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Niels Boender

Current Project

Supervised by Professors Daniel Branch and David Anderson, my AHRC-funded PhD Project titled ‘Legacies of Insurgency and Counterinsurgency: Activism and Politics in Central Kenya, 1956-75’ examines the political and cultural afterlives of the brutal Mau Mau conflict within late-colonial and post-colonial Kenya.

This study hopes, by engaging a melange of official and unofficial sources in both Kenya and Britain, to go beyond the established historiography of the conflict by emphasising the continuing importance of former guerrillas and detainees in the process of decolonisation and the formation of the post-colonial Kenyan state. It also hopes to illustrate how the latter phases of the Kenya Emergency were guided by an abiding desire to shape the future of the Kenyan society and politics. This research will challenge forthrightly notions of decolonisation as a peaceful, consensual or planned process on the one hand, as well as nationalist teleologies that submerge every-day struggles and lived experiences on the other. I am also particularly interested in processes of reconciliation between different agents in the conflict, and how the long-term process of post-war transitions remained contentious and fractious.

Ex-detainees and ex-guerillas of the Emergency-era are the main focus of this study. I will explore the experience of ‘homecoming’, how this impacted political activism and thereby indelibly marked the future course of Kenyan history. Through a variety of institutions like Kiama Kia Mungi and the Kenya Land Freedom Army, as well as by capturing grassroots branches of moderate political parties, ex-Mau Mau consistently exerted an influence on the negotiations towards decolonisation by forcefully articulating an alternative conception of the postcolonial future. After independence was achieved, and the counterinsurgency project was grafted onto the postcolonial state, this study examines how a Mau Mau-inspired ideology in which ex-detainees could reap the ‘fruits of Uhuru’ formed the central political dispute that moulded Kenya’s institutions and political culture. To conduct this research I will be using recently released archival files in both Kenya and the UK, as well as conducting oral histories with survivors of the conflict in Kenya.

Building on my previous research examining the role of Cold War anticommunism in the decolonisation of Africa, this study hopes to marry new research into colonial violence with a groundswell of popular interest in the legacies of Empire, both in the former metropole and in the former colonies. By working closely with the Imperial War Museum through the Collaborative Doctoral Project, I will hope to play a small part in making British audiences aware of the realities of the late-Empire as a self-serving instrument of political domination willing to use exemplary force to achieve control, as well as the legacies of imperial rule within polities permanently disfigured by its violence.

Research Interests

Colonial emergencies; Kenyan history; legacies of empire; world history; settler colonialism; global Cold War; public history and museum studies.


2020-2024, PhD in History, University of Warwick

2019-2020, MPhil in World History, University of Cambridge (with Distinction)

2016-2019, BA in History, University of York (First Class Honours with Distinction)


Conference Papers

  • “Neo-Mau Mau’ and ex-loyalists: Oppositional politics in Central Kenya, 1960-69’, (Decolonization’s Discontents Workshop, Harvard University, September 2023)
  • ‘Coercive Reconciliation: Rethinking the Kenya Emergency’, (European Conference on African Studies, Cologne, June 2023).
  • ‘Intra-ethnic electoral competition and the founding of the Kenya African National Union in Central Kenya,1960-1963’, (British Institute in East Africa Annual Conference, Nairobi, February 2023).
  • ‘Heroes and Hooligans: Reframing Mau Mau’s legacies through a reconciliatory lens’, (International Conference on the 70th Anniversary of the British Declaration of State of Emergency in Kenya in 1952, University of Nairobi, October 2022).
  • ‘Kenya and Britain from the 1950s: An entangled decolonisation’, (Lecture for Black History Month, Warwick History Society, October 2022).
  • ‘The local politics of late colonialism: resistance and repression in Central Kenya, 1956-1963’, (Comparing ‘Late Colonialisms’ in Africa Conference, University of Northumbria/University of Coimbra, September 2022).
  • ‘Mau Mau at the Museum: Reviewing the Imperial War Museum’s Kenya Collection’, (Culture, Empire, Things Seminar Series, March 2022).
  • ‘A plethora of potentially subversive activity: Wanjohi Mungau, “neo-Mau Mau” and the local politics of Uhuru in Nyeri, 1959-1965’, (University of Nairobi Department of History Muted Histories Research Seminar, March 2022). Link is available.
  • ‘Grassroots Politics in the Aftermath of the Mau Mau Rebellion’ (Kenyatta University, Department of History Staff Seminar, March 2022).
  • ‘Twilight: Insurgent Nationalism between Emergency and Independence in Kenya, 1959-1960’ (University of Cambridge, World History Workshop, November 2021).
  • ‘Swearing at the forest: Colonial encounters with the Mau Mau’ (Enemy Encounters Conference, Cardiff University/Imperial War Museum, July 2021).
  • ‘A land flowing with milk and honey’: Exile in late-colonial Kenya, 1956-1961’, (History Lab Seminar Series, The Institute of Historical Research, June 2021).
  • ‘The ghosts at the banquet: Kiama Kia Muingi and the legacies of colonial violence in Kenya, 1956-1959’, (History Department Postgraduate Conference, University of Warwick, May 2021).


