The Real African Revolution
By George Ayiettey via Facebook
With mass street protests â€“ often dubbed â€œpeopleâ€™s revolutionâ€ â€“ erupting in several countries (Brazil, Turkey, Egypt, Tunisia, Libya or the Arab Spring), it is instructive to remember that real revolutions have occurred in pre-colonial Africa. One such revolution was recounted by Jmo Kenyatta in his book, Facing Mount Kenya. London: Secker and Warburg, 1938. Here is an excerpt:
â€œKing Gikuyu was the grandchild of the elder daughter of the founder of the tribe. He ruled many moons and his method of governing was tyrannical. People were prevented from cultivating the land, as he commanded that all able bodied men should join his army and be ready to move with their families at any time and to wherever he chose. Thus the population lived a sort of nomadic life and suffered many hardships from lack of food. At last, they grew tired of wandering from place to place and finally decided to settle down. They approached the King and implored him to let them cultivate the land and establish permanent homes, but owing to his autocratic power he refused to hear or consider their plea. The people were very indignant with him for turning a deaf ear to their appeal, and in desperation they revolted against him. The generation which carried out the revolt was called iregi . . . After King Gikuyu was dethroned, the government of the country was at once changed from a despotism to a democracy which was in keeping with the wishes of the majority of the people. This revolution is known as itwika, derived from the word twika, which means `to break away from’ and signified breaking away from autocracy to democracy. This achievement was celebrated all over the country; feasting, dancing and singing went on with intervals for a period of six moons which preceded the new era of government by the people and for the peopleâ€ (Kenyatta, 1938; p.180).
After a people’s revolution (itwika) which overthrew their despot in the 19th century, the Gikuyu people formed a revolutionary council (njama ya itwika) to draft a constitution. The constitution enacted laws and affirmed the rights of the Gikuyu people in government, which included the following:
1. Freedom for the people to acquire and develop land under a system of family ownership.
2. Socially and politically, all circumcised men and women should be equally full members of the tribe, and thereby the status of a king or nobleman should be abolished.
3. The government should be in the hands of council of elders (kiama) chosen from all members of the community, who have reached the age of eldership.
4. In order to keep up the spirit of the itwika (people’s revolution), and to prevent any tendency to return to the system of despotic government, the change of, and the election for, the government offices should be based on a rotation system of generations.
5. No man should be allowed to hold a responsible position other than warrior, or become a member of the council of elders (kiama) unless he was married and had established a homestead. And that women should be given the same social status as their husbands (p.182).
Under the Gikuyu constitution, each family group formed a family council (ndundu ya mocie) with the father as head (a lineage head). The heads of several lineages formed the village council (kiama gia itora) which was headed by the eldest of the lineage heads. Over the village council was a wider district council (kiama kia rogongo) in which all the elders of the district participated. The district council was presided over by a committee (kiama kia ndundu) composed of the senior elders of the villages. From these elders, the most advanced in age and wisdom was elected as a judge and president (mothamaki or mociiri) of the ndundu. From the district council a national council was formed, comprised of several ndundu, representing the whole population. “Among the judges, a president was elected at the meetings of the national council” (Kenyatta, 1938:187).
So who said Africans have never had revolutions in their history?
The Gikuyu system of government was unique in several respects. First, in the whole governmental organization there was no inheritable position, everything depending on personal merit. Elevation to high office was based entirely upon the behavior of an individual to his group and to the community at large. The group had the right to recall and dismiss or suspend any of its representatives whose behavior was contrary to the well established rules of conduct. In fact, it was the voice of the people or public opinion that ruled the country… In the eyes of the Gikuyu people, the submission to a despotic rule of any particular man or group, white or black, is the greatest humiliation to mankind. The spirit of itwika, namely, the changing of government in rotation through a peaceful and constitutional revolution, is still ingrained in the minds of the Gikuyu people (Kenyatta, 1938:189).
Second, the Gikuyu system had no chief endowed with supernatural and religious sanctions as in the other tribal systems. Hence its classification as stateless although the system had a head (mothamaki).
The third feature of the Gikuyu system of government was its rotational system of succession among the generations. The community was divided into two categories: (a) mwangi, (b) maina or irungu. Membership was determined by birth. If one generation was mwangi, their sons would be maina and their grandsons would be mwangi and so on. One generation would hold office for a period of 30 40 years, at the end of which the itwika ceremony was performed for the young generation to replace the old. After the proclamations and feasting, a new government was formed and the revolutionary council (njama ya itwika) was dissolved and the delegates returned to their villages (Kenyatta, 1938:186). Problem is, Jomo Kenyatta started to act despotically like King Gikuyu once he became president of Kenya.
The Yoruba king could be deposed from his office as a result of arbitrary or tyrannical action by a procedure known as kirikiri. “A mob would parade through the town or country side loudly abusing him and ending at his residence, which was pelted with dirt and stones. If he did not leave the country or commit suicide within three months, then a select band of men seized and killed him” (Kenneth Carlston, Kenneth S. Social Theory and African Tribal Organization. Urbana: University of Chicago Press: 1968; p.182)
Similarly, the Akan peoples of Ghana could remove bad rulers through a process called adom ye (rebellion).
LEMMA: Our illiterate ancestors could remove bad rulers but we â€“ educated African elites â€“ cannot do so without destroying our countries.
This article was posted first by George Ayiettey on his Facebook today 17th July 2013, https://www.facebook.com/george.ayittey