KIKUYUS RIGHT TO BE

The right to be

Dirty War in Kenya. Kikuyus massacred

Posted by kikuyusworld on July 26, 2007

IMPERIAL RECKONING
The Untold Story of Britain’s Gulag in Kenya.

HISTORIES OF THE HANGED
The Dirty War in Kenya
and the End of Empire.
By David Anderson.
Focusing on the final decade of British rule in Kenya (ending in 1963), both writers evoke a period when, especially in Elkins’s view, the colonial pretense of civilizing the dark continent gave way to the savagery of imperial self-preservation. Some 40,000 whites lived in Kenya by the early 1950’s, drawn by promises of long leases on fertile land and native labor at low wages.

”Whatever his background,” Anderson, a lecturer in African Studies at Oxford, writes, ”every white man who disembarked from the boat at Mombasa became an instant aristocrat.” But by midcentury, many of the natives, particularly those of the Kikuyu tribe, refused to play their assigned role.

The Kikuyu had been put off their most arable land by white farmers. They, like other Kenyan tribes, had been banished to ethnic reserves too small to sustain them. They were forced to carry passbooks as they searched for work from the governing race. In 1952, stirred partly by their displacement and partly by British efforts to prohibit traditional Kikuyu customs, a Kikuyu secret society, the Mau Mau, launched a rebellion, attacking white-owned farms and brutally killing perhaps a hundred whites and 1,800 of their African supporters. In retaliation, the British carried out a campaign that, Elkins suggests, amounted to genocide.

Anderson’s book, meant as a kind of requiem for the ”as yet unacknowledged martyrs of the rebel cause: the 1,090 men who went to the gallows as convicted Mau Mau terrorists,” never manages to render a vivid martyr.

Examples of colonial judicial corruption and hypocrisy are thoroughly explored, but little room is left for character. Elkins, a history professor at Harvard, also neglects individual portraits, but she develops an unforgettable catalog of atrocities and mass killing perpetrated by the British.

”Imperial Reckoning” is an important and excruciating record; it will shock even those who think they have assumed the worst about Europe’s era of control in Africa. Nearly the entire Kikuyu population of 1.5 million was, by Elkins’s calculation, herded by the British into various gulags.

Elkins, who assembled her indictment through archives, letters and interviews with survivors and colonists, tells of a settler who would burn the skin off Mau Mau suspects or force them to eat their own testicles as methods of interrogation.

She quotes a survivor recalling a torment evocative of Abu Ghraib: lines of Kikuyu detainees ordered to strip naked and embrace each other randomly, and a woman committing suicide after being forced into the arms of her son-in-law. She quotes an anonymous settler telling her, ”Never knew a Kukuyu had so many brains until we cracked open a few heads.” Her method is relentless; page after page, chapter after chapter, the horrors accumulate.

We should all say Never again!

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