Readings on Kenya’s Transition to Independence for April 5/6

The Origins of Mau Mau

african americans and mau mau

Ngugi and Kenyan History

Who Benefited From the Million Acre Scheme?


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11 Responses to Readings on Kenya’s Transition to Independence for April 5/6

  1. Dylan P. says:

    I found the American and particularly the African-American response to the Mau Mau in Kenya to be fascinating. As Meriwether outlines the reaction by civil rights leaders in the United States, there was a sort of fear that a similar situation could manifest in the US. For Kenyans the movement seems to be an issue of necessity and authenticity. It is less a clear-cut case of black versus white, and more importantly about freedom from the oppression of colonial rule—whatever that may mean. The disturbing thing for some black people in America was the fact that in the Mau Mau uprising black nationals turned on some of the middle class Kenyans who were seen as also participating in the oppressive structure. The struggle for freedom in Kenya obviously turned violent and that was certainly among the concerns that people had; however I think that that operative part is that the power dynamic was clearly no longer just about race or color—it had become about participation in oppressive structures. Naturally civil rights for a minority in a democracy is a different animal than a revolutionary struggle to create a country out of a colony, but the racial power dynamics and apartheid-like laws bear comparison mostly due to their temporally situated influence on the political conversation in the 1950’s. So for black Americans it was more important to think about the effects on people’s feelings about civil rights than about real comparison. Terms about terrorism, oppression, and Hitler-esque tactics were used by civil rights leaders to condemn the British, while the heightened effects of the Cold War and language about “communism” was used distance civil rights from the ideas and struggle of Mau Mau. Leaders in the Civil Rights Movement during this time had much to lose and little to gain in this conflict. Support of Mau Mau could be a rallying cry to support the legitimacy of violence—even against the African American bourgeois class (read: civil rights leaders themselves).

  2. Veena says:

    One of the most interesting things I noticed while reading Leo’s article on the Million Acre Settlement Schemes was the following statement: “In short, as long as they were dealing with poor people, Europeans were able to act upon their assumption of African inferiority without encountering serious resistance” [218]. This statement did not come as a surprise for me; rather, it reinforced the other cases we have discussed thus far this semester. In India, it was clear that the British preferred the superior feeling they felt when dealing with the poorest of Indians, and in post-Jim Crow Arkansas, the same went for the relationships between white people and poor black people. It made me remember the movie we watched in class about the poor white man in Hoxie – I cannot remember his name – who was so against desegregation. One of the things we discussed was that he was so against desegregation because he worried about what his new status would be if black people and white people were suddenly on even footing. I wondered if that was the same reason Europeans preferred dealing with poorer Africans – poor Africans were less threatening to the status quo enjoyed by Europeans in Africa at the time. It also made me wonder what would have happened had a figure like Gandhi emerged, touting nonviolence as a way to end colonialism and empowering even the poorest of Africans to fight back and demand their rights. Had that happened, the results of the end of colonialism in Kenya could have been vastly different.

  3. Stan says:

    The Origins of Mau Mau
    D. W. Throup

    Knowing nothing about Kenyan colonialism, the readings for the past couple of classes comprise the range of my knowledge on the subject. For me, this reading interested me as it illustrated the role the war economy played on the colonial relationships between the colonial government, European settlers, and native Africans. I often conceptualize any colonial struggle as one between two parties – the occupying government and those being occupied. This reading expanded this conception to include a third party – settlers – who do not always share the same vision and agenda as the colonial government.

    It was also interesting to read of the paradox the colonial government faced in its attempt to maintain control of the country. As African awareness of their condition and taste for defiance to the status quo grew, should the government slowly make concessions to them, to me a bend-don’t-break policy, or should they assert their power by cracking down on the growing population of troublemakers?

    The colonial government ultimately chose the latter, and in doing so, helped reduce African favor for groups seeking peaceful change like the KAU and made greater militancy a more attractive option. Speaking of the general perception of the situation at the time the author states, “The constitutionalists had failed; the militants, the men of violence, could fare no worse.” This growing sense of disenfranchisement fostered the environment in which violence ultimately took hold.

