The right to be


Posted by kikuyusworld on August 24, 2007

Ethnic Cleansing and the Environment in Kenya…


Posted in Today's Kikuyu | Leave a Comment »


Posted by kikuyusworld on August 14, 2007

uesday, 11 February, 2003, 02:19 GMT

Profile: Kenya’s secretive Mungiki sect

Mungiki followers

The Mungiki are a growing force in Kenya



They pray as they face Mount Kenya, which they believe to be the home of their God, known as Ngai.

And their name means “a united people”.


If we are going to hunt them down, the problem is going to be worse


Sociologist Ken Ouko

But Kenya’s Mungiki followers are no ordinary believers.

Their holy communion is tobacco-sniffing, their hairstyle that of the Mau Mau dreadlocks and the origin of the sect is still shrouded in mystery.

Since the late 1990s, the sect has left behind a trail of blood in its rejection of the trappings of Western culture.


Last week, the sect was back in the news following two days of clashes with police which left at least two policemen dead in Nairobi and 70 of its members in police custody.

Mungiki supporter

Many deaths are blamed on the Mungiki

The clashes were sparked by a dispute over the control of the private minibuses business in some parts of Nairobi, two weeks after 30 people were killed in similar clashes in the Rift Valley province.

Police say more than 50 people died last year in clashes involving the sect and owners of private minibuses, known as Matatu, in Nairobi alone.

“Mungiki is a politically motivated wing of a religious organisation,” says Ken Ouko, a lecturer of sociology at the University of Nairobi.

“The religious bit is just a camouflage. It’s more like an army unit. During the old system, they seemed to be complimentary to the system. In the new government, they seem to be antagonistic.”


Inspired by the bloody Mau Mau rebellion of the 1950s against the British colonial rule, thousands of young Kenyans – mostly drawn from Kenya’s largest tribe, the Kikuyu – flocked to the sect whose doctrines are based on traditional practices.

Former Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi

The Mungiki sprang up under former President Moi

One theory has it that Mungiki was formed in 1988 with the aim of toppling the government of former President Daniel arap Moi. The sect was, at one time, associated with Mwakenya, an underground movement formed in 1979 to challenge the former Kanu regime.

Other reports say Mungiki was founded in 1987 by some young students in central Kenya to reclaim political power and wealth which its members claim was stolen from the Kikuyu.

Its leadership claims to have two million members around the country and to have infiltrated government offices, factories, schools and the armed forces – members who would not necessarily sport dreadlocks but support and finance the sect behind the scenes.

What is known is that the sect operate in secrecy, taking unusual oaths and saying strange prayers in forests and rivers in central Kenya.

Kikuyu oral literature portray gory images of their ritual scenes: Grown-up men with loincloths wrapped around them, standing bare foot in rivers, engaging in snuff sessions and bathing in blood mixed with urine and goat tripe.

One of its leaders, Maian Njenga, claims he had a vision from God (Ngai) commanding him to unite the Kikuyu and fight foreign ideologies. He is now in hiding, together with his co-leader Ndura Waruinge.


After last month’s Mungiki attack in Nakuru, Interior Security Minister Chris Murungaru ordered a police crackdown on the sect. He accused the former ruling party Kanu of having nurtured and protected the sect during its reign.

But Kanu, now in the opposition, deny the allegations, saying leaders of the sect claim that some senior officials of the new government are members of the sect.

Away from the running battle with the police, the Mungiki members have also been involved in other anti-social acts:

  • Stripping women wearing miniskirts and trousers in public
  • Forcibly imposing female circumcision
  • Raiding police stations to free their own members who were under police custody.

And the sect has been assuming a new modern face, using AK-47 assault rifles instead of clubs, machete and swords.

Sociologist Ken Ouko says the Mungiki sect seem to have managed to address a social and spiritual hunger among the young slum dwellers which the church and the state have failed to feed:

“I would say this is a social reaction to either poverty or just being disgruntled.

“The best approach is talk to Mungiki. If we are going to hunt them down, the problem is going to be worse.

“We have to take a diplomatic approach.”

Posted in Our lives | 3 Comments »

Mt Elgon refugees on the brink of death

Posted by kikuyusworld on August 13, 2007

By Isaiah Lucheli

Religious leaders in Mt Elgon say people who have fled from violence and are now camping in Chepkitale National Reserve face imminent death as a result of lack of basic needs .

“Women and children have fled to the national reserve where there is no hospital and food while others are in dire need of relief supplies in market centres in the District,” said the clergymen.

Reverend Maritim Rirei and Stanley Taboi of the Anglican Church of Kenya (ACK) said women and children were the worst hit and were in serious need of humanitarian assistance.

Rirei said failure by the Government to involve religious leaders, politicians and elders from the area during the land allocations had greatly contributed to the eruption of the skirmishes.

He said it was the Government’s responsibility to provide its citizens with security and appealed for an immediate intervention into the crisis.

“The Government should look for alternative land to settle those who were sidelined in the allocations in order to end the violence,” said Rirei.

The religious leaders said lack of medical supplies in the forest has led to an outbreak of respiratory tract infections and measles.

“The situation is pathetic. Lack of food, clothing, shelter and medical care for the displaced people spells death unless urgent measures are taken,” said Taboi.

Posted in out there | Leave a Comment »


Posted by kikuyusworld on August 7, 2007

Socio-economic failure threatens Kenya

By David G. Maillu

Kenya, by nature, is a federal state of tribes. That is where we should start. We could as well rename the country and call it the Federal of Kenya. The nation is deeply estranged in tribal traditional values. And lately, we have acquired a new tribe which we should name the “tribless-tribe,” which comprises the urbanised generation that has almost no affiliation with the “mashambani” values. Add to that the Indian tribe too.

Within those tribes, there are some which are more powerful than others. There are some of them which are more disadvantaged than others. Some which are louder and more visible than others. The rest of the details are obvious.

If we begin by acceptance that we are a federal state, we can take the next step of balanced development to address the socio-economic imbalances among those “states” or tribes.

Kenya has reached a stage in which some individuals have started wishing they were born in that “other-tribe” than in theirs. Why? Because their tribe has almost been ignored in the development. Talk about the nomadic communities and you are close to that. But the problem is deeper than that. In fact, we are buried in individual tribal values and afflictions.

Unless the national planners put into consideration a blueprint of development related to the psychology of the values and sentiments of the individual tribes, we may be destined to socio-economic failure for the nation. In other words, since national development is in solving problems that affect the nation, we could be awfully wrong in trying to solve the complete national problem by using a common mould. Let me explain this by taking the tribes individually, starting with the major tribes:

The Kikuyu problem

Kenyans know the history of the Kikuyu people. From the outside view, it may look as if everything is going very well in Central Province, the home of the Kikuyu community simply because the Kikuyus, the most populous tribe in Kenya, kicked off luckily because they got first-hand economic support from Jomo Kenyatta, the first President of Kenya who was a Kikuyu. And, as if that is not good enough, now the Kikuyus have a second round of President in Mwai Kibaki at a time many tribes have never got even a Vice-President.

Economically, the Kikuyu community is the most powerful. It is the community which is the biggest employer in Kenya. There are countless stories of success in Kikuyuland.

But, lucky as they have been, the Kikuyu people have one horrifying problem. Insecurity. That insecurity has penetrated deeply into the Central Province so that it has really become a nightmare for the “material” Kikuyu to live in the countryside. Big homes and estates are being abandoned and owners are running to live in towns seeking better security. That says a lot about the diminishing rural employment and development, adding to urban migration. It is too difficult for anyone to enjoy his earnings in the countryside. You can be killed over a night through robbery with violence because of the success of your hard work.

Robbery with violence is shockingly everywhere. Kikuyus robbing, maiming and even killing Kikuyus. Why? What has gone wrong? Have majority of Kikuyus lost their sense of morals? Has the human value lost meaning among most Kikuyus?

Of course that insecurity is experienced in other parts of Kenya, but not at the rate found in the Central Province which, of course, spills into Nairobi.

Indeed, something is awfully wrong in the Kikuyu community. It is a psychological problem that must be addressed by the nation immediately before it is too late. The community is in the process of destroying its own integrity.

Kikuyu’s second problem is with the extraordinary number of landless people. At a time there is enormous idle land in other parts of Kenya, there are Kikuyus who do not own even a square yard of land. And even majority of those who have land, have ridiculously small sizes. Part of that insecurity stems from their sense of helplessness. But the Kikuyu problem is the problem of the nation.

The problem of the Maasais

The Maasais are still locked up in their traditional nomadic and pastoral values at the time their population is increasing without the land increasing too. Their biggest problem is little land and lack of water. But they have another monster devouring them. Their land is being bought out by outsiders, usually Kikuyu and Kisii people.

The Maasais are quietly being wiped out from ownership of land. They are resistant to social changes outside their traditional values. While other communities are doing their best to conform with modernity and adjust to modern living demands, the Maasais remain stagnant and vulnerable. Conditions of the modern life are rendering the Maasais poor, unemployed and irrelevant to modern development. Their culture knows nothing else except investing in traditional values which are losing meaning in the modern world. Given time, the Maasai culture is going to be wiped out.

This is a national issue which should be addressed.

The problem of Luos

The Luo community is a politically oriented and militant community. Luos have a long history of political confrontations with the regimes. They are against bowing down for favours instead of demanding their right. For that reason, the regimes have opted to punish them by ignoring developments in the Luo areas. The Luo country has remained permanently at a slow-development pace while the Luo population has been on the increase.

Generally speaking, Luos are not cut out for business but for administration and places of prestige which they perform very well. The increase of their population within that snail-speed development is the devil eating the community in big chunks. They have another problem in which they are imprisoned into their social and family values which they defend aggressively, unfortunately some of which are destructive. The Aids epidemic has struck them gravely.

Luos do not control the economy of Kisumu, which is controlled by outsiders. Commercially, they are being bought out by the more business minded and aggressive tribes. If the modern trend is let to continue, it is not difficult to see them being swallowed up by those other communities in the future.

It is to the benefit of both the nation and the Luo community that this problem should be addressed. The community needs a different angle of development in order to save it.

The Kalenjin and nomad problem

In spite of having had a Kalenjin President for 24 years, the community has remained awfully undeveloped. Perhaps because it is thought, like the Maasais, their community is happy to live within their traditional lifestyles. Moving from the fertile lower areas towards the Samburu and finally the northern part of Kenya, the homes of nomads, can give you the picture of the backwardness in which the community lives.

In some places of the north Kenya you are likely to come across people asking you, “How is Kenya?” They don’t feel they belong to Kenya, or Kenya is synonymous with the Nairobi areas.

The nomadic communities have huge tracks of land to themselves which are, in any case, semi-desert and undeveloped, but which have enormous potential for development. The northern parts of Kenya, if developed, could turn the Kenyan economy round to great heights. Their greatest problem is water which, ironically, is underneath them and the rest potentially held by the rivers if dams were constructed.

In order to answer to the demands of their environment, the nomads are not doing anything to prepare themselves for the present and next centuries. In any case, they have generally been neglected by the past regimes. Their problem is in catching up with the modern world. In order to do so and fast enough, they need a special programme and a government plan for development.

The problem of Akamba people

The Kamba problem is well-known in Kenya. Lack of water and everlasting bouts of famine. The devil destroying the Akamba community is excellent in inflicting the community with abortive rains. Ironically, most of the main rivers cut across Akambaland. When it rains all that water is drained into the Indian Ocean. Hunger comes with many other evils which include crippled economy, unemployment, poor performance in schools, frustrated development, lack of environmental development.

