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date: 22 October 2017

Popular Politics in East Africa from Precolonial to Postcolonial Times

Abstract and Keywords

Popular politics have influenced the development of East Africa’s political institutions from roughly two millennia ago up to contemporary times. Among the discernible political dynamics over this time period were pressures to include or exclude peoples from key institutions of belonging, the decisive role of patron–client relationships across all political institutions, the role of generational conflict, the source of political authority based on command of the visible and invisible worlds, and the changing role of indigeneity and “first-comer” status claims. These dynamics can all be found at work in the development of conventional political structures that span this time frame—that is, from the small chieftaincies and kingdoms of the precolonial era; to cults of public healing and medicine making; to engagement with European colonial institutions and the 20th-century creation of “traditional” indigenous authorities; to the growth of associational life that led to political parties, one-party states, and their postliberalization successors. Yet there was also tremendous diversity of these experiences across East Africa, which goes some way toward explaining the differences not only among the region’s contemporary nation-states but even within those nation-states. Popular pressures for inclusion either resulted in the expansion of existing political institutions or created demands for new institutions that directly challenged the exclusionary and often brittle existing political structures.

Keywords: East Africa, resistance, nationalism, ethnicity, political parties, patronage, colonialism, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda

Conventionally defined in a Western context, “popular politics” refers to forms of action taken outside of formal political party structures—typically acts of protest, unrest, or public disorder—that challenge or appropriate parties as well as other established institutions, which themselves adapt in the process.1 There is also a broader understanding of popular politics, as the practice of pressurizing a wide variety of public institutions—“social,” “religious,” and “healing,” as well as straightforwardly “political”—in order to expand the participation and transform the type of authority that these institutions exercise over public life. As Paul Landau demonstrates in his study of popular politics on South Africa’s highveld, Bantu speakers had long nurtured “a political tradition capable of accommodating and embracing strangers,” which created a hybridity of popular sovereignties and rural mobilizations that confronted European colonial encroachment in a variety of ways that have been badly taxonimized and misunderstood by states and scholars alike.2 Indeed, resisting the urge to impose preexisting taxonomies that delineate “religious,” “traditional,” and “modern” forms of social action remains among the most necessary insights for acquiring a better understanding of African history.

Five principal insights emerge in the patterns of popular politics across what is today Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda. First, at the heart of East African popular politics is an ideological as well as material engagement with patron–client relationships. This dynamic animates, in one way or another, the entire range of political institutions, from millennia-old public cults of healing to postcolonial and postliberalization institutions. Second, a major feature of these institutions is the commitment to addressing the invisible as well as the visible worlds—“invisible” refers to the role of deities, unseen spirits, and medicinal effects whose properties are not straightforwardly visible in the same sense that those of plainly “visible” chiefs or political parties are. Third, a central yet uneven feature has been the role of indigenous insiders or first-comers claiming political authority over a given territory and people based primarily on the principle of precedence—that is, a claim to indigeneity which forms a particular dynamic that outsiders have had to navigate as a means of inclusion. Yet, this dynamic has often had to compete with and has been overwhelmed by other, often more territorially ambitious forms of political power established by outsiders or “strangers” themselves. Fourth, a central point of conflict both within as well as between institutions has been that of generational competition, in which younger men and women mobilize the energies and particular skills of their age to challenge older, gerontocratic figures for wealth, status, and inclusion. Fifth and finally, popular politics has recurrently led to the creation of new polities and community identities—ethnic and racial, as well as religious and generational.

Precolonial Institutions of Popular Politics

The diversity of East Africa’s precolonial political structures resists generalization. Ritual chieftaincies and regional aristocracies coexisted with village-level matrilineal clans and other “stateless” societies. The only discernible factor, though certainly no “rule,” of historical state complexity was the interconnected presence of higher population densities and comparatively lush levels of rainfall. Much of East Africa’s savannah was originally inhabited by clans; later political structures on the savannah developed in two main ways—first, among small-scale chiefs who took their title ntemi (“to clear by cutting”) from proud first-comers to a given region, with units often breaking apart as thwarted challengers pressed out into the unsettled frontier; and second, the outsider “stranger” chief, often a hunter, whose ability to impose an impartial justice over local disputes secured his authority.3Ntemi exercised both ritual and administrative powers, as was broadly the case for chiefs across East Africa—the health of the land and people “was thought to depend on the chief’s physical health and his observance of special rituals.”4 Yet chiefs did not enjoy a monopoly over political authority, which took several forms. Among Bantu-speaking farmers, chiefs existed alongside elders, healers, diviners, and iron smelters; among southern Nilotic speakers of the Rift Valley, authority was organized around age-set systems that incorporated outsiders by generation. Both groups shared shrines and spirits.5

Historical linguistics enables scholars to identify core political institutions with a deep regional history—institutions which highlight the rights and responsibilities of patrons and clients within the visible world, and of healers and patients who penetrate the invisible world. In the rain-rich Great Lakes region during the early centuries of the Common Era, complexes of chiefship and healing emerged out of a rising agricultural abundance of Bantu-speaking farmers. The chief or mwaámì formed his (and it was male) instrumental power from the ability to redistribute wealth, while grand feasts cemented loyalties between patrons and clients, though the latter retained the right to revolt (kugòma) should the former falter. Such earthly figures coexisted with the mufÚmÚ or diviner-doctor, a distinguished leader unlike the common healer or mugángá, whose creative powers of prophecy and rainmaking could “convert misfortune and adversity into stores of further healing power.” Sophisticated healing cults, in which women and men were dedicated to certain spirits as their mediums—a practice known as kubándwa—emerged throughout the Great Lakes region, most spectacularly in the form of the cwezi kubándwa in what is today northern Rwanda, western Uganda, and northwestern Tanzania.6 The cwezi, or “spitters” who aided in life’s transitions—healing the sick, bestowing fertility on the infertile—transcended the local limits of clan spirits to operate on a territorial basis, and thus could challenge and even organize resistance to expansive states. Many cwezi mediums played a compensatory role in which women could challenge men’s claims on female fertility, while the cwezi kubándwa institution itself could form an alternative if unstable sphere of public authority.7

Three principal matrices of political power emerged across precolonial East Africa. In addition to the first distinction between “creative” and “instrumental” power, broadly overlapping with command over the “invisible” and “visible” worlds, respectively, there was a second set of opposing categories, that of “insider” and “outsider” authorities. The ntemi of the savannah, for example, stressed his first-comer status in domesticating and settling the region’s hostile frontier—though rarely in practice were settlements carried out in genuinely “uninhabited” land. The insider logic of first-comer authority meant that latecomers had to recognize the former’s ownership and ritual authority over the land, as well as their mythical accounts of original settlement. The first-comer principle operated in contexts as broad as governing interethnic relations and as narrow as regulating the hierarchy of a hamlet.8 The “outsider” hunters and herdsmen, by contrast, stumbled upon already-settled but badly divided populations to bring order. In what is today northeastern Tanzania, a tradition of honoring the “father of the bow” Sheuta, an ancestor-hunter and male lineage progenitor, is reflected in accounts of the Shambaa’s 18th-century founding, in which a wandering hunter named Mbegha became king after killing wild pigs that destroyed local crops.9 Among the Maasai of the Rift Valley, expertise among “outsiders,” such as laibons (prophets), sorcerers, and blacksmiths, stood in contradistinction with that of “insider” elders, rainmakers, healers, and diviners. Finally, the third and perhaps best-known matrix of regional power concerned generational structures and competition. This was most explicit in age-set societies like the Maasai, in which elders normatively exercised control over younger murran (warriors) but in practice had to compete with outsider laibons in securing the loyalty of warrior generations.10

Yet these forms of normative institutional power, as complicated and sophisticated as they were, were continuously shaped and contested by popular pressures of participation. These participatory pressures were primarily directed toward widening and strengthening social relationships rather than simply securing access to material resources. Broadly speaking, power in East African societies was “a function of one’s influence over people” rather than land or other productive resources.11 All of this is evident in the region’s history of patron–client relations. In precolonial Rwanda, long predominated by an ideological foundation in which aristocratic Tutsi cattle-owners governed Hutu peasant farmers, patron–client relations stood at the core of several governance structures. As a Rwandan proverb affirms, “a dog is not feared for his fangs, but for his lord.”12Umuheto clientship, in which a patron offered protection to a lineage’s cattle in exchange for annual gifts, crucially provided lineage groups with not only protective insurance but also support in property disputes. This umuheto form, however, was superceded during the late 19th century by ubuhake clientship, in which a patron transferred cattle to an individual (rather than group) client for their individual use, in exchange for the latter’s service and support. In this new system, the negotiating power of lineage groups waned, while the threat of withdrawing cattle widened the possibilities of exploitation for the ubuhake patron. This broad shift had been enabled by the aggressive centralization of Rwanda’s Nyiginya kingdom over the later 19th century, and in the accompanying growth in competition for land, which resulted not only in more favorable terms for patrons but also yielded a growing sociological substance to an initial ideological conceit that divided “Tutsi” herders from “Hutu” farmers.13 The 18th and 19th centuries in what is today Uganda were marked by “a distinctive military entrepreneurialism” that generated robust and sophisticated states—Buganda, Bunyoro, Nkore—each of which provided stability and protection to the governed in exchange for “loyalty, goods and services, and the legitimacy which flowed from an engagement with public ceremony and ‘tradition.’”14

Clientship was susceptible to a host of pressures beyond the centralizing state. The politics of patron–client relations were similarly prominent along the East African coast during these same decades, when slavery emerged as a central feature of political and economic life. The relationship between slaves and slave owners across East Africa had historically resembled several features of a patron–client relationship. For example, the slave owner provided protection and social networks for slaves in return for slaves’ loyalty and labor. Yet to assert a typology of African slavery as essentially “clientelist” in nature, only to be replaced by a harsher and market-oriented plantation system that emerged along the coast in the later 19th century, obscures rather than clarifies the roles of agency and ideology as East Africa was further drawn into the global economy. As the more market-minded plantation owners on the coast sought to maximize their investments by demanding more labor and less social integration from their slaves, the latter responded by extolling ideals of patron–client responsibilities to increase their autonomy and reduce their social marginality. Even at the direst plantations, slaves on the coast were never simple “chattel” but rather laid claim to the respected institutions of coastal life—“the prestige of patriarchy, commerce, Islamic ritual and rank”—to assert their own rights as Swahili “citizens.” The patron–client relationship thus provided a political language of rights and responsibilities, mediated through local institutions, which held patrons as well as clients accountable to prevailing norms of justice and generosity. A “politics of reputation” thrived, in which “the weak might vilify the powerful for being ungenerous, and the rich ignore their obligations to those they deemed ungrateful.”15 Such a perspective is important for explaining why dominant ideologies remain so popular among groups of people (like slaves) whose own status and material position were so disadvantageous, as well as for demonstrating that the patron–client relationship was as responsive to popular pressure from below as it was from pressures of state building of capital penetration from above.

