Category Archives: Land and class in Kenya

Time out for family and relatives

I’ll be away from my desk for much of October. The recent, untimely death of my wife has made me keenly aware of the precariousness of life, and brought a renewed focus to my long-standing conviction that, although a productive, socially useful career is very important, family and friends are equally important.

So I’m going to take a break from my blog and spend some serious time with relatives, and, in the process, strengthen my connection to my own origins. I still have important stories to tell — including a review of a critical chapter in Kenya’s history that has been largely shrouded in darkness. It’s all in Land and Class in Kenya, but I’m dogged by the feeling that there’s so much in the book that, at least for some readers, the most important point has been lost.

I’ll get to that if I still have breath left after spending some time with relatives.

Kenya’s independence from colonial rule: How the British off-loaded compensation costs on the poor

As it dawned on the British colonial authorities that their African colonial enterprise wasn’t working for them anymore, and it became clear that they would have to end colonial rule, they faced a tricky situation. Having invited English and South African whites to settle in Kenya left them with an inescapable obligation to compensate white settlers who did not wish to cast their lot with African majority rule.

Potentially, costs of compensation could have been enormous.  Continue reading

A Kenyan official gets a humiliating taste of colonialism, on the eve of African majority rule

The bloody civil war in Kikuyu country dimmed Britain’s appetite for colonial rule, but did nothing to resolve the problem of what was to become of the Europeans Britain had invited to settle in Kenya. Initially, Britain put members of the settler community in charge of figuring out a way to compensate their fellow settlers for the inevitable approach of African majority rule by appointing them to the Land Development and Settlement Board (LDSB), the body designated to oversee land transfer.

This self-dealing approach to the settlement of serious property rights issues failed, for reasons that are detailed in Chapter 4 of Land and Class in Kenya. Edward Muceru Ayub, a Kenyan friend of mine, was there to witness their downfall. Muceru, a graduate of graduate of Alliance High School, and one of the first two Africans to be employed on the LDSB’s staff, recalled later that his first few months on the job were very difficult. His European colleagues regularly exposed him to the all-too-familiar humiliations of colonialism. Continue reading

African squatters on European land: Opportunity, followed by a squeeze

The establishment in Kenya of what Europeans liked to call the White Highlands — land reserved for occupation by themselves — cut off the land frontier that Africans relied upon to accommodate normal population growth. In time, Kikuyus were forced into participation in the colonial economy. As it turned out, they were better prepared for that than Europeans generally expected.  I’ve covered all that in previous posts, and you can find it by following the links.

Even those who lacked the skills or resources for a business career were not immediately left landless by the Europeans’ closure of the land frontier, because they were able to use European land. For many Africans, their first contact with the modern economy was the experience of working as a labourer in the White Highlands. In the early days of white settlement, such employment, for many, represented (or seemed to represent) a real opportunity. Continue reading

Europeans help themselves to Nandi and Kipsigis land

NandiWarriorsNandi warriors (date unknown)

The stiffest resistance to European encroachment on African land in Kenya came from the Nandi on the Mau plateau west of the Rift Valley. In the 1890s, and in the first part of the Twentieth Century, they harassed European caravans and railway workers, forcing some early settlers to retreat. The defeat of the Nandi, therefore, was regarded as a prerequisite for European settlement in the western highlands.

RiftValleyRift Valley, in orange, until 2013 a province of Kenya

Farmland at Rift Valley’s edge (click on picture)
Source: Wallaroo Images

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Kenya Europeans go after Masai land

Kikuyus took the hardest beating when white Kenyans went after African land, but they were not the only victims of European land grabs. In my last post, and a previous one I showed how flagrant Kenya’s colonial regime was about stealing African land, and how it introduced the policies of interpenetration and “tribal” reserves, to regularize the process.

Like the Kikuyus, the Masai — nomadic, pastoral occupants of Kenya’s Rift Valley whom we first encountered here — suffered their most significant losses during the period of interpenetration. Among the early European settlers, those who were interested in farming headed first for the green highlands of central Kenya. Those who wanted to go into ranching were most attracted to the Rift Valley because the presence of Masai herds there made it clear that the land was suitable for ranching.
MasaiHerdersMasai herders (Click on picture)
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Wakaichukua: An overview of European land seizures in Kenya’s Kikuyu country

In a previous post, I catalogued some of the lame excuses Europeans in Kenya offered for their seizures of African land. A Swahili saying offers a more realistic take on what happened: Wazungu walikuja, wakaona ardhi yenye mafuta, wakaichukua. (“Europeans came, saw fertile land, and helped themselves.”) Kikuyus, who, like European settlers, were generally capable farmers and often keen entrepreneurs, spent the period of colonial rule (from the late 19th Century until 1963) locked in an intense, sometimes violent and competitive relationship with Europeans.  Continue reading


I’m off to Chicago to deliver a paper about case study research methods to the Urban Affairs Association. This is a slightly revised version of a paper delivered in Tokyo in December. I wrote the paper after it dawned on me that many of my colleagues devote a lot of their research career to case studies, as I do, but that we rarely discuss how we do them.
However, the part of my paper that stirred up the most interest in Tokyo started as an afterthought: a discussion of how research ethics protocols militate against, not only sound methodology, but also ethics itself. You can read that discussion by going to p. 12 of the paper available at the second link above.

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I’ll be in Tokyo next week, delivering a paper at a conference of the International Sociological Association. Drawing on examples of research I’ve done, in both Kenya and North America, the paper discusses issues faced by researchers who undertake critical investigations of the way political power is wielded. It looks at the problem of how to get at “the truth”, as well as some obstacles posed by inappropriate research ethics protocols. Following is a brief summary of the paper, or, if you prefer, download the paper itself.

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I was having a drink with a couple of colleagues, who, like me, are engaged in case study research, and the conversation turned to interviews. One of my colleagues mentioned some questionable propositions that had been put to him in one of those interviews. “I don’t believe that,” he said, “but if that’s what they say, what are you going to do?”
I knew the answer to the question: triangulation. But it took some excavation of my own research experience to remember how I had arrived at that answer. The idea of triangulation never actually occurred to me. It presented itself, in the form of a puzzle I encountered as a graduate student immersing myself in my first primary research project, a study of Kenya’s Million-Acre Settlement Scheme, the starting point for a book I later published under the title Land and Class in Kenya.

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