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Repatriation in Colonial Kenya: African Institutions and Gendered Violence

Author(s): Matthew Carotenuto

Source: The International Journal of African Historical Studies, Vol. 45, No. 1, Toward a
History of Violence in Colonial Kenya (2012), pp. 9-28
Published by: Boston University African Studies Center
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International Journal of African Historical Studies Vol. 45, No. 1 (2012) 9

Repatriation in Colonial Kenya: African Institutions

and Gendered Violence

By Matthew Carotenuto
St. Lawrence University (

In contemporary Kenya it is not entirely uncommon to witness scenes of women be

violently stripped at a crowded Nairobi bus stage or paraded around naked at a rural t
market by an angry mob. Whether it is due to an accusation of infidelity or simply
spontaneous mob indictment about the provocative nature of one's dress, the pu
spectacle of these violent acts frequently show up on the pages of the popular Keny
press.1 These incidents, part of a larger issue of state and public ambivalence to extr
judicial violence in postcolonial Kenya, are often reported as customary offences out
the scope or protection of legal authorities.2 While viewed by some as acceptable ext
judicial punishment for "cultural offenses," this style of vigilantism also points
broader history of how public violence was used to shape the morality of civic virtue
gendered conduct in Kenya's past.3

Reading the discourse of these contemporary events reflects clear continuities wi

debates from the colonial past. Informants from the Luo community interviewed fr
2004 to 2009 often remembered similar scenes unfolding in urban areas throughout
Africa during the 1940s and 1950s. Accounts repeatedly described urban men (regula
sent by parents) who snatched suspected prostitutes in Nairobi, Kisumu, Eldoret
Mombasa. Informant testimonies typically recalled scenes of forcibly stripping an accu
woman, sometimes shaving her head and parading the "suspect" in a gunny sack to b

* I would like to thank Thomas Spear, Richard Waller, and the anonymous reviewers at IJAHS for t
helpful comments on earlier drafts of this article. I would also like to thank Henry Adera for his inval
assistance with interviews and Dholuo translation work in Kenya.

1 See for instance Peter Atsiaya, "Girl Thrashed for Sharing Mother's Lover," The Standard
September 2010; "Married Cheats Stripped Naked," The Standard, 29 August, 2010, and "Stripping Wo
Is Barbaric," Daily Nation 24 December 2003, and "Women in Demo over Dress Code," Daily Natio
November 2000.

2 While a full discussion of vigilantism in post-colonial Kenya is outside the scope of this article, the
extent of everyday citizens participating in mob-justice is well documented throughout East Africa. See
David M. Anderson, "Vigilantes, Violence and the Politics of Public Order in Kenya," African Affairs 101,
405 (2002), 531-55, and Suzette Heald, "State, Law and Vigilantism in Northern Tanzania," African Affairs,
105,419 (2006), 265-83.

3 Megan Plyler. "Keeping the Peace: Violent Justice, Crime and Vigilantism in Tanzania," in Pal
Ahluwalia, Louise Bethlehem, and Ruth Ginio, eds., Violence and Non-Violence in Africa (New York:
Routledge, 2007), 124-41; and David Pratten, "Introduction. The Politics of Protection: Perspectives on
Vigilantism in Nigeria," Africa 78,1 (2008), 1-15.
Copyright 2012 by the Board of Trustees of Boston University.

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10 Matthew Carotenuto

humiliated by the court of public opinion. Finally they reported how the victim
escorted away by members of various ethnic associations before she was for
repatriated back to her rural homeland.4 These acts of violent humiliation were mean
only to chastise "wayward women," but also served as a means to publicly demonstr
claims by a young and conservative group of labor migrants that the urban landscape
colonial Kenya were contested zones of patriarchal authority.
This article uses the case of forced repatriation of African women in colo
Kenya to examine differing notions of urban citizenship, and how a wider moveme
youthful male conservatism from western Kenya shaped the acceptable limits of gend
violence in the public sphere. I argue that by justifying repatriation violence as a w
uphold customary law and promote social discipline, an uneasy partnership bet
African institutions and the colonial state emerged where young men and women eng
in broad moral discussions on the politics of belonging. Ethnic discipline and s
welfare were influential themes of this discussion, and African men exploited state fe
urban disorder to carry out activities that were well outside the confines of the co
legal code. While scholars have clearly shown that women carved out importan
influential niches throughout the colonial period, few have focused specifically on
broader meaning of repatriation cases.5

In the realm of both legal and social history, contested views of repatriation re
the blurred lines between discipline, crime, and the gendered social order acros
colonial landscape. Placed within this broader issue on violence in colonial Ke
repatriation cases more importantly illuminate the ways public violence was employ
the name of "tribal tradition," which allowed this form of gendered violence to fall th
the cracks of the colonial legal system. As African elites used the repatriation of wom
assert authority and socialize urban migrants into respectability, state officials often t
a blind eye to extra-judicial activities that promoted social discipline in the se
dominated setting of urban colonial Kenya. Examining this form of colonial violenc
reveals how public debates over urban citizenship and gendered conduct provide a win
into how the use of public/extra-judicial violence was institutionalized throughout t
colonial experience.6

4 The general consensus comes from over fifty interviews conducted by the author in Nairobi a
throughout Nyanza province among former members and constituents of the Luo Union in 2004, 2007

5 See for instance, Samwel Ong'wen Okuro, "Our Women Must Return Home: Institutionalized
Patriarchy in Colonial Central Nyanza District 1945-1963," Journal of Asian and African Studies 45, 5
(2010), 522-33; Julie MacArthur, "Mapping Political Community among the Luyia of Western Kenya,
1930-1963," (Ph.D. thesis, Cambridge University, 2009), 157-62; Kenda Mutongi, Worries of the Heart:
Widows, Family and Community in Kenya (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007), 13948; and Luise
White, The Comforts of Home: Prostitution in Colonial Nairobi (Chicago: University of Chicago Press,
1990), 193-94.

6 For a comparison from West Africa, see Marie Rodet "Continuum of Gendered Violence: The
Colonial Invention of Female Desertion as a Customary Criminal Offense, French Soudan, 1900-1949," in

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African Institutions and Gendered Violence 11

Repatriation and the Urban Colonial Landscape

The issue of African repatriation represents an important window into the moral social and
political world of colonial Kenya. The term itself was widely used in the colonial record to
describe the forced removal of any "undesirable" African from urban colonial centers.
Repatriation reinforced a paternalistic state view that African colonial citizenship should
be limited to the confines of rural life and carefully managed under the disciplinary
oversight of static institutions of "tradition" and gerontocracy. This view came from the
top of a colonial order that viewed Africans as rural subjects and reserved the concept of
urban citizenship almost exclusively for Europeans.7 By the 1920s, the creation of
distinctive native reserves and the kipande passbook system had defined Africans firmly
within manufactured rural terms of ethnicity. Urban vagrancy laws were also put into place
to justify the forced removal of Africans who were viewed as a threat to the tranquility of
settler towns like Nairobi. Drawn heavily from the South African model of settler
colonialism it was widely argued in Kenya that:
A town is a European area in which there is no place for the redundant native who
neither works nor serves his people but forms the class from which professional
agitators, slum landlords, liquor sellers, prostitutes and other undesirable classes
spring. The exclusion of these redundant natives is in the interests of Europeans
and natives alike.8

African communities naturally had conflicting viewpoints with this narrow and
pejorative state opinion that viewed them innately within primordial confines of ethnicity.
Ethnic welfare associations formed amongst populations of labor migrants provide an
important intermediary voice between the dichotomy of state and local discourse. Formed
mainly among male labor migrants in urban centers across East Africa, literally hundreds
of these associations and societies emerge prominently in the colonial record.9 Headed
usually by mission educated men working as intermediaries in government offices and key

Emily Burrill, Richard Roberts, and Elizabeth Thornberry, eds., Domestic Violence and the Law in Colonial
and Postcolonial Africa (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2010), 74-94.

