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Article

History and Politics of the Kenya Archives  

Riley Linebaugh

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.

Article

Ogot, Grace  

J. Roger Kurtz

Grace Emily Akinyi Ogot (1930–2015), a leading Kenyan writer and politician, was a pioneering figure whose professional accomplishments spanned the independence and postindependence eras in East Africa. Until her death at age eighty-four, Ogot was an acclaimed cultural leader within her Luo community, as well as in her nation of Kenya. While she also worked in the fields of nursing and journalism, Ogot is best remembered for her political success, her groundbreaking achievements as an author of short stories and novels, and being chronicler of Luo folk tales. In all areas of her work, Ogot developed a reputation as a prominent advocate for women’s concerns. As an author, Ogot belongs to the first generation of Kenyan writers. This group may be defined as those writers who were born and educated during the colonial period, but whose writing continued into the postcolonial era. She was the first Luo writer and the first Kenyan woman to win international acclaim for her creative writing. Other well-known Luo women writers from Kenya include Asenath Bole Odaga, Margaret Ogola, Marjorie Oludhe Macgoye, and Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor. Ogot wrote both in English and in Dholuo, the language of the Luo people. She is best known for her works of realist fiction, her promotion of traditional myth and folklore, and her books for children. She began publishing short stories in East African journals in the 1960s. Her best-known works are her novel The Promised Land (1966) and her short story collection Land without Thunder (1968). These were the first creative works written by a woman to be published by the East African Publishing House, the region’s first locally owned and managed publishing firm. In national politics, Ogot represented her region as a member of parliament, and she served as an assistant minister in the national government. She served as a delegate to the United Nations General Assembly in 1975 and to UNESCO in 1976. She was married to Bethwell Ogot, a leading Kenyan historian. Together, they represented one of Kenya’s most influential and publicly recognized couples due to their prominent national positions. Through her writing and political activities, especially as she used those activities to promote positive social change for women, Ogot will be remembered as someone whose life both reflected and influenced the social dynamics of 20th-century Kenya.

Article

Customary Law in Colonial East Africa  

Harald Sippel

African customary law has always regulated the legal relationships of the east African population. It is still significant in the fields of land and personal law (succession and inheritance and the family), and it refers to the principles, rules, customs, and practices of a certain local ethnic community that are accepted by its members as binding. Most research on customary law in east Africa has been done so far in Kenya and Tanzania. As a result of the colonization of east Africa, Europeans imported their own legal systems to their colonial territories, while African customary law remained applicable to the autochthonous population. Subsequently, a discriminatory dual legal and judicial system was established. In order to codify and unify the various sets of African customary law, several research projects carried out investigations of such law in east Africa. At the time of independence, African customary law was considered an important element in the formation of nations in Kenya and Tanzania. After academic interest in customary law gradually subsided, it has gained again in importance due to the conflict with human rights and the revitalization of such law on the ground, as observed on the threshold of the 21st century. However, since legal activists regard African customary law as outdated and in need of reform, future legal reform projects should pay particular attention to intergenerational justice and gender equality.

Article

The East African Revival  

Emma Wild-Wood

The East African Revival was a renewalist movement that spread during the 1930s from Uganda and Rwanda into Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi, Congo , and South Sudan. It is known as the Balokole movement from the Luganda word for “saved ones” (wokovu in Swahili). Its members attempted to reform mission-initiated churches from within by emphasizing an internalized Christian faith, high ethical standards, strong bonds of corporate fellowship, and the prominence of lay leadership. Women were able to assert greater moral and spiritual authority within the Revival than had become common outside it. Its vision of a transnational community of Christians acted as a critique to ethnonationalist views current in East Africa in the mid-20th century. The same vision also influenced global evangelical movements. The Revival possessed a number of strands, although a strong mainstream element has influenced the historiography of the movement as a largely unified and cosmopolitan form of evangelical Christianity. The Revival maintained momentum into the 1990s and remains a pervasive influence on the language, morals, and spiritual practice of Protestant churches in East Africa, even as newer Pentecostal movements make an impact on the region.

