Survivors of the bullet

 Survivors of the bullet

Ngugi wa Thiong’o calls them Matigari. He says that they were remnants, or survivors. They survived the British colonial bullets that cut down many a fighter in the Mau Mau rebellion (1948 – 1960). In the novel first published in in 1986 in Gikuyu as Matigari Ma Njirungi (The Survivors of the Bullets), Wa Thiong’o is at pains to paint the portrait of a stolen independence and stolen dreams.

There are those who fought for Independence and those who gained from the coming of Independence. They were not necessarily one and the same. In point of fact, Wa Thiong’o is unequivocal. A self-serving class of overlords stole Independence from the people. Those who fought against Independence had the last laugh while those who fought for freedom languished. This is a recurrent theme in Wa Thiongo’s writings. We see it in the tragic return of the carpenter Gikonyo in A Grain of Wheat. Gikonyo returns from detention to discover that his former boyhood friend, Karanja, has not only become the village chief. Karanja has also sired a child with Mumbi, Gikonyo’s wife. If you thought Karanja would be remorseful, he is in fact spiteful. He warns the returnee, “There are laws here. If you joke, we shall send you back to prison.” We find this theme in Devil on the Cross, in I Will Marry When I Want, in Petals of Blood and in virtually everything Wa Thiong’o has written.

Such was the plight of the man who fought for land rights in Central Kenya. He was served a cold dish at Independence. On account of this, he has journeyed through history as someone to be kept on a short leash. But when it is necessary, he can also be unleashed as cannon fodder for the same forces that have kept him in chains. Such is what students of history would make of the anxiety in Kenya’s political elite over the rise of Limuru II and the imminent birth of Mukenya Solidarity Party. The victim of oppression is made to see and interpret the world through the eyes of the oppressor.

Voices such as those behind Limuru II and Mukenya evoke memories that dominant classes wish to suppress, especially in Central Kenya. For they are voices fully loaded with harsh realities of historical injustices that will just not go away. Beyond that, they debunk the myth that has often been peddled that everyone in Central Kenya is rich. Next to this is the myth that everyone in Central Kenya is the beneficiary of free things, just because half of our Independence period so far has been under the watch of two presidents from this region.

Far from it, however, is that the ruling elite has always been nervous about what Daniel Branch calls “the Kikuyu have-nots.” This is regardless that the President is from the region. Writing in the volume Kenya, Between Hope and Despair, 1963 – 2011, Branch says, “President Kenyatta was particularly concerned over the question of ‘the Kikuyu have-nots.’ These were mainly people from Mau Mau who had no land  . . . They were the ghosts at the banquet of postcolonial Kenya.”

Intractable land questions have troubled Central Kenya from the turn of the nineteenth century, beginning with the arrival of Charles Eliot as the British Counsul in 1903. Over the next 36 years, the people were effectively separated from their land. Efforts by such early land rights’ crusaders as Harry Thuku, James Beauttah, Joseph Kang’ethe and Jesse Kariuki came to naught. Kenyatta’s own land rights mission to the UK in 1929 did not realize much, apart from a few British radicals fussing around him in London.

Fast forward to 1948 and it was time to take up arms to fight for the return of the stolen lands. Tragically, not everybody joined the struggle. This is where the home guards come in. Were the home guards collaborators or did they just manipulate a bad environment for their own survival? The jury remains out on this one. Be that as it may, their position made the Mau Mau rebellion to be at once an effort to dislodge the settlers from the stolen lands and a Kikuyu civil war. In the end, the British and the home guards won. The Mau Mau were for all practical purposes vanquished and the war over by 1960.

It is instructive that it was in the same 1960 that the British Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, made his famous “wind of change in Africa” address in South Africa. It was a tempestuous wind, the unstoppable wind of independence. Whatever the arguments about the timing of independence may be, one thing cannot be debated. Kenya’s Independence fell not into the hands of the freedom of land fighters, but in the hands of the home guard community.

This was an avaricious community of self-serving mythmakers. The rise of Mukenya and Limuru II suggests that the chickens are coming home to roost. Branch has recorded of 1964 – 1970, “While the last recalcitrant groups of Mau Mau guerillas remained in the forests of Mount Kenya, fears of revival of the insurgency were particularly acute. Even after all those insurgents were eventually cajoled into leaving the forests or tracked down and shot by (independent Kenya’s) security forces, the security threat posed by the Mau Mau was not deemed to have disappeared.”

The Kenyatta government lived in mortal fear that the Gikuyu Matigari would return to the forest and take up arms against it. This was because Jomo converted to the benefit of the home guard community all the funds that had been negotiated with the British to settle the landless on a million acres in the former White Highlands.

These fears live on. The ghosts at the banquet of independent Kenya will not go away. From Arthur Hardinge who proclaimed the British East Africa Protectorate in 1895 to Mwai Kibaki who proclaimed the Constitution of Kenya of 2010, the abiding fears and concerns in the ruling class remain the same. Can these concerns go away without historical injustices that span more than a hundred years being addressed and corrected?

Barrack Muluka

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