'For your tomorrow, we gave our today': A history of Kenya African soldiers in the Second World War
Odhiambo, E. S. Atieno
Doctor of Philosophy
During the Second World War, nearly ninety-eight thousand Kenya African soldiers were recruited by the colonial government and deployed to serve on the Allied side. This thesis is about these soldiers. It is about their experience in the Second World War, examined and told from their own perspective. Using original primary sources such as archival documents, newspapers, and oral materials, many of them collected from the askaris themselves, the thesis analyzes how askaris perceived the war, what motivated them to fight on the side of their colonial masters, how they experienced the war in various parts of the world, and what happened to them when the war ended, and they came back to the colony. The thesis demonstrates how, contrary to much that we have come to popularly associate with ordinary African soldiers who served in the Second World War, Kenya African soldiers actively tried to find their niche in the war by interpreting it in ways that made their service in it useful and meaningful. While serving in the war, Kenyan askaris were always trying to appropriate discourses about the war in ways that were relevant to their lives. Many of them understood that if they joined the war and fought with determination and commitment, they would not only survive the war, but also improve their social, economic, and political standing in their communities and the colony as a whole. The thesis demonstrates how askaris' interpretation of the war laid grounds for conflicts with the colonial regime in Kenya. Askaris served in the war with passion and commitment, believing that their service in the war would lead to a rise in their social, economic, and political welfare, but the colonial regime did not have such grand plans. While many askaris nursed high hopes for a quid pro quo from the government after the war, the government, on the other hand, was determined to maintain and safe-guard the status quo. Conflict between askaris and the colonial government was virtually inevitable. Rebuffed by the colonial regime after the war, many bitter Kenyan askaris joined the growing ranks of Kenyan people who were disenchanted with colonialism. Many of them are still bitter with the colonial government even today. They feel betrayed and taken advantage of by a government they served diligently and unflaggingly during the war. Thus the experience of Kenyan askaris in the Second World War is one that begins with hope and expectation for a better future in the colony, but ends in disappointment and resentment against the colonial regime. The experience of African soldiers in the Second World War has increasingly become a topical subject among scholars. By examining the experience of Kenyan askaris in the Second World War, this thesis expands our knowledge and understanding of the experience of ordinary African soldiers in the Second World War, while contributing to scholarship on how African soldiers generally experienced war during the colonial period.
Black studies; African history