The 19th century was a period of rapid commercialization across much of the East African interior, driven primarily by the long-distance caravan trade that brought in an unprecedented volume of manufactured goods—most importantly, textiles—in exchange for slaves and ivory. Chains of credit tied together the regional commercial center of Zanzibar with chiefs and traders upcountry. Leaders transformed preexisting political ideologies to absorb the prestige and power that came with accumulating and distributing imported commodities.16 Ambitious settlement leaders could now become powerful regional chiefs. In the area of Uzigua in northeastern Tanzania, for example, regional tolls on passing caravans were coordinated by a fairly stable set of hierarchical chiefly alliances that benefited traders as well as chiefs, who together allowed “trade to flourish in spite of the predatory violence which they used to acquire power.”17 But this was not simply a story of shifting elites and predatory raids, for participatory pressures also shaped the very nature of the commodities themselves. Textile fashions changed quickly, surprising European travelers who found their wares rejected even in the most remote settlements. Imported commodities were no mere baubles offloaded to simplistic consumers, but potent vectors of social meaning that both widened and accelerated status competition. Muyaka bin Haji, the most celebrated poet of 19th-century Mombasa, despaired at the rancorous envy that competition for the finest clothing had brought to the port city. Nurturing such commodity needs had become “the conscious manifestations of the longing for a certain kind of personhood, that is, respectability, némsi, ‘goodness.’”18 Fully aware of the potencies carried by this era’s signature commodity, urban patrons and rural chiefs alike embraced clothing distribution as a new principal mechanism to collect followers, increasing the region’s collective demand that further integrated East Africa into the global economy. In this way, patrons and clients became global consumers.

The arrival of European colonial actors and institutions in the later 19th century transformed several indigenous institutions of East African popular politics. Yet the perseverance of such institutions is perhaps the most remarkable feature of the early colonial decades. Not only did new European companies and governments rely heavily on indigenous authorities and a variety of “middlemen” to secure their most basic presence, but the nature of popular African politics was visibly shaped by these deeper political traditions, particularly in the ways that Africans initially resisted the new encroachments of colonial rule.

Popular Politics in the Ages of “Resistance” and “Improvement,” 1880s–1940s

The dramatic rebellions that occurred during the two decades that followed formal declarations of European sovereignty over East Africa in the 1880s mark moments of unusual transparency for African popular politics. These were years of existential crises—not only for African states that had to confront well-organized Europeans actors armed with firepower, medical skills, and sophisticated systems of communications and transport, but also for the region’s wider environment and demography. The 1880s marked the onset of a continent-wide drought that would last for decades, contributing to a particularly deadly famine in East Africa between 1898 and 1900. Cattle, a main store of wealth as well as of nutrition, suffered an epidemic of rinderpest that killed upward of 90 percent of the region’s herds in the 1890s—which in turn accelerated a devastating expansion of the tsetse fly, which not only killed people directly through sleeping sickness but also impoverished herders for decades by making former pasturelands uninhabitable.19 Popular politics of this era thus occurred amid a backdrop of devastating demographic loss and environmental degradation, during which time previous ideologies of honor, healing, fertility, and stability had to reckon with implanted foreign institutions which sought local dominance for quite different ends.

The famous chapters of East African resistance to European colonial conquest are remarkable less for their capacity to foreshadow subsequent nationalist politics than for their ability to reveal this period’s highly localized, reputation-centered, and often peculiar nature of popular politics. The so-called prophets of resistance—religious leaders who directed the most dramatic chapters of resistance during this period—demonstrate the ease in which this period’s leading figures could traverse the realms of creative and instrumental power. The orkoiyot (plural, orkoiik) or ritual leader, who inherited powers of prophecy and divination, took on a particularly prominent role in leading the Nandi-speaking (today’s “Kalenjin-speaking”) peoples’ confrontations against encroaching British authority in Kenya’s Western Highlands during the 1890s and 1900s. Prophecies of invading whites who would seize Nandi lands and cattle, made by an orkoiyot named Kimnyole, seemed fulfilled in the years following his murder in 1889. Among his successors, Koitalel Arap Samoei parlayed his predecessor’s creative prophecies into instrumental power by distinguishing himself as the most determined of all the succeeding orkoiik to oppose British incursions, lending Koitatel the authority to lead Nandi on a series of armed raids against neighbors and British forces from 1895 until his murder at the hands of the British in 1905.20

On the other side of Lake Victoria, drawing on deep regional roots of cwezi kubándwa religious practices, a possession cult termed nyabingi emerged during the late 19th century in northern Rwanda and southern Uganda. It acted as a kind of alternative shadow state that filled the vacuum of authority left by the splintered chieftaincies in the region.21 A series of mediums to the powerful nyabingi spirit known as bagirwa (singular, mugirwa), many of whom had formerly had connections to regional states, increased the influence of nyabingi by imposing a religious hierarchy that monopolized access to the spirit, which was maintained when the spirit would simply move on to another chosen mugirwa following the death or incapacitation of the present one. The mugirwa Muhumusa had initially mobilized nyabingi followers in vain pursuit of her son’s claims to the Rwandan throne in the 1900s. Muhumusa’s unruly exile across the new colonial border in southern Uganda, materially bolstered by an elaborate network of tribute, came to irritate the new British imperial authority and local Kiga; she in turn demanded the expulsion of the former by directing attacks on the latter in 1911, initially meeting with great success until her capture and imprisonment. A subsequent male mugirwa known as Ndochibiri came from eastern Congo to Kigezi in 1916 to direct his energies not to Rwandan politics but at Anglo-Belgian wartime military installations. The example given by Ndochibiri, who busily eluded capture, was taken up the following year by local Kiga followers, who were chaffing under British and “sub-imperial” Ganda control, and had “openly embraced [nyabingi] as an alternative to British occupation.” These nyabingi adherents raided a colonial outpost at Nyakishenyi, killing dozens and destroying symbols of colonial rule such as court houses, churches, and poll tax registers.22 Subsequent revolts followed in 1919 (when Ndochibiri was captured and killed) and 1928, though cult adherents never again posed an existential challenge to local order. Nyabingi was an arrogant and coercive power whose mediums made “preemptory demands” of their neighbors.23 But nyabingi—literally “she who has many things”—had and would continue to pose an alternative regional system of patronage, in which bagirwa could demand enormous amounts of cattle and produce from followers who had to turn to creditors to procure such hefty amounts, becoming enmeshed in networks of debt and reciprocity to protect against infertility and other misfortunes.24

Like the prophecies of the Rift Valley and spirit possessions of the Great Lakes, the discursive content of popular politics on the mrima coast of what is today northern Tanzania matched neither any programmatic project nor any “for-itself” class consciousness, but did prove sensitive to sleights and acts of disrespect in what was a “politics of reputation.” The German East African Company had taken over Zanzibar’s toll stations in August 1888 as a part of Germany’s growing imperial presence in the region. A blundering effort to assert German customs control at stations in Pangani and Bagamoyo by appropriating the symbolic power of the Zanzibar flag provided the spark to ignite simmering local resentments over status and debt between local Shirazi chiefs on the one hand and Zanzibar-aligned Omani Arab planters on the other—combustible resentments heightened by further tensions surrounding competitive holiday feasts that happened to coincide with this takeover. The resulting violence—often termed the Bushiri (or Abushiri) revolt, for the leading role played by a local Arab planter, Bushiri bin Salim—engulfed many of the towns along the Company’s newly acquired Swahili coast for over a year until German forces and their local allies at last established control. The relatively high-born Bushiri was effective largely to the extent that he could straddle a diverse array of local political interests, though even he was hardly in control of events or factions, particularly of unruly plebeians who “struggled for inclusion, not revolution, and they enunciated their aspirations within a hegemonic idiom of Islamic purity, Arabo-centric ustaarabu, and the ideals of generosity and display embodied in Shirazi festive ritual.”25

The most dramatic and widespread rebellion of this period occurred nearly two decades later in what is today southern Tanzania. The German colonial state had remained a fairly distant entity in southern Tanzania over the decade that followed the Bushiri conflict—like the Zanzibar Sultanate, it appeared to locals as an abstract patron with whom one might negotiate more favorable taxes and expect recognition of their “free” status. Yet after 1898, the German colonial state increasingly encroached upon village life in the area through taxation, compulsory cultivation, and other types of coerced labor. The conflict subsequently termed “Maji Maji” began in July 1905—whether it was started by the uprooting of compulsorily planted cotton by disgruntled laborers, or by the impetuous German arrest of two well-known local healers, the subsequent violence combined protest against the material demands of the new colonial dispensation with creative powers of the invisible world.26 The central figure wielding this creative power was the prophet Kinjikitile Ngwale, who lived near the Rufiji delta and had recently been possessed by a local spirit known as Hongo, itself a subordinate to a powerful regional spirit known as Bokero. Wielding and recasting these local beliefs to meet new challenges, Kinjikitile created a medicine delivered in water (maji) form that promised protection from European bullets; the medicine attracted several followers to his home to help distribute this powerful “secret” weapon. Although it would be a mistake to reduce the subsequent conflict to the expression of a singular political ideology or religious movement, the prominent role of the protective medicines facilitated a wartime communication mediated by a translatable complex of local beliefs and traditions across a large region. The conflict raged across much of the southern third of German East Africa during the remainder of 1905 and well into 1906—during which time symbols of the new colonial presence, marked not only by the local district office or boma but also by mission stations and Arab and Indian shops, were targeted for destruction. The movement transcended ethnic and linguistic boundaries to the north, south, and far to the west, among stateless people and sophisticated chieftaincies, though some chiefs resisted the medicine and sided with German forces, while other groups like the Bena were bitterly split among themselves. The German state responded with a scorched earth policy that targeted destruction of food and crops, in turn leading to depopulation and crashing fertility rates. The lesson that subsequent nationalists took from the conflict was the value of pan-ethnic unity against colonial rule, though the historical lesson remains far less clear. What is clear is the powerful potential for collective action when actors wielding creative powers of prophecy and medicine making join together with those who exercise instrumental powers of state organization.

