When Kenya and Tanzania were sucked into a world war, its indigenous peoples could not understand the representatives of the combatants in East Africa had a queer way of squaring out their differences.
Apparently, when the Germans were routed out of Kenya’s Namanga town by the British soldiers, their soldiers surrendered their big guns but used a more lethal arsenal; the mouth.
A pioneer Kenyan chief, Josiah Njonjo, father to the once powerful Attorney General Charles Njonjo, had hilarious recollections of an encounter of the First World War when the two European superpowers came face to face inside a Maasai Manyatta.
At the height of the war (1914-199), Njonjo senior, who had not yet been employed as a chief and was working in Ngong as a clerical officer at the District Commissioner’s office, was dispatched to buy cattle for meat to feed the British soldiers fighting Germans along the Kenya- Tanzania border.
“During the war, Mr Hodge and I were sent out to buy cattle for our army. It was very difficult because we met Germans and lions in Maasai country."
The senior chief told Anne Thurston and Bradley Martin in Reflections of Early Kenya: An interview with Ex-Senior Chief Josiah Njonjo that during the war, he was based at Namanga where he could see fighting in Longindo.
“I remember one night when we were staying in a manyatta, a Maasai came to tell us that there were Germans in his manyatta. Captain FOB Wilson was with us doing intelligence work. Wilson, the askaris and I went with the Maasai and found a German sergeant major and his men drinking milk.”
The Germans were captured and when Wilson started interrogating him the following morning, the prisoner fired back “Sitaki kusema na bibi (I can't speak with a woman)" Major Brown got angry. "What, me? Bibi?"
According to the chief, the German soldiers’ who were good fighters had lost the First World War in East Africa because of their misuse of local women, whom they had transformed into beasts of burden to ferry heavy loads in the battlefields.
During the Second World War, Njonjo’s perspective of the war widened beyond Namanga and the misused Tanzanian girls for he was transported to foreign lands to witness the power and majesty of the British soldiers.
He recalled: “I was chosen to go to the Middle East to encourage our soldiers. I went with another chief from Kenya, two from Uganda and two from Tanzania. I flew first to Sudan; I went to Cairo, from Cairo I went to Palestine, then Beirut, Tripoli, Damascus, and right up to the Turkish border. I went to Alexandria and EI Alamein is the area where I really saw fighting.”