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Durham University

Email and Telephone Directory

Staff Profile

Professor Justin Willis

Professor (Modern African History) in the Department of History
Telephone: +44 (0) 191 33 41073

(email at

Justin Willis' work has been largely concerned with identity, authority and social change in eastern Africa over the last two hundred years. Much of his recent work has focussed on Sudan and the Kenya coast. His current research is primarily concerned with the history of elections, and he is working with colleagues from Warwick and Oxford on a major ESRC-funded project, ‘The impact of elections: voting, political behaviour and democracy in sub-Saharan African’.

From 2006 to 2009 Professor Willis was seconded from Durham to serve as Director of the British Institute in Eastern Africa, in Nairobi.

Areas of Postgraduate Supervision

Professor Willis has supervised doctoral students working on various aspects of modern eastern African history, and British imperial history relating to Africa. Currently he has students working on the history of local government in Kenya; British policy towards Kenya from 1963 to 1980, southern Sudanese migrants in Khartoum in the late twentieth century; the history of development policy; and ethnicity in northern Uganda in the twentieth century. Prospective students who would like to discuss ideas for doctoral research are very welcome to contact him.

Research Groups

Department of History

Research Projects

Department of History

Research Interests

  • Electoral history
  • Modern East Africa
  • Sudan in the 19th and 20th centuries
  • The social history of alcohol in Africa

Teaching Areas

  • Africa, particularly East and North-eastern Africa, since 1800


Authored book

  • Willis, J. (2002). Potent Brews. A Social History of Alcohol in East Africa 1850-1999. Oxford: British Institute in Eastern Africa in association with James Currey.
  • (1993). Mombasa, the Swahili and the Making of the Mijikenda. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Edited book

  • Ryle, J., Willis, J., Baldo, S. & Jok, J. M. (2011). The Sudan Handbook. James Currey.

Chapter in book

  • Willis, Justin (2014). Alcohol licensing hours: time and temperance in Kenya. In Drugs in Africa: Histories and Ethnographies of Use, Trade and Control. Klantschnig, G., Carrier, N. & Amber, C. Palgrave. 89-104.
  • Willis, Justin (2013). Chieftaincy. In The Oxford Handbook of Modern African History. Parker, John & Reid, Richard Oxford: OUP. 208-23.
  • Willis, Justin. (2010). Protecting young people. Alcohol, advertising and youth in Kenya. In Generations Past. Youth in East African History. Burton, Andrew. & Charton-Bigot, Helene. Ohio University Press. 279-90.
  • Willis, Justin. (2009). The King of the Mijikenda, and other stories about the kaya. Heritage, politics and histories in multi-party Kenya. In Recasting the past. History writing and political work in modern Africa. Peterson, Derek. & Macola, Giacomo. Athens, OH.: Ohio University Press. 233-250.

Journal Article

  • Cheeseman, N., Lynch, G., Kanyinga, K., Ruteere, M. & Willis, J. (2019). Kenya's 2017 elections: winner-takes-all politics as usual? Journal of Eastern African Studies 13(2): 215-234.
  • Willis, J., Lynch, G. & Cheeseman, N. (2018). Voting, nationhood, and citizenship in late-colonial Africa. The Historical Journal 61(4): 1113-1135.
  • Willis, Justin, Lynch, Gabrielle & Cheeseman, Nic (2017). “A valid electoral exercise”? Uganda’s 1980 elections and the observers’ dilemma. Comparative Studies in Society and History 59(1): 211-238.
  • Cheeseman, Nic, Lynch, Gabrielle & Willis, Justin (2017). Ghana: the ebbing power of incumbency. Journal of Democracy 28(2): 92-104.
  • Deacon, G., Gona, G., Mwakimako, H. & Willis, J. (2017). Preaching politics: Islam and Christianity on the Kenya coast. Journal of Contemporary African Studies 35(2): 148-167.
  • Cheeseman, N., Lynch, G. & Willis, J. (2016). Decentralisation in Kenya: the governance of governors. The Journal of Modern African Studies 54(01): 1-35.
  • Mwakimako, Hassan & Willis, Justin (2016). Islam and democracy: debating electoral involvement on the Kenya coast. Islamic Africa 7(1): 19-43.
  • Perrot, S., Pommerolle, M.-E. & Willis, J. (2016). La fabrique du vote: placer la matérialité au cœur de l’analyse. Politique africaine 144(4): 5-26.
  • Willis, J., Lynch, G. & Cheeseman, N. (2016). La machine electorale: culture materielle des bureaux de vote au Ghana, au Kenya et en Ouganda. = The Voting Machine: The material culture of polling stations in Ghana, Kenya and Uganda. Politique africaine 144(4): 27-50.
  • Willis, Justin (2015). “Peace and order are in the interests of every citizen” Elections, violence and state legitimacy in Kenya, 1957-74. International Journal of African Historical Studies 48(1): 99-116.
  • Willis, Justin (2015). The Southern Problem: representing Sudan's southern provinces to c. 1970. Journal of African History 56(02): 281-300.
  • Willis, Justin, Cheesman, Nic & Lynch, Gabrielle (2014). Democracy and its discontents: understanding Kenya’s 2013 elections. Journal of Eastern African Studies 8(1): 2-24.
  • Willis, Justin & Chome, Ngala (2014). Marginalization and participation on the Kenya coast: the 2013 elections. Journal of Eastern African Studies 8(1): 115-134.
  • Willis, J. & Gona, G. (2013). Pwani C Kenya? Memory, documents and secessionist politics in coastal Kenya. African Affairs 112(446): 48-71.
  • Willis, Justin & Gona, George (2013). Tradition, tribe and state in Kenya: the Mijikenda Union, 1945-1980. Comparative Studies in Society and History 55(2): 448-473.
  • Willis, Justin. (2011). Sudan's election: voting for authoritarians. Africa Review 3(1): 47-64.
  • Willis, Justin. (2011). Tribal gatherings: colonial spectacle, native administration and local government in Condominium Sudan. Past and Present 211(1): 243-268.
  • Willis, Justin & al-Batthani, Atta (2010). "We changed the laws." Electoral practice and malpractice in Sudan since 1953. African Affairs 109(435): 191-212.
  • Mutisya, Dorothy. & Willis, Justin. (2009). Budget drinking: alcohol consumption in two Kenyan towns. Journal of Eastern African Studies 3(1): 55-73.
  • (2008). What has he got up his sleeve? Advertising the Kenyan presidential candidates in 2007. Journal of Eastern African Studies 2: 264-71.

Other (Print)

  • Willis, J, Cheeseman, N. & Lynch, G. (2017). Kenya 2017: the interim election.
  • Willis, Justin & Mwakimako, Hassan (2014). Islam, politics and violence on the Kenya coast.

Media Contacts

Available for media contact about:

  • Africa: Modern history and politics of eastern Africa, with a particular focus on elections. The social and economic history of alcohol in Africa.