Mau Mau against the British Empire
Published Mar 9, 2005 4:05 PM
Has any liberation movement been more
slandered than Kenya's Land and Freedom Army, usually referred to as the Mau
Mau? This term is still used by racists as a club to attack Black
Right-wing columnist Ann Coulter, outraged that Halle Berry won an
Oscar in 2002, complained that this Black artist had "successfully mau-maued her
way to a Best Actress Award."
Former Vice President Daniel Quayle's chief
of staff, William Kristol, said Carol Mosely Braun "mau-maued" the U.S. Senate
when, as the only African Amer ican woman member in the Senate's history, she
stopped a charter renewal for the United Daughters of the
Thousands of Mau Mau guerrillas wrote a heroic chapter in the
book of liberation with their blood. As with the French in Algeria, it was the
armed struggle in Kenya that compelled the British imperialists to grant
independence to their African colonies.
At last, two new scholarly books expose the atrocities the colonial regime committed in suppressing this
freedom struggle: "Imperial Reckoning" by Caroline Elkins and "Histories of the
Hanged" by David Anderson.
Queen Victoria's British Empire declared a
"protectorate" over Kenya and Uganda in 1895. What was being protected was the
theft of the best farmland by a few British settlers. Among them was Lord
Delamere, who stole 160,000 acres.
Machine guns and bayonets forced
African people into "native reserves" modeled on Indian reservations in the
United States. They weren't allowed to grow coffee or other commercial crops. As
in South Africa under apartheid, Africans were forced to carry
Kenya's Kikuyu people, who farmed some of the most fertile land in
the country's central section, were particularly affected.
"We have stolen
his land," confessed Col. Ewart Grogan, a white settler. "Now it is time to
steal his limbs." (Walter Rodney, "How Europe Underdeveloped
Compulsory labor was required of African women and
Building a 582-mile railroad from the Indian Ocean port of Mombasa to
Lake Victoria was key to the exploitation. Some 30,000 workers from
British-occupied India were used. Some 10,000 died or were maimed in the
Occupation sparked resistance. On March 14, 1922, police gunfire
crushed a rally of 8,000 Africans in Nairobi, called to protest the exiling of
Kikuyu leader Harry Thuku.
White settlers standing on the Norfolk Hotel's
porch joined in the shooting. Fifty-eight Africans were
Supporters of this movement formed the Kikuyu Central
Association in the mid-1920s. Jomo Kenyatta, later to be independent Kenya's
first prime minister and president, became editor of the KCA's monthly
newspaper, Muigwathania, in 1928.
Schools became a battleground. "Illiter
ates with the right attitude to manual employment are preferable to products of
the schools," declared the official Beecher Report on Kenyan education in 1949.
At the time, three high schools admitted a total of 100 African students
An independent school movement blossomed in the late 1920s. By
1952, some 50,000 students attended 300 African-controlled schools. The KCA
founded the Githunguri Teachers' Training College.
Kenyatta went abroad in
1929 to represent the KCA in London and didn't return to Kenya until 1946. Pan
African leader George Padmore, then an organizer for the Communist
International, influenced him. Kenyatta also studied briefly in
"When the missionaries arrived, the Africans had the land and the
missionaries had the Bible. They taught us to pray with our eyes closed. When we
opened our eyes, they had the land and we had the Bible," observed
Catholic and Protestant missionaries were as indispensable as
Maxim guns to British colonialism. An Anglican bishop wrote the racist Beecher
However, Kenya's freedom fighters included Christians. Muslims
also joined the liberation struggle. But the official churches lined up
British-appointed "chiefs" and their followers to be informers against the Mau
Army smashes general strike
Many Kikuyu people became
sharecroppers or laborers on white farms, often on the same soil that had been
stolen from their families. Others were forced off the land
The population of the capital city, Nairobi, doubled between
1938 and 1948.
As early as 1930 police shot down strikers at the Uplands
Bacon factory and jailed their leaders. A Kenyan working class was being formed.
By 1948 there were 385,000 African wage workers; their average annual income was
British imperialism press-ganged 75,000 Kenyans to fight in World War
II. Among them was Waruhiu Itote, who was to become known as the Mau Mau's
Like Vietnam veteran Geronimo ji Jaga, who defended the
Los Angeles Black Panther Party office against police attack, or American Indian
Movement leaders who liberated Wounded Knee, these Kenyan vets put their
military skills to good use.
While stationed in India, Itote learned from
an African American GI about how Haitians had risen in a slave insurrection and
defeated Napoleon's armies. He could see for himself that Britain was forced to
depart India and Pakistan in 1947. After the war, the future "General China"
worked as a locomotive fireman in Nairobi's railroad yards.
became president of the Kenyan African Union on June 1, 1947. Trade unionists
were some of the KAU's most militant leaders.
Fred Kubai organized
Nairobi's taxi drivers and became secretary of the Transport and Allied Workers'
Union. Bildad Kaggia was a leader of the Clerks and Commercial Workers Union.
The British would jail both Kubai and Kaggia together with Kenyatta.
with Makhan Singh, Kubai and Kaggia founded the East African Trade Union
Congress on May Day, 1949. The next May Day the EATUC issued a call for
independence and majority rule.
The British imperialist government,
administered by the social-democratic Labor Party, immediately arrested these
union leaders. In response 100,000 Kenyan workers joined a general
Nairobi was paralyzed for nine days. Only a mobilization of the
army and police broke this strike.
EATUC president Fred Kubai was jailed
for eight months. General Secretary Makhan Singh was detained without trial for
Their jailing symbolized the unity of Kenyan workers of Asian
and African origin against colonialism.
Next: Freedom by any means
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