By Ngâangâa Gicumbi
In this book, Mau Mau From Within: An Analysis of Kenyaâs Peasant Revolt, one gets a lucid picture of how Mau Mau operated mainly in the forests of Mt Kenya and Aberdares. As one reads through the book, a clearer picture emerges that the legendary Field Marshal Dedan Kimathi, who was later anointed the premier towards the final months of the rebellion, was not acceptable to all generals. Some severed links with him and independently led their own armies.
In a word, this book debunks the myth that Kimathi was the undisputed leader of the Mau Mau movement and introduces other equally important centres of power throughout the uprising.
This brings me to the issue of the Kikuyu style of political leadership, which has been lost to many political commentators. The Kikuyu, as a collective name for all the tribes around Mt Kenya region, have never had, nay, encouraged a central authority figure to rule over them.
Since time immemorial, their tribal organisational structure, in their five major districts of Murangâa, Meru, Embu, Kiambu and Nyeri, has comprised different layers of competing powers whose authority have been regulated by each of the other powers.
The position of chieftaincy, which the colonialists first introduced in Kikuyu country, was reviled and challenged in equal measure, with a number of high-ranking chiefs assassinated as a result.
As early as 1904, Captain Richard Henry Meinertzhagen (1878-1967) of the Kings African Rifle mentioned this Kikuyu rebellious spirit when he said during his departure from Kenya: "I am sorry to leave the Kikuyu. They are the most intelligent of the African tribes I have met; therefore, they will be the most progressive under European guidance and will be more susceptible to subversion activities. They will be one of the first tribes to demand freedom from European influence and in the end cause a lot of trouble."
In the 1950s, Philip Price, the progressive member for West Gloucestershire made the stunning statement that the Kikuyu minds were undisciplined when he said the following on the floor of the House: "I believe the difficulties of the Kikuyu are the difficulties of a very intelligent tribe; the most able and intelligent of all the tribes in East Africa.
I understand from those who know the Kikuyu well and with whom I have discussed this matter that they are, of all the tribes, seeking something new. They are trying to modernise. They are anxious to obtain education, but their minds are undisciplined...they live a strong, independent type of life in their struggle with nature. They are self-reliant, but they are not easily subjected to discipline..."
This brings me the Gema meeting that raised political steam. One of the covert but potent fears contained in these criticisms is that Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta could use it to shore up his support base in a bid to change the voting patterns ahead of elections.
Although I cannot pretend to speak for Uhuru on this one, but if truth be told, the Kikuyus have never collectively gravitated towards one leader; but around a cause, such as land and freedom, yes.