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Kenya's War of Independence


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Kenya's War of Independence restores Kenya’s stolen history to its rightful place, stripped of colonial interpretations. In this expanded and revised version of his 1986 booklet, Kimaathi, Mau Mau's First Prime Minister of Kenya, Durrani covers Mau Mau’s resistance to colonialism and neo-colonialism and reflects on its ideology, organisation and achievements. He sees Mau Mau in the larger context of Kenya’s war of independence and looks at the influence of organised, radical trade unions as the engine of resistance, linking economic with political demands of working people. Additional chapters document the post-independence resistance by the underground December Twelve Movement-Mwakenya. Durrani captures the dynamism of transition from colonialism to neo-colonialism: “Imperialism replaced colonialism, African elites replaced White Settlers, neo-colonial government replaced colonial government. Resistance changed from the War of Independence to War of Economic Independence. Worker and peasant resistance is evident once again. History is on the march”.



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Kenyas War of Independence restores Kenya’s stolen history to its rightful place, stripped of colonial
interpretations. In this expanded and revised version of his 1986 booklet, Kimaathi Mau Maus First
Prime Minister of Kenya Durrani covers Mau Mau’s resistance to colonialism and neo-colonialism
and re ects on its ideology, organisation and achievements. He sees Mau Mau in the larger context
of Kenya’s war of independence and looks at the in uence of organised, radical trade unions as the
engine of resistance, linking economic with political demands of working people. Additional
chapters document the post-independence resistance by the underground December
Twelve Movement-Mwakenya.
Durrani captures the dynamism of transition from colonialism to neo-colonialism: “Imperialism
replaced colonialism, African elites replaced White Settlers, neo-colonial government replaced
colonial government. Resistance changed from the War of Independence to War of Economic
Independence. Worker and peasant resistance is evident once again. History is on the march”.
e movement Mau Mau was radicalised by a militant leadership that emerged from the trade union
movement in Nairobi the fact is that without their participation a sustained revolt would
not have been possible” Š Newsinger ”2006–‚
is booklet along with such classic accounts as Barnetts and Njamas Mau Mau From Within is a
€tting tribute to the pioneers in the struggle against imperialism and their martyred leader Dedan
Kimaathi” Egil Hjelmervik Fight Racism Fight Imperialism …1993‰ Š Review of Durranis Kimaathi
Mau Maus First Prime Minister of KenyaŒ
Compensation for what happened may be paid an apology may be given but the lives lost the villages
burnt the reign of terror the British imposed in a colonial era that was rapidly approaching
the sunset will never be forgotten” Š Jeremy Corbyn ”2012–‚
Shiraz Durrani, a British-Kenyan library science professional, is noted for his writings on the social
and political dimensions of information and librarianship. His other books include Never Be Silent
Publishing and Imperialism in Kenya 18841963 (2006); Information and Liberation Writings on the
Politics of Information and Librarianship (2008); Progressive Librarianship Perspectives from Kenya
and Britain 1979-2010 (2014). In 2016, Durrani edited Makhan Singh A Revolutionary Kenyan
Trade Unionist‚ He is currently compling another book to be published in 2018: Pio Gama Pinto,
„e Assasinated Hero of the AntiImperialist Struggle in Kenya 19271965‚
By Shiraz Durrani
450 1
Shiraz Durrani
Kenya’s War of IndependenceKenya’s War of Independence
Mau Mau and its Legacy of Resistance to Colonialism and
Shiraz Durrani
P.O Box 62501-00200
Nairobi. Kenya
info.vitabkske@gmail.com; info@vitabooks.co.uk
Distributed Worldwide by:
African Books Collective
PO BOX 721
Oxford, OX1 9EN
Copyright ©: Shiraz Durrani 2018
ISBN 978-9966-1890-1-1 (Paper)
ISBN 978-9966-1890-2-8 (eBook)

To all those who lost their limbs, livelihoods and lives in the struggle for the
liberation of Kenya.
To those who have continued the struggle to this day.
To the youth of Kenya, East Africa, and the world who are seeking solutions to
ending exploitation, domination, oppression, inequality, and unjust distribution of
resources of the planet.
