Re-membering Kenya: Building Library Infrastructure as Decolonial Practice

This is chapter four in Angela Okune's dissertatation. This chapter was collaboratively written with Syokau Mutonga. Find the full dissertation here.


Soon after Kenya gained independence in 1963, street names of the former British colonialists were erased and renamed after African leaders as part of a process of decolonizing. Practices of "decolonizing" like renaming buildings and streets or taking down colonial statues, can look similar to "forget and move on," a force we describe as having failed to address historic injustices and violence in the country. We suggest that looking to progressive librarianship (Durrani 2014) might offer a counterpoint to "forget and move on" and serve as a way to think about what decolonizing without forgetting could look like. We frame the work being done by Book Bunk, a not-for-profit trust undertaking restoration of the McMillan libraries in Nairobi, as progressive librarianship and describe how the Book Bunk team is attempting to decolonize the libraries in ways that avoid being caught in a culture of "forget and move on." We close by calling attention to the growing interest of American technology corporations in digital Kenyan cultural heritage data and warn that outsourcing such infrastructural work risks furthering, rather than dismantling, existing asymmetrical knowledge infrastructures and inequitable relations between external collaborators and Kenyan civil society.

Keywords: memory, knowledge imperialism, archive, library, Kenya, technology philanthropy, decolonization, progressive librarianship


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Created date

August 4, 2020

Cite as

Angela Okune and Syokau Mutonga. 4 August 2020, "Re-membering Kenya: Building Library Infrastructure as Decolonial Practice", Research Data Share, Platform for Experimental Collaborative Ethnography, last modified 8 June 2021, accessed 18 May 2024.