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Land, belonging and structural oblivion among contemporary white Kenyans

  • Janet McIntosh

In recent years, settler descendants in Kenya have found their rights to hold land in Laikipia challenged by Maasai activists. Many have defended themselves by drawing on colonial-era discourses about pastoralist ecology and what constitutes good use of the land. These discourses have side-stepped ecological history and the moral problematics of colonial land seizure, while treating Maasai anger and nostalgia as manipulative and inauthentic. At the same time, new ‘community-based’ conservation movements, in conjunction with Afro-Kenyan activism, have prodded some white Kenyans into loosening their epistemology and making preliminary, partial concessions to Afro-Kenyan points of view. Yet, I suggest, these concessions themselves are part of a new, shifting model of whiteness: one that responds to new political imperatives, yet retains certain ways of justifying white advantages in landholding. I draw on these shifts to explore similarities with and disjunctures from colonial whiteness among these contemporary white Kenyans feeling the pressure to move from one historical era to another.


Au cours des années récentes, des descendants de colons au Kenya ont vu leurs droits à détenir des terres dans la région de Laikipia remis en cause par des militants masaï. Beaucoup se sont défendus en s'appuyant sur des discours de la période coloniale à propos de l’écologie pastorale et de ce qui constitue une bonne utilisation des terres. Ces discours ont contourné l'histoire écologique et la problématique morale des saisies de terres coloniales, tout en traitant la colère et la nostalgie des Masaï comme manipulatrices et inauthentiques. Dans le même temps, de nouveaux mouvements de conservation « à base communautaire », en conjonction avec le militantisme afro-kenyan, ont incité certains Kenyans blancs à assouplir leur épistémologie et à faire des concessions préliminaires partielles aux points de vue afro-kenyans. L'auteur suggère cependant que ces concessions s'inscrivent dans un nouveau modèle dynamique de la blanchité : un modèle qui répond à de nouveaux impératifs politiques tout en conservant certaines façons de justifier des avantages blancs en matière foncière. L'auteur s'appuie sur ces changements pour explorer des similarités et des disjonctions par rapport à la blanchité coloniale parmi les Kenyans blancs contemporains qui se sentent contraints à passer d'une période historique à une autre.

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