Devonshire White Paper

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The Devonshire White Paper was a document written in 1923 by the colonial secretary Victor Cavendish, 9th Duke of Devonshire, regarding the status of settlers and natives in the Kenya Colony. The paper stated that whenever the interests of the native Africans clashed with those of Asian, European, or Arab settlers, those of the Africans should prevail. Although the Paper had little effect on the welfare of native Africans,[1] it nonetheless set a precedent for future conflict resolution between the various groups living in the colony.


The Legislative Council established to govern the East African Protectorate originally consisted of three appointed white settlers.[2] However, other white settlers in the colony resented the fact that they could not elect representatives to the Council, and, led by Lord Delamere, began to demand "no taxation without representation". In 1916, white settlers were elected to the Council, and focused predominantly on European settler issues.[2]

The Asian community had, in 1911, been granted appointed seats on the non-official (opposition) side of the Legislative Council, two occupied by Indians and one by an Arab. However, seeing the success of the European settlers in demanding elective representation, they began to demand the same privilege. They previously petitioned the colonial government for the right to purchase land in the fertile White Highlands, but this was denied[2] and restricted to white settlers. Their demands for less restrictive policies on Indians, such as lenient immigration laws on Asians, frequently put them at odds with the European settlers.[2]

Meanwhile, in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and the Union of South Africa (now South Africa), the Boers and European settlers had managed to exclude the native African population completely from the governance of these territories. The British settlers in Kenya were increasingly interested in the political development of these places, and desired that such a form of government be implemented in Kenya.[2] Therefore, in 1923, representatives of the white settlers were sent to London to negotiate for white minority rule in Kenya, as well as the exclusion of Asians from the White Highlands and restricted Indian migration into the colony. In turn, an Asian delegation was sent to lobby for the promotion of Asian interests, including their opposition to the restrictive immigration into the colony and restriction on land ownership in the White Highlands. The missionaries in the colony, sympathetic to the native African population, were similarly alarmed with the idea of white minority rule, and sent their own delegation to London to counter the settlers' proposals.[2]

The White Paper[edit]

In Britain, various people such as John Ainsworth, Provincial Commissioner of Nyanza Province, and Lord Lugard, had previously argued that Kenya "is primarily a Black man's country and can never be a European colony" and that "it was contrary to ... British colonial policy that the small Kenyan settler community should have political control over large native communities."[3] On 23 July 1923, after deliberation on "the Indian question", the cabinet approved the right of the colonial government in Britain, and not the settlers, to impose limitations on immigration from India, but also continued to restrict Indian ownership of land in the so-called White Highlands. Based on this cabinet decision, the Duke of Devonshire, who was colonial secretary at the time, issued the "white paper", stating:

Primarily, Kenya is an African territory, and His Majesty's Government think it necessary definitely to record their considered opinion that the interests of the African natives must be paramount and that if, and when, those interests and the interests of the immigrant races should conflict, the former should prevail. Obviously the interests of the other communities, European, Indian or Arab, must severally be safeguarded ... But in the administration of Kenya His Majesty's Government regard themselves as exercising a trust on behalf of the African population, and they are unable to delegate or share this trust, the object of which may be defined as the protection and advancement of the native races.

— Victor Cavendish, 9th Duke of Devonshire[3]


The Paper was intended to serve as a compromise between Indian interests and those of the Europeans, despite its affirmation of African paramountcy.[4] Nevertheless, the Paper allowed for the (slow) improvement of African conditions, such as the establishment of technical schools for Africans by a 1924 Education Ordinance, as well as the appointment of Eliud Mathu to the Legislative Council, the first African to hold a seat. It also allowed for the formation of an African party, the Kikuyu Central Association, which presented African grievances to the colonial government.[2]

Although the Indians were prevented from settling in the White Highlands, they were granted five seats on the Legislative Council and immigration restrictions imposed on them by the white settlers were removed.[2]

The White Paper was used by the British government to retain control over the Kenya Colony, and is cited as one reason why Kenya did not develop as a white minority ruled country, as South Africa and Southern Rhodesia did.[3]


  1. ^ Ingham, Kenneth et. al. "Kenya". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 30 August 2016. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h History and Government Form 2. East African Publishers. pp. 91–92. ISBN 9789966253330. 
  3. ^ a b c Maxon, Robert M. (1993). Struggle for Kenya: The Loss and Reassertion of Imperial Initiative, 1912-1923. Fairleigh Dickinson Univ Press. pp. 270–279. ISBN 9780838634868. 
  4. ^ Maxon, Robert M. (1991). "The Devonshire Declaration: The Myth of Missionary Intervention". History in Africa. 18: 259–270. doi:10.2307/3172065. JSTOR 3172065.