Lowering the Sultan's flag: Sovereignty and decolonization in coastal Kenya

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On 17 December 1961, Ronald Ngala faced an audience of some five hundred supporters in Malindi, a town on the East African coast of the Indian Ocean. The crowd had come to watch Ngala lower the flag that symbolized colonial rule along the coast. This was not the Union flag of Great Britain, but the red flag of the Sultan of Zanzibar. It flew over a number of towns located along the ten-mile coastal strip "Protectorate" of what was then Kenya Colony and Protectorate. The flag symbolized this latter legal distinction, representing the sovereignty that the Sultan of Zanzibar retained over the coastal strip of Kenya after leasing its administration to Britain in a treaty signed in 1895. The flag's lowering was an act of political theatre - Ngala's supporters had hastily arranged the flag and flagpole, while the Sultan's real flag flew over the Malindi courts office nearby. The crowd celebrated its lowering with loud and wild cheers. Anxious onlookers later complained that Ngala had performed an act of treason. In Zanzibar, tense with the specter of racial violence, local press expressed outrage at this insult to the Sultan.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)831-861
Number of pages31
JournalComparative Studies in Society and History
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2008

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science


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