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The United Kenya Club was founded in 1946 and was the first multi-racial social organization in Kenya; the organization sponsored concerts and cultural events open to all ethnicities (if you could afford a ticket price). The liberal paternalists pressed for programs that would introduce "profit-making crafts to landless laborers," would "encourage the growth of a prosperous rural elite" and also would encourage progressive agricultural practices among poor peasants. Moreover, the liberal paternalists (Kennedy 248) wished to "instill Western principles of hygiene and child care" among African women and their daughters.
Missionaries were traditionally among the liberal paternalists, Kennedy points out, and when Sir Philip Mitchell became governor of Kenya, he "sought to invigorate the peasant agricultural sector" in order to build a more diversified economy (Kennedy 249). Mitchell also believed "with some justification" that a few of the white leaders among the British settlers "could be persuaded to cooperate in the introduction of a multi-racial social order," Kennedy explained.
THIRD VIEWPOINT: The commercial sector of settlers grew "dramatically" in the post-war years, Kennedy continues, and while they were less paternalistic than the liberals mentioned in previous paragraphs, they sought to "transform Kenya into a society ordered along class rather than racial lines" (Kennedy 249). Many businessmen were "sensitive to the massive social upheaval being experienced by Africans who had entered that crucible of change, Nairobi, and they both welcomed and feared its consequences," Kenney asserts. A FOURTH VIEW: Also (250), Kennedy identifies a fourth group with a specific viewpoint into the Mau Mau's agitation and the socio-political urgency therein; they were the reasonably well-established and wealthy settlers "scattered through the heart of the white highlands." They had their money and their success was assured, and they embraced an "increasingly broad and generous vision of race relations" in the Kenyan colony controlled by the British. While they took a more humanitarian view of the strife Africans were experiencing, the liberal paternalists mentioned in these paragraphs "shared a desire" to see the Mau Mau "crushed" (Kennedy 250).
THE DIFFERENCES OVER the MAU MAU ROOTS and MYTH: Authors Rosberg and Nottingham (they wrote the Myth of "Mau Mau") write on page 320 that the myth was created indeed by some savage acts - including the grim "oaths" alluded to earlier in the paper - including the killing animals and humans; these acts, along with the belief that the Mau Mau were instigating a movement which sought to achieve Kikuyu dominance in Kenya, helped create the myth in the eyes of Europeans. The myth was also fueled in large part by ethnocentrism, Rosberg continues (321), and this ethnocentrism took three paths: one, there was an "implicit conviction that the colonial system was perfectly capable of responding" to any and all legitimate political and social injustices of Africans; two, the Mau Mau was just another manifestation of "earlier African religious movements"; and three, the secret oath rituals that Mau Mau people had to take as recruits and members showed that Africans were "rejecting modernity" and "reverting to primitive behavior patterns" (321). So the Mau Mau myth was based in part on an unrealistic view that Europeans had, that their existing political system was "ultimately flexible and responsive," which of course it was not in the least flexible or responsive.
The Europeans were convinced, Rosberg writes on 330, that they faced "a secret, tribal cult, led by unscrupulous agitators" (with Jomo Kenyatta as their point man) who were stirring up the "primitive masses in order to line their own pockets." But some Europeans believed the Mau Mau couldn't be blamed for their brutal behavior; after all, Rosberg writes on 333, the Mau Mau movement had been isolated in thick forests and given to a "forest psychology" which made them "endemically secretive, irrational," and barbaric.
EUROPEAN VIEW AFTER the EMERGENCY: Rosberg and Nottingham believe that despite the very real fears that the Mau Mau had a conspiratorial campaign and a bloodthirsty design to dominate Kenya - and that the Mau Mau reflected basic evils among all black Africans that had to be snuffed out by white power - the real issue was that Kikuyu simply were pushed, shoved, restricted, and denied upward mobility to the point that they rebelled. The Mau Mau was the most radical of the Kikuyu, but the "racial discrimination" (353) against Kikuyu caused great frustration which led to the Kikuyu to "relentlessly" attack the racial barriers thrown against them. So, it wasn't this perceived ghastly evil spirit in all Africans waiting for a chance to plunge a knife into whites; in hindsight, it was the dynamic that while Kikuyu demanded change, "the willingness and capacity of the colonial-settler elite for reform seemed to diminish" (353).
