Ruto more likely to gain from King's visit than freedom fighters

President William Ruto. [PCS]

England’s King Charles III, as the Prince of Wales, travelled widely in what used to be Britain’s expansive empire where, the British claimed, the sun never set.

At its peak, the empire had two racialised aspects, first were those that fell in the created ‘white man’s country’ category at times called ‘dominions’. In the dominions, the white settlers were the colonists with privileges almost equal to the rulers in London based on race.

The notion of dominion virtually grew out of the rebellion in North America that gave birth to the United States of America after which England found it necessary to accommodate their white kinsmen in such far colonies as Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

The second category was that of territories whose existence was for wealth extraction, not necessarily for white settlement, and may be for stopping other Europeans from getting access to certain resources.

Denying access to resources, being an expression of power, creates scarcity which then makes certain commodities in high demand ‘strategic’ to those desiring them.

This fact made the European scramble for Africa an exercise in denying strategic resources and territories to each other as they created colonial states in which they implemented Emmanuel Kant’s idea of ‘thrashing’ Africans into separation.

Some territories had the misfortune of experiencing both the ‘dominion’ dreams for white colonists called settlers and also playing the role of extractive and strategic denial of resources and territories to rival Europeans.

What became Kenya was one of those places where ‘colonists’ had dominion dreams and also served British interests of denying the Germans, the Italians, and the French certain strategic claims in Eastern Africa. The Mau Mau War spoiled the dominion dream and forced independence by removing race as criterion for holding positions.

Given that, in 19th-century geopolitical power play in Africa, Kenya is a British creation to serve the imperial interests of Victoria, great-grandmother to Charles, the king’s visit has aspects of imperial nostalgia.

It awakens colonial demons that Charles might want to expunge and their number seems to increase as assorted peoples demand apologies and compensation for British atrocities on their ancestors. Initially, there was much talk about the need for Charles to address British atrocities on the Mau Mau and about documents carted to Britain.

The very possibility of compensating Mau Mau victims, however, encouraged historians to look for other victims of British atrocities also deserving of potential compensation.

Britain's King Charles III and Queen Camilla leave following a Service of Prayer and Reflection for the life of Queen Elizabeth II at Llandaff Cathedral in Cardiff, Wales, September 16, 2022. [AP photo]

British historian David Anderson is good at promoting such arguments, looking for a forgotten angle in history writing and making compelling cases for inclusion of the excluded. He previously made a strong case for historians to treat home guards well as part of the Kenyan struggle for independence.

He is now promoting the Talai and the associated Orkoiyot who reportedly gave the British nightmares with their supposed power to see the ‘future’. Without discussing atrocities on the Talai, therefore, the Charles visit would fail in its purported purpose of ‘understanding’ British misdeeds in Kenya.

Expunging colonial demons, however, is not the king’s main reason for revisiting Kenya. His is a sentimental visit that rekindles youthful memories of his mother becoming queen while on animal-watching trip in Nyeri.

Memorable things happened, including making young Richard Leakey wonder why, when King George died, white people cried but the Africans showed no emotions and they were not expected to. There was tension and Africans, instead, were getting ready for a violent confrontation that became the Mau Mau War which eventually delivered independence.

The Mau Mau tried to outdo Britain, adopting British military titles, and even crowning their own ‘Mau Mau Queen’ in 1953 to counter Elizabeth’s coronation. The British jailed the Mau Mau Queen but the war continued longer than expected.

The longevity of the War forced two adjustments to colonial policies that de-emphasised the importance of race as a controlling factor. First, colonial atrocities in the detention camps and in the created Ichagi, ‘villages’, intensified as fighting declined with the killing of General Kago wa Mbuku and the capture of China who went on to join Jomo Kenyatta in detention.

The capture of, and subsequent hanging of Dedan Kimathi virtually ended the military aspect of the War and seemed to reinforce home guards who relished the privilege of beating up supposed Mau Mau supporters. “We shall beat you now,” the home guards reportedly boasted, “and beat you more when Uhuru comes.”

The home guards were right because they inherited the colonial state, snatched land from those identified as Mau Mau, and acquired wealth and positions in the transition to post-colonialism. Second, the policy adjustment called for calculated transition by identifying and grooming potential inheritors of state to continue safeguarding British interests in an independent state.

This policy succeeded as the colonial state promoted ‘acceptable’ Africans to become ‘nationalist’ leaders. The acceptable leaders, properly groomed and unwilling to associate with the Mau Mau, inherited the colonial state and looked good because they were black.    

Colonial administrators at a village during the Mau Mau crackdown in the 1950s. [File, Standard]

The transition from whiteness to blackness succeeded in part because since colonialism was racial, anti-colonialism was equally racial. Subsequently, independence removed the ‘colour line’ and made the new black elite, which acquired a lot of land, closer to the British royal family with its big ranches and conservancies.

Given that the new black rulers had close attachment to British institutions, structures, and royalty, they had little desire to associate with the Mau Mau or to question continued English influence. Still, expunging the Mau Mau ‘demon’ remained a constant in Britain’s relations with post-colonial Kenya.

As Prince of Wales, waiting to become king, Charles had visited Kenya many times. As king, his intended visit has aroused speculation as to whether he will apologise for past imperial atrocities on the colonised with some expecting compensation and ‘reparation’.

The visit, however, is not about apologies and compensation or reparations. It is about King Charles and Kenya’s President William Ruto. It is about Charles asserting his presence as head of the Commonwealth and, for sentimental reasons, he might ‘regret’ past misdeeds and offer bits of ‘aid’.

He reportedly will visit Uhuru Gardens Museum which Uhuru Kenyatta built as part of his legacy. It is the place where his father, Prince Philip, handed the instruments of independence to Jomo Kenyatta, Uhuru’s father. It is big enough to accommodate relocation of the misplaced National Archives whose roofs are reportedly leaking and damaging documents.

For sentimental reasons, Charles can appear to be reasonable by agreeing to help return Kenyan documents and artefacts to be housed at Uhuru Gardens. The help would include financing the operations of the new Museum at Uhuru Gardens for an agreed period of time. This would help Charles to kick start his Commonwealth tour on a positive note.

 Besides making Kenya his starting point in his tour as head of the Commonwealth countries, Charles makes Kenya’s Ruto happy. As the host of his royal visitors, Ruto has no Mau Mau baggage or ‘daemon’ to carry or discard and will, instead, get thrilling praises and attention that he likes.

Although he often makes foreign policy mistakes he could avoid, the Charles visit is a political feather in Ruto’s diplomatic hat. While it may not thrill the Mau Mau and those grumbling about apology and compensation, the visit will sooth the increasing national unhappiness with Ruto’s domestic and international performance.

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