As colonial institutions took root, there remained a pressing need to rebuild and repurpose popular African institutions for post-conquest needs. Alternative institutions directed toward the invisible world had dramatic if not enduring impacts on local practices of patronage and governance. On the Lake Victoria littoral of southwestern Kenya in 1913, the serpent god Mumbo had swallowed a local man named Onyango, spat him back out, and provided a sermon to him upon which a wider creed of “Mumboism” developed—a creed that denounced Christianity and European clothing, and instead offered its followers abundant material wealth and a promise to purge the country of Europeans. Over the following two decades, the creed spread among a small but determined number of Luo and Gusii adepts, who mimicked chiefly rituals, attempted to dissuade followers from paying taxes and contributing communal labor, and collected gifts from followers to organize feasts and make promises of future wealth and protection. These were millenarian promises, however, as they could only materialize through followers’ dramatic sacrifices of their present wealth, by ceasing planting and slaying all of one’s cattle—sacrifices never carried out by the time the cult had faded in the 1930s. The appeal and meaning of Mumboism was neither simply as an anticolonial movement nor as a local religious cult; rather, it was an attempt to construct an alternative system of patronage and power—a sort of “shadow state”—for local Luo and Gusii to compete with the patronage of the colonial government and missions. For Mumbo’s adepts “were both patrons and terrestrial representatives of a supernatural being.”27 More materially successful were individuals who cleansed communities of witchcraft—invariably men who developed trans-ethnic and regional reputations that enabled them to charge enormous fees to remove evil. In Tanzania, earlier practices of eliminating witchcraft through “detection” mechanisms like poison ordeals were partially supplanted by new eradication movements that protected entire populations from witchcraft through distribution of medicines.28 One such figure was Nguvumali Mpangile, whose reputation was known across much of Tanganyika.29 Starting his practice in Kilwa District in the early 1950s, Nguvumali was happy to work with colonial officials who hired him to help solve thorny criminal cases that required powers of detection and eradication, and his medicine acted as a sort of “mass immunization” from which he earned enormous sums.30 Similar to the medicines of Maji Maji, eradication medicines were works of effective long-distance communication, creating regional registers that challenged the ritual status of first-comer authorities. Yet institutions like Mumboism and witchcraft eradication medicines ultimately had limited purchase on the colonial order, as they had difficulty in reflecting and appropriating the colonial structures that would decisively shape public life.

The imposition of colonial rule presented East Africans with new institutions—churches, agricultural markets, schools, state bureaucracies—that they not only had to endure but also could appropriate and even transform. Christian churches and newly energized “tribes” created the two most significant colonial-era institutions for popular politics. Excepting the kingdom of Buganda, which embraced Christianity as the state religion in late 19th century, most early converts came from the margins of society. African-led evangelism drew in far larger numbers over the early 20th century, and grew rapidly in status with the simultaneous growth of an export-led colonial economy and entrenchment of a colonial bureaucracy. On an intellectual level, Christianity was likely the most consequential of all the legacies of European colonial rule. Most colonial-era East Africans became literate through Christian schools, and literacy gave Christianity “authority, apparent rationality, and explanatory capacity which unwritten indigenous religions lacked.”31 By providing literacy, a sense of community, and access to the invisible as well as the wider visible world, denominational churches became central public institutions in the lives of East Africans, as did independent churches that broke off from European missionary control. The new dispensation prompted fresh justifications for maintaining male control over female labor and fertility. In the interwar Kenyan central highlands, white missionaries forbade what they viewed as the barbaric initiation practice of female circumcision. Dissenting African male congregants responded by insisting that without circumcision, “tribal integrity” would collapse; so too would their ability to secure bridewealth for their daughters. Women fortunate enough to choose faced a sharp dilemma: abandon mission institutions or conform to denominational expectations and risk becoming “Kavirondo,” that is, uncircumcised “outsiders” like the Luo.32 The church also shaped popular politics by empowering educated youths who had become better positioned to challenge elders over the types and values of knowledge, and by further undermining the premise and principle of first-comer authority. This was most visible in the East African Revival, which emerged among evangelical churches in the Great Lakes area during the 1930s and stressed the need for public confession of private sin. Converts were the region’s cosmopolitans par excellence, dissenting nonconformists who questioned the civic order of parochial African authorities. Discipline and accountability, qualities that all East Africans sought, were not matters of external temporal authority but internal spiritual mastery.33

In sharp contrast to the revivalists, East Africa’s several ethnic patriotisms engaged in projects to create “a political community as a patria, a fatherland, rooting people in place as inheritors of their ancestors’ instructive customs and traditions.”34 Not only did ethnic patriots celebrate the inherited knowledge of their elders, but they raised the principle of first-comer status to a regional moral imperative. Colonial strategies to seek out collaborative rulers had institutionalized native authorities and thus helped to define the form of “tribe” that East Africa’s patriots would embrace.35 But it was the work of ethnic patriots who provided the necessary intellectual and moral material on which such “tribes” were constructed. Mission-educated elites played a decisive role. Jomo Kenyatta’s Facing Mt. Kenya (1938) portrayed Kikuyu society as “an Arcadian republic of the elders—a democratic, integrated, orderly, and civilized organic community free of disruptive internal conflict.” A product of his time as an anthropology student at the London School of Economics, Kenyatta employed functionalism to sharpen and homogenize the fuzzy contours of Kikuyu social institutions in order to strengthen ethnographic defenses of custom concerning land, taxes, education, and initiation rituals that had failed in his previous political petitions.36 Although cosmopolitan in their reading habits and participants in a trans-territorial discourse, East Africa’s ethnic patriots were nonetheless irreducibly anchored to quite specific territories. Though the leading ethnic patriots themselves were often “immigrants” to centers of colonial labor migration, defining and defending an original fatherland was the foundational activity upon which they could elaborate social visions of hierarchical relationships—relationships ideally based on trust and dependence but ultimately enforceable through external disciplinary mechanisms of traditional law and custom. Luo ethnic patriots, many of whom lived and worked in Nairobi, developed tribal histories in order to secure their absentee land claims. They also defined “traditional” marriage to ensure control over independent Luo women, and denounced interloping “Luyia” as outsiders lacking first-comer rights. In the process of these debates, activists “were simplifying history, consolidating diverse cultural practices, and identifying a particular people with a particular homeland.”37 Ethnic patriots often began with a common ancestor; others used spatial referents. The term oluhia, meaning the “fireplace on a meadow” where rituals, negotiations, and burials were held, became the preferred ethnonym of mission-educated Northern Kavirondo Central Association leaders in the 1930s to describe the several Bantu-speaking clans of the region. These Luyia patriots appropriated colonial mapping technologies while simultaneously reaching back to invoke “the symbolic value attached to the precolonial locus of power and communion [the oluhia] within the public sphere.”38 Yet all of these projects of ethnic patriotism were often ultimately tethered to the paradox of the colonial chief himself—a figure whose power had to be strong enough to collect taxes and otherwise perform administrative tasks but weak enough to be replaceable should he no longer support or even oppose important colonial policies.

Popular Politics and the Chama in Colonial East Africa, 1920s–1960s

The East African political institution that could reflect and appropriate colonial structures, and by far the most important and arresting “indigenous” institution of East African popular politics to emerge during the colonial decades, was the chama (plural, vyama). The word, meaning “association,” “club,” or “dance society,” stands as the key term of organized popular politics in East Africa. Its origins reveal not only the persistence of elaborate hierarchies that structured what were later understood as ostensibly democratic institutions, but also the critical role of outside participatory pressure in giving such institutions their actual, insurgent-like democratic character. On the 19th-century coast, local Shirazi hierarchies were expressed by ranks of title holders, bound in a vertical patron–client chain in which members aided local chiefs (majumbe) in performing community rituals in return for a portion of collected fees. A paternalistic language of seniority ranked lower members as vijana or “youths,” possibly reflecting the origins of chama as an institution to maintain youth discipline. Outsiders, people of slave descent, and other lower-ranking peoples sought local integration by joining such associations and climbing their ranks; local nobles would admit newcomers after weighing the value of maintaining social exclusivity with that of demonstrating generosity and expanding their client base. Women sometimes formed separate dance societies, though such vyama had decisively lower status. Village rituals as they played out in these dance societies revealed both vertical and horizontal competitions—vertically, as lower-status “youths” demanded inclusion in local institutions, and horizontally, as rival dance societies challenged one another in local festival contests.39 The chama took on particularly vivid formations in East Africa’s urban areas. Town moieties, usually based on neighborhood or lineage, that had animated local rivalries along the 19th-century Swahili coast took on new appearances under European colonial rule. The most striking of these earlier associations were dance societies, effective forums of socialization for a variety of affinities—not only for the male immigrants who discovered a shared ethnicity far from home, but also for the “emancipated” urban women of multiple ethnicities who performed lelemama dances.40

