CWD Work in Progress Seminar: Kyle Melles (Warwick): '"We Are Not Passing Anything to Work Against Us": Emergency Powers and Detention Without Trial in Colonial and Independent Kenya, 1952-69'

Wednesday 11 October 2023, 12:00pm to 1:00pm


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Event Details

The CWD work in progress seminar features CWD members and visiting speakers discussing ongoing research.

Kyle Melles (Warwick and Oxford): '“We Are Not Passing Anything to Work Against Us”: Emergency Powers and Detention Without Trial in Colonial and Independent Kenya, 1952-1969'

Wednesday 11 October 2023, 12.00-13.00, Lancaster University campus, Bowland Main B153

Both the Kenyan colonial government and the independent Kenyan government led by Jomo Kenyatta used emergency powers to protect their constituents’ private property and wealth. The Kenyan colonial administration’s detention laws enabled them to control public dissent, mainly from Kikuyu communities during the Mau Mau emergency from 1952 to 1960. Governor Evelyn Baring issued the Emergency Proclamation in October 1952 to protect the land holdings of settlers and Kikuyu “loyalists.” Once the Mau Mau emergency ended in January 1960, and the British Macmillan administration decided to transfer governance to Kenyans, the colonial regime worked to secure British economic and strategic interests in Kenya, including the right to foreign private property for settlers. As the incoming Kenya African National Union (KANU) led by Jomo Kenyatta took power during the transitional period from 1960-1963, its members desired a strong central government as opposed to the devolution to regional governments proposed by the opposition party, the Kenya African Democratic Union (KADU). The colonial governors and Kenyatta’s elite circle of politicians agreed to retain the emergency powers through the Preservation of Public Security Ordinance and a flexible constitution which supported a government loyal to British geopolitical interests while allowing KANU members to change the constitution to suit their goals. After independence, Kenyatta and his regime capitalized on these powers to strengthen the central government and bolster the wealth of their members. President Kenyatta viewed dissidents such as Oginga Odinga who advocated for land redistribution as a danger to the security of settlers and new Kenyan elites’ assets. To combat these threats, Kenyatta used old colonial-era laws from the Mau Mau emergency to respond aggressively to anyone who opposed the sanctity of foreign private property holdings.

Kyle is a postgraduate visiting researcher at Warwick’s Global History and Cultural Centre and is working with Oxford’s African Studies Centre as a Fulbright Scholar. His current project builds upon his undergraduate thesis, which received Washington University’s J. Walter Goldstein award for senior honors thesis in history, as well as the highest distinction, and concerns the continuities of security legislation in colonial and postcolonial Kenya. He has researched the continuities between laws providing for detention without trial and emergency powers from the colonial government to the Kenyatta administration in 1960s Kenya. His broader research interests include colonial constitution-making, security legislation, post-colonial development in Sub-Saharan Africa, and Kenyan culture, for which he received a State Dept Scholarship to study Swahili and Human-Environment Interactions in 2020. He comes to Warwick by way of St. Louis, Missouri, where he graduated as a Distinguished Military Graduate. Kyle has received multiple awards for his research on Kenyan colonial legal history, including Washington University’s Summer Undergraduate Research Award, the Bemis and Eisner Scholarship, and the Steele Honorary Scholarship.


This seminar is located on Floor B of Bowland Main. This is the first floor, where the Department of History is housed. Full information on accessibility for Bowland Main can be found on the AccessAble website.

Contact Details

Name Dr Sophie Ambler

Directions to BLM - Bowland Main B153

Bowland Main B153