How 1934 Morris-Carter land report set stage for Mau Mau


Mau Mau fighters who fought in an uprising against colonial settlers. FILE PHOTO | NMG

While reviewing my recent article on All Saints’ Church Limuru with a friend, I came across the name of a white extremist group called the “Tigoni Tigers”, a militant offshoot of the long-established Limuru Farmers Association.

The group was formed during the State of Emergency period ostensibly to defend white settlers in Tigoni from the Mau Mau.

According to Christopher Lawrence Hiscox in his book The Dawn Stand-To, the group formed an all-white reserve officer regiment calling themselves “Dobie” or “D” Force. Egged on by early successes against the Mau Mau “D” Force got a bit naughty and, unfortunately, very trigger happy, killing too many Africans without sufficient justification.

In retaliation, they and their friends, men, women and children were being targeted for murder by the Mau Mau. Feeling that “D” Force had overstepped their mark, the Police Commissioner found the situation intolerable and ordered the vigilante force to be disbanded immediately.

There was a light moment in the Kenya Legislative Council meeting on May 6, 1960, when a member, Mr Alexander asked, “What about the Tigoni Tigers?”.

In response, the Minister for Tourism, Game, Forests and Fisheries, Mr Crosskill said, “That comes under the National Parks”.

The Tigoni Tigers was a blatant racist group that even refused to attend the church where Africans worshipped.

When the church in Limuru was integrated for all races those of the group who reluctantly attended would insist that they worshipped in the first service so that they do not sit on pews “which have recently been occupied by Africans”.

Racial harmony

But the Tigoni Tigers came to ignominy in 1958 in what came to be known as “the St Julian’s Affair”. Michael and Susan Wood (later Sir and Lady Wood, founders of AMREF) wanted to sell their 20-acre farm on St Julian’s Lane in Limuru to an Anglican religious community from England as a place of rest for people of all races suffering from the pressures of modern life.

To put the matter into perspective, Michael Wood was at the time, chairman of the Capricorn African Society, a body that championed racial harmony and advancement of Africans.

The farm was in an area listed as agricultural land and therefore fell within the White Highlands, so the Tigoni Tigers took great exception to the idea that there could be people of other races living there, and tried all possible means to stop the sale.

They demonised the couple openly and threatened them with court action but the group did not act on their threats and eventually the sale was sealed after much hullabaloo.

Contentious issue

Writing about the incident in the Kenya Weekly Guardian, Mervin Hill pointed out that “the wise policy of the settlers is to keep quiet about the White Highlands and to treat the reservation as an economic and agrarian measure which is amply justified … by the contribution of European farming to Kenya’s economy … For many years, the reservation has been in respect of ownership and occupation of property. It has never been a question of who lives and works in the highlands”.

The Governor, Sir Evelyn Baring, writing to the Secretary of State had some unflattering words to say about the incident: “At the moment the most contentious issue is that of the St Julian’s Community … Unfortunately, this is in Limuru, exactly where the most foolish and noisy Europeans live.

The missionaries, somewhat unwisely, describe St. Julian’s as a “multiracial centre”.

The objection was taken by the local Limuru Farmers’ Association which is now dominated by extremists … I have let those concerned know that should the (highlands board) recommend against the transfer, on the grounds that Africans would be lodging in the community house, I would regretfully have to reject.”

The agitation by the Tigoni Tigers was rooted in the recommendations of the what was known as The Carter Land Commission of 1934.

The question of the White Highlands dates back to 1902 when Sir Charles Eliot, then Commissioner of the Protectorate, encouraged white settlement in the highlands.

In his view, only European settlers and agriculture could develop the region and generate the necessary funds to fund the colonial administration and recoup the massive capital cost of the railway.

Leading settlers Delamere and Grogan, who were among the first beneficiaries of large tracts of land in the highlands, supported his views.

Although this policy of racial segregation in the land use was practised to great effect on the ground, it was not entrenched in the law.

Native reserves

Following the publication of the Devonshire White Paper of 1923, which stated that “whenever the interests of the native Africans clashed with those of Asian, European or Arab settlers, those of the Africans shall remain paramount”, the Europeans wanted their interests to be also safeguarded and entrenched in law.

In reality, nothing changed and the Africans continued to suffer discrimination in all aspects of life.

In 1932 the British administration appointed the Morris Carter Commission to look into native land grievances which were threatening to erupt into violence.

The three-person commission comprised two European settlers and the same judge who had previously ruled against the Maasai in 1913 and later devised the segregationist land settlement policy in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe today), Sir William Morris Carter.

The Morris Carter Commission defined the boundaries of the White Highlands for the exclusive use of White settlers and the native reserves for Africans.

It recommended that Africans had enough land but needed to adopt better farming methods and consolidate fragmented land holdings.

The commission also recommended the creation of a Highlands Board to look after the interests of White settlers.

In general, the commission recommended that Africans had little claim of right over the land in the highlands and where such claim could be proved, alternative land near each reserve could be made available as compensation.

By failing to create a more representative and objective panel, the British lost out on an opportunity to recommend an equitable land settlement proposal in Kenya which would ultimately foster the bloody Mau Mau uprising of the 1950s.