May the future bring justice and liberation.May the future bring justice and
The picture shows armoured cars parading the streets of Nairobi during the general
strike of 1950, when the Kenya Government used tear gas, baton charges, Auster
“spotter” aircraft, R.A.F. planes, Bren-gun carriers, armoured cars and police in
order to break the strike and destroy the East African Trade Union Congress.
Picture and caption from WFTU (1952).
Photos from Nazmi Durrani photo collection; WFTU (1952); Umoja;
Kenya National Archives; Mwakenya; Africa Events, Kenya Committee
for the Release of Political Prisoners; Khamis Ramdhani; Oswaggo;
Saleh Mamon and the Kenya Land and Freedom Depository for permission
to reproduce the Timeline; Various sources as listed in Appendices for
Kimani Waweru for research support.
Cover Design by Heavyconcious Art Movement - pittzmaine@gmail.com
Design and Layout by Vincent Uba
Cell: +254724 592 309. www.vumacoolgraphics.com
AWF African Workers Federation (1947)
COTU Central Organisation of Trade Union
DTM December Twelve Movement
EAA East African Association (1921) formerly: Young Kikuyu
EATUC East African Trade Union Congress (1949)
Homeguards Colonial Government created the Homeguards made up of
loyalists to colonial government. By 1954, the numbered
25,000 and were issued with rifes and shotguns. Many used
their power to abuse civilians, but the Colonial Government
overlooked atrocities committed by Homeguards as they
represented African opposition to Mau Mau. (Maxon and
Ofcansky, 2000)
KAIF Kenya Anti Imperialist Front
KASU Kenya African Study Union (1944)
KAU Kenya African Union (1946)
KCA Kikuyu Central Association (1926); Proscribed in 1940;
reactivated as KAU
KDC Kenya Defence Council (1953)
KFL Kenya Federation of Labour
KFLA Kenya Land and Freedom Army
KKM Kiama Kia Muingi
KP Kenya Parliament (1954)
KPU Kenya Peoples’ Union (1966-69)
LTUK Labour Trade Union of Kenya
LTUEA Trade Union of East Africa (1937)
MWAKENYA Muungano wa Wazalendo wa Kukomboa Kenya (Union of
Patriots for the Liberation of Kenya).
NFD North Frontier District/Province
NPP Northern Peoples’ Party
ODK Organisation for Democracy in Kenya (Sweden)
5PALIAct Progressive Library and Information Activists’
Group (details at:
Passive Wing The term often used to describe those who supported armed
resistance led by Mau Mau. The preferred term in this book
is “people’s forces” which includes all those who were part
of Mau Mau but did not engage in armed resistance, e.g. see
the roles under the section “Women”.
People’s Forces See “Passive Wing” above.
Settlers Refers to Settlers from Britain and other European countries
and from Southern Africa who settled in Kenya. The terms
“White Settlers” and “European Settlers” are also used in
this book.
SYL Somali Youth League
TJRC Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission
TUC British Trades Union Congress
Uhuru Independence
UKENYA Umoja wa Kupagania Demokrasia na Umoja Kenya
(Britain); Movement For Unity and democracy in Kenya (Britain)
UMOJA United Movement for Democracy in Kenya
USA United States of America (often incorrectly referred to as
West Asia Sometimes incorrectly referred to as “Middle East”
YKA Young Kikuyu Association (1921). Changed to EAA
The author is aware that the correct Gĩkũyũ spelling for Kimathi and
Kimathi wa Waciuri should be “Kĩmathi” and “Kĩmathi wa Waciũri,”
respectively and would have preferred to use these versions in recognition
of the imperative of indigenous self-naming. However, since most search
engines use the former spelling, this publication has opted to keep to it in
the interest of accessibility.
