Student Presents Summer Research at International Conference

On October 15th Megan Kloeckner ’17 presented a paper titled “Civilizing Visions: Welfare and Development in Colonial Kisumu, Kenya” at the second annual African studies undergraduate research conference at Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario. The conference highlighted undergraduate research in African studies from students from across Canada and the U.S. and included digital presentations from students based in West Africa and the Middle East.

Based on her experiences on the Kenya Program and 2016 summer SLU Fellowship, Megan completed intensive archival research to examine the historical roots of contemporary development issues in western Kenya. Working with History professor and African Studies Coordinator Matt Carotenuto, she examined how local development priorities clashed with the racial hierarchy of colonial rule. Carotenuto notes “I was impressed with Megan’s ability to dive into complex archival documents and colonial reports. Sifting through the racist discourse of colonial authority, Megan’s research was able to explore some of the complex ways the colonial legacy still impacts development debates today in Kenya.”

For more on Megan’s 2016 summer research, read her post on the Kenya Program Blog and see her paper abstract below.

“Civilizing Visions: Welfare and Development in Colonial Kisumu, Kenya”


As the third largest city in Kenya, and the nation’s main port to Lake Victoria, it may surprise some that Kisumu is both visually and structurally underdeveloped for a city of its size and prominence. Kisumu’s existence was determined and sustained primarily by the British colonial administration, thus the condition of the city and the province in which the city is situated, Nyanza Province, is ultimately connected to the various “development” efforts that the British undertook during the colonial period, 1895-1963. The concept of development was a novel vision in Kenya, and ideas of just what development was, and what it aimed to achieve, remained somewhat ambiguous for years. Did “development” suggest facilitating economic growth? The education and modernization of the “native” people? The building and maintenance of infrastructure and modern transportation?

Annual Reports found in the Kenya National Archives reveal that the government launched hundreds of varying development campaigns over the years, and that plans followed what officials prioritized as important issues rather than what the locals believed to be of value. The colonial government’s tendency to propose development projects, but its subsequent failure to thoroughly execute them, stunted Kisumu’s ability to develop into a self-sustaining community, as the structure of a cash crop economy, education and healthcare system, and infrastructure network were established and promoted to serve narrow interests. Most of the initial development schemes were state oriented, and did not shift to a more localized focus until the late 1950s, when it became apparent that British rule would soon come to an end. It was only at that time that the development priorities and the welfare of the local people and urban environments became more important than colonial visions, not only in Kisumu but all over Kenya, as well. The following research questions will inform my study: At what point in time did development plans begin in Kisumu, what type of projects were they, and who funded and implemented them? How did the variance of development plans affect the longevity and outcome of previous efforts, if at all? What can the current national government and other development-oriented organizations learn from past project successes or failures, and what can they do to ensure that development strategies will primarily serve the people and their environment? This paper will analyze how primarily government-controlled development efforts affected progress in Kisumu throughout the colonial period, and will proceed to question how the role of development has evolved and come to impact Kenya in its Independent years.