Reading Robert Edgerton’s ‘Mau Mau: An African Crucible’

I read this book a while back and have been meaning to blog about it for a long time.  This is a book that humanizes the Mau Mau struggle and historicizes the colonial enterprise in a compelling manner. I want to highlight some of the issues discussed and link them to present-day happenings. The book was published in the 80’s, but since Kenya has never really decolonized, what was written then mirrors the scenario today.

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Settler children in Kenya: Source – users.rowan.edu
  1. The IBEA,  the politics of naming, and ’empty land’

The Imperial British East African Company (IBEAC) was the administrator of the British stolen lands in the East African region. The central goal of the IBEAC was to facilitate trade for Britain, of course, through extractive kind of arrangements.  The IBEAC first set shop in Gikuyuland after getting into an agreement with Waiyaki wa Hinga, a Gikuyu elder.  This agreement was quickly reneged by the IBEAC  leading to a serious of disastrous consequences, culminating in the exiling of Waiyaki, who was buried upside down (head first) in Kibwezi on the way to the Kenyan Coast.  Edgerton writes:

Whatever inclination the Kikuyu may initially have had to welcome the white foreigners disappeared when the IBEA’s African troops, who were very often staggering drunk, stole Kikuyu crops or raped Kikuyu women, killing some who resisted. When the Kikuyu fought back, the British officers organized punitive expeditions that went on “nigger hunts,” as they were known to white Kenyans. In 1893, an officer of the IBEA named Francis Hall (after whom the town of Fort Hall was later named) mounted two so-called punitive expeditions that killed about 90 Kikuyu. The following year, Halls’s troops killed a similar number. Hall was so incensed by continuing Kikuyu resistance that he wrote to his father, a British Colonel, that “There is only one way of improving the Wakikuyu (and t) that is to wipe them out; I should be only too delighted to do so, but we have to depend on them for food supplies. However, beginning in 1894 and lasting until 1899, nature made it unnecessary for Hall to “improve” the Kikuyu”. Plagues of locusts, prolonged, cattle disease, and small pox decimated the southern region of Kikuyu territory close to the route the rail road would follow. It was a this disaster that created what appeared to be empty land when the first European settlers arrived in 1902.

Now, here is the kicker – there are still people who name their businesses and other ventures “Fort Hall” and they are Agikuyu people. Fort hall was renamed Muranga after the attainment of flag independence.  What about land? Of course land remains the most sore point in Kenya’s history. In addition, Kenya is still run like a corporation, following the imperial, colonial, oppressive model where the land is seen a place from which to get things. The government appears to be more concerned about foreign investors (white people) and tourists ( also white people) than about its own citizens.  This is well articulated in this piece by Dr. Wandia Njoya ‘Invisible Citizens: Branding Kenya for foreign investors and tourists.’

Fort hall school of govt

 

2. Delamare inc

Kenya colony (yes, still) remains white man’s country. The goal of settlers at the time of colonial conquest was to turn Kenya into white man’s country – think along the lines of Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and USA. One of the leading settler figures was Delamere. One of the leading settlers today is Delamare, err sorry, I mean LORD Delamare. Delamare owns an estimated 48,000 acres of land, some of which has been converted into a CONservancy where two Kenyans were shot dead by Delamare’s offspring, Tom Cholmondeley.  Delamare was one of the leading figures in the debate about alienation of African lands for European settlement. The very best lands were stolen from Africans and given to settlers  for a 99 -year lease, which was extended to 999 years. And what LORD D’s ultimate goal?

As Lord Delamare the acknowledged leader of these first settlers, made plain, their goal was to recreate the Virginia plantocracy in which white gentlemen of breeding and leisure oversaw vast plantations worked by Black men. Sir Eliot’s [the then governor] plan for Kenya was to attract more men of breeding and wealthy like Lord Delamere. The healthy and fertile highlands were reserved for men like these. Indians would not be allowed to own land in highlands and poor whites were discouraged from coming to Kenya at all. And as one English gentleman told Winston Churchill when Churchill visited Kenya, “It would destroy the respect of the native for the white man, if he saw what miserable people we have got at home.” These gentlemen-settlers also thought it dangerous to let Africans see white men actually working.

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Source: gherkinstomatoes.com

What has changed re land ownership? Not that much much. Kenya is still a plantation economy with a few people and companies (both local and foreign) owning huge tracts of land and establishing and entrenching the Virginia plantocracy model that Delamare talked about at the beginning of colonial occupation in the late 1800’s. Read more here: ‘It is a dog’s life for many plantation workers‘.

Picking Cotton. Ballou's Pictorial (Boston, Jan. 23, 1858),
USA plantation. Image source: 18C American Women
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Accommodation for tea plantation workers in Kenya

3. Dismantling of community livelihoods and dislocating Africans from their landscapes

Labour was needed to sustain to sustain the settler plantation economy. Where was this to come from? From the African population. How do you make Africans work for you? First, you steal their land, then you introduce a wage economy and taxation. Cash to pay taxes could only be obtained from settlers. That is how Africans became enslaved on their own lands. Edgerton illuminates the scenario:

Lord Delamere explained to the government that Africans should be forced into the labor market by cutting the amount of land available to them so that the wage work would their only means of survival. When the government was slow to take action, other settlers threatened to use force to obtain labour. Alarmed, the government responded by ordering chiefs to deliver a quota of labourers to the desired localities

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4. How poverty was created 

People assume that poverty in Africa is a naturally occurring condition. That there has always been poverty, because Africans do not know how to use the bounty that nature has provided to them. At the time of colonial occupation, the communities that the settler murderous gang encountered were people with absolute control over their lives- economically, politically, socially, philosophically, etc. Recall, that is actually trade that brought some of these communities into contact with settlers. In other words, they had surplus to sell. They were not poor. But colonialism entrenched poverty through various dimensions, and entrenched various forms of poverty, including the poverty of ideas  (the worst form of poverty), by convincing Africans that they did not know anything and did not have knowledge. This passage below illustration explains the impoverishment of Africans under colonial occupation:

At that time, a cheap shirt bought in an African market cost 4 shilings, and the annual poll tax was 20 shilings. With wages like these a labourer could only stay alive by cultivating the single acre that he was lent as a tenant farmer. Regulations required the “squatters” as the British called their tenant laborers, to sell the produce from their plot of land to their employers at a fixed price. For example, an employer would pay his “squatter” 14 or 15 shillings for a bag of maize. Thanks to government subsidies, the employer could then sell that same bag for 32 shillings. Moreover, while it was the Europeans who benefited most from government services, until 1930 it was African taxes that paid the bulk of the expense. In addition, the Europeans paid no direct income tax until 1936.

What about today? It is the political class that took the place of settlers. Actually, a combination of settlers and the political class. White people and those that the Mau Mau referred to as ‘Black Europeans’ consume most of the taxes that are paid by the masses. Majority of the people remain poor and work themselves to death to support the lavish lifestyles of settlers, former and current colonizers, and the political class.

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Africans rounded up bu the British for demanding their freedom. Image: Getty.

