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Uhuru Sasa! Federal Futures and Liminal Sovereignty in Decolonizing East Africa

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  19 January 2023

Kevin P. Donovan*
Centre of African Studies, University of Edinburgh, Scotland, UK


Decolonization in East Africa was a regional affair that required the remaking of temporal orders. The staggered independence timelines of Tanganyika, Uganda, and Kenya caused considerable consternation due to transnational solidarities and visions for East African Federation. The interminable delays of Kenyan decolonization also threatened the linked economy of the region and diluted the sovereignty of neighboring states. At issue was “liminal sovereignty,” with polities and people languishing between normative legal orders. Against expectations about self-determination, East Africans found themselves in partial control of their collective endeavors. I analyze the tactics of temporal activism by Africans who aimed to undo British control over the pacing, sequencing, and synchronicity of decolonization. The indeterminate geography of decolonization was linked to uncertain temporalities of independence which threatened to subvert self-determination. In East Africa, federation was a style of claims-making and chronopolitics intended to orchestrate the distribution of rights, resources, and authority in a new layering of sovereignty between postcolonies.

Research Article
© The Author(s), 2023. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the Society for the Comparative Study of Society and History

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66 This was also true for some in Buganda, despite earlier opposition. Makerere Institute of Social Research Archives AR/MISR/96/5: Attitudes of Makerere Students towards the East African Federation. For resistance in 1950s Buganda, see Summers, Carol, “All the Kabaka’s Wives: Marital Claims in Buganda’s 1953–55 Kabaka Crisis,” Journal of African History 58, 1 (2017): 107–27CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Ward, Kevin, “The Church of Uganda and the Exile of Kabaka Muteesa II, 1953–55,” Journal of Religion in Africa 28, 4 (1998): 411–49Google Scholar.

67 De Souza was one of Kenyatta’s lawyers during his detention and subsequently helped negotiate Kenyan independence during the Lancaster House conferences.

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70 Ibid., 1302–44.

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75 UKNA CO 822/2729: Memorandum by the Secretary of State for the Colonies, n.d.

76 UKNA CO 822/2729: A. B. Cohen to John Martin, 28 Jan. 1961.

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80 UKNA CO 822/2729: “Note for Constitutional File,” 6 Feb. 1961.

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83 They also considered the alternatives of issuing no precise date, issuing a date only to renounce it for federation, and announcing a date so far ahead that they could then “persuade the people to postpone full independence for the sake of taking part in the creation of an independent East African federation.” See UKNA CO 822/2729: “Note of Meeting between H. E. the Governor and the Chief Minister,” 14 Jan. 1961.

84 UKNA CO 822/2729: “Future Policy on East African Federation and the Independence of Tanganyika, Consequential on the Reaction of Mr. Nyerere to the Proposals Made by Him by the Secretary of State,” 6 Feb. 1961.

85 Uganda National Archives [UNA] 35C.10646, East African Federation: Telegram from Secretary of State, 28 June 1961.

86 The Future of the East African High Commission Services, Cmnd.1433 (London, 1961). For the negotiations, see Tanzania National Archives CIC 9/84/01: “East African High Commission,” 1961.

87 Tanzania National Archives CB/11/1 Speeches by Jamal 1961–62: “Benefits of the East African Common Services Should be Spread as Justly as Possible,” 17 Jan. 1962.

88 See Banfield’s chapter in Colin Leys and Peter Robson, eds., Federation in East Africa: Opportunities and Problems (London, 1966). On the future of the civil service under EACSO, see KNA GH/21/8: “Extract from Mr. E. M. Hall’s Brief for Discussions at Colonial Office,” June 1960.

89 “Kenya’s Most Pressing Need Is Money,” Uganda Nation, 16 Nov. 1962.

90 This was due in part to wrangling on customs revenue. HUA JNP Zanzibar file: “Address by Zanzibar Delegation” n.d.; “‘Hurry Up’ Call by Zanzibar,” Uganda Nation, 30 Nov. 1962.

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101 “Makerere UPC Branch ‘Shocked’ by Muliro,” Uganda Nation, 10 Dec. 1962.

102 D. J. Muhavi, “Letter to the Editor,” Uganda Nation, 19 Dec. 1962.

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105 “Helping Hand to Kenya Sets off Controversy,” Uganda Nation, 8 Dec. 1962.

106 “Obote’s Statesmanship Praised,” Uganda Nation, 6 Dec. 1962.

107 “Greater Unity in E. A. Urged,” Uganda Nation, 6 Dec. 1962.

108 “Premier Urged to Think Again,” Uganda Nation, 19 Dec. 1962.

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110 “Kawawa Wants Kenya’s Freedom Quickly,” Uganda Nation, 22 Jan. 1963.

111 “Obote to Press for Kenya Poll,” Uganda Nation, 11 Dec. 1962.

112 “Sandys Accused of Uhuru Dawdle,” Uganda Nation, 13 Dec. 1963.

