“Stories have to be told or they die,and when they die ,we cant remember who we are or why we are here”-From the Secret Life of Bees By S.M Kidd
In 2003 the ban on the Mau Mau movement was lifted by the then Minister for internal Security Mr Chris Murungaru.This paved the way for registration of the veterans who fought the colonialists to register their group which has allowed them to lodge a case against the British government.The former war veterans are seeking compensation for atrocities committed during the seven year emergency period between 1952 and 1959.The standard newspaper has been providing special reports of Britain’s dirty past and in one article by Patrick Mathangai he says the lifting of the ban on the movement helped end the stigma which was associated with it and which was never recognized by either the President Daniel Arap Moi or his predecessor.
Among notable figures who staged rebellions are Koitalel arap Samoei, the supreme chief of the Nandi who led an 11 year rebellion at the start of the century against British colonial rule.On the 5th of October in 1905 together with his companions he was led to believe that the British government had conceded to a truce and it was under this guise that he met his death at the hands of Col Richard Meinertzhagen .Rupi Mangat wrote an article about this famed Nandi Chieftain in the East African on the 103rd anniversary of Koitalel’s murder.He was among the first Kenyans to actively resist British rule in fight for the rich agricultural land that forms part of the Nandi hills.
Another notable historical figure who rebelled against British rule was Mekatilili wa Medza ,this woman led a one year rebellion between 1914 and 1915 before she was captured and exiled in Mumias from where she returned after 5 years.While there isn’t a lot of history on all the leaders from different tribes who paved the road to independent Kenya with their blood,we can safely assume that it a collective effort from Kenyans of all shades and colors.
The Mau Mau story is just a tip of the iceberg of what is Kenya’s previously unknown history.At the moment the spotlight is on this period in Kenya’s history as a result of the case filed against the British government by four Kenyans and their lawyer Mr Paul Muite.This group is asking for the UK government to be held responsible for the crimes committed against them and their comrade in arms during the emergency period that preceded independence.The four ,Wambugu wa Nyingi,Jane Muthoni Mara,Paul Nzili and Ndiku Mutua all well into their late seventies are seeking justice from the former colonial power at the very least in the form of admissibility.
It was sad to see these men and women bravely holding up their placards without the retinue of supporters that is reserved for political leaders.There wasn’t much coverage of the story on local channels,not even a brief historical look on what led to the uprising.Details that a lot of Kenyans today do not know or even bother about.The accolades have been reserved for the politicians who have used the ordinary Kenyans as pawns in a chess game whose winner is already known.
Looking at a picture of these frail men and woman with their placards outside the Royal Court of Justice,i was reminded of my paternal grandfather who fought in this war.This quiet unassuming man who passed away when i was just 10 years fought alongside his colleagues,was imprisoned,tortured and God knows what else,leaving my grandmother to take care of her four children on her own.I find myself thinking about my grandfather a lot nowadays,he died a poor man with nothing to show except for the stories he regaled my father with on his exploits.It is a pity i was not old enough to fully understand or even comprehend the enormity of what he faced but the faces of these four veterans should compel us to know exactly what happened to these and other heroes who played a big role in shaping our country’s history.
A generation of Kenyans like my father grew up without their fathers,grew up watching and hearing the stories of the killings,tortures that the British meted out on their subjects.By telling the stories of these and other brave Kenyans we may begin t fully grasp where we have come from as a nation.
At the beginning of the 20th century Kenya never existed as a country ,different tribes roamed this vast land and occasionally there were clashes but generally they lived amicably.There is really no Kenyan identity we can speak of and all efforts towards forging an identity have failed dismally.The only thing that seems to unite us is the National anthem yet few us can sing all of the three stanzas of this song that beautiful anthem that borrows from the Pokomo culture.
Kenya became part of the British protectorate of East Africa in 1895,then a colony in 1920.It was these dates in history that spawned the fight for land that have plagued our history to date.This fight for land necessitated relocation of entire tribes so that the white highlands could be reserved for the exclusive use of the white man with the locals serving as sources of cheap labor.
Land was the precious commodity which brought things to a head and culminated with the long drawn out war by the Mau Mau that lasted all of nine years and saw thousands dead and heinous crimes committed on both sides of the warring groups.
