Faculty Scholarly Dissemination Grants


The Colonial Paradox




College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Date Range



After analyzing cattle raids and violent deaths in the North Rift region of Kenya, one period seems remarkably peaceful; 1929 to 1953. This is a significant aberration, and not easily explained. Imperial historians might be tempted to credit the British for creating this peace, but they arrived almost twenty years before 1929, and raiding violence resumed long before they departed the scene. No convincing explanation for this period of peace has been proposed. I argue that peace was achieved through the combined efforts of local communities and administrative forces to punish criminals individually rather than collectively. With the community's cooperation the administration was able to identify and punish individual raiders, and in so doing prevent minor raids from escalating into more major conflagrations. This essentially brought raiding to a halt. Unfortunately, parallel changes within the colonial state began to undermine this relatively amicable community-police relationship. Prior to the Second World War betterment projects were rarely enforced with any vigor, but as this changed resentment spread among the majority of herders. Administrators tasked with implementing forced culls were given additional resources but began to find it difficult to obtain community assistance with their other investigations. Although most herders wished to maintain peace, many were unwilling to work with a police force which seemed dedicated to their impoverishment. Because of the increasing resources at the disposal of the administration, law enforcement became less effective. Without local assistance, the flimsy edifice upon which decades of peace had been built began to crumble.

Conference Name

African Studies Association - UK Annual Meeting

Conference Location

Oxford, UK

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