Research and Publications

MZIZI Book Project:


Abstracts of papers in the forthcoming (2013) publication, MIZIZI, Essays in honor of Professor Godfrey Muriuki, Edited by Mwanzia D. Kyule and George M. Gona (University of Nairobi Press). MIZIZI is a book project of the Department of History and Archaeology, University of Nairobi.

Julius Nabende and Martha Musalia (Godfrey Muriuki and Production of Historical Knowledge in Kenya) discuss Godfrey Muriuki’s works as part of Kenya’s developing historiography. The authors afford him and other historians like Bethwell Ogot and E. S. Atieno Odhiambo, to mention two, the space and place as pioneering historians in the country. Nabende and Musalia’s argument is that Muriuki and his contemporaries were central to the shaping of the methodological, theoretical and thematic discourses that were pertinent during the last five decades. They mention that Muriuki, like other historians of his day focused on the theme of nationalism, decolonisation and land. On land, he showed how the possession of this commodity brought about class differentiation among the Kikuyu. The authors challenge historians to further study the Kikuyu beyond the confines of their intra dispersal areas of Kirinyaga, Murang’a, Kabete, Nyeri, Nyandarua to unravel the dynamism with which the Kikuyu are known.


The chapter by Mwanzia D. Kyule and John C. Onyango-Abuje (History of Prehistory in the Lake Victoria Basin, Kenya) presents a descriptive survey of trends in prehistoric research in Kenya’s side of the Lake Victoria basin. The chapter offers a comprehensive review of discoveries of pre human ancestors as early as 20 million years ago, as well as evolution of human ancestors and behavioral developments up to the time the area was occupied by its present inhabitants. They argue that although the so far earliest known stage in Stone Age technological development has not yet been established in the basin, the presence of hominid fossils tends to point to the possibility that the region probably harbors some of the early stone tool technologies ever developed. They have also identified research subjects and topics that future researchers may need to emphasize.


Mwanzia D. Kyule (Archaeology of Pli-Pleistocene Hominids in Eastern Africa) evaluates aspects that have informed the direction of archaeological research on landscape adaptations of the earliest human ancestors. The chapter reviews recent research undertaken in eastern Africa on aspects that characterize early human behavioral patterns. He presents the physiological aspects of early humans and discusses the role of such physiological attributes on behaviours that characterized life patterns during the Plio-Pleistocene. Technological advancements as witnesses from various Stone Age industries and cultures are reviewed, as well as foraging strategies and other behavioural aspects that reflect on patterns of landscape and environment adaptations. The chapter emphasizes the revised notion that contrary to popular view that early human ancestors were effective hunter gatherers, the available evidence appears to suggest that they instead were marginal scavengers until about the Middle Stone Age. 


Henry W. Mutoro and Gilbert K. Wafula (The Development of Kenya’s coastal Archaeology since the early 1960’s) present a history of archaeological research along the Kenya coast. They highlight the environment under which archaeology research has been undertaken and how it has historically developed in Kenya since the early 1960’s to the year 2000, especially the roles played by successive Government administrations. The international trends in method and theory are also examined in addition to explaining why certain archaeological studies were conducted. They have examined the challenges that archaeology faced at Kenya’s independence in 1963, and the response to these challenges are discussed in three phases: the era of Neo-colonialism between 1960 and 1965; the era of Afrocentrism between 1965 and 1980; and the era of Recent Research between 1980 and 2000. It is concluded that after attaining independence, the successive governments in Kenya have done little to promote the discipline owing largely to the lack of financial capacity. Nevertheless, it is noted that by the year 2000 the discipline had helped to solve most of the challenges it faced at independence. 


