In Kenya home guards were rewarded, in Algeria they were humiliated

A security guard keeping vigil as women queue in a Mau Mau detention camp. [File, Standard]

These times appear momentous and call to mind past ‘revolutionary’ times.

They included the 1950s when colonial subjects attacked European territorial colonial order in Asia and Africa. In Africa, two of such ‘revolutions’ were in Kenya against the British and in Algeria against the French.

Both captured world imagination as evidence that something wrong had taken place to disrupt good European order in African settings. This was because both had developed as ‘white man’s country’ for the French in Algeria and for the British in Kenya.

After World War II, both France and Britain lost power to the United States and the Soviet Union and were trying to entrench themselves and their prestige in the two colonies as fallback positions. Having lost colonial control in Asia and the Middle East, they desperately wanted to entrench themselves in Africa only for the ‘natives’ to resist.

The subsequent anti-colonial confrontation between subjects and masters, through the Mau Mau and the Algerian wars, transformed perceptions of world order. This week, on July 5, 2022, Algeria will turn 60 years. In post-colonial times, Algerian symbolism is more than its independence.

It represents, like the Mau Mau War, acceptance of violent anti-colonialism as liberation philosophy for dehumanised natives. The Mau Mau War started in October 1952 and shook British comfort in Africa. The FLN started the Algerian War in November 1954 and destroyed the myth that Algeria was France. Both colonial powers mounted torture and assorted brutalities, suppressed information, and recruited ‘native’ collaborators to turn on other natives. These were ‘home guards’ in Kenya and ‘harkis’ in Algeria.

The Hola massacre helped to shame Britain and hastened British departure.

Plaque erected in memory of Mau Mau detainees massacred at Hola.

Similarly, the battle of Algiers helped to shift world attitude against the French; it was an urban war that sent the French into internal commotion and near civil war. The memory of the Algerian War was captured in the 1966 film, 'Battle for Algiers' that has since become a teaching tool on guerrilla warfare, urban and rural, in military academies.

The Mau Mau and Algerian wars had similarities but they also had substantial differences that give Algeria a comparative discourse edge over the Mau Mau. In Kenya, the departing Britons ensured that their home guards were rewarded and became the actual inheritors of the colonial state.

The French abandoned the Harkis to suffer FLN retaliation. Those who fled to Southern France remained outcasts in both France and Algeria so much that French President Emmanuel Macron issued an apology to the Harkis 60 years later. More than the different fortunes of the home guards and the Harkis, were the discourses that followed about the two wars.

As they inherited the post-colonial state, the home guards made Mau Mau a subject of either neglect or intellectual hostility. Dedan Kimathi’s body, the probable Mau Mau high priest, remains somewhere in Kamiti. Some writers like Ngugi wa Thiong’o struggled to contextualise the Mau Mau in Kenyan history but ended up in detention or exile.

While a few Mau Mau participants received Shujaa titles and ‘something, Kenya seemed to be ashamed of its anti-colonial Mau Mau past. In contrast, post-colonial Algeria embraced the Algerian War and made it the essence of its new identity, hosted different ‘anti-imperialists’ like the Polisario, and spread anti-colonial revolution as part of its creed. This post-colonial Algeria’s image was also because it attracted thinkers who justified the Algerian anti-colonial War.

They included Albert Memmi and his 1957 The coloniser and the colonised and most important, Franz Fanon, the psychiatrist gifted with revolutionary pens. Fanon was in the 1958 Anti-Colonial conference in Accra defending the right of colonised people to use violence as an anti-dote to colonial violence. With his 'The wretched of the Earth' reading like revolutionary gospel, Fanon’s popularity as a theoretician is part of the Algerian 60-year revolutionary legacy.