Justice for Mau Mau War Veterans

Justice for Mau Mau War Veterans


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes




It is not a surprise that Kenyatta by the early 1970s had a few detentions and

assassinations under his belt. In the words of politician J.M. Kariuki (assassinated in

1975), Kenyatta created a nation of ten millionaires and ten million beggars.


Dedan Kimathi



Books by Mukoma Wa Ngugi

Hurling Words at Consciousness / Conversing with Africa: Politics of Change

Books on Rebellion in Kenya

Histories of the Hanged  / Imperial Reckoning

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Justice for Mau Mau War Veterans

By Mukoma Wa Ngugi


As the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC) prepares to sue the British Government for personal injuries sustained by survivors of the Mau Mau war for independence whilst in British detention camps in Kenya, Mukoma Wa Ngugi unravels the Colonial myths of Christianisation and civilization and exposes the reality of torture, murder, slavery, landlessness, dehumanization, and internment. In February 2008, the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC) will file a representative law-suit against Her Majesty’s Government (HMG) in the British High Court on behalf of the survivors of the Mau Mau war for independence. The KHRC is suing HMG for “personal injuries sustained [by the survivors] while in detention camps of the Kenya Colonial Government which operated” under the direct authority of HMG during the State of Emergency (1952-60). But to understand the law-suit in all its implications, we have to look at Africa’s historical relationship to the West and separate the image from the reality. The Enlightenment of the 1600’s sought to civilize Africans, introduce reason and logic to them, and equip them with the key to heaven through Christianization. The reality masked underneath this image was one of torture, murder and slavery. Later, colonialism used the image of a gentle stewardship to guide Africans along until they were civilized. The reality, as the KHRC suit shows, was landlessness, torture and dehumanization, whole population internment, outright murder, and mass killings. For the Westerners and Africans alike who have sought comfort in the images, the reality difficult to take. But the reality has been well documented. Adam Hochschild, writing in King Leopold’s Ghost, estimates that 5 to 10 million Africans died as a direct result of Belgian colonization in the Congo in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. And chopping off hands, quite literally, was a form of public control. And between 1904 and 1907, 65,000 Herero (80 percent of the total Herero population) were systematically eliminated by the Germans in Namibia. In Algeria, during the war of independence (1954 to 1962), the French routinely tortured and ‘disappeared’ FLN freedom fighters. These random examples illustrate an alarmingly simple principle: One nation cannot occupy another and seek to control its resources without detaining, torturing, assassinating and terrorizing the occupied. A modern day example of this principle at work is Iraq today where torture and killings under the occupation of the United States are rampant, even though the U.S. wants to sell an image of spreading democracy.Colonialism, Legacy and the Mau Mau In Kenya, British colonialism followed this same principle. Caroline Elkins’ Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain’s Gulag and David Anderson’s Histories Of The Hanged: The Dirty War In Kenya document tortures, hangings rushed through kangaroo courts, detention camps, internments, and assassinations, not to mention psychological warfare through fear and intimidation. Independence however did not bring justice for Kenyans—certainly not for the Mau Mau veterans. Kenyatta, even before being sworn as president in1963, had denounced the Mau Mau as terrorists. Contrary to British propaganda, Kenyatta was never a member of the Mau Mau. In an interview, Muthoni Wanyeki, Executive Director of the KHRC, said that:

On coming to power, [Kenyatta] proceeded, through the land ownership policies and practices) of his government (and himself), to betray everything that the Mau Mau had stood for and to entrench the landholding patterns established under the colony [1]

