Majimbo in Kenya’s Past: Federalism in the 1940s and 1950s

by Robert Maxon


"In Robert Maxon’s welcome book, Majimbo in Kenya’s Past: Federalism in the 1940s and 1950s, losers come front and center. The author does not focus on the leading lights of the settler community, also part of the losing side in the narrative of Kenya’s decolonization. This is not a book about Lord Delamere, Michael Blundell, Wilfred Havelock, Ferdinand Cavendish-Bentinck, and Humphrey Slade, powerful, wealthy, and influential members of Kenya white settler community, though they appear from time to time. Center stage belongs to individuals who have scarcely made their appearance in the story of Britain’s departure from Kenya in 1963. Here, the leading lights are A.T. Culwick, B.F. Roberts, and L.E. Vigar, racists, profoundly against Africans and Asians alike, and robust federalists in defense of European privilege right up to the bitter end. ... After discussing the Dawe’s plan, presented to the Colonial Office in 1942 and calling for a grant of self-government to Kenya’s settlers in the White Highlands, Maxon discusses the majimbo plans put forward in the 1950s. ... This is a work of impressive and careful scholarship. One looks forward to Professor Maxon’s further volumes on Kenya’s constitutional history." —International Journal of African Historical Studies (IJAHS)

"Throughout the history of Kenya as a colony, white settlers sought to hold onto their political, economic, and social privileges at the expense of millions of Africans. It is the pursuit of this power that led to the rise of majimbo, a theory of federal system of government that was the antithesis of the dominant unitary government structure imposed by colonialism. This book deftly tackles this topic with unusual care and devotion to crucial details. Robert Maxon provides the history of the idea behind majimbo and its linkage to settler politics in colonial Kenya. One of the book’s strongest qualities is its detailed and meticulous research. Maxon makes use of numerous hitherto unseen primary sources from the National Archives (Kew, London) and even from the National Archives in Nairobi, Kenya. The net result is that this book is an original and well-researched history of one of the most important, if not contentious, questions in Kenya’s history. The book will fill a wide gap in Kenya’s colonial history. This impressive, well-crafted study will be very enthusiastically received by academic readers and general readers eager to understand the concluding years of the settler colonial enterprise in Kenya. Given how the book has been written in a jargon-free manner, it will also appeal to students of African studies and politics and scholars of comparative colonial studies."—Professor W. O. Maloba, Chair, Department of Black American Studies, and Professor of History and Black American Studies, University of Delaware

"This book is a most timely discussion of one of the most contentious issues in the politics of Kenya. The postelection violence in the country in 2008 was informed largely by contentions over the implications of the majimbo system of government. This study deals with a critical issue in the politics of contemporary Kenya and traces its historical development and trajectories over time. The strength of the book lies in the author’s critical understanding of the topic and its historical development. He brings it up to date, effectively highlighting the contours of the debate to the present time. Robert Maxon is to be applauded for his intricate knowledge of the issue in Kenya. This book will be of great interest to historians of Kenya and the postcolonial world, political scientists interested in institutional development, and all those with an interest in the politics of the developing world." —Professor Shadrack W. Nasong'o, Chair, Department of International Studies, Rhodes College


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