Kenya: How Elites Abused British Funds to Settle Landless

21 February 2021

On February 3, 1975, following concerns over farms purchased using British aid money finding their way into the private possession of prominent Kenyans, UK's Ministry of Overseas Development in a letter signed by Mr Martin Lynch, instructed the High Commissioner in Nairobi Sir Anthony Duff: " We would be grateful if you would keep an eye on this. As the Land Transfer Programme for settlement is entirely funded by grant now, we are bound to take a serious view of this development."

Almost simultaneous with the letter was a secret visit by the then Vice President Daniel arap Moi to the residence of the British High Commissioner, according to a trove of documents uncovered by the Sunday Nation in London indicating how a fund to settle the landless was abused.

According to a record of the meeting marked "restricted" and referenced "15", Moi warned Sir Duff that many senior government officials were irregularly acquiring land meant for the landless.

To prove his point, Moi mentioned a group of people who had taken over part of the Barclay farm in Menengai, after chasing out squatters.

The influential individuals in question had used Mangu Farming Cooperative Society, which according to the Kenyan Gazette of September 13 1974 had been deregistered in 1972.

Moi's advice to the High Commissioner was that the British government should temporarily stop allocating money to the Department of Settlement headed by James Njenga, which had become the citadel of corruption and land grabbing.

Sold land

In some instances, the department sold land at a throw-away price to well-connected individuals, then in seeking reimbursement from the British government, exaggerated the amount it had used to purchase the land. This is evident from the excerpts of the annual audited statement for 1972/73.

According to the document, the Department claimed to have used £2,129,834 to purchase land, an amount it subsequently received from the British government after requesting for reimbursement. However, a scrutiny of the books by the Auditor General DJ Njoroge revealed that it had spent £1,762,854.

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This resulted in the Auditor-General refusing to certify the statements, since they did not "represent the true state of affairs". On July 2, Mr R. Goldley , First Secretary Land Transfers at the British High Commission wrote to the Treasury asking for an explanation on the discrepancy but the Kenyans never responded.

One British official would later write to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on October 1, 1975 ,

"It seems that the Kenyan Treasury is at a loss to know how to answer our request."

In a subsequent letter, the High Commissioner wrote: "We have in a recent letter to the Treasury made it clear that we are holding payment until the 1972-73 queries are settled."

As a result of the concerns raised by Moi , discrepancy in annual Audited Statement and instructions from London , the British informed Kenyan officials that they would only pay claims by the Department of Settlement after they got proof that the landless had been settled on the farms or were in the process of being settled.

Njenga's reaction to this was to impose restrictions on British valuers seconded to the Ministry of Land and Settlement by banning them from visiting farms unless they were in the company of African valuers. This did not go down well with British officials, who sensed corruption.

Mr R. Godley, who was monitoring the Land Transfer Programme for the British government wrote, "I feel very strongly that, without UK valuers who can warn us of these irregularities (and this is obvious why Njenga is clipping their wings at the moment), it will simply not be possible for us to guarantee to Her Majesty's Government (British government) that there is no misuse of Land Transfer Funds. Indeed , I think we shall have to tell DOM that without these men dotted around , there will most definitely be misuse of our funds and we shall really be in no position to stop or detect it."

Imposing restrictions

In addition to imposing restrictions on British valuers , another way the Kenyan officials used to hoodwink the British was to plant Africans masquerading as the landless on farms then withdrawing them.

"I have in fact , been on two large farms during last week. Although I was shown 'settlers' on each farm, they could just as easily have been the normal farm labour," wrote Goldley.

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A case in hand was that of a 1,024 acre farm in Kitale , purchased by the Department of Settlement from Richard Evans. Even though the Department went on to settle 100 families on the farm, in just one week all of them were ordered out and the farm taken over by Ngatia Mucemi who had succeeded Njenga as the Director of Settlement.

'Willing buyer, willing seller'

While the assumption of 'willing buyer, willing seller' has often been propagated by the elite to justify their irregular acquisition of huge tracts of land, the documents point otherwise. Many white farmers were forced to sell their land, and in some cases prominent individuals personally appeared on the farms.

A good example was a 1998 acre ranch (LR Number 9494 & 9746) at Molo owned by Kean Hammerson. Despite Hemmerson writing to the Department of Settlement stating that he had no intent of selling the farm, Njenga insisted on sending valuers since Jomo Kenyatta's niece Beth Mugo was interested in it, according to the documents uncovered by the Sunday Nation. .

A document referenced CAP 16/C/KEA/D, on November 25, 1975, Mugo and the Minister for Lands and Settlement Jackson Angaine suddenly appeared on Hemmerson's farm and demanded to inspect it. After being shown around by Hemmerson himself, Beth Mugo made it quite clear that she would be having the farm after the Department of Settlement had purchased it.