The Akamba community has a unique flare for loyalty in governments. They are used to being exploited and being poor. They perceive what happens to them as a matter of fate whereby they would also engage in philosophizing on why they are what they are.

Increasing population and diminishing economic support is destroying Akamba people and making them paranoid. The past regimes have made them lose hope in government development. The terrible conditions are doing their best in producing a depressed, melancholic and paranoid community that seeks escape through drunkenness. The Akamba community is producing a terrifying populations of drunkards. What these drunkards do to their families anyone can guess and get it all right. The community is hard working but under hostile environment.

The problem of coastal people

As things stand today, there is something one could describe as the Pwani versus the Bara communities. The Pwani people, who form what we may call the coastal people, are at war with upcountry economic invaders who have been engaged in a systematic move of buying them out of the along-the beach land. When Kenya became independent, the economic headquarters were upcountry where everything good was launched. Mombasa remained in the shadow of Nairobi for a long time in spite of Mombasa’s vital importance in the economic development of the country.

Then the upcountry people with money discovered there was great business in the tourist industry. They moved swiftly to buy and even grab the beach land and built holiday lodges. There was no consideration that local people should be helped to acquire that lucrative business. It began to look even frightening for them to realize that they had not even any right to walk to the beach through those tourist lodges.

The coastal people feel cheated, exploited, ignored and mistreated in their own environment. They are not the necessarily the ones who benefit from the jobs thus created. Majority of the benefactors belong to the economic invaders. As it were, the Upcountry merchants replaced the colonials and, in some cases, started demanding pounds of flesh from the Pwani inhabitants who, as the result, began to perceive their government as a foreign regime.

How much can a frustrated community contribute to an inspiring development of a nation? There has not been any reasonable dialogue between the coastal people and the newcomers. What is the route to a conciliation and who should be on the bargaining table to give pride and inspiration to the coastal community? Who has the right over that part of Kenya?

The Indian problem

The Indian community is the second largest employer of the country. It controls the industrial manufacturing sector. How come that Indians who are not natives of this country have achieved that stage? History has the answer to that. During colonial times, the Indian was number two, and the African was number three. The British gave Indians a foundation and protection to develop commercially. It is not important at this stage to go into the details of how the British did that. In fact, a substantial part of the Indians were given British passports.

The Indian community felt that they belonged to the British more than they belonged to Kenya. They could very easily and proudly say, “We belong to the British who brought us here.”

Independence made Indians feel orphaned, whose survival was now left in business which they went about skillfully. Majority of them still feel like foreigners although they are citizens. But they are citizens whose cultural values create a giant wall to protect their social estates from Africans. In fact, white people have mixed with Africans much more than Indians.

There is a frightening social rift between Indians and the natives. To them Kenya has been merely a working place. But how long will they remain feeling like foreigners and Kenya simply as a working place? What are the psychological implications of that?

How does the Kenyan African perceive the Indian? In fact, words have gone round that the relationship Indians and Africans is a time bomb. Should we sit and watch the clock of the time bomb continue ticking for whatever consequences? Does the Indian feel secure in Kenya? Is the Indian justified in feeling an orphaned who is working to buy his ticket for going home?

Is the Kenyan Indian here to stay or is he here to work and finally go away? Should that be the case really and what are the dangers in it?

Posted in Today's Kikuyu | Leave a Comment »

sect members dragged from homes and shot dead!

Posted by kikuyusworld on August 1, 2007

Lobbyists to expose sect member killingsStory by MUCHEMI WACHIRA
Publication Date: 7/31/2007

Kenya National Commission on Human Rights secretary to the Commission Mburu Gitu addresses the Press during a conference on human rights in Kenya at the Stanley Hotel in Nairobi yesterday. Photo/ ANTHONY OMUYA

A State-financed human rights watchdog will hold public hearings into the police killings of people suspected to be linked to the outlawed Mungiki sect.

The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) yesterday said there had been complaints of excessive force applied by the police in their war on the sect members.

There have been claims that some of those killed by the police were lined up and executed after their arrest.

In one of the incidents, 23 suspects were killed after they were found taking oath at Gikui village, Murang’a North district on June 30.

Dragged from home

Another group is said to have been dragged from their homes and later killed on suspicion they were criminals or terrorists, said KNCHR commissioner Hassan Omar.

“We have documented some of these cases and we are still investigating. We shall be able to establish the circumstances under which they were killed,” he said.

He promised action in every case where the commission established that police used excessive force.

“It doesn’t matter how long it will take for action to be taken. Even if it is after 20 years, those involved in the killings will not be spared,” he said.

He, however, said the KNCHR did not support criminals. “If one is a criminal, let him face the law. But the killings we have witnessed recently have set a bad precedence in this country,” he added.

The commissioner said the organisation had provided 2,274 people with either legal advice or legal services after their human rights were violated.

Some of these cases, a principal human rights officer with the organisation Njonjo Mue said included police torture and labour violations on workers.

Commission secretary Mburu Gitu said human rights work was not seen as a serious job in the country.

The KNCHR officials were addressing a breakfast meeting for the media at a Nairobi hotel. 

One of the challenges the commission faced was lack of political goodwill.

Hate speech Bill

“We are always attacked and witch hunted by both the politicians and the Government administration officers who do not understand why we should hold the Government accountable for abusing human rights,” commissioner Omar said.

Mr Gitu said among their achievements is drafting of hate speech Bill, that seeks to criminalise speeches that fuel ethic conflict.

Posted in Today's Kikuyu | Leave a Comment »

Josieh Mwangi Kariuki’s death

Posted by kikuyusworld on July 29, 2007

Josiah Mwangi Kariuki

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Jump to: navigation, search

Josiah Mwangi Kariuki (March 21, 1929March 2, 1975) was a Kenyan socialist politician during the administration of the Jomo Kenyatta government. He held different government positions from 1963, when Kenya became an independent country, to 1975, when he was assassinated. He left behind three wives and a string of children.




[edit] Early life

J. M. Kariuki was born in Kabati-ini town in Rift Valley province. He was born to Kariuki Kigani and Mary Wanjiku. He was the only boy in a family of five siblings. In 1938, he briefly enrolled in Evanson’s Day School, but dropped out shortly due to lack of school fees. He then started working for the settler’s farm until 1946, when he won a bet in Nakuru Horse races. Using the bet’s proceeds he then enrolled himself back to a string of schools and was able to finish his primary school education in 1950. Later, he joined King’s College in Uganda‘s Wakiso district for his secondary education.

[edit] Political life

J. M. Kariuki’s political life probably started in 1946 in earnest, after listening to a Kenyatta speech denouncing the way colonial government was handling the natives in a political rally. Its however likely he was political earlier than that. His parents had earlier on been forced to leave their home area, Chinga, located in the Nyeri native reserve, back in 1928 to work in the white highlands. There, they became squatters on a European settler’s farm and were expected, as was the case with other African squatter families, to do the regular and seasonal jobs for wages. Such a life trauma was certainly likely to have made him political.

In late 1940s, he joined the primary school drama and role played in the fight against colonial rule. While in Uganda for his secondary education, he closely followed the struggles that local Kenyans were facing from the European settlers. On 22 October 1952, he finished his secondary school education and returned to Kenya. Shortly after that, Kenya was placed under state of emergency by the new Governor, Sir Evelyn Baring, and Kariuki joined the Mau Mau uprising. After Kariuki took his oath, he started working as Mau Mau liaison officer between Eldoret and Kisumu. He also helped in soliciting money, boots and housing for Mau Mau. This led to his arrest in his hotel, which was working as a front to his political work. He was then detained in various camps (including Kowop and Langata) from 1953 until his release, seven years later in 1960.

After his release, he managed to secure Kenyatta’s approval in starting Nyeri’s Kenya African National Union (KANU) branch by visiting him in detention. When Kenya became independent, Kariuki worked as Kenyatta’s private secretary between 1963 to 1969. In late 1960, Kariuki relationship with Kenyatta became increasingly strained as Kariuki became increasingly vocal of Kenyatta’s policy. Some of their disagreement were:

  • Government corruption.
  • The widening gap between rich and poor due to drought and the oil shock of 1973.
  • Deteriorating relations among East African Community members.
  • Unfair distribution of land: After independence, United Kingdom government gave Kenyatta government funds to buy back land from the white settlers and redistribute it back to the natives. However, the land was never redistributed, but most of it was handed over to Kenyatta’s close friends. This was somehow similar to what happened in USSR early 90s.

In 1974, he was elected as Nyandarwa’s Member of parliament and became an assistant minister in the Kenyatta government between 1974 and 1975. This was despite Kenyatta government pulling all strings at its disposal to avoid his re-election as his popularity threatened to overshadow the government of the day. He was last seen alive at the Hilton Hotel, accompanied by Kenyatta’s bodyguard on March 2, 1975. Several days later, Kariuki’s remains were found by a Maasai herdsman, Musaita ole Tunda, in a thicket in the Ngong Hills.

At the time of his death Kariuki was a millionaire. It is not clear how he amassed his fortune so quickly without somehow engaging on the same vice he was very critical of. His family did not benefit from his wealth, as Kenyatta’s government conspired against them. Kariuki is remembered by Kenyans as a hero as he came to represent the force against the evils that have hemmed the country to this day.

[edit] Quotes

  • “Kenya has become a nation of 10 millionaires and 10 million beggars.”
  • “Every Kenyan man, woman and child is entitled to a decent and just living. That is a birthright. It is not a privilege. He is entitled as far as is humanly possible to equal educational, job and health opportunities irrespective of his parentage, race or creed or his area of origin in this land. If that is so, deliberate efforts should be made to eliminate all obstacles that today stand in the way of this just goal. That is the primary task of the machinery called Government: our Government.”
  • “We fought for independence with sweat, blood and our lives. Many of us suffered for inordinate days – directly and indirectly. Many of us are orphans, widows and children as a result of the struggle. We must ask: What did we suffer for, and were we justified in that suffering?”

[edit] Death Investigation

A Parliamentary Select Committee was immediately established to investigate the circumstances surrounding Kariuki’s murder. The Committee’s report implicated a senior police officer, Joginder Singh Sokhi, senior administrative officers and politicians, but no one was ever punished. It is most likely that the committee was the means used by Kenyatta’s government to mitigate a potential revolt. When the report was finally released, the anger had subsided and likelihood of revolt much lower.

[edit] External links

Posted in Where to be | Leave a Comment »

LUO HISTORY Oginga Ondinga

Posted by kikuyusworld on July 29, 2007

Kenyan Luo History  cannot  be  complete  without

Jaramogi Oginga Odinga

(Redirected from Oginga Odinga)

Jump to: navigation, search

Jaramogi Ajuma Oginga Odinga (c. 1911January 20, 1994) was a Luo Chief, a prominent figure in Kenya‘s struggle for independence, Kenya‘s first vice-president and later opposition leader.




[edit] Early years and career

Oginga Odinga was born in Bondo, Nyanza Province. In his autobiography, Not Yet Uhuru, Odinga estimates the date of his birth to be October, 1911. Christened Obadiah Adonijah, he later renounced his Christian names and became known as Oginga Odinga. He was a student of Maseno and Alliance High School. He went to Makerere University in 1940, and returned to Maseno High School as a teacher. In 1948 he joined the political party, Kenya African Union (KAU).