Abbreviations & Terminology 5
Introduction 11
Foreword by Dr. Willy Mutunga 13
Mau Mau and the Struggle for Land and Freedom 36
Historical Context: Imperialism and Resistance 39
Three Pillars of Resistance 43
Explosion Inevitable - Resistance Before Mau Mau 54
Resisting Colonial Violence 61
Resistance in Northern Kenya: The Somali Nationality 64
Contradictions Sharpen: Settlers & Homeguards Create Chaos 69
The Necessity For Armed Resistance 72
Terrorists or Freedom Fighters? 75
Illustrations 1: Colonial Violence 80
Trade Unions Light A Spark 82
Trade Unions and Mau Mau 82
Organising for Economic and Political Rights 88
Classes and Class Struggle 95
Enter Makhan Singh 102
Kenya’s TUs in the Context of TU Struggles in Africa 108
Workers and Peasants Unite for Armed Resistance 110
Illustrations 2: Trade Unions 113
PART 2: MAU MAU, 1948-1960 115
Mau Mau, The Revolutionary Force 115
Preparations for Armed Struggle 115
The War Begins 120
The Establishment of Liberated Territories 122
The Birth of Kenya Defence Council (1953) 127
7The Kenya Parliament Takes Control - Kimathi is Prime Minister (1954) 133
Elements of Mau Mau Governance 137
Anti-Imperialist Ideology 137
Organisation 140
Strategy 142
Infrastructure 146
Politics of Information 150
Leadership 180
A Movement of All People 183
Women 188
The Kamba Nationality 193
The Maasai Nationality 196
South Asian Kenyans 200
Illustrations 3: Mau Mau 214
The Final Stage: Battles Lost, Battles Won 221
Forces of Repression 224
Primary Aim 228
Possible Shape of a Mau Mau Government 235
Reparation 237
Neo-colonialism, the Legacy of Colonialism 239
A Prison Without Walls 241
Sina Habari, Mwanangu: I have No News, My Child 246
A Brief Recap 248
Independence but “Not Yet Uhuru” 277
December 12th - Poem by Nazmi Durrani 278
Opposition Continues 283
Worker Resistance 286
Peasant Resistance 291
Student Resistance 294
Underground Organised Resistance 303
December Twelve Movement 303
Mwakenya 309
Resistance goes Overseas: the Birth of Umoja 314
Kenya Committee For the Release of Political Prisoners 317
Illustrations 4: Underground & Overseas Resistance 322
Conclusion: Uhuru Bado 336
References & Bibliography 342
A: Jeremy Corbyn: The Fight for Justice Continues 361
B: Selected Documents 365
The Struggle For Kenya’s Future (1972) 365
Kimathi’s Truce Offer (1953, An extract) 373
The Kenya Terror (1953) 374
The Land & Freedom Army Letter (4-4-1955) 378
C: Research Aid 381
Saleh Mamon (2014): Kenya Resistance, Repression & Revolt: A Timeline 381
Ladislav Venys (1970): Mau Mau, A Chronological Outline – A Selection 408
Shiraz Durrani (1997): The Other Kenya: Underground and Literature 414
Maina wa Kinyatti (1978): Foreword, Ndegwa’s Mau Mau Bibliography 434
South African History Online – Towards a People’s History 436
Marx, Karl and Frederich Engels (1850): Address to the Central Committee 437
The Kenya Land & Freedom Depository 438
Index 440
9Not Sitting Idly
As is the nature of all foreign occupations, the basic reason for all these
invasions was economic exploitation of the local wealth and resources. But
a free people who have been conducting and running their own affairs for
centuries before the advent of foreigners couldn’t be expected to sit idly by
and witness their dignity and sovereignty being trampled - Umoja (1987a).
The Creators of Fragrance and Colour
The earth belongs to those
Who soak the soil with their sweat
Under the open skies;
Who, with the warmth of their blood,
Make fertile the earth
Whose touch
Makes the earth’s silence to speak
Who seed the land and harvest the crop
But are left without even a loaf of bread.
The ones toughened by toil
Who never say no to work,
Are the creators of all this fragrance and colour.
- Ahmad Faraz
1 “Hungry man, reach for the book: it is a weapon” - Bertolt Brecht
“Such a lot is won when even a single man gets to his feet and says No” ―
2Bertolt Brecht, Galileo
1 Available at: https://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/26853.Bertolt_Brecht
[Accessed: 16-10-17].
2 A
his book brings together two strands of writing on aspects of Kenya’s
history. The frst, dealing with Mau Mau, started as a short article Tpublished in 1984 for Sauti ya Kamukunji, a publication of the Student
Union of the University of Nairobi. It then saw new life in the booklet, Kimaathi,
Mau Mau’s First Prime Minister of Kenya (Vita Books, 1986). This version
continued circulating underground in Kenya and later formed the basis of a talk in
London. A revised version was then published in the Communist Review Nos. 67-69
(2013). New sections have been added to it over the years.
