In Kenya’s historiography two myths have been accepted as historical facts- Jomo Kenyatta was the undisputed father of anti-colonial struggle, and the Mau Mau were the main, if not the only freedom fighters.
But the dean of Kenya’s history, Prof Bethwel Ogot dismantle both myths eloquently through marshaling of historical fact as a way of reviewing David Anderson’s “Histories of the Hanged: The Dirty War in Kenya and the End of Empire” and Caroline Elkins,” Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain’s Gulag in Kenya” for which she won a Pulitzer in 2006 in nonfiction category. More than Anderson, Elkins came in for serious critique By Ogot regarding her faulty methodology and shaky conclusions.
Kenyatta- the father of anti colonial movement
Ogot illustrate Kenyatta was not only keen in pursuing a military option against the Britain; he was in fact a late entrant of the decolonialisation train. He also provides a nuance that gets lost when Mau Mau is portrayed as a monolithic freedom fighters representing, if not the Kikuyu, but Kenya as a whole in fighting for independence. Ogot writes,
“By 1950 three political blocks have emerged among Kikuyu influence by the redistributive power of the state. Two of the three groups were the conservative block, represented by the chiefs, headmen and senior Christian elders, most of whom were prominent land owners and businessmen, and a moderate nationalists who emerged from the first batch of educated ‘mission boys’ who were westernized in attitudes and style of life and preferred urban life and saw old conservative chiefs as a barrier to progress. Political struggle ensued between these two groups therefore: Kenyatta empitomised the moderate group”… the third group was that of militant nationalists”
Further, Ogot explains,
“two issues have to be resolved: the role of Kenyatta in the Mau Mau war and how to memorialize Mau Mau. The two books have endorsed the now accepted fact that Kenyatta was never a member of Mau Mau, nor was he the Machiavellian, ﬁre-eating, satanic ﬁgure the white settlers had imagined him to be. He was instead a mission-educated gentleman who had preached moderate reform and was a constitutional nationalist both before and after the Mau Mau war. At Lokitaung, he refused to join the National Democratic Party led by Kaggia whose ideology was anti-European and anti-loyalist. He had married a European woman and the daughter of a chief, and because of that, when he was in prison, he was always on the side of the conservatives and the government”
From the above, the label, a leader into darkness and damnation about Kenyatta was born out of British colonial overestimation of Kenyatta.
Mau Mau is the only freedom fighters movement
Ogot explains, Kikuyu’s were not the only people who supported the Mau Mau,
“ The two books under review, and other studies on Mau Mau, refer to camps set aside by the British for non-Kikuyu Mau Mau suspects, particularly Kamba and Maasai. But they never tell us what went on in those camps. We know from the Nairobi archives that a special screening camp set up at the beginning of 1954 found that of the 25,000 Kamba living in Nairobi, 8,000 were recorded by the screening teams as suspects who had taken several Mau Mau oaths, and 17 of them were involved in the forest ﬁght. What happened to them? In Machakos district, the Kamba had formed a resistance organization comprising 3,000 members and by the end of 1954, 170 of them had been arrested for complicity in Mau Mau. In Narok district it was found in June 1954 that 350 Maasai had joined Mau Mau; and some Luo and Gusii from Nyanza had taken the oaths and were in support of the rebels. By mid-July 1954, 4 Luos had been convicted of Mau Mau oﬀences. And a scrutiny of the lists of those detained in the over 100 camps in the country reveal that a good number of them came from non-Kikuyu ethnic groups. We need a study of the detained similar to Anderson’s of the hanged”
He goes into details about other communities, the Nandi’s, the Pokot’s, Luo’s etc all fought British Colonialism– Dini ya Msambwa, Dini ya Mafuta pole ya Africa are just but a few of some of the anti colonial movements
You can read the paper here Review of ‘Histories of the hanged’ & ‘Britain’s gulag’ (2)