In Robert Edgerton's book (Mau Mau: An African Crucible) the author says the white settlers in Kenya "...badly misread the course of world events" and totally over-reacted to the Mau Mau and Kikuyu (237). In fact, the "ruthless pursuit" of the white interests "not only embittered the supporters of Mau Mau, it helped to radicalize educated young Africans as well." The view of British settlers (Edgerton 238) was that "the future would bring no fundamental change" and that it was okay to ignore the welfare of Africans, it was okay to exploit African labor and offer "the lowest possible wages" because Africans "were inferior." Those attitudes and practices "contributed to the outbreak of Mau Mau," Edgerton writes on page 239. And the "draconian measures" taken in reaction to Mau Mau uprisings (240-41) fueled the war and the loathing on both sides. Few among the white settlers who "methodically tortured helpless captives" believed they were morally wrong, Edgerton asserted on page 242.
Meanwhile, in the book Mau Mau Memoirs by Marshall S. Clough, the author quotes a Kikuyun author living in England named Muga Gicaru as saying the British in effect created a more vicious Mau Mau well beyond what the Mau Mau actually represented. The Mau Mau myth helped in "sowing nothing but confusion and nonsense." When all African newspapers were banned and "leaders arrested without trial," Clough writes on page 45, and leaders' property "confiscated and destroyed...the government gave the Mau Mau, both black and white, fertile ground to flourish."
The hundreds of thousands of Africans (Mau Mau and Kikuyu; men, women and children) that were detained by the British during the Emergency were subjected to "...torture, murder, and starvation," according to Caroline Elkins in her book Imperial Reckoning (Elkins 363). Elkins' (xv) research indicates that the British misunderstood the Mau Mau and over-reacted to Mau Mau killings with "...an astonishing portrait of destruction." Indeed, the British forces "wielded their authority with a savagery that betrayed a perverse colonial logic: only by detaining nearly the entire Kikuyu population of 1.5 million people and physically and psychologically atomizing its men, women, and children could colonial authority be restored..."
And moreover, the murders perpetrated by the Mau Mau "...were quite small in number when compared to those committed by the forces of British colonial rule," Elkins writes (xvi). The Mau Mau myth (in Elkins' view) that this group was responsible for one of the most "savage and barbaric uprisings of the twentieth century, is indeed a myth. The truth is that white British colonial power brokers over-reacted and committed heinous crimes far larger in scope than the Mau Mau crimes - and indeed went to "considerable" lengths to "conceal" those crimes.
CONCLUSION: In his review of Greet Kershaw's book Mau Mau from below, African scholar Dan Ottemoeller (writing in African Studies Review) suggests that the concept of "Mau Mau" has been analyzed, referenced, debated and defined so many times that Mau Mau "has become a symbol" that is up for grabs by academic interpreters. Mau Mau has become "subject to a multitude of interpretations"; and Mau Mau has become something of a lightning rod for the process of "mythologizing anticolonial struggles," Ottemoeller states (183). In all likelihood, future scholars will continue to focus on Mau Mau for their "theoretical projects," Ottemoeller asserts. But objective scholars hope and believe that the truth about British colonial oppression and repression will not get lost during those theoretical pilgrimages into what the Mau Mau was or wasn't in terms of its place in African colonial history.
Clough, Marshall S. 1998. Mau Mau Memoirs: History, Memory, and Politics. Boulder, CO:
Lynne Rienner Publishers.
Edgerton, Robert B. 1989. Mau Mau: An African Crucible. New York: The Free Press.
Elkins, Caroline. 2005. Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain's Gulag in Kenya.
New York: Henry Holt and Company.
Kennedy, Dane. 1992. Constructing the Colonial Myth of Mau Mau. The International Journal
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