The most revealing of the colonial-era dance societies was the Beni ngoma. Beni marked an indigenous appropriation of European military brass band (or “Beni”) performances, in which particular distinctions were reflected in group names—Kingi, Scotchi, and Marini stood among the leading groups. Beni first emerged in coastal towns to later spread particularly throughout German East Africa in the century’s early decades, as a festive shadow to the troops that had quashed indigenous military resistance and first established the rudiments of a new colonial order. To the modernizer’s eye, Beni seemed a wasteful indulgence in competitive carnival; to its participants, however, it provided not only entertainment but also aspirations to greater status and prestige, particularly for those who acquired leadership offices as recognition for their generosity and ability to deliver patronage to other band members. Despite outwardly celebrating European pomp, as Terence Ranger observed, Beni represented “rather a display of self-respect than a submission to absolute power,” in which dance competitions reflected neither a fawning tribute nor bold resistance to colonial rule, but instead fierce internal rivalries based on age, status, and—increasingly—class. Beni’s decline across East Africa by the 1960s owed much to the development of more cosmopolitan alternatives like dance and jazz bands, as well as to energetic new forms of social competition, particularly football, which overtook many of Beni’s social functions.41

Accelerating rapidly by the 1940s, urbanization created new social networks and political affinities, while straining the state’s ability to maintain order. In colonial Zanzibar, most teams reflected moiety-like neighborhood rivalries and were built upon preexisting male neighborhood networks drawn from mosques and baraza—the latter referring to the outdoor social space where adult men would gather for regular discussions. Playing for an independent team like the African Association-affiliated African Sports, as opposed to those affiliated with non-African organizations or leadership, was fondly recalled by footballers, who had participated not out of nationalism but simply pride in managing their own affairs. Team club houses were anchors of neighborhood pride, and playing for such teams was “a passionate part of becoming a male in postwar Zanzibar.”42 In Dar es Salaam, football life had centered on the rivalry between Sunderland (today’s “Simba”) and Young Africans or “Yanga,” which roughly represented the town’s “immigrant” and “indigenous” populations, respectively, and were each tied into wider social networks of taarab musical clubs, Islamic schools, and dance societies. Yet these distinctions between insiders and outsiders were overshadowed by actions of the wartime colonial state that regulated the urban economy on racial lines. This led to the town’s first mass political demonstration in 1946, over the poor food rations Africans received compared to their better-nourished Indian and European neighbors.43 Crises of housing scarcity and runaway inflation similarly plagued Nairobi, which pushed some younger resident Kikuyu men into lives of organized crime. The “forty group,” Nairobi’s most formidable urban gang, was composed of such young Kikuyu men, who by 1947 had decided “that all Europeans should be driven out of Kenya and that preparations were being made to attack prominent African supporters of the colonial government.”44 The most consequential of these new urban groupings were labor activists and trade unionists who leveraged their role in the colonial economy to extract material and political concessions from colonial employers and the state. Nowhere was their power greater than over the transport sector, particularly at ports like Mombasa, where, in a series of strikes beginning in 1934 and culminating in a 1947 general strike, African workers secured impressive wage hikes and grudging recognition of the need to stabilize an urban workforce, as well as the potent self-confidence that such tangible accomplishments produced.45

Two examples from northeastern Tanzania demonstrate a new popularization of politics in rural areas, where colonial chiefs tasked with executing ambitious development schemes became primary targets of collective action. Resistance to forms of taxation was sharpest where indigenous wealth was highest. In the Pare Mountains of Tanganyika, peasants organized a protest against mbiru, a graduated tax inaugurated in 1941 and named for a form of precolonial tribute paid to local chiefs. Other wealthy cash-crop farmers in the territory had refused the principle of graduated taxation, fearing chiefs’ partiality in tax assessments. Pare farmers quickly viewed the new tax as a sign of the unaccountable behavior of corrupted chiefs with little local legitimacy. Chiefly authority withered in face of mob protests against the tax in 1945–1946. In the most dramatic instance, a violent confrontation between police and Pare women. Protest leaders—including farmers, traders, and clerks—inspired formation of the Pare Union and energized the local African Association branch, which paradoxically unified local Pare divisions while creating new differences over whether or not Pare “tribalism” was a political hindrance.46 In the neighboring Shambaa mountains, the Usambara scheme (1950–1957)—an erosion control plan designed to nurture capitalist farming and commercialize land—failed in the face of resistance from local peasants defending access to land for subsistence cultivation. Bridling at orders from a chief who lacked rainmaking power, women disrupted sub-chief meetings and deliberately brought inadequate tools for communal labor, while men raised innumerable boundary disputes and threatened chiefs. Out of this discontent grew the Usambara Citizens Union (UCU), one of the era’s many “tribal unions” that agitated for popular selection of chiefs. The UCU was banned in 1951 and went underground, coordinating resistance while petitioning for a hearing at the United Nations. After Julius Nyerere visited the area in 1956, the district commissioner prohibited formation of a local Tanganyika African National Union (TANU) branch, though did at last permit registration of the UCU, having come to prefer the parochialism of ethnic patriots to the territorialism of African nationalists. Decades later, the distinction would not seem to matter in Shambaai memory, as popular politics had cohered around the idea of the chama or party—be it UCU or TANU—which had mobilized local resentments to challenge unaccountable authorities. Chama leadership, however, required mastery of the bureaucratic institutions upon which colonial rule was based, which favored TANU’s Western-educated and territory-minded leaders over those whose legitimacy was limited to local roots and discourses.47

This confluence of trends—the creation of new vyama or parties to confront the breakdown of chiefly authority in rural areas, growing landlessness, and rising insecurity in towns—reached dramatic apex in Kenya’s central highlands. To address the moral disintegration that accompanied landlessness and denial of African self-rule, the Kenya African Union (KAU) was founded in 1944 to preach self-help, discipline, and moral ethnicity, and reached out beyond the central highlands to attract Gusii, Luo, and Luyia followers. KAU’s subsequent failure to create an effective, pan-ethnic political force should not obscure its efforts to bridge the “low” politics of popular action in fields, streets, and households with the “high” politics of state and party power, through a “deep” politics of accountability that straddled both high and low by conjuring up self-aware political communities.48 By the early 1950s, thousands of Kikuyu, including several KAU leaders, had instead joined another chama by swearing an oath to a cause they termed ithaka na wiathi (“land and freedom”), organized and led by the muhimu or “important” committee of like-minded radicals, but what outsiders would conflate with the term “Mau Mau.” The ostensible goal of Mau Mau—which drew its support not only from the aforementioned Kikuyu gangs of Nairobi, but also from landless peasants working the farms of wealthier Kikuyu in Central Province and Kikuyu “squatters” recently displaced from white settler farms in the Rift Valley—was to regain lands (ithaka) stolen by white settlers in order to achieve wiathi, “freedom” or “self-mastery.” In practice, the ensuing conflict—which became “official” with the Kenyan government’s declaration of a state of emergency in late 1952—was primarily a guerrilla-style military struggle between Kikuyu who had taken the Mau Mau oath and Kikuyu “loyalists” who opposed them.49 As horrific as the war and subsequent British “re-education” programs would prove to be, the conflict was also a productive battle over the meaning of ethnicity itself, which had been “an arena of common moral debate as much as a vehicle of unquestioning sectional ambition,” in which virtue meant the responsible husbanding of wealth in order to become “adults” or fully formed ethnic patriots. Denied access to land, marriage, and ultimately honor, the Kikuyu poor who joined Mau Mau were engaging in a class struggle, but one fought within a particular ethnic register, “first for adult rights in the community and then for a community that accepted them as adult.”50 The two most enduring legacies of Mau Mau, however, were of class and tribe—the victory of landed loyalists over landless fighters and the further entrenchment of the “sectional ambitions” of ethnic politics within Kenya’s public life, upon which the country’s nationalist political parties would form and permutate from the early 1960s onward.

Other political vyama pursued more peaceful and fruitful paths to power. In Tanganyika, an older African Association—largely representative of Western-educated clerks and teachers—had been revived during the Second World War by its parochial branches, became more territorially focused, and later changed its constitution to become the TANU in 1954 under the leadership of a young Catholic secondary school teacher, Julius Nyerere. This new party inherited a robust territorial structure that discouraged sectionalism by region or ethnicity. TANU in turn mobilized agricultural grievances in rural areas, courted union support in towns and plantations, and attracted a large Muslim following, as well as divided but substantial support among Christians and indigenous religious leaders—including witchcraft eradicators.51 Attracted to TANU’s notions of African dignity, self-rule, and equality all peoples regardless of race, class, and gender, women played a critical role in mobilizing neighborhood committees and local dance societies for TANU organizational efforts in the 1950s. TANU women’s self-respect increased as they “experienced the power of their collectivity as a political force and the effectiveness of their efforts.”52 TANU’s success rested not simply on its several organizational virtues, but also on a comparatively new and widely shared political consensus that had emerged by the 1950s: that Tanganyika’s “insiders” were no longer defined by its local office-holders, landowners, or “tribes,” but rather by race, which pressed “outsiders” such as the territory’s South Asian population to perform nation-building work publicly in order to convincingly join the new nation TANU was bringing to power.53