5. Africans are not human 

Edgerton writes:

Settlers not only believed that Africans had the minds of children, they were convinced that they did not feel pain as Europeans did, were able to will themselves to die whenever they wished (both Elspeth Huxley and Karen Blixen subscribed to this view). They also believed that Africans had altogether different nutritional requirements than white people. For example, it was widely argued that a bowl of maize-meal porridge was all that an African needed for good health. As a result, many settler employers gave each of their labourers a pound and half [about 0.6 kgs] of posho (maize meal) per day, a ration that was thought quite adequate. Many settlers, particularly women, never quite overcame their fear of Africans’ blackness, or their supposed resemblance to apes. The settlers saw no reason to understand Africans because they believed absolutely that before the coming of the white men, Kenya had been nothing more than a “howling wilderness” of superstition and death.

So, what is new? Did a Chinese national not refer to Kenyans, including the president as monkeys  in September 2018? What is the relationship between Asians, Europeans, and Africans in places of work in Kenya colony? Who occupies the top leadership positions? Who does most of the work? How much posho (in this case salary) are the Africans paid? Is it still not 0.6 kgs – metaphorically speaking? By the way,  when the Mau Mau war broke out, settlers were furious that Africans were not grateful for the gift of civilization. If you have ever tried to ask your white boss for a salary raise, you will confirm that they will usually get pretty furious and will not understand why you are not GRATEFUL for what they are ‘giving’ you.  Just to go back to the nutrition and impoverishment of Africans, Edgerton provides an interesting piece of information ” 90% of the Kikuyu recruits for the British Army in World War 2 had to be rejected because of malnutrition, primarily due to a lack of animal protein in their diets.” An elder once told me that before colonialism, the Agikuyu people had a lot of livestock. We ate meat all the time, he said. Now, they lacked animal protein! Another thing to note: There is museum dedicated to the life of and history of Karen Blixen and no museum or memorial for the Kenya Land Freedom Army (Mau Mau). In other words, Kenya is still celebrating racism, the dehumanization of its peoples, and colonial occupation, but not celebrating one of the worlds most formidable self-determination movements.

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Karen Blixen.

6. Apartheid

Colour bar remains an defining element of Kenya colony. Today, there are places where whites only live. Conservation spaces are mainly white spaces. Africans who work there are in low-level positions. There are some hotels still known as “hoteli za wazungu/hotels for white people,” because in the colonial period, there are hotels Kenyans were not allowed to go to. While one can go to those hotels these days, majority are still restricted by economic factors. Hence apartheid is firmly entrenched.

The “superior” civilization the whites brought to Kenya did not include racial integration. A visitor to Kenya in the early 1950s was quickly introduced to its color bar. In Nairobi airport, there were bathrooms marked “European Gentlemen, ” “Europeans Ladies” and others marked “Asian Gentlemen” and “Asian Ladies.” There was no bathroom at all for Africans. After surveying all of Africa, James Cameron, a journalist, wrote that Kenya had established a colour bar “of singular crudity and arrogance.”

 

7. Christianity

Settlers, missionaries et al., were keen to convert Africans to Christianity. This was the one gift of civilization. What Christianity has done in Africa is to convince Africans that they are inferior, that they have no history, that whites are Gods – white Jesus is to be found everywhere in Kenya colony, for instance, and that this world is not their home, they are just passing by. Why should you agitate for land rights if this world is not your home? Shouldn’t you just wait to rejoice in heaven with white Jesus and white angels?  You should know that apartheid in Kenya extended to places of worship. Question – would the whites and Africans share the same heaven upon death?

A European woman who said that she did not mind employing Africans, or even shaking hands with them, “but pray with them I will not.”

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European missionaries, church in the background.

8. White supremacy 

Colonialism in Kenya colony created stark disparities in wealth, with the oppressed Africans occupying the bottom of the pole – often living at the edge of starvation. This situation has remained the same into the present.  And since the political class are the present day colonizers, when I replace Europeans with the political class in the passage below, I still make sense of the text.

Meanwhile these Africans were continually  reminded of their destitute conditions by the conspicuous affluence of most Europeans [politicians] and many of Nairobi’s Indians, who usually dressed well, if not elegantly by European standards, lived in large houses, and drove fine cars. African men typically wore a par of tattered European trousers, a badly frayed shirt, a ragged woolen sweater, a threadbare suit coat, and a floppy felt hat. At night and on cold days many wore khaki overcoats captured from the Italian army in WW2, or ragged topcoats that have been rejected by and Goodwill Centre in the USA. [Mtumba/second hand clothing is still presented as some kind of aid, but in actual sense, it is a thriving business enterprise that sustains the supplying countries].

 

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White supremacy reigns supreme.  Africans are still wearing tattered European trousers.  The African political class has ensured that Africans continue wearing tatters, because they are white in their thinking/ideology.  They believe in living off the sweat and misery of their people.  It reminds me of passage from Ngugi wa Thiongo’s ‘A grain of wheat.’

The white man [politician] went in cars. He lived in a big house. His children went to school. But who tilled the soil on which grew coffee, tea, pyrethrum, and sisal? Who dug the roads and paid the taxes? The white man [politician] lived on our land. He ate what we grew and cooked. And even the crumbs on the table he threw to his dogs. That is why we went to the forest.

The voices of resistance and all those who raise their voices in the struggle for African dignity are the new Mau Mau. They have refused to succumb to despair. They are in the forest!

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Image source: Kenya Stockholm blog.

 

 

 

Reading ‘The Boy is Gone: Conversations with a Mau Mau General’

I first heard about this book via an interview that Jeff Koinange conducted with the author Laura Huttenbach on, KTN, I believe. I am generally interested in Kenya Land Freedom Army  (Mau Mau) struggle for self-determination, and would like to understand it from from different perspectives. Most of the books I had read at that point were centred around Gikuyu Mau Mau guerillas. This was, therefore, a welcome addition because it was telling the story of General Nkungi, Japhlet Thambu, a Meru guerilla. General Nkungi narrates his story from his childhood through to old age, but lays emphasis on the advent of colonialism and the Mau Mau struggle for independence.

The boy is gone cover

  1. We got mixed up!

One of the striking threads of his story (as is the case with many biographies that juxtapose the pre-colonial and colonial period), is the discussion around dismantling of African cultural infrastructure and ways of being.  The General recalls that:

My mother was the one to tell the local women when to plant. She got permission from God, and then she planted. She knew when it will be the time of rain. Women would never plant before she planted. When the missionaries came, they said this was an evil thing. All our good things were called evil. Oh- they cut down our lovely trees, our sacred churches. The Christian people spoiled our wonderful environment. They said, “There is no God there. Do not believe in that tree or whatever is is. We will clear each and everywhere”. Our sacred place was changed by the new religion,. Instead of studying and knowing what we were doing, missionaries imposed completely everything. They did not want to know. They said we had to turn away and leave everything. We had to follow them. Everything of ours was dirty and evil. We lost our connectivity – the traditions – that gathered and joined us together. We got mixed up.

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I like the way he puts it. We got mixed up. Yaani, tulichanganyikiwa! This is a very good metaphor of the impact of colonialism on African peoples. Their cultures were uprooted and dumped into the rubbish heap, and the people were left asking – who are we? To be Christian, it appears, is to completely let go of all your heritage that defines your humanity and that helps locate you in your landscape. In this case, the culture was tied to food production systems, ecological cycles, communication with the divine, and harmony between the environment and people. Missionaries dismantle and dismember all of this, and as Wangari Maathai writes in ‘The Challenge for Africa’:

When communities were told that their culture was demonic and primitive, they lost their sense of collective power and responsibility and succumbed, not to the god of love and compassion they knew, but the gods of commercialism, materialism, and individualism. The result was an expanding impoverishment, with the peoples’ granaries and stomachs as empty as their souls.

