Elspeth Huxley, the settler who wrote on race and agriculture, called Kenya “the white man’s country” in one of her many titles. European settlers believed Kenya belonged to them. Delamere cast for himself the role of capitalist-experimenter. To him, East Africa was a dominion of the British, like New Zealand, “tucked away between deserts and tropics and lakes, where yet another cutting from the British parent stock could be planted and would grow and flourish.”
This was his ultimate ideal – this and nothing else. He wanted to prove to the world that East Africa was a white man’s country. He wanted it to become a true British colony in the sense that Australia had been – places where people settled for good and tried to build a replica of England that would endure so long as the British persisted, places that modelled for themselves an independent economic life and evolved a tradition of their own, and eventually won the award for which they had been contending: the privilege of Self-Government.”
Delamere called it a “land scramble”. At one time, Ewart Scott Grogan, a confrontational settler who eventually owned nearly three in every four acres of Taita Taveta District in addition to many pieces in the rift valley, seized a loophole in the colonial land acquisition legislation and claimed thousands of acres in Nairobi. He went out at midnight and pegged claim all round Nairobi to draw attention to an oversight in the mining ordinance.
It had included clay in the list of minerals and thus forbidden the use of clay in one’s land. The government had to release a gazette notice at midnight to stop Grogan from claiming the whole of Nairobi.
The scramble for land began in earnest in 1903. The consequent land taken by Europeans was called ‘white highlands‘ whose definition, eventually, became a thorny issue.
In 1925, the commissioner of lands defined it as “any area suitable for white settlement.”
A year earlier, the colonial secretary had asked the commissioner not to define it and refer to the government ” in regard to any land about which you may have doubt whether it is in the highlands or not”.
This was because some settlers did not want Indians to own land in the highlands and had claimed that Indians were infiltrating the highland. But the commissioner of lands explained that nobody was sure where “they began and ended.”
By 1927, the colonial office was still unable to define the highlands. But areas still considered to be in the highlands included Trans Nzoia, Uasin Gishu, Kericho, Ravine, Nakuru, Naivasha, Parts of Kiambu and Murang’a, Parts of Nyeri and Laikipia, Parts of Machakos and Sultan Hamud and Parts of Kisumu and Londiani. Only Europeans could hold title deeds for agricultural land. Other groups competed for township titles. To circumvent this rule, Asians opened Dukas on their farms. They also married European wives so that they could acquire land in the highlands.
When an Indian lawyer, Malik applied for land on behalf of Mona Goodwin (this European wife), the attorney-general annulled the deal and the deposit was returned. And this argument:
“If a person be induced by means of personation or any other fraud to sign a contract for sale of land to ‘b’ under the impression that he is contracting with ‘c’ there is no real consent, no true agreement between the parties and the contract is void”.
Crown lands ordinance 1915 barred Non-Europeans from owning or occupying land in the highlands without the consent of the Government.
As of July 21, 1926, the largest land holding by one individual European in Kenya was 175,859 acres and an Indian’s 4,491 acres. By 1952, the size of a European settler’s land ranged between 500 acres and 100,000 acres, while an African family of five had 3.3. The carter commission on land estimated that there were about 150,000 squatters by 1939. Squatters were laborers. By 1960, Europeans had seized about 7.5 million acres of land. When President Kenyatta took over, the government bought 1.2 million acres at ￡12 million (sh 15 million) provided by the British government. It set up settlement schemes for Kenyans.