It is not a surprise that Kenyatta by the early 1970’s had a few detentions and assassinations under his belt. In the words of politician J.M. Kariuki (assassinated in 1975), Kenyatta created a nation of ten millionaires and ten million beggars. He wanted the Mau Mau platform of Land and Freedom erased from Kenyan memory. In 1978 President Moi took over when Kenyatta died and continued with the same dictatorial policies. Irony is such that in 1982, Mau Mau historian Maina Wa Kinyatti was imprisoned by the Moi government in the same Kamiti Prison where the British in 1957 hanged and buried the leader of the Mau Mau, Dedan Kimathi, in an unmarked grave. It was not until the Kibaki government took over in 2002 that the colonial ban on the Mau Mau was removed. Finally in 2007 a statue of Kimathi stands on Kimathi Street, something unimaginable under the Kenyatta and Moi regimes. But more important than a hero’s acre or a monument is a reckoning with the colonial legacy of torture, dehumanization and pauperization. Mau Mau veterans that are still alive, along with their children and grandchildren, live in abject poverty, landless and without formal education. The past and current Kenyan governments have as yet to ask the British government to at the very least issue an apology for the atrocities committed against the Kenyan people. The Moi and Kenyatta governments, dependent on Western aid and while maintaining a vicious elite system, were not in a position to pressure Britain for an apology. Or even to pressure HMG to reveal the exact location of Kimathi’s grave so that his widow, Mukami Kimathi, can bury him. This dependent relationship has allowed the British to commit crimes against Kenyans with near impunity. Forty plus years since Kenya’s independence, the British Army still uses Northern Kenya for military exercises. As a result of leaving unexploded munitions behind, “hundreds of Maasai and Samburu tribes people—many of them children—are said to have been killed or maimed by unexploded bombs left by the British army at practice ranges in central Kenya over the past 50 years” the BBC reported [2] With the legal aid of Leigh Day and Co Advocates, 228 survivors took the UK government to the British High Court. In 2002, a settlement was reached in which the UK government agreed to pay 7 million dollars plus legal fees. Economic Justice and Forgiveness Eric Williams’ Capitalism and Slavery [3] shows how Western economies grew at the expense of African slave labor. Walter Rodney in How Europe Underdeveloped Africa [4] updates the argument to include colonialism—Europe developed at the direct expense of Africa. Today we find that economic giants, Barclays Bank [5], J.P. Morgan and Chase Manhattan Bank [6] are direct beneficiaries of the slave trade. Muthoni Wanyeki argues that “it has to be recognized that the UK (and all ex-colonisers) grew at great human expense and political-economic disruption and exploitation within the ex-colonies. It is on that recognition alone that current debates on ‘aid’/’development financing’, trade and investment can shift as they need to.” The call for forgiveness and reconciliation then has to rest on the realization that colonialism was first and foremost an exploitative economic relationship. Because the former colonizers continue to benefit from colonialism, while the victims of colonization continue to live in poverty, the governments of former colonizers have a moral duty to rectify the historical wrong in the present time. On the basis that colonialism as an investment is still paying off, the British cannot argue that they are not personally responsible for atrocities committed by their parents—they have inherited the economic well-being of a colonial system. They need to do right by this history because it is living. The British government has as yet to issue a formal apology for the atrocities it committed. In the same way that Clinton expressed shame and sorrow for slavery without offering a formal apology, so did Blair for colonialism. One can express sorrow, regret and shame for causing an accidental death, but surely this is not enough for a systematic exploitation that causes millions to suffer and die. It should be stated clearly that the authoritarian governments of Kenyatta and Moi are guilty of suppressing Mau Mau memory. And that there were thousands of Kenyans who collaborated with the British. But it should also be said that collaborators did not create colonialism, it is colonialism that created its functionaries. The real crime is colonialism. And because colonialism if we are to be honest with history is a crime against humanity, the British parliament should at the very least pass a bill offering a formal apology to its victims in Africa. And the apology should also make provision for restitution. Truth, Restitution, Reconciliation and Justice While revolutionary in attempting to heal a wounded nation, South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission undermined the very concept of forgiveness and justice it espoused because it did not demand that the perpetrators address in word and deed the question of restitution. Muthoni Wanyeki on the TRC says that:

Within the human rights movement in Kenya (and in Africa more broadly), the TRC process in SA while hailed for its reconciliation potential has always been critiqued for its enabling of impunity and its lack of direct recognition of, compensation for survivors.

Even though a desired by-product, the struggle against apartheid was not waged solely for blacks to forgive whites, or for whites to ask forgiveness, but to bring economic, social and political equality for all South Africans. So then here is the irony of the TRC—the perpetrators go home to their mansions, the victims back to the township.