7 An exception here would be coastal Kenya where urban African elites were seen as legitimate citizens
of the city. However, coastal Kenya also was viewed as distinctively different with "upcountry natives"
described in sometimes racially different terms as opposed to segments of the coastal African community.
See Justin Willis, Mombasa, the Swahili and the Making of the Mijikenda (Oxford, UK: Clarendon, 1993).

8 This quote actually came from the South African Native Affairs Commission in 1921, and was cited
by Kenyan counterparts in 1926 as a preferred model for Kenya. See Kenya National Archives (hereafter
KNA), "Native Affairs Department Report," 1926,55.

9 A casual reading of the Ministry of African Affairs files as well as monthly reports from Nairobi,
Mombasa, and other towns in the KNA reference the activities of countless associations. For instance in the
late 1950s in Mombasa it was noted that nearly sixty African welfare societies were officially registered even
though Kenya was under a state of emergency. See for instance, "Associations, Unions Societies & Clubs
1955-1962," KNA, DC/MSA/2/1/34. For a larger discussion of this in Nakuru, see M. Tamarkin 'Tribal
Associations, Tribal Solidarity and Tribal Chauvinism in a Kenya Town." Journal of African History 14, 3
(1973), 257-274.

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12 Matthew Carotenuto

industries of the colonial economy, their voices and actions represent an importa
ground between a distinctive colonizer/colonized framework.10

The language of repatriation in state rhetoric was indistinguishably connect

discussions of the destitute and undesirable, and categorized under the general sta
African detribalization. Referenced as early as the 1920s in colonial
detribalization was frequently used to explain crime and immorality
environmentsas opposed to the frequent squalid and oppressive conditions und
African migrants were forced to live.11 Referencing Tanganyika, M J.B. Molohan
up a general state view on the topic in 1957. At a time when African urban pop
were rapidly expanding, Molohan expressed a long-standing concern for in
measures of social control based clearly in ethnic terms. Molohan argued
detribalization ultimately had detrimental social consequences for migrants due
"separation from family, clan and tribal authority as well as from social codes of
discipline, custom and perhaps religion which originally guided their thou

The argument surrounding detribalization was applied to a variety of social

problems facing African populations in urban Kenya. By the end of the Second World
War, the fear of the "detribalized" urban African reached a critical peak and discourse
among colonial officials spoke of the need to cultivate "tribal discipline" and expand
institutions that promoted urban social control. For example, in response to the massive
growth of African urban populations during the War, a summary report from the Ministry
of African Affairs noted that the breakdown of rural authority was linked to urban
immorality. The report argued that "with the passing of the old and rigid tribal control,
which bred a high sense of community life, individuals emerged with a new found freedom
from restraint, which has resulted in considerable relaxation of moral standards."13 Thus
from theft and prostitution to the immorality of drunkenness and licentious dance,
detribalization pointed to a simplified explanatory root to many urban issues by the

10 See for instance, Benjamin Lawrence, Emily Osborn, and Richard Roberts, eds., Intermediaries,
Interpreters and Clerks: African Employees in the Making of Colonial Kenya (Madison: University of
Wisconsin Press, 2006); and Frederick Cooper, "Conflict and Connection: Rethinking Colonial African
History," The American Historical Review 99,5 (1994), 1516-545.

11 For an early discussion of this concept, see "Settlement Detribalized Natives, 1925-33," KNA,
BN/46/4. This was also a topic of discussion at a conference between East African governors in 1933 on the
nature of indirect rule in towns. See "Native Policy: Administration of Detribalized Natives and in Towns,
1933," Public Records Office (hereafter PRO), C0822/55/11.

12 M J.B. Molohan, Detribalization (Dar es Salaam: Government Printer, 1959), 11.

13 Ministry of African Affairs Summary Report 1939-1945 (Nairobi: Government Printer, 1945).

14 Andrew Burton has demonstrated how this concept was used to target vagrants or "wahuni" in urban
Tanganyika. See his African Underclass: Urbanisation, Crime and Colonial Order in Dar es Salam
(London: James Currey, 2006). For a wider view of notions of vagrancy, see Paul Ocobock and Andrew
Burton, "The Traveling Native: Vagrancy and Colonial Control in East Africa," in A.L. Beier and Paul

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African Institutions and Gendered Violence 13

The removal and repatriation of "undesirable" Africans was applied rather broadly
in urban Kenya as well as other parts of colonial Africa.15 From deported political
dissidents like Harry Thuku to poor retirees and juvenile delinquents, state officials
frequently argued that repatriation was a preferred and benevolent form of urban social
control.16 For instance by the end of the First World War, repatriation was referenced in
Mombasa as a common method to remove unemployed and impoverished Africans from
the coastal city with debate focusing not on the legality of the practice but more on how to
finance it. Evidenced by a provincial commissioner's (PC) 1920 petition to the chief native
commissioner for the removal of Kikuyu migrants in Mombasa, repatriation was applied as
a blanket policy to remove any "undesirables." Accusing these upcountry migrants of no
specific crime he griped, "these men do not work and are a source of trouble, as they drink,
quarrel with the wa-nyika and generally make themselves objectionable. Could these men
(nearly 100) be returned to Nairobi at Government expense?"17 While the chief native
commissioner was reluctant to grant his request then, other files throughout the 1920s
referenced a specific fund housed in the Native Affairs Department, which could be drawn
upon for repatriation.18

Overall, state sponsored welfare programs were not highly regarded in a stingy
colonial setting with officials arguing mainly for "self-help" solutions to African problems.
The district commissioner (DC) for South Nyanza avowed in the 1930s that "I am of the
opinion that the native custom of the destitute being a charge on their more fortunate
relations is more desirable than the English custom of making the state responsible for
them."19 By the 1940s and 1950s, however, concerns over removing the destitute,
detribalized Africans from the settler dominated urban landscape had reached crisis
proportions, both with one study noting that over 5,000 Africans were removed from
Nairobi and Mombasa in 1944 alone.20 Mau Mau, and the declaration of the state of

Ocobock, eds., Cast Out: Vagrancy and Homelessness in Global and Historical Perspective (Athens: Ohio
University Press, 2008), 270-302.

15 Saheed Aderinto, "Policing Urban Prostitution: Prostitutes, Crime, Law and Reformers," in
Hakeemlbikunle Tijani, ed., Nigeria's Urban History: Past and Present (Lanham, MD: University Press of
America, 2006), 99-118; Jane Parpart, '"Wicked Women' and 'Respectable Ladies': Reconfiguring Gender
on the Zambian Copperbelt, 1936-1964," in Dorothy L. Hodgson and Sheryl McCurdy, eds., Wicked Women
and the Reconfiguration of Gender in Africa (Portsmouth NH: Heinemann, 2001) 274-93; and Emmanuel
Akyeampong "Sexuality and Prostitution among the Akan of the Gold Coast c. 1650-1950," Past & Present
156,1 (1997), 158.