The second strand, that dealing with resistance after Kenya’s independence in 1963,
is based on two papers: one, entitled: “Pambana” - The Legacy of Resistance in
3Kenya, 1963-68” and “Voices of Resistance: Underground Publishing in Kenya,
1963-1990”, an unpublished paper written in 1990 for Umoja in London.
I believe that this long journey that this book has taken refects the need for material
for general readership in Kenya on the anti-colonial and anti-imperialist struggles
by people of Kenya. Thus, one of the aims of the book is to present this history
from the perspective of the working-class and to make it available to people in
Kenya – in particular the young people – and elsewhere. Most histories available
through educational institutions, the mass media or other easily available
sources refect Kenya’s history either from the perspective of colonialism or
imperialism or from the perspective of the ruling elites after independence.
This book makes no claims to such “neutrality” but is focused on looking at
this history from the point of view of ordinary, working-class people trying
to resist exploitation and oppression. It aims to make academic and other
research more accessible to the general reader.
3 “Pambana” - The Legacy of Resistance in Kenya, 1963-68). Presentation at the Review of
African Political Economy Conference, Liverpool, 1986. It was to have been included
in the proposed publication, “Liberation Struggles in Africa. A Collection of Papers
from ROAPE Conference, 1986”.
11The style of the book refects the aim of making it an accessible version of
a part of history that is not easily available to the readers in Kenya. Long
quotes are provided from various sources so that the voices of those who were
directly involved are allowed to narrate history, and by using these sources
in this way, this is an attempt to highlight documents and records that may
not be easily available for political or economic reasons to many in Kenya.
It is hoped that using these resources in this way will encourage readers
to seek them directly for themselves so that they can build a true picture
of the history of Kenya. Some of these documents are already available
in the newly established PALIAct Liberation Library in Nairobi, set up by
4PALIAct with the support of Vita Books and Mau Mau Research Centre.
It is expected that over time, more of the items listed in the References and
Bibliography of this book will be deposited there.
4 The Progressive African Librarian and Information Activists’ Group (PALIAct). Further
details on PALIAct available at: http://vitabooks.co.uk/projects-for-change/paliact/.
Dr. Willy Mutunga, D.Jur,SC,EGH. Former Chief Justice/President,
Supreme Court of Kenya
In writing Foreword to this patriotic and revolutionary book I can do no
better than reproduce some excerpts from a Lecture I delivered at the British
Institute of East Africa in Nairobi. I delivered the Lecture on February 18,
2017 on the 60th Anniversary of the hanging by the British of the Field
Marshall Dedan Kimathi wa Waciuri. Dedan Kimathi was the leader of the
Land and Freedom Movement and the Land and Freedom Army, both of
the Mau Mau War of Independence, 1952-1957. The title of the Lecture is
“Devolution: The Politics and Jurisprudence of Equitable Distribution of
National Resources” which is available on the Website of the Institute.

I: Remembering Dedan Kimathi wa Waciuri
Sixty years today Dedan Kimathi was hanged at Kamiti Maximum Security
Prison. In an ASA Conference in Washington DC last December Kenyan and
foreign scholars participated in a panel on Dedan Kimathi and discussed his
trial that took place sixty years ago. The panel was attended by Professors
Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Micere Mugo who were among the panelists.
While serving as the 14th Chief Justice and 1st President of the Supreme
Court of Kenya I was privileged to receive a fle of court records of the
Kimathi Trial, appeal, and the record of his execution from Professor Julie
McArthur of University of Toronto. Professor McArthur has also kindly
given us the Kimathi photographs displayed in this room. I was privileged
also to hand over the copies of the fle to Kimathi’s widow, Mukami, and her
family. I also handed over another copy of the fle to the Mau Mau Veterans
Association that is led by Shujaa Gitu wa Kahengeri.
