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Evolution of the Capital of Western Capitalism in Eastern Africa

The goal of this seminar is to give students a general understanding of contemporary Kenya in the context of its historical positioning and modern value to the Western political interests, and how this position translates to daily livelihoods and aspirations of Kenyans.

GLS 337/AFS 337

Kenya: Evolution of the Capital of Western Capitalism in Eastern Africa

Maseno University, Kisumu, Kenya
May 30 – July 8, 2022.

Mahiri Mwita, lecturer in the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies

This course fulfills the Historical Analysis (HA) general education requirement as well as a course for the certificate in African studies.

Kenya is generally regarded as the “capital” of Western capitalism in the eastern and central African region. This seminar identifies three factors that have kept modern Kenya at the center of Western (American and European Union) interests. 

First, archeological and anthropological research recognizes the Turkan basin of northern Kenya as the home of Homo-sapiens — the ancient species from which modern humans evolved. Second, this seminar takes interest in the role of the cold war in situating postcolonial Kenya as a capitalist “buffer” against Eastern and “socialist” ideologies that determined political and developmental trajectories of the postcolonial era in Africa. Third, in a post-9/11 world, Kenya’s historical position has intertwined with its geo-political situation as a geographical and political bridge between Europe and North America and the Middle East to become the center of Western interventions against Muslim extremist movements fighting against “Westernism.”

Despite these factors, the most ubiquitous image of Kenya, and Africa as whole, is that of a corrupt state rife of political and social conflicts that stifle its growth into the “developed world.”

The goal of this seminar is to give students a general understanding of contemporary Kenya in the context of its historical positioning and modern value to the Western political interests, and how this position translates to daily livelihoods and aspirations of Kenyans. In the first part of the seminar, readings and class discussions will focus on the pre- to postcolonial and contemporary issues that situate the three themes foregrounded above. The later part of the seminar will seek to problematize the image of corruption as the simple explanation to (under)development status that Western scholarship and media paints Kenya and “Africa” as suffering from.

One hour of daily instruction in Swahili will also be required.

“Kenya” is cosponsored by the Office of International Programs.

The African Studies Seminar will take place in-person and in-country in summer 2022, however, in-country seminars will be contingent on a number of factors including University travel guidelines, government travel restrictions and public health advice. Please direct questions to Tim Waldron, program manager.