Kenya (Land)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 30th March 1961.

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Photo of Mr Philip Goodhart Mr Philip Goodhart , Beckenham 12:00 am, 30th March 1961

At the beginning of this short Adjournment debate, I should like to make it clear that I have no property in Kenya and that, however rosy a picture my hon. Friend paints in winding up this debate, I have no intention of investing in that country, nor have I any close relatives there. However, I have friends of all three races in Kenya. This afternoon I wish to concentrate my remarks on the future of the British farming community in that area.

Exactly one year ago I was in Kenya on a trip that took me briefly to the Belgian Congo and also to all the British territories that bordered on the then Belgian Congo. I was deeply interested in the possible future of that country, and I discussed this problem with knowledgeable men wherever I went. Soon after my return I stated in public, as I have often done in private, that tens of thousands of Africans would die before the end of 1960 as a result of political upheaval in the Congo.

It is interesting to note that the Belgian Embassy sent an official letter to the Conservative Central Office when I made this statement, saying it was regrettable that I did not know what I was talking about. I do not mention this incident to try to prove that I was right and to show that the Belgian officials were tragically wrong. I do it to make plain that I do not speak lightly or frivolously when I say that Kenya contains all the ingredients of another and even bloodier Congo. The principal ingredients would remain in Kenya even if the entire British community there were spirited away overnight.

What are these ingredients? First, there is the strong feeling of tribalism—of tribal separatism. The flame of tribalism seems to flicker and splutter at times. I welcome the fact that at the last election Mr. Mboya, standing in Nairobi, was elected, although he is a Luo, by an overwhelmingly Kikuyu electorate. But the separatist influence is strong, and any British statesman who ignores the patchwork problems of tribalism will, if I may paraphrase a current expression, be too stupid by half.

Then there is the shortage of trained Africans in responsible positions. We can look with pride at the training given to Africans in responsible positions in West Africa. The position of Kenya is not comparable to that of West Africa, but bears a closer resemblance to the position in the Belgian Congo just before independence and chaos.

It is true that there is an equal short age of trained Africans for responsible positions in Tanganyika at the moment, but the outlook is infinitely better there than in Kenya. In Kenya, unlike Tanganyika, we have a generation of political leaders who believe that extreme and inflammatory statements are the key to success. I have no hesitation in saying that the British farming community in Kenya lives at the moment in a cauldron that is bubbling and could soon boil over.

We must, therefore, consider our obligations to that community. Here we must take note of the fact that I am talking about farmers. In Kenya a merchant who sells cars, whisky, tractors or tooth brushes, has much of his capital tied up in goods which, if the worst came to the worst, could be transported elsewhere. The lawyer, the doctor and the teacher provide services which are of value to all communities, and if they wish to move they can take their expertise and knowledge with them. The civil servants have their pension and compensation scheme. But the British farmer has his capital invested in property which cannot be moved and which is a bone of bitter political contention.

The Colonial Office is fond of repeating the doctrine laid down in the recent Royal Commission which considered the problem of land in East Africa—that all land in that area must be treated as an economic asset. The fact is that in Kenya, as elsewhere, economic doctrine plays second fiddle to political doctrine. Any British statesman who does not recognise the fact that many Africans covet the land now owned by British farmers is, once again, too stupid by half.

What is our obligation to the British farming community in Kenya? First, through ex-Service resettlement schemes and Government sponsored farm development programmes, a sizeable proportion of the community was directly encouraged to go to Kenya. Secondly, we have had various statements by responsible British Ministers declaring that we would create a society in which the community could maintain its existence. We need go no further back than the 22nd April, 1959, when Viscount Boyd, who was then Secretary of State for the Colonies, replied to another Adjournment debate. Discussing the conditions in which we should eventually be able to hand over Kenya to full independence with a good conscience, he said: What are those conditions? First, there must be in the territory as a whole a sufficient understanding of parliamentary institutions, and sufficient sense of responsibility in public affairs, to hold out a reasonable prospect that parliamentary institutions, representative of the people, will produce responsible government and not chaos or dictatorship. Self-government, I think we would all agree, is but a mockery if it is purchased at the expense of personal freedom.Secondly, there must have been established a sufficient measure of understanding and co-operation between the various communities who have made their homes in Kenya to ensure mutual tolerance and acceptance by all of the right of each to remain in Kenya and continue to play a part in the public as well as the economic life of the country.Thirdly—and this is closely linked with both the first and the second—there must be a reasonable prospect that any Government to which Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom surrender their responsibilities will be able to ensure for the people of Kenya a fair standard of living in an expanding economy. This they will only be able to do if they can maintain the confidence of investors in a country which, not having great mineral resources, is particularly dependant on the continued introduction of capital and skill. Without that capital and skill they cannot hope for a secure economic future or for the maintenance of the standards of living to which its people of all races have attained, let alone that improvement of the standards of the great majority that we all want to bring about.Fourthly, a competent and experienced Civil Service is an essential part of political institutions if these are to function successfully for the benefit of the people as a whole."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd April, 1959; Vol. 604, c. 564–5.] I have quoted the former Colonial Secretary at length because it seems to me that the pledge—and I take it to be a pledge—given on that occasion, not quite two years ago, is of fundamental importance. Her Majesty's Government have played their part, as far as the fourth proviso is concerned, with the introduction of the overseas service scheme. But let us look for a moment at the other provisos.

