August 21, 2008

Mau Mau and Historical Memory

Been in the library a few days this week, in between being a junkie at my favorite cyber cafe. I've been leafing through Oginga Odinga's Not Yet Uhuru, a political autobiography of one of Kenya's most prominent nationalists who was 'unbought and unbowed' throughout the long struggle for independence. I was particularly impressed with how Odinga tackled the problem of economic nationalism by forming business cooperatives and even doing contracting and construction. He seemed to realize the practical needs that underlie political promises and revolutionary zeal.
He details land tenure and allocation among the Luo people, his struggles as a teacher with white racism, as well as to the historical development of African Christianity. The rise of independent African congregations like the Israel Uhuru Church, Dini ya Roho and Nomiya Luo Church demonstrated how Africans took the universal message of the gospel and in the words of Bildad Kaggia, removed the 'European abominations' which had polluted the message of Jesus. This Africanization of Christianity also meant (in the case of Odinga) refusing to give his child a European name.
There are some interesting tidbits about the assistance rendered by the young Indian militant Pio Gama Pinto, as well as the role of newspapers in disseminating ideas to the African masses.
Odinga devotes time to considering the period in Kenya's history euphemistically known as 'The Emergency' or 'Mau Mau.' Odinga questions the facile assumptions about what Mau Mau really was, and places it at the center of historical consciousness in the struggle for Kenyan independence. "There was no such thing as Mau Mau. The poor were the Mau Mau and poverty could be stopped but not by bombs and weapons."
Despite the horrific portrayal of Mau Mau in numerous books, magazines, and movies (such as Africa Adieu, villifying Mau Mau as criminals and thugs, as anti-white lunatics, etc.

Odinga reveals the reality of the situation in which British mass arrests and land dispossession forced thousands of members of KAU to flee to the forests and become the Land and Freedom Army. Kenya can no more deny or be made to deny this part of its past than the United States can the Revolutionary War.
Odinga cites some very revealing statistics which ought to put in perspective who were the real 'gangsters': Out of the 2,000 people killed by Mau Mau, only 30 were white. On the other hand, the British detained 90,000 Africans during the same period and killed 11,000! And all this was to defend the interests of a small minority of white settlers who had forcibly dispossessed Africans of the best land in Kenya's most fertile areas.

Those African leaders who took over the reigns of government from the British post-independence did so under the stipulation that Mau Mau and the ideology of land redistribution would not be tolerated. The assumption of independence rested, in part, on assurances to the white settlers that their land and livelihood would be kept safe. Unfortunately this has meant a steady stream of anti-Mau Mau propaganda or at the least silence. Which is really incredible to contemplate that those fighters who paid the highest price for freedom by waging guerilla warfare against an imperial army, should turn out to benefit the least from the subsequent political bargaining carried out by a political class ostensibly representing their interests. I don't think I've seen a more striking example of neo-colonialism in action.


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