To put it differently, after the TRC hearings the victims go back to a life of poverty, they remain without the means to feed, clothe or educate their children. Freedom comes without the content—it’s just a name—it has no meaning. Under these circumstances, forgiveness, healing and justice cannot exist without restitution. The British government, which had the largest empire in the world, has cause to fear losing the Mau Mau law-suit. Once it begins where it will end? In neighboring Uganda? India? Malaysia? Or Jamaica? And if the British lose, will this set precedence for the victims of French, Belgian or Portuguese colonialism? The British government knows that losing one law-suit will open closed colonial closets all over the world. It is precisely because this lawsuit has huge implications for the victims of colonialism all over the world that it deserves the support of all those who understand that history is still acting on us and that justice cannot exist without some form of restitution even if it comes in the form of the whole truth. Identifying the graves of the disappeared, so that their relatives can rest; the numbers of how many killed, so that nations account for their dead; the names of the guilty, so that they may be brought to justice or forgiven; initiating the return of what was stolen: all these issues resonate with formerly colonized peoples. For Muthoni Wanyeki says that “We see this case as being part of the process of understanding and coming to terms with our past…particularly given that our past impacts so clearly and evidently on our present.” African people in the continent and Diaspora should support the Kenya Human Rights Committee by calling on the British government to account for its torture of Mau Mau detainees. We have to become each other’s keeper of memory and see each atrocity perpetrated on the other as part our collective memory – whether we identify as Afro-Latino, African American, or African. We have to make common cause because ultimately the struggle for the truth will not be won because the British High Court finds it just, or because the British Government decides to come to terms with its past, it will be won because victims across Africa, the Diaspora and other survivors of colonial atrocities will make common cause with the Mau Mau struggle and vice versa. Truth will come to light because we will have demanded justice and restitution before offering forgiveness. It is only when an apology and restitution are offered, and the victim in turn forgives that for both the perpetrator and victim true healing can take place. For me, that is the truth of justice. Notes 1. Wanyeki, Muthoni (Kenya Human Rights Commission Executive Director). Interview by Author via e-mail. October 15th, 2007. 2. UK pay-out for Kenya bomb victims. July 19th, 2002 3. Williams, Eric. Slavery and Capitalism. New York, Russell & Russell, 1961 4. Rodney, Walter. How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. Washington, D.C. Howard University Press, 1981 5. Barclays admits possible link to slavery after reparation call.,,2047237,00l April 1, 2007 6. Corporations challenged by reparations activists February 21, 2002 * Kenyan writer Mukoma Wa Ngugi is the author of Hurling Words at Consciousness (Africa World Press, 2006) and the forthcoming New Kenyan Fiction (Ishmael Reed Publications, 2008). He is a political columnist for the BBC Focus on Africa Magazine.* Please send comments to or comment online at

Source: Pambazuka

posted 30 October 2007

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Heart of Darkness

By Joseph Conrad

New to the Fourth Edition is an excerpt from Adam Hochschild’s recent book, King Leopold’s Ghost, as well as writings on race by Hegel, Darwin, and Galton. “Criticism” includes a wealth of new materials, including nine contemporary reviews and assessments of Conrad and Heart of Darkness [Contents] and twelve recent essays by Chinua Achebe, Peter Brooks, Daphne Erdinast-Vulcan, Edward Said, and Paul B. Armstrong, among others. Also new to this edition is a section of writings on the connections between Heart of Darkness and the film Apocalypse Now by Louis K. Greiff, Margot Norris, and Lynda J. Dryden. A Chronology and Selected Bibliography are also included.

King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa

By Adam Hochschild

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Blacks in Hispanic Literature: Critical Essays

Edited by Miriam DeCosta-Willis 

Blacks in Hispanic Literature is a collection of fourteen essays by scholars and creative writers from Africa and the Americas. Called one of two significant critical works on Afro-Hispanic literature to appear in the late 1970s, it includes the pioneering studies of Carter G. Woodson and Valaurez B. Spratlin, published in the 1930s, as well as the essays of scholars whose interpretations were shaped by the Black aesthetic. The early essays, primarily of the Black-as-subject in Spanish medieval and Golden Age literature, provide an historical context for understanding 20th-century creative works by African-descended, Hispanophone writers, such as Cuban Nicolás Guillén and Ecuadorean poet, novelist, and scholar Adalberto Ortiz, whose essay analyzes the significance of Negritude in Latin America.

