Mau Mau — Who’s Dedan Kimathi?

Dedan Kimathi/Ohio University Press

By Sainey Faye

On this date OCTOBER 20, 1952 Mau Mau of Kenya declared WAR!!!

The Mau Mau uprising, call it nationwide rebellion; began in Kenya.This uprising set in motion the fire,fury, and carnage that was to follow.Britain as colonial master would never be the same again, at least not in the eyes of the masses of various ethnicities and Mau Mau on the frontline.Kenya, was by true definition, per se not only a colony; but a settler colony in essence. It was broken out of the pie of Tanganyika (now Tanzania) and Uganda, to form a separate colonial entity and protectorate, making it a British colony in 1920.

It became Independent in 1963, and would look as though it only was rule by Britain for less than half a century. But that would be a false tabulation, because it has been a British colony; since the carve up at the Berlin Conference. In either case, Africans were very clear about the role of Britain, in governing their lives, livelihood, and the land of their ancestors. This is where all hell broke loose – who owns the land, and what’s on and below it. Mau Mau decided to make that decision, and the verdict was heard all over the world. Jomo Kenyatta, a product of the 5th Pan-african congress of Manchester, England was one of the leaders who paid the price of being imprisoned.He came out with the Mau Mau winning a bloody war against British colonialism.

Many others like his comrades Odinga Oginga, and many liberation fighters, who fought the fight with him became heroes; but the real true heroes were the gallant fighters and their guerrilla leaders and army.One leader, was a household name in East Africa, Africa, Britain, the Diaspora and the world was Dedan Kimathi. He was truly a Revolutionary Freedom Fighter. Dedan Kimathi was so feared by the British forces that they created all kinds of magical powers about him and his fearless and tactical guerrilla army. He was known as a master military tactician, and one who used surprise and audacity to his advantage which inflicted heavy casualities on his enemies. His life and struggles are too complex, for this short piece.

An observer notes one of several problems was their land issues. “They expressed disappointment over the absurdity of having to pay for “land that was rightly theirs”.

Understandably, the majority of landless people were unable to raise even the basic sum needed as a down payment for the purchase of “their land”. They had no option other than to let go of the land which they regarded as their mother or the umbilical cord through which their spiritual and mental contentment was realized. It is this spiritual attachment to the land that made the Mau Mau sacrifice their lives and take arms to topple British colonialism.”


Back in the day when Britain was real colonial master, its laws and servants were spread all over Africa, Asia, the Caribbean , and all around the globe. European hegemony; but especially British colonialism knew no bounds or boundaries; all lands and peoples were fair game, as long as theft of land was concerned.This tiny little Island, wreaked more havoc and death in its methods of subjugating others in what it calls “its civilizing” mission; that it left a legacy which its colonial subjects are still grabbling with after its decolonization process.Land the basis of life, and economic basis of all natural resources is the reason for all its adventurism; everywhere it set foot- witness Africa’s story.

Mau Mau – also called the “Mau Mau” was one story that every student of colonial history knew about in the 50’s, 60’s etc.This anti-colonial movement from Kenya, gave the British real hell and helped the colonies and territories gain their Independence.The Mau Mau war was mainly for land and liberation in Kenya; which was by all definition a “Settler Colony”, even though The British saw it as colonialism as usual.

Tom Mboya, famous Kenyan politician and cabinet minister of Jomo Kenyatta noted in his speech in 1959; ‘Race And Politics In Kenya’ -“In 1952 the number of African representatives was increased to six, but were all nominated while Asians and Europeans elected their representatives directly through universal adult suffrage. In 1952, whereas 6,000,000 Africans were represented by six nominated members, 60,000 Europeans were represented by 14 directly elected members. 150,000 Asians by 6 directly elected members, and 25,000 Arabs represented by one elected and one nominated member. This then was the situation on October 20, 1952 when due to Mau Mau violence the government declared a state of Emergency which cost the country close to Sixty million Pounds and over 3,000 lives, and many more wounded. Arrest and detention without trial resulted in the mass deprivation of freedom and liberty for over 400,000 people since 1952, leaving many innocent women and children without support or means of livelihood.”

The Land and Freedom Armies organized one of the most formidable resistance and rebellion with Mau Mau gallant fighters taking on a ruthless and cruel British army.The rest is history, the British had the upper hand initially, but had to yield and negotiate for the country’s Independence; after the death of one the leaders, the British could never forget – Didan Kimathi.The story of the Mau Mau and its role in liberating Kenya from the clutches of settler colonialism is too complex to detail here.Lot of literature is available, some bias, some unbiased by Eurocentric historians. Basil Davidson has done a very informative documentary on the Mau Mau; and many other historians.In the meantime the descendants of the Mau Mau and freedom fighters and innocent civilians, arrested and tortured have sued for compensation from the British government, and there has been progress made to pay them compensation; some have already been paid some money. Some survivors and some decendants of torture and imprisonment had sued in the British courts and won some monetary settlements. Most are still to collect on this financial settletment.

The lessons learned in Kenya by the British, made her never to try another war of its kind on the continent of Africa again, even when Rhodesia now called ( Zimbabwe) under IAN Smith declared UDI, and had to engage the Patriotic front of ZAPU and ZANU. Perhaps some day Obama may be called upon to weigh in on the compensation of Kenyans by the British, for his fatherland.The victories of the Mau Mau, help create many venues for young Kenyans to be sent abroad to the U.S.A., Europe, Asia, U.S.S.R., China, Cuba, and elsewhere to study. Many returned home after and many remained in the diaspora in the post independent era.One of the students of this era was Hussein Barack Obama, a Lou from the region of Nyango’ma, Kenya ; also a hot spot during the uprising.He studied in Hawaii, where he married an American woman and had a son named Barack Hussein Obama .His son became the 44th President of the U.S.A., he served his first term ( 2008-2012), and now just finished his second term in office (2012-2016). He is the first African American to be elected President in the U.S.A. and has visited the land of the Mau Mau (Kenya) several times, according to his memoirs. Mau Mau will always retain a heroic chapter in African history, and the African liberation struggle.

Fast forward to the 21st century, the era in which a United Africa should be the aim and objectives of Africans, at home and abroad; is witnessing a blood bath in Kenyan electoral politics, by the parties led by the sons of the founding fathers; who had seen Kenya rise up from a bloody war liberation with Mau Mau in the frontline. October has been a historic month to remember in the Kenyan political struggle, and Raila Odinga and Uhuru Kenyatta (sons of the founding fathers) Jomo Kenyatta and Odinga Oginga; must reflect where this divisive electoral politics is leading Kenya.


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