Kenda Mutongi

Kenda Mutongi

Professor of History at Williams College in Massachusetts

Visiting Professor 2017-2018

Hosted by Professor Craig Wilder, Department of History


Kenda Mutongi is Professor of Africa History at Williams College. Research interests: Modern Africa (focus on eastern and southern Africa); Women’s and Gender History; Political Economy; Urban History; Historical Ethnography; and Business History. At Williams College, Mutongi has served as chair of the Africana Studies and the Africa/Middle Eastern Studies Programs, is on the editorial boards of several journals in African Studies, and teaches a wide range of courses in the history of 19th and 20th century Africa.

Mutongi holds a B.A. in History and English (Highest Distinction, 1989) from Coe College in Iowa, and an M.A. in History and Anthropology (1993) from University of Virginia, where she also earned a PhD in History (1996). Her doctoral dissertation examined the complex culture of widowhood in Kenya, exploring how women crafted social power by defining and deploying the moral and political meanings of widowhood.

Mutongi was born and raised in a small village in western Kenya. She is the author of MATATU: A History of Popular Transportation in Nairobi (University of Chicago Press, 2017); and Worries of the Heart: Widows, Family, and Community in Kenya (University of Chicago Press, 2007), which received an Honorable Mention from the African Studies Association’s Melville J. Herskovits Award for the best scholarly book on Africa in all disciplines. She has also published articles in the main African studies journals.

Mutongi has been a Member at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, and a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard, and at the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study in Amsterdam. She has also received grants from the NEH, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation.

Her current project focuses on the history of secondary schooling in Kenya. The study focuses on post-colonial Kenya but also looks back to the turn of the twentieth century when the first schools were established in Kenya. The study will help provide a picture of what it has been like for the students to grow up in a Kenya that is buffeted by all the fears, expectations, and contradictions of a new African nation.

As an MLK Visiting Professor at MIT, Mutongi will be hosted by Craig Wilder in the Department of History.


3 Questions: Professor Kenda Mutongi on Africa, women, power — and human decency, MIT School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, 14 January 2020



MATATU: A History of Popular Transportation in Nairobi. University of Chicago Press, March, 2017.

Worries of the Heart: Widows, Family, and Community in Kenya. University of Chicago Press, 2007. MELVILLE J. HERSKOVITS, FINALIST, 2008. Awarded by the African Studies Association for the best scholarly book on Africa, in any discipline.


“School Fires and Protest in Kenya’s Secondary and High Schools, 1970 to the Present.” In Preparation.

"The Harry Thuku Massacre in Early Colonial Nairobi.” Transition: The Magazine of Africa and the Diaspora (forthcoming).

"How Nairobi’s loud, unruly matatu buses helped shape a nation." Quartz Africa (21 June 2017).

"The Borehole." University of Virginia Magazine (Winter, 2007).

“Thugs or Entrepreneurs? Perceptions of Matatu Operators in Nairobi, 1970 to the Present.” Africa 76.4 (2006).

"Worries of the Heart: Widowed Mothers, Daughters, and Masculinities in Western Kenya, 1940-60." Journal of African History 1.3 (1999).

"Dear Dolly's Advice: Representations of Youth, Courtship, and Sexualities in Africa, 1960-80." International Journal of African Historical Studies 1.2 (2000)

"Women and Culture in Africa and the Middle East: A Review Article." Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 23.4 (1998).