16 See for instance, "Removal of Undesirable Natives 1946-1948," (PRO)-CO 533/556/8. Within this
report it was debated in London whether the removal of all unemployed men from Nairobi for instance went
against British policy as they were working on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights for the United
Nations. For more on the case of juveniles, see Paul Ocobock, '"Joy Rides for Juveniles': Vagrant Youth and
Colonial Control in Nairobi, Kenya, 1901-1952," Social History 31,1 (2006), 39-59.

17 PC Mombasa to Chief Native Com., 8 April 1920, KNA, PC/Coast/1/1/233.

18 "Repatriation of Natives 1915-27," KNA, PC/Coast/1/1/233.

19 DC South Nyanza to PC Nyanza (specific date missing, 1934), KNA, PC/NZA/2/14/18.

20 Ocobock and Burton, "The Traveling Native," 283.

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14 Matthew Carotenuto

emergency in 1952 triggered the beginning of an era where the perceived need f
control and repatriation reached historic levels. Urban and inter-reserve m
particularly for members of the Gikuyu, Embu, and Meru communities
concerned state officials and led to the mass repatriation of GEMA men an
throughout East Africa.21 From the viewpoint of state officials, urban detribaliz
referenced as a general cause of social upheaval with rural repatriation subseque
as a means to control both political and social dissidents under the watchful eye
chiefs and elders.

Colonial authorities were not incorrect in describing urban settings as unwelcoming

and immoral spaces as Africans often complained about the insecurity of city life. Jomo
Kenyatta referred to Nairobi and Kenya's urban centers as gecombaini, a Gikuyu term
meaning "a place of strangers."22 Africans did not always view repatriation itself
negatively, given the challenges urban life presented. Poor or retired workers even
appealed to the colonial state at times for assistance in voluntary repatriation to their rural
homes to escape the hectic and unwelcoming pace of city life 23 However, cities and towns
were also spaces where larger cultural and linguistic communities came together under the
banner of ethnicity. Reflecting on a life spent in town, an informant in Kampala explained
that, "Urban life does not draw relatives apart, it draws them together. In our country
brothers quarrel over land and property; but in town there is none to quarrel over and they
come to each other for protection."24 The security in this sense referred to the
socioeconomic and cultural safety offered by urban ethnic associations. For Luo-speakers,
the Luo Union provided safety and solidarity in the urban setting and grew to become one
of the best known and most influential of all ethnic associations in colonial Kenya.25

Given state fears over the moral implications of "detribalization," African

institutions formed on ethnic lines were often encouraged. During the 1940s and 1950s,
countless numbers of clan, location, and ethnic based associations formed. Founded mainly
by young educated elite men, these associations were argued by state officials to have a

21 While a firm discussion of the implication of the emergency are beyond the scope of this paper, a
general increased concern over migration can be widely observed in the colonial record. For an example of
some of this change, see for instance "Migration/Movement of Natives 1930-38," KNA, DC/KSM/1/19/12;
and "Control of Tribal Movements 1953-62," KNA, MAA/11/2/1/5-. For more on the repatriation of GEMA
members during the emergency, see Caroline Elkins, Imperial Reckoning (New York: Henry Holt, 2005),
125, and Bruce Berman, Control and Crisis in Colonial Kenya (Athens: Ohio University Press, 1990), 349.

22 John Lonsdale, 'Town Life in Colonial Kenya," in Andrew Burton, ed., The Urban Experience in
Eastern Africa c. 1750-2000 (Nairobi: British Institute of Eastern Africa, 2002), 211.

23 See for instance, "Deportation and Repatriation 193149," KNA, DC/KSM/1/19/103.

24 Marguerite Jellicoe, "Indigenous Savings Associations in Eastern Africa," Economic Commission

for Africa, 1968.7.

25 For more on the Luo Union specifically, see Matthew Carotenuto "Riwruok e Teko: Cultivating
Identity in Colonial and Post-Colonial Kenya," Africa Today 53, 2 (2006), 53-73; Matthew Carotenuto and
Katherine Luongo, "Dala or Diaspora: Obama and the Luo Community of Kenya," African Affairs 108,431
(2009), 197-219; and David Parkin, The Cultural Definition of Political Response: Lineal Destiny among the
Luo (London: Academic Press, 1978).

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African Institutions and Gendered Violence IS

mediating effect on the social and political dangers of town life. For instance in 1944,
referencing the formation of the Kipsigi-Nandi Union, the municipal native affairs officer
in Nairobi described ethnic associations simply as "the best answer to the detribalizing
influences of town life."26 By the late 1940s ethnic associations entered into a precarious
partnership with the colonial state that revolved around contested notions of repatriation.
Using state language of "undesirable" and "destitute," ethnic associations exploited state
fears over unchecked migration and urban social disorder in the post war era.27 However,
the limits of cooperation revolved around conflicting views of patriarchy and paternalism,
which both sides sought to define and control. "Wayward youth" and "loose women" were
the main targets of social control for ethnic associations and at times their actions
conflicted with state philosophy on the limits of African political and legal authority.

Wayward Partnerships: African and Colonial Patriarchies

State and local viewpoints about the "wickedness" of African women and youth has been
well documented in colonial Africa, along with local attempts to combat these pejorative
labels and categories.28 According to Bruce Berman this view can be in part attributed to
the cultural changes brought on by migration and town life as "Christian converts
repudiated the rituals, social practices and authority of indigenous religion, while young
men and women in towns flaunted the immoralities of adopted European dress and
customs."29 Ethnic associations attempted to regulate the cultural influences of the colonial
encounter by responding to the "moral panic" migration often inspired among both African
and European authorities. They too envisioned Africans as rural citizens and promoted
activities of cultural, economic, and political investment in bucolic homelands.30
Rural repatriation of people and resources was the ultimate goal that many ethnic
associations saw for their constituents, both male and female. For men, many of the
associations fostered economic investment in rural homelands, served as intermediaries for
marriage negotiations and viewed the rural environment as the place of ultimate diasporic

26 Municipal Native Affairs Officer to DC Kericho, 29 April 1944, KNA, PC/NZA/3/1/363.

27 For example, Municipal African Affairs T.G. Askwith noted in 1948, that "All Tribal Associations
supported the measures taken to remove undesirables from Nairobi," "Annual Report on African Affairs in
Nairobi," (1948), 2, KNA, DC/KSM/1/28/45.

28 For a small portion of this extensive literature, see Hodgson McCurdy, eds., Wicked Women; and
Richard Waller, "Rebellious Youth in Colonial Africa," Journal of African History 47, 1 (2006), 77-92.

29 Bruce Berman, "A Palimpsest of Contradictions": Ethnicity Class and Politics in Africa,"
International Journal of African Historical Studies 37,1 (2004), 26. For the Luo Community specifically, see
Jean Hay, "Changes in Clothing and Struggles over Identity in Western Kenya," in J. Allman, ed.,
Fashioning Africa (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2004), 67-84.

