Control & Crisis in Colonial Kenya — 1990

The Dialectic of Domination

By Bruce Berman

“The book has great strengths. As a political scientist turned historian, Berman has a wide grasp of theories of the state. His recognition that contradiction was fundamental to colonialism allows him to write about people, often with inarticulate assumptions and concerns, struggling to survive and prosper in a social, economic and political environment that was being rapidly and unpredictably changed by the very forces which the state sought to manage and contain.”

Richard Miller, Bucknell University — Journal of African History

This history of the political economy of Kenya is the first full length study of the development of the colonial state in Africa.

Professor Berman argues that the colonial state was shaped by the contradictions between maintaining effective political control with limited coercive force and ensuring the profitable articulation of metropolitan and settler capitalism with African societies.

This dialectic of domination resulted in both the uneven transformation of indigenous societies and in the reconstruction of administrative control in the inter-war period.

The study traces the evolution of the colonial state from its skeletal beginnings in the 1890s to the complex bureaucracy of the post-1945 era which managed the growing integration of the colony with international capital. These contradictions led to the political crisis of the Mau Mau emergency in 1952 and to the undermining of the colonial state.

The book is based on extensive primary sources including numerous interviews with Kenyan and British participants. The analysis moves from the micro-level of the relationship of the District Commissioners and the African population to the macro-level of the state and the political economy of colonialism.

Professor Berman uses the case of Kenya to make a sophisticated contribution to the theory of the state and to the understanding of the dynamics of the development of modern African political and economic institutions.


Bruce Berman is a professor of political studies at Queen's University, Ontario.

Cover of 'Control & Crisis in Colonial Kenya'

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