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Kenya: Between Hope and Despair, 1963-2011 Hardcover – November 15, 2011
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“…..there had been a glaring shortage of really good general works on its post-independence history. [Kenya] not only plugs that hole, but has much to say too about the possible futures of many other poor post-colonial states.”—Stephen Howe, The Independent (Stephen Howe The Independent 2011-11-25)
“Branch has produced a largely narrative account, accessible to the general, non-specialist reader, and an excellent primer for students on African Studies courses interested in Kenya.”—Warris Vianni, Awaaz Magazine.com (Warris Vianni Awaaz Magazine.com 2012-02-04)
“…This book’s achievements deserve to be celebrated: combining scholarly rigour with accessibility, it stands as the best account of post-colonial Kenyan politics.”—Edward Goodman, The English Historical Review
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We had it pointed out to us where the screams of those tortured could be heard, we heard stories about how they did the torture. Branch fills out the context. One of my colleagues at the University was carted off by the secret police for writing pamphlets, thanks to Branch I know he served 4 years and survived it.
The subtitle seems accurate: we always saw Kenya as a glass simultaneous being filled up and draining out: a place that should prosper but wasn't. This is a political history, that is his goal. In recounting politics he has to spend more time on despair than hope. The hope us expatriates had, those of us who had fallen in love with Kenya, was based not on the "wabenzi" tribe of the elite but on the "wananchi" rank and file who were cheerful, welcoming and taught us all so many things in a country breathtakingly beautiful.
I fear that a history of Kenya written 20 years from now will have the same plot. But it shouldn't.
The book explores Kenyan politics from the time of the first president Kenyatta, through the time of the second president Moi, up to the present time of the third president Kibaki. In the early days the struggle was between the political elite and those like Oginga Odinga who wanted to redistribute the wealth. After a while the struggle was simply between different factions in the political elite who wanted to seize power and feather their own nests.
Remarkably, the author does not hesitate to detail instances of corruption and criminal conduct and name names, given the propensity of the Kenyan elite to sue for defamation. Former National Security Minister Chris Murungaru is currently suing KTN for defamation over the allegation that he was a drug kingpin. Former Minister of Trade and Industry Nicholas Biwott was awarded $750,000 for defamation over the allegation that he murdered Robert Ouko. President Kibaki has publicly threatened defamation proceedings against anyone who claims he is a polygamist. All of these allegations and many more appear in the book. Perhaps the author has greater confidence in the independence of the current judiciary.
Although the book's title suggests that Kenya fluctuates between hope and despair, the abiding impression gained by the reader is more on the side of despair. If the author is correct in suggesting that the Moi regime had a deliberate policy of provoking violence in order to justify the repressive measures taken to stifle dissent and maintain its grip on power, then that helps to explain the country's decline in GDP per capita between 1980 and 2002.
The book focuses on politics to the exclusion of other aspects of Kenya's recent history such as poverty, health, culture and significant non-political events. Nevertheless it provides a very useful and uncensored overview of how the country's governance has reached its current condition.
a page turner. have read it twice and will read it again before my next and 5th trip