30 Mutongi, Worries of the Heart, 139-49; and Atieno Odiambo, "Seek Ye First the Economic
Kingdom: A History of the Luo Thrift and Trading Corporation (LUATATCO)," in B A. Ogot, ed., Hadith 5
Economic and Social History in East Africa (Nairobi: East African Literature Bureau, 1975), 218-56; and for
a wider view of the nature of rural cultural and economic investment, see Parker Shipton, The Nature of
Entrustment: Intimacy, Exchange and the Sacred in Africa (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007).

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16 Matthew Carotenuto

return, even in death.31 Men also responded to the crisis of belonging by asserti
control over rural tradition and redefining it for the urban landscape. Founders o
Union forecasted a changing social landscape, and wanted to manage the extent of
influences on local tradition. In 1945 they argued that one of the Luo Union's p
goals was to "study and select the Luo Customs which are decent and compatibl
progress....and then offer a united resistance against any unprogressive
influence."32 Repatriation became a gendered way to combat "unprogressiv
influences" in an urban environment where Luo-speaking men often outnumbe
female counterparts two to one.33 For the urban constituents of associations like
Union, women's sexuality and economic presence in urban areas were used as a
young men to define their own power. These cases represent a movement of y
conservatism, which attempted to reassert patriarchal control in the urban enviro
allow men to use their education and economic power to claim a cultural an
legitimacy normally reserved for their rural elders.34

The specifics of female repatriation cases rarely show up in much detail i

colonial record, leading some historians to question just how extensive the practi
However, informant testimonies described the issue as common practice, with
records offering clues to the widespread nature of the rural repatriation of Afric
by ethnic associations. Raila Alogo and other informants remembered that dur
1940s and 1950s female repatriation was used by the Luo Union as a prevalent m
urban social control in Kisumu, Nairobi, Mombasa and a number of other East A
towns, and was often carried out in full view of the authorities.36 Achieng Onek
personally witnessing at least four or five instances of forcible repatriation of s
"prostitutes" in Nairobi and heard of at least a dozen more through his work as e
the Luo Union sponsored vernacular newspaper Ramogi?1 Casual references of u
women repatriated by associations also appear in the colonial record.38 H

31 Most associations among the Luo community started out as burial cooperatives. See David
Cohen and E.S. Atieno Odhiambo, Burying SM.: The Politics of Knowledge and the Sociology
East Africa (Portsmouth: Heinemann, 1992).

32 Luo Union to P.C. Nyanza, March 1945, KNA, PC/NZA/3/2/368.

33 John Lonsdale, "Authority, Gender and Violence: The War within Mau Mau's Fight for L
Freedom," in Odhiambo and Lonsdale, eds., Mau Mau and Nationhood (Athens: Ohio Univer
2003), 56.

34 Helene Charton-Bigot, "Colonial Youth at the Crossroads," in Andrew Burton and Helene Charton
Bigot eds., Generations Past: Youth in East African History (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2010), 84-108.

35 Mutongi, Worries of the Heart, 143.

36 Interview with Raila Alogo, Bondo, 18 April 2004. This point was also confirmed by other
informants who recalled either witnessing or hearing about similar events happening among migrant Luo
communities in Kampala, Mwanza, and Dar es Salaam.

37 Interview with Achieng Oneko, Kunya Beach, October 2004.

38 For examples of this from the Luo Union and the Ramogi African Welfare Association, see KNA,
PC/NZA/3/2/368; and KNA, PC/NZA/3/1/321. For other ethnic associations from outside the Dholuo

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African Institutions and Gendered Violence 17

quantifying the extent of female repatriation is difficult to determine, as documents rarely

included discussions of specific cases. There are, however, glimpses in the colonial record
of the underreported extent of this problem that match informant testimonies. For instance,
in 1947 and 1948 alone a group calling itself the Kikuyu Upcountry Fraternal Society
submitted the names of eighty-two women the association had arrested and repatriated
from the Eldoret area.39

The need for the forcible nature of repatriation was also confirmed at times by
some African women, but was argued more in terms of rebellious youth rather than female
wickedness. Magdalene Oboge, an active member of the Kisumu chapter of the Luo Union
in the 1940s and 1950s, explained the need for repatriation stating simply, "when those
young people went to Kisumu they sometimes did shameful things." 40 When pushed to
explain the nature of these activities Oboge explained that urban youth needed the
disciplinary oversight of associations like the Luo Union otherwise they might succumb to
the temptations of alcohol and illicit sex, which were readily available in the urban
environment. Discussed in the context of the widely referenced problem of "runaway
women" in western Kenya, informants argued that it was a specific mission of urban ethnic
associations such as the Luo union to track down these "wayward women" and return them
to their homes in the rural areas.41 Cutting across barriers of both age and gender,
constituents of urban ethnic associations came together to promote repatriation as a way to
maintain control over youth and carve out an important niche of political authority.

Records from the activities of ethnic associations provide the most extensive
discussion of repatriation. Upon forming, many associations saw their cultural and moral
duties in specifically gendered terms. For example when a Buholo branch of the Luo
Union started in 1945, its constitution specifically stated that one of the goals of the
association was:

To examine and to choose the new customs which should be followed and bad ones
which should be suppressed. For example to prevent Luo women and girls who
want to go to the towns to become prostitutes; and Luo youths who like to go about
in big towns but who do not want work, and to return such people to their homes.42

Other associations followed the lead of the Luo Union.43 The Kipsigi-Nandi union
frequently petitioned colonial authorities for the need for repatriation to address the

speaking community, such as the Kipsigi Nandi Union and Kisii Union, see KNA, PC/NZA/3/1/363, and
KNA, PC/NZA/3/1/370.

39 Kikuyu Upcountry Fraternal Society to DC Uasin Gishu, 1947-48specific date missing, KNA,

40 Interview with Magdalene Oboge, Kisumu Kenya, 15 June 2007.

41 For an introduction to the broad historiography of "runaway girls" in western Kenya, see Brett
Shadle, Girls Cases: Marriage and Colonialism in Guisiiland, Kenya 1890-1970, (Portsmouth, NH:
Heinemann, 2006), xxvi-xxvii.

42 Luo Union North Kavirondo Branch to DC Kagamega, November 1945, KNA, DC/KMG/2/1/99.

43 In various annual reports throughout Kenya, the heading "tribal associations" began to appear after
1945 showing not only the growing prominence of such associations but also state interest. Often the Luo

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18 Matthew Carotenuto

"wandering Kalenjin women in towns," and the Abaluhya Welfare association no

their 1952 constitution that they were particularly concerned with "the desertion
from the lawful husbands or girls who break loose from parents or guardians."44

Prostitution came to signify a blanket term to describe independent wom

operated outside the control of patriarchal rural authority and came to the urban a
variety of social and economic reasons. Those serving as domestic laborers,
midwives and even teachers in urban areas were often deemed to be prost
"runaways," as associations denounced entire professions for exposing wo
undesirable influences 45 At a special 1945 meeting held specifically to address th
African women in urban areas, ethnic associations in Nairobi claimed that profess
as the rickshaw trade "should be forbidden completely" because it promo
prostitution.46 While the report detailed that actions should be taken against m
contribute to the immorality of town life, the dominant view from colonial au
confirmed that "native opinion tends to class all native women in independent em
as prostitutes."47

Some Luo Union members explained the ethnic associations' critical and sco
view of African women as a way to control the competition for the limited job
colonial economy. A 1949 editorial in the Luo Union sponsored vernacular n
Ramogi renounced an earlier female correspondent who had argued for greater ac
women in job market. The author stated that "allowing girls in these jobs would
prostitution ... consider the troubles African men have suffered while looking
such as having no food for days, nowhere to sleep and other difficulties. It is not
for girls to have such jobs."48 These views were also shared by other ethnic ass
and inspired several organizations to expand the institution of repatriation in the

Repatriation cases reached their height in the colonial record by the mid-1950s, and
ethnic associations became more overt in their views on women in the urban environment.
In a 1956 memorandum titled "The maintenance of progress for the Luo Community in the
Proper Manner," the Mombasa branch of the Luo Union attempted to bar all unmarried and

Union was seen as the bar that every other association was compared with. For instance in 1944, when
colonial officials in Nairobi began hearing calls for the formation of the Kipsigi-Nandi Union, one official
specifically mentioned they model themselves after the Luo Union, as "they have set a good example to be
followed" in regards to African social organization," KNA, PC/NZA/3/1/363.

