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date: 05 December 2023

History and Politics of the Kenya Archiveslocked

History and Politics of the Kenya Archiveslocked

  • Riley LinebaughRiley LinebaughDepartment of History, Leibniz-Institut für Europäische Geschichte


Heavily reliant on the use of documents in its style of rule, the British Colonial Government (BCG) in the colony of Kenya had surprisingly poor recordkeepers. The history of Kenya’s archives during the colonial period reveals a disregard for efficient record preservation despite the perceived correlation between administrative and archival efficiency, indicating the gap between the fantasy of a well-ordered empire and the reality on the ground. However, the emergency period (1952–1960) ushered in significant archival changes, wherein the control over its archives greatly concerned the colonial government as a matter of its counter-insurgency efforts. In fact, the colonial administration issued its first draft rules and regulations concerning its archives in 1955, suggesting that it did not foresee its relatively imminent expulsion. However, shortly after appointing its first government archivist, the BCG began disassembling its archives through the strategic destruction and removal of sensitive documents in the early 1960s. The independent Kenyan government pursued the establishment of a national archives as a priority, and the Kenya National Archives was codified by law in 1965. The creation of a national archives was viewed as a way to relegate the colonial administration into a fixed past through the physical removal of colonial-era documents from political offices into storage. In so doing, independent Kenya’s inaugural class of archivists saw themselves as making room for both an independent government and a new national school of history for the first time, archival documents stored in Nairobi were available to members of the public. In contrast to the colonial administration, which maintained its archives with a strict policy of inaccessibility, archival documents stored in Nairobi were available, at least nominally, to members of the public for the first time under an independent government and the terms of the Public Archives Act. However, dynamics other than the law have limited and/or offered archival access incidentally or intentionally. While the relationship between archival and political control has not disappeared, the widening of archival access in Kenya has also nurtured critical scholarship and activism.


  • East Africa and Indian Ocean

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