By Baraka Sudi
On the Politicization of Mau Mau
This year marks the 70th anniversary of Allied victory over Hitlerâ€™s genocidal Nazi regime in World War 2. The few Kenyans who fought in that war are mostly dead or in their sunset days and, therefore, it is no accident that almost nobody bothers about such anniversaries here.
Yet WW2 was a conflict unprecedented in scale, ferocity and impact on world affairs, Kenyaâ€™s included.
Equally important was its representation and interpretation by its major participants. Immediately after the war American and British intellectuals, military, media, political and cultural elites went into full gear magnifying the role the two countries had played in the defeat of Hitler while treating the Russian role almost as a footnote.
From books to speeches, war memoirs, newspaper articles to Hollywood movies the American and British man-at-arms was presented as the hero of WW2 who dealt Hitler blow after blow for 5 years finally giving him a glorious knock-out punch on D- Day.
With the British Empire in control of a quarter of the world and USA ruling the cultural air waves through Hollywood, well-endowed education institutions like Harvard and Yale, media outlets like New York Times in addition to many other purveyors of propaganda, American-British version of WW2 quickly gained currency in much of the world and came to represent the â€˜trueâ€™ history of WW2.
Yet this was not the case. While the British air force had singlehandedly fought the Germans in 1940, for much of the remaining part of the war, WW2 was basically a German-Russia conflict in Europe and Japan-American showdown in the Pacific.
Out of 10 Germans killed in WW2, 8 died in Russian hands not British or American. Out of 420 army divisions engaged in the conflict at any given time, 400 were engaged on the German-Russia front and only the remaining 20 would be engaged on German-Britain/America front.
So ferocious was the fighting in Russia that 20 million Russians died with rivers of blood being formed literally. If the world has ever come close to a dystopia, it was in Russia between 1940 and 1945.
Therefore, far from being the anchors of WW2 victory, the laurels of victory correctly belong to Russians.
Why then did the British and the Americans turn around and claim almost all credit for the victory against Hitler after the war? Why was Russiaâ€™s decisive role relegated to the periphery?
Partly it is because Russia became British/American enemy almost immediately after the war in the Cold War ensued even before the dust of the war could settle. Chiefly, however, it was because the British and the Americans realized that history and its interpretation is a very powerful political force on its own.
I revisit this capsule of history because it closely mirrors the representation and interpretation of another conflict that started a few years after WW2 in Kenya- the Mau Mau Uprising/Insurgency/Conflict/War.
I have heard almost uncountable times elites from Central Kenya and their apologists justify their grip on political power and purse strings of this country as a fair reward for their â€˜contribution in bloodâ€™ to this unfortunate enterprise called Kenya.
When they say â€˜contribution in bloodâ€™ it basically means Mau Mau. Was the Mau Mau conflict really as decisive in the achievement of our independence as some would want us to believe? Did the â€˜heroic and courageousâ€™ Kikuyu man-at-arms chase away the white man and pave the way for the independence of the rest of the country as has been claimed in some quarters? Was our freedom purchased by the blood of Kikuyus? Was blood even involved?
Facts tell a different story. Mau Mau rebellion started in 1952 and effectively ended in 1956 with the arrest of Dedan Kimathi. In the course of these 4 years, close to 2,000 people were killed by the Mau Mau. Of these 2,000 only 200 were killed on the battlefield. The rest of the deaths were of defenseless civilians (almost all Kikuyus) hacked to death at night.
Thus, the â€˜courageousâ€™ oath-taking Mau Maus chose 90% of the time not to face fellow men-at-arms fighting them but Kikuyu men, women and children fast asleep in their homes. Most surprising is the fact that during this whole 4-year period, the Mau Maus, who we are told chased away the white man through their valor and martial skill (qualities which apparently have been passed on to their descendants), killed only 32 whites, not on the battlefield but in their homes like Ngugi wa Thiongâ€™o describes vividly in his Weep Not Child.
Yes, of all the deaths carried out by Mau Mau, less than 1.5% were whites!
The â€˜warâ€™ can, therefore, best be described as this: The Mau Mau kills the Kikuyu man or woman who is not for them (It is worth noting that the vast majority of Kikuyus were against Mau Maus). The Kikuyu Home guards and a few policemen from other tribes are sent to go after them led by one or two white men. The Mau Maus run to the forest and hide there waiting for their next kill. That was it!
There was no battle of note that even those who sing Mau Mau praises to the sky can point out. The statistics speak for themselves and present a crushing reply to those who, for political reasons, seek to glorify an army that never was and battles that were never fought.
The fact that the Mau Mau were an exceedingly ineffective combat force and that they were defeated 7 whole years before our independence clearly shows they were a mere side show in our independence struggle.
Picture this: Nigeria got its independence in 1960 without a fight, ditto Tanzania (1961) and Uganda (1962). What then makes some people think that some four year skirmishes in the Aberderes etc are what gave us our independence almost a decade after they were put down?
In the 1950s and 1960s Britain was liquidating its empire the world over. You didnâ€™t need to fight to get independence. All you needed was to prepare the leaders to take over from the white man and a constitution to guide you through. And that is how we got our independence, not by hacking to death innocent African women and children!
Why then did such a cultish fringe group and clearly an incompetent bunch of vain glorious mediocrities come to play the heroâ€™s part in our history? How did what was in effect a Kikuyu civil war (Kikuyus who benefited from colonialism against those who lost through it) come to represent our independence struggle?
Let me state from the outset that I seek not to denigrate any community or its heroes. This assessment of Mau Mau was shared by none other than Jomo Kenyatta himself (the patriarch of the Kikuyu elites).
In his memoirs he called the Mau Mau Uprising a Kikuyu civil war and not a war of Kenyaâ€™s liberation. In a speech in 1963 he called the Mau Maus â€˜hooligansâ€™ and a â€˜disease which had been eradicated and must never be remembered againâ€™.
Kenyattaâ€™s view was basically the view of the establishment both in his regime and that of Moi. Some would say that it was because most of the elites, especially those that were Kikuyus, were either collaborators themselves or were sons and daughters or relatives of Home Guards.
Ironically, the first major political figure to hold a different view was not a Kikuyu but a Luo, Jaramogi.
Himself engaged in an epic struggle against Kenyatta and the KANU establishment of that time, he was naturally sympathetic to Mau Mauâ€™s own struggle against the Kikuyu establishment of the 1950â€™s that had been propped up by whites.
Starting from Jaramogi, Mau Mau glorification remained almost exclusively in the opposition domain until in 2002 when the opposition came to power as Narc. It was only then that Mau Mau glorification became main stream with an unsightly statue of Dedan Kimathi and farcical search for one â€˜Generalâ€™ Mathenge among other absurdities.
Unfortunately, the polarization along ethnic lines that took place after the 2005 referendum has reversed Mau Mau from a symbol of the anti-establishment forces to a potent political tool of not only Kikuyu power elites but also of the common Kikuyu man in the streets who psychologically benefits from having people he can identify with run this country.
Nowadays Mau Mau, against all historical facts, has been converted by Kenyaâ€™s political elites into a legendary and heroic anti-colonial outfit. With this in mind, their descendants and the descendants of the community they were drawn from, whether they were members or victims of the outfit have come to view everything good that this country has to offer as their birthright.
We have been taught to look the other way as most opportunities in this country are taken up by members from one region because â€˜they fought for usâ€™.
This has to be fought not only because it perpetuates injustice against other Kenyan communities but also because it denigrates our collective historical heritage like the British and the Americans did after the Second World War.