This collaborative text set the tone for later conferences in which writers and scholars worked together to promote, disseminate, and critique the literature of Spanish-speaking people of African descent. . . . Cited by a literary critic in 2004 as “the seminal study in the field of Afro-Hispanic Literature . . . on which most scholars in the field ‘cut their teeth’.”

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Aké: The Years of Childhood

By Wole Soyinka

Aké: The Years of Childhood is a memoir of stunning beauty, humor, and perception


a lyrical account of one boy’s attempt to grasp the often irrational and hypocritical world of adults that equally repels and seduces him. Soyinka elevates brief anecdotes into history lessons, conversations into morality plays, memories into awakenings. Various cultures, religions, and languages mingled freely in the Aké of his youth, fostering endless contradictions and personalized hybrids, particularly when it comes to religion. Christian teachings, the wisdom of the ogboni, or ruling elders, and the power of ancestral spirits


who alternately terrify and inspire him


all carried equal metaphysical weight. Surrounded by such a collage, he notes that “God had a habit of either not answering one’s prayers at all, or answering them in a way that was not straightforward.” In writing from a child’s perspective, Soyinka expresses youthful idealism and unfiltered honesty while escaping the adult snares of cynicism and intolerance. His stinging indictment of colonialism takes on added power owing to the elegance of his attack.

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Faces At The Bottom of the Well: The Permanence of Racism

By Derrick Bell

In nine grim metaphorical sketches, Bell, the black former Harvard law professor who made headlines recently for his one-man protest against the school’s hiring policies, hammers home his controversial theme that white racism is a permanent, indestructible component of our society. Bell’s fantasies are often dire and apocalyptic: a new Atlantis rises from the ocean depths, sparking a mass emigration of blacks; white resistance to affirmative action softens following an explosion that kills Harvard’s president and all of the school’s black professors; intergalactic space invaders promise the U.S. President that they will clean up the environment and deliver tons of gold, but in exchange, the bartering aliens take all African Americans back to their planet. Other pieces deal with black-white romance, a taxi ride through Harlem and job discrimination.

Civil rights lawyer Geneva Crenshaw, the heroine of Bell’s And We Are Not Saved (1987), is back in some of these ominous allegories, which speak from the depths of anger and despair. Bell now teaches at New York University Law School.—Publishers Weekly

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So Rich, So Poor: Why It’s So Hard to End Poverty in America

By Peter Edelman

If the nation’s gross national income—over $14 trillion—were divided evenly across the entire U.S. population, every household could call itself middle class. Yet the income-level disparity in this country is now wider than at any point since the Great Depression. In 2010 the average salary for CEOs on the S&P 500 was over $1 million—climbing to over $11 million when all forms of compensation are accounted for—while the current median household income for African Americans is just over $32,000. How can some be so rich, while others are so poor? In this provocative book, Peter Edelman, a former top aide to Senator Robert F. Kennedy and a lifelong antipoverty advocate, offers an informed analysis of how this country can be so wealthy yet have a steadily growing number of unemployed and working poor. According to Edelman, we have taken important positive steps without which 25 to 30 million more people would be poor, but poverty fluctuates with the business cycle.

The structure of today’s economy has stultified wage growth for half of America’s workers—with even worse results at the bottom and for people of color—while bestowing billions on those at the top. So Rich, So Poor delves into what is happening to the people behind the statistics and takes a particular look at the continuing crisis of young people of color, whose possibility of a productive life too often is lost on their way to adulthood


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Allah, Liberty, and Love

The Courage to Reconcile Faith and Freedom

By Irshad Manji

In Allah, Liberty and Love, Irshad Manji paves a path for Muslims and non-Muslims to transcend the fears that stop so many of us from living with honest-to-God integrity: the fear of offending others in a multicultural world as well as the fear of questioning our own communities. Since publishing her international bestseller, The Trouble with Islam Today, Manji has moved from anger to aspiration. She shows how any of us can reconcile faith with freedom and thus discover the Allah of liberty and love—the universal God that loves us enough to give us choices and the capacity to make them. Among the most visible Muslim reformers of our era, Manji draws on her experience in the trenches to share stories that are deeply poignant, frequently funny and always revealing about these morally confused times.