13Kimathi fought for the land that the British stole from Kenyans. His
struggle was national. It has now become clear that the Mau Mau War of
Independence was a multi-ethnic, multi-racial, and nationalist project. One
cannot discuss the politics of devolution without discussing the politics of
land in the counties. One cannot discuss the jurisprudence of devolution
without addressing the colonial jurisprudence that our 2010 Constitution has
sought to decolonize. As our politics and jurisprudence have to face up to
the challenges of neoliberalism both have to confront the politics of national
interest that is limited by neoliberal global forces.
Two clarion calls by Kimathi for the struggle for land and freedom remain
relevant to our discussion today. Repeating a sentence in phrase of two
sentences in the signature Spanish Civil War exhortation of the great Basque
revolutionary from an earlier period, Dolores Ibarruri, he declared, “It is
better to die on our feet than to live on our knees.” The other sentence
that Kimathi left out was; “They shall not pass.” In one of his letters
written in 1955 from his Nyandarua headquarters he stated that “only the
revolutionary justice of the struggles of the poor can end poverty of the
Kenyans.” Clearly, neither Kimathi nor the British left Kenya. My Lecture
today historicizes and problematizes some of the ongoing struggles that
pertain to the implementation of devolution under the vision of the 2010
Constitution. Indeed, the title of one of Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s think pieces
Mau Mau is Coming Back: The Revolutionary Signifcance of 20 October
1952 in Kenya Today (Journal of African Marxists) now becomes one of the
burning questions of our time.
The agitation for a heroic burial for Kimathi has been sporadically, but
consistently, going on since independence. It has always been assumed
that both the British and Kenyan governments know where his remains are
in Kamiti Maximum Security Prison. None of the governments has been
helpful in this endeavour. The Grand Coalition government headed by
President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila acceded to putting up of a
statue of Kimathi at the junction of Mama Ngina Street and Kimathi Street
in the central business district in Nairobi.
The struggle to give Kimathi a heroic burial continues. One of the locations
for his burial has been identifed at the Uhuru Park facing Jomo Kenyatta’s
Mausoleum. Traditional religionists, and Kenyan revolutionaries, continue
14to tell us that Kimathi’s spirit in captivity continues to wail for freedom.
His heroic burial would be a ftting tribute to the words and spirit of the
Preamble to our 2010 Constitution We, the people of Kenya- HONOURING
those who heroically struggled to bring freedom and justice to our land: We
would be breathing into life the patriotic words of our Preamble if we dig
up his remains and give him a heroic burial at the Freedom Corner of Uhuru
Park, Nairobi.
I believe I have a reason why both the British and Kenyan governments
(and their respective ruling classes) have not been useful in the six decades
campaign for the search of Kimathi’s remains and a national heroic burial
for him. It must be the fear that his shrine will be a living and shining symbol
of our land and freedom struggles, going forward. Such a struggle is
antiimperialism and also against its comprador agents in Kenya.

iv: Conclusion: the Politics of Humanity
In this discussion on the jurisprudence and politics of devolution around the
devolution of political power and equitable national resources, we should
pay attention to issues that are apparent, but rarely analyzed. These are what
I have alluded to as the politics and jurisprudence of national interest and
public participation. Both are drivers of making clear that elite projects at the
centre and at the counties are subjected to the sovereignty of the will of all
Kenyans. They also will reinforce the role of the judiciary as a fundamental
institution in the issue. Through public participation in the implementation
of decisions of the judiciary, the Judiciary will become a political actor as
envisaged by the Constitution. State power will be devolved to the majority
of the Kenyan people. Constitutional vision that all sovereign power belongs
to the Kenyan people could become a reality, signaling our rebellion, reform,
and revolutionary restructuring of national, regional, and global status quo.
I end where I began. I pose the question whether Mau Mau is coming
back? I believe we can discern a trajectory of resistance since colonial
period, through the neocolonial independent era, that continues into the
neoliberal era. The economic, social, political, cultural, intellectual, and
ideological contexts of course have been dialectical. The broad common
15denominator has been the search for a just and equitable planet in which
resources are equitably shared among the citizens of the world. Socialism
and social democracy as alternatives to neoliberalism may have collapsed
(depending on the lack of consensus on what really collapsed), but the
vision that capitalism (imperialism and neoliberalism)/globalization is a
just and equitable system has never captured the imagination of the global
citizens. Otherwise, the struggle would not have been continuous even after
the system made concessions. New imagination of change by invoking the
past revolutionary paradigms (based on ruthless criticism and building on
lessons learnt) do exist since neoliberalism’s fnancial meltdown of 2007-9,
and which has not ended. I agree with Samir Amin and other revolutionary
organic intellectuals that the new struggles against global status quo will
revolve around solidarities of the citizens of the Global North and Global
South. The World Social Forum (WSF) slogan, Another World is possible is
the revolutionary optimism of our times.
