Land Alienation and its Impact in Kisumu

Miwani Sugar Company and the Creation of Kabonyo Settlement Scheme

Alienated land is defined as land that has been acquired from customary landowners by the government for either its own use or for private development requiring a mortgage or other various forms of guarantees. This term accurately refers to the appropriation of customary land in Africa by European colonial powers. Such land was alienated in Kisumu, Kenya.

Land alienation began with European conquest and expansion into the African interior. This process of dispossession became a feature of the French, British, and Portuguese occupation, which began since at least the 15th century. In South Africa, for example, the most egregious example of land alienation came with the passage of the Natives’ Land Act of 1913, an act which not only led to the seizure of almost all fertile land from Africans, but also made it illegal for them to acquire or rent any land outside the poor, infertile land reserved for them under the act. This was strengthened the Beaumont Commission of 1916, which demarcated the precise areas where Africans could acquire or rent land. Such lands were overcrowded and infertile and were therefore of little value to Africans.

The same process of land alienation also took place in Kenya. The colonial government allowed and facilitated European settlers and later Asian immigrants to alienate large chunks of fertile land, thereby displacing Africans from their from their inheritance. The Indians were rewarded with land for their work on the Kenya-Uganda railroads in the late 19th century and the early 20th century. They then went on to establish sugarcane plantations and set up factories, example of which is Miwani Sugar Company.

The Miwani Sugar Company began to alienate land in Kisumu in 1924. Like in South Africa, land alienated in Kisumu was “fertile,” highly productive, and well-watered with rivers and streams. Having alienated land from the local landowners, the Miwani Sugar Company faced the challenge of recruiting laborers to work the land. The dilemma was similar to the experience of many settlers and commercial land owning companies in South Africa. Charles Feinstein calls this the "frontier economy," a type of economy that was common in South Africa in the 1600s. It is an economy in which “land was abundant and cheap” but “labour and capital were scarce and expensive.”

Initially, the Miwani Sugar Company obtained labor from the former African land owners. The reason was simple. Having seized more and more land and brought it under their control, the settlers had effectively closed out the escape route for the Africans to own land or access any other means of survival other than selling their (African) labor. The Miwani Sugar Company, therefore, started receiving some of its labor force to work on "its" land and in its sugar factories from such Africans affected by the alienation of land in Africa. This solution solved, at least at the beginning, the problem of shortage of labor for the company.

The Miwani Sugar Company also faced the problem of capital. The question was, where would it get the money to pay the laborers and invest in the factory for sugar production? The company proceeded to raise capital by importing sugarcane from Uganda in cargo railcars. The revenue from the sugar solved the issue of capital. The company proceeded to try to resolve any lingering manpower problems by offering the local Africans employment and paying them 3 Kenyan shillings per month. This solved the issue of labor shortage at the company. In addition to wage labor, the company offered its employees housing on Miwani Sugar Company’s factory grounds. While housing employees may look quite generous on the part of the company, it was a tactic that allowed the company to attract labor, and supervise it closely and monitor its movement. Housing employees on the company land was therefore beneficial to the company. The Miwani housing blocks are still in existence to date.

Another company that alienated land in the area was Chemelil Sugar Company. But this was during the period after independence. However, when one examines the history of the company, one notices that it was established largely through a similar pattern as the Miwani Sugar Company. These companies alienated land from Africans and made them landless. To be sure, the companies created many economic opportunities for the local people, but their beginning was based on the exploitation of the local's people main resources--land.

But what was the fate of these companies after independence? When Africans began to press for their independence, the sugar companies such as Miwani Sugar Company effectively collapsed. The reason was that as Africans campaigned for their independence, they also agitated to get their land back. Their campaign bore fruit after Kenya achieved independence in 1963, and the new government embarked on a program known as “Indigenization” during the 1963-64 period. Through this program, the new Kenya government set up a funding body called the “Settlement Fund Trustee."

The funding body’s main function was to pay settlers for the alienated land. Through this program, the Kabonyo Settlement Scheme was created and developed to help the landless Africans acquire land. Thus, native, landless Africans could purchase “blocks” of land from the Kabonyo Settlement Scheme. The native Africans could also purchase land through the Muhoroni Settlement Scheme. The prices of land often differed from one scheme to another, and from one block of land to another. For example, under the Muhoroni Settlement Scheme different “blocks of land” were offered at different prices.

The Kabonyo Settlement Scheme was one of the settlement schemes that facilitated the settlement of landless Africans after Kenya gained independence in 1963. Many of the original land owners were therefore able to acquire land. This fact not withstanding, there is no denying that some of the beneficiaries of the land were politically connected and did not deserve the land. Another issue is that land ownership in the area has increasingly become controversial: land rivalry between families, clans, and ethnic communities in the area has become very common.

In conclusion, land possession and alienation in Africa are issues with many different variables involved. The colonial and post-colonial eras have left Africa as a whole with many more questions than answers regarding the land question. Land alienation began in South Africa in the 17th century and in Kisumu in the early 20th century. The creation of Miwani Sugar Company is an example of what happened to Africans with respect to land alienation in Africa.