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Jomo’s Hand in Fierce Battle for Sukari Land

By TelegraphKenyanews | self meida writer
Published 14 days ago - 4 views

Influential individuals in the Jomo Kenyatta regime irregularly benefitted from a British-funded scheme to settle landless Africans after independence, archived documents uncovered by the Sunday Nation in London reveal.

Before 1970, the funds used for land transfer were loans from the British government. During this period, the British also contributed to the expenses of the actual settlement operation and were actively involved with those in the field, ensuring that farms purchased for settlement were not irregularly acquired by well-connected individuals. 

In 1970, however, the British decided to provide future land transfer funds on grant terms and took a hands-off approach in the process. This created a leeway for senior government officials and powerful politicians to acquire land irregularly.

Towards the end of 1974, the British High Commissioner began to receive intelligence information about land being sold to influential individuals.

Acting on the information, the envoy contacted Mr Dermott Kydd, a British valuer seconded to the Ministry of Lands and Settlement , to secretly find out what was happening.

Kydd confirmed there was indeed misuse of funds and irregular acquisition of land. For example, he identified three farms acquired through British aid by the Settlement Fund Trustee (STF), but sold at a throw-away price to government officials, instead of being allocated to the landless.

They included 540 acres at Turi (LR 9061) bought by SFT in May 1974 but sold to a Mr Njenga, the Kiambu District Commissioner, one month later. Another red flag was raised about 959 acres at Mau Narok (LR 8661), bought by SFT in May 1974 but sold to Brigadier Matu in July of the same year, 800 acres at Mau Narok (LR 8657) bought by SFT in June 1974 and sold to Peter Kinyanjui and Colonel Apiku.

On November 22, MPV Hannam, the Commercial and Economic Counsellor at the British High Commission in Nairobi confronted James Njenga, the Director of Settlement, and warned him that the selling of land purchased with money given out by Britain for the settlement of the landless was likely to cause trouble for the government of Prime Minister Harold Wilson in London. 

The Labour Party leader had just ascended to power with a narrow victory over the Conservatives after a repeat General Election.

“He admitted that two or three small farms had been sold to coops (cooperatives),” stated Hannam in a confidential record of his meeting with Njenga. “ I pressed him further and he undertook to discuss the matter with his permanent secretary.

“Njenga’s response reflected the growing sense of apathy among public officials in the Jomo Kenyatta administration as they went on a land-grabbing spree.

In fact, on December 17, 1974 — just three weeks after being put to task by Hannam — Njenga, who was reportedly in a nervous state, telephoned Kydd (the valuer seconded to the Lands ministry) and informed him that President Kenyatta wanted a quick valuation of a farm he (President Kenyatta) wanted to sell part of to SFT for the settlement of the landless.

The land in question was Sukari Ranch, described as a 26,000-to-30,000-acre ranch that “extended from Nairobi city boundaries in the general direction of Ruiru, Kahawa and Gatundu”. According to a minute titled “corruption” and signed by Hannam, this land was initially occupied by French Socfin Company.

Since the future development of Nairobi was expected to cover a good deal of the land, a Cabinet paper had been drafted in early 1974 that the ranch should be bought by the government to prevent speculation. the ranch was personally acquired by Mzee Kenyatta. 

This land was engulfed in great controversy — first due to the manner in which Mzee Kenyatta had acquired it. Just three weeks earlier, it had been subject of some pointed remarks from backbenchers, while Kenyatta was in the chamber during the swearing-in of the third Parliament on November 9, 1974. Second, Mzee Kenyatta wanted to dictate its value so that he could make profit out of the settlement fund.

Nevertheless, Kydd refused to give a valuation over the phone as ordered by Njenga, insisting that he had to see the ranch first. At this point, Njenga banged the phone down and hang up.

Kydd immediately left to inform Mr J.A. O’Loughlin, the Commissioner of Lands, about what had transpired. However, as soon as Kydd arrived in O’Loughlin’s office, the Minister for Lands and Settlement Jackson Angaine called O’ Loughlin demanding that he should instruct him (Kydd) to give the valuation of the Sukari ranch immediately for the government to buy it from Mzee Kenyatta. O’Loughlin refused, insisting that valuation could only be done physically.

In the end, it was agreed that Angaine would speak to the president then telephone Kydd. That evening Angaine telephoned as agreed and this time requested Kydd to quote the value he had given the farm in 1972, when it was still under Scofins. Kydd mentioned “£K250,000”, but Angaine refused saying that there was no way he was going to tell the president that his land was only worth that amount, yet he had bought it for “£K400,000 (sic)” from Scofins.