In her book “Its Our Turn To Eat”Michela Wrong quotes Cambridge Professor John Lonsdale who says’When it comes to Mau Mau, a terrible pall of silence hangs over Kenyan intellectual life.Kenyan may write their autobiographies,or record the pre colonial histories of their ethnic communities.But they don’t write about the Mau Mau.”This fact is further cemented by the strange coincidence that all histories on these and other movements in Kenya’ s history has all been the work of Western scholars.
The UK guardian in a review of two books (History of the Hanged by David Anderson and British Gulag by Caroline Elkins) that have sought to record this part of history said in part”The British reacted with maximum violence. Unaccustomed to listening to Africans, even “moderate” ones, they could not or would not see political, social or economic causes behind the rebellion. They turned their forces, including heavy bombers, on the forest fighters” The article written on the 5th of February 2005 by Richard Dowden of the Royal African society starts with an announcement by then Labour MP Gordon Brown who after visiting the country that year declared that Britain need not apologize for colonialism.He said in part that we should be very proud of the fact that Britain imparted on us the values of liberty ,virtue and tolerance.
When our country gained full independence on 12th December 1963,we not only inherited great infrastructure,government system and educational institutions that were great boon to a cradle nation.But the government was also saddled with a lot of history that came with injustices committed,tribal animosity ,unfair land distribution and a skewed educational system that is present to date .
When the new constitution was promulgated on the 27th of August last year it replaced the day we previously celebrated as Kenyatta day with Mashujaa day.This was done as a means of celebrating the valiant efforts of the freedom fighters who through out the years sought and fought for our recognition as a sovereign people.While this is commendable what has been forgotten are the stories behind this fights,the need to have equitable distribution of resources among all Kenyans.In simpler terms it was the fight to recognize that every Kenyan is free to won land,operate businesses,gain access to education,good roads,access to health care and basic human rights which unfortunately even today we are still fighting for.While some tribes may have been more active in the walk to freedom than others i am sure some of our founding fathers are turning in their graves at the shame that has become of our country today.
In a strange twist of collective amnesia,the government when launching the Truth,Justice and Reconciliation commission sought to only investigate injustices carried out between 12 th December 1963 to 28th of April 2008.What it fails to do i take into consideration the fact that this free fall of injustices started way before then and the effects are still being felt to date.
By acknowledging our murky past,it may be the way to start the healing that allows us to accept ourselves as a country,made up of different ethnic groups of all shades and colors who find them selves living together a a result of circumstances beyond our control.By having to listen to the stories of the journeys we have made to date,of the injustices wrought out through the years,maybe we may heave a collective sigh of relief knowing that the fight for a better future has to start with every one who calls Kenya home.This has to be done soon because there isn’t any one tribe that has more claim than the other 41 in this country.Each one of the 40 million citizens of this country have an equal stake in the present and the future of this country,no one should feel feel that their stakes are higher than their neighbors.
It is for this reason that i posit that by allowing ourselves to delve into our past,we may be able to lay to rest the ghosts of tribalism,nepotism,corruption and a plethora of other evils that have bedeviled Kenyan society to date.All these evils which are as a result of past injustices need to become past tense as we strive to heal our country .
We need to tell of the brave men and women who fought for our self governance as a country,by sharing our different pasts we may see the way towards building a common future.A future that will ensure that every Kenyan regardless of tribe,race or political affiliation is able to move freely within the 582,650 sq kilometers that make up this country.
For far too long we have played the politically correct card by choosing to forget where we have come from but in our quest to bury the past,its ghosts have come to haunt us.This is clearly seen in the way communities have treated the recent relocation of IDP’S,the Mau Forest evictions and in the land clashes of the 90’s.
A generation of Kenyans who hold a wealth of information on this country are getting advanced in years,And with their passing they will carry untold stories of this country that would do much in healing the divides and prejudices we still old about each other.I have yet to hear of any Kenyan film maker who has ought to put these epic stories on film,our writers have failed at this too,none have sought to document our country tumultuous history.We have become obsessed with the intrigues of the day and we have forgotten that every story has a beginning …..