Rebellious youth played a vital role across postwar East Africa in the production of mass party politics. Gerontocratic tensions that had so widely structured East Africa’s political institutions continued well into the colonial decades, as elders “continued to hold most of the cards.”54 Yet as much as colonial states had relied on gerontocratic authority in the past, the future depended on the loyalty and success of educated youth. The idiom of political adolescence had grown ubiquitous over the 1940s—nationalists and colonial officials alike increasingly described the region’s nations, even antique kingdoms like Buganda, as “young” and in a stage of “adolescence.” This accompanied other comparatively progressive shifts in discourse during the 1940s that abandoned an earlier paternalism based on claims of civilizational superiority and instead offered “a way of reconceptualizing the relation of colonizer and colonized from parent/child to master/apprentice or journeyman, with an emphasis not on control and nurture but on preparation for adult responsibilities and autonomy.”55 Yet in the eyes of politicized youth, the gap between “master” and “apprentice” remained impossibly large and required creative acts of rebellion to bridge. Radical Baganda activists sidestepped the pre-planned arenas of political debate formed by progressive colonial initiatives and instead embraced rudeness as a tactic, thereby moving political conflict from “private, mannerly negotiations among the powerful, to public struggles within a wider range of the population.” Public assault on Buganda’s high political culture, defined by Baganda politeness and British rituals of sociability, formed the stylistic core of the Bataka Union’s activities of the late 1940s, typified by hurling stinging personal insults at public meetings and disrupting dinner parties and other social rituals.56 In Tanganyika, TANU’s perspicacious leadership harnessed the tensions of rebellious youth in the 1950s by extending junior membership in the party to the under- or unemployed male youth in towns with promises of future positions in exchange for their loyalty and energy. TANU channeled these Youth League energies toward the appropriation of policing powers in towns, in order to keep order at rallies, mobilize voters, and discourage opposition parties, though the party occasionally lost control as “policing” veered into vigilantism.57

Other vyama of East Africa embraced a politics of indigeneity that sought to mobilize first-comer claims to upend similar, colonially sanctioned racial hierarchies, with devastating effects. In Zanzibar, decades of a colonial state, built around the fiction of an Arab sultan’s sovereignty supported by racial favoritism that protected Arab landowners and employed Arab colonial officers, rested on a deeper past of slavery, seasonal migrant labor, and “Swahili” claims to indigeneity that produced complicated landscape of political identities. By the 1950s, Zanzibar’s political parties had cohered around arguments of race and indigeneity—in which the Afro-Shirazi Party (ASP) claimed the island as essentially African but long-exploited by “foreigners” from Arabia and elsewhere, while their opponents in the Zanzibar National Party (ZNP) embraced both a radical anti-colonialism as well as a celebration of the island’s noble Arab and Islamic heritage that had been beset by poorly educated “foreigners” from the African mainland. A series of close and bitterly fought elections from 1957 to 1963 heightened both partisanship and racial invective, upon which actors increasingly took violent action, resulting in a bloody revolution in January 1964 partly led by ASP youth leaguers who overthrew the narrowly elected yet supercilious ZNP government just weeks after formal independence, at the cost of thousands of lives and tens of thousands of refugees.58 In Rwanda, the crystallization of “Tutsi” and “Hutu” identities under German and Belgian colonial administrations transformed rather fanciful Tutsi historical accounts of their origins as noble conquerors who had come from far away in the north into a legitimating charter that justified Rwanda’s inequitable tax burdens and poor access to education and government positions—all of which fell upon the country’s majority-Hutu population—principally on racial grounds. Rwandan party politics emerged in the late 1950s and quickly organized around either side of the issue of Tutsi privilege and Hutu impoverishment. The Belgian administration, itself scrambling to compensate for past injustices by favoring Hutu-led parties, did little to obstruct the partisan violence launched in 1959 by PARMEHUTU or the “Party of the Hutu Emancipation Movement,” which directed violence against Tutsi “outsiders” and “cockroaches,” over one hundred thousand of whom would flee into exile, mainly to neighboring Uganda. PARMEHUTU went on to win national elections in 1960 and would remain in power until 1973—in part by embracing monarchical practices in which the party’s leader and country’s first president, Grégoire Kayibanda, “was in fact the mwami [king] of the Hutu.”59 Indeed, East Africa’s “nationalist” period of the 1950s and early 1960s demonstrates that the chama proved the region’s most effective political institution, but it had no necessarily moral characteristics. Instead, it only magnified whatever moral vision party leaders and their followers chose to pursue.

Postcolonial Popular Politics in an Age of One-Party States and After

Four major themes emerge in East Africa’s postcolonial history of popular politics. First, nationalist parties that came to power under ostensibly “liberal” conditions of competitive multi-party elections quickly yielded in the 1960s and 1970s to one-party states that conflated virtues of nation building with authoritarian limitations on dissent. Second, practices of patronage developed deep roots within East Africa’s postcolonial states, which ranged ideologically from champions of capitalism to fortresses of African socialism. Third, the failures of the postcolonial state to maintain public order opened up new realms of popular politics—one of which could be described as incipient vigilantism, propelled by a combination of insecurity and generational pressure. Finally, the dramatic breakdown of party authority that followed regimes of liberalization in the 1990s created a new landscape for the region’s patronage systems.

The nationalist vyama or parties of East Africa that captured the colonial state apparatuses in the early 1960s quickly pulled up the ladder from their competitors. The resulting one-party states rationalized this expediency by arguing that the fragile project of nation building could not afford a system of structured internal divisions that encouraged dissent, and that “traditional” African politics had avoided factionalism through hoary principles of reaching consensus through deliberation—something impossible in a system of “Westminster”-inspired partisan competition. Demonstrating public consensus became a top priority. In Kenya, Emergency-era “loyalists” remained at the forefront of state building in the 1960s, supplying state institutions not only with personnel but also its “ideology of order.”60 This ideology received regular expression in the political theater of the baraza, which had grown into giant assemblies held on national holidays, licensed by the state with an implicit mandate that anyone available should attend, in order to celebrate Kenyan national “traditions” and showcase political consensus. Ranging rhetorically across the celebratory, the hortatory, and the pedagogical, speakers implored listeners to pursue virtuous behaviors, received local requests often presented with rehearsed songs and dance, and above all created the space “for leaders to appeal directly to constituents.”61 Although stressing political consensus became a central feature of most postcolonial public sphere activities, tensions of gender and generation endured, growing most sharply on the streets of the region’s rapidly growing cities. Women faced organized harassment for “immodest” dress across the entirety of urban East Africa in the 1960s and 1970s. This was perhaps most vivid in Dar es Salaam, where young women who expressed newfound economic independence by wearing miniskirts and wigs were targeted by the TANU Youth League and other men, who—anxious themselves about their own shifting status and (un)employment—organized quasi-militarized campaigns of intimidation, arrest, and even violence against such “indecent” fashion.62 In Zanzibar, the new revolutionary party-state instituted a system of rural youth labor camps, drawing not only on regional traditions of age-set seclusion but also international socialist practices of building a disciplined citizenry. However burdensome and tedious, camp life nonetheless succeeded in keeping “youths off the streets and temporarily employed.”63

Accompanying efforts to impose a new national order on public space was the firm entrenchment of patronage politics within the postcolonial state. Politicians could not afford not to appear to deliver resources to their constituencies—as a Swahili proverb advises, mkono mtupu haulambwi or “an empty hand is not licked.” In Kenya this was typically carried out through the “appropriation of public resources by ethnoregional or sectional interests,” in which patronage pyramids were sustained by distributing personal favors, such as assistance with employment, loans, licenses, and land, as well as constituency improvements like roads and schools.64 This had taken root as early as the mid-1960s, when party elections became competitions to deliver patronage, and civil servants joined politicians in competitions to deliver development projects to constituencies, creating clientelist networks that became “the primary structures of representation, linking Kenyans to the state through political patrons.”65 Popular politics, as a result, often assumed the form of ethno-chauvinistic clientelism. This took on brutal dimensions in postcolonial Uganda, where the regimes of Milton Obote and Idi Amin were largely defined by pursuit and even persecution of ethnic enemies that hollowed out bureaucratic capacity and left a lasting legacy of violence.66 Yoweri Museveni’s National Resistance Movement established order initially through violence in the mid-1980s, but more enduringly through effective patronage mechanisms that re-established the central government’s relationships “with local government, historic kingdoms, and local associations.”67 Tanzania, which boasted of having avoided such zero-sum, divisive patronage politics through its pursuit of ujamaa or African socialism, was hardly immune. Though the country largely avoided ethno-chauvinistic forms of clientelism, the growth of the country’s “parallel” market during the 1970s and early 1980s provided public sector elites ample opportunities to engage in corruption, which was “Tanzania’s form of early capital accumulation” for its nascent politico-economic oligarchy.68

The failures and disappointments of the postcolonial state have opened up alternative realms in which popular politics has flowed. One instructive case has been that of vigilante groups, which have cast shadows across large parts of East Africa’s rural and urban landscapes. Among the Gisu in Uganda, vigilante groups first emerged in the 1960s to confront “a crime wave of witches and thieves.” To battle the armed robber or kondo amid Uganda’s state collapse, Gisu men formed armed patrols in the name of restoring lukoosi, or “peace and order.” Their activities involved holding public trials where the accused—who were identified not magically but through consensus—had to choose either confession or death. Local chiefs, whose own powers had been reduced after independence, elected to support the Banalukoosi vigilantes and their “paragovernmental” ambitions, which were not to subvert the government but rather to address its impotence.69 Restoring rural order and safety disrupted by cattle raiders in the Nyamwezi and Sukuma areas Tanzania had been a divisive political issue since the 1960s, when opposition politicians encouraged vigilantes to bypass state institutions and attack known cattle rustlers directly. Although those vigilantes and politicians faced official condemnation and arrest, by the 1980s, the Tanzanian state proved far more amenable to popular justice, even as the region produced far more organized and energetic vigilante groups known as Sungusungu. Named after a vicious biting ant, Sungusungu were organized at the village level and led by an ntemi, with the initial mission of defense against armed cattle theft. Like the Ugandan Banalukoosi, these groups later expanded into holding trials and delivering punishments, although Sungusungu relied on specialist diviners rather than group consensus to identify the guilty.70 Empowering such vigilantism struck a disturbingly receptive chord across the country. Julius Nyerere himself approvingly declared Sungusungu to be better positioned than police or courts to identify culprits, and by the 1990s, an ambitious home minister named Augustine Mrema rode a wave of popularity to become the country’s leading opposition figure, based largely on his championing of Sungusungu. In urban areas, vigilantism shifted from the official domain of party youth leagues in the 1960s to that of urban gangs after liberalization. The most notorious of these groups was Mungiki, which initially presented itself as the “movement for Gikuyu redemption” when it emerged in the 1990s as a rural, traditionalist religious sect, but quickly became best known as Nairobi’s leading urban gang. Mungiki was an opportunistic response not only to Kenya’s highly ethnicized politics but also to the insecurities of urban life. The gang policed women’s dress, extorted matatu bus drivers, and served as a muscle for local politicians.71 Such postcolonial vigilantism should not, however, be seen simply as symptomatic of the failure of normative state institutions but also as the simultaneous coopting by political actors who straddle the same normative state institutions with parallel informal organizations of violence and justice—popular political practices that have rather deep regional roots.

