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Centre of African Studies: Events


Kenya Cowboys: contested indigeneity and post-imperial whiteness in Kenya

Kenya Cowboys: contested indigeneity and post-imperial whiteness in Kenya
Speaker: Josh Doble # University of Edinburgh
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Date and Time
30th Oct 2019 16:00 - 30th Oct 2019 17:30
Seminar rooms 1&2, Chrystal Macmillan Building

This paper is a work-in-progress article which historicises the postcolonial phenomenon of ‘Kenya Cowboys’ (KCs). The term has gained traction in popular discourse amongst the Kenyan, and expatriate, populations of Nairobi to identify any white Kenyan and has an underlying derogatory implication, often denoting scruffiness, heavy drinking and casual racism. The acclaimed Kenyan author Binyavanga Wainana wrote a satirical essay on the topic, detailing the KC as:

“A Bona Fide Kenya Cowboy (BFKC) drinks Tusker and proclaims to all that ‘Kenya is my country, Landrover is my car!’ BKFC may criticise Kenya but will tear out the throat of expatriates and other wannabes who attempt to do the same.”

This paper will begin to analyse the material culture and linguistic practices of this largely masculine postcolonial identity which attempts to claim a distinctly white and distinctly Kenyan heritage, whilst also alluding to what I would suggest is a form of dislocated post-imperial whiteness.

The white Kenyan population – and their KC ‘sub-culture’ – could be considered demographically insignificant anodyne relics of a bygone era. However, whites who remained in Kenya after independence have retained a prominent place in Western imaginations of the continent. White conservationists and ‘besieged’ white farmers often dominate media coverage and academic study – not least since the land tensions in Laikipia since 2016. Shining a light on these demographically marginal yet otherwise elite groups illuminates how, due to their ’remnant’ status, these individuals and communities are actively engaged in creating their own postcolonial history, not least in the contentious formation of Kenya Cowboys.

Edinburgh Students