News Item 145

28-Oct-11 - Q&A Session with ASA 2011 Presenter and World-Renowned Historian, Professor Robert Maxon (West Virginia University)

Cambria Press is proud to announce the publication of Britain and Kenya’s Constitutions, 1950–1960 by renowned historian, Robert Maxon. Professor Maxon’s significant contributions to the field of African history are well known and this has led to a prestigious African history scholarship established in his name by West Virginia University-- the Robert M. Maxon Graduate Scholarship in Modern African History.

His latest book by Cambria Press will no doubt be just as well received as his previous publications. Professor Maxon will be presenting at the 2011 African Studies Association ( ASA) annual meeting and the following is a short Q&A session as a prelude to his book. This latest title in African Studies by Cambria Press will be on display at the Cambria Press booth (#418) in the book exhibit hall.

Question: Why did you decide to write this book?

Answer:I decided to write Britain and Kenya’s Constitutions, 1950–1960 because little attention had been given to this important topic by specialists in Kenyan or imperial history. In looking at the issue of decolonization for Kenya, for example, it is difficult to effectively grasp without an understanding of the constitutional means by which the imperial power hoped to bring about the emergence of an acceptable successor state. The constitutions of the period 1954–1960 provided an important prelude to end of empire.

Another reason lies in the need to challenge many of the myths that continue to be associated with the constitutional history of the decade. The book demonstrates, to take but one example, that the Lyttleton Constitution of 1954 was not imposed so as to deflect African nationalism or to curb the Mau Mau Rebellion; rather it was to placate the then politically influential European settler community. Yet the British attempt to bring some African support behind the constitution produced the first African elections in 1957. This brought forth the unintended outcome of African opposition to the British-inspired constitutions of the era that altered Kenya’s constitutional history.

Moreover, the attainment of a viable constitutional order, appropriate for an African state, continues to resonate with the public all over the continent, and not just in Kenya. A final reason for writing the book was to take advantage of the massive amount of documentary material available in British and Kenyan archives.

Question: What do you hope your readers take away from your book?

Answer: I hope that readers gain an accurate and detailed appreciation of the constitution making process. The extensive use of archival sources will provide a view of decision-making from the “inside.” The readers should thus be able to understand the role and motivation of the major players in constitutional arena: the British government, the Kenya colonial state, and Kenya’s racially defined political elite. Readers will hopefully conclude that constitutions designed from the top and imposed by the imperial power had little chance of producing the hoped-for goals. Consensus-building and agreement based on dialogue represent the best chance for success. I also hope that the role of African agency in the constitutional history of the decade is clearly understood, as it has for too long been ignored in most accounts.

Question: What other research do you believe is needed on this topic?

Answer: The main research needed on this topic is a further exploration of African agency during the period covered by the study. For example, the motives and actions of the African political leadership before and after 1957 should be fully investigated. The majority of the few biographical studies were published prior to the opening of all relevant material in government and private archives.

***Professor Maxon will be chairing the ASA session (VI-19) Ethnicity and Politics in Kenya from the 1950s to the 21st Century.


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