This book covers attempts to develop parts of semi-arid areas of Kenya's Baringo
District between 1890 and 1963. Based on archival records and discussion with some
of the people involved, it is well sourced and annotated. Detail is its strength although
more references should have been cited on the rising concerns about land degradation
and related poverty driving the desire to change. It describes attempts to bring better land
use in four areas (i) reducing trespass in the disputed settlement areas of Esageri and
Solai, (ii) preserving Lembus Forest for commercial forestry rather than permitting
expansion of human settlement, (iii) developing a medium sized, self-financing irrigation
settlement scheme at Perkerra, and most significantly in sociological and environmental
terms, (iv) trying to improve lowland grazing management through control of stock
numbers and movement together with reintroduction of fire.
The outcome of these attempts tends to be portrayed as colonial will being finally
overcome by African determination, since trespass continued, forest was eventually lost,
organised grazing management failed and Perkerra proved uneconomic. The colonials
are blamed for lack of understanding and failing to take the people with them. Is this the
whole story? Were the colonials the only losers? Were they wrong to try and were there
other alternatives? Development is a continuum and much good has happened
subsequently affected by what went before.
Anderson is correct in describing the politics of Lembus Forest, Esageri and Solai
borderlands as a need for land and entitled to believe the 1932 Land Commission was
wrong in its assessment of rights and in the alleged bias of Commissioners. However, the
preservation of forest reserves and control of soil erosion were significant world
concerns at the time and all evidence suggested that transfer would have wrought
denudation with relatively little benefit. With limited resources and logistics, these areas
were maintained generally intact despite the conflicts he describes.
The symbiotic relationship described between Tugen and Masai is questionable.
Masai departure however, did lead to a land grab to fill the vacuum by those who had
stock, leading quickly to loss of grass cover and soil, followed by severe bush
encroachment as fire declined. A phenomenon repeated elsewhere in East Africa.
Anderson is correct in describing the Administration's despair at a time when the world
was concerned about famine, but various strategies were discussed at all levels and Local
Land Use bye-laws passed. Following staff increases in the 1950s, arable conservation
improved, but lowland overgrazing remained intractable. The root of the problem was
sociological not administrative. Methods to bring back some order to the Commons were
world-wide concerns and Kenya was at the forefront with its attempts to develop
rotational grazing for reconditioning. Field experiments in Baringo demonstrated the
advantages of reseeding, rest, fire and even mechanical clearing and herbicide control.
The dire circumstances did encourage some graziers to support block grazing, but the
internal social contradictions of personal objectives made full compliance impossible
without an administrative control which was unattainable. But many lessons were learnt
by all concerned, in Baringo and elsewhere, leading to the establishment in the Ministry
of Agriculmre of a specialist Range Management Division in 1963. It created entities
where stockowners had legal rights and responsibilities and ran their own schemes.
These proved impractical in Baringo where some of the area has beneficially moved to
individual land ownership.
Who have been the winners and losers in Baringo? Could it have happened any
differently? Perhaps this should be Anderson's sequel.