  4. Nuno Solano de Almeida says:

    The Origins of the Mau Mau

    The Great Depression of 29 and the Second World War struck the traditional British colonial foundations, with even greater impact in the heart of Africa.
    The increase in local agricultural prices together with rising interest rates on bank loans in Europe, motivated the settlers to increase production, change crops and lean towards a more exports oriented market.
    Kenya’s domestic production was redirected from its original trading posts in the UK and the US towards where it was most needed: the allied troops stationed overseas.
    There was a dramatic increase in production in Kenya, subsidized and incentivized, while at the same time British local administration suffered severe cuts in staff when they were drafted to serve in the military.
    This new power accrued by the settlers , who came to occupy key positions in the colonial establishment, threatened both Africans and the colonial government .
    To reassert its authority, the post war administration had to face the difficult challenge of stabilizing the colonial regime while in the process pampering the settler taxpayer. The growing numbers of a native population and the slow but firm repositioning of the colonial rule turned the tables on settlers demands.
    The colonial administration meritocracy rule eventually promoted and sided with one native leader at the local level: Mathu.
    Mathu eventually raised Kenyatta’s opposition, another liability to the British establishment that was feared and therefore lured to engross the loyalist ranks.
    Kenyatta was Kikuyu and the British also feared that his collaboration could also spark revolt among collaborators at the bottom of the pyramid, like the chief and his headmen, but especially provoke those outside the circle, who were activists. The Nigerian experience had been an important lesson about the effects of the indirect rule in Eastern Africa. However the dilemma was real and the alternative for a controlled political development was risky. Siding with a new breed of European educated in detriment of the traditional local village elders had never been put to the test before by Whitehall or by the Colonial Administration. Eventually the colonial state simply could not co-opt and employ so many. The social pressure however piled up with new conflicts involving the returning well educated askaris and the lack of advancement options outside of the village. As a consequence so grew the opposition.
    The Mau Mau rebellion close to Nairobi was built around the Kikuyu determination to grow on social differentiation. This situation of ambiguity between Whitehall and the Colonial Administration led to isolation. The Administration weakness to uphold communal values and subdue the chiefs trading and commercial ventures while also failing to implement indirect rule planted the seed of revolt. Especially the general indifference for the entrenchment of African consciousness with askaris paved the road to collision.
    The underground rebellion of KCA led the Kikuyu squatters to do the Mau Mau oathing against the settlers, first in the Highlands and later back to the Central Province, Rift Valley, Njoro-Molo and Naivasha-Soysambu.
    Kenya African Union “constitutionalists” or African elite lived in an “alien environment” and failed to recognize ways to help implement a modified system of indirect rule based on their own kinship tribal associations. Activists like Macharia , from the trade union branch of KAU, started discrediting Mathu and Kenyatta because, as products of European education, they lived in a different world. Radicals MAU MAU, with support from poor urban dwellers, took over the KAU in Nairobi and controlled the rebellion from the capital against the moderate constitutionalists like Kenyatta but most Kikuyu as well.
    Kenyatta was seen by many other Kikuyu as a failure to support the Kikuyu effort to compete against the cartel of Asian trade and commercial network.
    Other influential local dynamics included the relationship of O’Hara, a believer in controlled political education through local government, who allowed Kenyatta to address Murang’a Township, talking about the issue of compulsory labor by Kikuyu women, which ultimately forced the Administration to back down.
    The Mau Mau revolution was then, according to the author, a volatile Kikuyu civil war that opposed assimilated chiefs and Christians against askaris and the poor, constitutionalists of KAU and militants.
    Kenyatta who united constitutionalists and militants of the KAU was discredited in his failures to administer Githunguri College. After that he was often attacked by radicals, while clinging to power for lack of alternatives against Mathu and Gichuru. But as the author points out, there is one line of thought that considers his arrest by the Administration as being a calculated move to soften the reconstruction, like Nehru in India. Regardless, it was the MAU MAU rebellion that ended the settlers issue and brought Kenyatta back in the 60’s with his agreement between the Kikuyu and the British

