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 Railway 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.

Images

Mzee Peter Gori of Kabar

Mzee Peter Gori of Kabar: Mzee Peter Gori of Kabar narrating how his grandfather was kicked off his land at Kabonyo by white settlers. ~ Leonard Odhiambo Obiero, February 7, 2015

Mzee Obera Wamba and Mzee Peter Warindu of Kabar Village

Mzee Obera Wamba and Mzee Peter Warindu of Kabar Village: This picture shows Mzee Obera Wamba and Mzee Peter Warindu of Kabar village in explaining how colonial land alienation policy affected their ancestral land of Kabonyo in Kisumu. Mzee Obera Wamba is a former councilor of East Kabar Ward. ~ Leonard Odhiambo Obiero, March 29, 2015

"Mzee" Peter of Kabar

"Mzee" Peter of Kabar: Mzee Peter sat for this portrait during an interview with George Oloo and Leonard Misumi. Mzee Peter recounted that during the Kabonyo Settlement Scheme, people were given land based off of their payment. ~ Leonard Odhiambo Obiero, February 7, 2015

Sugar Factory

Sugar Factory: This picture depicts the inside of a sugar factory at Miwani. This particular one shows a section of the boiler and the chimney of the Miwani Sugar factory. ~ Leonard Odhiambo Obiero, March 29, 2015

Sugar Factory Worker Housing

Sugar Factory Worker Housing: This picture depicts the original housing that was built for those working in the sugar factory. They were built by the British for the laborers and workers. The houses were arranged in a line as to allow easy and efficient supervision of the laborers and workers. The houses are still standing today, and are still in use. Today, many factory workers are compelled to look for housing in places like these ones because of poverty. ~ Leonard Odhiambo Obiero, February 7, 2015

Sugar Plantation Region of Eastern Kisumu County

Sugar Plantation Region of Eastern Kisumu County: This picture shows the area surrounding Miwani, Kibos, Chemelil and Muhoroni. All these places are owned by sugar companies in Kisumu County. ~ Photo by Leonard Odhiambo Obiero, February 19, 2015

Land Acquisition

Land Acquisition: Mzee Jaramogi Oginga Odinga also managed to acquire this piece of land captured in this image. The photo above shows a section of Oginga Odinga's land of about 200 hectares on the upper part of Miwani Sugar Company. The lower part of the tarmac road is the settlement scheme of Kabonyo ~ Leonard Odhiambo Obiero, March 26, 2015

Railway Connection

Railway Connection: The photo shows a railway line that served Miwani Sugar Factory by connecting it to the Kisumu-Mombasa Railway at Miwani Railway Station. ~ Leonard Odhiambo Obiero, February 19, 2015

Sugar Factory Worker Housing

Sugar Factory Worker Housing: This picture depicts the original housing that was built for those working in the sugar factory. They were built by the British for the laborers and workers. The houses were arranged in a line as to allow easy and efficient supervision of the laborers and workers. The houses are still standing today, and are still in use. Many factory workers are compelled to look for housing in places like these ones because of poverty. ~ Leonard Odhiambo Obiero, February 7, 2015

Sugar Plantation in Muhoroni

Sugar Plantation in Muhoroni: Odongo Omamo, a powerful government minister in Kenya, owned this specific piece of land in Muhoroni. He was able to acquire this land through various "settlement schemes." He grew sugarcane on this piece of land, one of the farms feeding Miwani sugar company but now not in good condition due to the transportation cost to other neighboring factories like Kibos, Chemelil and Muhoroni sugar company. ~ Leonard Odhiambo Obiero, February 7, 2015

Land Parcel at Kabar

Land Parcel at Kabar: Picture showing the current look/status of the unproductive land of Kabar area where African natives of Kisumu who were in now Kabonyo settlement scheme initially were pushed to by the colonial in Muhoroni in order to give ways for the white farmers. ~ Leonard Odhiambo Obiero, February 7, 2015

River Oroba

River Oroba: The polluted River Oroba is also the boundary between Kabonyo Scheme and Miwani Sugar Factory. ~ Leonard Odhiambo Obiero, February 7, 2015

Kabonyo Settlement Scheme

Kabonyo Settlement Scheme: This is part of the Ugandan railway that spans across, and into, Kisumu. ~ Leonard Odhiambo Obiero, March 29, 2015

Chemelil Road

Chemelil Road: This is Chemelil Road. Along this road are "blocks" 14, 15, and 16. These "blocks" of land were allocated to the Kabonyo native peoples. ~ Leonard Odhiambo Obiero, February 7, 2015

Kibigori Railway Station in Kibigori

Kibigori Railway Station in Kibigori: This used to be one of the main railway stations along the Mombasa-Kisumu railway route. This is its current status after the collapse of the Kisumu railway. his railway station in Kibigori is where the first group of the landless of Kisumu settled first before they were joined by the rest from other places of Kisumu. ~ Leonard Odhiambo Obiero | March 29, 2015

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