Gilbert Wafula’s chapter (An ethno-archaeological perspective on socio-economic developments of the ceramic industry along the Kenyan coast between 100 AD and 1600 AD) uses an ethno-archaeological approach to identify technical and aesthetic features of the ceramic industry which are then traced and correlated with the prevailing socio-economic developments. He offers a chronological order of the local ceramics of the Kenya coast, and suggests a clear trajectory of improvement and then decline in quality. This seems to be associated with more care in the treatment and processing of clay, rather than with any dramatic new techniques. Further, the chapter presents an assessment of the relationship between the Kenyan ceramic industry and the prevailing social and economic developments on the Kenyan coast between the 2nd century AD and the 17th century AD. This correlation results in the proposition of a diachronic sequence of socio-economic developments based on the technical features observed in archaeological ceramics. The main conclusion arrived at is that technological developments were largely determined by contemporary developments in cultural, social and economic spheres on the Kenyan coast between the 2nd century AD and the 17th century AD. It is also concluded that ethno-archaeology is an invaluable asset in the understanding of the region’s past.


Still on a prehistoric ceramics theme, Ephrahim Wahome (Ceramic Style and History: An Inter-regional Assessment) highlights the significance of pottery in evaluating technological, stylistic, and aesthetic values of the makers. In this chapter, an attempt is made to correlate ceramic change with historical transformation through analysis of ceramics from selected sites in Central Kenya, North Cameroon and Southern Pacific where recent ceramics have shown a sudden stylistic discontinuity from the pre-existing ceramic traditions. These potteries appear around 400 years ago in some areas like Northeastern Nigeria when the core Iron Age ceramic traditions reached their sudden demise and as late as the 18th/19th century in areas like Central Kenya where exotic products seem to have taken roots and progressively replaced the Iron Age ceramic technology. The chapter suggests that there exists a direct relationship between ceramics and history on an interregional scale. Wahome further argues that ceramics reflect changes in the cultural characteristics of a society which are transmitted from generation to generation or lost in the event of a traumatic transformation of the society. They therefore serve as indicators of continuity and change. He concludes that areas like Central Kenya witnessed a progressive replacement of indigenous Iron Age ceramic technology by exotic products. 


Ben Nyanchoga (Protecting Archaeological sites in Kenya: a management challenge) provides a review of secondary literature concerning the challenges of managing cultural resources, and attempts to relate the same with the situation in Kenya. He points out that inspite of the important contribution of archaeology towards understanding of our heritage; archaeological sites continue to suffer the effects of human as well as natural activities. A number of factors, for example, weak legal framework, development projects like agriculture; industrialization, human settlement and poor public education on archaeological heritage among others, have continued to take toll on destruction of archaeological sites in Kenya. Natural factors like soil erosion and climatic change are also considered potential threats to archaeological resources. The chapter proposes proper mechanisms and methods of archeological site protection and management and takes cognition that despite a recent (2006) introduction of the Heritage Act, a lot still needs to be done to protect, conserve and effectively use Kenya’s archaeological resources.


Kenneth Ombongi (Urban Malaria control in Kenya, 1896 – 1926) examines the ways in which colonial politics of urban malaria control became central in depicting racial identities, colonial realities and concerns in Kenya. Located at crucial points along the railway line, colonial towns provided the stage that moulded biomedical actions and perceptions about the malaria menace. He maintains that the consequent anti-malaria policy catalyzed latent conflicts about space, resource allocation and racial politics common in early urban Kenya. He argues that the complex interaction of human, natural and epidemiologic factors determined and undermined urban malaria control in the first quarter of the twentieth century. 


Milcah Amolo Achola (Poverty, Health and Race in a Colonial Setting: the Case of Maternal and Child Welfare Services in Nairobi, 1928-62) examines the involvement of the colonial regime with maternal and child welfare policy and facilities through the colonial period. She maintains that the increasing attraction of the urban centres like Nairobi and Mombasa pushed the European dominated central and municipal governments to take action to safeguard African health as a measure of the wider and more important objective of safeguarding European health. Thus maternal and child health evolved into an important aspect of public health policy for Nairobi as it became clear that Nairobi could not be kept all white or even mostly white. Among the measures put in place to maintain health standards were segregated housing, slum clearance and the control of the immigration of Africans into Nairobi. These measures were largely punitive and half-hearted. With little resources earmarked for African locations, squalor, deprivation and neglect of these areas in urban centres was the order of the day.


