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Seeing Like a Citizen

Decolonization, Development, and the Making of Kenya, 1945–1980 (New African Histories)

Kara Moskowitz


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Other Editions of This Title:
Hardcover (11/12/2019)


In Seeing Like a Citizen, Kara Moskowitz approaches Kenya’s late colonial and early postcolonial eras as a single period of political, economic, and social transition. In focusing on rural Kenyans—the vast majority of the populace and the main targets of development interventions—as they actively sought access to aid, she offers new insights into the texture of political life in decolonizing Kenya and the early postcolonial world.

Using multisited archival sources and oral histories focused on the western Rift Valley, Seeing Like a Citizen makes three fundamental contributions to our understanding of African and Kenyan history. First, it challenges the widely accepted idea of the gatekeeper state, revealing that state control remained limited and that the postcolonial state was an internally varied and often dissonant institution. Second, it transforms our understanding of postcolonial citizenship, showing that its balance of rights and duties was neither claimed nor imposed, but negotiated and differentiated. Third, it reorients Kenyan historiography away from central Kenya and elite postcolonial politics. The result is a powerful investigation of experiences of independence, of the meaning and form of development, and of how global political practices were composed and recomposed on the ground in local settings.

Praise For Seeing Like a Citizen: Decolonization, Development, and the Making of Kenya, 1945–1980 (New African Histories)

“Expertly researched, superbly written…. Smashing the boundaries between the colonial and independence periods, Seeing Like a Citizen is a fascinating and much-needed exploration of the complex and shifting ways that rural African communities experienced development and understood citizenship…. [A] benchmark study.”—Paul Ocobock, Journal of African History

“Impeccably researched and fluently written, Seeing Like a Citizen is the work of a skilled and diligent historian. It is a welcome and timely reorientation of the historiography of decolonizing Kenya away from some familiar themes. It is a fitting addition to the illustrious New African Histories series.”—Daniel Branch, author of Kenya: Between Hope and Despair, 1963–2011

"This book represents the best of African history. In telling history ‘from below’, Moskowitz has managed to write a social history of Kenya in the independence and post-independence periods that also draws from and gives great insight into political, environmental, economic, and gender history. The ambition of the book is vast, and it cogently ties together oral history interviews with an institutional history of World Bank and international development agency projects, government ministry efforts, changing crop cultivation patterns, the shifting roles of women in agricultural production, and the history of price controls, among others. That Moskowitz pulls this all off in a coherent narrative that moves along crisply is a tremendous accomplishment, especially for a first book.—John Aerni-Flessner, Journal of Contemporary History

“Well-researched and impeccably written…. [A] powerful contribution to the discussion on decolonization and development in the early postcolonial world. It will be of interest to any scholar interested in deepening their knowledge of development, statecraft, and citizenship.”—Muey C. Saeteurn, H-Africa, H-Net Reviews

Ohio University Press, 9780821423967, 336pp.

Publication Date: November 12, 2019

About the Author

Kara Moskowitz is associate professor of African history at the University of Missouri St. Louis.