The conflicts inherent in the squatter-settler relationship can be seen in their true perspective only within the context of the essentially brutal and exploitative relationship of colonialism. In Kenya, this was expressed by a dominant settler community which was heavily backed by the state. Uprooted from their areas of origin, the squatters felt the loss of their dignity and economic independence particularly keenly because they lived and worked in such close proximity to the settlers.
As this study has shown, squatter resistance to repressive regulations merely elicited even more stringent measures, so that by the outbreak of the Mau Mau revolt, squatters were disinherited and desperately insecure.
The initial Kikuyu movement to the Rift Valley was partially prompted by the entrepreneurial drive of a people intent on acquiring a more lucrative and independent lifestyle. This was achieved through exploiting the pioneer stage of European settler agriculture, during which the settlers allowed the squatters extensive use of alienated lands in exchange for a minimal amount of labour. In this early period, there was a large measure of mutually beneficial co-existence between the Kikuyu squatters and the European settlers, especially those engaged in kaffir farming.
An important feature of the squatter system was that it propped up pioneer European farming by enabling the settlers to acquire labour at well below the market price. They were able to do this through allowing squatters to use part of their land for grazing and cultivation, thereby meeting the wage deficit in kind. Under the kaffir farming system, Kikuyu squatters enjoyed considerable independence and operated within a framework of laissez-faire.
Pre-1918 European agriculture provided the basis for a frontier squatter community that visualised unlimited room for expansion, little or no official restrictions and, in that the squatters were allowed to keep an unlimited amount of livestock and to cultivate extensively, ample economic opportunities. It was hardly surprising that they sought to have, to hold and to guard jealously the fruits of this ‘golden age’ with all that it entailed, for this was the period when the squatters enjoyed their greatest autonomy before being crushed by demanding labour obligations and other restrictions.