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When settlers demanded freedom from oppressive laws

The opening of the Legislative Council (Legco) in February 1954. The settlers gained their victory on the road towards self-government when it was decided to establish the Legco, an important stage in the constitutional development of Kenya. [File, Standard]

If you thought oppressive laws only suppressed Africans in colonial Kenya, you are wrong.

The original settlers too, had a bone to pick with some laws the colonial office enforced in the East Africa Protectorate, working up a clamour for independence.

Note that the British government never intended to administer the protectorate directly and had given authority to a private company, the Imperial British East Africa, to act on its behalf.

But in 1895, the company found the task insurmountable and turned the region over to the British government.

Still, as Bethuel Ogot and Madara Ogot stated in the History of Nairobi:1899-2012, the British government initially thought of the protectorate as "an appendage of India", a place to settle the "surplus Indians" rather than a colony.

In fact, British authorities seemed unsettled by the white settlers' interest in populating the colony.

In April 1905, the settlers sent a petition to the colonial secretary, Alfred Littleton, complaining that the colony was being administered as if it were a province of India due to a large number of Indian ordinances in place.

They especially resented the regulations placing white people under the same laws governing coloured people.

The settlers also demanded to be protected by white troops and mounted regiments instead of the Kings Africa Rifles who, they felt, could not adequately protect them from native attacks.

The colonial office, through the Secretary of State, Lord Elgin, gave in to a number of settlers' demands including a change in overall colony governance.

"The [settlers] gained their victory on the road towards self-government when it was decided to establish a Legislative Council... an important stage in the constitutional development of Kenya.

"The order [by Elgin] changed the designation of the protectorate chief officer from Commissioner to Governor and Commander-in-Chief," wrote Ogot and Madara.

To pacify the settlers further, one of the 'Elgin pledges' prohibited Indians from acquiring land in the highlands.

It was through the March 1908 dispatch that Elgin officially designated a large portion of land, between Kiu and Fort Tenan, as the "White Highlands".

Still, some high-ranking officials in Britain had their misgivings over the settler's clamour for more freedom.

Among them was Winston Churchill, then an under secretary in the colonial office.

On a visit to Kenya in 1907, he thought the small population of whites in Nairobi, 580, against 3,100 Indians and 10,550 Africans in Nairobi should not have been so loud.

"There are already in miniature all the elements of keen political and racial discord, all the materials for hot and acrimonious debate. The white man versus black, the Indian versus both...the problems of East Africa are the problems of the world," said Churchill.

Needless to say, the settlers won their 'independence' against oppressive Indian laws and lived in their heaven in the Happy Valley ever after.