Administrative science for development dialogue: Three Kenyan case studies, 1943-1954

In this chapter, we will show why expert knowledge and administrative science is preferred over scientific knowledge for planning and implementing development projects. We aim to understand the motives of administrative science for development dialogue. The driving force behind administrative science was ‘moral imperialism’—a philosophy that the colonial power had ‘a moral duty to “civilize” the colonized peoples.’1 The vision of the British administration was, however, that the African peoples ‘should be made good Africans rather than a poor imitation of a European.’2 Underlying the process of ‘making good Africans’ was the assumption by colonial officials that the African peasants lacked the knowledge required to progress economically. This was until, during the post-Second World War period, that the colonial officials discovered that some African communities practiced advanced methods of indigenous agriculture and soil conservation. Disregarding those indigenous skills, the officials continued to promulgate ordinances or bylaws to mandate compliance in implementing development projects. This attitude is reflected in the way they organized hierarchical authorities that were often in dialogue among experts and administrators about single or multiple development issues. In each colony, the highest colonial authority concerned with land management was the colonial secretary. At the provincial level, the administration was headed by provincial commissioners, assisted by district commissioners with a supervisory role. At lower administrative tiers, technical departments of agriculture and veterinary services were responsible for project implementation. Research departments and organizations charged with the management of environmental or agricultural schemes played an advisory role on technical matters.3

In the implementation of most projects were the concerns of land rights. In colonial Kenya, there were three categories of land rights. The first was customary land, traditionally owned by clans or tribal units. These were the land units in the African reserves, administered by a Local Native Council (LNC). The second type of land rights was what was called ‘Crown land.’ This type of land classification enabled the government to decide on how the land would be used in the future. The third category was the ‘white highlands’ allocated exclusively to European settlers. Land use in the European ‘white highlands’ was under the authority of a lobby group called the European Board.

This chapter presents three case studies from Kenya to reflect the management of agricultural schemes in the colony. The first case study concerns conflicts over the transfer of ancestral land to the European land category by means of a long lease. After lengthy communications among the colonial officials, the local community sought adjudication by a Crown court. We will examine the use of the British justice system, providing a dialogue between the victimized African community and provincial officials. The second case study examines the application of ordinances that forced the peasants to implement agricultural schemes to promote soil conservation. The third case study involves clearing bush for the control of tsetse flies and resettling displaced populations. In each case, we examine the dialogues conducted among officials and representatives of the African peasants (based on archival sources), focusing on the western Rift Valley and the Lake Victoria Basin in Kenya (Figure 7.1).

We structure the discussions as follows. First, we describe briefly the notion of administrative science as a source of expert knowledge for development planning and implementation. Second, we discuss how administrative science was applied in the three above-mentioned case studies:

  • (1) solving land conflicts between the Kipsigis people and the colonial state;
  • (2) applying ordinances on agricultural schemes; and (3) bush clearing for tsetse fly control and agricultural settlement.

Administrative science

Strictly speaking, administrative science is an applied form of social science. It is action-oriented and relies on expert knowledge for planning and implementing programs. In principle, administrative science attempts to bridge imperial science approaches and local development initiatives. It integrates the practical administration and management of African societies and practices using social science methods.4 Unlike imperial science, administrative science is flexible in terms of space and time, allowing officials to shift development priorities in accordance with colonial policies. Another reason why administrative science differs from imperial science is that it was applied across hierarchical power structures and administrative boundaries—thus enabling information to be shared between technical and administrative departments.’

At local community level in the African reserves, government-appointed chiefs and headmen supervised development activities.6 The provincial commissioners and district commissioners coordinated all development programs within their jurisdictions—directly influencing the welfare of local African societies.'

Eastern part of Lake Victoria

Figure 7.1 Eastern part of Lake Victoria.

In communications between technical departments and the administration, land remained central to the colonial land-use politics from the 1920s. Large pieces of land were alienated from African peasants, as mentioned before. The remaining land consisted of fragmented pieces, which the colo- nial administration consolidated by moving African peasants and pastoralists into African reserves.8 The most contentious issue was the alienation of tribal land by the state, for European settler agricultural production, which is referred to in the archives as ‘the Kimulot land case’ (hereafter referred to as Kimalot).

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