44 Kipsigi-Nandi Union to DC Eldoret, KNA, DC/UG/1/5/1, and Abaluhya Welfare Association to DC

Kagamega, 1952, KNA, DC/KMG/2/1/147.

45 "Institutions and Associations, 1945-1951," KNA, PC/NZA/3/2/368.

46 "Report of the Joint Tribal Committee of Nairobi on the Subject of Preventing the Entry of Women
into the Large Towns from the Reserves and of Returning Them from Those Towns to Their Homes," 10
October 1945, KNA, UG/1/5/1.

47 "Report of the Sub-Committee of the E.A.W.L. Appointed to Enquire into the Problems Relative to
the Accommodation for and Training of Native Ayahs in Nairobi," (1945), KNA, CS/1/1/4.

48 Ramogi, 8/1/49.

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African Institutions and Gendered Violence 19

unaccompanied girls from towns without prior and formal written permission from the
association. Branch members even advocated punishing men for harboring prostitutes but
focused the majority of their efforts on women.49 Government response to the
memorandum noted that the Luo Union's activities were worthy but also needed to be
carefully guided due to the heightened sense of tension associated with Mau Mau.50
However, the state of emergency allowed associations to exploit state fears over urban
disorder and increase repatriation activities. Those associations representing the GEMA
community were widely banned due to their perceived Mau Mau sympathies, but
associations like the Luo Union continued and even expanded their activities by at least
publically denouncing Mau Mau.51
State responses to repatriation activities suggest a kind of ambiguous paternalism,
which depended more on the individual official rather than state policy. Guidance and
support was the dominant language of dealings with ethnic associations and their attempts
to control women. While at times colonial officials viewed repatriation actions with
disdain, other subtle references suggest somewhat clandestine support. Officials were even
known occasionally to order repatriation themselves, setting an example for ethnic
associations to follow. In 1934 for example, the DC for central Nyanza repatriated one
Fatuma Odipo back to the Nandi reserve claiming that she was a dangerous local prostitute
and political agitator, and that simply "she is not wanted in Yala again."52

While such clear examples of state officials ordering the forcible repatriation of
African women are rare, other examples demonstrate more indirect support. For instance in
1944, the Municipal Native affairs officer in Nairobi gave the chiefly sum of 50 to ethnic
associations for the specific purpose of repatriating women.53 From a legal standpoint,
officials rarely openly condoned forcible repatriations but instead encouraged an uneasy
partnership to develop between local authorities and ethnic associations. In 1954, when the
Ramogi African Welfare association and the Luo Union were in a dispute over which
association would be the repatriation authority in Kisumu, the PC for Nyanza chastised
repatriation efforts but fell short of completely supporting the rights of African women,

49 DC Mombasa's summary of February 1956 Luo Union Mombasa Branch Meeting, KNA,
DC/MSA/2/1/34. Memorandums such as these were also common in other East African towns such as

Kampala. See Christine Obbo, African Women (London: Zed, 1980), 26-27.

50 DC Mombasa's summary, KNA, DC/MSA/2/1/34.

51 The African societies whose meetings were widely scrutinized tended to primarily represent
members from GEMA communities. For an example of this crackdown during the emergency, see
"Registration of Societies 1953-1958," KNA, DC/KSM/1/32/33, and "Proscribed Societies 1952," KNA,
AH/13/217. Restrictions on the GEMA community were not relaxed until after the emergency in 1960, thus
providing a space for the Luo Union and other associations to flourish without much competition. See
"Societies Legislation 1960-62," PRO, CO 822/2206. For a wider discussion of the Luo Union's anti-Mau
Mau stance, see Carotenuto, "Riwruok e Teko."

52 DC Central Nyanza to PC Nyanza, 11 December 1934, KNA, DC/KSM/1/19/103.

53 See annual report on African Affairs in Nairobi, 1944, KNA, CS/1/1/4.

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20 Matthew Carotenuto

It has been repeatedly made clear that neither your Association nor any simil
body has the power to arrest and forcibly detain women who may have run aw
from their husbands or be living immoral lives, but that your assistance as w
other associations, in persuading runaway women to return home, in assistin
relatives to trace missing women and girls and in reporting to the Police or tr
authorities any known prostitutes is welcomed.54

However, while the rhetoric of state language clearly argued that ethn
associations had no real legal authority to repatriate young women for "loose behav
European colonial authorities consistently legitimized associations' efforts to combat
social decay more broadly and rarely intervened to stop repatriation activities with m
than a warning.55 By the 1950s references in municipalities across the colony sugg
expanding yet unofficial partnership between ethnic associations and colonial official
response to the Abaluhya Association's efforts to repatriate African women from th
Valley town of Eldoret, the inspector of police J.M. Oswald reported that "althoug
difficult to tell is someone is practicing prostitution that such women could be arrest
any one and when taken to the Police would be charged with being idle in the town
without proper place of abode, and would eventually be repatriated from the town."56

African legal and political bodies also did little to stop repatriation activities. C
officials and other advisory bodies instead used their position to advocate for
repatriation activities of ethnic associations. In minutes from the Uasin Gishu Afri
Advisory council, members argued that "these associations were on the whole tacklin
problem of Africans, especially women, in the urban areas away from their reserve
tribal discipline had broken down."57 This is not a surprising position as leader
patrons of ethnic associations often held multiple positions of influence in colonial K
As intermediaries with the colonial state, their social, legal, and political roles overla
which allowed young men to gain positions of power in multiple arenas of co
discourse including serving widely on African advisory councils and customary law c
throughout the colony.58

State ambivalence to the issue of forcible repatriation of women meshed well w

the contested moral authority and the legal influence held by members of et
associations. The result allowed the legal issue of forcible repatriation to escape any

54 PC Atkins to RAWA and Luo Union, 15 December 1954, KNA, PC/NZA/3/1/321.

For instance, in March of 1950 John Megusa, secretary of the Mombasa branch of the Luo Un
was arrested for trying to forcibly detain a Luo women in preparation for repatriation but was later acqu
See KNA, CA/16/102.

Minutes of the Eldoret African Advisory Council, 22 March 1951, KNA, DC/UG/2/3/44.

57 African Advisory Council Minutes, 3 November 1948, KNA, DC/UG/1/5/1.

58 For instance by 1946 ethnic associations featured so prominently on the AAC in Nairobi that
Municipal African Affairs officer referred to the council as simply "an association of association
"Municipal African Affairs annual report, 1946," PRO, CO/533/558/7. For Mombasa see "Mombasa A
Advisory Council 1946-1959," KNA, UY/1/2.

