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When colonial powers declared a prayer to be seditious

British soldiers during Mau Mau operation in 1950s. [File, Standard]

 

As opposition to White rule gained a foothold in Kenya, the colonial government found itself fighting off fires on different fronts. Various local groups,  among them the East African Association (EAA) led by Harry Thuku, had emerged in the early 1920s to oppose White supremacy.

EAA had morphed from the Kikuyu Central Association that carried a tribal tag. The formation of the EAA was to give the struggle a more national outlook.

But Thuku was a rabble-rouser and used the new association as a platform for hard-hitting messages to the authorities.

Among the demands that he put through were: that Kenya should not be a colony but a free African country; return of all lands taken away from African families; abolition of the kipande system of identification; that no cattle should be purchased forcefully by the Whites; and that sexual violation of African women by White men must be punishable by law. As expected, the authorities could hear none of that and Thuku became a marked man. On March 14, 1922, Thuku, together with Waiganjo wa Ndotono and George Mugekenyi were arrested and detained at the Central Police Station. Upon hearing of the arrests, Africans walked from Pangani to the police station, demanding the immediate release of the three. It was here that one Muthoni wa Nyanjiru dared the men to take off their trousers and hand them over to the women if they were unable to storm the station and release the leaders.

The police, aided by White settlers and game hunters watching from the balcony of the nearby Norfolk Hotel, fired into the crowds, killing more than two dozen of the protestors, including Muthoni.

Black organisations in other parts of the world protested the killing, with Marcus Garvey calling a rally in New York and writing a protest letter to British Prime Minister Lloyd George.  In Kenya, however, it was a prayer by Kahuhia Mission Centre that irked the colonialists more.

In the prayer, Gideon Henry Mugo said: “Pray that [the leaders] may not come to harm, since they have been chosen by the Almighty to be our leaders. They have been for us now and not in the past because it is now that we are feeling the slavery, which we did not have before the coming of the Europeans.”  As recorded by Maina wa Kinyatti in the book, History of Resistance in Kenya:1884-2002, the colonial commissioner for Murang’a G. V Maxwell was livid and told his superiors: “The whole tenor of this prayer is to stimulate enmity between the Black and White... This I consider highly seditious.”

Despite the prayers, cruelty to the Africans continued relentlessly while the three leaders were transferred to different detention camps, with Thuku ending up in Kismayo, Somalia.