Forced Villagization during the Shifta Conflict in Kenya, ca. 1963–1968

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Abstract: This article examines a peculiar villagization campaign during the 1963-8 shifta conflict in Kenya. The campaign can be considered a special case since it both brings together, and moves beyond, existing discourses regarding the implications of villagization programmes in African history. During the shifta conflict, government villages were used as a counter-insurgency measure to isolate shifta insurgents from the civilian population. They were also the location of welfare initiatives that reflected a developmental imperative for sedentarization. But more than this, through the general social and physical confinement of all northern Kenyans to government villages, villagization facilitated a process of criminalizing pastoral practice. It is argued that the criminalization of pastoralism in northern Kenyan was at once a result of negative official perceptions of the region, and a response to the particular nature of the violence of the shifta conflict, which combined a nationalist insurgency against the Kenyan government and local level pastoral resource conflict.