Spurred to empower his Kenyan Luo ethnic group, Odinga started the Luo Thrift and Trading Corporation (registered in 1947). With time, Odinga and his group undertook to strengthen the union between Luo people in the entire East African region. His efforts earned him admiration and recognition among the Luo, who revered him as Ker (spiritual leader) – a position previously held by the fabled ancestral Luo chief, Ramogi Ajwang, who reigned 400 years before him. Vowing to uphold the ideals of Ramogi Ajwang, Odinga became known as Jaramogi (meaning son of Ramogi).

 Vice presidency

According to Luo tradition, a Ker could not be a politician, so Odinga relinquished his position as Ker in 1957 and became become the political spokesman of the Luo. The same year he was elected member of the Legislative Council for the Central Nyanza constituency, and in 1948 he joined the Kenya African Union (KAU). In 1960, together with Tom Mboya he formed Kenya African National Union (KANU). When Kenya became an independent Republic in 1964, he was its first Vice-President.

As Vice-President he did not agree with the increasingly authoritarian manner of Jomo Kenyatta‘s government, and the shunting of resources to the White Highlands in central Kenya at the expense of the rest of the country. He resigned his post and quit KANU in 1966 to form the Kenya People’s Union (KPU).

      In opposition

The friction between Odinga and Kenyatta continued, and in 1969 Odinga was arrested after the two verbally abused each other publicly at a chaotic function in Kisumu – and where at least 11 people were killed and dozens were injured in riots. He was detained for two years, and was consigned to political limbo until after Kenyatta’s death in August 1978.

Kenyatta’s successor, Daniel arap Moi, appointed Odinga as chairman of the Cotton Lint and Seed Marketing Board. He didn’t last long in the post, presumably because he was still outspoken against Kenyatta’s policies. Odinga attempted to register a political party in 1982, but when Attorney-General Charles Njonjo amended the constitution (which made Kenya a de jure single-party state), his plans were foiled.

Following the failed coup of 1982 against Moi’s government, Odinga was placed under house arrest in Kisumu. In 1990, he tried in vain with others to register an opposition party, the National Democratic Party. In 1991 he co-founded and became the interim chairman of Forum for the Restoration of Democracy(FORD). The formation of FORD triggered a chain of events that were to change Kenya’s political landscape, culminating in ending KANU’s 40 years in power – eight years after Oginga Odinga’s death.

Oginga Odinga’s son Raila Odinga is now one of the leading political figures in Kenya while another son Oburu Odinga is an MP.

[edit] References

[edit] External links

Preceded by
Vice-President of Kenya
Succeeded by
Joseph Murumbi

Retrieved from “

Pre-Colonial Times

The Luo probably originated in southern Sudan, at Wau, near the confluence of the Meride & Sue Rivers. The Kenya Luo migrated into present day western Kenya via present day eastern Uganda, the first wave arriving sometime around 1500 AD. Arrivals came in at least five waves arriving at different times rather than as a single discrete migration: (1) the Joka-Jok (who migrated from Acholiland; the first & largest migration); (2) Those migrating from Alur; (3) the Owiny (who migrated from Padhola); (4) the Jok’Omolo (perhaps from Pawir); and (5) The Abasuba (a heterogeneous group in southern Nyanza, with Bantu elements).

The present day Kenya Luo traditionally consist of 12 sub-tribes (each in turn composed of various clans & sub-clans): (1) Jo-Gem, (2) Jo-Ugenya, (3) Jo-Seme, (4) Jo-Kajulu, (5) Jo-Karachuonyo, (6) Jo-Nyakach, (7) Jo-Kabondo, (8) Jo-Kisumo (Jo-Kisumu), (9) Jo-Kano, (10) Jo-Asembo, (11) Jo-Uyoma, (12) and Jo-Sakwa.[1] ( “Jo-” indicates “people of…”.)

By the 1840s, the Luo had a tight-knit society with ruodhi or regional chiefs.

[edit] Colonial Times

Early British contact with the Luo was indirect and sporadic. Relations intensified only when the completion of the Uganda Railway had confirmed British intentions and largely removed the need for local tribal alliances. In 1896 a punitive expedition was mounted in support of the Wanga ruler Mumia in Ugenya against the Umira Kager clan led by Gero. Over 200 were quickly killed by a Maxim gun. In 1899, C. W. Hobley led an expedition against Sakwa, Seme and Uyoma Locations in which 2,500 cattle and some 10,000 sheep and goats were captured.

By 1900, the Luo chief Odera was providing 1,500 porters for a British expedition against the Nandi.

In 1915 the Colonial Government sent Odera Akang’o, the ruoth of Gem, to Kampala, Uganda. He was impressed by the British settlement there and upon his return home he initiated a forced process of adopting western style of “schooling, dress and hygiene”. This resulted in the rapid education of the Luo in the English language and ways.

The Luo were generally not dispossessed of their land by the British, thus avoiding the fate that befell the pastoral tribes inhabiting the Kenyan “White Highlands“. Many Luo played significant roles in the struggle for Kenyan independence, but the tribe was relatively uninvolved in the Mau Mau Uprising of the 1950s. Instead, some Luo used their education to advance the cause of independence. The lawyer C.M.G. Argwings-Kodhek, for example, applied his expertise to defend Mau Mau suspects in court.

[edit] In Independent Kenya

Oginga Odinga, a prominent Luo leader, became the first Vice President of independent Kenya. However, differences with Jomo Kenyatta led Oginga to leave the government and the ruling Kenya African National Union (KANU) party in 1966. With Oginga’s departure from the government the Luo were politically marginalized under the administrations of Kenyatta and Moi.

Many years of poor economic management of Kenya, especially during the administration of the KANU party resulted in the Luo and a majority of Kenyans being systematically neglected. Ravaged by AIDS and with little or no infrastructure in most parts, the Luo areas – with high economic potential due to the proximity to Lake Victoria – remains poor and undeveloped. These factors being common in Kenya according the latest survey by the World Bank.

The most prominent Luo politician today is Raila Odinga, the son of Oginga Odinga and former Minister of Roads and Public Works. He is widely credited with enabling Mwai Kibaki to win the 2002 presidential election through the support of his Liberal Democratic Party.

[edit] Political Infuence in the Government

Since independence, Luo’s have been regarded as opponents to the sitting government. This was evident when the late Doyen of the opposition Jaramogi Oginga Odinga resigned as the Vice president. The struggle for independence did not feature any luo elders as some claim, however they did participate. Many remember their participation in the late sixties, seventies and eighties. During the late 1980s through the 1990s, their participation provoked violent political events, for example the murder of Dr. Robert Ouko. The 1990s also saw the reintroduction of the section 2A where more luos were involved, Oginga Odinga, James Orengo, Raila Odinga, Achieng Oneko, Anyang’ Nyongo amongst others.

[edit] Culture & Customs

[edit] Luo Religious Customs

The Luo traditionally believed in an afterlife and a supreme creator, whom they called Nyasi (Nyasaye), and had a strong ancestor cult. Today most Kenya Luo are Christians.

The first major ritual in a Luo person’s life is called juogi naming ceremony. Any time between birth and age two, an ancestor would appear in a dream to an adult member of the family. It is generally believed that only people who did good things while alive appear in dreams this way and are thus “reincarnated”. The child is supposed to assume some of the mannerisms of the ancestor he or she is named after. If the ancestor was quiet, the child becomes a quiet person in life, if talkative, same. The so named ancestor becomes the individuals’ “guardian angel” throughout his or her life. Evil people are rarely named. It is believed they go for good (to hell). The Luo are in the minority of ethnic groups in east Africa that do not practice ritual circumcision of males as initiation. Instead, children had their six lower front teeth carefully removed by experts at initiation. This ritual has mostly fallen out of use.

[edit] Luo Marriage Customs

The Luo traditionally practice polygamy though with young adults today this has largely fallen out of favor (in the old days, men could marry up to five wives). Historically, couples were introduced together from matchmakers, but this is also less common now, and Luos frequently marry outside the tribe. The traditional marriage takes place in two parts, both involving the payment of a bride price by the groom. The first, Ayie, involves payment of money to the mother of the bride, while the second stage involves donation of cattle to her father. Often these two stages are carried out at the same time, and as many modern Luos are christians, a church ceremony often follows.

Everybody in the Luo community is expected to marry. Spinsters and old bachelors are shunned by the community.

[edit] Luo Music

Traditionally, music was the most widely practiced art in the Luo community. At any time of the day or night, some music was being made. Music was not made for its own sake. Music was functional. It was used for ceremonial, religious, political or incidental purposes. Music was performed during funerals (Tero buru) to praise the departed, to console the bereaved, keep people awake at night, express pain and agony and during cleansing and chasing away of spirits .Music was also played during ceremonies like beer parties (Dudu, ohangla dance), welcoming back the warriors from a war, during a wrestling match (Ramogi), during courtship, etc .Work songs too existed. These were performed both during communal work like building, weeding, etc. and individual work like pounding of cereals, winnowing. Music was also used for ritual’ purposes like chasing away of evil spirits (nyawawa), who visit the village at night, in rain making and during divinations and healing.

The Luo music was shaped by the total way of life, lifestyles, and life patterns of individuals of this community. Because of that the music had characteristics which distinguished it from the music of other communities. This can be seen, heard and felt in their melodies, rhythms, mode of presentation and dancing styles, movements and formations.

The melodies in the Luo music were lyrical, with a lot of vocal ornamentations. These ornaments came out clearly especially when the music carried out an important message. Their rhythms were characterized by a lot of syncopation and acrusic beginning. These songs were usually presented in solo-response style through solo performances were there too. The most common forms of solo performances were chants. These chants were recitatives with irregular rhythms and phrases which carried serious messages in them. Most of the Luo dances were introduced by these chants. For example the dudu dance.

Another unique characteristic in the Luo music is the introduction of yet another chant at the middle of a musical performance. The singing stops, the pitch of the musical instruments go down and the dance becomes less vigorous as an individual takes up the performance is self praise. This is referred to as Pakruok. There was also a unique kind of ululation, Sigalagala, that marked the climax of the musical performance.

The dance styles in the Luo folk music were elegant and graceful. It involved either the movement of one leg in the opposite direction with the waist in step with the syncopated beats of the music or the shaking of the shoulders vigorous usually to the tune of the nyatiti an eight stringed instrument.

Adamson (1967) commented that Luos clad in their traditional costumes and ornaments deserve their reputation as the most picturesque people in Kenya. During most of their performances the Luo wore costumes and decorated themselves not only to appear beautiful but also to enhance their movements. These costumes included sisal skirts (owalo), beads (Ombulu / tigo) worn around the neck and waist and red or white clay were used by the ladies. The men’s costumes included kuodi or chieno a skin warn from the shoulders or from the waist respectively to cover their nakedness. Ligisa the headgear, shield and spear, reed hats, clubs among others. All these costumes and ornaments were made from locally available materials.

The Luo were also rich in musical instruments which ranged from, percussion (drums, clappers, metal rings, ongeng’o, shakers), strings (e.g., nyatiti, a type of lyre; orutu, a type of fiddle), wind (tung a horn,Asili, a flute, Abu-!, a trumpet).

Currently the Luo are associated with the benga style of music. It is a lively style in which songs in Dholuo, Swahili, English are sung to a lively guitar riff. It originated in the 1950s with Luo musicians trying to adapt their traditional tribal dance rhythms to western instruments. The guitar (acoustic, later electric) replaced the nyatiti as the string instrument. Benga has become so popular that it is played by musicians of all tribes and is no longer considered a purely Luo style. It has become Kenya‘s characteristic pop sound.