Article

History of Higher Education in Kenya  

Michael Mwenda Kithinji

The history of higher education in Kenya is defined by a struggle for domination by the various forces that have sought to influence the country’s social, economic, and political trajectory in the colonial and postcolonial periods. During the colonial period, the church had a major interest in education, which they viewed as an important tool in their evangelizing mission. However, the colonial government regarded education as an agency for social control as it attempted to mediate the competing interests of the missionaries, white settlers, and African nationalists. Similarly, the postcolonial governments saw education, especially at the higher level as significant due to its role in forming the elite class and as a mechanism for ideological control. Consequently, Kenya’s higher education landscape has witnessed a striking transformation as it served as an arena for powerful competing interests from the colonial period to the present. The period between the inception of higher education in the late 1940s until the early independence period in the late 1960s was dominated by the colonial inter-territorial policy that severely limited the opportunities to access higher education. While the first postcolonial government of President Kenyatta largely upheld the colonial elitist ideas on higher education, this approach changed when President Moi came into office in 1978. President Moi wanted to leave his mark on education by increasing access to higher education. Many students were thus able to access university education, previously a preserve of the privileged few. University expansion remains an enduring legacy of President Moi’s administration, which the succeeding government of Mwai Kibaki inherited and enhanced.

Article

Heritage and the Use of the Past in East Africa  

John Giblin

This article outlines historical and ongoing uses of the past and academic heritage research into those activities within eastern Africa. The use of the past will be discussed as a deep historical practice in the area that is the EAC in the 21st century, demonstrating how political elites have constructed versions of the past to suit contemporary and future aims for hundreds of years. Then there is an outline of the colonial introduction of formalized Western heritage institutions and legislation in the early 20th century, the subsequent nationalization of these in the mid-20th century, and the late-20th- and early-21st-century internationalization of heritage. These overviews are followed by a discussion of different approaches to heritage research including early studies of museums, traditions, heritage management, archaeological introspections, and more recent “critical heritage studies,” which interrogate the use of the past as a form of cultural production.

Article

History of the Standard Swahili Language  

Morgan J. Robinson

In many ways, Swahili has become emblematic of the African continent. Taught in universities around the world, an official language of the African Union, and embraced by some members of the diaspora as a way to connect with the continent’s histories and cultures, Swahili is a global language, and its most far-reaching dialect is Standard Swahili. The conventional historical narrative depicts Standard Swahili as a constructed language that was developed over the course of the 20th century by the efforts of German, British, and postcolonial governments. However, by pushing the timeline back into the mid-19th century, one begins to see that Standard Swahili can also be situated within a precolonial history that incorporates multiple constituencies involved in multiple processes of standardization, both official and unofficial, that spanned broad swathes of both space and time.

Article

Politics of Colonial Conservation in Kenya  

Martin S. Shanguhyia

Colonial conservation in Africa was so controversial that it has elicited diverse interpretations from historians. In colonial Kenya, the presence of European settlers amplified the controversy due to their entrenched interests in the territory’s natural resources, particularly land. Settlers instigated colonial imposition of extra-environmental regulations that proscribed African interests and modes of production while seeking to secure their own. Politics of conservation raised the stakes and tensions over access to, use, and management of critical resources that had sustained African livelihoods in pre-colonial times, especially land, forests, wildlife, and even livestock. Colonial conservation policies and programs were premised on ensuring “efficient” use of natural resources and their “preservation” for the future generations. In reality, those policies and programs afforded the colonial state a wide latitude of control over these resources in ways that economically benefited the state and its agencies. They were also tools through which colonial authorities wielded social control over African communities. This control was enacted through ordinances or legislations to protect forests, wildlife, and land from what colonial officials perceived as “abuse” or “misuse” by African communities. Thus, ecological order, social control, and economic interests were all intertwined in the way colonial authorities in Kenya designed and executed conservation measures. African communities were not merely malleable actors in the politics of colonial conservation. Like settlers, they sought to secure their economic and social interests by ignoring or actively resisting the invasive aspects of colonial conservation. Some Africans were co-opted by the government into institutions that implemented restrictive policies. Although violence was not a widespread African response, it was an option, as evidenced in the Mau Mau Uprising during the 1950s. In spite of pushback from Africans, regimented colonial control over critical resources became institutionalized, its most permanent legacy being a transformation from communal to individual or private forms of ownership.

