Resettlement Schemes in Post-Colonial Kenya

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Resettlement Schemes in Post-Colonial Kenya

John W. Harbeson wrote:

"The British Government suddenly and unexpectedly announced in January 1960 that Kenya would move rapidly to independence under an African Government. African and European political leaders were equally surprised and confounded by the decision. Africans were promised independence before they could even demand it through national political parties, since the bar on these had only just been lifted. On what other basis could African political leaders mobilise grass-roots support behind reconstituted national parties? Resentment against the European farming enclave in the 'White Highlands' was one possible basis, but the British Government, under heavy pressure from Europeans, pre-empted this issue through the land resettlement programme.
"Land resettlement was promised by the British Government in return for the moderate European settlers' support of the decision to move Kenya towards independence.1The promise reflected the belief of the Colonial Secretary, lain MacLeod, that rapid political change could occur without racial strife only if moderate Europeans helped to achieve interracial understanding and co-operation. The first phase of land resettlement enabled 5,000 experienced farmers,who had proved their ability and accumulated some savings, to purchase and develop subdivisions of European farms with the financial aid of the World Bank, the Commonwealth Development Corporation,and the British Government. This so-called 'low-intensity scheme' was aimed to permit African farmers to earn $280 per year, after all operating costs and loan repayments. The political purpose of this, as one official of the lending agencies put it, was to 'put raisins in the cake'. The programme was intended to integrate the Highlands in accordance with the multi-racial thinking of moderate Europeans while serving two important economic purposes: developing previous underdeveloped areas of the 'White Highlands', and restoring a market in land for the benefit of farmers of both races."[1]

History of Settlement Schemes

1954 Swynnerton Plan

1961 Yeoman and Peasant Scheme

According to a 1961 World Bank document:[2]

"The Governments of the United Kingdom and the Colony and Protectorate of Kenya have requested a Bank loan to help finance the development of farms to be settled by African farmers in the high potential lands of the Scheduled Areas of Kenya which previously have been reserved for European settlement. The borrower would be the Governrent [sic] of Kenya and the loan would be guaranteed by the Government of the United Kingdom." ("Scheduled Areas" refers to the so-called White Highlands of Kenya where only Europeans were allowed to settle during the Colonial period.)

The plan called for "the settlement on about 180,000 acres of land of some 1,800 "assisted owners" on units of about 50 acres each and of 6,000 "smallholder" farmers on units of about 15 acres each" between late 1961 and 1964.[2]

Million Acre Settlement Scheme

" In August I962 Maudling announced that the British Government would finance by grant and loan the transfer of a million acres of European farmland to some 25,000 African families. In contrast to the earlier phase of resettlement, these would be landless, unemployed Africans, rather than proven African farmers with some resources of their own."[3]

Inequality of Landholdings in Kenya

As of 1969-1970, farms in Kenya were still clearly split into two categories - Large Farms (those in the former White Highlands) and Small Farms (those in the former African reserves).[4] In 1970, some 2,690,000 hectares were divided among 3,175 large farms with an average of 847 hectares (more than 2000 acres) each. Meanwhile, in 1969, 2,646,000 hectares were divided among 777,000 small farmers, averaging 3.4 hectares (8.4 acres) each. Looking deeper into the numbers, the median large farm had between 100 and 499 hectares (247 and 1233 acres) in 1970, whereas the median small farm had only one to two hectares (2.5 to 5 acres) in 1969.

Combining these numbers, which is not entirely accurate since the statistics are from two different years, one can see that a mere 0.4 percent of farmers (those on the Large Farms) held just over half of Kenya's farmland, while the other 99.6 percent shared the other half among themselves. Were the land shared equally among Kenyan farmers, each would have had an average land size of 6.8 hectares (about 17 acres).

Resources and articles

Related Sourcewatch articles


  1. John W. Harbeson, "Land Reforms and Politics in Kenya 1954-70," Journal of Modern African Studies, Vol. 9, No. 2 (Aug., 1971), pp. 231-251.
  3. John W. Harbeson, "Land Reforms and Politics in Kenya 1954-70," Journal of Modern African Studies, Vol. 9, No. 2 (Aug., 1971), pp. 231-251.
  4. Apollo L. Njonjo, "The Kenya Peasantry: A Re-Assessment," Review of African Political Economy, No. 20, Kenya: The Agrarian Question (Jan. - Apr., 1981), pp. 27-40.

External Resources


  • An Economic History of Kenya, William Robert Ochieng' and Robert M. Maxon, eds, East African Publishers, 1992.
  • Christopher Leo, Land and Class in Kenya, University of Toronto Press, July 1984.
  • Gary Wasserman, Politics of Decolonization: Kenya Europeans and the Land Issue 1960-65, Cambridge University Press, London, 1976.
  • Colin Leys, Underdevelopment in Kenya: The Political Economy of Neo-Colonialism, 1964-1971, University of California Press, 1975.
  • John W. Harbeson, Nation-Building in Kenya, Northwestern University Press, Evanston, 1973.

External Articles