Kydd’s response was that the amount was too high for the ranch arguing that it could only be realistic if Mzee Kenyatta bought it , together with the valuable herd of cattle, Scofin Club premises and coffee factory which were on the ranch.

The following morning, both Kydd and O’Loughlin were ordered to report at State House by 1pm, the documents seen by the Sunday Nation reveal. Panic stricken, Kydd went to see Hannam, the British High Commission’s Commercial and Economic Counsellor, to seek advice. Apart from insisting on physical valuation, Kydd had other reservations about the land.

As minutes of his meeting with Hannam indicate, “Kydd’s guess is that if he is instructed to value the land at its potential development value , or else is instructed to value it as if it were land which could all be used for settlement , then Jomo Kenyatta stands to make about £k1 million (sic).”

Hannam sought to know from Kydd why the president was insisting that the British expert should value the land yet there were so many Kenyan valuers who could easily be coerced into doing the dirty job. Kydd’s response was that because of the controversy surrounding the land, the signature of a European valuer on the valuation would “enable Kenyatta to demonstrate to MPs that he (Kenyatta) was in the clear.”

Expecting Kydd to be deported, Hannam noted, “I asked Kydd to keep in close touch with us. I said that if it came to Kydd being evicted from the country (which seems quite a possibility ) I was sure the High Commissioner would wish to be present at the airport to see him off. Should Sir A. Duff (the High Commissioner) be out of town, then I would take care to go to Embakasi.”

Kydd and O’Loughlin arrived at State House as ordered, and found Mzee Kenyatta in a foul mood. After hurling abuses at them, according to the archived documents, the President sought to know why Kydd had given his farm a low value. According to Kydd’s account, during the intense interview, a visibly agitated Mzee Kenyatta twice ordered them to go outside, and twice summoned them back as punishment.

The president subsequently instructed him (Kydd) to proceed to his ranch and value it immediately. Kydd arrived at the ranch at 2.30pm and found Lands Minister Angaine waiting disconsolately at the gate with his bodyguard. The minister apologised for what had transpired at State House and informed Kydd that the president had instructed him to visit the ranch and confirm whether (Kydd) was indeed there.

Kydd stayed at the ranch until late in the night. His report was typed in the dark. His only worry, as he informed Hannam, was that he was finding it difficult to meet the president’s wishes in the matter of valuation because he wanted the value to be set in a certain way. 

“Angaine had told Kydd, and it had apparently emerged during Kydd’s conversation with the president, that Kenyatta wants a price per acre for the whole 20,000 acres.” 

According to Kydd, Mzee Kenyatta wanted the “price to be arranged to enable him to dispose of 20,000 acres of barren land to settlement (SFT) at £K 400,00 (sic)”

Kydd gave the ranch a valuation of “£312,000”, but amended it to “£588,000” after consulting the chief valuer . 

“When Sir Anthony Duff asked how the Department of Settlement was going to raise money to buy the land the President was offering without raising suspicion of misuse of British aid money, Kydd said that the only option was to put in a supplementary budget which was likely to cause trouble “with the British parliament.”

The reason for this, as Duff noted on January 21, 1975, was that the part Kenyatta was forcing the government (through SFT) to buy was barren and not good for settlement, while the part he wanted to keep for himself was “not only potential development land, but also had the water holes and other agricultural development.” 

Before the dust could settle, Kydd received instruction to be prepared to conduct for Kenyatta a similar operation on another land the president was targeting just next to the Sukari Ranch. The farm in question was called Murera Ranch, occupied by a Swedish national and located, “further out on the Thika road,” according to the documents 

“This is almost a carbon copy of the previous case and I asked Mr Kydd to keep me informed. This he promised to do,” wrote P.W. Chandley, the second secretary at the British High Commission.

Just like the Sukari Ranch, the Ministry of Lands and Settlement had suggested that Murera Ranch should be bought by the government for the future development of Nairobi. But since it was expansive, a decision had to be made by the Cabinet.

On March 6, 1974, about a month after being told to be on standby, Kydd received a phone call from Njenga who asked him to proceed to the ranch on Thika Road and value it immediately. This was despite Kydd writing to Njenga telling him that the ranch could not be valued in a hurry. 

Unlike Sukari Ranch, the Department of Settlement under Njenga was to buy Murera from the Swede through SFT on claims that it was to be used to settle the landless. Thereafter, this was to be given to Mzee Kenyatta, the documents seen by the Sunday Nation indicated.

“Kydd supposes that part of the estate which will be valuable in the urban development terms will thereafter be passed on to the President, ” Sir Anthony wrote on March 10, 1975 after meeting Kydd.

The President was part of a small but influential group that grabbed the best estates from departing white settlers, while most peasants who were supposed to be settled squatted on small pieces of land.

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