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African Institutions and Gendered Violence 21

definition of criminality.59 While scholars have shown how African women used the courts
of colonial Kenya to assert their own rights over marriage and sexual crimes, the
prosecution for forcible repatriation does not readily appear in court records.60 Contested
views over repatriation do occasionally emerge in other forums and point to both the
prevalence of this form of gendered violence and the conflicting discourse of its
acceptability in urban areas.
In 1952 G. Lucas Oloo wrote to the DC of Kisumu over the forcible arrest of his
wife, Adhiambo Onyango. In regard to the well documented repatriation activities of the
Ramogi African Welfare Association (RAWA) in Kisumu, Oloo complained that, "the so
called 'Ramogi' came to my house at about mid-night and arrested my legal wife as one of
the vagrant women in the town."61 Fearing for his personal safety, Oloo did not resist, but
pleaded to the DC to punish RAWA for their actions. DC Wainright's response expressed
the common state ambivalence to act against RAWA's actions, instructing Oloo to have
his wife "appeal in the usual way. I see no reason to do more than this."62 However it was
clear to Mr. Oloo that there was no "usual way," otherwise he would not have immediately
called upon the DC for help. It is not improbable to assume that the native courts would
uphold or simply refuse to debate the legality of Adhiambo's abduction. This was a time
when young conservatives belonging to ethnic associations akin to the RAWA dominated
the Kisumu township native tribunal.

Unfortunately, like many other repatriation cases, the full story of Lucas Oloo and
Adhiambo Onyango is absent from the archives, leaving historians to speculate on the
story's wider meaning and significance. While the legal specifics of repatriation cases such
as these rarely show up in the colonial record, the concept of repatriation was vehemently
debated. RAWA officials had since the early 1940s argued for the need for repatriation
because of the perceived immoralities of such issues as smoking, seductive dance, and
even entire professions like nursing 63 They went further, openly stating that a woman
should "remain throughout her life under the control of some male whether it be her
husband, father or the latter's next of kin."64 As Samwel Okuro has shown, RAWA
officials were particularly effective in repatriating women from Kisumu in violent

59 Through a preliminary reading of court records from western Kenya men were often punished in
courts for crimes against women (or their male guardians). The language of these crimes often used parental
guardianship as the offense such as "removing an unmarried girl from parents custody without consent," or
"removing a married woman from her lawful husbands custody." However I have yet to find instances where
the reverse is applied, i.e., "forcibly returning a woman to her rural home against her will." It has also been
noted that violence that was thought of as domestic in nature was not punished as severely under colonial
authority. Burrill, Roberts, and Thornberry, Domestic Violence, 1-31.

60 Brett Shadle, "Rape in the Courts of Guisiland, Kenya 1940s-1960s," African Studies Review 51,2
(2008), 27-50.

61 G. Lucas Oloo to DC Kisumu, 5 July 1952, KNA, PC/NZA/3/1/321.

62 DC Kisumu to Oloo and PC Nyanza, July 1952, KNA, DC/KSM/1/1/240.

63 "Institutions and Associations 1945-1952," KNA, DC/KSM/1/1/160.

64 RAWA to DC Kisumu, 25 October 1945, KNA, DC/NYZ/3/1/376.

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22 Matthew Carotenoto

manners. He notes that as early as 1945 "RAWA succeeded in repatriating abou

women back to their reserves dressed in gunny bags."65 Even with particularl
associations like RAWA, colonial authorities saw through their political rhetor
gendered notion of youthful conservatism. In response to the specific inqu
Adhiambo Onyango the police chief for Kisumu noted that RAWA "are not reall
on suppressing prostitution as they are to keep general control over their wom
However even with the strong rhetoric of control etched in many reports, officials
to curb or criminally punish this form of gendered violence, often sending mixe
of subtle support for repatriation activities.

While the finality of the case of Mrs. Onyango is unclear, the case of Mary
in Eldoret offers a more nuanced look into how the state responded to rep
activities as well as the how African women evaded patriarchal authority. In the
RAWA officials abducted Mrs. Onyango, the local Eldoret branch of the Luo Uni
notice to Mr. S. Gero giving him seven days to remove or send away his "siste
from town. Claiming that Ms. Ngutu had violated a specific 1944 rule of the L
which forbids unmarried woman "of a loose nature" from being in town, the
cited specific investigations into the matter, informed the DC, and argued that
very bad and awkward example for the future generation of the Luo community.
to other instances throughout western Kenya in the 1940s and 1950s the DC sym
with the aims of the Luo Union but objected to their authority stating, "your Un
do not form part of the laws of the Colony ... and that your letter and memorand
disclose any offence entitling me to remove Miss Mary Ngutu."68

Undeterred by the DC's warning, the Luo Union sent several more petitions
Ms. Ngutu and colonial authorities. They argued that she was breaking establis
law" and noted with surprise that "many a woman or girl of the Luo origin ha
removed from various towns in East Africa in the same manner, but there has n
such an obstacle."69 Upon further inquiry it was revealed that Ms. Ngutu had al
chased away from three other towns by the Luo Union and was yet again unde
scrutiny in Eldoret. Ms. Ngutu must have recognized from her previous h
though, that one of the best ways to combat the issue was to simply avoid or
threats of repatriation as she failed to report to any of the Luo Union's official m
the matter. Ultimately the DC from Ms. Ngutu's home area of Central Nyanza
to give his "expert" opinion on the matter as it relates to local notions of Luo cu
law. The discussion that emerged between the two district commissioners spea
how colonial officials and ethnic associations shared similar viewpoints on inde
women like Mary Ngutu, but also that state claims against repatriation had more

65 Okuro, "Our Women Must Return Home," 528.

66 Police Chief Kisumu to DC Kisumu, November 1945, KNA, DC/NYZ/3/1/376.

67 Luo Union Eldoret to DC Uasin Gishu, 21 January 1952, KNA, DC/UG/1/5/1.

68 DC Uasin Gishu to Luo Union Eldoret, 25 January 1952, KNA, DC/UG/1/5/1.

69 Luo Union-Eldoret to DC Uasin Gishu, 10 February 1952, KNA, DC/UG/1/5/1.

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African Institutions and Gendered Violence 23

their misguided effect rather than upholding the rights of African women. In a clear jab at
Ms Ngutu's incorrigibility the DC wrote from Kisumu that:

It isn't as though she is a young girl who could be reclaimed from a life of
prostitution by returning home to husband or parent. If she is returned she is far
more likely to cause damage to the Luo by leading other young girls into her ways
of like than if she remains in Eldoret.70

With the vaguely dismissive approach officials took to the activities of the Luo
Union in Eldoret, independent women like Mary Ngutu seemingly could not depend on
assistance from local authorities and were often fearful of coming under the suspicious
inquiry of ethnic associations. In 2007, the chairman of the Luo Council of Elders Riaga
Ogallo spoke about the wide reaching nature of repatriation activities, remarking that
family members frequently wrote to the Luo Union and other ethnic associations to try and
track down defiant young women who had left western Kenya and traveled as far as
Kampla, Mwanza, and even Dar es Salaam.71 Luise White argues that independent Kikuyu
women who left the reserves without their families consent were consistently worried
about running into someone from home and had a "healthy fear of such urban networks"
ethnic association fostered with both their rural constituents and ambivalent colonial
partners.72 However, while their fears may have been palpable in urban colonial Kenya,
women like Mary were not passive actors in the repatriation discussions between African
and European men. Mary had vocal supporters in Eldoret and even family members from
Nyanza province came to defend her. While her voice does not appear directly in the
colonial record she clearly did not passively accept the scrutiny and successfully evaded
the Luo Union's efforts to chase her from a fourth East African town.