  5. Leslie H. says:

    In the Ngugi and Kenyan History article, I saw similarities between Kenya and India in the mutual loss of their histories as a result of colonialism. One way Ngugi sought to combat this loss of history was to make Kenyans reflect on their place in history through his blending of fiction and nonfiction. I agree with Ngugi that “we must . . . find out where we are, in order to decide where we will go next. We cannot know where we are, without first finding out where we come from.” History is one of our most valuable tools. We use it to learn about the trials and successes of our forefathers. We use it to build knowledge and create new industries. We use it to avoid repeating past mistakes as we attempt to carve a better future. Just last week I visited Washington DC for a conference. When I stood at the foot of the Lincoln Monument and peered through the glass case of the Declaration of Independence, I felt overwhelmed by my miniscule place in history. I had to ask myself what I am doing to better the future and learn from the past, and I decided that I need to be doing more. I came to this conclusion as a result of revisiting key pieces of American history. But what if this history was destroyed and future generations had no way to know where they came from? I can’t imagine how that would feel, yet many colonial nations have had to face that reality—the reality that their rich cultural history, especially that of the “common people,” was ignored, deleted, and replaced with a version of history written by the colonialists. When history is rewritten in this way, it can be retold however the new historian chooses, such as teaching Kenyans about “all the good the white man had brought” them. Unfortunately, this skewed version of history persists even after colonialism has ended. I hope that as much Kenyan history is recovered as possible before it is lost forever because of the power history has on future generations.

  6. Britney says:

    Meriwether’s article “African Americans and the Mau Mau Rebellion: Militancy, Violence, and the Struggle for Freedom” brings up several aspects of the 1950s-60s that I had studied or knew of separately, but never brought together in such a way to look at their combined impact on those decades. First of all, I was unaware of how much African Americans knew about activities in Africa, like Kenya’s Mau Mau Rebellion. I gauge that during this time of civil rights initiatives, many African Americans may have sought to explore their identity and heritage by finding ties to Africa and the Mau Mau Rebellion was a relatable event on multiple levels. It is intriguing how much the article indicates that some organizations and individual African Americans took up the cause of the Mau Mau in America. However, I also would not have thought they would have been so divided over the issue of the Mau Mau, with people going so far as to denounce local civil rights leaders for not allying with the cause. Meriwether indicates that African Americans were hesitant to ally fully with the Mau Mau because of their methods, including violence and the killing of other black Kenyans, yet identified with their predicament. Did the hesitance stem from violence directed at people of the same race or from the use of violence in general?

    African Americans found a way to support Kenyans through education and supported scholarship initiatives to bring Kenyans to the United States to study. This was surprising to me, given that African Americans themselves did not have equal access to academic institutions during the 1950s and 1960s. Brown v. Board did not even occur until 1954! How innovative that African Americans were not only working on their own struggle, but also actively seeking support for higher education for Kenyans. Were many of the schools Kenyans attended when they came to the US Historically Black Colleges and Universities? The article names a school in Alabama that a Kenyan student was invited to attend- a place that had much racial turmoil not long before.

    Meriwether’s inclusion of the rise of communism and how it affected US and European interactions in relation to the Mau Mau Rebellion and other countries “threatened” by communism was remarkable to me. I had thought separately of communism, race relations, and situations like the Kenyan rebellion, but honestly had never thought about how the threat of communism could make the struggle for equality in America to be even more challenging for African Americans. Not to mention the author’s assertion that it made more sense for the US to leave the white power structure in place in Kenya so that it would not appear weak and succumb to communism under the Russians or Chinese! I now have a much better understanding of the motivations behind the events (and lack of progress) I learned about years ago.

  7. Katie Milligan says:

    African Americans and the Mau Mau Rebellion: Militancy, Violence, and Struggle for Freedom by James Meriwether

    This article drew interesting parallels between the struggle for civil rights in our country and the violent struggle of the Mau Mau in Kenya. The most interesting were moral issues surrounding the support of the Mau Mau by African Americans played out in the media and the role of communism during that time.
    Something that we fail to recognize within ourselves is that as human beings we are all equally capable of committing this type of violence. It is a harsh reality that we are all capable of acting out such violence if placed in a similar situation. When that is recognized then we can begin to tear down the barriers that create a sense of “otherness” and the “insider/outsider”. This lack of recognition is what can allow cultural practices and norms to be demonized from the outside. I thought that the exploitation of oathing and other cultural practices would have been greatly hindered if we could realize that we are essentially all the same at our core. We could all be capable of the same violence if faced with the same situation. Desperation is a powerful force.