On 22nd April, 1959, the economic development of Kenya was going forward swiftly. At the same time, Mr. Michael Blundell had recently formed his multi-racial New Kenya Party, and there were genuine hopes that a new spirit of liberalism could be nurtured. There seemed, despite the clouds, a real prospect that multi-racialism could flourish.

Since then, the situation has deteriorated. The present jousting over the creation of a Kenya Government does not give us much confidence that the firm roots of Parliamentary democracy have been laid. The continued fever of the Kenyatter cult does not augur well for the future of the rule of law. Since April, 1959, the speeches of African nationalist leaders have seemed to grow more and not less extreme. Even the most moderate speeches made by the leaders of the Kenya-Africa National Union, the largest party in Kenyan politics, suggest that at best the British community will only temporarily be tolerated as bystanders. Is that what the then Colonial Secretary had in mind in his speech on 22nd April, 1959?

Of course the deterioration in the political situation has led to an equally rapid deterioration in the economic scene. Let us hope that the worst is over. No doubt the British and Asian communities have already transferred their liquid assets out of the country, so that the flow of capital outwards must have already declined to a trickle. Indeed, I am told that the importation of artificial fertilisers into Kenya is now going on at a very high level. That is welcome news, but I hope that my hon. Friend will not make too much of it, or he will become the butt of some fairly crude jokes in Kenya.

I want now to quote from a letter which I have received from a Kenya politician of British stock who was recently elected to the Legislative Council with a large majority—one might almost call it an overwhelming majority—made up for the most part of African votes. He is by no means a supporter of Sir Ferdinand Cavendish Bentinck's party, and he writes as follows: In my canvassing amongst my African constituents, I really have been appalled at the emotionalism, racialism, and almost atavistic outlook of many of them. The whole theory of H.M.G.'s transfer of responsibility in Kenya is that she will be able to create the right conditions. This may take much longer than is possible in modern conditions. If H.M.G. holds up the advance of the country because the settler is here, we shall incur the enmity and bitterness of the African. If, on the other hand, H.M.G. allows the advance to go forward before the right conditions as between race and race have been created, she may well jettison the settler for whom she is responsible. There are three alternatives before Her Majesty's Government at the moment. The first is that we can hand over power before the conditions outlined on 22nd April, 1959, have become a reality. We can then say to the British farmers in Kenya, "We are sorry, but we have put up some money for land development and tried to get some capital from the International Bank as well. If you were not quick enough to get your hands on some of this cash while it was going round, that is just too bad. Goodbye and good luck." That would be cheap. It would also be dishonourable, and I would find it difficult to support such a policy and I do not believe that it would be supported by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary or my right hon. Friend the Colonial Secretary.

The second alternative is to retain executive power in Kenya until the conditions laid down on 22nd April, 1959, are genuinely fulfilled. That means that in all probability we would have to retain power until a new generation of moderate leaders arose. In fact we might have to retain power indefinitely, and it is not my intention to argue this afternoon whether we should or should not follow that course. Rightly or wrongly, I am convinced that Her Majesty's Government will not stay in Kenya until it is possible to tell whether the conditions of the 1959 statement have been genuinely fulfilled.

Then there is a third alternative. We can say clearly and fairly at this moment that we guarantee that the British farming community will not suffer ruin if the worst comes to the worst. As the Economist said on 4th March when discussing the Colonial Secretary's efforts to support the British farming community: But he has not gone far enough: the debt of honour, in case Kenya sunders or collapses, should be acknowledged straightforwardly now. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to acknowledge that debt of honour now. It should not be all that difficult, because I understand that some representatives of the Kenya National Farmers' Union in fact believe that they have already had such a pledge from the Colonial Secretary.

How should we honour this pledge? There are two basic points which must be borne in mind. First, while we have an obligation to protect these farmers from ruin, we do not have an obligation to protect them from all loss. After all, many of my constituents who bought War Loan with the encouragement of the Government have suffered losses which they can ill afford. If all those who suffer loss because of taking the Government's advice are to be protected, I suggest that my constituents who bought War Loan have an even more direct claim than the British farming community in Kenya.