Luo singer and nyatiti player Ayub Ogada received widespread exposure in 2005 when two of his songs were featured in Alberto Iglesias‘ Academy Award-nominated score for Fernando Mereilles‘ film adaptation of The Constant Gardener.

Also see Luo Section of Folk Music of Kenya

[edit] Notable Luos

Posted in Our lives | Leave a Comment »

Struggle that led to Uhuru

Posted by kikuyusworld on July 27, 2007

Struggle that led to UhuruStory by The Daily Nation
Publication Date: 04/08/2004

The weekly Nation supplement Kenya@40 told the story of independent Kenya through the pages of the Daily Nation, from Uhuru in 1963 to the moment the country celebrated its 40th anniversary of nationhood, last year.
But what remains untold is the stirring story of Kenya’s fight for freedom, that culminated in the unfurling of the flag in Uhuru Park on December 12, 1963.

Today, the Nation’s team of investigative reporters starts to set the record straight.

Week by week we shall trace the Fight for Freedom, from its beginnings in 1952 with settler concern over a new mood of nationalism in Kenya, through the bloody struggle for independence in the forests, the farms, the notorious detention camps and the towns and the city, and through to the birth of the new republic.

Few of those alive in Nairobi at the time of Kenya’s First Liberation will ever forget the overflowing emotions and outpourings of creativity among our people during those precious first years of freedom. Whether it was the exhilarating beauty of the language flowing from the stunning poetry of Okot p’Bitek and Jared Angira, or the freshness of the perspective in the novels of Ngugi Thiong’o, Grace Ogot and David Rubadiri, or the depth of characterisation in the reality plays of John Ruganda and Francis Imbuga, the city was buzzing with talent, imagination and expectation.

Backing-up this bubbling front-line of innovation and excellence among artists and writers a complete school of our own dedicated scholars had also evolved, patiently but inexorably excavating and retrieving long lost histories.

The path-finders included Bethwell Ogot, Gideon Were, Godfrey Muriuki, William Ochieng’, Idha Salim and many others, most of whom have by now quietly metamorphosed into highly respected and learned Professors. However, in 1963 they were the academic Young Turks of their day, turning upside down the Eurocentric viewpoint that had hitherto dominated African history and boldly tracing the remarkable story of our peoples back into the mists of time.

In the course of their explorations they refined new approaches for the greater understanding of oral history as they exploited to the full various specialist tools.

Dendrochronology, the skill of measuring tree rings, joined the well-tried art of radio carbon dating as they sought to fill in the bottomless abyss of time.

Finally came glottochronology, the tracking down of priceless linguistic evidence along the shadowy trails of neighbouring peoples borrowing each other’s words. The race was on to produce the basic building blocks and chronology of the neglected history of Africa.

Sadly, however, the more the exciting work of our historians succeeded in revealing the past, the less time our politicians and educational professionals allocated to the study of history in our schools. Many believe that this trend has today reached an absurd level as History has effectively been squeezed in the timetable between Geography and Civics.

Yet our historians know our past is running over with fascinating and instructive material covering all the regions of our nation. History is the vehicle through which we all absorb and develop personal identities and should not be allowed to fade back into obscurity.

Through this series, the Fight for Freedom, the Nation will be bringing you insights into some of the decisive moments in Kenya’s history. We shall also be focusing on some of the truly extraordinary characters who strutted the stage of the Kenya Story. Their actions and their decisions often had profound and lasting effects on what we are and what we do today.

The story begins with what happened one sunny morning in early March almost exactly 45 years ago in a detention camp in the Tana River District.

This was an incident that shook to their foundations the pillars of authority in both Kenya and the United Kingdom. In Britain, it threatened the survival of Harold Macmillan’s Conservative government, while in Kenya it abruptly and dramatically shortened the road to Independence.


The untold story of the Fight for FreedomStory by The Daily Nation
Publication Date: 2004/04/08
The true story of the relentless war that led to Kenya winning Independence begins in the Nation today.This major new series will reveal week by week the country’s true heroes and explain how their selfless sacrifice led to the founding of a nation.It follows the success of Kenya@40, the weekly series that tracked the history of Kenya from Independence up to date, told through the pages of the Daily Nation.

Fight for Freedom focuses on the struggle that led to the First Liberation – fought from 1952 to 1963 – at first in the forests, detention camps, and towns and villages of the Kenya heartland and then in the plush surroundings of London conference halls.

This moving story of the Fight for Freedom reveals the secret documents and correspondence between colonial governors and Whitehall, takes you inside meetings of the colonial war council, and shows you the illegal orders that allowed British troops to bully and beat prisoners held in the horrific Mau Mau detention camps.

It tells of a fierce struggle by proud people, largely unknown by today’s generation of Kenyans and too often unsung.

Fight for Freedom starts today and continues week by week.


The road to blood bath at Hola Camp

Story by The Daily Nation
Publication Date: 2004/04/08

The events at Hola detention camp in 1959 and their unexpected consequences cannot be found in any of the prescribed textbooks in Kenya schools. There is therefore almost total ignorance, certainly among the younger generations, of the whole Emergency period from 1952 – 1960. So this first part of the series is devoted to the political build-up to Hola, a defining moment in the Fight for Freedom.October 1952 – May 1953
Britain rushes in troops
as Kenya eruptsAt the beginning of 1952 the minds of the majority of the leaders of the European Settlers in Kenya were concentrated on two topics.

Foremost, undoubtedly, was the imminent first visit in February of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip to the colony. It was during this fairy-tale occasion that she famously became Queen of England at Treetops after the sudden death of her father.

The other subject increasingly rattling around in the Settlers’ heads, however, at this time was the rising tide of Kikuyu ‘subversion’. This they blamed on the underground activities of certain African political leaders. By the middle of the year the European Electors Union was openly calling for the “neutralisation or liquidation” of these ‘subversive’ leaders.

The previous Governor, Sir Philip Mitchell, at the end of his long and meritorious 40-year career as a colonial civil servant, appeared almost too exhausted to care as he complacently coasted to retirement as a Kenya settler and an old age of trout fishing in the River Gura.

Nevertheless at this stage he was playing, if only through sheer seniority, a dual role as both the British Colonial office’s expert adviser on African affairs and also the legendary “man on the spot,” a combination portraying unquestionable wisdom in London’s eyes. He authoritatively pronounced that “there was no serious danger.”

Simultaneously he assured the incoming Governor, Sir Evelyn Baring, that the Africans were “largely apolitical, but beginning to show good ability operating a system of local government.” Mitchell, described by one historian as “a blunt, unattractive, fat, little man without any social graces,” has been portrayed by another as “easily succumbing to Settlers’ pressure” and “personally hostile and contemptuous of African peasant agriculture”.

On 7 October 1952 Senior Chief Waruhiu, a pillar of the Kikuyu establishment in Kiambu District, was assassinated. At 5 p.m in the evening of 20th October, at the Brackenhurst Hotel near Limuru, Baring, after a quick safari through the Central Province and with the unanimous approval on 14 October of the British Cabinet, signed the Declaration of a State of Emergency in Kenya.

The police, jumping the gun so to speak, had begun to implement “Operation Jock Scott” in the night of the 20th.

This involved the arrest and detention without trial of some 180 top political leaders, mainly from the Central Province. A Royal Navy Cruiser, the “Kenya”, was already anchored at Mombasa. Concurrently a battalion of British troops (the Lancashire Fusiliers) flew in to Eastleigh Airport from their Cairo Base. The European Settlers greeted their arrival rapturously.

They believed the
Emergency would not last

These were in fact the first British troops to serve in sub-Saharan Africa in a time of peace for over forty years. Ironically, however, British troops, of one ilk or another, were to be stationed in Kenya until well after the country achieved independence in 1963 under President Jomo Kenyatta. Indeed there are agreed “training” arrangements even today.

On 20th October Baring had only been in the country three weeks. The new Governor and his local advisers, who included the palaeontologist and Special Branch officer Dr. Louis Leakey, “on whom everyone relied for wisdom about the Kikuyu”, naively believed that, after the first shock and awe, the Emergency was unlikely to last more than two or three weeks.

Even Sir Percy Sillitoe, the Director-General of the Security Services in Britain, who had come out to advise the Kenya Government on setting up an efficient system of intelligence, confirmed that the insurrection would surely be short-lived. But all the pundits were to be proved hopelessly wrong about this and, of course, many other things. The Emergency actually lasted nearly twice as long as the Second World War, eventually being officially declared over on 12th January 1960.

October 1952 – May 1953
Provincial Administration
found itself overwhelmed

The first six months of the phoney period of the subsequent war were, from the Colonial Government’s side, little short of chaotic. The coordination between the army, the police and the administration was minimal.

The Provincial Administration found itself overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the problems that the Emergency had unleashed. The situation in Nyeri, at the centre of the gathering storm, was frantic crisis management from one predicament to the next. At this point no one knew what was happening, let alone who or what was making it happen.

The European Settlers, conscripted into the Kenya Regiment or the Kenya Police Reserve, entered the fray with a wild-western gung-ho approach that paid scant regard to either discipline or the law, beginning to cement a culture of violence and extreme brutality into the situation that was to end up tragically in the Hola Detention Camp disaster six years later.

For these Settlers it was now truly a ‘Them’ or ‘Us’ war, with no holds barred. For many extermination really was an option. The leaders of the Resistance in the forest on their part were soon receiving a constant stream of recruits and supplies.

These enabled them to initiate a series of attacks both in Nairobi and Central Province on police stations and other Government posts. At this point the operational initiative was clearly with the freedom fighters who were supported in their political objectives (land and independence) by virtually all the people of Kikuyuland and their East African diaspora.

On 24 November 1952 Baring wrote to Oliver Lyttelton, the Colonial Secretary, warning him that what had been previously been considered a police action, albeit on a large scale, now resembled a small guerilla war.

He demanded an experienced Director of Operations. Whitehall did not agree and Baring flew to London to plead with Prime Minister Winston Churchill himself. He lost his case but was at least allowed to appoint Major General Hinde (who had relatives among the European Settlers) as his Personal Staff Officer.

To the European Settlers, however, there was no sign of any change for the better in early 1953, although Hinde had been pushed up a peg to become a pretty ineffectual Director of Operations. Indeed it seemed as if no one on the British side had any new ideas on how to tackle the resourceful and innovative Mau Mau fighters. Nor did anyone have much intelligence about the movement’s organization or deployment.

The British went on unimaginatively launching huge ineffective sweeps of the dense forests with the heavily overloaded KAR soldiers clumping noisily about in their leaden boots and breathing so heavily that the forest fighters, by now highly skilled and much superior in bushcraft, could hear them in the clear mountain air literally miles away.

It is often forgotten that unlike Algeria and other African colonial insurgencies, the Mau Mau had no material or financial help from anyone outside Kenya. This was Africa’s first truly autochthonous insurrection.

January 1953
European settlers storm
Government House

In January 1953, a rowdy mob of about 1,000 frustrated and furious European Settlers, largely composed of Nairobi shopkeepers and residents, by now disgusted with the indecisiveness of the ‘wobbly’ Governor, and by the lack of any progress on the ‘battle’ front, marched on Government House, at one point even trying unavailingly to storm the massive front doors.