Dr. Willy Mutunga
14th Chief Justice of Post-Independence Kenya & the First President of the
Supreme Court of Kenya
November 2017
ome studies on Mau Mau see history in almost watertight compartments
with very few connections between different compartments and Shistorical stages. This gives a warped view of history. In the context
of Kenya, this approach sees Mau Mau in isolation from the history of
resistance to colonialism by the people of Kenya from the earliest days of
British - and before that, Portuguese - colonialism. Seen from this narrow
perspective, Mau Mau appears on the scene out of the blue in a sudden
realisation that colonialism had taken over the country and needed to be
expelled by force.
In contrast to this common view, this book reports the historical resistance
of the people of Kenya against colonialism and imperialism, during a long
War of Independence and liberation with many different stages. These
range from the peasant and nationality resistance in earlier period of British
colonialism, to resistance by various nationality-based organisations,
followed by resistance by country-wide organisations. This continuing
process of resistance saw a qualitative change when organised working
class, led by militant trade unions, added a new dimension to the struggle:
that of national resistance by organised trade unions guided by anti-capitalist
and anti-imperialist ideologies. There was a realisation that economic,
political and social demands could only be met as part of the struggle
against capitalism and imperialism, thereby combining the economic and
political aspects of the war of independence. It was when workers’ struggle
and militant national political struggles came together that a new phase of
the War of Independence began. This armed resistance movement, which
came to be known as Mau Mau with its political and economic demands ,
was summarised as Land and Freedom.
It is interesting to note that the cry for “land and freedom” that defned Mau
Mau was also the slogan used during the Russian Revolution, as documented
17in the posters in the State Central Museum of Russian Contemporary History.
Some of these are reproduced below from Panflova (2017) as they show the
similarities of demands. The slogan “Land and Freedom” was a key demand
in both the revolutions. The Russian one added “Only in battle will you
obtain your rights!” – something that Mau Mau also took to heart in action.
“Armed men hold slogans reading: ‘Land and Freedom!’ and ‘Only in battle
will you obtain your rights!’” - Panflova (2017).
Panflova (2017) explains the poster:
This comes from the leftist publishing
house Parus, founded before the
revolution by writer Maxim Gorky.
Their posters were often created by
famous poets and artists such as
Vladimir Mayakovsky and Alexei
Radakov. The top image shows a
soldier defending the bourgeoisie with
the caption “This is who the soldier
used to defend”. The second,
postrevolutionary, image features banners
bearing the slogans, “Land and
freedom!”, “Democracy and the
Republic!” and “Liberty!” The caption
reads: “That’s who he defends today”.
It is diffcult to decide whether such
18slogans infuenced Mau Mau, but it is clear that the demands of both
movements were refected in the slogan, “Land and Freedom”.
This new stage started roughly after the Second Imperialist World War, but
this was reached as a result of learning from the experiences, the lessons
and the suffering of the earlier struggles. The primary lesson was that
peaceful means of opposing colonialism and imperialism would not lead
to meaningful change and that armed resistance was necessary. Thus, Mau
Mau’s resistance is linked to these earlier struggles, just as, too are the
struggles after independence. And so in the post-independence period, there
started yet another phase of the war of liberation - the War of Economic
Independence. This was again waged as political and economic resistance,
but this time it was against the comprador regime installed by the departing
colonial government as neo-colonialism tightened its grip on Kenya. British
administration, Settlers and companies were replaced by US corporations
and “advisers” aided by IMF and World Bank offcials.
This resistance against neo-colonialism and imperialism continues over 50
years after independence. This book examines Mau Mau movement and one
aspect of post-independence resistance — that undertaken by the December
Twelve Movement and Mwakenya - as an indication that this resistance, like
the ones against the colonialism, is likely to be long and diffcult, perhaps
bloody, if pro-people changes cannot be made peacefully.
