Some Origins of Nationalism in East Africa

Lonsdale, J.M.
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Journal of African History
Journal of African History Vol.9,no.1,1968,pp119-146

This paper attempts to provide a frame of reference for evaluating the role of ordinary rural Africans in national movements, in the belief that scholarly preoccupation with élites will only partially illumine the mainsprings of nationalism. Kenya has been taken as the main field of enquiry, with contrasts and comparisons drawn from Uganda and Tanganyika. The processes of social change are discussed with a view to establishing that by the end of the colonial period one can talk of peasants rather than tribesmen in some of the more progressive areas. This change entailed a decline in the leadership functions of tribal chiefs who were also the official agents of colonial rule, but did not necessarily mean the firm establishment of a new type of rural leadership. The central part of the paper is taken up with an account of the competition between these older and newer leaderships, for official recognition rather than a mass following. A popular following was one of the conditions for such recognition, but neither really achieved this prior to 1945 except in Kikuyuland, and there the newer leaders did not want official recognition. After 1945 the newer leadership, comprising especially traders and officials of marketing co-operatives, seems everywhere to have won a properly representative position, due mainly to the enforced agrarian changes which brought the peasant face to face with the central government, perhaps for the first time. This confrontation, together with the experience of failure in earlier and more local political activity, resulted in a national revolution coalescing from below, co-ordinated rather than instigated by the educated élite.


CITATION: Lonsdale, J.M.. Some Origins of Nationalism in East Africa . : , 1968. Journal of African History Vol.9,no.1,1968,pp119-146 - Available at:

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