Their leaders, Michael Blundell and Humphrey Slade, hoisted on to chairs, eventually managed to calm and disperse them. Shortly after this the British Middle East Commander-in-Chief came to Nairobi from Cairo, meeting Lyttelton in Nairobi.

The visitors agreed that Hinde, with whom Baring got on surprisingly well, would have to go. Baring reluctantly accepted a compromise. A “senior general” would be appointed as Commander-in-Chief for East Africa, with direct access to the War Office in London and no longer subordinate to the Cairo HQ. Hinde would answer to him.

March 1953
Naivasha police station
raided and ransacked

In the early months of 1953 there were three other critical events. Two took place on the same night – March 26th.

A group of forest fighters under the command of Muraya Mbuthia (still alive) and Mbaria Kaniu (whom the newly registered Mau Mau War Veterans Association buried last month with respect and ceremony), both from Murang’a, reinforced by thirty men under Kibira Gatu (still alive) from Othaya in Nyeri, surrounded the Naivasha Police Station compound.

They had only five guns and very little ammunition. Surprise, however, was total. They cut through the wire and made straight for the Armoury. Mbuthia broke down the door and began distributing the weapons.

The forest fighters lost one man killed. They made a large haul of Bren guns and rifles and also took off with a considerable quantity of ammunition, incidentally releasing some 150 prisoners.

The sheer courage and brilliantly executed planning demonstrated by the insurgents involved in this episode had a profound effect on the humiliated and enraged colonial Security Forces, who were finally beginning to realise they had a real war on their hands.

Shortly afterwards the Government decided to issue the embryonic so-called “Loyalist” Home Guard (disparagingly christened ‘The Kamatimu’ – The Little Spears). network with shotguns and rifles. Not totally unexpectedly, several members immediately disappeared into the forests with their invaluable trophies.

The motivation and complex structure of these “loyalist” collaborators requires detailed research, as does the whole concept and the different degrees of “loyalism” acceptable in different localities. It is assuredly a more complicated picture than even that of Petain’s Vichy France.

Now that today a few of these so-called “loyalists” are tentatively breaking their self-imposed silence about the war period, it is clear that the motivation and quality of their “loyalism” differed greatly in both space and time.

There were substantial differences not only between Districts but even between locations. Large numbers were merely fence-sitters who changed their positions depending on who they thought was winning at any particular time in their local area.

Many of the Home Guard groups originated in late 1952 around Chiefs and Headmen (sub-chiefs) who had committed themselves irrevocably to the Government cause, whether by some illegal act outside the law or by over-zealous implementation of Government policies.

Such Home Guard groups were initially recruited from the extended families and age-mates of these chiefs but were joined piecemeal by others who thought they had wealth and property to lose or who, for one reason or another, felt they would be the targets of the Mau Mau movement.

These amorphous band were later joined both by double agents and by the usual fringe elements who for a time felt safer inside the Home Guard than outside it, especially when uncommitted males at this time were almost by definition assumed to support the aims of the forest fighters.

Any analysis will also have to bear in mind that with the influx of the KPR and Kenya Regiment the Rule of Law in the Reserves had rapidly been replaced by the Rule of Fear.

“Loyalism” was a tangled mess of motives and emotions that will be very difficult to unravel. Its primary motivation, however, was never Freedom (Uhuru) and Land. Often it was simply greed, fear, indecision, religion or personal animosity.

The Christian Missions were another centre of Home Guard activities. At the beginning Christian believers would coalesce at the local mission stations or even in trading centres, led at some assembly point by the local Chief or Headman, at others even by a European missionary of strong personality. These stations would over time be barricaded and surrounded with barbed wire, developing eventually into reasonably secure sanctuaries for the mission adherents.

It is significant that “loyalists” never created a unity oath of their own. Their membership was too diffuse and their ideology too elastic varying as it did from Senior Chief Njeru in Murang’a, solemnly raising and lowering the Union Jack outside his homestead daily to a poor shopkeeper desperately trying to preserve his meagre stock of goods.

In general, as the war went on, it paid in many ways to be, or at least appear to be, a “loyalist”. Movement passes, trading licences and contracts, education, jobs and eventually even voting rights could all depend on the possession of the precious Loyalty Certificate.

What began as tentative, irregular, undisciplined bands of collaborators ultimately developed into a much more organised and regular addition to the tribal police force with its own commandant, transferred from the Malayan communist rebellion.

They acted under the immediate orders to several locally recruited European District Officers (Kikuyu Guard). Before and after villagisation these units were responsible for some of the worst atrocities and abuses of human rights. It is believed that Baring took the decision in favour of villagisation himself, apparently on the advice of Louis Leakey.

By 1955, Central Province had become one vast detention camp with the reoganised paramilitary Kikuyu Guard of the all-powerful wardens and controllers.

Lari – Punishing
the traitors

The second incident on the same night was the burning down of the “Traitors Settlement” at Lari by a small group of Mau Mau.

The chief of the area (Luka Wakahangara) had accepted land at Lari in exchange for his portion of an island of African Ð owned land in the middle of the “White” Highlands at Tigoni, near Limuru.

He had been unanimously condemned by the local Mau Mau court for traitorously collaborating with the Administration and the Europeans in the land conflicts on the Kikuyu frontier. In accepting land at Lari, which was already claimed by another mbari group, he was also publicly supporting the political basis of the unacceptable 1934 Kenya Land Commission Report (popularly called the Carter Commission).

The report had officially recommended the extinction of all other Kikuyu land rights and the recognition of the White Highlands. So the Mau Mau court’s decision was implemented and Luka, his family, his followers and guards were burnt to death in their houses.

Massacre of
the innocents

However, on the next day the colonial Security Forces went berserk and it would appear that more than 300 of the inhabitants of the surrounding area, who had not been involved in any way in the previous night’s activities, were brutally killed in a psychotic spasm of revenge and racist genocide. In addition 1,400 people were arrested.

Probably no other single episode in the war was more ruthlessly exploited by the British for propaganda purposes. It was a Godsend.

Lari hit the world’s headlines and its apparent irrational purposelessness was brazenly used by the British and colonial governments to alienate sympathy for the freedom fighters’ cause.

Ignorance of the White Highlands issue in the background made the raid seem incomprehensible to many. Lari was also ruthlessly and fatefully manipulated to boost the moral credentials of the Security Forces and to reduce the impact of the increasing number of complaints from missionaries and the more radical British MPs about the barbaric nature of the methods they were using to quell the uprising.

April 1953
Corruption in the trial
of Kenyatta and five others

The third event was the trial of Jomo Kenyatta and five others for managing Mau Mau. This began before Mr. Justice Thacker, a retired High Court Judge from Kenya.

Governor Baring bribed Thacker with £20,000 from some source of (secret) Intelligence funds that was personally controlled by him. Thacker responded by shamelessly asking as well for an honour from the Queen. This, however, was too much and it was not given.

Baring also informed Lyttelton that “Every possible effort has been made to offer them (the witnesses) rewards and to protect them but no one can tell what will really happen when they are confronted in court by Kenyatta’s formidable personality . . . ” Interesting stuff, especially as one witness did indeed later recant, admitted he had been bribed, and was then promptly convicted of perjury. Thacker significantly fled to Zimbabwe (then Southern Rhodesia) as soon as the trial was over.

Luckily for him there was no Aaron Ringera around at the time. It would seem that the incorruptibility of British Justice was yet another myth to be severely damaged by the Kenya Emergency.

the screws

In March 1953 Governor Baring and Secretary of State Oliver Lyttelton publicly committed the British Government to a promise that Kenyatta and at least 15 other leaders would never be allowed to return to live in Kikuyu country. From then on Kenyatta was air-brushed to oblivion. It was as if he had never been.

His very substantial house at Githunguri was demolished. As one writer has it: “Like Trotsky and the Russian revolution the name and fame of Jomo Kenyatta were to disappear from Kikuyu and Kenya history”.

By mid-1953 the State of Emergency was steadily giving birth to its own ever thicker Book of Regulations. The legal stranglehold on all activities, possessions, opportunities and movement was rapidly tightening.

The land of all the rank and file Mau Mau adherents was legally confiscated and their houses and shops demolished. All KISA and Karinga Independent Schools were razed to the ground or handed over to Christian missions.

Finally while what was called the process of “reconstruction” went on, the Central Province was legally closed to visitors and sealed off from the outside world for six years. This accompanied the introduction of a comprehensive Pass system for all Kikuyu, Embu and Meru persons. Henceforth permission to move out of one’s location could only be granted by District Officers.

June 1953
Churchill appoints
Gen Erskine as CinC

The “senior general” whose appointment had been agreed at Lyttelton’s Nairobi meeting shortly after January’s Settler March on Government House, was Sir George Erskine, who had been personally selected by Winston Churchill.

Over the next two years Erskine carried out his orders, which were to take the military measures required to end the Emergency, to the letter. But, most importantly, before he had finished in 1955 with Kenya (and its Settlers), he had effectively moved the battle arena from the forests and the African Reserves to the Detention Camps. And Erskine’s troops had no role in the Camps. And the Colonial Administration, who did have the all-powerfull role in them, had only one weapon they could use over the next four years on the determined and heroic political detainees facing them down in these Camps. That weapon was illegal force.

Having detained 150,000 (at least) alleged Mau Mau adherents in the camps for taking the Mau Mau oath, it would surely be ridiculous to release them until at least they “confessed” they had taken it.

Only brutal illegal force seemed to do the trick.

In 1959 in Hola, in the defining moment of the Emergency, the illegal use of force totally exploded in the Administration’s face and destroyed with that same explosion their carefully constructed concept of Mau Mau as an atavistic cult rooted in some mystic African religion.

The savage Government-initiated, European-supervised, stage-managed butchery at Hola shocked the political pragmatists in Britain’s Conservative Government to the core.

They had survived Nasser and the Suez Canal Crisis and its secret conspiracy with France and Israel. They had rallied round the subtle, clever but ruthless Harold Macmillan. They were even facing a General Election in October with relative equanimity.

And now some remote spot called Hola was threatening to bring them crashing down.

Were the European Settlers in Kenya really worth this trouble any more?

Link :

Posted in Our lives | Leave a Comment »

Prehistoric time

Posted by kikuyusworld on July 26, 2007

Kenya Timeline

A time line overview of big and small events in the history of Kenya.

Prehistoric time

Some of our earliest human ancestors (Homo erectus and Homo habilis) walked on East African ground more than 2 million years ago. Several skulls and fragments has been found in Kenya and neighbouring countries.

The Khoisan-speakers are the first modern people known to inhabit East Africa. They are followed by Cushitic people (from north), Bantu speaking groups (from Central Africa), Nilotes (from Sudan) as well as Oromos and Somalis (from Ethiopia).

Arabian and Portuguese traders/invaders

8th century AD: The first visits by Arabian and Persian traders to East Africa are made. Some Arab traders stays in the region and brings a Muslim influence to the culture. Most areas of Kenya are inhabited at this time, but most trade and development takes place in the coastal region. Trade with ivory, rhino horn, gold, shells and slaves makes Mombasa, Malindi and the Islands Lamu, and Pate into important centres of trade.

The 15th century: The Coast is rich and the cities are great in this period. It becomes the first centre of trade out of Africa. The African groups on the coast gradually forms the Swahili culture adapting Islam as their religion. The common religion makes way for better understanding and business with the Arabs. Religious beliefs (Islam and later Christianity) also gives status in society (this can still be seen in the pride of many religious people in Africa). Some Africans may have turned to Islam simply to avoid being sold as slaves. The Swahili were mainly black Africans and it were these people who build the great cities along the coast.

