So Easy To Be Green After The Rains In Kenya’s Great Rift


It is hard for many of us to imagine living in lands that have rain only in given seasons with little or none in between. In Kenya, in theory at least, the long rains come during March and April, and the short rains between October and December. All depends on the movement of the Indian Ocean monsoon winds, and long before awareness of serious climate change,  Africa’s rainy seasons were known to be fickle.

So: the arrival of timely rains to plant or ripen crops is matter of survival  for most rural households. Only 15% of the country’s land is fertile enough and receives sufficient rain to support agriculture, and most of this is cultivated by smallholder farmers, women for the most part, while their husbands go to the towns to earn cash to buy stuff – medicine, fertilisers, stone to build a house etc.

The second photo was taken just north of Nairobi, from one of the Great Rift view-points looking over the smallholder farming community of Escarpment. The farms here were originally a series of single 12 acre lots, distributed by the British administration around 1951. I’m not sure what prompted this land hand-out to Africans, or how  the beneficiaries were chosen, or if they had to buy the land, although that seems unlikely as Africans were not allowed to own land as individuals. By then the native reserves, the only places where indigenous people could farm, were more than overcrowded. Land shortage, especially within the Kikuyu reserves, meant that the marriageable generation could not marry for lack of farm plots, and this was one of the main drivers of the Land Freedom Uprising of 1952 – aka Mau Mau.

When we visited Escarpment during  Graham’s Napier Grass smut survey, Njonjo, our driver-guide played host, since this was where he had his own farmstead. He told us that his family’s 12 acre plot had been so subdivided (from father to sons according to custom) that he only had a quarter of an acre. He proudly showed it to us anyway, with his good crop of maize, and said it adjoined his brother’s plot.

Of course there comes a point when further subdivision is pointless, and there is not enough ground to support even the smallest family. Nearer the city such communities have turned ancestral farm land into room rental land, and erstwhile family gardens are now part of the city perimeter slum sprawl. It’s how it goes. As I’ve said in an earlier post, the British left their constructs of Crown land, landed gentry land ownership and native reserves well embedded when they so ‘graciously’ handed Kenya back to Kenyans, and made them pay for it too, thus creating a great big debt that was only paid off in recent times.

British feudal notions about land ownership never did fit with the more communally minded African ideas about land usage and proprietorship, although they certainly came to suit the current ruling elite, a family that has hung on to power (one way another) since the British bestowed it upon them in 1963.  Let us hope we manage the exit from Europe with more wisdom. Much as we Brits like to think we went around civilising the world, we also left a lot of skeletons in cupboards when we beat our retreat.

copyright 2017 Tish Farrell

Daily Post Photo Challenge: It is easy being green


22 thoughts on “So Easy To Be Green After The Rains In Kenya’s Great Rift

  1. Although the English did a great many things during colonial times and many great things, too, to be fair, there always seems to be this underlying ”class thing” built upon a foundation of ”Air Hair Lair”, drinking tea, God Save the Queen, and shooting or thrashing bloody uppity natives.

    1. Indeed the English class nonsense dictated so much of the decision-making. In Kenya the administration only wanted settlement by chaps of ‘the officer class’. Those exact words were used in the advertisements. Thought they’d be the best civilising influence because they knew how to discipline the troops, and if the locals got uppity at any point, they knew how to use a gun. Great premise for nation building.

      1. Not all the places we invaded had settlers, in which case occupation was mostly by a smallish colonial administration plus some specialist operators – there to liberate valuable resources e.g. Northern Rhodesia’s copper, or run plantations as in Uganda. More a case of cutting out the Middle Passage of the old slave trade and roping in the locals to work on home territory. This then required a body of tax collectors. Locals were charged hut and poll taxes to force them into the labour market, otherwise they wouldn’t have been prised away from their own endeavours, which they obviously thought more important.

  2. Great post, Tish.
    The power of rains to rejuvenate the fauna is amazing. It only takes a few days.
    I don’t know how we will resolve injustices related to land or rather how we will adjudicate the land problem, if at all.

    1. You are v. kind, Mak, while I rattle away about your country. But then we are all interconnected, and the effects of poor policy designed to suit the few have a horrible habit of ricocheting down the years, and in many directions. And of course Britain and the multinationals still have a vested interest in maintaining the land status quo in Kenya. They are still big landowners relying on cheap labour to produce tea and flowers etc. And then there are the Middle Easter nations moving in on Africa’s fertile watered land to grow food that their own countries cannot produce; pushing locals off their ancestral land. So yes, I agree, sorting out land injustice is not likely to happen. Climate change will only make it worse.

      1. Yes, I did. And you’re right. It won’t get any better. I know deforestation began hundreds of years ago with the expansion of the Bantu farming peoples across Central and East Africa, but their shifting form of agriculture at least allowed cultivated land to regenerate, if not totally recuperate. They were highly successful growers. It was their burgeoning gardens that enticed the 19th century reps of the Imperial British East Africa Company to make a grab for the ‘veritable Garden of Eden’ that they discovered in Kenya’s highlands. But tropical soils are so fragile without their forest cover, and intensive farming – large or small scale is exacting a big toll. The Western Kenya native reserves’ farms were already pretty depleted by the 1940s when the Brits encouraged massive maize growing for the export war effort. Many Kenyan smallholders made short term gains in return for long term impoverishment And that, as you too well know, is a continuing story.

  3. Tish, there is no rain in those months these days. The rain has become increasingly unpredictable. But the sun is abundant. The sun is excessive. The rain is gone.

    1. That’s so sad to hear, Peter. The increasing aridity of the tropical zone is alarming, and of course it could be reversed or at least reduced with government will to do remedial tree planting as Wangari Maathai advocated. And provide cheap cooking fuel alternatives to wood fuel. Though it sounds as if you have more than enough sun to do that. Forest cover attracts rain, but which Kenyan politicians are listening? Any of them?

      1. Our politicians are bereft of solutions. They spend their terms distracting people from the real problems, inciting us against one another, that the other tribe is the problem. And Kenyans believe them! That is the worst of it. Kenyans follow those politicians like God and defend them with aggression and violence.
        There was a time former president Moi said that “rain comes from the sky.” People clapped for him and cheered him up for saying that. Moi and his cronies had grabbed Mau forest for their own appropriation. When criticized that he was destroying a water catchment area, he said the forest has nothing to do with rain.
        In a way, Kenyans, being the voters here, and being intractably reverent of thugs, conmen and bloodless leaders . . . I think Kenyans deserve what’s coming for them. Whether the region dries up completely or they take up arms and murder one another thoughtlessly, it is a fate they have earned. I feel terrible that I’m involved. I could scream all day.

      2. I’m so sorry, Peter. It is truly a heart-breaking situation. I hate it that you feel so badly. It is awful to feel so powerless. Take care.

  4. The British have a lot to answer for and a lot of people really know it. But you know, we live in nations that do and have done some truly awful things. Not once, either. Maybe it’s too much to expect nations to be decent and kind. Maybe the decent and kind nations are the ones that get eaten alive by the others.

    1. It surely seems that way – eaten alive-wise. I’m presently finding the xenophobia, and desire amongst the European-leavers for Britain to be great again, very infuriating. The keep- immigrants-out brigade seem to have no concept of how Britain ‘became great’ in the first place, exploiting the resources and labour of other nations, and leaving behind a trail of impoverishing policies. Also the same people who blame immigrants for their woes seem not to register that nationhood has been replaced by the multinational corporation, an entity that cares for no one but its execs and shareholders and has no borders, and thus no interest in paying its taxes to support the common good.

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