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Olenguruone Scheme

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The Olenguruone Scheme was an incident in colonial Kenya in which a group of Kikuyu farmers clashed with the British-controlled colonial government.

History

A pre-cursor to the Mau Mau Rebellion, the Olenguruone affair played a "pivotal role as a rallying point for Kikuyu unity" against the colonial regime.[1]

In 1941, a group of Kikuyu were given land in Olenguruone, near Nakuru. The colonial government placed stringent and detailed rules on farming and conservation practices, including forbidding the Kikuyu to grow their staple, maize.[2]

Also at issue were the government's rules of land sale and inheritance. "In many ways the scheme demanded a complete reorganisation of the people's agricultural practices and social set up. Having abrograted the Kikuyu system of land ownership in Central Province, the administration then imposed a completely new system for inheriting the allocated plots in Olenguruone, which was wholly at variance with common Kikuyu practice."[3] The land could only be inherited by the eldest son of the wife on a plot, not sudivided among the sons of a homestead according to Kiuyu custom. Also, the land could not be sold, rented, mortgaged, "or disposed of in any way."[4]

Part of the government's mistake was to allocate land without consideration of family size and without any allowance for polygamy. A man with one wife received the same amount of land as a man with several wives. The Kikuyu settlers were also upset about the stringent regulations governing their farming practices.

"Toward the end of the conflict, the issue at hand had changed into that of the very legitimacy of the government's appropriation of land in the country."[5] Some of the settlers in Olenguruone had previously owned land but had moved to the Rift Valley as squatters and left their land to family members. For those who tried to return to their previous land, it was difficult for them to reclaim it. The government felt they should appreciate the scheme to give them land in Olenguruone and "failed to recognise the residents' concern for a more permanent solution to the problem of landlessness and their inherent vulnerability under a very unsatisfactory government-sponsored scheme. the government failed to appreciate that the cumulative effect of squatter subjection produced people who no longer fell for piecemeal offers and who detested government schemes that reduced them to tenants-at-will of the state."[6]

"The Olenguruone affair had a central role in nationalist politics and the development of the Mau Mau movement. Psychologically, the Olenguruone settlers won because they resisted the colonial government to the end. While they lost materially, they made a statement to the colonial state that the Gikuyu [Kikuyu] had not lost sight of their rights to land. This inspired the Gikuyu squatters on white settlers’ farms, the peasants in Central Kenya and the politicians in Nairobi, and showed them how to create solidarity."[7]

In the latter half of 1946, the Olenguruone residents organized "a massive meeting" in Naivasha, attended by "several hundred squatter representatives sympathetic to the Olenguruone cause." They "adopted Olenguruone as the squatters' rallying cry against settler oppression and imbused them with renewed determination to defy 'the slavery of the White Highlands'."[8]

On March 22, 1947, the Provincial Comissioner gave Olenguruone residents two weeks notice to either comply with the settlement's rules or leave. The government confiscated livestock of four leaders who refused to comply with the rules, but took no other action at that time.[9] Finally on February 20, 1949, the Court of Appeal for Eastern Africa ruled against the Olenguruone Kikuyu.

"Thus armed the government then undertook to evict all residents without settlement permits. Their huts and crops were to be destroyed and their livestock confiscated. Action was delayed until the end of September and then, within a week between 28 September and 3 October 1949, everyone in defiance of the law, which comprised the majority of Olenguruone residents, were to have their huts burnt, their livestock seized and their maize crops cut down. But despite this ravaging attack, a recalcitrant 2,2000 residents remained behind, hiding in holes in the ground."[10]

In 1950, most of the 11,000 in Olenguruone returned to the districts where they (or parents or grandparents) had left several decades before. However, there was no land in the crowded reserves and many ended up in shanties and shacks in towns like Limuru or in Nairobi.[11] Those in Olenguruone who continued to refuse to comply with government laws were forcibly evicted to a dry and inhospitable area called Yatta in Kamba territory.[12]

Olenguruone Oath of Unity

Beginning in 1944, the Olenguruone squatters took an oath of unity based on the old KCA membership oath. "By 1946 this traditional Kikuyu oath, usually taken only by male elders, had been widened at Olenguruone to include younger men, women, and even children. Eventually, some of those at Olenguruone went a step further, and took a more militant oath." The oath "quickly spread through the farms of the Rift Valley between 1946 and 1948, as other squatters facing eviction sought to build solidarity. Then, as evictions from Olenguruone began, the oath reached the Kikuyu of Nairobi and central Kenya. Here it was taken up and promoted by the leaders of the urban militants, a group who would later become known as the Muhimu (literally, 'important') and, later still, would form Mau Mau's cnetral organizing committee."[13]

Resources and articles

Related Sourcewatch articles

References

  1. Tabitha M. Kanogo, Squatters and the Roots of Mau Mau, 1905-63, p. 119.
  2. Tabitha M. Kanogo, Squatters and the Roots of Mau Mau, 1905-63, p. 111-112.
  3. Tabitha M. Kanogo, Squatters and the Roots of Mau Mau, 1905-63, p. 112.
  4. Tabitha M. Kanogo, Squatters and the Roots of Mau Mau, 1905-63, p. 113.
  5. Tabitha M. Kanogo, Squatters and the Roots of Mau Mau, 1905-63, p. 113.
  6. Tabitha M. Kanogo, Squatters and the Roots of Mau Mau, 1905-63, p. 114.
  7. Gatimu Maina, "Paths of the Mau Mau Revolution: Victory and Glory Usurped."
  8. Tabitha M. Kanogo, Squatters and the Roots of Mau Mau, 1905-63, p. 117.
  9. Tabitha M. Kanogo, Squatters and the Roots of Mau Mau, 1905-63, p. 117.
  10. Tabitha M. Kanogo, Squatters and the Roots of Mau Mau, 1905-63, p. 118.
  11. David Anderson, Histories Of The Hanged: The Dirty War In Kenya And The End Of Empire, p. 27.
  12. Tabitha M. Kanogo, Squatters and the Roots of Mau Mau, 1905-63, p. 119.
  13. David Anderson, Histories Of The Hanged: The Dirty War In Kenya And The End Of Empire, p. 27.

External Resources

Books

  • An Economic History of Kenya, William Robert Ochieng' and Robert M. Maxon, eds, East African Publishers, 1992.
  • S.M. Shamsul Alam, Rethinking the Mau Mau in Colonial Kenya.
  • Frederick Cooper, Africa Since 1940: The Past of the Present.
  • Caroline Elkins, Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain's Gulag in Kenya, Owl Books, 2005.
  • Tabitha Kanogo, Squatters and the Roots of Mau Mau, 1905–1963, Ohio University Press, 1987.
  • David Maughan-Brown, Land, Freedom and Fiction: History and Ideology in Kenya, Third World Books.
  • E. S. Atieno Odhiambo, John Lonsdale, Mau Mau & Nationhood: Arms, Authority & Narration, Ohio State University Press, 2003.
  • Josiah Mwangi Kariuki, Mau Mau" Detainee: Account by a Kenya African of His Experiences in Detention Camps, 1953-60.

External Articles