Kenya's betrayed revolution

Issue 

Mau Mau - a revolution betrayed

By Maina wa Kinyatti

Mau Mau Research Centre, New York. $10

Reviewed by Ndungi wa Mungai

Maina wa Kinyatti is the foremost researcher on the Mau Mau in Kenya. In this small book he summarises the most recent findings on this momentous revolution, which spelled the end of colonialism in Africa.

Maina has been made to suffer by the Kenyan government, which would rather have the whole Mau Mau episode forgotten as a nightmare. Those in power know that they cannot acknowledge the role played by the Mau Mau in achieving independence without questioning their own legitimacy. So Maina was jailed for six years and now lives in exile.

While the actual name "Mau Mau" was coined by the English colonial press, Maina states that "it has become synonymous with Kenyan national patriotism and their undying love for freedom and liberty". Mau Mau specifically refers to the bloody struggle waged by the gallant Kenya Land and Freedom Army in the 1950s, which led to the independence in 1963.

The superior weaponry of the British, "Operation Anvil", which rounded up the Kikuyus in Nairobi, one of the support bases, and the arrest of General China finally overcame the Mau Mau. But independence was nevertheless gained as a result of that struggle. Because of the military defeat, however, the power after independence went to conservatives who had done little towards the attainment of independence. Moi, the current president, for instance, is on record arguing that Kenya would not be ready for independence until 1988!

Mau Mau was not the only war of resistance against British imperialism in Kenya. The Giriamas in the coast led by Me Katilili, the Kikuyus in central Kenya led by Waiyaki wa Hinga and the Nandis in the west of Kenya led by Koitalel arap Samoei had waged heroic battles. Mau Mau was therefore the peak of these resistances and, for many Kenyan patriots, remains the most glorious chapter in the history of resistance against exploitation, domination and denial of freedom.

But the Mau Mau struggle has its critics and detractors. Maina has categorised these into three main streams: the imperialist and Christian school of thought, the University of Nairobi school of thought and the chauvinist clique in central Kenya.

Maina demonstrates the clear similarities between the colonial government that tortured and jailed his Mau Mau activist brother and the post-independence government that did the same to him. Kenya has come full circle to the situation that prevailed before Mau Mau. Maina quotes at the end of the book KANU's [Kenya African National Union, the ruling party] reaction to increasing rejection of Moi's dictatorship: "We shall take and rape your wives, you Kikuyus, just as we did during emergency [in the '50s] if you follow multi-party supporters".

After this declaration of war in 1991, many Kikuyus were attacked and killed in the Rift Valley province. It is clear the Moi's government wants another war. The question that demands answers as one reads Maina's book is: What lessons have the Kenyans learned from the Mau Mau? The failure to learn from such an important part of our history would be the real betrayal.