Mau Mau and Nationhood

In political debates in Kenya, the refrain from a section of the polity are fond of remarking that only the Kikuyu fought for independence and remind the rest of us that without Mau Mau, there would be no independence or it would have happened much later than it did.  While I don’t want to cast aspersions on how knowledgeable about the history of our independence these people are, I will say they are mostly common folk who repeat what they have heard without ever bothering to do any digging.

Mau Mau and Nationhood is my current read. It’s a collection of articles by eminent scholars, and I don’t use that word carelessly.

Some time back I wrote this summary on the same subject and continuing with the same line of thought, I will just pose a few more questions that I find interesting.

  • Has there been a country where all the masses rose as one to fight the colonizing party? Why not? Why does a section of the polity not join in the fight?
  • Since we are told without the Mau Mau, there would be no independence, we can ask how many Europeans did they kill?
  • Kenyatta said we all fought for independence. Who, then, do we celebrate on the 20th?
  • was Kenyatta and Mau Mau concerned with the national project and was Mau Mau the only militant group?
  • Why did Mau Mau activists kill Ofafa?
  • Was Harry Thuku a collaborator or an independence hero?
  • There are those who argue that the national project, if it ever was there, ended with the assassination of Mboya. Is this really the case or did end it much earlier?
  • Why is there little talk of the Oromo people’s resistance?
  • Or why has no one ever mentioned to me the Somali-Galla line (PDF) and the Kittermaster line (separating the Samburu grazing lands of the Leroghi plateau from the larger Laikipia plateau, which had been reserved for white settlers)
  • Or why is there is little talk of Maasai nationalism with its headquarters in Sanya Chini, Tanzania?
  • what were the debates going on in the forest? how were the issues of gender, marriage, religion and violence dealt with?

Nation building makes for interesting history. Earnest Renan argued for forgetting the past and forging a new unified history, what is generally called, imagined histories. Others have argued differently. So here we are, trying to understand the early days of the nation called Kenya. What were the discussions taking place and where were these discussions? What form was the nation to take?

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Mau Mau and nationhood- the untold story

Last year, we had an election and a farce or two farces depending on where you stand. The time leading to both plebiscites were, to some of us, quite shocking at how much our country men and women are ignorant of their history. Most young Kenyans and this unfortunately includes university graduates are ignorant on which groups of individuals played key roles in the push for independence. To add to this, is a deliberate effort by the first and second regimes to distort history, the third to do nothing about it and Muigai to follow on his father’s footsteps of distorting facts.

In this chapter summary, Ogot does an overview on the different Kenyans who have been killed a second time, as the Algerians did to Franz Fanon.

Following the death, in 1994, of Oginga Odinga, the question was raised of establishing a heroes’ square. The question that wasn’t answered then and is still pending is who would be buried there? Ogot notes that our first problem is the identification of heroes and heroines with the forest fighters ignoring others whose contribution was through other avenues. In doing this summary, I hope, as Ogot does to arouse a curiosity among younger Kenyans to go back in time and read about these different men and women whose contributions were critical in the struggle for independence and who successive governments have killed a second time.

We must state at the onset that majority of those who emerged to rule in 1963 had betrayed the freedom fighters, a group of nascent grabbers and looters.

The Mau Mau, Ogot writes, quoting the works of Anderson (1983) and Berman (1987) grew out of internal factionalism and dissent among the Kikuyu people. Mau Mau, then, can be examined in the comparative context of the processes of constructing ethnicity and tradition. In another work by Clough, it is implied that by 1952 when the Mau Mau war broke out, the Kikuyu seemed to have already abandoned the national project. He adds that Kikuyu leaders like Ngengi, Koinange, P Karanja, Jesse Kariuki were motivated by Kikuyu ethnic pride and Kikuyu nationalism. They emphasized the need for Kikuyu unity, need to preserve Kikuyu identity and the need for self-help.

Contradictions can be seen in the case of Ngengi who denounced Mau Mau in Central province but was seen by the British and written of in their press as the leader of Mau Mau. Still on Ngengi, it is important to note, save for a brief moment between his release from detention in 61 to 65, he was in the whole more active in the creation of the imagined greater Kikuyu society. Instead of the misnomer as a founding father, he should rightly be seen as the architect, patron and benefactor of the greater Kikuyu community.