What’s in a Name?
Imperialism controls the concepts, the consciousness and terms people use to
describe their ideas and experiences. If people lack the language to describe
reality, they cannot understand the relevant links and connections attached
to that reality, nor can they fully resist forces that are against their interest.
Imperialism agrees to call USA’s struggle for independence as its War of
Independence. Algeria’s struggle against French colonialism is sometimes
seen today as its War of Independence. But colonialism and imperialism
decided that Kenya’s struggle was not its war of independence. For example,
the Guidance by the British Department of Education (Gt. Brit. Dept.
Education, 2013) mentions only the American War of Independence and
19no similar mention is made of struggles against the British Empire by other
colonies, including Kenya. It is interesting to note that none of the wars of
independence against British colonialism in Africa or India are called by
their real names. This is no accident, as colonialism deemed that giving
these struggles their real name — wars of independence — which refects the
key message and meaning, the very essence of the fght would not only give
legitimacy to these struggles but would also encourage other colonised and
oppressed people to carry out their own wars of independence and liberation.
They were thus referred to as emergencies (as in Kenya) or as dealing with
communist insurgencies (as in Malaya-Malaysia). It is no wonder that
the Mau Mau’s struggle was not called Kenya’s War of Independence as
colonialism decided that it had nothing to do with independence, everything
to do with primitive people going mad in a frenzy of violence. Barber (2004)
provides the economic reason why the name “emergency” was preferred to
the term “War” in the case of Malaya:
A War or an Emergency? - It was a war but there was a curious reason
why it was never called one. As the author John Gullick … points
out, ‘It was a war - though out of regard for the London insurance
market … no one ever used the word’. This misnomer continued
for twelve years, for the simple reason that insurance rates covered
losses of stocks and equipment through riot and civil commotion in
an emergency, but not in a civil war.
That colonialism and imperialism manipulate language to misrepresent history
is, perhaps, understandable. The wonder is when the newly independent
countries also continue to avoid the term “war of independence”. It is,
however, not just the wars themselves that were not given their appropriate
name. The combatants were also given derogatory names to create an
incorrect impression of their motives for fghting. The most common term
used was “terrorists”, indicating that the term is not a recent invention
by US governments but that it was used and popularised by British - and
other - colonial powers. Again, the Malayan (Malaysian) usage of terms
for combatants by British colonialism is relevant. The guerrilla fghters
there were initially referred to as bandits, but later called terrorists (Barber,
2004). The wars against “terrorists” by colonialism and imperialism are an
important aspect of their need to deny people their liberation. India faced
20a similar fate when the British colonialism trivialised their First War of
Independence (1857) by calling it the Sepoy Mutiny (Tharoor, 2016).
The term, “Kenya’s War of Independence” restores Kenya’s stolen history
to its rightful place, stripped of previous colonial interpretations. Mau Mau
and working class struggles followed generations of peasant, nationality
and national resistance against colonialism. They learnt from previous
experiences and marched ahead to anti-imperialist struggles in independent
Imperialism replaced colonialism, African elites replaced White Settlers,
neo-colonial government replaced colonial government. Resistance changed
from War of Independence to War of Economic Independence, Worker and
peasant resistance is evident once again. History is on the march. The
struggle continues. What names and terms are used for this march of history
are important for those resisting oppression. Language itself becomes a
battleground. This book attempts to capture some of the highlights of this
Sinning Quietly
In January 2005, Gordon Brown, the then Chancellor of Exchequer, said that
he wanted Britain to stop apologising for its colonial past (Brogan, 2005).
Instead, the Chancellor called for the “great British values” - freedom,
tolerance, civic duty - to be admired as some of our most successful exports.
For Kenya, such “great British values” included mobile gallows to “pacify”
Mau Mau activists and Kenyans struggling for their independence. The
reality is that facts readily available even in 1950s have been intentionally
ignored by successive British Governments. Three quotes from Newsinger
(2006) show some of these facts which have been hidden by the British
5Establishment “to erase all traces of the darker deeds of Britain’s colonial
enterprise” as Cobain (2016) puts it:
The defeat of the Mau Mau involved a degree of savagery that is
5 For a defnition of the the term Establishment as used here, see Jones, O. (2015),
especially pp.2-6.