Never Be Silent: Publishing and Imperialism in Kenya, 1884-1963

By Peterson, Derek R. | African Research & Documentation, April 1, 2007 | Go to article overview

Never Be Silent: Publishing and Imperialism in Kenya, 1884-1963


Peterson, Derek R., African Research & Documentation


Never be silent: publishing and imperialism in Kenya, 1884-1963, by Shiraz Durrani. London: Vita Books, 2006. xi + 271 pp. ISBN 781869-886059. £21-99.

Never be silent is a work of bibliographic erudition. Shiraz Durrani has spent many hours combing through libraries and archives, interviewing publishers, and sifting other scholars' bibliographies. In this book he presents an extensive list of newspapers and pamphlets published in colonial Kenya, with notes describing the politics of each journal and the personality of its editor. In the book's narrative he fleshes out his bibliography, offering biographies of prominent publishers and editors and describing the political trajectory of important newspapers. For its encyclopedic survey of colonial Kenya's publishing scene, Never be silent will be useful for librarians and students alike.

But Durrani the bibliographer is too inclined to sort colonial Kenya's journals and newspapers with tightly defined class marks. He sees two sides to Kenya's political history. On the one hand, he writes, there were the "progressives", the workers, peasants and leftist intellectuals, who "favoured] change and development from the status quo". On the other hand there were the British officials, Christian missionaries and African bourgeoisie, who favoured the "continuation of colonialism and neo-colonialism" (x). The history of publishing in Kenya played out as a "struggle between the two antagonistic power bases that have dominated the history of the country" (19). In the early twentieth century, the progressive voice was made audible in the Ghadar Party, whose South Asian advocates connected Kenya's progressives with the "Marxism and the experiences of the Soviet Union"(50). The interwar period saw the "consolidation of the working class". Its politics was manifested in Makhan Singh's Kenya Worker, published in Urdu and Punjabi and circulated weekly to 1,000 readers (82). In the 1950s, the Mau Mau movement emerged as the culmination of the working classes' progressive politics. For each historical epoch, Durrani sorts newspapers into clearly defined political categories. The bibliography that concludes the book brings Durrani's classifications to their full realisation. Each publication is colourcoded, with progressive publications printed, inevitably, in red.

Durrani's classifications make it hard to see the creative intellectual labour that Kenya's publishers and authors did in working out their political projects. For Durrani, newspapers are conduits of ideology, instruments of governmental control or "weapons in the struggle for liberation by the people" (18). Durrani's analysis orients the interpretation of newspaper work in a vertical dimension, emphasising politicians' role in determining the content, and the reception, of their publications.

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