Mary Mwiandi’s chapter (“Establishment of the Jeanes School, Kabete, Kenya, 1925-1961: An American educational experiment?”) analyses the establishment of an institution whose growth and development continued to influence the direction of the education sector in Kenya. She argues that Jeanes teachers and their wives became another arm of colonial authority and the various missionaries working in the rural areas. The services of the Jeanes teachers was also crucial in the European settler farms as they helped in controlling African laborers and their families by means of enrolling them in Shamba schools that operated in the evenings. The Jeanes system, she avers became part of the paternalistic colonial paradigm which featured predominantly in the relationship between the rulers and the ruled. 


Margaret Gachihi (The faces of loyalism to Mau Mau in Central Kenya) revisits with the subject of ‘loyalists’ among the Kikuyu of Central Kenya and argues that there is ambiguity in the understanding and applicability of the term among these people. Charting a brief history of loyalism, she notes that there were individuals among say, Christians who were thought to be loyal to the British course in Kenya, primarily to defeat Mau Mau but were equally sympathetic of the African struggle for emancipation. Equally important was the fact that not many Christians were able to see Mau Mau as a liberating force in the turmoil or its aftermath. That the ‘new’ elite would adhere to the British ways of life was no measure of loyalty, for these same lot made attempts to question the ethos and moral superiority with which Christianity regarded the African. She suggests that a more nuanced and disaggregated story of the loyalists or the so-called Homeguards needs to be undertaken if a complete portray of the Mau mau can be drawn.


James Meriwether (The Most Magnificent Thing": Kenya, the United States, and the Student Airlifts) discusses the student ‘airlifts’ to the United Sates of America of the late 1950s and 1960s, an exercise that was to afford many African students education that hitherto was inaccessible. He mentions that until the 1940s, very few African students found their way to the United States of America, a situation that changed after the World War 11. The desire to steer newly independent countries toward the "Free World" by training a generation of leaders with ties to the West, combined with a faith in the powerful efficacy of education, compelled the West to rally its people to support African educational exchanges. Meriwether shows that leaders like Kwame Nkrumah and Jomo Kenyatta are some of those who benefited from such an endeavour. The author gives eminence to Tom Mboya in exposing his country men and women to the educational opportunities in the United States of America. This facilitated hundreds of young Kenyans to obtain higher education, many of whom returned home to help build the young nation. Yet of course the benefits went both ways, as these same Kenyan students helped build the growing African studies programs in American Universities, offered a "new" face of Africa to the broader American public, and left legacies that in turn would help shape the political and social landscape of the United States.


George Odeny (The colonial roots of post colonial Kenya’s Foreign Policy behavior) considers the colonial roots of post-colonial Kenya’s foreign policy. He observes that Kenya’s political relations with her neighbours reflected the ideals of self-preservation and national security. This is seen in attempts by the new independent state to maintain its territorial integrity vis-à-vis her neighbours. Closely related to self preservation and national security was her quest to remain an economic powerhouse in the region even after independence. In this regard, Odeny notes that Kenya sought to strengthen relations with other East African states so as to maintain her economic dominance. Subsequently, the economic dominance was transformed into regional political power. He however observes that Kenya’s international trade was not altered after independence. This meant that the negative balances of trade that were experienced during the colonial period were carried over to post-colonial era. 


Vincent Simiyu (Social differentiation in Kenya from 1963 to 2009) engages with the concept of class, which he insists is an essential idea for understanding Kenya’s post colonial history. He contends that the formation of post colonial Kenyan social categories were predicated on the role played by the State and ethnicity; emphasising that the nearer a person or a group of people (understand ethnic group) were to the state the greater the chances of wealth accumulation and vice-versa, i.e. the further they were the less their chances of wealth accumulation. Simiyu’s argument is that through state abated accumulation, class differences have been exacerbated in post colonial Kenyan society, hence increasing inequality and marginalisation; the very prerequisites for anti-state mobilisation. Worse still, ethnic groups that have not belonged to the incumbent President have lost out in the accumulation process, thus scaling up the alienation of some groups from the ‘nation building’ agenda of most post-colonial governments. He shows that while class identities have come to be seen as flexible, often multiple, the Kenya situation has remained largely state driven and ethnically determined.