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2. The Nothing Culture!

Following the same train of thought that Wangari Maathai articulates above, the General argues that the long term effect of colonialism is that the people ended up with what he refers to as “the nothing culture”

But the missionaries told us that each and everything was sinful. They said it’s not civilized, its not a good thing – it’s evil, as it does not relate to western civilization. Our people who were Athome, the Christians, they left the custom of our people and cleared {away} all the tradition we were carrying. They think whatever was done was primitive. They have been bent  in the Christianity way, where they had very little learning concerning our country’s [Meru] culture. They read from the book but not from our tradition. They refused to pray to our God on Kirinyaga. They have known another God whom we do not see, neither do we know where He lives. They said He lives in heaven. In our area people ran away from our nice culture with no system and no good leader. We took this white culture in a very wrong way. We did not even know their culture. We mixed our own culture and the other one, and something new came out. Nobody can tell which it is. It is not European culture, not Kimeru Culture – I do not know. We call it “nothing culture”.

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A people without a cultural/heritage foundation can be bent into all different directions and blown away by the wind. Culture gives a people a sense of clarity or direction and unity of purporse. With the avdent of myriad Christian denominations, the Ameru people became  methodists, catholics, presbyterians, etc. How many people know of the very democratic Ameru people’s governance systems and other systems of societal organization. Christianity reinforces the belief that there was nothing and no thought proccess before the coming of missionaries. That Africans were just a howling mass of people groping in the darkness. How many people recall the revolutionary resistance of the Ameru people to oppression from Mbwaa (Manda Island), where they were enslaved by the Nguu Ntune/Arabs?

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3. British Colonial Corruption

There is a pervasive belief that the so-called white people are not or cannot be corrupt. I love history so much, because it helps dismantle those kinds of myths and arms us with the tools to treat those beliefs with the contempt that they deserve. There is also a misguided belief that Africans were better off under colonialism. Needless to say, this position is informed by a lack of proper engagement or understanding of the destructive legacy of colonialism. Listen to general as he describes the ins and outs of British filthy corruption:

In January I started  work in Meru at the cereal board as assistant to the European marketing officer, Mr. Cross. We had cereal boards to control our produce – maize, beans, peas, chai, grains, millet. All produce was controlled. We had to sell it to the cereal board, and then the cereal board sold it to the brokers to distribute it. The market was for the Europeans because they pay you for the produce, but they never let you know they prices that they are selling. So the farmer brings the produce to the cereal board, and there are a lot of charges. You have to pay the inspection fees, whatever fees, then you get a very low price. Big trucks owned by Indians will come and collect the produce and drive it to Mombasa…You find a European in every situation, They are manning the produce in the stores. A farmer can never sell it direct to the buyer, no. You could never pass through a barrier even with a tin of that produce unless you have a letter from the boss at the cereal board, because they didn’t want anybody to interfere with the market they are selling those things. This was very direct corruption.

It is not very hard to see that this system of farmer exploitation has remained intact, especially in the production of cash crops like tea and coffee.

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4. Land dispossession and political awkening and on being “Mbaya sana”

The main grievances put forward by Africans were the loss of land to white settlers and loss of freedom. To put it bluntly, Africans were enslaved on their own land, because they had to work on settler farms to raise money to pay the plethora of taxes that were imposed by the colonial government. When both World Wars Broke out, the British mobilized their colonial subject to go and fight in far off lands. The experiences of these Africans in the wars sparked their political awakening. They started asking questions like: Why am I fighting? Should I be caught up fighting European wars or fighting for my own liberation back home? Whites are not that superior, are they? After all, they are here murdering one another, right?  The General illuminates the scenario.

In Meru we had a DC called Bwana Johnston, but we called him Bithumbi because he has floppy bangs [that] hung over his face. Bwana Johnston had been in the army. Before the war, and African could never ask a question in a meeting. But after, people started asking questions in Bwana Johnston’s meetings. When somebody wanted to ask ask question, the DC would say, “Have you been in the military”?  If the person said yes then Bwana Johnston would say, “No. Sit down. Somebody else who was not in the army can ask a question, but not you. You are Mbaya sana. ” He had know those words in Swahili: Mbaya sana [very bad].

In addition:

Because of that mzungu, our while age group name was changed. The name which our fathers gave to us was Gwantai. But because it was our group who fought in the war, it got changed to Mbaya. Our old name got lost, and we were Mbaya. We liked being called Mbaya sana. We were proud because we knew what it meant.

Mau Mau Getty

5. The Mau Mau war – the forest as an arena for self-determination

The General eventually joined the Mau Mau in the forests and mobilized his compatriots to fight for the land that had been stolen by both the British settlers and missionaries. When the British learnt about his involvement int he revolt, all his coffee trees uprooted and burned.  His timber house was demolished. This was brutal economic sabotage. This is how poverty among Mau Mau guerillas got entrenched, because while they were fighting in the forest, the collaborators and colonizers were plundering their land, crops, livestock, etc. So how did they survive in the forest and what kept them going?

We were sharing the forest with animals. Even Mwariama was in the forest of  [what is today] Meru National Park, living with the very furious animals – lions and leopards – but still those animals were far better to deal with than the British, because those animals could give us meat.

Further:

In the forest I kept away from any thinking of my children and family. I was only thinking of the people who we are fighting. We were claiming our land from Europeans. That was the agenda. If you are shot, before you die, you are to scoop some soil and put it in your mouth. That is to say that you are dying because of that soil. You are innocent. And you can never cry. Never. When you are shot, you die without noise. You die without committing any wrong. You did not go to the forest because you wanted to kill anybody, but you were against the people who took your land. That’s the only be belief we put in our head. If you can get soil in your mouth before you die, you have won. You are free now.

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When the general was captured, he was thrust into one of these concentration camps.

5. Betrayal by “Black Europeans”

The Mau Mau referred to loyalists and collaborators as “Black Europeans.” To be called so was nothing to be proud of. This was a word imbued with disdain. The Mau Mau fought bravely. They gave their all and remained committed to the ideals of African freedom and dignity to the very end. But the cancer of betrayal lives amongst us. In the end loyalists and collaborators ended up enjoying “matunda ya uhuru. Total betrayal. Is there a God out there who listens to the cry of the oppressed and their descendants?  As the general painfully recalls:

The original people who occupied the land are thinking: You chased me from this land, and you paid nothing to me. You put your cattle on the land, occupied it, whatever you did. I ran away because you chased me away. I was fearing you because of power. Now you want to leave the Shamba, but you sold it to somebody, not me. Instead of the land going back to the original people , “black Europeans”  came in and took all the lands. When the mzungu left, another black man became mzungu.

#NotyetUhuru!

