Hannah Whittaker. 2015. Insurgency and Counterinsurgency in Kenya: A Social History of the Shifta Conflict, C. 1963-1968

By Mwangi, Oscar Gakuo | African Studies Quarterly, March 2017 | Go to article overview

Hannah Whittaker. 2015. Insurgency and Counterinsurgency in Kenya: A Social History of the Shifta Conflict, C. 1963-1968


Mwangi, Oscar Gakuo, African Studies Quarterly


Hannah Whittaker. 2015. Insurgency and Counterinsurgency in Kenya: A Social History of the Shifta Conflict, c. 1963-1968, Leiden: Brill. 176 pp.

This book examines insurgency and counterinsurgency in Kenya focusing on the shifta (literally bandit or rebel) conflict of 1963 to 1968. The introduction begins by stating that the book is a social history of war and that all wars are socially destructive. The book analyses the shifta insurgency in the former Northern Frontier District (NFD) of Kenya and its detrimental social, economic, and political effects, focusing on the use of political violence as a means to an end, militarism, environmental scarcity, and conflict, and issues of state capacity. The fundamental arguments raised are that the intricate quality of the insurgency and the nature of its counterinsurgency measures conducted by Kenya explain the explicitly destructive force of the conflict which combined a set of local, national and regional wars. The eruption of the insurgency and the consequent path of its violence are best understood as a convergence of the local-level underlying forces and state responses to those forces. The local dynamics centered on issues of state encroachment, private interests, and territorial resource conflicts whereas state responses focus subjugation and nation statebuilding through counterinsurgency. To this extent the book aptly demonstrates that conflicts are shaped by the dynamics of interaction between the state, its apparatuses, and local-level developments.

The book indicates is thematically divided into two parts, the first dealing with the insurgency and the second with the counterinsurgency. Chapters two to six examine the origins, composition and the dynamics of interaction among the key actors on the insurgency. The chapters establish that the outbreak of the insurgency was primarily driven by the personal and political gains of the participants that revolved around protecting individual and communal interests, the struggle for natural resources, and the need to counteract state repression. The chapters also establish that Somali nationalism at the time failed to prevent parochialism. Chapters five and six analyze the nature of the counterinsurgency. They focus on the coercive measures employed by the state to defeat shifta and militarization of the NFD society. The chapters also pay attention to the political dimensions of the counterinsurgency by examining the policy of forced villagization in the region. …

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