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Date of Award

Spring 3-26-2021

Author's School

College of Arts & Sciences

Author's Program

African and African American Studies

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts (A.B.)




This thesis uses Kenya’s former Coastal Strip - a piece of land on the coast separate from the Kenya Colony - as an example of how calls for autochthony solidify and create circumstantial identity labels. It relies primarily on evidence from a British government commission regarding the status of the Coastal Strip in an independent Kenya. The commission was led by Sir James Robertson in 1961. Colonial era land policies and the Robertson Commission encouraged ordinary people, whose voices were clouded by politicians, to fight for the label of “autochthonous.” This debate raised questions about how people could come to belong to a space, place, or piece of land. In addition, it showed how coastal politicians were not always representative of their constituents, how definitions of identities differed and fluctuated, and how dissenting views added depth to the generalized, one note view of African communities. Testimonies by ordinary people to the commission showed how land and identity shaped each other throughout the Coastal Strip’s complex history.


Dr. Timothy Parsons

Additional Advisors

Dr. Mungai Mutonya, Dr. Monique Bedasse

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