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Image source: antiimperialism.org

Mwalimu Julius Nyerere’s philosophy on development & capitalism

Development is one of those words that has been used to dehumanize Africans and other global southerners over the years. Think about terminology like: Developing Countries, Least Developed Countries, Underdeveloped Countries, Developed Countries, and if I may add, OVERDEVELOPED Countries! Development is also a word that is used to de-politicize poverty. There is a profession called ‘Development worker’! There is even a discipline called “Development Studies”! What is development? Who is developing who? Who gets to define who is developed and who is not? What if the developed one is the cause of underdevelopment in the underdeveloped one?

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I have been reading a bit of Mwalimu Julius Nyerere of late and I really like his thinking around development and capitalism.  I will share some of his thoughts below.

Our struggles for independence were national struggles, involving the rights of all the inhabitants. We were not aiming to replace our alien rulers by local privileged elites, but to create societies which ensure human dignity and respect for all. The concomitant of that is that every individual has the right to the maximum economic and political freedom which is compatible with equal freedom for all others; and that neither well-fed slavery nor the necessity to beg for subsistence are acceptable human conditions.

Absolutely. We have a very serious situation in Africa today. We have colonizers who look like us. Black skins white masks  a la Franz Fanon! Most countries are still designed around the extractive logic implanted on the continent during the colonial occupation 1.0. Now in colonialism 2.0 we are quickly realizing that nothing much has changed. We are still enslaved! We are still in the plantation! Our African leaders have become both participants in the new economic order and we remain at the bottom of the racial caste system around which this world is structured. This is not the kind of development that MJN was dreaming about and working towards.

Nyerere Getty

In practice Thirds World Nations cannot become developed capitalist societies without surrendering the reality of their freedom and without accepting a degree of inequality between their citizens which would deny the moral validity of our independence struggle. I will argue that our present poverty and national weakness make socialism the rational choice for us. Under capitalism, money is king. He who owns wealth owns also power.

This was written in the 60’s in his text ‘Man and development’. Is it not a prophecy? Which African country is a capitalist nation? Some of them, like Kenya Colony brag about being capitalists and look down upon neighbouring countries like Tanzania and Uganda, but all we see there is an ogre-fest where those two-mouthed ogres that had a mouth both at the front and the back and ate using both, as told in African stories, dominate and devour everything and everyone on the landscape. Where is the critical mass of African capitalists to be found? Who owns the mines in Africa? Who owns the land? Who owns plantations of various crops that Africa grows to feed Europe? Who owns the water? Who owns African bodies? Kenya colony, a delf-declared capitalist country, recently imported doctors from a socialist country (Cuba), after collapsing its healthcare system. How do you explain that?

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By the way, a note on ‘Third World’ – This terminology was created during the stupid cold war and literally meant countries that were neutral – not aligned to either of the two waring sides. Today it is synonymous with underdevelopment and poverty. Hail to all my fellow third worlders! Moving on…

Capitalism is a fighting system. Each capitalist enterprise survives by successfully fighting other capitalist enterprises. And the capitalist system as a whole survives by expanding, that is, by extending its area of operations and in the process eradicating all restraints upon it, and in the process eradicating all restraints upon it, and all weaker systems of society.

In other words, capitalism is war. That is why countries that claim to be capitalist like Kenya colony are oozing with violence from every pore!

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Third World capitalism would have no choice except to co-operate with external capitalism, as a very junior partner. Otherwise it would be strangled at birth. You cannot develop capitalism in our countries without foreign capitalists, their money and their management expertise. And these foreign capitalists will invest in Third World Countries only if, when, and to the extent that, they are convinced that to do so would be more profitable to them than any other investments. Development through capitalisism therefore means that we Third world nations have to meet conditions laid by others – by capitalists in other countries. And if we agree to their conditions, we would have to continue to be guided by them or face the threat of the new enterprises being run down, of money and skills being withdrawn, and of other economic sanctions being applied against us.

Enter IMF (What Nyerere referred to as the International Ministry of Finance) and the World Bank and other Lords of Poverty! Is there any African country that does not operate like this? People in the tech world in Kenya colony have been talking about how the industry is dominated by white people. Alas! Who has the capital? People (incl yours truly) in my beloved field of conservation have been talking about the white capture of conservation. Africa remains an appendage of the west because African leaders have refused to imagine other ways of structuring their economies.  With capitalism the global south just becomes a subsidiary. Capitalism entails a fight between capitalists themselves and also between capitalists and workers.

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The exploitation of the masses is, in fact, the basis on which capitalism has won the accolade fro having solved the problem of production. There is no other basis on which it can operate. For if the workers ever succeeded in obtaining the full benefits of their industry, then the capitalists would receive no profit and would close down the enterprise.

Capitalism cannot operate without exploitation. There has to be an exploiter and the exploited. If you are economically weak, you are the exploited.  Nyerere tried a different system in Tanzania, but was severely sabotaged by western capitalists. While there were inherent weaknesses in the system itself, a fact, he fully agrees with, we cannot overlooking or downplay the influence of the west on the collapse of the Tanzanian model – Doing so would be tantamount to being ahistorical.

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In so-called capitalist countries extreme wealth and poverty walk hand in hand. Nyerere provides this example:

Look at the developed capitalist societies. Then we can see malnutrition among the people of the Apalachian mountains and of Harlem contrasted with the gadgetry of suburbarn America; or in Britain we can see the problem of homelessness while colour television sets are produced endlessly; and in the same societies we can observe the small resources devoted to things like education and health for the people as compared with those spent to satisfy the inessential desires of the minority.

Proliferation of fast-foods and other western-culture-inspired goodies is considered a sign of development in many African countries. It is seen as a step towards ascending to modernity (read being white or whitening their darkness). Spending huge sums on elections when citizens lack water and food is capitalism or stupidity? Paying politicians huge salaries when there is no medicine in hospitals or books in schools is capitalism or open thuggery? Clear-cutting forests to grow flowers for Europe, diverting water from rivers to irrigate flowers and other horticultural produce for export to Europe  is capitalism  or sheer plunder of people and their environments?

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Capitalists and pseudo-capitalists are to be heard bragging about how their GDP is growing and how they want to achieve double-digit GDP-oriented economic growth. You can sell heroine and other drugs and grow your GDP, you can traffic human beings, ivory, and other animal products and still grow your GDP. You can blow up all the mountains, clear-cut forests, poison all the water and still grow your GDP.  Mwalimu sums it up nicely:

A successful harlot, or a favoured slave, may be better off materially than a woman who refuses to sell her body, or a man to sell his freedom. We do not regard the condition of the harlot or slave as being consequently enviable – unless, of course, we are starving, and even then we recognize the possible amelioration in our circumstances as being uncertain and insecure.

Question: If we look back to human origins – who told Homo-habilis, Homo-erectus and previous groups that they were underdeveloped and needed to develop to Homo-sapiens? I thought they just figured it out and adapted to, and innovated within their environments, to best use available resources. If that is the case, is it possible to develop another person or for a country to develop another one? The answer must be NO. The development industry is a SCAM!

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Some thoughts on ‘Education in crisis: An insiders perspective’

Great conversation here for all those that are interested in education- I assume that is EVERYBODY. A few points that stood out for me as I watched it.

