The completion of the railway saw an influx of European settlers invited by the colonial government with offers of huge leases for the most fertile land in the country. Thus, the lands with high agricultural potential especially in the Central highlands and the vast Rift Valley provinces came to be occupied by white settlers. These fertile lands became known as the White Highlands. The settler occupation had the immediate effect of displacing huge rural populations to create land for white farmers. This caused disaffection with the natives. By the 1930s, approximately 30,000 white settlers lived in these prime lands in the process gaining a political voice because of their contribution to the colony’s market economy.
The Central highlands were the ancestral lands to more than one million members of the Kikuyu community, majority of who had no land claims in European terms and lived as squatters. To protect their interests, the settlers banned the growing of coffee, introduced a hut tax. Landless natives were granted less and less land in exchange for their labour. A massive exodus of natives to urban areas ensued as their ability to eke a living from the land dwindled. There were approximately 80,000 white settlers living in Kenya in the 1950s.
The Kikuyu community made peaceful efforts to resolve its dispossession of the best lands by the settlers to no avail. In 1931, the Kikuyu Central Association sent Jomo Kenyatta (later to become Kenya’s first president) to petition the British government on the issue but this had little or no impact. The patience of the Kikuyu population wore thin with time leading to the outbreak of the Mau Mau rebellion in 1952.