As the world celebrates 100 years since the end of First World War with events lined up in Taita-Taveta, a lot of home truths may have to be digested. There are lessons to be learnt by Africans, especially Kenyans, who turned out to be cannon fodder in a war they knew little about.
Although there are a number of well-manicured cemeteries with names of white soldiers who died in the war, Kenya may never know how many sons it lost in battle. Historians differ on actual death toll of Africans but are in agreement that thousands died from bullet wounds, in bomb explosions and through diseases.
One can only imagine how a contingent of spear-wielding soldiers from Kitui fared in the face of superior firepower of the Germans. Taita-Taveta and Kisii counties were hard-hit when they were overran by Germans who crossed over from Tanzania and momentarily drove out the British. When the British and her allies triumphed, there was nothing to celebrate for Africans who watched in awe as their land was gifted to returning white soldiers. When Africans demanded pension and compensation for those wounded in the war, they were told they did not qualify. The levels of human rights violations that took place in the conflict were unprecedented. In fact, to families that bore the heaviest brunt, events of 1918 are as fresh as yesterday’s.
We believe this week’s announcement by British government that it plans to set up a fund to support families of African soldiers who died in WWI is timely. However, it begs the question: Why has it taken Britain a century to think of compensating Africans whose relatives disappeared, were maimed or killed during the war? What about the victims of the Second World War?
While the two wars of 1914 and 1935 have taught us why the world cannot afford a third war, Africa should learn to never again sacrifice her sons and daughters to other people’s conflict. A conflict-free world order is what everyone needs.