The Swahili people makes a fortune on trade and forms business families. They are able to communicate better with the foreign traders as the Kiswahili language develops. They also serves as middlemen for those wanting to sell gold and Ivory from deep within the continent.

The trade net grows to cover Africa, Arabia, Persia, India and China. It is recorded that traders even succeeds to send a live Giraffe all the way the Emperor of China.

Vasco da Gama1498: Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama reaches East Africa with ships and guns. Until now most meetings with foreigners has been relative peaceful, but the Portuguese are eager to get their hands on the rich trade around the Indian Ocean. The Swahili people gives Vasco da Gama what he wants: They direct him on the way to India -and are happy to sea him leave. (See also Mozambique Timeline).

1505: The Portuguese invades, slaughters and robs most cities on the East Coast of Africa. Dom Francisco de Almeida arrives with 23 ships and approximately 1500 soldiers. Mombasa is bombed and the occupied by Portuguese troops.

The next 200 years are marked by the fights between the Arabs and the Portuguese for control of the region. The main losers in this long struggle are the Africans, seeing their towns destroyed all along the coast.

1585 and 1589: The Ottoman Turks tries to regain their power on the Kenyan Coast but are beaten by the Portuguese. Portugal starts a brutal colonial rule and exploitation of the Africans and their resources. With weapons in hand they try to convert people into Catholicism, but Islam has already grown strong on the coast.

Portuguese Fort Jesus in Mombasa

The Portuguese Fort Jesus in Mombasa. Photo: © Jacob Crawfurd. View more photos from Mombasa.

1593: Mombasa becomes the local centre of Portuguese power. Fort Jesus is constructed in Mombasa harbour to defend the city from the seaside and also against a growing resistance among the Swahili people.

1698: Fort Jesus and Mombasa are finally lost to the Arabs after 33 months of siege. After a few years the Portuguese has left Kenya completely. Arab sultans now rules over different parts of the coast.

19th Century: The European countries starts a race of land grabbing in Africa. In East Africa it is mainly Germany and England competing in making colonies and protectorates. By now a political pressure has influenced Britain to try and stop the African slave trade.

1822: The Sultan of Oman (Sayyid Said) sends an army to East Africa. He claims control of all Swahili dynasties along the coast. The local Swahili clans resists to give up their power and asks Britain for help. Two warships are send from Britain and the captain declares the Mombasa region for British protectorate. The protectorate is given up after 3 years.

1832: The sultan of Oman moves with his court to Zanzibar. He starts plantations of cloves and develops trade routes deeper into Africa. Spice production and export of Ivory and slaves are an important economic injection for the Sultan’s empire.

1847: The first European missionaries starts traveling west and exploring more of Kenya. The Germans, Krapf and Rebmann, are the first to reach Taita Hills and later gives the first reports of seeing Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya.

May 1, 1873 : Dr. David Livingstone dies in Central Africa. His body is carried on a month-long journey to Zanzibar.

1877: the Sultan offers the company British East Africa a concession of administration in East Africa. The British completely ignores the Swahili people -only negotiating with the Sultan on Zanzibar. Their racist prejudices makes them believe that the East African Coast has only developed because of the Arabs.

British Crown Colony

1886: The European colonial powers divides Africa between them at a conference in Berlin. Germany and Britain are the main players in the game of control with East Africa. The Sultan of Oman is still granted a strip on the Coastline.

1888: Imperial British East Africa starts “economic development” in their possessions (today’s Kenya and Uganda).

1894: Jomo Kenyatta is born in Ichaweri.

1895: Britain’s protectorate is formed and officially named British East Africa.

Shop now!
J H Patterson:
The Man-eaters of Tsavo
US order | European order

Shopping info

1898: Construction of a railway from Mombasa to Lake Victoria is progressing fast, but delayed in Tsavo. Two lions kills and eats 135 Indian and African railway workers. Lt. Col. J.H. Patterson manages to kill the lions after hunting them for nine months. The events were dramatised in the film The Ghost and The Darkness. The man-eating lions are still on display in The Field Museum, Chicago.

1898: The railway reaches half way through Kenya. The city of Nairobi is founded a few years later.

1901: The railway from Mombasa to Kisumu is completed with its 965 km. European and Indian settlers now arrives in great numbers to East Africa. White settlers are favoured from the beginning and given influence on the management of the colony. The African inhabitants of the “White highlands” are forced into “native reserves”. In the following years several local uprisings are stopped by British soldiers. As in the other African colonies some tribes are favoured by the British. This makes the foundation for jealousy, hatred and ethnic clashes for generations ahead.

1902: The border between Kenya and Uganda is adjusted. Before this Kisumu and the area around Lake Victoria was a part of Uganda.

1905: First experiments with growing coffee in Kenya are made by British settlers. Today Kenya is the African country exporting most coffee.

1907: The British colonial administration moves from Mombasa to Nairobi.

The Karen Blixen farm near Nairobi

View to Ngong Hills from the Blixen farm. More photos from Nairobi Highlands. Photo: © Jacob Crawfurd.

January 1914: 28 year old Karen Blixen (also known as Isak Dinesen) arrives in Kenya with her husband Bror Blixen. They settle on a farm close to Nairobi and starts growing coffee. Karen Blixen has no experience and no success with farming but after returning to Denmark in 1931 she becomes a well known writer.

1914: World War I also includes Africa. 200,000 Africans are recruited in Kenya by the British Army. One fourth of them dies.

1915: The British settlers requires more land. Another 5186 hectares are taken from the Africans. The “Registration Act” forces all African adult males to carry identification whenever leaving the reserves.

1921: The protectorate becomes Kenya and gets status of British Crown Colony. A British governor administrates the colony.

1922: Foundation of East African Breweries (today: Kenya Breweries, producing the popular “Tusker” and other brands).

1922: Africans educated in the Missions starts protesting against the British policies. Harry Thuku, leader of the East African Association (EAA) is arrested. Another young Kikuyu from EAA is about to begin his career: Jomo Kenyatta leaves for university Studies in England (1931) and returns to become a political leader years later.

1923: The first tea plantation is founded in Kenya. A law ensured that only the European settlers could profit from growing tea and coffee for export.

1924 : Daniel Arap Moi is born in Baringo.

1933: American writer Ernest Hemingway visits Kenya and writes some of his most famous stories.

1939: Labour unions are becoming stronger in the colony. Strikes hits hard on Mombasa.

1944: A organisation for African independence is formed: Kenyan African Union (KAU).

1947: Jomo Kenyatta becomes leader of KAU.

Mau Mau rebellion

1952: A political Kikuyu group called “Mau Mau” starts violent attacks on white settlers. The Mau Mau guerillas are organised in Kenya Land Freedom Army (KFLA). Jomo Kenyatta is regarded to be leader of the “Mau Mau” and he is jailed the following year. The Mau Mau rebellion continues and Britain declares a state of emergency in Kenya.

February 6, 1952: The young Elizabeth stays in the Aberdare Treetop Hotel when her father, King George VI, dies of cancer. She returns to England as Queen Elizabeth II.

October 1956: The leader of KLFA, general Dedan Kimanthi is captured by British troops with assistance from a loyal Kikuyu group. The Mau Mau are now without efficient leadership.

1956: The Mau Mau warriors kills more Africans loyal to the British than white people. Around 50,000 British soldiers are set in against the rebellion. They burn down villages and carry out bomb attacks from airplanes. When the rebellion is finally put down a total of app. 12,000 Africans are killed -and only about 30 Europeans. 100,000 Africans are imprisoned.

1957: Dedan Kimanthi is executed.

195?: Kenyan songwriter Fadhili William records the pop song Malaika. The song becomes a world-wide hit and as has since been recorded by several other artists.

1957: Ghana is the first African colony to gain independence. (See also Ghana Timeline)

1959: Kenyatta is transferred from jail to house arrest. Formation of political parties are now allowed and African politicians are invited for negotiations in London.

Jomo Kenyatta1960: Britain gives in to the pressure and starts preparing Kenya for independence. Estimated 60,000 Europeans now live in Kenya.

1960: A team of archaeologists led by Mary and Louis Leakey finds a skull of Homo Habilis near Lake Turkana in Northern Kenya. The skull is estimated to be 1.8 million years old.

1961: House arrest ends for Kenyatta and he becomes leader of the political party KANU.


Kenyan flagDecember 12, 1963: : Kenyan independence day.

1964: The Republic of Kenya (Jamhuri ya Kenya) is formed with Kenyatta as president and Oginga Odinga as vice president. The party KADU dissolves and integrates with KANU. The government is without opposition.

1966: The Luo politician Oginga Odinga is excluded from the Kikuyu dominated KANU party. He tries to start an opposition party, but is arrested several times during the following years.

1969: Conflicts between ethnic groups continue. The Luo politician Tom Mboya aspires to future presidency and is assassinated by a Kikuyu. Odinga is arrested.

1974: Jomo Kenyatta is re-elected as president. Kiswahili becomes official language in the parliament.

1976: Border problems and regional tensions: The Ugandan dictator Idi Amin claims huge parts of Kenya and Sudan.

1977: Big game hunting becomes prohibited by law.

August 22, 1978: Jomo Kenyatta dies in his home in Mombasa. During his presidency Kenya has become one of the most stable and prosperous countries in Africa. In spite of mistakes and some degree of paranoia, Kenyatta was loved by most Kenyans and respected by politicians abroad. The Republic of Kenya held many promises which were soon to fade.

Kenya’s second president

His Exellency President of Kenya, Daniel Arap MoiOctober 6, 1978: Daniel Toroitich Arap Moi becomes president of Kenya. At the time he is not seen as a very strong politician, but he was vice president for Kenyatta and the parliament agrees on the choice. This is partly because as a Kalenjin (Tugen) he is not representing any of the dominant tribes in Kenya. The new national slogan launched by Moi is “nyayo” -follow the tracks. But soon Moi starts hitting hard on opponents, banning tribal societies and closing universities. The president makes more and more frequent use of prisons and guns in the coming years.

1979: The president launches a plan for protection of Rhinos in Kenya.

June 1982: The Republic of Kenya is officially declared to be a one party state by ruling party KANU.

August 1982: The Kenyan Airforce attempts a military coup. A few days pass in uncertainty and 120 people are killed. Then forces loyal to the government puts an end to the rebellion. Following the coup-attempt, 12 people are sentenced to death and 900 are jailed.

1985: Hollywood premieres Out Of Africa filmed on location in Kenya, starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford.

1987: President Moi is re-elected after introducing a complicated and highly criticised voting system. Opposition leaders including Kenneth Matiba are jailed without trial.

1989: Paleontologist Dr. Richard Leakey becomes manager of the Department of Wildlife in Kenya. President Moi burns of 12 tons of ivory, making a public statement against poaching.

1990’s: Communist regimes in eastern Europe collapses, putting an end to “the Cold War” era. USA and Western Europe has supported corrupt regimes all over Africa in their attempt to keep communism from the door. But now they loose interest in the continent. For the first time donor countries makes demands of democratic development and puts pressure on the Kenyan government. Multiparty systems are a public demand all over the continent and the governments no longer has Western support to suppress the opposition.

