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Tom Mbotela was set to testify in Jomo Kenyatta’s Kapenguria trial

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By Mbugua Ngunjiri | Feb 22nd 2014 | 4 min read
 Dedan Kimathi. RIGHT: The statue on Kimathi street [PHOTO: FILE]

By Mbugua Ngunjiri

Nairobi, KENYA: A new book in the history of Kenya says that Tom Mbotela, for whom Mbotela Estate in Nairobi is named, had been slated to be the star witness against Mzee Jomo Kenyatta during the Kapenguria Trial.

The book, Kenya: The Evolution of Independence, by RL Collins, calls Mbotela “a brave and resolute opponent of the Mau Mau”.

“Since resigning as the KAU vice-president, he had become a Nairobi City councillor. He was to be a principal witness for the prosecution at Kenyatta’s trial.” 

Mbotela was killed by the Mau Mau on the night of September 26/27, 1952. “Had Mbotela lived to give evidence for the prosecution, no doubt he would have been a compelling witness,” says the book. 

The book says despite being aware that members of the Kikuyu community were taking the Mau Mau oath to agitate for freedom, colonial authorities had initially underestimated Mau Mau’s potential of waging a drawn out war.

The author quotes the then colonial Police Commissioner dismissing Mau Mau as a ‘money-making racket’, “as well as being a racket to terrorise people and to derive gain by the common gangster methods… It is very far from being the case that Mau Mau was universal, even among the Kikuyu. It was true that large numbers of Kikuyu had taken the oath, but I put their number at under 10 per cent.”

Good reason

Even after the Mau Mau rebels waged a bloody seven-year war against the colonial forces that had in their possession far superior weaponry, the author goes out of his way to water down the achievements of the movement.

These are among the many startling ‘revelations’ the book makes, especially on the Mau Mau Movement and the road to Kenya’s freedom. According to the book, Dedan Kimathi and fellow Mau Mau veterans were terrorists.

“Reviled, with good reason, as a terrorist guilty of unspeakable crimes, Kimathi came to be transmuted into a hero,” he writes. “In independent Kenya he has been given recognition as a freedom fighter, and his name is commemorated by one of modern Nairobi’s most prominent streets.”

“…Dedan Kimathi came to loom largest in the public eye, a prominence which owed much to self-publicity,” the book says on Kimathi. “His background was one petty criminality, clerical jobs of short duration and a very brief and unsatisfactory army career which ended in his desertion.”

There is also the suggestion the Mau Mau went to war because they had ‘easy’ access to guns.

“Gun control was completely lax,” says the author. “Registration of arms and ammunition was also incompetently carried out…the Military and Kenya Police kept arms and ammunition in insecure buildings guarded by insecure methods…the acquisition by Mau Mau of arms and ammunition from military, police and civilian sources was comparatively easy…”

It also claims that Kikuyus who suffered the brunt of the Emergency period were happy with the villagisation project that herded members of the community, in Central Kenya, into concentration camp-like villages as the colonialists battled the Mau Mau rebels in the forests of Aberdares and Mount Kenya.

Writes the author: “As predicted, initially, the new villages were resented by those coerced into living in them, but later they came to be accepted.”

This would be the first time someone is saying the villages were a good thing. Even more incredulous, he add, “These villages were welcomed as changed social conditions, often bringing shops and dispensaries, created an improved quality of life.”

According to the book, intelligence reports indicated that the Kikuyu Central Association (KCA), which was at the forefront of African nationalism, took advantage of the outbreak of the Second World War to further anti-government activities.

“…KCA contacts with the Italian consulate in Nairobi. No doubt Italian diplomats saw their own interests served by encouragement of KCA aspirations, naïve as that body must have in assuming an Italian disinterest…” says the book.

By the end of May 1940 the colonial government had enough of the KCA and declared it an illegal society.

The book reveals that by 1938, gold discovered in Kakamega had become Kenya’s second most important export after coffee.

“Miners came from South Africa. In 1941, gold exports were worth 696,000 pounds or 15 per cent of the colony’s exports. At its peak in 1938, the industry had employed about 250 Europeans, over 100 Indians and up to 10,000 African labourers. By 1946, however, god mining had declined to negligible amounts, and it ceased in Kakamega.”

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