    With this in mind, I can understand the complicated relationship between the US policy and the public support of the Mau Mau from the African American community. African Americans were fighting their own battle with opposition. It would not have done them any favors to publically support a group that is in violent opposition to a US ally, especially after the World War II relationships, regardless of colonialism. The unanimous public support of the Mau Mau would have set the Civil Rights movement back.

  8. Nathan says:

    In the reading on Ngugi and his partially fictional account of Kenyan history, several things struck me as interesting. First, his mixture of history and narrative is a very unique way of telling stories. In the United States if a famous author did this we would call it revisionist history at best, more likely it would be regarded as falsifying history in the name of telling a good story. Of course there are differences between Kenyan and American history that can account for most of this difference. Most importantly, American history does not have such giant gaps in knowledge the way Kenyan history does. That’s not to say that we do not have knowledge gaps of history here in the United States, we definitely do. We have little insider information on what happened in many important decisions in American history, in particular what thinking led to decisions in the Oval Office, like the bombing of Nagasaki. Though they exist, we treat those gaps vastly different than Ngugi does. We do not tell stories about the way things might have happened; rather we present what little we do know and say “no one knows for sure.” I suppose this is because of different value structures between the two societies. It is possible that Kenyan’s value a good story more than we do, and are able to keep it separate from known fact, while in America we value absolute truths in our reporting. This is usually for the best in my opinion, but coming from the western background that I do that can hardly be seen as surprising.

  9. Andrea says:

    There are two names in this article that stood out. The first one is Horace Mann Bond and the second one is Mugo Gatheru. Horace Mann because there is a school in Little Rock that bears the same name (Mann in LR is not the same Mann in the case) and Gatheru because his story represents the risk change agents take.

    Gatheru was bold. He wasn’t afraid to speak out against injustices. He didn’t hide behind an assumed name or send his messages through some secrete covert mission. He wrote his opinions and signed his name alone. He represented a face of advocacy. I think his tactic gave him power because he became a spokesperson for the mission of advocating for the rights of Africans. His case put the spotlight on him.

    Gatheru’s stance brought attention to the risk involved in speaking up for what is right. The “powers that be” did what they could to disempower him. They used all of their resources to get him deported, but he had a strong structure, the NAACP, in his corner that helped him fight for his individual justice while at the same time bringing attention to his advocacy. Here it is, almost 60 years later, and his story is still being told.

    As I move forward as a public servant, I have to be bold in my position on whatever I am advocating for. In the case of Gatheru, his boldness, brevity, and confidence and his actions are a lesson for me.

  10. Mitchell Adams says:

    The Origins of Mau Mau, D. W. Throup

    I found this article most interesting in its description of the relationship between government, settlers and opposition groups in Kenya. At the beginning of the article, the author notes that the settlers considered Kenya a “white man’s land.” This mindset would go on to heavily affect the way that the government of Kenya was able to conduct its businesses in terms of both social and economic policies. The war of 1914 obviously had a great impact on the structure of Kenyan society. It weakened the power and presence of Kenyan government officials and caused a shift in the power structure towards that of the settlers. It seems that in this example, even more than in others we have seen, the Kenyan people were relegated to a position with minimal power in their own country. I’m reminded of the social structure of Mexico after the introduction of European power. There was the European rulers, the intermediate class of the mestizo, who were the children of mixed European-Mexican descent, and then there were the indigenous Mexicans. However, in this example, it is a completely different group that serves as the intermediate class. What is constant throughout our readings is that the lowest class is always the original population of a country. This brings me back to the original statement that Kenya was a “white man’s land.” While the land and the culture of the nation was surely not the property of the white man, the power was, and through colonialism nearly always is. Because of this, events such as the Mau Mau uprising were seen as necessary by colonized people in order to restore power, or if a failure to do that, then at least to express their frustration; therefore, creating a culture of violent aggression toward perceived political injustice. This trend has continued into today in many African countries. My question is to what degree has the presence of colonialism affected the culture of Kenya over the long term, and what combination of: 1. A longing for the culture of pre-colonized Kenya and 2. A desire to move on and create a new Kenyan friendly system, was there, or is there, in the country?

  11. Papy L says:

    Why the British were slow to grant independence to Kenya not till December 12, 1963 while they granted it so quick to Ghana in 1957, Nigeria in 1960, Tanzania in 1961, and Uganda in 1962.

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