In the 1980s and 1990s, East African countries adopted liberalization programs that opened up and privatized economies while legalizing multi-party political competition—representing as much a necessary reinvention of internal patronage structures as it did external coercion. Even before these reforms were adapted, patronage systems were buckling under the weight of economic crisis and political unrest. In Kenya, President Daniel arap Moi’s attempts to eliminate disloyal elements in the country’s last single-party election in 1988 “both alienated influential political leaders and undermined the last vestiges of his government’s legitimacy,” destroying enrichment opportunities within the system and creating the opposition leadership who would lobby for the reintroduction of multi-party politics.72 Those who thrived in Moi’s final years were “the agents of disorder, who built their political powerbases, economic wealth and social status on their ability to manage and exploit the conditions of violence and criminality”73—figures who had clung to power by stoking ethnic violence during the run-ups to multi-party elections in 1992 and 1997. While the disruptive clientage of these “agents of disorder” was temporarily obscured by the peaceful transition of power from Moi to Mwai Kibaki in 2002, both the depth and brittleness of Kenya’s ethnicized patronage structure was grimly revealed to the world in the violence that accompanied the fiercely disputed results of the 2007 elections.74 On a far grander scale, the mass killing of several hundred thousand ethnic Tutsis and “moderate” Hutus in Rwanda that followed the assassination of President Juvénal Habyarimana in 1994 was the product of several longer-term factors, most prominently colonial-era racialization policies. But more immediately, the 1990 invasion of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), together with the acceptance of political liberalization and subsequent collapse of Habyarimana’s patronage system, collectively widened competition among armed groups that shared little beyond the belief that the power sharing outlined in the 1993 Arusha Accords was unworkable. The scramble for succession that followed in the days after the assassination created a tolerance for civilian deaths among the RPF, and a hastily formed but determined plan for mass murder of Tutsis among radicalized military officers, ruling party figures, and Hutu paramilitary forces.75

The traumas that accompanied political and economic liberalization in the 1990s have yielded to the re-establishment of patronage-based, single-party-dominated states across much of the region. Popular politics remains largely oriented around ethnically defined parties who engage in shifting and opportunistic alliances in the quest for patronage. The semi-authoritarian and initially much-celebrated states of Museveni’s Uganda and Paul Kagame’s post-genocide Rwanda have wedded “neopatrimonial” clientelism with particularly influential security services and paramilitary units, which repress opposition and share in the government’s spoils, in seeming perpetuity.76 Even in Tanzania, where ethnicity figures least, a “culture of noncompliance” that ignored state and party regulations against commercial activities and enrichment took firm root; the 1991 “Zanzibar Declaration” that lifted the most stringent restrictions on income-generating activities for party leaders, set in 1967, was more of a recognition of reality than a shift in governing priorities.77 The ruling party—the Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) or “Party of Revolution,” lineal successor to TANU—remains in power in the early 21st century, but has survived largely by keeping most of the country’s politico-economic oligarchy within the party by turning a blind eye to their activities.78 Politics in 21st-century East Africa has thus had to reckon with more visible and raw patronage systems that await popular pressures of more ideological engagement from below, as well as the creation of new political institutions to engage the region’s brittle and aging regimes.

Discussion of the Literature

Academic study of East African popular politics has had two major transformations over the past fifty years. In terms of studying external structures, there has been a shift from a focus on formal political institutions, such as kingdoms, chiefdoms, colonial states, and nationalist organizations, to a focus on informal collectivities, such as public healing cults and popular associations. In terms of studying political thought and ideas in the region’s history, there has been a shift from a focus on presumptively coherent ruling ideologies before colonialism, as well as on the forward-looking nationalisms of the 20th century, to a far less cohesive and more bewildering array of idiosyncratic political ideas that require reconceiving relevant units and territories, which appear ultimately moral rather than juridical in nature.

Among the pioneering works on East Africa’s formal political institutions, it is understandable that the kingdom of Buganda, the region’s most sophisticated precolonial structure, has attracted the most attention. Among several of the earlier insightful works, M. S. M. Kiwanuka’s A History of Buganda: From the Foundation of the Kingdom to 1900 (1971) offers the most thorough-going political history of the kingdom, though C. Wrigley’s Kinship and State: The Buganda Dynasty (1996) and H. E. Hanson’s Landed Obligation: The Practice of Power in Buganda (2003) enrich this topic by showing the critical roles played by ritual and clientage, respectively, in Buganda’s imperial expansion. Precociously alive to the role of ritual and myth, Steven Feierman’s The Shambaa Kingdom: A History (1974) stands out as perhaps the model example of a study of a precolonial East African state, albeit one that still frames its object as a somewhat isolated entity. For ethno-nationalist histories of stateless peoples, the pioneering work is Bethwell Ogot’s History of the Southern Luo (1967), a model of critically employing oral tradition to reconstruct social and political institutions.79 As near-contemporaneous studies of colonial states and their nationalist party successors, David Apter’s The Political Kingdom in Uganda: A Study in Bureaucratic Nationalism (1967) and Michael Lofchie’s Zanzibar: Background to Revolution (1965) both endure as landmark works, though John Iliffe’s more historically minded A Modern History of Tanganyika (1979) remains by far the most thorough and insightful study of any East African nationalist party—in this case Tanganyika’s main nationalist party, TANU—as well as of much else.

More recent studies have significantly widened scholarly understanding and definition of what counts as a political institution. The pioneering work in this vein is Terence Ranger’s Dance and Society in Eastern Africa (1975), which reframed what seemed at first glance a frivolous and even debasing form of colonial mimicry into an inventive example of appropriation of the symbols and structures of colonial rule. Laura Fair’s Pastimes and Politics (2001), a study of forms of urban leisure in colonial Zanzibar, has similarly shown how music, football, and dance formed networks of popular political activism. Perhaps most obviously in this vein have been more recent interpretations of “religious” or “magical” practices as unavoidably political in nature. Steve Feierman’s Peasant Intellectuals (1990) examines the critical role played not only by rain medicines but by the discourse of public order that connects rain making to political legitimacy in the popular imagination. Neil Kodesh’s Beyond the Royal Gaze (2010) foregrounds how public healing and politics were “intimately entwined in practical ways,” as public healers “both steered transformations in material conditions and posited interpretations of changing realities,” creating a kaleidoscopic array of shifting alliances among Bugandan clans that were hardly determined by any centralized power.80 Understanding this interpenetration between the formal and informal, as well as between the “visible” and “invisible” realms of power, has become an essential point of departure for historical analyses of African politics.81

Presupposing ideological coherence was a mainstay of earlier historical works on East Africa’s political history, which reflected the powerful influences of both “nationalist” history writing and functionalist anthropology. Gilbert Gwassa’s research on Maji Maji was driven by classically “nationalist” concerns about causes and organization; he agreed with Nyerere that Maji Maji was caused by “the need for regaining … their independence,” and furthermore organized itself around traditional methods of warfare and leadership, in which medicine universalized leadership of local leaders across a large area.82 Along similar lines, Carl Rosberg and John Nottingham’s The Myth of “Mau Mau” (1966) understood Mau Mau not as an irrational and atavistic response to the pressures of modernization but rather a legitimate nationalist protest against colonial rule that foreshadowed a subsequent nationalist victory. These authors understood the region’s two most dramatic episodes of resistance as “traditional” forms of otherwise modern anticolonial protests. Subsequent research has focused less on “organization” and “causes” than on the language of protests and motivations of participants, seeking to overcome the teleology, male bias, and triumphalism of “nationalist” history writing, while also confronting the assumptions of functionalist anthropology when taking East African cultural institutions seriously as objects of political inquiry. Inspired by Gramscian concerns with class formation and cultural hegemony, Jonathon Glassman’s Feasts and Riot (1995), a study of the 1888 Bushiri uprising, explores the contradictory consciousness of participants who expressed rebellious acts in the hegemonic language of patrician coastal society, in which the realm of ritual, far from preserving and reproducing domination as functionalists would have it, instead “constituted a major forum for the contestation of power.”83 In a quite similar spirit, John Lonsdale’s examination of Mau Mau (1992) focuses on how conflict must necessarily be expressed within the language and terms that predominate within a society. Mau Mau is best understood neither as a movement for nation-state independence nor as an economic revolution, but instead as a struggle against class formation that mobilized Kikuyu ideals of civic virtue celebrating wealth accumulation and adulthood. The historiographical problem that the best of this literature confronts is the presumption that East African politics was primarily a forward-looking fight for modern sovereignty; instead, the research shows that popular politics was primarily a claim on the rights and responsibilities of belonging to a moral community.

