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Becoming President. A Political Biography of Jomo Kenyatta (1958-1969)

Dates:
  • Mon 21 Nov 2016 15.00 - 17.30
  Add to Calendar 2016-11-21 15:00 2016-11-21 17:30 Europe/Paris Becoming President. A Political Biography of Jomo Kenyatta (1958-1969)

Presidential rule, closely related to personal rule, is a prominent feature of African studies. Nevertheless, the making of presidents has for a long time remained an untold story: few biographies or monographs have explored the political negotiations and imagination surrounding the making of presidential powers in postcolonial Africa. This dissertation reconstructs the political rise of Jomo Kenyatta, first president of Kenya, and the first decade of his presidential rule after independence. I show that the creation of the father of the nation was a contingent process, revealing that Kenyatta always lacked firm control over national politics. His major political asset was the popularity he owed to his unclear connection to the Mau Mau movement: he was simultaneously believed to be a leader and an opponent of the freedom fighters. As decolonization opened up an institutional vacuum, the burning issue of the decolonization of land institutions set a precedent for the creation of a centralized government, even before the debate over regionalism was settled during the independence negotiations. It set up Jomo Kenyatta as the most moderate politician to preserve British economic interests, and gave him substantial powers over land resources: upon independence, the Kenyan nationalist elite had to support the presidentialisation of the constitution to ensure its access to land. I argue that presidential rule is a postcolonial construction tailor-made to fit Kenyatta’s charismatic persona, even before he achieved political prominence. After independence, Kenyatta had little choice but to remain a distant and discreet president, while employing repressive politics, whether against resilient Mau Mau fighters or political opponents. I show that the negotiations and construction of Kenyatta’s presidential powers amounted neither to centralization, nor to regionalisation, but instead, institutionalized informal powers, weakening all state institutions: the party, the national assembly and even the provincial administration.

Sala dei Levrieri - Villa Salviati- Castle DD/MM/YYYY
  Sala dei Levrieri - Villa Salviati- Castle

Presidential rule, closely related to personal rule, is a prominent feature of African studies. Nevertheless, the making of presidents has for a long time remained an untold story: few biographies or monographs have explored the political negotiations and imagination surrounding the making of presidential powers in postcolonial Africa. This dissertation reconstructs the political rise of Jomo Kenyatta, first president of Kenya, and the first decade of his presidential rule after independence. I show that the creation of the father of the nation was a contingent process, revealing that Kenyatta always lacked firm control over national politics. His major political asset was the popularity he owed to his unclear connection to the Mau Mau movement: he was simultaneously believed to be a leader and an opponent of the freedom fighters. As decolonization opened up an institutional vacuum, the burning issue of the decolonization of land institutions set a precedent for the creation of a centralized government, even before the debate over regionalism was settled during the independence negotiations. It set up Jomo Kenyatta as the most moderate politician to preserve British economic interests, and gave him substantial powers over land resources: upon independence, the Kenyan nationalist elite had to support the presidentialisation of the constitution to ensure its access to land. I argue that presidential rule is a postcolonial construction tailor-made to fit Kenyatta’s charismatic persona, even before he achieved political prominence. After independence, Kenyatta had little choice but to remain a distant and discreet president, while employing repressive politics, whether against resilient Mau Mau fighters or political opponents. I show that the negotiations and construction of Kenyatta’s presidential powers amounted neither to centralization, nor to regionalisation, but instead, institutionalized informal powers, weakening all state institutions: the party, the national assembly and even the provincial administration.


Location:
Sala dei Levrieri - Villa Salviati- Castle

Affiliation:
Department of History and Civilization

Type:
Thesis defence

Examiner:
Federico Romero (EUI - HEC)
Professor Daniel Branch (University of Warwick)
Prof. John Lonsdale (Centre of African Studies)

Supervisor:
Prof. Dirk Moses

Defendant:
Anais Angelo (EUI - Department of History and Civilization)

Contact:
Miriam Felicia Curci - Send a mail

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