Fighting Back: Recasting Gendered Morality

Women in urban East Africa were well aware of their rights and used the political climate
of their surroundings to fight back against repatriation. At times they appealed to
tightfisted colonial officials with limited budgets to escape punishment and possible
repatriation. For example, one of Luise White's informants recalled arguing with a white
police officer in Nairobi that if they just "let her go back to her room in town, it won't cost
the government a thing."73 In other instances missionaries supported women's actions. But
most importantly African women used the same vernacular forums sponsored by ethnic
associations to interject their own opinions into urban morality debates and expose the
gendered bias of repatriation activities.
Missionary responses from western Kenya often scolded the activities of ethnic
associations and advocated for women on a number of issues. Famed Church Missionary
Society (CMS) Archdeacon Walter Owen was noted to have been an advocate of African
rights more broadly and voiced public concern over the racial and gendered dualities of the

70 DC Central Nyanza to DC Uasin-Gishu,4 March 1952, KNA, DC/UG/1/5/1.

71 Interview with Riaga Ogallo, Karachuonyo, June 2007.

72 White, Comforts of Home, 158.

73 Ibid., 97-98.

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24 Matthew Carotenuto

colonial system. Since the 1920s Owen frequently disagreed with colonial authorities
even publicly rebuked state policies in the local press.74 With the rise in repatriatio
activities in the 1940s increasing, he came out forcefully against forced marriage, an
repatriation in western Kenya. Regarding the case of one Zeruia Akach's effort to evad
forced marriage in 1943, he even threatened to report the DC for central Nyanza to
slavery societies in Britain after he sided against Ms. Akach's efforts to leave h
husband.75 Acquiring the nickname "Archdemon Owen" in the process, he represented
of the most authoritative European voices in the region and often sided with Africa
women in marriage and repatriation disputes.76

Other missionary voices spoke more directly to the actions of ethnic associatio
and turned their attention to exposing the gendered hypocrisy of repatriation activ
These opinions did not always advocate as strongly for female agency as Archde
Owen, but spoke to the need for equality in employing the public violence of repatria
to socialize urban residents into respectability. In 1945, for example, Archbishop Bee
responded to the crisis of "prostitution" in Kisumu by calling on ethnic associations to
the violent spectacle of repatriation equally and to "do something about the men who in
on using prostitutes. Why not make them shave and wear sackcloth? If men stopped u
them, their trade would disappear."77 While mission allies simultaneously helped jus
both sides of the argument at times, they assisted in fostering an environment whe
African women themselves could speak out openly against forcible repatriation activit

Vernacular newspapers such as the Luo Union sponsored Ramogi offer countles
editorials on the debate about urban morality and provide one of the most direct wind
into the African discourse of repatriation. Many men for instance wrote to congratulat
Luo Union for their repatriation efforts with some calling for stricter control and m
widespread use of Luo Union "askaris" (police) to chase away suspected prostitutes fr
colonial towns throughout East Africa.78 Others blamed rural families for abandonin
proper "tradition" with one 1950 editorial arguing that "parents should send their daugh
back home, rather than let them learn bad manners and grow lazy refusing even to sp
the Luo language."79 Although Ramogi and many other vernacular papers were space
dominated by young educated men, female voices of protest emerged through t

74 Walter Owen, "Kavirondo Taxpayers Welfare Association," East African Standard, 2 July 1927.

75 Walter Owen to DC Central Nyanza, 23 November 1943, KNA, LO/1/1/2/391.

76 For more on Owen, see Nancy Uhlar Murray, "Archdeacon W.E. Owen: Missionary
Propagandist," International Journal of African Historical Studies 15,4 (1982), 653-70; and Leon Spe
"Christianity and Colonial Protest: Perceptions of W. E. Owen, Archdeacon of Nyanza," Journal of Reli
in Africa 13,1 (1982), 47-60. And for a number of archival references in this regard, see "Archdeacon
Owen," KNA, DC/CN/8/1.

77 Arch Bishop Beecher to DC Kisumu, 15 November 1945, KNA, DC/NYZ/3/1/376.

78 Ramogi, 15 April 1948, and 25 November 1950, KNA, UY/1/6. It should be noted though that
author cannot confirm that the Luo Union or any other association had any active police force as inform
testified that it was simply members of ethnic associations who carried out repatriations.

79 Ramogi, 26 August 1950 KNA, UY/1/6.

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African Institutions and Gendered Violence 25

vernacular forums as well. Women used the pages of the vernacular press to appeal to
moral justifications of rural citizenship and responsibility and expose the gendered
hypocrisy of repatriation activities.

Throughout its publication run, repatriation discourse was a common theme in the
pages of Ramogi.80 Female authors castigated urban men not only for their violent
repatriation activities, but also their failure to criticize urban immorality equally across
gendered lines. While the discourse of "runaway" and "wayward" women was popular,
others highlighted the failures of "runaway fathers" who ignored family responsibilities.81
For example in 1952, a Luo female author in Ramogi complained that men ignored the
same rural social obligations Luo Union members professed to be upholding. She argued
that, "as soon as these young men get employed in towns, they find they cannot do without
women and begin keeping prostitutes, with the results that all the money they earn is spent
on them and perpetual drinking, where as their wives and children are suffering in the
reserves without any help or information through correspondence."82 Even into the late
1950s and early 1960s repatriation discourse dominated the pages of Ramogi, which
speaks to both its scope and longevity as an institution in colonial Kenya as well as the
failure of colonial authorities to stamp out the practice.

From 1959 tol961, during the waning years of Kenya's colonial occupation, more
than two-dozen editorials appeared in Ramogi discussing both sides of the repatriation
debate. During this period, female voices appeared in greater frequency and the tenor of
the debate began to shift more towards gender equality but stopped short of advocating the
end of repatriation activities all together. Articles called on the Luo Union to punish
immoral male behavior equally with one female author asking, "why can't these people
{men) be repatriated back to the villages?"83 Other women advocated for the abolishment
of female repatriation altogether and argued that Luo woman should start their own
organization to "check this inhumane treatment... how would a man feel if he were put in
a gunny sack? We are all human beings and deserve better treatment."84 Further examples
argued that the violent acts of public repatriation represented the Luo community as
"backward" in the era of Kenya's transition to independence.85
While the repatriation debate was shifting more towards equality by the 1960s, the
extent of the discourse also speaks to the prominent role repatriation and other morality
debates played throughout the colonial encounter. The late 1950s and early 1960s was also

80 For a greater discussion of Ramogi and other vernacular publications, see James Ogude, 'The
Vernacular Press and the Articulation of Luo Ethnic Citizenship: The Case of Achieng Oneko's Ramogi,"
Current Writing 13,1 (2001),42-56, and Fay Gadsen, 'The African Press in Kenya 1945-1952 "Journal of
African History 21,3 (1980), 515-35.