Article

Women in Kenya  

Sacha Hepburn

Women have played diverse and critical roles in Kenya’s social, cultural, economic, and political history. Archaeological and ethnographic sources suggest how gender shaped culture, social interactions, production, and consumption in hunter-gatherer, early pastoralist, and Iron Age societies. Gender divisions of labor were flexible, with women engaging in gathering, hunting, care of livestock, domestic labor, and production of crafts and metalwork. During the 15th to 18th centuries, societies were organized by gendered and generational hierarchies, and women played a significant role in agriculture and trade. Rates of unfree labor increased significantly, and women and girls were particularly vulnerable to enslavement and pawning within the African slave systems of the interior and Islamic slave system of the coast. The 19th century brought change and upheaval, including the expansion of Islam and Christian missionary activity, ecological crises, and British occupation. The century also witnessed a dramatic increase in demand for female slaves for domestic and foreign markets. Under British colonial rule, women’s roles and status were circumscribed. Colonialism promoted a model of gender which relegated women to the domestic sphere and strengthened indigenous patriarchy. Women found their access to land and resources steadily eroded, even though their labor enabled the broader colonial capitalist system to function. They channeled their frustrations into labor protest, nationalist politics, and armed struggle. Independence brought change and continuity for Kenyan women and girls. There was a gradual expansion of women’s rights and opportunities in education and employment, alongside the endurance of widespread gender and socioeconomic inequality. Overall, there was no one experience for Kenyan women in any period: women’s experiences varied depending on their age, ethnicity, religion, culture, and status as free or enslaved persons; where some women found widening opportunities, others faced new and enduring constraints; and when some railed against gendered and generational authority structures, others enforced them.

Article

The Nile Waters Issue  

Terje Tvedt

To understand the role of the modern Nile in African history, it is first necessary to have familiarity with the premodern “natural” Nile, including both its hydrology and societal importance. It is well known that no river basin in the world has a longer, more complex, and more eventful history. The Nile water issue in modern times is a history of how economic and political developments in East and North Africa have been fundamentally shaped by the interconnectedness of the Nile’s particular physical and hydrological character; the efforts of adapting to, controlling, using, and sharing the waters of the river; and the different ideas and ambitions that political leaders have had for the Nile.

Article

Water Management in East Africa  

Matthew V. Bender

East Africa is among the most environmentally diverse regions of the continent, and this diversity is reflected in its hydrology. The steppe plains, home to much of the region’s great wildlife, are defined by scarcity of rainfall and surface water resources. Within this sea of aridity, mountain peaks such as Kilimanjaro, Kenya, and Meru induce large amounts of rainfall and give rise to rivers that reach out into the grasslands. To the west, the forest–savannah mosaic and the shorelines of the Great Lakes likewise feature plentiful precipitation and surface water, giving rise to abundant vegetation and marine life. The Indian Ocean coast falls between in terms of rain, but its fate has been shaped by oceanic trade. In short, East Africa is a hydrological mosaic that has long influenced the social, cultural, and economic diversity of its human populations. The peoples of East Africa have long depended on the region’s water resources for their livelihoods. They have made sense of the region’s waterscapes, and developed strategies to manage them, in ways that reflected their own needs. Water management consisted not just of hydrological and technological expertise, but also cultural, spiritual, and political expertise. These in turn shaped economic as well as social relationships and hierarchies. With the onset of European colonization in the 19th and 20th centuries, water management became a focal point of struggles between local communities and various colonial actors—government officers, scientists, missionaries, and settlers—who developed very different impressions of the region’s waterscapes. These struggles involved not only conflict over the physical control of water resources, but also debates over what constituted useful and relevant water-management knowledge. Colonial actors described their water management in terms of science and modernity, while existing knowledge and practice were framed as primitive, wasteful, and destructive. Over the 20th century, conflicts intensified as users, African as well as European, demanded larger shares of increasingly scarce water resources. The post-colonial period did not spell an end to these struggles. Since the late 20th century, water management has emerged as a key aspect of national strategies for economic and social development. Yet decades of emphasis and millions of dollars spent have not led to sufficient progress in providing water to everyday people. Today, millions of East Africans lack access to clean, reliable water, a problem that is likely to worsen in the future.

