- Indians in Kenya: The Politics of Diaspora by Sana Aiyar, and: Birth Control in the Decolonizing Caribbean: Reproductive Politics and Practice on Four Islands, 1930–1970 by Nicole C. Bourbonnais, and: A Problem of Great Importance: Population, Race, and Power in the British Empire, 1918–1973 by Karl Ittmann, and: Unreasonable Histories: Nativism, Multiracial Lives, and the Genealogical Imagination in British Africa by Christopher J. Lee
Race and the Politics of Decolonization
In 1956, amid debates regarding Kenya's independence, K. D. Travadi claimed: "I, myself am in my 44th year in this country have had my children and my children's children born here in this country and I call myself an African and particularly a Kenyan first and a Kenyan last" (Aiyar, p. 234). Travadi, a Nairobi lawyer and Kenya India Congress [End Page 293] member, was born in India, but spent his professional career in Kenya and was invested for political and familial reasons in Kenya's future. And yet neither the colonial government of Kenya nor many "native" Kenyans accepted Travadi's claim that an "Indian" could be "African." In 1967, four years after independence, the state passed Africanization legislation, which restricted the mobility and economic activity of Indians, and led to the emigration of 33,000 people, for whom belonging in the nation no longer seemed possible.
Travadi's statement reveals how the tension between racial and territorial belonging shaped the politics of decolonization. The theorization of human difference has a long history, but in the era of modern empires, difference took on new salience through efforts to define, categorize, and enumerate populations in service of colonial rule.1 While historians have studied race at the level of colonial discourse, four new histories illuminate how contestations on the grounds of race shaped the trajectory of decolonization in the British Empire. In the twentieth century, racial politics fueled a new science of demography, which made visible the differential fertility rate between populations in Europe and the colonized world. Racial politics informed debates surrounding birth control and limited the possibilities for women to exercise autonomy over their bodies, reproductive lives, and families. Racial politics also limited the claims subjects could make on the colonial state and their belonging in the independent nation. Indians in Kenya and multi-racial people in southern Africa attempted to disrupt the link between territory and population that formed the basis for political legitimacy in the postcolonial era. Examination of the racial politics of decolonization provides new insight into how empire's formal end did not bring an end to the hierarchies of colonial rule.
From the late nineteenth century, imperial advocates and officials subscribed to a racialized order of things, "The White Man's World,"2 for which new sciences of population provided more precise tools of governance. The findings of demographers, however, fueled anxieties [End Page 294] of racial decline. As Karl Ittmann shows in A Problem of Great Importance, academic scientists, eugenicists, birth control advocates, and colonial officials formed a complex of expertise and advocacy which advanced a predictive science of population in support of empire. In the early twentieth century, the Eugenics Society turned their attention from domestic demography, in which class was the most salient category, to an imperial population science that focused on racial difference. This expertise became the basis for arguments in support of the continued emigration of Britons to maintain the white dominions as global partners in empire. Members of the Eugenics Society and other non-governmental organizations successfully lobbied the imperial state to...