What prevents young Muslims, even in the West, from expressing their need for religious reinterpretation? What scares non-Muslims about openly supporting liberal voices within Islam? How did we get into the mess of tolerating intolerable customs, such as honor killings, and how do we change that noxious status quo?

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The New New Deal

The Hidden Story of Change in the Obama Era

By Michael Grunwald

Time senior correspondent Michael Grunwald tells the secret history of the stimulus bill, the purest distillation of Change We Can Believe In, a microcosm of Obama’s policy successes and political failures. Though it is reviled by the right and rejected by the left, it really is a new New Deal, larger than FDR’s and just as transformative. It prevented an imminent depression, while jump-starting Obama’s long-term agenda. The stimulus is pouring $90 billion into clean energy, reinventing the way America is powered and fueled; it includes unprecedented investments in renewables, efficiency, electric cars, a smarter grid, cleaner coal, and more. It’s carrying health care into the digital era. Its Race to the Top initiative may be the boldest education reform in U.S. history. It produced the biggest middle-class tax cuts in a generation, a broadband initiative reminiscent of rural electrification, and an overhaul of the New Deal’s unemployment insurance system. It’s revamping the way government addresses homelessness, fixes infrastructure, and spends money.

Grunwald reveals how Republicans have obscured these achievements through obstruction and distortion. The stimulus launched a genuine national comeback. It also saved millions of jobs, while creating legacies that could rival the Hoover Dam: the world’s largest wind farm, a new U.S. battery industry, a new high-speed rail network, the world’s highest-speed Internet network.  Its main legacy, like the New Deal’s, will be change.

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Pictures and Progress

Early Photography and the Making of African American Identity

Edited by Maurice O. Wallace and Shawn Michelle Smith

Pictures and Progress explores how, during the nineteenth century and the early twentieth, prominent African American intellectuals and activists understood photography’s power to shape perceptions about race and employed the new medium in their quest for social and political justice. They sought both to counter widely circulating racist imagery and to use self-representation as a means of empowerment. In this collection of essays, scholars from various disciplines consider figures including Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, Ida B. Wells, Paul Laurence Dunbar, and W. E. B. Du Bois as important and innovative theorists and practitioners of photography. In addition, brief interpretive essays, or “snapshots,” highlight and analyze the work of four early African American photographers. Featuring more than seventy images, Pictures and Progress brings to light the wide-ranging practices of early African American photography, as well as the effects of photography on racialized thinking.

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It’s The Middle Class Stupid!

By James Carville and Stan Greenberg

It’s the Middle Class, Stupid! confirms what we have all suspected: Washington and Wall Street have really screwed things up for the average American. Work has been devalued. Education costs are out of sight. Effort and ambition have never been so scantily rewarded. Political guru James Carville and pollster extraordinaire Stan Greenberg argue that our political parties must admit their failures and the electorate must reclaim its voice, because taking on the wealthy and the privileged is not class warfare—it is a matter of survival. Told in the alternating voices of these two top political strategists, It’s the Middle Class, Stupid! provides eye-opening and provocative arguments on where our government—including the White House—has gone wrong, and what voters can do about it. 

Controversial and outspoken, authoritative and shrewd, It’s the Middle Class, Stupid! is destined to make waves during the 2012 presidential campaign, and will set the agenda for legislative battles and political dust-ups during the next administration.

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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Negro Digest / Black World

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery /

George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 — The Founding of Haiti 

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update 16 July 2012




Home   The African World  Transitional Writings on Africa

Related files: A Glimpse into African Consciousness  Justice for Mau Mau War Veterans   Lynched Mau Mau Leader Dedan Kimathi  

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