Rapid population and urban growth in Africa pose severe challenges to development planning and management. This article argues that weak urban governance in Kenya results from the colonial legal order's shaping of urban form. Kenya's colonial laws, drawing from those in other British colonies (especially South Africa) and British statute law on local government, public health, housing and town planning, controlled African labour and movement, and Africans' relation to towns. These laws included ordinances on registration, “master and servant” and vagrancy, while detailed township rules enforced racial segregation and exclusion; the Feetham Commission (1926) led to a hierarchy of local authorities, with no African representation until the 1950s. The dual mandate ideology resulted in different land tenure in the white-settled areas and trust lands; the late introduction of individual land ownership in the trust lands created problems of peri-urban, unplanned development outside the old township boundaries.