Unhappy Valley — 1992

Conflict in Kenya & Africa

By Bruce Berman and John Lonsdale

Unhappy Valley: Conflict in Kenya and in Africa is a must-read for all concerned with issues of colonization, dependency, and state building, as well as the nature and achievements of African resistance.”

Kinuthia Macharia — Modern African Studies

“There are some truly excellent ideas presented in Unhappy Valley, especially those relating to the definition of ethnicity and the process that creates the colonial state…this work makes a significant contribution to our understanding of Kenyan history. More importantly, we are presented with new ways of examining African history which further the process of understanding and debate.”

African Studies Review

This long-awaited book is a considerable revision in the understanding of the history of colonial Kenya and, more widely, colonialism in Africa. There is a substantial amount of new work and this is interlocked with shared areas of concern that the authors have been exploring since 1976.

The authors investigate major themes. These include the conquest origins and subsequent development of the colonial state, the contradictory social forces that articulated African societies to European capitalism, and the creation of new political communities and changing meanings of ethnicity in Africa, in the context of social differentiation and class formation. There is substantial new work on the problems of Mau Mau and of wealth, poverty and civic virtue in Kikuyu political thought.

The authors make a fresh contribution to a deeper historical understanding of the development of contemporary Kenyan society and, in particular, of the British and Kukuyu origins of Mau Mau and the emergency of the 1950s.

They also highlight some of the shortcomings of ideas about development, explore the limitations of narrowly structuralist Marxist theory of the state, and reflect on the role of history in the future of Africa.

Book One on State and Class will be used by students of African history as well as of colonial Kenya; it is also concerned with the theory of history and of political science.

Book Two on Violence and Ethnicity gives new insights into popular consciousness, into revolutionary change and into the subtle realities of ethnicity; it will be of particular value to readers of Ngugi.


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


John Lonsdale is a Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge.

Cover of 'Unhappy Valley'

In Series