  • Senior Graduate Teaching Assistant, 2022-2023, delivering seminar/small-group teaching of Africa and the Cold War (HI 277) module to Second-Year History undergraduates at the University of Warwick. I will also deliver several lectures for the module, on topics such as the Congo Crisis.
  • Senior Graduate Teaching Assistant, 2022, delivering seminar/small-group teaching of The Making of the Modern World (HI 153) module to First-Year History Undergraduates at the University of Warwick.

Public Engagement

As part of my PhD I am working closely with the Imperial War Museum in the re-imagining and revitalising of their 1945-1989 exhibits, specifically by foregrounding the late-colonial conflicts at the End of Empire. I hope to help the IWM amplify under-represented voices within its collections by exploring the cultural and social changes in Britain and in Kenya wrought by the Mau Mau uprising and the brutal counterinsurgency campaign waged to suppress it by British forces. Specifically, this will involve expanding the IWM’s holdings through the collection of oral histories in Kenya, contributing to the discussion of imperial memory in contemporary Britain. To this end I will also be participating in a variety of public programme outputs of the IWM, including blog posts, a podcast, and other outreach activities.

During 2022 I helped in the production of a documentary entitled ‘A Very British Way of Torture’, which used first-hand testimony from Kenyan survivors to represent new findings from the so-called Migrated Archives, files which were illegally removed from British colonies just before independence. I aided with archival research using these files and was interviewed for the documentary itself. It aired on Channel 4 on the 14th of August 2022. An interview relating to the documentary was also featured in The Guardian.

Prizes and Awards

University of Warwick, Vice Chancellor’s International Scholarship, 2021-2024.

Imperial War Museum, Collaborative Doctoral Award, 2020-2024.

Arts and Humanities Research Council & The Library of Congress (Washington DC, USA), International Placement Scheme, 2022-2023.

Cambridge European Scholarship, 2019-2020

Conference Organisation

  • Principal Organiser (Doctoral Fellow), ‘Homecoming’ after war: Comparative and interdisciplinary perspectives (May 2023). Funded by Humanities Research Centre, University of Warwick.
  • Panel Convenor, Hist02 “Colonial (counter)insurgency as African future-making”, European Conference on African Studies in Cologne, Germany (May 2023).
  • Principal Organiser, University of Warwick History Department Postgraduate Conference (May 2022).

Departmental Activities

  • Convenor, weekly Work-in-Progress sessions for History Department Postgraduates, University of Warwick, 2022-23.
  • Postgraduate Representative, Departmental Research Committee, University of Warwick History Department, 2021-2022.
  • Postgraduate Representative, Student-Staff Liaison Committee, University of Warwick History Department, 2019-2020.


Please see the following for samples of my writing: 

The International Far-Right and White Supremacy in UDI-era Zimbabwe, 1965-1979: 

‘The Trouble with The English’: Mau Mau’s Place in The Present Debate about Imperial Legacies: 

Between Mau Mau and Home Guard: Intertwining Voices from the Mau Mau in IWM’s Archive, 

Niels Boender 


Office Hours: Tuesdays 13:00-14:00, Office 3.45, third floor, Faculty of Arts Building