SOAS University of London

Department of History, School of History, Religions & Philosophies

Reimagining Colonial Rule in Northern Kenya: Resource Boundaries, Political Transitions and Nostalgia

Hannah Whittaker, Brunel

Date: 22 January 2014Time: 5:00 PM

Finishes: 22 January 2014Time: 6:30 PM

Venue: Faber Building Room: FG01

Type of Event: Seminar

It is a well-known fact that African territorial boundaries are colonial constructs; the result of imperial powers drawing arbitrary lines between and among the societies over whom they claimed sovereignty. In northern Kenya, the attempt to manage and enforce international borders and internal administrative boundaries, which were frequently flouted as neighbouring communities fought each other over water and pasture, and engaged in mutual cattle-raiding, was a defining feature of colonial administration. This was a volatile frontier zone, whose inhabitants gained a reputation as violent and unruly. However, memories of colonial administration captured in a set of oral testimonies collected in northern Kenya in late 2008 and 2009, describe a time of peace and tranquillity. Colonial laws were obeyed, during periods of drought elders discussed and negotiated shared use of pasture and water, and after incidents of cattle-theft, compensation was negotiated and paid. This paper therefore reflects on the contradiction between contemporary nostalgic claims about the efficacy of colonial administration by northern Kenyans, and colonial era reports that describe persistent trespass across administrative boundaries, and regular clan-based resource conflict. The paper argues that the recent re-imagining of colonial administration is a consequence of political transitions that have taken place in Kenya since independence, and more especially since 2007.

Organiser: Dr Marie Rodet

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