Hemmerson stood his ground telling them that he was not ready to deal personally with them, and that any further dealing about the farm must go through his lawyer. At this moment Mugo allegedly blew up, and became agitated. According to Hemmerson, " Angaine was exceedingly nervous at this show of temper from Mrs Mugo and worked very hard cooling the situation."

In another case , Angaine in his efforts to acquire a farm operated by A.J Kerr of P.O Box 513 Kitale, wrote to Kerr on December 24, 1975, stating: " I asked my Director of Settlement to write a letter of intent to you so that you may be paid your money in UK. And then SFT (Settlement Fund Trustees) would transfer the Farm to me which would make no difference to me. You are an old man whom I respect very much and I could not think whether such a gentleman as you would twist me like that. I am coming to see you on 6th January 1976 at 10 am for further discussion. "

However it appeared this farm LR No 8994, located in the bustling farming town of Kitale, had attracted a lot of interest, with prominent people conniving against each other to acquire it.

Read: County eyes 990-acre farm to settle landless

In August 1976, seven months after Angaine, John Kerr was summoned at the DC's office where he was shocked to find Peter Kenyatta waiting for him. The DC then ordered him that he "must" sell his farm to Peter Kenyatta. Kerr replied that he had decided to sell his land through the Department of Settlement, and therefore the matter was out of his hands.

The following day, August 11, 1976, according to document referenced LT 16/C KER/JOH, Kerr was approached by President Kenyatta's brother James Muigai who was also eyeing the same land. But Kerr still maintained his stand of selling the land through the department of settlement.

Apparently, he was being advised by R. Goldley, First Secretary Land Transfers at the British High Commission who wrote, " I advised Mr Kerr to continue the line that he would only sell to Settlement and not to waiver in any way from this."

This farm eventually went to Mzee Kenyatta's nephew and Minister for Defence Njoroge Mungai, despite being sold through settlement. According to Kerr's account, a few days before he handed over the farm to the Department of Settlement, Dr Mungai personally appeared on the farm, and demanded to know when he would clear everything from the stores.

An outsmarted Angaine would later acquire the Ngusishi ranch, formerly owned by Richard Carles, after storming it with a group of people. Carles complained that even though the valuation had not included farm machinery, Angaine was keen to take them away.

Another document marked "restricted" and dated May 27, 1976, features a complaint by a Mr Savani who owned farms on Ruaraka/Gatundu Road.

He complained of being given an ultimatum by Mama Ngina Kenyatta, the First Lady, to sell to her one of his coffee farms immediately. The coffee farm in question was 140 acres large and located "on either side of the Ruaraka/Gatundu Road".

According to Savani , he was first approached by Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, who knew him well since he would often stop by his shop. According to the documents, President Kenyatta said that he was interested in the land, and that he was willing to buy it when Savani was ready to sell. But shortly afterwards, according to Savani quoted in the documents, Mama Ngina approached him and told him that he wanted the farm immediately , and that he should accept Sh2 million.

Savani had no other option but to part with the farm. His only concern was that he was not given enough time to harvest his coffee. While he had expected to be paid all the money at once, Mama Ngina told him that it will be paid "pole pole" (in instalments)

Confidential

It was a similar case for Ari Grammaticas of Governors camp, who according to one document referenced LT 16/26 and marked "confidential" had 500 acres of his coffee plantation taken over by Mama Ngina.

While the farm was said to be worth Sh1 million, Mama Ngina only paid sh200,000, to Grammaticas who subsequently fled to Switzerland and sought the legal services of Sir Dingle Foot in London.

"I am told Mama Ngina's agents have offered more money to Grammaticas since Dingle Foot's name was brought in the case, " wrote R. Godley on January 3, 1977.

Around the same time, a complaint was made by Finn Ross, formerly of Kishobo Ranch in Njoro, who had been forced to sell his land to the Department of Settlement.

According to him despite the ranch being purchased through settlement, it "was now to go to Ngengi Muigai (President Kenyatta's nephew)". This was subsequently confirmed by R. Goldley who wrote: "During the afternoon of the 28th , I was with McKelvie, the senior accountant in the Department of Settlement , and he confirmed that it was his understanding that this was to be the case."

Land grabbing spree did not stop there. One month later, In April 1977, Dermott Kydd, a valuer seconded by the British to Kenya was sent to Rift Valley on a valuation tour of three farms-- Hatfield, Mott and Fenwick-- that were to be purchased through the department of settlement.

However, according to a document titled "corruption" and dated April 4, 1977 , of the three farms, only the Fenwick's located outside Eldoret, was properly handed over to a group of around 300 families. Mott's farm, which was in two plots of 700 and 330 acres, was valued and the smaller of the two plots handed to Mr Joash Adamba Deputy Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Lands, while the Hatfield farm was destined for Michael Njoroge Kenyatta , President Kenyatta's grandson, a further snapshot from tehj documents on how the system was abused by well-connected individuals.

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