Robert Maxon (Majimbo in post-colonial Kenya) discusses the concept of majimbo, or federal structure of government as a continuing political discourse that has pervaded Kenya before and after independence. He examines the changing nature of the majimbo ideal and traces the trends of the ongoing debate by focusing particularly on the struggle to entrench regionalism in the independence constitution. He argues that despite the removal of the regional provisions from the independence constitution, political debates on the subject continued during the 1990s, and especially in the course of attempting to draft a new constitution for the nation during the first decade of the twenty-first century. He presents the view that while the issue of majimbo has never disappeared from political discourse, the meaning and purpose of such a constitutional arrangement has changed over time. 


George Gona (He Talked for Us”: Moi and Structural Adjustment Programmes in Kenya) engages with Moi’s cunning exploits of populism in his quest to wade off resistance that would have emerged out of discontent with the introduction of Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) in Kenya. He provides examples of the difficulties faced by citizenry when the austerity measures in the health and education sectors were imposed on Kenyans. Gona argues that the demands by the Brettonwoods institutions on the Kenya government to liberalise the Kenyan economy hit many Kenyan homes hard. The consequences of these unpopular measures were upheavals that resulted in the overthrow of some governments elsewhere in Africa. Gona demonstrates that Moi’s strategy of offering alternative ‘safe nets’ against those of destabilising SAPs saved him from the wrath of many suffering Kenyans. In this way Moi cleverly succeeded in wading off opposition emanating from the suffering brought about by SAPs because he spoke for them on these matters too.


Wanjala Nasongo (Interdependency and the illusion of mutuality in inter-state transactions: the case of Kenya) analyses the concept of interdependency by focusing on Kenya’s transactions within East Africa and between her and Norway. He presents the argument that whereas interdependency is an inevitable feature of the nation-state system, one of the most illusive phenomena in inter-state relations is the kind of mutuality that is assumed to exist between two interdependent states. He presents the view that there is more potential for equietous mutuality in inter-state transactions within the Global South than between Global South countries and their developed counterparts. He recommends that in their dealings with developed countries, developing states increasingly require the services of development diplomats, capable of combining the exercise of traditional diplomacy with the exigencies of development planning. 


The chapter by Bruce D. Roberts and K. Chimene Gecewicz (All work and no pay: women, gender expectations and economic autonomy in sub Saharan Africa) illustrates the plight of women by examining two distinct African contexts: the urban Asante of Ghana and the rural Keiyo of Kenya. They observe that despite extensive research that has demonstrated the multifarious demands on African women's time, particularly in relation to the coordination of domestic duties with other economic activities, development specialists and policy makers still miss the point, thereby marginalizing women in the development agenda. They contend that women’s coping strategies unintentionally bolster their own subordination and call not only for legal empowerment of African women, but also for a change in the gendered ideologies of local actors and macro-level policymakers.


Herbert Misigo Amatsimbi (HIV/AIDS and the disintegration of an African tradition: the case of Tiriki circumscision ceremonies) provides an overview of the changes that have been effected on Idumi, the Tiriki circumcision ceremonies. He argues that Christianity split the Tiriki into two antagonistic circumcision camps; on the one hand were the traditionalists who purport to have preserved the traditional ceremonies of circumcision, and on the other hand, the Tiriki Christians, who claim to have “modernized” idumi without diluting it. Misigo emphasizes that even with this dichotomy of practice of an important right of passage, Idumi was nonetheless increasingly and continuously sustained and embraced among the Tiriki. Misigo however posits that the scourge of HIV/AIDS has the greatest potential to radically change the Tiriki circumcision ceremonies. He cites three critical pointers of disintegration: that of the sacredness of the circumcisers’ knife (initiates no longer share the same knife), the seclusion of the initiates, and sexual lessons learnt during the ceremonies which are no longer being taught. Misigo observes that since almost all the significant aspects of the exercise are now only nominally observed, this spells doom to Tiriki circumcision ceremonies.