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  • Print publication year: 2019
  • Online publication date: October 2019



Writing the history of Jomo Kenyatta’s presidency, it was particularly difficult to disentangle the history of a politician from that of a newly created institution: the presidency. The inherently discreet and distant nature of Kenyatta’s presidential style, together with the scattered and incomplete nature of the available sources, only partially explains this difficulty. A more thorough explanation highlights the unprecedented connection between the sudden emergence of a politician and the unexpected formation of the presidency. Contingency played a central role in Kenyatta’s political career and significantly shaped the nature of his presidential rule. Soon after he was released from jail, it became clear that Kenyatta had virtually no political resources with which to command political loyalties, other than the popularity he owed to his ambiguous past. The independence negotiations further exposed his shallow political anchoring, as Kenyatta refrained from committing himself personally to any of the debates. In the end, the presidency was tailor-made to turn his political isolation into a political system.