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Title: The pursuit of the ‘good forest’ in Kenya, c.1890-1963: the history of the contested development of state forestry within a colonial settler state
Author(s): Fanstone, Ben Paul
Supervisor(s): Steyn, Phia
Adderley, Paul
Keywords: Kenya
Colonial Kenya
Environmental History
Mau Mau
East Africa
Twentieth Century
Nineteenth Century
First World War
Second World War
Uganda Railway
Issue Date: 27-Oct-2016
Publisher: University of Stirling
Abstract: This is a study of the creation and evolution of state forestry within colonial Kenya in social, economic, and political terms. Spanning Kenya’s entire colonial period, it offers a chronological account of how forestry came to Kenya and grew to the extent of controlling almost two million hectares of land in the country, approximately 20 per cent of the most fertile and most populated upland (above 1,500 metres) region of central Kenya . The position of forestry within a colonial state apparatus that paradoxically sought to both ‘protect’ Africans from modernisation while exploiting them to establish Kenya as a ‘white man’s country’ is underexplored in the country’s historiography. This thesis therefore clarifies this role through an examination of the relationship between the Forest Department and its African workers, Kenya’s white settlers, and the colonial government. In essence, how each of these was engaged in a pursuit for their own idealised ‘good forest’. Kenya was the site of a strong conservationist argument for the establishment of forestry that typecast the country’s indigenous population as rapidly destroying the forests. This argument was bolstered against critics of the financial extravagance of forestry by the need to maintain and develop the forests of Kenya for the express purpose of supporting the Uganda railway. It was this argument that led the colony’s Forest Department along a path through the contradictions of colonial rule. The European settlers of Kenya are shown as being more than just a mere thorn in the side of the Forest Department, as their political power represented a very real threat to the department’s hegemony over the forests. Moreover, Kenya’s Forest Department deeply mistrusted private enterprise and constantly sought to control and limit the unsustainable exploitation of the forests. The department was seriously underfunded and understaffed until the second colonial occupation of the 1950s, a situation that resulted in a general ad hoc approach to forest policy. The department espoused the rhetoric of sustainable exploitation, but had no way of knowing whether the felling it authorised was actually sustainable, which was reflected in the underdevelopment of the sawmilling industry in Kenya. The agroforestry system, shamba, (previously unexplored in Kenya’s colonial historiography) is shown as being at the heart of forestry in Kenya and extremely significant as perhaps the most successful deployment of agroforestry by the British in colonial Africa. Shamba provided numerous opportunities to farm and receive education to landless Kikuyu in the colony, but also displayed very strong paternalistic aspects of control, with consequential African protest, as the Forest Department sought to create for itself a loyal and permanent forest workforce. Shamba was the keystone of forestry development in the 1950s, and its expansion cemented the position of forestry in Kenya as a top-down, state-centric agent of economic and social development.
Type: Thesis or Dissertation

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