What to read if you are going to Kenya?

Kenya post-independence history is covered in two key current books for general audiences and I recommend both.

The more comprehensive is Charles Hornsby’s Kenya: A History Since Independence which I read a few months ago.  Charles brings the advantages of both scholarly training and deep personal experience including several years living in Kenya and much prior research and writing and “Kenya watching”, while at same time offers the independence that comes from earning his living separately, presently as a corporate compliance official.  Hornsby’s book is over 900 pages of deep detail including significant attention to economic policy and the business history that is so essentially a part of Kenya’s politics.   Hornsby’s work will give the basic background on the past interactions and alignments of most of Kenya’s current political figures during the Jomo Kenyatta, Moi and Kibaki years.

Historian Daniel Branch’s Kenya: Between Hope and Despair is also excellent and it is the book I recommended for a quick primer for a friend who was considering a short term election-related assignment in the country in late 2012.  At just under 400 pages it is a much quicker read and will well serve the needs of the shorter term generalist for a tighter summary of the key events; along with the crucial Chapter 12 (titled “Back to the Future”) of Hornsby’s history–with the best detailed summary I’ve read of the vital 2007 campaign and election–Branch’s book will give general readers some understanding of the lay of the land in public affairs in Kenya in a few short hours.


2 thoughts on “What to read if you are going to Kenya?

  1. The Branch book was a great recommendation. I would also add Michela Wrong’s “It’s Our Turn to Eat: The Story of a Kenyan Whistle-Blower” about John Githongo who was the anti-corruption “czar” in the Kibaki administration. He eventually resigned in protest and had to flee the country. If the Branch book took you only a few short hours (wow!) then the Wrong book will take even less. It reads more like a novel than straight history.

    • Thanks! Yes, the Michela Wrong book on John Githongo is a must read — will try to add a link to a previous post on it. Was privileged to get to John Githongo in person finally last year; not only is he an impressively courageous actor now back in Kenya, but he does some of the best current affairs writing. Michela has had some important pieces on Kenya recently in Foreign Policy, too.

      Let me know if you have any other new recommendations for democracy reading.


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