Historians of East Africa’s popular politics will need to consider further two main issues raised by these benchmark interpretive works. The first concerns what might be termed the history of political constraint. Previously associated with conservative approaches that justify and legitimate ruling power (constitutional history, functionalist anthropology), studies of constraint need not remove conflict or “histories from below”—quite the opposite in fact, as Gramsci-inspired historians have already shown. The best studies of political constraint examine just those aspects of law, ritual, and public morality that were forged out of conflicts over self-enrichment, sovereignty, and reciprocity. Most evocative in this vein is Steven Feierman’s study of ritual enthronement in Shambaa. Installed secretly at night and publicly the following morning, the ritual accession of a new Shambaa king maintained the necessary fiction of unbroken continuity with his predecessor, thereby suppressing the dangers of kinglessness. But this could only be done through the collective application of a secret and fragmented oral knowledge of ritual, in which power inheres “in the differential possession of knowledge” that participants in the ritual wield but jealously guard, in order to constrain its appropriation from insiders and outsiders alike.84 Coming to grips not only with the differential possession of knowledge but also its strategic employment brings scholars closer to understanding how constraints work in practice. In one splendid contemporary example, Michael Degani’s study of Dar es Salaam’s electricity infrastructure explores how modal reasoning confronts vague “wholes” with calibrated responses that acknowledge both empirical situations (an inadequate, expensive, but necessary public electricity grid) while reasoning about how things can be modified (finding tolerable but not insensible fixes to stay connected). Large structures like an electrical utility endure and adapt not through application of top-down designs, reforms, and regulations, but rather through a shared nous that accepts employment of clever fixers (known as vishoka or “hatchets”), limited bribes, and petty theft in order to (re)connect households to electrical supply. Identifying the “tolerable thresholds” of action that enable such structures to persist reveals textures of East African public life, in which skilled intermediaries reproduce “hard” infrastructure but also renegotiate and redistribute its costs for popular ends.85 The second issue concerns the uneven realization of what might be termed the project of “post-nationalist” history. Movement in this direction had already begun as early as the 1980s with the broadening of the historical aperture to include a wider range of actors beyond the leadership of nationalist parties, such as women, workers, religious figures, and other “forgotten” categories of nationalist contributors.86 By the 2000s, the very category of nationalist “contributors” had fallen under productive scrutiny, as historians increasingly sought not simply to overcome nationalist teleologies that had structured school textbook accounts of the region’s pre-independence histories, but began a more systematic study of dissenting movements, communities, and strategies that had fallen out of nationalist meta-narratives.87 While “post-nationalist” histories have succeeded in recovering both forgotten figures and obscured realms of debate, the overall picture has become far more fragmented than before. It is a picture in need of not only further case studies but also—and perhaps more urgently—useable regional syntheses.

Primary Sources

Among the several thousand from which to choose, three particularly rich primary sources shine light on East African popular politics across this vast time period. First, historical linguistics provides an enormous resource for reconstructing the past history of political institutions and political thought in East Africa. David Schoenbrun’s historical reconstruction of Great Lakes Bantu cultural vocabulary is the leading example.88 Second, the Maji Maji Research Project, an oral history project directed by Gilbert Gwassa and John Iliffe in 1968, remains a singularly rich source for understanding the political and religious dimensions of this spectacular event.89 Third, Kenya’s two major daily newspapers—The Standard and Daily Nation—both maintain digital archives in Nairobi. These are essential reading for understanding Kenya’s postcolonial politics and culture.

Further Reading

Anderson, David. Histories of the Hanged: Britain’s Dirty War in Kenya and the End of the Empire. New York: W. W. Norton, 2005.Find this resource:

Anderson, David, and Douglas Johnson, eds. Revealing Prophets: Prophecy in Eastern African History. London: James Currey, 1995.Find this resource:

Berman, Bruce, and John Lonsdale. Unhappy Valley: Conflict in Kenya and Africa. London: James Currey, 1992.Find this resource:

Branch, Daniel. Kenya: Between Hope and Despair, 1963–2011. London: Yale University Press, 2011.Find this resource:

Brennan, James. Taifa: Making Nation and Race in Urban Tanzania. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2012.Find this resource:

Fair, Laura. Pastimes and Politics: Culture, Community, and Identity in Post-Abolition Urban Zanzibar, 1890–1945. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2001.Find this resource:

Feierman, Steven. Peasant Intellectuals: Anthropology and History in Tanzania. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1990.Find this resource:

Glassman, Jonathon. Feasts and Riot: Revelry, Rebellion and Popular Consciousness on the Swahili Coast, 1856–1888. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1995.Find this resource:

Haugerud, Angelique. The Culture of Politics in Modern Kenya. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1997.Find this resource:

Hunter, Emma. Political Thought and the Public Sphere in Tanzania: Freedom, Democracy, and Citizenship in the Era of Decolonization. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2015.Find this resource:

Iliffe, John. A Modern History of Tanganyika. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1979.Find this resource:

Kimambo, Isaria. Penetration and Protest in Tanzania: The Impact of the World Economy on the Pare 1860–1960. London: James Currey, 1991.Find this resource:

Newbury, Catharine. The Cohesion of Oppression: Clientship and Ethnicity in Rwanda, 1860–1960. New York: Columbia University Press, 1988.Find this resource:

Peterson, Derek. Ethnic Patriotism and the East African Revival: A History of Dissent, c. 1935–1972. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2012.Find this resource:

Ranger, T. O.Dance and Society in Eastern Africa: The Beni Ngoma. London: Heinemann, 1975.Find this resource:

Reid, Richard. A History of Modern Uganda. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2017.Find this resource:

Schoenbrun, David. A Green Place, A Good Place: Agrarian Change, Gender, and Social Identity in the Great Lakes Region to the 15th Century. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1998.Find this resource:

White, Luise. Speaking with Vampires: Rumor and History in Colonial Africa. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000.Find this resource:


(1.) An excellent work in this vein is J. Brewer, Party Ideology and Popular Politics at the Accession of George III (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1976).

(2.) P. Landau, Popular Politics in the History of South Africa, 1400–1948 (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2012), quotation at 73.

(3.) J. Iliffe, Africans: The History of a Continent (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 109.

(4.) A. Roberts, “The Nyamwezi,” in Tanzania before 1900, ed. A. Roberts (Nairobi: East African Publishing House, 1968), 119.

(5.) S. Feierman, “Political Culture and Political Economy in Early East Africa,” in African History: From Earliest Times to Independence, eds. P. Curtin et al. (Harlow: Longman, 1995), 130–131.

(6.) D. Schoenbrun, A Green Place, A Good Place: Agrarian Change, Gender, and Social Identity in the Great Lakes Region to the 15th Century (Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1998), 102–113, 234–240, quotation at 112.

(7.) I. Berger, “Fertility as Power: Spirit Mediums, Priestesses and the Pre-colonial State in Interlacustrine East Africa,” in Revealing Prophets: Prophecy in Eastern African History, eds. D. Anderson and D. Johnson (London: James Currey, 1995), 65–82; and S. Feierman, “Colonizers, Scholars, and the Creation of Invisible Histories,” in Beyond the Cultural Turn: New Directions in the Study of Society and Culture, eds. V. Bonnell and L. Hunt (Berkeley: University of California Press 1999), 182–216.

(8.) I. Kopytoff, “The Internal African Frontier: The Making of African Political Culture,” in The African Frontier: The Reproduction of Traditional African Societies, ed. I. Kopytoff (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987), 3–84.

(9.) Feierman, “Political Culture,” 130.

(10.) R. Waller, “Kidongoi’s Kin: Prophecy and Power in Maasailand,” in Revealing Prophets: Prophecy in Eastern African History, eds. D. Anderson and D. Johnson (London: James Currey, 1995), 33, 44–45.

(11.) T. Spear, Kenya’s Past: An Introduction to Historical Method in Africa (London: Longman, 1981), 78.

(12.) J. Iliffe, Honour in African History (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 166.

(13.) C. Newbury, The Cohesion of Oppression: Clientship and Ethnicity in Rwanda, 1860–1960 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988), 81–88, 98–107.

(14.) R. Reid, A History of Modern Uganda (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2017), 135–136.

(15.) J. Glassman, Feasts and Riot: Revelry, Rebellion, and Popular Consciousness on the Swahili Coast, 1856–1888 (Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1995), 79–114, quotations at 92 and 22, respectively.

(16.) Glassman, Feasts and Riot, 47.

(17.) J. Giblin, The Politics of Environmental Control in Northeastern Tanzania, 1840–1940 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1992), 58.

(18.) J. Prestholdt, Domesticating the World: African Consumerism and the Genealogies of Globalization (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008), 58.

(19.) Iliffe, Africans, 215–216.

(20.) D. Anderson, “Visions of the Vanquished: Prophets and Colonialism in Kenya’s Western Highlands,” in Revealing Prophets: Prophecy in Eastern African History, eds. D. Anderson and R. Johnson (London: James Currey, 1995), 164–173.

(21.) Berger, “Fertility as Power.”

(22.) E. Hopkins, “The Nyabingi Cult of Southwestern Uganda,” in Protest and Power in Black Africa, eds. R. Rotberg and A. Mazrui (New York: Oxford University Press, 1970), 258–336, quotation at 299.

(23.) D. Peterson, Ethnic Patriotism and the East African Revival: A History of Dissent, c. 1935–1972 (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 54–55.

(24.) R. Vokes, Ghosts of Kanungu: Fertility, Secrecy and Exchange in the Great Lakes of East Africa (Kampala, Uganda: Fountain Publishers, 2009), 13–20.

(25.) Glassman, Feasts and Riot, 177–248, quotation at 267.

(26.) Cf. J. Iliffe, A Modern History of Tanganyika (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1979), 168; and James Giblin and Jamie Monson, eds., Maji Maji: Lifting the Fog of War (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2010), 6. What follows comes from Iliffe, A Modern History, 168–202; and Giblin and Monson, Maji Maji, 1–30.

