International Conference on the 70th Anniversary of the British Declaration of State of Emergency in Kenya in 1952

October 17, 9:30 am

UoN Towers and online

Theme: “Recasting MauMau Discourse: Reflections on the Declaration of the State of Emergency 70 years later.”


UoN Towers and online

October 2022 marks the 70th anniversary of the declaration of State of Emergency in Kenya by the colonial government. The declaration followed from the need to crush the rise of an armed Mau Mau movement, an anti-colonial struggle in the colony’s central and Rift valley regions. The declaration allowed the colonial government to respond heavy-handedly. It legitimatized the ban on Mau Mau and mass detention of suspects and sympathisers.

From 1952 to 1956 (when the emergency was lifted), the government meted out harassment, detentions without trial, assassinations, crude brutality, and a myriad of other atrocities to Africans. This period, glaringly stands out as the single most atrocious reign of terror in the British colonial empire in Africa. Albeit a short one, it haunts the British to date!

This sad period provides scholars, in the global North and South alike, an opportunity, to reflect, once more, on Kenya’s colonial history. It is also a welcome window for the academy to take stock of recent scholarship on the ‘meanings’ of this declaration then and now: literally, the present of the past! Equally, the emergency period creates room for discursive notions mainly on the didactic Mau Mau historiography to open up vistas for novel research. Hopefully, the envisaged horizons will be less clouded by ultra-nationalist and apologist scholarship on the histories of the liberation struggle in colonial Africa. Also, it raises pertinent questions for the seemingly continuing ‘social, economic and political emergencies’ in Kenya today and how they resonate, or rather derive from, the 1952 declaration.

Following the significance of the Declaration of the State of Emergency, the Department of History and Archaeology, University of Nairobi, will convene an international conference to commemorate this declaration. The conference could not have come at a better time: twenty years after the unbanning of Mau Mau in 2003, the unveiling of the Dedan Kimathi statue in Nairobi’s Central Business District and, even more recently, the public shaving of dreadlocks by a female Mau Mau veteran. What does it all symbolize? By reflecting on the recent developments juxtaposed against the ideals and aspirations of Mau Mau, we believe, will enable us shed new light on the histories of liberation struggles in general, and what the complex Mau Mau uprising means for present Kenya.

The aim of the conference will be to debate individual papers and provide opportunity to share fresh reflections and re-evaluations of this episode in Kenya’s history and the subsequent developments that have a bearing on it. Have the aspirations of Mau Mau been met, how, and if not, why?

While we welcome presentations from a wide range of topics relating to the liberation struggles, Mau Mau reflections, post-independence historical developments, we envisage the conference themes to focus on the following key areas:

  1. Mau Mau veteran lives: There are biographies and autobiographies about key personalities of the Mau Mau.  Also, there have been fictional works that have portrayed these veterans. These treatises are lenses through which Mau Mau or broader political processes are illuminated. Can we uncover the life stories of ‘ordinary ‘Mau Maus’, Mau Mau from below trajectories, and their contribution to the liberation struggle? True, the locale of the Mau Mau Movement was the Mt. Kenya region but was it confined there? Any veterans away from the centre? Can the centre be moved?
  1. Muted Histories of Mau Mau:  The loyalism debate, the alternative narrative to the heroic Mau Mau story, internal debates and emergent divisions in the Mau Mau. We are looking for contributions that highlight the differences that could indicate the multiple ideologies in the movement. How were these divisions resolved?
  1. Kenyatta and Mau Mau: What was Jomo Kenyatta’s role, if any, in the Mau Mau Movement: Was Kenyatta an expedient moderate or taciturn radical?
  1. Women and Mau Mau: Women involvement in the Mau Mau movement, and indeed in Kenya’s larger nationalist history, counters the myth that women in colonial societies were passive, docile and submissive. To what extent, if any, have these gains been consolidated and expanded in post-colonial political spaces?
  1. Independence and the politics of aluta continua: We are looking for contributions that will speak to the question of Mau Mau as a reference framework for post-independence anti-establishment movements. Do these movements emerge because of a failed, derailed or sabotaged liberation struggle and therefore the need for aluta continua? In what form/s are the movements, what is their agenda and these agendas’ aspirations of the Mau Mau? We have in mind the 1964 insurrection, the 1971 revolution, 1982 coup, December Twelve Movement, Mwakenya, The Second Liberation and, so on.
  1. Democratising Mau Mau: We are looking for speakers who will grapple with issues of transition politics in Kenya and how participants invoke Mau Mau in each of these processes. It will be interesting to debunk the ‘unbanning’ of Mau Mau in 2003, and the acknowledgement of Dedan Kimathi and the whole question of memorialisation of Mau Mau. Perhaps a pertinent issue to debate would be: Is there an owner of Mau Mau? What are the ‘burdens of Mau Mau’?
  1. Broadening the geographical research coverage of the Mau Mau: Did Mau Mau only happen in Central Kenya and particularly among the Kikuyu? Can historians problematise this Kikuyunised Mau Mau narrative that has been seen to be non-representative of Mau Mau history? How about deliberately documenting Mau Mau activities outside Mt Kenya region and Mau Mau actors other than the Kikuyu. And which are these activities?
  1. Manifestations of Mau Mau in independent Kenya: In what ways has the Mau Mau narrative shaped modern Kenya politics, governance, economics, culture and society? Why the social and economic emergencies 70 years later?
  3. Mau Mau and Asians: Asians (Indians) often contested the colonial hegemony of the white minority rule in Kenya. A number of them, such as the trade unionist Makhan Singh, and the pioneer printer, Ambu Patel, took an active role in the activities of the Mau Mau insurgency. Singh was arrested and would become the longest serving Mau Mau detainee. How did this shape the history of the Asians in Kenya then and the period following the end of the British rule? 


Participants from Kenya, Africa, and the rest of the world are kindly requested to consider selecting a theme within the suggested broad range of topics above and their own either historical or other specialisations with the objective of enabling active interaction amongst presenters and respective audiences. We request that you submit an abstract of 300-500 words and a short profile to Mr. Philip Kivati, on or before close of business on 25th September 2022. 

Conference Registration and Fees

The following conference fee will apply:

  • Local participation Ksh. 2,500
  • Kenyan students Ksh. 1,000
  • Postdoctoral and international students: $ 50
  • International participants: $ 100

Conference Registration Link:

Conference Announcements

  1. In addition to paper presentations and discussions, there will be
  1. Art exhibitions on Mau Mau
  2. Liberation songs
  3. Poetry recitation
  4. There is sponsorship for the following:

4 Local participants

6 East African students

4 Post-doctoral and international students

  1. Scholars who have confirmed participation as presenters
  1. Prof Macharia Munene
  2. Prof John Lonsdale
  3. Dr. Paul Opondi
  4. Prof. David Anderson
  5. Prof Nic Cheesman
  1. A member of Chief Waruihu Kungu family will present a paper on  Dedicated Civil Servant and family man