Education in crisis: An insiders perspective

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  1. At independence, the new flag independence government wanted to fight poverty, disease and Ignorance. Dr. Wandia Njoya argues that we should problematize the use of ignorance. This got me thinking…Who was ignorant? What is ignorance? The way you define a problem determines on whether you can resolve it or not.  Was Mekatilili wa Menza ignorant? How about Mary Nanjiru?Were those who fought the British colonial murderous gang in the forests, in the cities, in the concentration camps, etc ignorant? This conceptualization of ignorance as an attribute of anybody who has not come into contact with the western forms of knowledge is Primitive. Some of the most brilliant people I have ever met have never stepped into anyone’s classroom. But they can theorize, philosophize and so on – of course they can, because there is knowledge beyond what is taught in classrooms. It is called Indigenous Knowledge – and it is in this knowledge system that you arrive at the very pinnacle of intellectual sophistication.

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2. During colonial occupation the goal of education was to equip the natives with skills to do low-level clerical jobs – mainly to serve the European morally bankrupt occupying force. The goal was not to get Africans to think. It was believed that the brain of an African stops growing at 9 years old. So, why should you engage the African in anything more than just counting and learning how to write. On writing – this is one thing that has been used to make Africans feel inferior. The truth of the matter is that there were many forms of writing in African cultures, but since it was not writing using a pen, or pencil, or chalk, and it does not involve writing using this alphabet that I am using to type this, then it is not writing. That kind of thinking is PRIMITIVE.

pexels-photo-256541.jpeg3. One of the troubles with the new curriculum, according to Dr. Wandia Njoya is that children from poor families will end up being directed to the “talent stream”, because of amongst others, the carryover of some of the colonial attitudes discussed above.

pexels-photo-46274.jpeg4. Education has been so tied to exams that there is no joy in learning. Students are only interested in learning about what will be in the exam. The result – no room from critical thinking at all. Speaking of exams, it is exams that were used to destroy what I consider the first attempt to decolonize education in Kenya. That is the independent school movement. The colonial government introduced exams forcing teachers to tailor their curriculum(s) to that. That is why education remains A for Apple education and Ludwig Krapf (Crap?) and other discoverers education.

books-education-school-literature-48126.jpeg5. Everybody should seek to educate themselves. If you rely on the school and formal education system to educate you, you will remain very uneducated indeed. Read, read, read. Listen, listen, listen.  Now information is much more easily available than the past. I have learnt more about African history and conservation, from facebook that I have learnt from the formal education system.

pexels-photo-207662.jpeg6. Wandia Njoya suggests that we should be more imaginative in the utilization of resources. Why should every school have its own sports infrastructure& its own library, for example? Can’t these resources be shared, including with community members? Some people who are stewing in colonial juices will find this idea repugnant.

tulips-flowers-fish-eye-red-66896.jpeg7. Finally, you will not find these kinds of conversations in Githeri media. Thank you, the Elephant, thank you Wandia Njoya, and thank you, Gathara!

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Reading Timothy Njoya’s ‘We the People’

I wanted to read this book as soon as it was published in 2017.  I did not get to it until recently.  I was nudged by Timothy Njoya’s absolutely brilliant and thought-provoking tweets. I wanted to understand more of what fires his thinking and philosophy. There was never a dull moment in reading this book. At some points, I found myself laughing out loud, other times realizing how painful it is to be a Kenyan, other times infuriated by the follies of the Kenyan State, and yet other times filled with immense joy about the spirit of Kenyan peoples. This blog post is a reflection on some of the main ideas/issues Njoya engages with.

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  1. The Lancaster Constitution, the  church, Mashujaa heroes and heroines

According to Njoya, the above were the major stumbling blocks to the transformation of Kenya. Independence or Uhuru has led Kenyans from one pitfall to the other, to the extent that it feels that they are locked in a permanent struggle for social justice.  Kenya was/is (depending on how you see it), colonised by the British.  It transitioned from Arab slave trade, to the property of the Imperial British East African Company, to the Kenya government and finally, to the post-independence government(s). At independence, the British rounded up Kenyan elites to London to allegedly, craft a new constitution for Kenya. In reality the constitution was crafted by a British academic.  The delagates were there to rubber stamp. The one group that walked out of the sham was the Maasai delegates after they realized that this constitution would not revoke the Anglo-Maasai agreements in which they lost huge amounts of land, livestock, and lives.  The Lancaster constitution conceptualized the people as property.  According to Njoya:

This blatant treatment of people as property, moving them from the hands of slave masters into the hands of colonial masters and then into the hands of a totalitarian state, contravened the doctrine of self-determination as defined by the Treaty of Versailles and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which says that everyone has the right to be treated as a person and not as a thing.

The church supported colonialism, slavery, and totalitarian regimes. The church also vehemently opposed the 2010 constitution. As for the Mashujaa heroes and heroines, they believed that independence was an end in itself but as Franz Fanon has shown, independence  plunged Africans into “independence depression”.

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Image Source: Wikipedia

2. Kenya as a racially segregated society 

Kenya was and is a settler colony. The defining element of colonialism was the entrenchment of racial hierarchy as a tool for facilitating land grabs, subjugation of indigenous peoples, and legitimizing white authority in conquered lands. Njoya argues that from the beginning of British occupation, Kenya was structured and established as a market where everything and everyone had a price. The racial market was/is structured thusly:

White males ranked first and white females second; Indian males third and Indian females fourth; Arab males fifth and Arab females sixth; Somali males seventh and Somali females eighth; and finally, African males ninth and African females tenth. This legalized ranking of people according to their market value—which also determined how much each race was entitled to eat and mate—has been dubbed “racism” or “negative ethnicity.” This skewed piling of people into a pyramid based on their monetary value portrays the whole of Kenya like our snowcapped Mount Kenya; like a mountain capped with white people standing erect at the summit; like a glans stiffened by sucking blood from the races standing below.

Mt. Kenya

What has changed since the acquisition of Uhuru? I think the only change, if it can be referred as such, is the following: The top remains white, followed closely by the political elite (honorary whites), then wildlife (especially the so-called big five), the Indian males…the rest remains unchanged.  The whites remain at the top. This is manifested  best through land, which was one of the central pillars of the struggle for independence. The remnants of white settlers and other kind of settlers are some of the biggest land owners in the Kenyan colony. White settlers are to be found in places such as Nanyuki, Naivasha, and Timau.

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One o the most depressing places to drive through in Kenya, is Timau. You look to theft of the road, you see farms that stretch to the horizon – your eyes cannot see the end. You look to the right, you see the same thing. And your heart sinks because you know those farms are not owned by indigenous Kenyans. When you look to the left, you see white privilege. When you look to the right, you see white privilege. You are engulfed. What do you do? Go ask for a job to harvest wheat? Is it really ethical, morally right, normal, just, etc, for anyone to own hundreds of thousands of acres of land in Kenya? A country where some of those who survived the war in the forest did not get any of the land they sacrificed their lives for? A country in which landlessness is rife? A country in which landlessness was worsened by ethnic tensions in places like the Rift Valley, where communities who had been dislocated by the colonials in their territories ended up? The morally bankrupt willing seller willing buyer argument does not quite help us address the question above.


IMG_4009I ranked wildlife as no 3 in the present day racial hierarchy, because it is associated with those who occupy the apex of the race pyramid. Ownership of large tracts of land is tied to the establishment of conservancies. The name conservancy brings to mind the saga centred around Delamare’s Soysambu Conservancy and the murder of Robert Njoya, for trying to hunt an antelope. In this case alone, you can understand the history of land dispossession, white privilege, racial hierarchy, the romanticization of wildlife conservation, and structural poverty.

