Citizenship, Sovereignty, and Violence in Late Colonial Kenya

Thursday, January 2, 2014: 1:40 PM
Washington Room 5 (Marriott Wardman Park)
Caroline M. Elkins, Harvard University
Anti-colonial violence, and reciprocal colonial violence, emerged in extreme forms during Mau Mau Emergency (1952-60). These processes were not unique to Kenya. Insurgencies and British counter-insurgency operations – often protracted and marked by destructions of bodies, minds, and properties – were defining features of British decolonization in the 20th century. So too, were concerted, colonial efforts to delegitimize anti-colonial nationalists. Whilst British counter-insurgency efforts were often framed in moral terms (e.g. ‘hearts and minds’ or ‘civilizing mission’ discourse), at the core of British justifications and strategies were broader and deeper questions pertaining to citizenship, sovereignty, and the 20th century British colonial project, writ large.

Drawing upon the work of Uday Singh Mehta, Anthony Pagden, Greg Grandin, and others, this paper will bring questions of “European anxieties over sovereignty” and citizenship in Britain’s second empire to bear on the formulation of legal codes and governing practices in Kenya. I will suggest that such codes and practices not only enabled extreme counter-insurgency violence and the de-legitimization of nationalists and their demands in the final years of colonial rule, but also reflected a much longer historical trajectory that was rooted in the early 20th century and which continued into the postcolony. With empirical evidence from Kenya read alongside evidence from end of empire wars in Malaya and Cyprus, this paper will gesture to the fact that the authoritarian paternalism which underwrote much of British colonial rule in the 20th century was not merely a reflection of moral concerns rooted in Christian zeal and notions of racial hierarchy. Rather, it was also a reflection of a brand of governance where rights were inseparable from citizenship and sovereignty and, that when conferred, such rights were scarcely universal in nature.

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