In 2005, on the 600th anniversary of Chinese admiral’s Zheng He’s first voyage, 19-year old Mwamaka Sharifu was plucked from Kenya’s Pate island and granted a scholarship to study in China. She was, it was said, the descendant of a shipwrecked sailor from one of Zheng He’s fleets.
History by way of “things” has itself become a “thing”. Archaeologists, of course, always did history this way. But they would focus on, usually, assemblages of objects, rather individual pieces. While perhaps not the first—nothing is ever the first—the BBC and the British Museum’s A History of the World in 100 Objects by Neil MacGregor popularized the concept.
The predominant narrative on Sino-African relations is relatively simple. After more than three decades of sustained economic expansion, China is an economic juggernaut, with trade and investment overflowing its borders and into the global market. One the one hand, China, with its overcapacity, seeks new markets and new places from which to secure natural resources to keep the economic machine going. On the other, Western disengagement from Africa since the end of the Cold War has been filled in part by China, and China-Africa relations need to be understood as the logical outcome of the marginalization of Africa in the age of globalization in which Africa is hungry for development, investment, and capital.
Africa is, as far as development is concerned, the next frontier. China is leading the charge in setting up factories and businesses across the continent. McKinsey’s Irene Yuan Sun writes in The Next Factory of the World that this will help Africa become a “global manufacturing powerhouse” as it follows China’s path to industrialization. However optimistic this may sound, Sun argues that not only did China do this itself during the 1990s and 2000s, but that it is already working in Africa.
Like its title, this third novel by Peter Kimani waltzes between decades and characters to form a memorable family drama set against radical social changes in pre-independence Kenya.
Indians have contributed to Kenya’s multiracial tapestry for centuries. At Independence, Indians constituted two percent of the population and formed its petty bourgeoisie. By 1968 Kenya hosted over 170,000 Indian residents. Occupying key roles in the economy and civil service, Indians played no small part in the twentieth-century history of Kenya. Yet, as Sana Aiyar argues in Indians in Kenya: The Politics of Diaspora, an overwhelming emphasis placed on singular territoriality, coupled with the racially bounded nature of scholarship on Kenyan nationhood, has resulted in the historiographical marginalization of Indians, who are assumed to be historically insignificant.