The KANU Youth group is used as pro-government troublemakers. In the following years KANU Youth are used to harass opposition members and provoke riots in democratic demonstrations. The KANU Youth has also been involved in the unleash of violence and ignition of ethnic clashes.

July 7, 1990: An illegal demonstration becomes known as the “Saba Saba” (Seven Seven – the date in Swahili). The government sends in police and military, killing at least 20 and arresting several hundreds, including politicians, human rights activists and journalists.

Nairobi skyline in 1997

The skyline of Nairobi photographed by Jacob Crawfurd in 1997. View more photos from Nairobi.

1991: A new opposition party is formed under the name Forum for the Restoration of Democracy (FORD). The party is at first banned by Moi. Leaders, including Oginga Odinga, are arrested. Most Western countries suspends their economic aid to Kenya in condemnation of the political oppression and abuses of human rights. Moi finally gives in and introduces the multiparty system in Kenya: The constitution is changed, for the first time allowing registration of opposition parties.

Political violence on the road to democracy

1992: Political discussions slowly becomes more common on the streets and some people even dare to hope for a change. But at the same time many people fears the wars, violence and chaos in other African countries. An argument often heard is that Moi may be one the most corrupt leaders in the world, but he has kept Kenya peaceful.

Prior to elections, 2000 are killed in ethnic clashes in the Rift Valley region. It is almost certain that the violence was provoked by KANU. But President Moi manages to end the conflict and makes himself an image as the peace maker.

1992: The Ford party splits into two fractions. Moi gains more power as the opposition waste their efforts on internal conflicts.

December 29, 1992: Moi is re-elected as President in Kenya’s first multiparty election. All foreign observers reports that KANU manipulated the voters and election in every possible way.

1993: International donors, IMF and the World Bank forces the government to start economic reforms in Kenya.

1994: Oginga Odinga dies. The opposition parties form a new coalition, but are still having strong internal disputes. Moi is becoming more and more clever in setting up opposition members against each other.

Masai political demonstration
“We want to see our president”.
A group of Masais demonstrates near Nakuru in 1995. Photo: Jacob Crawfurd.

1995: Paleontologist Richard Leakey forms Safina, a new opposition party. The Leakey family is famous for their archaeological findings in Kenya. Moi argues strongly against having white men in government.

1996: KANU announces a wish to change the constitution allowing Moi to stay in office for one more term.

1997: Demonstrations for democracy are frequent in Kenya.

August 14, 1997: 200 raiders attacks the police station in Likoni, Mombasa. Prisoners are freed, six police officers and seven civilians are killed. The violent attackers steels rifles and ammunition. In the following weeks horror rules on the coast with massacres and ethnic violence. Many people are on the run. Who started this, and why was nothing done to stop it?

1997: Daniel Arap Moi wins his 5th term as president in criticised elections. Once again Moi has succeeded to play opposition and ethnic groups against each other.

1997: The El Nino weather phenomena brings cascades of water to the Kenyan coast. Several thousands are left homeless.

Shillingi - Kenyan curencySeptember 8, 1997: President Mobuto Sese Seko of Zaire (D. R. Congo) loses his power and dies soon after. Mobuto was considered to be the richest man in Africa. According to an Ugandan newspaper, Daniel Arap Moi is a possible number two. (The Monitor, August 4, 1997)

August 1998: 230 people are killed when a bomb explodes in Nairobi’s US embassy. At the same time people are killed by a terror bombing in Tanzania. The bombings are later linked to Osama Bin-Laden and the Al-Qaeda terrorist network.

Kenya politics:
Human Rights Watch: Kenya report 2002
Follow the 2002 elections in Kenya.
Elections in Kenya
Listing of political parties in Kenya.
Learn more about the visions of ruling party KANU on their website.
Democratic Party of Kenya
Gado is a popular cartoonist in a Kenyan newspaper. Enjoy his satiric comments.
Search the Daily Nation newspaper archive (starting 1997)

1999: Richard Leakey becomes minister in the KANU government. He is tasked with fighting corruption in Kenya.

June 2001: Moi forms the first coalition government in Kenya. Opposition leader Raila Odinga becomes minister of Energy.

August 2001: 3 million people starves as Northern Kenya suffers from drought.

2001: Several anti-corruption initiatives are started in order to please the IMF.

October 2001: Uhuru Kenyatta (son of Jomo Kenyatta) is appointed to parliament and a cabinet post by President Moi. The inexperienced Uhuru Kenyatta is later appointed by Moi to be his successor in the presidential office.

2001: Ethnic clashes breaks out again. Worst in the Kibera slum area of Nairobi. As the violence continues the government stays passive. Some people fears that Moi would like to see chaos break out in Kenya after he gives up presidency.

The third president

December 27, 2002: Election in Kenya. Moi is leaving the office to opposition leader Mwai Kibaki.

Kibaki soon announces that Kenya will provide free primary schooling for all children.

Another imprtant law from Kibaki is new rules for Matatu-owners. The matatus are privately-owned mini-busses. They are loud and colourful contributions to Kenyan culture, but also notorius for their high rate of accidents (more than 3,000 dies in road accidents every year). The new laws are made to improve traffic security, but the matatu owners have protested and paralysed the country with strikes and new high fares.

Link about the new president:

Profile: Kenya’s new leader – BBC world

December 10th 2004: Kenyan Wangari Maathia receives the Nobel Peace Price in Oslo. She is the frist African woman to receive the price. Prof. Maathia is minister in the Kenyan government and founder of the Green Belt Movement. Also visit


Posted in Our lives | Leave a Comment »

Origins of the Mau Mau

Posted by kikuyusworld on July 26, 2007

Origins of the Mau Mau

In 1946, impatient with the pace of change proposed by KAU, and angered by the shooting of demonstrators in Nairobi, a group of former Kikuyu solders formed the ‘Forty Group’ and started organising violent opposition to the white settlers. They joined other groups and began robbing shops and raiding fire-arms, imposing oaths and eventually executing as traitors those who were not ready to follow their fight for freedom. Women became directly involved in 1948, when workers at Olenguruone agricultural settlement scheme went on strike: the women refused to participate in terracing the land to prevent erosion unless they first received title to it. Supported by the nascent labour unions, the colonial response was the by now familiar repression.
The resulting ad hoc organisation called itself the Land Freedom Army (LFA), whose violent resistance to colonial rule was to become better known in the world as the Mau Mau Uprising.

The exact origins of the inherently secretive LFA/Mau Mau movement are uncertain, as the Mau Mau were only ever loosely organized, and most of their actions were opportunistic in nature. In any case, properly organized military resistance was impossible, given the extent to which the British controlled Kikuyu territory and the reserves.
The name “Mau Mau” itself was (as far as I know) never used by the Kikuyu themselves, and did not exist in their language. One theory says that the name was invented by the British as part of an attempt to demonise the Kikuyu people, though exactly how this would demonise them – if no one knew what the name meant – is unclear.

Kenyatta’s Arrest and the Creation of a Myth

When the staunch British loyalist Kikuyu chief Warihiu was assassinated on 7 October 1952, the government saw the LFA as the first serious threat to colonial rule in post-war Africa. Two weeks later, on 20 October, a state of emergency and martial law was imposed, which was to last until 1960.

Following the imposition of martial law, Jomo Kenyatta and over one hundred other leading members of the Kenya African Union, as well as other political leaders, were arrested and detained. The KAU was made illegal the following year, and the activities of other nationalist movements were severely restricted, although trade unions were largely allowed to continue their activities.
Despite the fact that Kenyatta had repeatedly denounced Mau Mau publicly and advocated peaceful change (see his speech “The Kenya Africa Union is not the Mau Mau” from 1952), the British remained convinced that he was the man behind Mau Mau.
He was put on trial for subversion and incitement, which – as the copies of official documents now displayed at Kapenguria Museum show – was nothing other than a farce, as there was no direct evidence whatsoever implicating his involvement in any illegal act. Nonetheless, Kenyatta was found guilty and spent seven years in hard labour, periodically being moved from one remote corner of the country to another: Lodwar, Maralal, Kapenguria, and even Lamu.

The myth of Kenyatta as the founding father of Kenya stems from this period of detention, as aptly described in the dramatic (if somewhat exaggerated) words of Greet Kershaw in Mau Mau from Below (Athens: Ohio University Press, 1997):

“After months of anxiety and at times horror, after having suffered curfews, suspicions and being accused of crimes because they took oaths, land poor, landless and many landed exploded into joy… Kenyatta’s arrest, charged with being the leader of Mau Mau, changed fear and anger into hope. The landed had not given him a great deal of credit for leadership; they had seen him more and more as someone trying to become a landed Kiambu elder. Land poor and landless had seen this growth and sadly concluded that he had little to share now and offered even less for the future. No one doubted that he was in favor of resistance and his brand of Mau Mau, but the overwhelming opinion had been that he was not in control of Githunguri, nor of other Mau Mau. If in spite of what they had thought, he had secretly been in control, outwitting them and the colonial government for years, then he was far more astute than they had given him credit for. The time of secrecy was over; Kenyatta might be arrested, but freedom had never been so close. Those who had, against Kenyatta’s will, offered their multiple oaths, should cease to do so and acknowledge him. All people should send Kenyatta a sign that they had understood and would follow: the time for umoja (unity) was now”.

The Guerilla War, 1952-56

British concentration camp, 1952-60The State of Emergency did nothing to repress the movement for independence, and several bitter years of fighting the whole might of the British and colonial army followed. Between 1952 and 1956, the LFA/Mau Mau engaged in a campaign of terror against highland settlers and Kikuyu loyalists.
Other than firearms captured from raids on police stations, their weapons were traditional – clubs, knives, spears and arrows. As these would have been no match in a open confrontation with the colonial army, the Mau Mau engaged in guerilla warfare and terrorism. Based in the thick jungly forests of Mount Kenya and the Aberdares, they launched raids on neighbouring settlers’ farms, post offices, police stations, as well as on Kikuyu perceived as being loyal to the regime. The Mau Mau were composed of urban workers, agriculturalists, the unemployed, World War II veterans, labourers, and unionists. They also included women, apparently often enough women with powers of prediction, who worked directly with platoon commanders. Dedan Kimathi, the forest fighters’ general, recommended the admission of literate women into the forest fighting force. Other women joined Mau Mau fighters to avoid being sold off by their fathers as wives to pro-British ‘homeguards’ or ‘loyalists.’ Mau Mau were also supported by civilians who supplied them with food, medicine, arms and intelligence.

The British response was as swift as it was brutal. The forests of Mount Kenya, where the LFA had their base camps, were designated a “prohibited area” and were heavily bombed. People living on the fringes of the forest were evicted from the land, their animals confiscated and crops and huts burned to clear the way for the “free fire zone”. Other settlements suspected of harbouring Mau Mau were burned, and suspects were routinely tortured for information and confessions. In the “free fire” zones, any African could be shot on sight, and rewards were offered to army and police units that produced the largest number of ‘Mau Mau’ corpses, the hands of which were chopped off to make fingerprinting easier.
But the brunt of the British response was borne by the ordinary Kikuyu. Thousands were herded into overcrowded and heavily militarized “protected villages” as part of a policy of “villagisation”. Supposedly intended to be “purely protective and beneficial for the Africans”, in reality the program was merely intended to make the Kikuyu easier to control – otherwise, why enforce a 23-hour curfew?
Ten days into the start of emergency rule, almost 4,000 Africans had been arrested, but that was only the start. On 24 April 1954, the police rounded up all the African inhabitants in Nairobi – around 100,000 people. The 70,000 Kikuyu were separated and screened. Of them, up to 30,000 men were taken to holding camps, and the families of the arrested were pushed into the already overcrowded native reserves.
By the end of 1954, one-third of all Kikuyu men were said to be in prison. These detainees had not been convicted of any crime and were held without trial.

