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Department of History

Poppy Cullen

‘Kenya is no doubt a special case’: British policy towards Kenya, 1960-1980

PhD Research

My research focuses on post-colonial imperial history and British engagement with Kenya during the final years of decolonisation and into the post-colonial period, exploring how this notably close relationship manifested itself in terms of both personal connections and practical assistance. My PhD thesis examines the economic, military, personal and diplomatic networks which successive British governments sustained with Kenya well beyond formal independence. This draws attention to the continued connections after independence, moving away from overly simplistic ideas of neo-colonialism or dependency, and contributing to a wider field of scholarship on Africa which highlights continuities through independence. The relationship remained close because British interests and those of leading Kenyans came to align on crucial issues, ensuring a continued mutual interest in the relationship. British officials actively pursued influence, and a combination of multiple and overlapping interests and a dense network of relationships encouraged British politicians, civil servants and diplomats to place a high value on this relationship, coming to describe it as ‘special’. My research also examines how new post-colonial states emerged, and argues that the British government both reinforced and helped to form the ‘neo-patrimonial’ state which was emerging in Kenya.

In considering British post-colonial policy, my research asks a wider question: what is ‘policy’ and how is it made? How did British diplomats, civil servants, and ministers decide what British interests were and how to pursue them? I argue that policy was a nebulous concept and emerged from a series of decisions taken by various groups, constructed through engagement with Kenyans in a process of negotiation. I use a range of complimentary sources to reveal the personal nature of policy-making and the role of individuals, as well as institutional policy-making; in particular I analyse the extensive diplomatic correspondence of policy-makers within Whitehall and with their counterparts in Africa. This project is supported by the AHRC.

Recent Research Papers

‘‘Africans ... attach a great deal of importance to personal relations’: British bureaucracy and Kenyan neo-patrimonialism’, Negotiating States Workshop, Durham University,December 2014

September 2014, 'Kenya, Britain and Somalia: the making of a military understanding, 1967-79', British International History Group Conference, LSE

June 2014, 'British and Kenyan Policymakers: Connections, Consultations, and Conflicts', Networks in Imperial and Global History, University of Exeter

April 2014, 'The emergence of Kenya and state diplomacy’, Translating cultures: between early modern and modern diplomacy, The Foreign and Commonwealth Office

March 2014, ‘‘The bargain which we all know we intend to strike’: the 1964 Anglo-Kenyan Memorandum of Intention and Understanding’, Decolonization Workshop, Institute of Commonwealth Studies in conjunction with King’s College, London

September 2013, ‘Funeral Planning: British Involvement in the Funeral of President Jomo Kenyatta, 1968-1978’, British International History Group Conference, University of West England, Bristol

May 2013, ‘Kenya’s 1964 army mutiny and post-colonial Anglo-Kenyan military relationships’, Early Modern and Modern History Postgraduate Discussion Group Conference, Durham University

May 2013, ‘Operation Binnacle and the Bamburi Understanding: British military intervention plans in post-colonial Kenya, 1964-68’, Struggles over Emerging States Postgraduate Masterclass, Durham University

February 2013, ‘Britain and the Kenyatta Succession: British ideas about the future of the Kenyan Presidency, 1963-1978’, Colonial/Postcolonial New Researchers’ Workshop, Institute of Commonwealth Studies


2015: The Brilliant Club tutor

2014-15: Tensions of Empire: British Imperialism 1763-1963

2012-13 and 2013-14: The Making of Modern Africa

August 2014: Insight Summer School, Durham University

August 2013 and 2014: Sutton Trust Summer School, Durham University

August 2013: Assisted Progression Summer School, Durham University