113 “Troubleshooter for Kenya,” Uganda Nation, 4 Jan. 1963.

114 Those insistent on uhuru sasa similarly pointed to conflict in the Katanga province but thought it would be the frustrations of delay that would lead to violence.

115 “‘Slow up Federation’ Buganda Warns,” Uganda Nation, 4 Jan. 1963.

116 On the suppression of sub-nationalist claims, see Vaughan, “Politics,” 14–17; see also Walker, “Decolonization.”

117 “Warning Against an E. A. Federation,” Uganda Nation, Feb. 1963.

118 “Now UMTU Supports Kenya Party,” Uganda Nation, 9 May 1963.

119 Letter to the Editor, from Raiti-Omongin, Uganda Nation, 2 Feb. 1963.

120 “Uganda Must Keep EACSO Running,” Uganda Nation, 21 Mar. 1963.

121 “Now UMTU Supports Kenya Party,” Uganda Nation, 9 May 1963. “Confederation” was invoked as a looser, more decentralized form of political unity, though the details were often unspecified in the era, unlike in French Africa; see Cooper, Citizenship, 294–305.

122 “‘Let Us Build a Nation’ says Mr. Obote,” Uganda Nation, 25 Mar. 1963.

123 “Premier Explains Benefits,” Uganda Nation, 9 Feb. 1963.

124 “Federation—We Must Join,” Uganda Nation, 8 Feb. 1963.

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133 UKNA DO 168/73: Monson to Secretary of State, 20 June 1963.

134 UKNA DO 168/73: Malcolm MacDonald to Secretary of State, 20 June 1963.

135 Ibid.

136 UKNA DO 166/99: “Talks with President Kennedy,” June 1963.

137 “Kenya Parliament at ‘Uhuru Speed,’” Daily Nation, 4 July 1963.

138 UKNA DO 166/99: Telegram from Dar es Salaam to Kampala, Nairobi, and Zanzibar, 25 June 1963.

139 UKNA DO 168/73: Malcolm MacDonald to Secretary of State for the Colonies, 13 June 1963.

140 UKNA DO 166/99: B. W. Meynell to C. R. Walker, 13 June 1963.

141 UKNA DO 168/73: Uganda Fortnightly Summary, 30 May–12 June 1963.

142 UKNA DO 168/73: Le Tocq to Chadwick, 14 June 1963; Le Tocq to Chadwick, 19 June 1963.

143 UKNA DO 168/73: Chadwick to Hunter, 12 June 1963; and Tilney to Duke of Devonshire, 26 June 1963.

144 UKNA DO 213/166: “East African Federation,” 8 June 1963.

145 UKNA DO 168/73: “East Africa Federation: Attitude of Tanganyika and Uganda,” 27 June 1963.

146 See AR/MISR/155/3: Julius Nyerere to Kwame Nkrumah, 6 Aug. 1963.

147 UNA 43/2: CT (1963), 273, “East African Federation Talks.”

148 UKNA FO 371/167147: “Gross Mistake,” Aug. 1963.

149 KNA ACW/1/557: L.D.A. Baron to R. C. Tress, 10 July 1963.

150 This section draws on the respective national views in KNA ACW/1/557: “East African Federation Constitution”; KNA MAC/EAG/19/2: “Does Uganda Really Want to Federate”; Tanzania National Archives CCMCF/40/2 “East African Federation,” 1963; Tanzania National Records Centre (Dodoma) EAC Acc.82/2: “Commission of Enquiry”; UNA 43/2: CT(1963)273: “Report on East African Federation Talks,” 4 Sept. 1963.

151 AR/MISR/155/1 East African Federation Working Party Papers, 1963–64.

152 AR/MISR/155/1: Jamal to Nyerere, 3 July 1963.

153 UN Archives S-0175-0399, TE 322/1/EAF (170-2): “Joint East Africa Federation Mission,” Dec. 1964.

154 UKNA Foreign Office [FO] 371/167147: Memorandum by Murray, 15 Aug. 1963.

155 AR/MISR/155/1 Amir Jamal: Nyerere to Obote, 6 July 1963.

156 UKNA FO 371/167147: D.W.S. Hunt to Chadwick, 22 Aug. 1963.

157 See also UKNA CO 822/3194: “Uganda: East African Federation,” 4 Sept. 1963. For more on these months, see UKNA CO 822/3195.

158 UKNA FO 371/167147: Le Tocq to Chadwick, 21 Aug. 1963.

159 UKNA DO 213/166: British High Commission, Nairobi to Commonwealth Relations Office, 20 June 1964.

160 UKNA DO 166/99: Julius Nyerere to Harold Macmillan, 10 July 1963.

161 UKNA DO 213/166: Telegram to CRO from Nairobi, 13 Apr. 1964, East African Federation.

162 UKNA DO 213/166: Memorandum on EACSO and Proposed Federation, May 1964; Mazrui, AliTanzania versus East Africa,” Journal of Commonwealth Political Studies 3, 3 (1965): 209–25CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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