In terms of material progress between 1954 and 1957, there was a 30 per cent. increase in annual net capital expenditure per acre, a 34 per cent. increase in spending on mechanical equipment, and a 64 per cent. increase on permanent improvements excluding buildings. In accordance with the move away from cereals monoculture to animal husbandry, dairy cattle increased by 20 per cent., beef cattle by 35 per cent. and sheep by 32 per cent. Despite this, the acreage under crops also has increased by no less than 30 per cent.

These figures show that the strenuous efforts made by the Europeans are producing real and solid progress of which its authors can be proud. They utterly belie the mistaken picture in certain quarters of the average European farmer as a playboy landlord. Judged by the standards of good land use, they have every right to their land, and it is fully intended that those who maintain these standards should continue permanently to enjoy it.

This development could have been carried out only by private capital and private investment, and if the Highlands were not a European farming area, that capital would have gone elsewhere.

Mr John Stonehouse (Labour MP for Wednesbury):

If the European farmers are doing so well, why are they not made to pay more to the workers they have on their farms?

The Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. John Profumo, Conservative)

That is a very much wider subject than the hon. Gentleman has raised in his Adjournment speech tonight. I am trying to deal with the accusations he made in the course of his speech, which, I think, are doing a fair amount of harm in Kenya and elsewhere. The hon. Gentleman quoted from a speech made by Sir Roy Welensky on an occasion when I myself was there, and I can only tell the House that the farmers to whom I spoke in Kenya feel that, perhaps, in this country we may not have a sufficient understanding of the problems they are experiencing. It is that sort of thing that I, as a Minister of Her Majesty’s Government, believe it my job to put right.

The hon. Gentleman also spoke in terms in which he seemed to feel that not enough had been done since the Report of the Royal Commission. I made it clear to the House when we debated that Report last year that

the Kenya Government [i.e. the British Government in Kenya] consider it would be injudicious to try to move faster than public opinion allowed towards the breaking down of those tribal and racial boundaries.

The hon. Gentleman will probably not yet have received a copy of the recently published Report on African Land Tenure. I will put copies of this Report in the Library in due course. That Report recommended the grant of freehold title to Africans whose interest in land amounts to what we could call full ownership, and a control on transfers and subdivisions by means of local control boards dominated by Africans operating on directions from the Governor. These recommendations have been accepted in principle by the Kenya Government and will contribute enormously not only to the proper development of native land but to a different approach to the land problem among all communities, and that is what we very much want.

It is the intention of the Kenya Government to continue, as far as their financial difficulties will allow them, the full reorganisation and redevelopment of the fertile native land which has for a long time been under wasteful systems of cultivation and tenure.

Even if there were no other objections, sheer economics and the shortage of capital would certainly lead us to concentrate on this great work rather than to launch an African cooperative farming scheme on underdeveloped areas in the Highlands.

Mr John Stonehouse (Labour MP for Wednesbury):

Before the hon. Gentleman resumes his seat, I wonder whether he would answer this one question? In the dispatch of the Colonial Secretary he said that the Government does not contest the economic argument for the greater negotiability of land but envisages the attainment of this objective only when it is accepted as realisable by a substantial section of public opinion. How does the Colonial Secretary intend to judge when that public opinion has been so expressed? How is it going to be examined? How is it going to be assessed?

 The Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. John Profumo, Conservative)

It will make itself obvious in course of time. It is equally obvious that it will take quite a long time to eradicate theories and ideas which have grown up over periods of fifty or sixty years of local experience. I should have thought the hon. Gentleman, with all his considerable knowledge, which the House recognises, would realise that this is the kind of thing which cannot be rushed. It is impossible to do so.

This does not mean, however, that the view of Her Majesty’s Government and that of the Government of Kenya is not basically the same on this matter as that of the right hon. Gentleman. It is a question of timing, and it is no use saying that because such and such a statement was made or such and such a report was issued we ought to try to race towards this goal, because that would merely do harm to the very people the hon. Gentleman has in mind in raising this matter tonight. My right hon. Friend and the Government of Kenya will be able to perceive when the lime has come to make the changes which the hon. Gentleman has in mind.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-eight minutes to Eleven o’clock.

Source: Hansard, https://api.parliament.uk/historic-hansard/commons/1958/oct/30/kenya-white-highlands

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