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Lecture | PCNI Research Seminar

Manufactured drought? An environmental history of water scarcity in Colonial Kenya, 1895-1952

Tuesday 7 November 2023
Johan Huizinga
Doelensteeg 16
2311 VL Leiden

Unequal land distribution is a key topic in Kenyan historiography. Less is currently known about how water came to be such a scarce resource. This project problematises the idea that water scarcity is an environmental phenomenon: rather it is the product of a dissonance between human expectations and environmental realities. An environmental reframing of Kenyan historical themes foregrounds the ideas, actions, and spatial conditions which make up these expectations and realities. Central therein is the multiplicity in their co-production by all actors involved. Key themes that make up this history are colonial law, race, labour and violence. This seminar will consider the history of water scarcity in the Kedong Valley between 1902 and 1934. This was the site of intense conflict over very limited and fluctuating water availability which redefined and racialised landscapes on the borderland between the African Reserve and the settler-dominated Highlands. The Kedong case forces one to reconsider how water scarcity was conceptualised in a colonial context, and suggests avenues to research its ramifications for Kenyan history more generally.

About the speaker

Bas Rensen is a doctoral researcher at the European University Institute in Florence. He has written colonial water histories on South Africa, Nigeria, Morocco, and Tunesia, and is currently finalising his thesis on water scarcity in Colonial Kenya. He is interested in the tension between formal law and its practise, in water as an extension of wealth and power relations, and in the fragilities of colonial categories such as ethnicity, whiteness, and loyalism.


The event is open to the public, but registration is needed. To register, please send an email to the PCNI coordinator, Dario Fazzi, at d.fazzi@hum.leidenuniv.nl.

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