81 D.W. Cohen and E.S. Atieno Odhiambo, Siaya (Athens: Ohio University Press, 1989), 47-50.

82Ramogi, 17 March 1951.

83 H.P. Suda Kamuga, "Repatriating Women; What of Men?" Ramogi, 30 July 1960.

84 Mrs. R. Adhiambo, "Needless to Repatriate Women," Ramogi, 13 August 1960.

8-> See for instance Ishmael Olendo, "Discussing Ladies Shows Backwardness," Ramogi, 25 February
1961, and Gerard Grardus Yugi, "Repatriation Is Slavery," Ramogi, 18 March 1961.

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26 Matthew Carotenuto

a time when a new generation of politicians from western Kenya gained

postcolonial luminaries such as Robert Ouko and Grace Ogot published editorial
such as promoting education for women as well as political unity. Other wome
conservative moral backing of institutions such as the Luo Union to springboar
national politics after independence. Grace Onyango, for example, was an activ
and eventual secretary general of the Luo Union before launching a pioneering
career in independent Kenya.86 Ultimately Ramogi and other vernacular forums
continually refine, not abolish, repatriation practices throughout the era of deco
As an issue that aggravated colonial officials and captivated African communit
justification of repatriation and gendered violence was continually advocated to
"tribal" tradition and aimed to represent ethnic associations not as violent "tradi
but as moral agents of political authority.

Violence as "Tradition" and the Legacy of Repatriation

Authors in vernacular publications and members of ethnic associations utilized t
repatriation to help define a written tradition that romanticized an idyllic patriarch
When interviewing former members and supporters of the Luo Union a
justification of repatriation violence, some informants spoke not only about the
public humiliation, but implied that they never expected women to quietly acc
demands. They argued that the public violence of repatriation fit within conse
notions of nuptial courtship, where women were expected to resist the advances
and marriage ties were solidified through physical confrontation. Inquiring furt
were also made with written marriage tradition in an attempt to explain the vio
repatriation in terms of customary law. By referencing influential cultural text
by Luo Union members in colonial Kenya, informants justified patriarchal visi
past not in the oral traditions of distant ancestors but within the written legaci
colonial peers.88
Such violent displays particularly against Luo women were justified in the
of the ceremonial capture and patriarchal exchange associated with local marriag
Referred to as "meko" in Dholuo; this was the same term used to describe
spectacle of repatriation by multiple informants.89 Paul Mboya, a respected colo
and influential member of the Luo Union, wrote in his seminal 1938 text that
marriage agreement had been reached between families, the bridegroom often sen

86 Note that Onyango was the first elected female MP in Kenya, with Ogot and Ouko also ele
Kenyan parliament after independence. Interview with Grace Onyango, Kisumu 6/07. See
Musandu, "Daughter of Odoro: Grace Onyango and African Women's History," (MA th
University, 2006).

87 For a recent contribution that stresses the importance of these local histories, see Derek Pete
Giacomo Macola, eds., Recasting the Past (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2009).

88 See Paul Mboya, Luo Kitgi Gi Timbegi (Nairobi: East African Standard, 1938).

89 Interviews with Opyio Ontondi, 17 June, 2007, Martin Adero Metho 15 April, 2004 a
Ojuka, 16 April, 2004.

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African Institutions and Gendered Violence 27

of men to "capture the girl" (meko).90 While he warned that this was only allowed if both
parents were at home to oversee the event, others confirm that the brothers of the bride
often put up a fight with sticks and the girl was expected to resist and scream in a
"customary way."91 Later scholars confirmed this view and argued that this symbolic
violence was to show that a captured girl had higher status and so that a woman would not
"be reminded later that she was a concubine girl."92 Thus, through capture and resistance,
men asserted martial claims and women demonstrated the defense of their public morality.

Scholarly analyses such as this fit well with ethnic associations' efforts to manage
the colonial encounter in ways they thought were "decent and compatible with progress."93
Luo Union authors such as Paul Mboya cast their writings about local history and tradition
to reinforce the dialogue of patriarchal control advocated by repatriation. Their writings
and public discourse stressed the need to recapture a romanticized vision of the past where
the politics of social morality lay not in a youthful urban landscape but amidst the older
agrarian spaces of rural western Kenya. However, as young men themselves, leaders of
ethnic associations exploited state fears of the "detribalized native" in their writings to
establish legitimacy in the post-war era and launch powerful political careers that spanned
the colonial and postcolonial eras.

Extending well beyond Kenyan independence, the influence of ethnic associations

and their repatriation activities have endured into contemporary Kenya. As powerful voices
of political authority under colonial rule, associations such as the Luo Union helped
springboard individuals like Oginga Odinga and Achieng Oneko into powerful elected
positions after independence.94 Although this has influenced scholars to view ethnic
associations as merely grass-roots components of wider political movements, the legacy of
their activities outside the sphere of nationalist politics remains underexplored.95 Beyond
their direct influence on the postcolonial political scene, the institutional legacy of ethnic
associations and repatriation violence continues to have an impact the urban landscape of
contemporary Kenya.
While forcible rural repatriation has all but disappeared, an unequal lens of social
morality continues to be fixed on women in urban Kenya. Manifested through similar
debates over gendered social conduct, controversial organizations such as Mungiki have
used comparable forms of public violence to assert control over women and establish

90 English translation of Mboya's 1938 text by Jane Achieng, Paul Mboya's Luo Kitgi Gi Timbegi
(Nairobi: Atai Joint Limited, 2001), 66-67.

91 See Gordon Wilson, Luo Customary Law and Marriage Laws (Nairobi: Government Printer, 1968),
97; A.B.C. Ocholla-Ayayo, Traditional Ideology and Ethnics among the Southern Luo (Uppsala:
Scandinavian Institute of African Studies, 1976), 140-48. It is important to note that Gordon Wilson's text
was produced in close consultation with another influential amateur historian of the time, Shadrack Malo.

92 Simeon Ominde, The Luo Girl From Infancy to Marriage (London: MacMillian, 1952), 47-48.

93 Luo Union to P.C. Nyanza, March 1945, KNA, PC/NZA/3/2/368.

94 For instance immediately after independence, Odinga became Kenya's first vice-president and
Oneko was elected MP from Nakuru.

95 See Carotenuto, "Riwruok e Teko."

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28 Matthew Carotenuto

political legitimacy in contemporary Kenya.96 By stripping a provocatively dressed w

at a crowded bus stage or parading an adulterous couple around in a rural mar
organizations like Mungiki reenact forms of gendered violence first institutionalized i
colonial past. In ways similar to their colonial counterparts organizations like Mung
continue to employ these forms of gendered violence to assert a neo-traditional fo
cultural legitimacy. Although the Kenyan public overwhelmingly condemns these act
continuities and persistence of this institutional form of violence reflects clear links
the colonial past and the way repatriation discourse has shaped the use of gen
violence in the public sphere since independence.

96 See Anderson, "Vigilantes, Violence"; Peter Mwangi Kagwanja, "Facing Mount Kenya or F
Mecca? The Mungiki, Ethnic Violence and the Politics of the Moi Succession in Kenya, 1987-
African Affairs 102,406 (2003), 25-49; and Jacob Rasmussen, "Mungiki as a Youth Movement; Revolu
Gender and Generational Politics in Nairobi, Kenya," Young 18,3 (2010), 301-19.

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