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KAU's Cultures: Imaginations of Community and Constructions of Leadership in Kenya after the Second World War

John Lonsdale
Journal of African Cultural Studies
Vol. 13, No. 1, In Honour of Professor Terence Ranger (Jun., 2000), pp. 107-124
Published by: Taylor & Francis, Ltd.
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1771859
Page Count: 18
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KAU's Cultures: Imaginations of Community and Constructions of Leadership in Kenya after the Second World War
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Abstract

The Kenya African Union or KAU, founded in 1944, banned in 1953, has commonly been seen as a fiasco. Failing to persuade the British to unseat Kenya's white settlers, it was unable to mobilize much African support or hold on to what it had. Mau Mau militants, who effectively won control of KAU in 1951, pursued violent resistance at the expense of a moderate pan-ethnic front. The British defeated Mau Mau but had to end the 'multi-racial' protection of white settlers and Indian business, to concede African majority rule. The absence of a liberal, pan-ethnic politics in independent Kenya has been seen as the long-term price of Mau Mau's takeover of KAU. This essay argues that this negative view of KAU misunderstands African politics in post-war Kenya. KAU had several local histories, of which Mau Mau was only one. It represented an extreme example of what Kenyans generally were attempting at the time, namely, to construct political communities in face of what was widely seen as moral disintegration. These were progressive ethnic creations rather than 'national' projects; they were not ethnically defensive in reaction to the aggressive ethnicity of Mau Mau. They formed the basis of the comparatively open politics of Kenyatta's Kenya.

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