 

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3. A society defined by cascading oppression 

In Kenya, you find a society where extreme wealth and poverty are juxtaposed dramatically.  The masses at the bottom of the mountain are poor, and the wealthy at the summit have used every tactic in the book to keep the poor at the bottom of the mountain. One of the other evil ideas of the colonial state is the creation of ethnicity, which is just the same as racism. The idea that some people are better than others. This has openly gotten entangled with and into politics – the politics of death and destruction.  And you have communities fighting each other because their respective ethnic lords have told them other communities are their enemies. According to Njoya, this is a good manifestation of the market and property ideology because:

In a market where everybody is property and the culture dictates that everyone own someone else, the slaves and the poor find it easier to own each other than to liberate themselves from their owners. Freire acknowledged that the struggle of slaves, tribes, the colonized, and the poor is actually the struggle to share their oppression.

Wanjiku divided

As poor and oppressed spend all their time and energy hating and fighting each other, the rich and the oppressors get richer and consolidate power. Then they throw crumbs your way and tell you that you are their “people” or they are “helping you”. They poor and oppressed will not find time to understand the cause of their misery? Where is the time?  If you try and point this out, you will be probably called a traitor or a hater.

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4. Miseducation of the people 

This book is one of the best critiques of the Kenyan education system there is. Njoya demonstrates how education has been used to entrench oppression through concrete examples. Since the colonial occupation, the African is reduced to a non-thinking being. Remember,  white supremacists believed that African brains stopped growing at 9 years old.  Therefore, there was no need to get them to think of complex ideas, to engage in philosophy, or theory.  Those were reserved for the white brain, which was or is more developed -allegedly.  After independence, the state carries on the with the same system of education. There is no fundamental change. I call it A for Apple education.

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Education helps create a divide in society where : “the top class of the privileged, totalitarian, and parasitical few who owned and consumed everything, and the bottom majority that produced everything and ate nothing.”  Nyayo torture  chambers were constructed by Kenyan city planners, engineers, architects, and surveyors, Njoya argues. Thus, their education had not helped them to question anything, but rather to be obedient. Trust and obey! The Nyayo torture chambers were used to brutalize thinkers. They were in the group those that Moi referred to as  “radicals, dissidents, Marxists, atheists, malcontents, and disgruntled.”  Njoya further points out that the school system was a pre-Nyayo chamber where critical thinking was discouraged, where brutalization of the mind was celebrated.  Infact, most people leave school totally traumatized and do not want to see a book ever again.  Has anybody ever conducted a study about why students burn books after completing high school? Education entrenches the colonial idea of a person as property  in the form of  “laborers, taxpayers, or voters, rather than their intrinsic worth as human beings.”

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What is the point of education? Is education not supposed to make us the very best version of ourselves, to make us into responsible members of society  who care about justice and equality for all? In school I learnt that Mt. Kenya was discovered by Ludwig Krapf! Utter nonsense.  In history, homeguards and collaborators were presented as freedom fighters. Has anything changed?  In the Moi years (1978-2002), the best thinkers were killed or exiled, while others joined politics. Professors became some of the most shocking Moi psychophants of all time. Others joined politics essentially turning parliament into the “graveyard of intellectualism.”

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5. Religion as a tool for oppression 

I must say it was quite refreshing to read a critique of the church from a reverend.  He speaks honestly and courageously about the failings of thee church- all of which I agree with. I have three blogs on my misgivings with colonial Christianity: here, here, and here.  Njoya argues that the church and state coalesed to oppress the masses by stupefying them into devotion to their oppression. He confesses: ” Knowing that religion can be a stupefier and yet making religion my career was the greatest of all the conflicts within me.”  One is tempted to ask – just how Christian are Kenyan Christians, when you have cases of Christians butchering each other in churches (as happened in Kiambaa).  He also acknowledges the role of Christianity in the slave trade, colonial conquest, and of course, post-independence oppression.

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6. The laugh out loud moments

As I said at the beginning, there are many laughter-inducing sections of this book.  I often found myself giggling or laughing out loud. This is derived from the a participatory sermon he conducted.  A druken man walks into the church. Njoya asks him: Why did you come to church?

The drunken man said, “I came to ask you to christen our nameless rivers and lakes! The city council has allowed its broken sewer system to form rivers and lakes on our roads and in shops, schools, and homes!” “With what names would you like me to baptize them?” I asked the drunken man.

Someone else in the congregation shouted, “Baptize them with big names!” Furious, the drunken man retorted, “Why are you afraid to say they should be christened River Moi and the Lake Kenyatta?”

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8. Kenyan politicians as merchants of death

During one of his interactive sermons Njoya asks the congregation this: Who is an MP? A woman provides a swift answer:

“The MP is the man who digs potholes on tarmac roads so that his sons’ construction companies can secure state contracts to fill the potholes with mud.”

The politicians who are close to top of the pyramid truly the merchants of death – both metaphorically and in reality. The answer by this woman illustrates a death of trust for politicians who are elected to represent the interests of the people. Digging potholes on the tarmac can also be understood as other forms of economic plunder that are designed to enrich the rich and impoverish the impoverished. No other career is more lucrative than being a politician in Kenyan today. Politicians fly around in choppers…actually, I would extend the quote of this woman and say – …potholes with mud, and then not use the road, and instead, use helicopters to fly around. If they use the road, then they use huge 4wd Germany-made or Japan-made vehicles which do not feel the mud-filled potholes! The contempt with which politicians treat Kenyans is astonishing and deeply hurtful. Njoya brings it home when he writes that: “In Kenya, those who are not victims of physical violence have their psyches hurt by the theft of public resources. ”

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Kenyan Politicans’ helicopters: Image Source – The Standard

They are also the merchants of death through instigating communities to kill each other so that they can gain political mileage.  The 2007/08 post-election case is instructive:

 In order for Kibaki, the Trojan horse, to retain power, and for Raila, the most promising, to gain power, they used the elections to incite the people to kill each other. These were the very same people who had never rioted for food, even when hundreds died of hunger.

Njoya describes politicians as “roundworms” and “tapeworms”. They are joined in sucking the blood of the host (Kenyans), by western donors who he refers to as “ringworms”.  What shall we refer the Chinese as? Hookworms? This is a book that should be read by all. If I was teaching, I would make this a required text.

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Africans: Jesus did not die for us

Dear fellow Africans,

Jesus did not die for us. Jesus died for the Jews. You can watch more about the history of Jesus in this PBS documentary – featuring scholars – not pastors!  Now, are you a Jew? No, you are not.  Now that that is out of the way, now might be also a good time to start questioning this image of Jesus. There is no way Jesus could have looked like this – a white guy with blonde hair and blue eyes.  This is the European version of Jesus, which has been used to cause havoc in the minds of Africans – through the colonial and neocolonial enterprises. At the time the colonial brigade was telling you that Jesus died for you, some serious ‘sins’ were being committed by the same brigade and its allies against you (e.g., massive land grabs, enslavement on your own land, and worse, the total  destruction of your being/personhood).

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The misleading image of Jesus commonly found hanging in African homes, and emblazoned in other public spaces.

