Several readers that came to this blog for information on the elections have asked for suggested readings on Kenya’s political history. Here is a short, and so in no way exhaustive, list of books that I think might provide a good introduction. Other suggestions are welcome in the comments section.
- Facing Mount Kenya, by Jomo Kenyatta: Many forget that Kenya’s first president was an Anthropologist (who studied under Malinowski, no less). In Facing Mt. Kenya, Kenyatta attempts to document and explain Kikuyu cultural practices. The book is not a politically neutral ethnography (and to be honest most, at least the ones I have read, never are); and is an apologist account of pre-colonial Kikuyu political system(s) and some practices that some may find questionable. Ultimately, the book is about what Kenyatta wanted the British to think of Kenyans, and that is why it is such a great piece of work.
- Not Yet Uhuru, by Jaramogi Oginga Odinga: Mr. Odinga was Kenya’s first Vice President and father to Prime Minister Raila Odinga. The book highlights the post-independence disillusionment with the administration of President Kenyatta (with whom he fell out in 1966) through the tribulations of the elder Odinga. It is a poignant reminder of the extent to which economic motivations shape and define the cleavages in Kenyan politics, despite the manifestations of the same along ethnic lines.
- Defeating the Mau Mau, by Daniel Branch: Was the Mau Mau rebellion an anti-colonialism insurgency, a Kikuyu civil war, or both? Branch delves into the complexities that motivated and defined the Mau Mau rebellion. A fantastic read.
- Decolonization & Independence in Kenya, edited by Bethwell Ogot: The book provides an excellent account of the Kenyatta and Moi years until the early 1990s. The reader might find it interesting to compare their projections on Kenya’s political future with the actual trajectory since the book was written.
- Kenya: A history since independence, by Charles Hornsby: This is a sweeping account of the major political events in Kenya since independence. It is a good introduction to the historical dynamics and themes that have continued to influence Kenyan politics from independence to the present.
- The Rise of A Party State in Kenya, by Jennifer Widner: Although slightly more academic, this book is a good introduction to Kenyan politics for those who want to get more detail. It is especially helpful in understanding how the independence party KANU under former President Moi emerged as the “Baba na Mama” of Kenyan politics.
- I would also recommend Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s Detained, Michela Wrong’s It Is Our Turn to Eat, for an indirect peek into Kenyan politics, and and Angelique Haugerud’s Culture of Politics for an anthropologist’s take.