Article

Popular Politics in East Africa from Precolonial to Postcolonial Times  

James R. Brennan

Popular politics have influenced the development of East Africa’s political institutions from roughly two millennia ago up to contemporary times. Among the discernible political dynamics over this time period were pressures to include or exclude peoples from key institutions of belonging, the decisive role of patron–client relationships across all political institutions, the role of generational conflict, the source of political authority based on command of the visible and invisible worlds, and the changing role of indigeneity and “first-comer” status claims. These dynamics can all be found at work in the development of conventional political structures that span this time frame—that is, from the small chieftaincies and kingdoms of the precolonial era; to cults of public healing and medicine making; to engagement with European colonial institutions and the 20th-century creation of “traditional” indigenous authorities; to the growth of associational life that led to political parties, one-party states, and their postliberalization successors. Yet there was also tremendous diversity of these experiences across East Africa, which goes some way toward explaining the differences not only among the region’s contemporary nation-states but even within those nation-states. Popular pressures for inclusion either resulted in the expansion of existing political institutions or created demands for new institutions that directly challenged the exclusionary and often brittle existing political structures.

Article

Islam in Kenya  

Hassan Juma Ndzovu

According to archeological studies, the presence of Islam in Kenya can be traced back to the 10th century, confirming its long tenure. The majority of Kenyan Muslims identify with the Shafi’i jurisprudence, with the minority among the community subscribing to Shi’a Islam. Although Islam has historically been associated with communities residing in the coastal and northern regions, the composition of Muslims in the country cut across geographical, ethnic, and racial boundaries. Before the 18th century, Islam was mostly associated with the coastal Arab and Swahili communities together with the Somalis of northern Kenya. However, after 1830, there was a steady conversion of other communities to Islam. It is not possible to point to a single factor for the spread and development of Islam in Kenya since the process of Islamization has been long and complex, varying from one community to the other. This explains why there exists a range of forms of religiosity, manifested in a contestation between Sufi-oriented and Salafi-oriented forms of Islam. As a minority religious group in the country vis-à-vis their Christian compatriots, some Muslims have been critical of the postcolonial state, culminating in the radicalization of sections of the community since the 1990s. Informing this criticism is the claim of marginalization and discrimination perpetrated by the Christian-dominated state. Despite this seeming tension between Muslims and the state, there has not been a large-scale religious conflict between Muslims and members of other religions. Nevertheless, there have been reports of isolated cases of attacks targeting symbols of Christianity by jihadi groups affiliated with al-Shabaab of Somalia.

Article

The Kenyan Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission  

Ronald C. Slye

The Kenyan Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission (KTJRC) operated from August 2009 to August 2013. It consisted of nine commissioners (six Kenyan and three international) and examined gross violations of human rights committed between December 12, 1963 (the date Kenya achieved independence), and February 28, 2008, though the Commission also had the power to look at relevant events before and after those dates. During its four years of operation the Commission collected over forty thousand statements from individual Kenyans, the largest number of statements collected by any truth commission; incorporated violations of economic, social, and cultural rights in its fact-finding and analysis (one of the first such truth commissions to do so); and increased the participation of women in the process by, among other things, conducting women-only hearings at each of the more than one hundred locations where public hearings were held. In addition to these successes, the KTJRC faced two significant challenges. First, its chair was linked to three violations of human rights within the Commission’s mandate, leading the Commission to recommend that he be investigated and, if the evidence warranted, prosecuted. Second, the Office of the President interfered in the Commission’s Final Report to remove certain references to the president’s family, leading the three international commissioners to issue a public dissent. The Commission made a number of recommendations for the government to implement, including the creation of a comprehensive reparations program. Only one of the recommendations in the Commission’s Final Report has been implemented: the president publicly apologized on behalf of the Kenyan government for the history of gross violations of human rights committed since independence. The Kenyan government has not moved to implement any of the other recommendations. Finally, the KTJRC was the first major truth commission to operate simultaneously with investigations and indictments by the International Criminal Court (ICC). The ICC often overshadowed the work of the TJRC in media coverage, and efforts to coordinate the activity of the two parallel investigative initiatives were minimal and unsuccessful

Article

Labor History of East Africa  

Bill Freund

This paper concerns the long-term evolution of labor in East Africa up to the twenty-first century. While it considers the classic themes of labor history, trade unions, strikes and politics, it is concerned with the broader question of how people relate to their environment, how their work is organized and what the economic consequences are. Taking 1500 as a bottom line, it proceeds to look at changes before and with the coming of imperialism and colonialism and the contradictions of colonial labor policy. It also considers how labor conditions have altered since independence. Mau Mau in Kenya and the institution of villagization in Tanzania, which both shed a light on labor conditions, receive particular attention. Since the majority of the population even in the twenty-first century are rural dwellers, there is much concern with agricultural and pastoral activities. If the greatest concentration is on Tanzania and Kenya, East Africa is defined broadly in part for purposes of comparison.