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Colonialists were terrorists, honour Mau Mau veterans

By Daisy Maritim Maina | October 19th 2019

There are two types of shujaas. One advocated for independence gained through constitutional means, and the other waged a liberation war. The stories of the constitutional side have often been told and glorified. The other side -- the Mau Mau story -- does not get the same attention.

In fact, the most misunderstood, misrepresented and misjudged shujaa is the Mau Mau warrior. The history of the military wing of the freedom struggle is an intriguing story that deserves to be told.  

In truth, the Mau Mau waged war against a far superior enemy in terms of firepower. The Kenyan colonial government had convinced London that the Mau Mau was a deadly movement, which used witchcraft in its activities. The urgent briefs sent to the colonial capital reported that the ‘black magic’ was in the oathing rituals which the Mau Mau administered. And that this ‘madness’ had taken over the population.

They reported that the Mau Mau were brain washing the blacks against the colonial government. These accusations worked. London perceived the Mau Mau movement as an existential threat to their empire project. Britain therefore sent troops, tankers, weaponry and fighter aircraft to do battle with what they thought was a ‘peasant army’.

The accusations of witchcraft was only one of the ways the British used to discredit the Mau Mau movement. Another way was by stripping it of its real name: The Kenya Land and Freedom Army. The colonialists suppressed the use of this name as a means of delegitimising the cause of the struggle. They were keen on making the Mau Mau look like terrorists, not freedom fighters.

Unfortunately, even some Kenyans to this day buy into that damaging narrative. But between the colonialist and the Mau Mau, who really is the terrorist?

Is a terrorist defined by how many people they have killed? If that is the definition, the Mau Mau are said to have killed about 1,000 people, including 32 settlers. But the colonialist killed upwards of 11,500 Africans. This number is only what is recorded during the years of the State of emergency. Many studies indicate that the number of Kenyans who died in the hand of the colonial security forces is grossly under-reported.  Who then is the terrorist?

Is a terrorist defined by why they kill? The Mau Mau’s cause was to regain their land and freedom, which was forcefully taken away from them. The colonialist cause was to retain what they had taken from the Africans, and maintain their economic extraction in the country and continent. Who is the terrorist?

Is a terrorist defined by how they kill the people they kill? The Mau Mau hacked suspected loyalists, settlers and soldiers with pangas. The colonialists hanged, shot, bludgeoned, whipped, tortured, chopped, burned and dragged people to death.

By the time the British declared the state of emergency, the colonial security forces had orders to shoot on sight. All black men, especially were targets. Young British soldiers were given quotas of black people to kill, with some regiments offered a cash prize of five pounds per black person killed.

Who is the terrorist?

The Mau Mau oath was vilified and illegalised by the colonial government. But the British soldiers also took oaths, pledging allegiance to the Queen and swearing to obey orders. Both took oaths to defend their nations. Again, who is the terrorist?

The independence struggle is clouded with conjecture history, much of which does not add up. The British for instance claimed to have contained the Mau Mau in 1954. They had effectively announced victory. But if that were true, why was the State of Emergency not lifted until January 1960, six years later?

- The writer is a PhD candidate in political economy at SMC University. [email protected] 

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