Mau Mau Crucible of War: Statehood, National Identity and Politics in Postcolonial Kenya


Nicholas K. Githuku

Lexington Books

Release date: August 2015

The postcolonial African state has been the subject of extensive study and scrutiny by various scholars of great repute such as Colin Legum, Crawford Young, Robert H. Jackson and Carl G. Rosberg, Pierre Englebert and Jean- François Bayart to name but a few. Crawford Young’s work is especially interesting because of the manner in which he treats the process of state formation. Crawford Young traces the process to the early beginning of European colonization and focuses on the legacy of the colonial state after independence. Colonial appendages of old European states were, for some metropolises, no longer economically viable or sustainable and/or consistent with new post-world War I and II principles such as the right of all peoples to self-determination and decolonization, and were, thus, abandoned. Overall, however, perhaps because of the simplicity of the process of state formation in Africa through European agency, the everyday realities of the nature of the African state and lived experiences remain rather elusive still. Nevertheless, this body of work that has benefitted disproportionately from the contribution of political scientists cannot be underestimated. At the same time though, the manner in which this process has been approached by such authors employs methodological perspectives in political science that overlook or undermine attempts at determining the manner in which the making, or unmaking, and evolution of post-colonial African states is viewed and contested from below. Historians employing empirical information based on archival evidence can make such a bottom-up analysis that is cognizant of popular views or dissent affecting the political evolution of these states possible. While there have been a few country-specific studies, there’s room for more scrutiny of how African states have evolved since independence paying closer attention to popular forces from below. This study demonstrates that the late colonial experience in Kenya was the foetal crucible of the postcolonial state. It does this with specific reference to the Mau Mau war. This follows from the argument that the Mau Mau decade was Kenya’s defining moment marked by widespread societal rupture embodied by the Mau Mau conflict. This war represented a caesura in which Kenya’s future was contested between competing imperial and indigenous ideological constructions of the state: colonial liberal and conservative, and indigenous dissent borne of an existential struggle for survival. The study examines these ideological strands, but focuses more acutely on the basic convictions and moral thought or subliminal ideology of Mau Mau while, at the same time, touching on both its immediate and long-term practical (land, labour, institutional and political) policy implications. Lastly, it is an analytical catalogue of the legacy of Mau Mau dissent in post-independent Kenya. As such, it is an analysis of its bequest to the present and, thus, considers the war as an unresolved philosophical conflict. By so doing, this study suggests a lineage of political demands or grievance and socioeconomic struggle in Kenya today couched on the basic need for survival, which harks back to the Mau Mau political dissent and war.

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Nicholas Githuku

Assistant Professor, African History at York College, CUNY
Nicholas Githuku is a Ph.D. holder in African Studies. His research interests include: War & Peace Studies in general; Conflict and Security and mediation in general and trends in the Great Lakes the Horn Regions of Africa; Memorialization of War; Development studies (Sub-Saharan Africa): Postcolonial/Contemporary Kenyan Politics; European History (1648 to 1900); First and Second World Wars; and Post-1989 Eastern Europe (Balkans) History.