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'Truth be Told': some problems with historical revisionism in Kenya

Hughes, Lotte (2011). 'Truth be Told': some problems with historical revisionism in Kenya. African Studies, 70(2) pp. 182–201.

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Historical revisionism is equally appealing to state and non-state actors during periods of intense socio-political change, especially following civil conflict, when the need for unification is paramount. This applies to Kenya as it struggles to come to terms with the post-electoral crisis of 2007/08. Redressing orchestrated amnesia about Mau Mau and the struggle for independence is another important element, amnesia instituted by first president Jomo Kenyatta, ostensibly in the interests of national unity. Since Mau Mau was unbanned in 2003, and a lawsuit was brought by veterans with the support of a human rights group against the British government in 2009, there has been an upsurge in public memorialisation and debate about the liberation movement in Kenya. This has been accompanied by increasing calls for ‘true’ history to be written. Veterans have persuaded the state to support a ‘rewriting Kenya history’ project, which links to efforts to commemorate heroes and broaden official definitions of heroism to include a wide range of ethnic communities and rebel leaders from different periods of anti-colonial resistance. These themes are reflected in two new history exhibitions developed by National Museums of Kenya, and in the local media, which has done more to popularise these histories and commemorative initiatives than any scholarly texts. This article draws on research interviews and the literature on resistance, social memory and patriotic nationalism to problematise and analyse these developments, within the context of constitutional change.

Item Type: Journal Item
Copyright Holders: 2011 Taylor & Francis Group Ltd on behalf of the University of Witwatersrand
ISSN: 1469-2872
Project Funding Details:
Funded Project NameProject IDFunding Body
Managing Heritage, Building Peace: Museums, memorialisation and the uses of memory in KenyaAH/F018215/1AHRC (Arts & Humanities Research Council)
Extra Information: Also presented in a shorter form as a conference paper, ECAS4, Uppsala, June 2011.
Keywords: rewriting history; Kenya; Mau Mau; loyalism; liberation struggle; memorialisation; national museum
Academic Unit/School: Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS) > Arts and Humanities > History
Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS) > Arts and Humanities
Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS)
Item ID: 29446
Depositing User: Lotte Hughes
Date Deposited: 16 Sep 2011 14:24
Last Modified: 06 Aug 2019 08:37
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