Did I hear you say that images do not matter? Actually, they do matter a great deal.  If it were not for the imagery that has been beamed across the world about Africans, we would not have the pervasive negative perceptions of Africans, amongst people who have never interacted with a single African. There is a reason why they say a picture speaks a thousand words. Oh wait, there is even a better example. Some white man caused embarrassing excitement in Nairobi towards the end of 2016. He was believed to be Jesus making comeback to “judge the living and the dead”. Gasp! and Sigh! Is that not as a result of the above image?

Fellow Africans,

Jesus did not die for us – the following people did.

  1. Patrice Lumumba
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Patrice Lumumba. Image source: Africa Top Success.

Patrice Lumumba was the first Prime Minister of the country now known as the Democratic Republic of Congo. He was involved in the struggle for independence in his country and that of Africa at large. In his speech at Independence Lumbumba had this to  say:

For this independence of the Congo … no Congolese worthy of the name will ever be able to forget that it was by fighting that it has been won, a day-to-day fight, an ardent and idealistic fight, a fight in which we were spared neither privation nor suffering, and for which we gave our strength and our blood … We are proud of this struggle, of tears, of fire, and of blood, to the depths of our being, for it was a noble and just struggle, and indispensable to put an end to the humiliating slavery which was imposed upon us by force.

Unfortunately, Lumumba did not live see a free Congo. He was killed for his desire to unite the country and to ensure that there was true emancipation of his people through control of all their resources.  He was killed by way of a firing squad(by treacherous Africans) with the support of Belgium and the USA. More here and here.

2. Ernestina Silla

Ernestina Silla

Ernestina was a formidable guerrilla in the war for independence in Guinea Bissau. In the fight against Portuguese colonialism, she rose to the position of commander of the liberation army, and was responsible for many combat operations. She was killed by the Portuguese while she was on her way to attend the funeral of Amilcar Cabral. She was in her early 20’s.

3. Amilcar Cabral

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Cabral led the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC), in an armed struggle for independence. Cabral’s revolt was based on his personal observation of the misery of the African population under colonialism.  He worked as an agricultural officer for the colonial government, and  in this position gained an in-depth understanding of their every-day struggles. Cabral was an avid intellectual and believed in the application of theory in emancipation from all forms of colonial domination. At the core of his philosophy was the belief that:

A people who free themselves from foreign domination will be free culturally only if, without complexes and without underestimating the importance of positive accretions from oppressor and other cultures, they return to the upward paths of their own culture, which is nourished by the living reality of its environment, and which negates both harmful influences and any kind of subjection to foreign culture. Thus, it may be seen that if imperialist domination has the vital need to practice cultural oppression, national liberation is necessarily an act of culture.

Cabral was anti-exploitation in all of its manifestations. Of all the liberation fighters of his time, he is probably the only person who did not see oppression only through race. Thus he argued:

We of the CONCP are fighting so that insults may no longer rule our countries, martyred and scorned for centuries, so that our peoples may never more be exploited by imperialists-not only by Europeans, not only by people with white skin, because we do not confuse exploitation or exploiters with the colour of men’s skins; we do not want any exploitation in our countries, not even by black people.

There is a very good documentary about his life and ideas here. Read more about him here. Cabral was killed by a fellow PAIGC member, with the support of the Portuguese about 8 months before the attainment of independence.  This is what some authors have called the cancer of betrayal.

4. Muhumusa

Nayabingi-Priestess

Muhumusa hailed from present day Rwanda. She was a revered  Nyabingi priestess who had enormous spiritual and political influence in the region. She organized armed resistance against British and German colonizers. She was detained by the British and died while in detention. She continued to command a following while in prison. The story of Muhumusa shows that African spirituality (often viewed negatively), served the people in their time of need by consolidating their resistance against colonialism. Rastafarians have adopted many of the Nyabingi practices.

5.  Thomas Sankara

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Thomas Sankara

Sankara was the president of Burkina Faso (formerly Upper Volta). Sankara was killed for his desire to free his country and peoples from all of the tentacles of imperialism. Who killed him? Blaise Compaore – with the support of France. Sankara is probably the only African leader who understood that you could not free Africans from global domination if we still remained entangled with the global santa claus (World Bank) and the IMF.This is a conviction that he was willing to defend publicly.  This earned him enemies – needless to say. Have you seen Sankara’s speeches at the UN meetings? We do not have anybody in the current group of presidents who can stand up and speak for Africa like that. I think the ones we have have been bought and paid for. He also worked to transform the lives of his people through food security programs, building infrastructure, cultivating their pride etc, with concrete results. Here is a documentary about his life. Read more here and here. 

6. Deolinda Roudrigues

Deolinda

Deolinda was a young PanAfricanist who joined the Movement for the Popular Liberation of Angola(MPLA). She served as a member of the central committee where she led programs designed to end Portuguese colonialism. She was killed by Portuguese agents on the way  from a combat mission in a most brutal manner – she was tortured and dismembered while still alive. When she was studying in Brazil, Deolinda reached out to Martin Luther and sought advice on how to handle some complex issues related to the struggle. Read the correspondence between Deolinda and Martin Luther King Jr here.

7. Steve Biko 

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Steve Biko

 

Steve Biko was one of the leading figure of the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. He was a tireless mobilizer, organizer, thinker, and doer. This often got him into trouble with the apartheid state. He was expelled from school, university, banned (meaning he could not talk to more than one person at a time, and eventually arrested and killed.  Biko is remembered as the pioneering thinkers behind the “black consciousness movement.” He was only 30 at the time of his death.

8. Mbalia Camara

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Mbalia was a young organizer from Guinea. She was a member of the core group that formed the Democratic Party of Guinea, PDG along with Sekou Toure and Mafory Bangaro. She was murdered by agents of the French colonial authorities in 1995. At the time of the attack that led to her death,Mbalia was pregnant. Her attackers slashed open her belly, despite the spirited efforts and protests of the women who had congregated to ward off the attackers. Once her belly was slashed open the women tied their wrappers around her body to stop the bleeding, but she and the baby succumbed to the injuries later on. Her revolutionary spirit is celebrated every 9th of February(the day she died) in Guinea.

9. Malcom X

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Malcom X

Malcom remains one of the most revolutionary figures in the struggle for the rights of African Americans.  He started out as a militant advocate of racial separation as one of the ways to attaining dignity for his people. He later on changed his position and embraced more moderate views. These were formed as he traveled around the world and experienced a different kind of Islam. He eventually left the Nation of Islam and established his own religious  body, the Muslim Mosque Inc. He was killed by assassins from the NOI.  A great book about Malcom is Manning Marable’s ‘Malcom X: A life of reinvention’.

10. Dedan Kimathi

Dedan Kimathi Waciuri At His Trial In Nyeri
Dedan Kimathi

Field Marshall Dedan Kimathi was the de facto leader of the  Land and Freedom Army (Mau Mau), in Kenya’s struggle for independence from the British. Kimathi is credited with leading one of the most protracted and bloodiest battles for self-determination in the British Empire.  British colonial injustice forced the masses of Kenya to mobilize and flee to the forested mountains, from where a battle for land and freedom restoration was waged for 7 years.  Kimathi was captured because a treacherous traitor betrayed him. He was later on executed and buried in unmarked grave. His family, Mau Mau veterans, and lovers of justice continue to agitate for his remains so that he can be given a decent burial that he rightfully deserves.

