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The Republic of Kenya is the 29th most populous country in the world, home to more than 47,600,000 people and the third largest economy in sub-Saharan Africa. It has an incredibly rich history, tracking primate colonization for more than 20 years million Years. Its borders include the major cities of Nairobi, today’s capital, founded by colonialists in 1899; Mombasa, the original capital, founded by Kenyans in 900 AD; and Kisumu, one of the oldest settlements in Kenya and situated on Lake Victoria.
The country was occupied by Omani Arabs in the 17th century, who then set up a slave trade with Portuguese colonizers. In the 1880s, Germany established Kenya as a protectorate (a deeply colonialist word) and dubbed the whole country the East African Protectorate, which was transferred to the British in 1890. It was renamed Kenya in 1920; From 1952 to 1959, the Mau Mau of Kenya fought a rebellion to liberate the country from British rule. The Republic of Kenya was officially established on December 12, 1964 and today functions as an independent democratic republic, although it is still considered part of the British Commonwealth.
With such a deep history and so many diverse voices – both African and non-African – in its history, it’s no surprise that Kenya’s literature is just as diverse and beautiful. I have compiled here ten books about Kenya by Kenyan authors based on recommendations from Kenyan readers and bloggers.
The best books about Kenya
Petals of Blood by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o
When first published in 1977, this deceptively simple crime investigation story was so revolutionary that the Kenyan government imprisoned Thiong’o without charge. Over the past five decades, Ngũgĩ has grown into one of the country’s most awarded authors. He writes regularly on social and political issues petals of blood is a truly explosive tale of a modern day Third World nation whose leaders continually fail their people.
The River and Source by Margaret A. Ogola
Ogola’s books cover the entire spectrum of the subject The river and the source is considered her best novel. It covers the lives of three generations of Kenyan women up to the 20th century. She released a sequel, I Swear by Apollo, in February 2022.
One day I will write about this place: A Memoir of Binyavanga Wainaina
Wainaina, an outing, gay, HIV-positive black Kenyan, died in 2019. His works are deeply controversial, especially in countries where homosexuality is a crime. This memoir chronicles his upbringing, a failed programming job in South Africa, and the changing landscape of his family, tribe, and nation.
Dust by Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor
Owuor wrote her first short story, The Weight of Whispers, in 2003, which won her the Caine Prize for African Writing. In DustShe has written what some consider the finest saga by a Kenyan author.
When Odidi Oganda is gunned down in the streets of Nairobi, his sister Ajany and her father must bring his body back to their homeland in Kenya’s drylands. But Odidi’s murder unveils long-held secrets dating back to the Mau Mau Rebellion of the 1950s.
The Promised Land by Grace Ogot
Ogots The Promised Land appeared in 1966, making Ogot the first East African writer to be published in English. Her debut novel follows a young farmer and his wife who migrate to Tanzania from Kenya. On their journey, they become embroiled in a tribal conflict, and Ogot cleverly uses this framework to undermine the image of an ‘African wife’. She published seven other works, most of which are considered classics of Kenyan literature.
Nairobi Heat by Mukoma Wa Ngugi
Joshua Hakizimana, African peace activist, has accepted a position to teach on “genocide and testimony” at a university in Madison, Wisconsin. When a dead girl’s body turns up on his doorstep, he and Detective Ishmael are drawn back to Nairobi to find out the truth. In a place that still resonates after the Rwandan genocide, the truth can kill.
Mukoma is the son of the aforementioned Ngugi Wa Thiong’o and currently teaches at Cornell University.
Population, Tradition and Environmental Control in Colonial Kenya by Martin S. Shanguhyia
Drawing on reports from western Kenya, Shanguhyia examines colonial government programs that attempted to integrate traditional practices into contemporary land management ideology. Using archives and oral tradition, Shanguhyia argues that these attempts still define Kenyan resource management and need to be understood in order to further explore the intersection between current politics, demographics and tradition.
Overlooking Mount Kenya from Jomo Kenyatta
Kenyatta was elected Kenya’s first President in 1964. Before that, however, he was educated at the London School of Economics in the 1930s, earning a degree in anthropology. His professor Bronislav Malinowski wrote the introduction to it Overlooking Mount Kenyaa deep insight into the anthropology of the Kikuyu in Kenya and the infrastructure of their society.
In 1968 Kenyatta published Suffering Without Bitterness: The Founding of the Kenya Nation, the definitive volume on his journey to Kenyan independence and presidency. This text appears to be out of print in English, so it is not highlighted here, but it would be worth searching for an interested student of Kenyan history.
History of the Resistance in Kenya 1884-2002 by Maina Wa Kĩnyattĩ
Maina is one of Kenya’s leading Mau Mau researchers and a Marxist scholar. For these reasons he was arrested and imprisoned in Kenya and now lives under political asylum in the United States. History of the Resistance in Kenya is a Marxist interpretation of Kenyan history. Maina draws on powerful language and concrete examples to describe the struggle for democracy and social justice in Kenya.
Kenya After 50: Reconfiguring Historical, Political, and Political Milestones by Michael Mwenda Kithinji, MIckie Mwanzia Koster, and Jerono P. Rotich
This is one of the best books on Kenya – an interdisciplinary approach to Kenya’s first 50 years of post-colonial independence. The authors discuss the economic and political challenges Kenya has faced and how the country has established itself as a center of trade and industry while struggling with job shortages, class warfare, ethnic difficulties and corruption.
Like Kenya itself, the country’s literature is extremely diverse. This list of books about Kenya is just the beginning. Or, if you’re looking to expand your reading of African authors beyond Kenya’s borders, browse these African fantasy novels.