Secondly, we must not devise a scheme which will encourage British farmers to leave prematurely. The economy of Kenya is to a large extent dependent on the continued presence of the British farming community, and a rush to the coast would precipitate a major economic crisis and a breakdown of such social services as exists and endanger the entire educational programme.

At the same time, it would be wrong to encourage the whole British farming community to stay. I know many tough young men who should be able to survive whatever happens. They know the African. They have worked with him throughout their lives. Even if law and order were to break down, they should be able to command a high price as guerilla leaders.

At the other end of the scale however, there is a group—perhaps 15 per cent. or 20 per cent, or a little more—of the British farming community which cannot adapt itself to the increasing Africanisation of Kenya life. There is no point in giving these people lectures about the virtues of multi-racialism. They cannot adapt themselves to this change, and if they feel that they are compelled to stay in a Kenya which they have come to fear and to detest they will inevitably add further poison to the atmosphere.

Can those people leave at the present moment? It would be wrong to suggest that there is no market for land in Kenya at the moment. I have recently seen details of about 50 farms or sizeable blocks of farmland which have recently changed hands, or are about to change hands. A considerable number of these could be described as internal transactions of the Settlement Board. Some of the other farms seem to have been sold at reasonable prices, though it is interesting to note that the maximum price offered per acre gross in these 50 transactions only just comes above the £14·35 per acre, which my hon. Friend said yesterday was the average price paid when the Government were taking over land in Kenya in the last month or two for their development programme, but some of the land has been changing hands for as little as 30s. an acre.

While some farms have changed hands at substantial sums, one farm of which I know near Mweiga fetched less than one-third of the walk-in walk-out price paid in 1951. At the moment there are about six farmers in Kenya who are making every effort to secure as much land as they can. Good luck to them. But I suggest that their presence does not make the Kenya land market sufficiently strong to cope with those who wish to leave.

How much would the guarantee cost? In a leading article on 4th March the Economist, talking about the guarantee, said: In cash terms, this could mean something around the price of the Blue Streak rocket spent on rescuing 5,000 farmers from the White Highlands. That figure is a rather high estimate. The Colonial Office has arguments against promising this. One is its fear of setting a precedent in other territories. But Kenya is the only really sizeable settled white farming community in East and central Africa. Tanganyika is well set; there are very few people in a comparable situation in Nyasaland; in Northern Rhodesia the whites are mostly in mining; and Southern Rhodesia has long made its own decisions … if there is real belief in the future of a non-racial Kenya—and there is reason for such belief—then there would be no harm in giving a qualified option to sell out to the British Government between, say, 1963 and 1968. The farmers would then be able to stay and see how the new Kenya treated them, and still have a security at their back. It could then be hoped that the debt would not have to be paid. The Economist seems to suggest giving farmers a 100 per cent. valuation on their farms. I would not go so far as that, and the cost would therefore be considerably less. To my mind what is needed is an avowedly unattractive long-term compensation scheme, backed from Britain by the British Government.

I do not ask the Under-Secretary to commit himself to any scheme this afternoon. I have made my own proposals, which the Colonial Secretary has been good enough to discuss with me, not unsympathetically. I will not go into great detail about them, but briefly my proposals are, first, that the farms in the so-called White Highlands should be objectively valued as quickly as possible. This is possible under schemes developed by the Government and by the National Farmers' Union on a basis of past yields of the farm. I suggest that, as a start, we should offer to purchase the farms offered for sale at 60 per cent. of their valuation. The offer would be guaranteed to stay open for ten years, and in the course of that period we would pay a rising percentage on the valuation, and adjust the valuation from time to time.

The scheme would be provided by a small British Government corporation, which would be responsible for providing managers for the farms that were taken over. Alternatively, or in addition, the land that had been taken over could be leased out to its former owners or to neighbouring farmers. In the long term this land would be re-sold to the continuation of the present development scheme for handing over to African yeomen farmers. Indeed, the greater the efforts put behind the present developments, projects and programmes, the more practical my proposals would become.

I do not intend to go into any detail of the scheme this afternoon because I do not want my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State to feel himself called upon to prove in detail that my scheme is impracticable. It would be embarrassing for the Government when they have to implement some kind of scheme such as I have suggested.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State on the birth of another child. When it comes to the size of family, he is catching up with me very fast. When it comes to views about the granting of public guarantees to the British farming community in Kenya, I hope that he will also catch up with me fast and will go a long way to meet the suggestions which I have made this afternoon, because one thing to my mind is certain—that neither the British Commonwealth nor the Africans can afford to see in Kenya the sort of chaos which broke out in the Congo.