Land Issues & The Agricultural Economy in Kenya After 1945


During World War II and even the decade following the war, prices of agricultural produce increased and Kenyan settler farmers benefited from the increased prosperity. This period encouraged more settler farmers and Britain encouraged more migration to Kenya. The move to drive out Kikuyu’s from their land further intensified with this new found prosperity in agriculture. However, African farmers did not directly benefit from this prosperity. Most African farmers were encouraged to focus on maize and not other cash crops like coffee.

Many Africans who had fought for Britain during World War II were disappointed to return to a Kenya that treated them as second class citizens. Many of the World War II veterans became radical advocates for the political, economic and social advancement of black people. The then Governor, Sir Philip Mitchell made the decision to elevate Africans beyond the chief level by offering them membership in the Legislative Council. The first African member of the Legislative Council was Eluid Mathu who joined in 1944.Governor Mitchell also encouraged Africans to form the Kenya African Study Union, a body comprised of elite educated Africans that Mathu could consult. However, many Africans were discontent with the pace of reforms introduced by Governor Mitchell. The Kikuyu were the most disenfranchised because they lost most of their land to white settler farmers.

Despite calls for racial equality after World War II, many educated African farmers and merchants continued to be frustrated by the settler government. The government continued to restrict which crops Africans could grow and merchants were unable to obtain adequate credit for their businesses. Many educated Africans like Jomo Kenyatta who had studied at the University of London were denied seats in the Legislative Council.

Swynnerton Plan

In an effort to reduce discontent among African farmers in rural areas, the government introduced economic reforms. This plan led to the introduction of land titles, a new concept for the Kikuyu farmers. In addition, the government promised to increase funding for the introduction of cash crops, improvement of agricultural extension services and credit for African farmers. For the first time, Kikuyu farmers could grow cash crops like coffee. Chiefs, sub-chiefs, progressive farmers and African businessmen benefited most from this new plan. Government policies favored the providing extension services and credit to the successful farmers and this created a huge gap between poor farmers and wealthier ones. Land consolidation and land titles allowed wealthier farmers to purchase more land making further increasing their wealth potential.

Under the premise of multiracialism, the settler government expanded African education and African political representation. A new constitution introduced in 1954, created more seats for Africans in the Legislative Council and one African could become a member of the newly formed multiracial Council of Ministers. Most white settlers opposed these new reforms because they gave Africans more political power while the Africans opposed them because they gave them too little political rights. Despite these ‘reforms’ Africans were not allowed to form any political organizations until 1955. Despite the ban, a young activist, Tom Mboya, formed the Kenya Federation of Labor in 1953. In 1956, a second African Minister was added to the Council of Ministers and in 1957, eight African were elected to the Legislative Council.