Dreadlocks and oathing

See also the article about the Mûngîkî ‘sect’ of the 1990s

It is said that when, in 1953, the Mau Mau uprising was covered across the world’s media newsreels showing dreadlocked forest fighters defying the white man, Jamaican Rastafarians adopted dreadlocks as a symbol of brotherhood in the fight against racial injustice.
The symbolism of long hair and dreadlocks has a long and complicated history, which I won’t try to explain here.
As far as I know, in Kenya many peoples traditionally considered long hair to be a symbol of transition, for example as worn by Maasai and Samburu junior warriors. Long hair was also mentioned in Luo and Luhya stories in connection with rebirth, in that people in those stories got lost on Lake Nyanza (Victoria), during which their hair grew long, and when they finally arrived ashore, the foreign people who took them in and adopted them saw these people as being akin to spirits. Hair was also a symbol of unmarried bachelor status, of the past, of wildness, and of spirits and violence. Important oaths between the Kikuyu and Dorobo reportedly took place through the exchange of hair to end feuds or seal friendships. Louis Leakey reported that a Kikuyu and Dorobo would shave hair from their heads, affix it to stools with honey, and then sit on one another’s stools to bind their friendship.

Ritual oathing was a crucial component of Mau Mau participation, as they called on the old God – Ngai – to witness the oath that people would swear to be united in their fight against the colonial enemy, and would take back the land that the white man had stolen. Jacob Njangi, a former fighter, explained:

“We used to drink the oath. We swore we would not let white men rule us forever. We would fight them even down to our last man, so that man could live in freedom.”

Kikuyu women taking a Mau Mau oathThe oaths were a cultural symbol of the solidarity that bound Kikuyu men, women and children together in their opposition to the colonial government. But they were also feared, as the taboos that traditionally surrounded the breaking of oaths were still very much current. Those who took the Mau Mau oaths were taught that their violation would be instantly lethal, and in practise it was indeed so: not because of the wrath of Ngai, but because of bloody reprisals by the Mau Mau themselves, for whom refusing to take the oath was the same as siding with the colonial regime.

Nonetheless, the British were scared by the oath, for they knew full well that for the Kikuyu (or any other Kenyan, in fact), an oath was a deadly serious matter, and could never be broken. As a result, the British made taking the Mau Mau oath a capital offence. Between 1953 and 1956 more than 1,000 Africans were publicly hanged for alleged Mau Mau crimes – in Britain, public hangings had been outlawed for over a century.
The British also screened Mau Mau suspects and forced them to take a ‘cleansing oath’, a strange instance of colonialism ‘gone native’. Concocted by the anthropologist Louis Leakey and rich Kikuyu landowners who stood to lose their British-granted privileges if independence came to be, the Kikuyu were to swear upon githathi (sacred stones) for a reversal of the Mau Mau oath.
Many, of course, refused, so alternative means had to be found to ‘convince’ people to abandon their oaths. John Nottingham, a district officer in the colonial service from 1952 to 1961, explains, “The way that it found was that if you beat them up enough then they would confess an oath. So what you do is beat them up and then you give them a bit of paper and a piece of blunt pencil and say, ‘Confess! I took it! I took it! I took it!’ You are now a human being again.”
Ironically, this was probably the first time that any of the suspects had ever been called ‘human beings’ by the wazungu.

The Hola Massacre, 1959

On 3 March 1959, 85 prisoners were marched out to a site from Hola Detention Camp, near the Tana River in the far east of the country, and ordered to work. One of the detainees, John Maina Kahihu, speaking with quiet dignity described what happened:

“We refused to do this work. We were fighting for our freedom. We were not slaves. … There were two hundred guards. One hundred seventy stood around us with machine guns. Thirty guards were inside the trench with us. The white man in charge blew his whistle and the guards started beating us. They beat us from 8 am to 11.30. They were beating us like dogs. I was covered by other bodies – just my arms and legs were exposed. I was very lucky to survive. But the others were still being beaten. There was no escape for them.”

Afterwards, eleven men lay dead and sixty were seriously injured. The prison officials attempted a cover-up by claiming that the men had died from drinking contaminated water. But the story found its way back to London and the truth could not be suppressed.

The Winds of Change, 1960-63

Dedan Kimathi after his captureThe capture and subsequent execution of ‘General’ Dedan Kimathi in October 1956 was almost the last blow for the Mau Mau (for a long article about the arrest, detention and execution of Kimathi from the point of view of one of the British Kenya Police officers who was detailed to guard him, see The Death of Dedan Kimathi).

Although Mau Mau were defeated militarily, the cost to the British for quelling the uprising was staggering, not just in terms of money and numbers of troops which had to be permanently stationed in Kenya, but in terms of public opinion in Europe. Reports of brutality by the British forces had periodically appeared in the British press. The Daily Worker carried a report under the headline: “Officer who quit says, ‘It’s Hitlerism'”. The officer concerned was 19-year-old Second Lieutenant David Larder, who after killing an African, chopped off his hand. Afterwards he wrote home in anguish asking, “What has happened to me?”
Other reports told of officers who paid their men five shillings a head for every ‘Mau Mau’ they killed. One soldier testified in court that his officer had said he could shoot anybody he liked as long as they were black, because he wanted to increase his company’s score of kills to fifty.

It has been estimated that by the time the State of Emergency was lifted, in 1960, almost 58% of Kikuyu had taken the Mau Mau oath. Over this time, between 80,000 and 100,000 Kikuyu had been imprisoned in concentration camps, more than a million Kikuyu and Embu civilians had been shifted into “secure” areas, and around 11,500 suspected Mau Mau were killed (of which 1,000 were hanged). If you also count deaths from disease and starvation in the “protected villages”, the total death toll was nearer 150,000. The Mau Mau for their part killed around 2,000 people, most of them Kenyans: of the 95 Europeans who lost their lives, 32 were civilians.
The perverse truth is that more white settlers died in road accidents on the streets of Nairobi during the emergency than at the hands of the LFA.

Despite the figures, though, Mau Mau had triggered change. Painfully slowly, the realization dawned on the British that the colony was coming to an end. The Jewel in the colonial crown, India, had already achieved her freedom through peaceful means, and one-by-one the other African possessions of the empire were demanding self-rule. The only rational option remaining was to cede to the demands.
By 1957, African members were elected for the first time to the Legislative Council, albeit from a restricted franchise. The Luo trade unionist Tom M’boya, together with other Africans promoted to ministerial posts, refused to assume their official responsibilities, and pressed for a new constitution which would guarantee the rights of all Kenyans: independence was almost inevitable.

From the time of State of Emergency being lifted to independence in 1963, things moved quickly. The British Government, pushed along by Harold Macmillan’s ‘Wind of Change’ speech, opened negotiations that had always been inevitable with the African leaders. A constitutional conference was held at Lancaster House in London in January and February 1960, that led to a transitional constitution legalizing political parties Jomo Kenyatta after this releaseand giving Africans a comfortable majority on the Legislative Council. The Kenya African National Union (KANU) – the successor to the KAU – was subsequently inaugurated, adopting a firm stance on land resettlement in the highlands. M’boya and James Gichuru became the leaders of KANU because Kenyatta remained in detention. Other African politicians, who were wary of Kikuyu-Luo domination, favoured a more federalist government; to this end, they formed the Kenya African Democratic Union (KADU).
When Kenyatta was released in August 1961 (the same month the Berlin Wall went up), he formed an all-party government and accepted the KANU presidency. At the legislative elections in May 1963, KANU triumphed over KADU with 124 seats opposed to 83, and Kenyatta was elected prime minister. The country’s first internal self-governing administration was formed on 1 June 1963 amid scenes of unparalleled joy, and Kenya was formally declared Independent on the 12th of December, 1963.


For a more general introduction on the Kenyan nation, read the contextual essay on Kenya’s History

Most of the 50,000 Europeans chose to remain in Kenya, and Kenyatta, who ruled first as prime minister (1963-64) and then as president (1964-78) was realistic about the difficulties that lay ahead. In his first speech as president he warned of the hard work which lay ahead and the need to save Kenyans from poverty, ignorance and disease, to educate their children and to have doctors, to build roads and to improve or provide all day-to-day essentials. He talked of harambee – the ‘coming together’ of all Kenyans in a spirit of brotherhood and unity. All fine words.
But is it really human nature for the powerful to deceive hope so cruelly? Does power always corrupt? Following independence, Kenyatta began increasingly to give preferential treatment to his own Kikuyu group, at the expense of others. The Kikuyu obtained much of the fertile land in the process of the Africanization of the White Highlands, and effectively became the political and economic elite of independent Kenya (they certainly retain their economic power to this day). They also received a lot of Maasai land, who were not represented in the new government.
Then, in 1969, Tom M’boya, then the KANU secretary-general, was assassinated by a Kikuyu in circumstances that have never been satisfactorily explained. The Luo population saw his death as an ethnic affront and as an attempt to intimidate it politically. Luo-Kikuyu enmity escalated rapidly over the next few months, reaching a point in October, 1969, when the KPU was banned, and its principal leaders, including Odinga and seven other party representatives, were detained. The banning of the KPU in effect brought a return to the single-party system, which lasted until the early 1990s.

Unsurprisingly, with the Kalenjin President Moi in power since 1978, things have changed somewhat, and the Kikuyu now find themselves in opposition, and have been the primary targets of ethnic violence since the 1990s. Of course, the government is still corrupt – in fact, corruption has never been more widespread or blatant. The country is financially on the brink of ruin (thanks largely to the illegal expropriation of its resources and finances by politicians), the infrastructure has either collapsed or is in a mess, and I really could go on and on and on for pages.
Yet for all its abuses, the seeds of Kenya’s presently parlous state were laid during Kenyatta’s reign, through his ultimate refusal to place the interests of the Kikuyu second to the interests of the new country. All that has happened since is merely repetition of that simple formula.

As a Nakuru farmer who had fought in the Mau Mau said in 1978 (a comment that could just as easily apply now):

“The land, which we expected to be distributed free to the poor and landless, was grabbed by the former homeguards and the big politicians… most of the beneficiaries from our glorious struggle are the former collaborators, and not the legitimate freedom fighters… if the situation continues to worsen, our children will be forced to fight – to fight for the same things we fought for.”

In Maina wa Kinyatti (ed), Kimathi’s Letters. Nairobi, Kenya: Heinemann, 1986; London UK: ZED Press, 1986

Maina wa Kinyatti himself, in Kenya: A Prison Notebook (1982), wrote:

“Fifteen long years of Kenyatta’s undemocratic rule left neo-colonial Kenya impoverished, depoliticized and disunited. He made way for Moi to misrule us. A rule of talk, talk, talk and do the opposite. The nauseating demagogy which Moi and the traitorous clique around him employ to mask their unpopular rule has failed to hide the all-around suffering of the Kenyans. One notices the intensified pauperization of the Kenyan people, as evidenced in ever rising unemployment, sky-high inflation, famine and starvation, wage freezes, forced cash contributions (under the pretext of Harambee), to the already wealthy ones.”

I’m sad to say that I agree.

Posted in Our lives | Leave a Comment »