The contributions of Oginga Odinga and Ramogi Achieng’ Oneko to the national project, I presume are known beginning with the formation Luo Thrift in 1946 to address among other things, getting rid of the colonial notion of ‘Lazy Luo’. This progressed to the formation of Luo Union E.A in 53 with Oginga as first Ker. It should however be noted Oginga wasn’t starting on a blank slate. There has been formed previously, in 1927, the Kisumu Native Chamber of Commerce, North Kavirondo Chamber of Commerce etc. Luo nationalism arose from the convergence of the economic and cultural movements. It is at this point that the Luo began to refer to themselves as Jo-Kanyanam and Nyikwa Ramogi thereby giving the mistaken view that all Luo groups descended from one person- Ramogi.

In 1946, there was a land situation in Babukusu land. They held that Trans Nzoia district was their ancestral land which was stolen from them. One response was a religious movement, Dini ya Msambwa whose founder and prophet was Elijah Masinde. In 1943 he opposed conscription of Africans to fight in WW2, arguing correctly, it was a European tribal war which had nothing to do with African interests. In 47, he began to advocate for the use of violence earning him arrest and detention in Lamu till 1960, when he was released. One of his followers, Lukas Pkech from East Pokot, on 24th April 1950 organized young Pokots armed with spears and shields to a dawn raid, known as the Kolloa Affray, on government forces where he and others lost his life. This was not before he composed a song

Who is our enemy?

Is it not the white people?

They began by killing many of us. They teach us bad things.

Don’t listen to this white man*.

He is our enemy.

Haven’t we got a god?

We pray to you Jehova.

Who is Jesus? The wazungus say he is god but how could he be if he died?

The refrain was

We will overcome by our strength.

It can be seen already there were precursors to the Mau Mau war.

The first attempt to form a countrywide political party was launched on 1st Oct 1944. The party, Kenya African Study Union aimed at fighting for independence. One of the functions of the party was to advice the only African in the Legislative Council, Eliud Mathu. Among the officials was one Harry Thuku who had been detained between 1922 and 1931 following riots. He quit his leadership position and became a staunch supporter of British rule in Kenya.

Other religious movements included the People of Jesus Christ from Kiambu, Roho Maler from Nyanza and Diniap[?] Mbojet among the Kipsigis.

Following the declaration of the state of emergency in 1952 and arrest of altogether 87 leaders, new officials were elected to lead the Kenya African Union among them, F. Odede, Joseph Murumbi, Awori and T. J. Mboya. During these tumultuous times, a Luo, Ambrose Ofafa, was killed by Mau Mau activists on 21st Nov, 1953. The colonial administration, which until this moment had been trying to sow discord between the Luo and Kikuyus hoped this would lead to war between them but this didn’t happen.

Dedan Kimathi, writing in 1953, opined the Kikuyu joined Mau Mau following the proscription of KAU. It is this moment that saw the abolition of the national project in Central Province.

How do we remember Kenya’s second vice president, Joseph Murumbi who did a lot to articulate the Kenyan problem in the international press writing between 1953 and 1960 while in exile?

Pio Gama Pinto, the first political murder in post-colonial Kenya, gunned down a few days after Ngengi sought legal counsel about ways to deal with “this bloody Goan”. He had, using his money and contacts, organized fundraising for Mau Mau, supplied them with weapons and ammunition, founded Sauti ya KANU- a party publication, with others founded the Lumumba Institute in 1964 etc.

How do we remember Girdhari Lal Vidyarthi who fought for press freedom? Founded the first Swahili weekly published in Kenya in 1935.  Arrested and detained several times by the colonial administration for sedition, the post-independence government killed him a second time by erasing his contributions in the Kenyan psyche.

When we talk about human rights defenders, the name of Argwings Kodhek is hardly ever mentioned. Between 1952 and 61, he almost, single-handedly defended the rights of ordinary Kenyans. He argued that human rights are indivisible and universal, and freedom cannot be appropriate in the west and inappropriate in Africa. His fight for human rights included a personal struggle to live under the same roof with his Irish wife since at that time there were white and African quarters, a battle eventually won.

In the labour movement, what tribute do we pay to Mahkan Singh, who in 1935, formed the first trade union, the Labour Trade Union of Kenya? He was arrested and detained from 1950 only to be released in 1960 in a Kenya where his role in the trade union movement had already been forgot.

The question to be asked at the end is how do we remember all these people whose contributions were critical in different spheres in the struggle for independence?

Why do we celebrate Mashujaa Day? What are we commemorating, the arrest of the KAU leaders, Mau Mau leaders or the sacrifice and suffering of all freedom fighters bearing in mind too, that the arrests took place on the early morning of 21st October and not on 20th October as is commonly assumed.