(27.) B. Shadle, “Patronage, Millennialism and the Serpent God Mumbo in South-west Kenya, 1912–1934,” Africa 72 (2002): 29–54, quotation at 46. (emphasis in original)

(28.) S. Langwick, Bodies, Politics, and African Healing: The Matter of Maladies in Tanzania (Bloomington, IN, 2011), 41–46.

(29.) P. Lienhardt, “Introduction,” in H. Ismail, The Medicine Man: Swifa ya Nguvumali, ed. and trans. P. Lienhardt (Oxford: Clarendon, 1968), 71–78.

(30.) L. Larson, “Problems in the Study of Witchcraft Eradication Movements in Southern Tanzania,” Ufahamu 7 (1976): 88–100.

(31.) Iliffe, A Modern History of Tanganyika, 225.

(32.) T. Kanogo, African Womanhood in Colonial Kenya, 1900–1950 (Oxford, 2005), 73–84.

(33.) Peterson, Ethnic Patriotism and the East African Revival, especially 38–49.

(34.) Peterson, Ethnic Patriotism and the East African Revival, 4.

(35.) Iliffe, A Modern History of Tanganyika, 318–341.

(36.) B. Berman, “Ethnography as Politics, Politics as Ethnography: Kenyatta, Malinowski, and the Making of Facing Mount Kenya,” Canadian Journal of African Studies 30 (1996), 313–344, quotation at 333.

(37.) Peterson, Ethnic Patriotism and the East African Revival, 127–151, quotation at 140.

(38.) J. MacArthur, Cartography and the Political Imagination: Mapping Community in Colonial Kenya (Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2016), 90–109, quotation at 98.

(39.) Glassman, Feasts and Riot, 158–165.

(40.) Iliffe, A Modern History of Tanganyika, 238.

(41.) T. Ranger, Dance and Society in East Africa (London: Heinemann, 1995), quotation at 50.

(42.) L. Fair, Pastimes and Politics (Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2001), 251, 254–259, quotation at 259.

(43.) J. Brennan, Taifa: Making Nation and Race in Urban Tanzania (Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2012), 66–67, 101–102.

(44.) D. Throup, Economic and Social Origins of Mau Mau (London: James Currey, 1988), 173.

(45.) F. Cooper, On the African Waterfront: Urban Disorder and the Transformation of Work in Colonial Mombasa (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1987), 42–113.

(46.) I. Kimambo, Penetration and Protest in Tanzania (London: James Currey, 1991), 89–93, 95–117.

(47.) S. Feierman, Peasant Intellectuals (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1990), 181–203.

(48.) J. Lonsdale, “KAU’s Cultures: Imaginations of Community and Constructions of Leadership in Kenya after the Second World War,” Journal of African Cultural Studies 13 (2000): 107–124. See also J. Lonsdale, “Political Accountability in African History,” in Political Domination in Africa: Reflections on the Limits of Power, ed. P. Chabal (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1986), 126–157.

(49.) The best narrative account is D. Anderson, Histories of the Hanged: Britain’s Dirty War in Kenya and the End of Empire (New York: W. W. Norton, 2005).

(50.) J. Lonsdale, “The Moral Economy of Mau Mau: Wealth, Poverty and Civic Virtue in Kikuyu Political Thought,” in Unhappy Valley: Conflict in Kenya and Africa, eds. B. Berman and J. Lonsdale (London: James Currey, 1992), 315–504, quotations at 317 and 359.

(51.) Iliffe, A Modern History of Tanganyika, 513–520, 537–552.

(52.) S. Geiger, TANU Women: Gender and Culture in the Making of Tanganyikan Nationalism, 1955–1965 (Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1997), 91.

(53.) Brennan, Taifa, 143–158.

(54.) R. Waller, “Rebellious Youth in Colonial Africa,” Journal of African History 47 (2006): 77–92, quotation at 87.

(55.) C. Summers, “Youth, Elders and Metaphors of Political Change in Late Colonial Buganda,” in Generations Past: Youth in East African History, eds. A. Burton and H. Charton-Bigot (Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2010), 175–195, quotation at 177.

(56.) C. Summers, “Radical Rudeness: Ugandan Social Critiques in the 1940s,” Journal of Social History 39 (2006): 741–770, quotation at 743.

(57.) J. Brennan, “Youth, the TANU Youth League and Managed Vigilantism in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, 1925–1973,” Africa 76 (2006): 227–233.

(58.) J. Glassman, War of Words, War of Stones: Racial Thought and Violence in Colonial Zanzibar (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2011), especially 282–302.

(59.) Newbury, The Cohesion of Oppression, 180–206; G. Prunier, The Rwanda Crisis: History of a Genocide (London: Columbia University Press, 1995), 41–61, quotation at 57.

(60.) D. Branch, Defeating Mau Mau, Creating Kenya: Counterinsurgency, Civil War, and Decolonization (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 218.

(61.) A. Haugerud, The Culture of Politics in Modern Kenya (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 2–4, 61–71, quotation at 68.

(62.) A. Ivaska, Cultured States: Youth, Gender, and Modern Style in 1960s Dar es Salaam (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011), 86–123.

(63.) G. Thomas Burgess, “To Differentiate Rice from Grass: Youth Labor Camps in Revolutionary Zanzibar,” in Generations Past: Youth in East African History, eds. A. Burton and H. Charton-Bigot (Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2010), 221–236, quotation at 231.

(64.) Haugerud, The Culture of Politics in Modern Kenya, 45–50.

(65.) J. Widner, The Rise of a Party-State in Kenya: From “Harambee!” to “Nyayo!” (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), 43.

(66.) P. Mutibwa, Uganda since Independence: A Story of Unfulfilled Hopes (Kampala, Uganda: Fountain Publishers, 1992).

(67.) A. Tripp, Museveni’s Uganda: Paradoxes of Power in a Hybrid Regime (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2010), 111.

(68.) M. Lofchie, The Political Economy of Tanzania: Decline and Recovery (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014), 24.

(69.) S. Heald, Controlling Anger: The Anthropology of Gisu Violence (Oxford: James Currey, 1998), 229–242, quotation at 229.

(70.) R. Abrahams, “Sungusungu: Village Vigilante Groups in Tanzania,” African Affairs 86.323 (1987): 179–196.

(71.) D. Anderson, “Vigilantes, Violence and the Politics of Public Order in Kenya,” African Affairs 101.405 (2002): 531–555.

(72.) N. Cheeseman, Democracy in Africa: Successes, Failures, and the Struggle for Political Reform (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2015), 102–103.

(73.) D. Branch, Kenya: Between Hope and Despair (London: Yale University Press, 2011), 243.

(74.) For an important overview, see S. Mueller, “The Political Economy of Kenya’s Crisis,” Journal of Eastern African Studies 2 (2008): 185–210.

(75.) A. Guichaoua, From War to Genocide: Criminal Politics in Rwanda, 1990–1994 (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 2015).

(76.) Tripp, Museveni’s Uganda, 127–147; M. Jowell, “Cohesion through Socialization: Liberation, Tradition and Modernity in the Forging of the Rwanda Defence Force (RDF),” Journal of Eastern African Studies 8 (2014): 278–293.

(77.) A. Tripp, Changing the Rules: The Politics of Liberalization and the Urban Informal Economy in Tanzania (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997), 171–189.

(78.) H. Gray, “The Political Economy of Grand Corruption in Tanzania,” African Affairs 114.456 (2015): 382–403.

(79.) Ogot’s book was itself a product of the didactic-minded research of late-colonial Luo Union researchers and activists. See D. Peterson and G. Macola, “Introduction,” in Recasting the Past: History Writing and Political Work in Modern Africa, eds. D. Peterson and G. Macola (Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2009), 5–6.

(80.) N. Kodesh, Beyond the Royal Gaze: Clanship and Public Healing in Buganda (Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press, 2010), quotations at 20.

(81.) The most far-reaching statement of this, focused largely on contemporary politics, is S. Ellis and G. ter Haar, Worlds of Power: Religious Thought and Political Practice in Africa (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004).

(82.) G. Gwassa, “The German Intervention and African Resistance in Tanzania,” in A History of Tanzania, eds. I. Kimambo and A. Temu (Nairobi, Kenya: East African Publishing House, 1969), 85–122, quotation at 121.

(83.) Glassman, Feasts and Riot, 23.

(84.) S. Feierman, “On Socially Composed Knowledge: Reconstructing a Shambaa Royal Ritual,” in In Search of a Nation: Histories of Authority and Dissidence in Tanzania, eds. G. Maddox and J. Giblin (Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2005), 14–32, quotation at 25.

(85.) M. Degani, “Modal Reasoning in Dar es Salaam’s Power Network,” American Ethnologist 44 (2017): 300–314.

(86.) Among the key works in this vein are T. Kanogo, Squatters and the Roots of Mau Mau (London: James Currey, 1987); and Geiger, TANU Women.

(87.) See especially J. Giblin, A History of the Excluded: Making Family a Refuge from State in Twentieth-Century Tanzania (Oxford: James Currey, 2005); Peterson, Ethnic Patriotism and the East African Revival; J. Carney, Rwanda Before the Genocide: Catholic Politics and Ethnic Discourse in the Late Colonial Era (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014); and E. Hunter, Political Thought and the Public Sphere in Tanzania: Freedom, Democracy and Citizenship in the Era of Decolonization (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2015).

(88.) D. Schoenbrun, The Historical Reconstruction of Great Lakes Bantu Cultural Vocabulary: Etymologies and Distributions (Cologne: Ruediger Koeppe Verlag, 1997).

(89.) G. Gwassa and J. Iliffe, eds., “Maji Maji Research Project” (unpublished, 1968), copies available at the University of Dar es Salaam East Africana Library and at the Centre of African Studies Library at Cambridge University, where John Iliffe has donated his papers.