By MURPHY BROWNE (Abena Agbetu)
Jomo Kenyatta has been sentenced to seven years hard labour for his part in the organisation of the rebel Mau Mau movement. The leader of the Kenya African Union, who was found guilty on all charges, was also given three years hard labour to run concurrently for being a member of the movement. Kenyatta told the court he and his colleagues were not guilty but that they stood for the rights of the African people and peace in Kenya. Kenyatta was also given several opportunities to denounce the illegal movement which he refused to do.
Excerpt from British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) report, March 8, 1953.
Jomo Kenyatta, born Kamau wa Ngengi to parents Muigai and Wambu, who were members of the Kikuyu ethnic group in central Kenya, changed his name to Jomo Kenyatta as an adult. He became Kenya’s first Prime Minister when the country gained its political independence from Britain on December 12, 1963 but it was a long hard road getting there.
Kenyatta’s political career could be said to have begun when he became a member of the Kikuyu Central Association (KCA). The KCA was an organization founded in 1924 to present the concerns of the Kikuyu people to the representatives of the British government in Kenya who occupied African land.
Although at that time the British were in possession of the best farming land in the country they were not the first Europeans to occupy the land. The first Europeans entering Kenya in 1844 were German missionaries. These missionaries had more on their minds than converting Africans to Christianity. They made numerous exploratory journeys into the interior of the country where they carefully mapped and wrote about their findings.
In 1860, they published detailed maps and cataloguing of the land in Travels, Researches, and Missionary Labours During an Eighteen Years’ Residence in Eastern Africa. Not surprisingly, the missionary Johann Ludwig Krapf dedicated the book to “The Prince Consort Francis Albert Augustus Charles Emmanuel etc.,” the German husband of then reigning British monarch, Victoria (ancestor of today’s British royal family). The book, documenting the findings by the German missionaries, was probably widely read in Britain and led to British adventurers descending on Kenya in droves.
White people displaced the indigenous African communities in the area and occupied the land. The well-established African communities, which included farmers, fishermen, hunters and ironworkers who supported the economy with agriculture, fishing, metal production and trade with other countries, were destroyed.
Mombasa (Kenya’s capital) was the major port city of Kenya in the Middle Ages from where ships left to trade with other countries. In the 16th century, Duarte Barbosa, a Portuguese writer and trader, visited several countries bordering the Indian Ocean and documented his findings in The Book of Duarte Barbosa: An Account of the Countries Bordering on the Indian Ocean and Their Inhabitants, which was published in 1518.
Of his visit to Mombasa, Barbosa wrote:
“This is a place of great traffic and has a good harbour in which there are always moored small craft of many kinds and also great ships, both of those which come from Sofala and those which go thither, and others which come from the great kingdom Cambaya and from Melinde and others which sail to the island of Zanzibar.”
The history of Kenya, however, began long before the advent of Europeans to the area. In the book Kenya’s Past: An Introduction to Historical Method in Africa,” Thomas Spear writes:
“The history of eastern and central Kenya stretches more than two million years from the initial emergence of mankind itself to the present. The archaeological record of mankind in Kenya is the oldest in the world, stretching back some four to five million years to the earliest men and women and their immediate forebears living on the shores of Lake Turkana.”
Kenya’s history was rewritten by White colonizers who swiftly followed the German missionaries and British adventurers. The lives of the Africans changed considerably after this large scale occupation of the land by White men and women. The Germans and British were jostling each other for space in East Africa.
The covetous Europeans had occupied other areas of Africa and by 1884 felt that they needed to have some rules since they were tripping over each other in their greedy stampede to occupy African land. In 1884 at the request of Portugal, German chancellor Otto von Bismarck organized a meeting (Berlin Conference) of the major White tribes of the world to negotiate and end the confusion over who would occupy which portion of Africa.
Fourteen countries were represented when the conference opened in Berlin on November 15, 1884: Austria-Hungary, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Sweden-Norway (unified from 1814-1905), Turkey and the United States of America. The feeding frenzy lasted three months until February 26, 1885. This group of White men meeting in Europe haggled over haphazardly drawn boundaries on the African continent, disregarding the centuries-old established communities, cultures and order of the Africans.
Following that initial “Scramble for Africa” the British moved into Kenya, occupied the most fertile land and forced the Africans off the land. They passed laws that disenfranchised Africans, even forbidding them to own land in certain parts of the country. With the White interlopers occupying what they dubbed the “White Highlands” of Kenya, the Maasai and the Kikuyu were displaced and some were forced unto reserves.
With the fertile land in Kenya reserved for White people and Africans forced to subsist on mostly infertile land, the White settlers became increasingly wealthy while the Africans lived in poverty. The large scale farming that enriched the White farmers needed cheap labour but the Africans refused to work on the farms. To ensure that Africans were a cheap source of labour for the White population of Kenya, the British government passed laws which forced the Africans to work for the White people who now occupied their land.
The British army was on hand to ensure that White farmers and the stolen African land they occupied were protected. The passing and enforcing of the “Masters and Servants Act” (1906) ensured that a caste system of all White people as masters and all Africans as servants was firmly in place.
By the time the KCA was founded in 1924 almost 40 years and two generations of British occupation and brutally barbaric rule had cowed some Africans in Kenya into accepting life as colonized people. However, regardless of dispossession and occupation of their land, it is natural for human beings to resist oppression and the Africans in Kenya fought back in various ways. Organizing and protesting were some of those ways.
Not surprisingly, the KCA was banned in 1940 during the time of the European tribal conflict (1939-1945) because White people were occupied with killing each other in Europe. The battle which began in Europe soon engulfed the lives and the lands of racialized people whose land had been occupied by White people.
So of course, racialized people from Africa, Asia, Australia, the Caribbean, Central, North and South America were drafted into the conflict, fighting on the side of whichever European tribe controlled their native land. The British would have found it difficult to keep track of the members of organizations like the KCA while they were battling with other Europeans in Europe so the organization was banned.
When the European tribes ended their armed conflict on September 2, 1945 those Africans who had been fighting beside White men for years knew that White men were not superior beings – just human beings – some cowards under fire, some brave, but all could die from bullets. Those Africans returning from the war in Europe were not content to return to the status of second-class citizens in their countries and the fight for independence from European colonization intensified.
The Kenya African Union (KAU) was founded in 1944 to address the inequities of colonization. Kenyatta and other African leaders were influenced by the philosophies and teachings of Marcus Mosiah Garvey, an African-Jamaican considered the father of the modern Pan-African movement. This philosophy led to Africans realizing that they needed to unite to gain their political independence from the European colonizers of their land and the struggle was on across the continent.
A group of disenchanted and disenfranchised Africans, supposedly a break-off group of KAU which waged armed struggle against the colonizers in Kenya, became known as the Mau Mau. Every African in Kenya was suspected of being a member of the Mau Mau and the repression of Africans by the British was brutal (www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/apr/05/kenyans-sue-uk-colonial-human-rights-abuses).
Although Kenyatta denied being a member of the Mau Mau (www.bluegecko.org/kenya/tribes/kikuyu/articles-speech.htm), he was arrested, tried and found guilty on March 8, 1953. Even with Kenyatta’s incarceration, the struggle for independence continued in spite of brutal British repression and on December 12, 1963, Kenyans gained their independence from British occupation.