Presentation by Erin Bell, PhD Student


Peterson Hall Room 116, 3460 rue McTavish, Montreal, QC, H3A 0E6, CA

Kenyan Children and Childhoods during the Mau Mau Uprising: Working Towards a Research Agenda

Erin Bell, PhD Student
Indian Ocean World Centre

Colonial states depended on the control of children and young people to ensure their successful perpetuation.  As such, colonial regimes created malleable categories of ‘childhood’ to support and justify the economic and social priorities of the colonial project.  Despite constant efforts to manipulate African childhoods and children in ways that would prove advantageous to the colonial regime, African elders still controlled transitions to adulthood through access to land and livestock. Conflicting notions of childhood suggest that both colonial officials and African elders were preoccupied with the meanings of maturity and adulthood in a world where models of generation, gender, and future prospects were all in flux. 

This presentation will address two over-arching issues that complement and complicate existing historiographies concerning both African children and the Mau Mau Uprising (1952-1960).  First, the presenter will discuss ways childhood was constructed and perceived by both colonial authorities and African elders.  Second, the presenter questions how Kenyan children experienced and negotiated these understandings of childhoods. In doing so, this presentation elucidates a research agenda to better understand the relationship between colonial regimes and young people in East Africa.  It does so by drawing attention to the complicated encounters between childhoods, colonialism, and nationalism in colonial Kenya during the Mau Mau Uprising.