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Kenya: Between Democracy and Authoritarianism

Project funded by the British Academy and assisted by the British Institute in Eastern Africa

Contact: Daniel Branch 

This project, supported by a £7500 grant by the British Academy, is examining the political history of Kenya since independence in 1963. It bridges my earlier research on the Mau Mau rebellion of the 1950s and my publications with Nic Cheeseman of Oxford on the current politics of the country.

During the violence that followed the 2007 presidential and parliamentary elections, many outside observers and Kenyans themselves were greatly surprised. Kenya's leaders had always projected to their people and the rest of the world the idea that Kenya was a stable and prosperous country. Presidents Kenyatta and Moi could point to the tribulations of the neighbouring states of Tanzania, Uganda, Somalia, Sudan and Ethiopia in order to make that point.

But leaders such as Kenyatta and Moi made such arguments about Kenya's stability as way of justifying their own intolerance of dissent and abuses of office, such as corruption and the deliberate instigation of ethnic violence. The comparisons were in any case never more than facile. Kenya may well not have experienced a civil war of the type witnessed in Somalia or the overthrow of an incumbent president by the military as in Uganda. But these are hardly great achivements.

Nor was the depiction of Kenya as stable ever particularly accurate. The research project is particulary focused on instability and violence throughout the post-colonial period, stretching from Kenya's forgotten war - the "Shifta" campaign against Somali irredentists in the 1960s - to the present.

Research will be carried out in Kenya, the USA and in Britain, drawing upon a wide range of archival and oral evidence. Of particular significance are the holdings of the Kenya National Archives in Nairobi.

The research will be completed in 2010 and published by Yale University Press. Besides the British Academy, I have been assisted by the British Institute in Eastern Africa.





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