Case 3: Bush clearing projects, settlements and land conflict, 1938–1954

The participation of African peasants in settlement schemes and maintaining reclaimed areas was part of an elaborate policy framework. Conditions for their participation were prescribed by the official ordinances that laid down the rules on how the society should respond to the development schemes. For example, the Nyanza district authorities from the second case study presented a notice on the Native Lands Trust Ordinance of 1938, stating in part that:

[n]o person shall, except with the permission of the headman, advice of a District Officer or Agricultural Officer [should] cultivate the land or pasture any livestock, or burn, cut down, or destroy in any manner whatsoever any tree, bush or other vegetation within a strip of such width as the headman may direct along any river, stream or lake shore.

This forbidding ordinance prohibited the communities from doing any- thing of their own accord, in contrast to the tsetse control programs, for which they were required to clear vegetation. We examine the reports more critically to elucidate the purpose of bush clearing projects, which included controlling the actions of local Africans.65

Bush clearing projects usually took longer than expected. In the North- ern Nyanza and Kericho districts, the officials expected that mechanical bush clearing would be more efficacious and cheaper than hand clearing methods,64 although heavy and continuous labor investment was still required. In his letter to the member of the Agriculture and Natural Resources, the District Commissioner of Kericho insisted that without bringing the Nandi and the Kipsigis into the picture, no success could be expected.6'’ Nonetheless, developing agricultural schemes, combined with tsetse control programs, proved to be too costly—since all the labor used (except prison labor) had to be hired. In the opinion of the District Commissioner of Kisii, this was a poor policy, as it failed to oblige the African communities to become engaged. He stated:

It is bad for the morale of the Africans at their present stage of development, to restrict their contribution to one of money only____ If they

want their country to be cleared of Qlossina ... they should be prepared to turn up and help to clear it by the sweat of their brows.66

There was, however, a different opinion about communal labor. The view of the Kavirondo District (Nyanza) Commissioner was that communal labor by itself was not as effective as skilled labor in maintaining the rehabilitated areas and keeping them free of tsetse flies. In his understanding, communal labor should be used only for unskilled labor services, such as maintaining land that had already been cleared. By comparison, skilled labor could establish patterns of clearings that would minimize the risk of re-infestation,6, considering that the flies could be carried to cleared areas by wild game and the wind, thus re-infesting them.68

In the southern Kavirondo District (Nyanza) along the shores of Lake Victoria, different views were held by the Department of African Affairs responsible for settlement schemes and the provincial administration as to how development should be approached. According to the Department of

African Affairs, there needed to be agreement between the people and the government. In this official’s view, local people would participate only if there was a definitive plan for their resettlement. The official concluded: ‘I need hardly say that if agreement can be reached it will help you and us enormously].... If it is forced there will be endless trouble.’ The administrator in particular believed local investigations would assist in drawing up the settlement plans. The settlement officer on the other hand further warned: ‘You do not need the development officer ... to formulate the scheme’69—this comment shows that the disagreements were not about the substance of the proposed schemes, but rather about the roles played by different officers. Another controversy was to do with the application of the native land ordinances, already mentioned.

Native land ordinances

According to the native land ordinances, the District Commissioner would expunge the names of people who had contravened the ordinance rules from the records of the registered members. Such persons would be required to remove their families and stock from the bush clearing scheme. The Provincial Commissioner of Nyanza, who had oversight responsibility for the bush clearing program, had wondered ‘how the proposed rules could operate in a portion of land communally owned.’ His reasoning was that it would be impossible to regulate livestock grazing outside the bush clearing scheme. His views are quite revealing:

The only reason it seems to me these rules have been proposed is that it has taken someone some effort to clear, and cost someone money.... I should not like to confirm the suspicion now common in the minds of the less sophisticated Africans that cooperation with the government in getting something done means handing it to the government. If these rules were enforced against the wishes of the indigenous people, their suspicion would be that much established.... The only trouble is that these rules which I consider superfluous are overdoing the thing.70

It was perhaps for this reason that the Native Commissioner suggested a correction to the ordinance by inserting a clause which stated: ‘The District Commissioner shall specify the number of stock which each registered person may keep on his land, and which shall be endorsed on his occupation permit.’'1 Where the local administrative authorities found technical advice difficult to implement, the guiding decision was to avoid any wasteful use of public funds.'2 One controversial idea that emerged was zoning of the riverine vegetation, which required different projects for different zones. Due to multiple land-use practices by the communities, it was therefore impossible to set aside some parts of the riverside for grazing and others for crop cultivation. If allowed, such zoning of the riverine areas would discourage the local communities from managing bush regeneration.

In the settlement schemes, individual farmers’ responsibilities for main- tenance of bush regeneration were unsuccessful, as the work exceeded the available labor. Furthermore, subdivision of the land made it impossible to claim rights of occupancy by the members of the clan that owned the area.'5 In other cases where land occupation by a different clan appeared to benefit land rehabilitation—which the officials supported—these claims became contentious and triggered land conflict.

The Kipsigis-Maasai land conflict

The densely populated Chepalungu highland was inhabited by the Kipsigis and the Trans-Mara area was grazed by livestock of the Maasai (Figure 7.1). In the forestlands of Chepalungu, considerable forest cover had been cleared by burning and the area had been settled under instructions of the agricultural department. Contrary to the Kipsigis’ efforts, an estimated 966 km' of the Trans-Mara had been lost to the flies. Since the area of Chepalungu and the Trans-Mara were adjacent, the government officials allowed the Kipsigis to cross over the administrative boundaries to cultivate crops in Trans Mara.'4 From a political perspective, however, it had not been advisable to allow the Kipsigis to cross over into the territories of the Maasai. Consequently, the government had to manage a delicate balance, assuring the Maasai that the arrangement was temporary. Yet, this created a historical land-use conflict between the two communities, as it was not possible to remove the Kipsigis after they had settled in what used to be the ancestral land of the Maasai.'1

In a short while, the Kipsigis farming community used burning and bush clearing, and the results of their work in halting the expansion of the tsetse and reclaiming vast areas of the bush lands impressed the administration.'6 Thus, the department encouraged the Kipsigis to take up residence in the areas from which the bush had been cleared. In addition, the Kipsigis were allowed to expand their cultivated areas by clearing more bushland on condition that ‘they do not build huts or live on their land,’ which made it impractical for them." This was what was meant by the colonial officials giving with one hand and taking it with another. In Chapter 8, we will show that bush clearing alone did not completely succeed in controlling the spread of tsetse flies.

 
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