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So, one more time. Jesus did not die for us. The examples given above are an illustration of some of the greatest combatants for Africans’ dignity. These people died for us.  There are many more heroes in all African societies. I do not understand why we have to be so obsessed with other people’s heroes, yet we do not even know about our own. The same people who came to tell you about Jesus are the exact same ones who have been involved all but one of the gruesome murders discussed above. They are also the same people who steal your gold, diamonds, oil, agricultural produce, land for military bases and other death-producing projects.

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“I cannot believe the British wanted to take all of this away from us!” Sights and sounds from the Aberdare Forest Reserve in central Kenya

First, let us start with the name, shall we?  Who/what is Aberdare?  To understand this we need to go back to the era/doctrine of ‘discovery’. This forest was named thus, by  explorer Joseph Thompson after the then, president of the Royal Geographic society, Lord Aberdare.

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The Agikuyu people in whose territory this forest and mountain range is located call it Nyandarua/ drying hide due to the distinctive fold of its silhouette.

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Folded landscape in the background. That is the Nyandarua range

There is a huge  and interesting debate around naming in indigenous/ Afrocentric scholarship. When you name a landscape such as this after a European explorer, queen or other person who has no connection with the the people there,  you  effectively dismantle communities from their landscapes.  When you name this forest  Aberdare, you are simply saying that the people who have lived there for millennia have NO knowledge. That they have no understanding of their landscape, and that they do not relate their landscapes to their cultural heritage or who they are as a people. It is worthwhile to mention that this mountain range is considered to be sacred and to be one of the home of Ngai/God by the Agikuyu people.

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There is lots of cash crop farming on the eastern side. These are tea plantations on the edge of the forest and some pineapple.

Now, why the Kenyan government chose to retain this name after independence, is beyond me. There are other African landcapes/waterscapes  that  still bear colonial names e.g. Lake Victoria and Victoria falls (in Zimbabwe) but  thankfully, the people down in Zimbwabwe have had the wisdom to rename it Mosi Oa Tunya/the smoke that thunders- but, I digress.  The good news is that, a while back  a community  group  was pushing for the renaming of the forest, after the Mau Mau geurilla movent  leader Dedan Kimathi whose main area of operation was this forest during, the fight against British imperialism. Read more about it  here. The name has not changed so  I suppose it is Aluta Continua on this one …

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Statue of Dedan Kimathi in Nairobi, Kenya’s capital. He was captured and hanged by the British and buried in a mass grave. To this day, his family is still searching for his remains in order to give him a decent burial  – over 50 years later.

The Nyandarua mountain range is a really breathtaking landscape and it does not take one long  to understand why the British appropriated all the land here for themselves, kicked the local community out and renamed it (along with other prime land in Kenya) ‘the white highlands’.  The weather is great with temperatures ranging between 25 -10 degrees Celcius all year round, stunning scenery of the  Great Rift Valley below, waterfalls plunging from the hills, magnificent trees and fertile land.

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View of the Great Rift Valley from the western side of the forest
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This landscape/protected area comprises of both a National Park and Forest Reserve. This is a shot from the National park which is enclosed by the forest reserve.
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One of the smaller waterfalls in this landscape. We are yet to see the bigger ones! and I simply cannot wait!
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Rising to the skies – trees of of Nyandarua
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Remnants of colonial settlement in on the western side of the forest
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Going deep into the forest 🙂

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We went for what was a very adventurous search  of huge trees in the forest(see some of the heights we had to descend into in the two picture above). Mind you, there are elephants in this forest and I was thinking to myself  “if an elephant(s) shows up here we are DEAD”. We survived hahaha! But, in the end it is poignant statement made by  my co-researcher Mbugua said that still remains in my mind. He said “I cannot believe that the British wanted to take all of this away from us“. Indeed!

This will be my base of operation  as I conduct my fieldwork for the next couple of months. Stay tuned for stories and other exciting stuff!

And very very finally , here is some interesting news from this area.  I am interested in sacred sites and indigenous environmental thought  so this is quite fascinating to me. Fall of sacred Mugumo tree/Tree of God

“I am just a farmer” and other anecdotes from Malawi

Its 2012 and I am attending a community workshop in Central Malawi. Our topic of discussion is community driven heritage conservation and community livelihoods around Chongoni World Heritage Rock Art Site. About 20 people are in attendance. It is time for the break and we all go out to have a chat and some refreshments. My colleague gets into a conversation with one of the participants and asks so, what do you do? To which he quickly responds “I am just a farmer”.

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My colleague quickly to points out  that farming is a very important undertaking and that he should be proud because farmers feed the world.  That conversation got me thinking.  How many of us respect or even think of where the food we eat comes from? Somebody has to grow it. And farming is HARD WORK, yet those who toil on the land so that we can eat do not get the respect they deserve not to mention fair compensation. So, how can we show our respect for farmers? How about by not wasting food? (which is a very serious global challenge).

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Photo Courtesy of http://www.thisisrubbish.org.uk/

How about by not being so fussy about if the tomato is perfectly round and without blemish? How about just thanking any farmer(s) you know?  How about not bargaining so much when you go to buy food? We are not willing to question the prices in the supermarket but the poor mama mboga/grocer  will have to wake up at 4am to go buy the stuff from wherever, transport it and then you come and say “niko na kobole”/”I only have 5 shillings” when you can actually afford the 10 bob/shillings you are being asked for. We (including me) need to stop that. : )

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Gule Wa Mukulu

One of the greatest joys of working in Malawi was the opportunity to see Gule wa Mukulu or the great dance performed by  members of the Nyau secret society. This is a tradition dating back to the 17th Century and that has somehow survived colonial and missionary assaults and I think it ought to be celebrated. It is great that it is recognized by UNESCO as a masterpiece of the oral and intangible heritage of humanity.

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The Chewa are the largest ethnic group in Malawi and are  matrilineal society.  Men are therefore not at the pinnacle of social organization and it is believed that the Nyau  created an opportunity to establish solidarity among the men. It is also a bridge between the present, the past and the future and is performed during initiation, marriage, funerals and other ceremonies. When not performed in a formal setting, the dancers wear masks (each of which represents something- ranging from wild animals, spirits, slave traders etc ) and move around the villages dancing and children enjoy making the Nyau dancer run after them by taunting them. I  was lucky to see one up close because one of the people with us could communicate with the Nyau using a secret code. He was a former member before he converted to Christianity. Sorry, the video is all shaky and even upside down – too much excitement!!!

Lake Malawi

Running the full length of the country this lake plays a vital role in the Malawian economy. I love lakes more than oceans or seas and I am on a mission to see and touch the waters of as many lakes as possible. Lake Malawi is spectacular and the Chambo/tilapia from this Lake is absolutely delicious.

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Lake Malawi
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Chambo/Tilapia
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Nsima – usually served with Chambo

Wood carving heritage

There is a great wood carving tradition in Malawi and you find lots of very high quality products of all sorts at various outlets.

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Malawi wood carvings – this is the backrest of a chair

The people of Malawi

One of the greatest things about Malawi however, is the warmth of the people. That is the one thing that will take me back to Malawi. Zikomo kwa mbiri to all the people of this great land. IMG_4535 IMG_4398 IMG_4374

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