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THE MAU MAU MOVEMENT

The Mau Mau movement was Kenya's militant resistance against British Colonial rule. It began in 1946 as a movement agitating for the return of African land and political rights. The term Mau Mau is believed to be either a Kikuyu or swahili term, buts its meaning has been the subject of numerous speculations. No one really knows where this term originated, or the kind of mesage it was meant to convey. The best interpretation I ever got was that it was originally meant to read Uma Uma which is swahili for continually biting. Apparently that was meant to imply biting at the colonial administration. But again, that is just my interpretation. I've heard more ridiculous versions.

All we know is that Mau Mau was a rebellion of landless peasants and low paid labourers who had noticed a significant difference between their pay and their white counterparts. The british labourers were paid approximately five times what their African counterparts did and this is one of the things that hatched the African dissent. The Mau Mau became very powerful because it was more of a spiritual movement than a political one. They were famous for the dreadlocks they wore, a phenomenon that would become very popular long after their demise. The spiritual leader of the Mau Mau was Field Marshall Dedan Kimathi Waciuri.

It began as an underground organization spreading its agenda secretly among Africans. This underground militia group waged its guerilla war from the thick bushes of Central Province making it very hard for the colonialists to flush them out. Its initial membership was predominantly Kikuyu eventhough with time, other Kenyans joined in. Among the strategies the Mau Mau movement employed included the assasination of the British settlers along with their African collaborators. As a poor man's army, they got their resources either through coercion or theft. They would force the Africans for example, to contribute resources whether or not they were sympathized with the Mau Mau cause. The movement officially rose from its underground state in 1952, boasting some 30,000 Kenyans, and this prompted the colonial government to declare a state of emergency. A host of Kenyan political leaders including Mzee Jomo Kenyatta were arrested on charges of being tied to the Mau Mau. Though the case against Kenyatta was very weak he was nevertheless sentenced to 7 years imprisonment at Kapenguria and later released under house arrest in Lodwar, a desert area of Northern Kenya. During the state of emergency that lasted until 1960, Kenyans were kept in heavily protected villages, and their movements were severely restricted. Curfews were declared at night and any Kenyan found breaking the curfew ran the risk of getting shot---and indeed some were.

The Mau Mau was finally crushed by the colonialists in 1956, having helped significantly in Kenya's struggle for independence. The question then arises, Why is the Mau Mau given such reverence amongst Kenyan quarters despite its very violent approach? Well nobody condones the violence of the Mau Mau but, given the desperate situation the Africans were under, its hard to imagine any other form of resistance that the colonialists would have paid attention to. Plus, given the very limited resources they had, they clearly were warriors to stand up against the mighty British army. Its also important to note that without the Mau Mau movement, and the attention it brought to Kenyan politics, Kenya's independence might have been very delayed. So no matter what one's opinions are about the Mau Mau, they will definitely go down as the heroic Kenyan warriors who stood up to defend their land and rights the best way they knew how.

In fact with the current state of affairs in the Middle East, we have in our hands, a case of the Mau Mau revisited. I think we as Africans need to think very carefully before we condemn Yasser Arafat and his PLO as terrorists, like most Americans would be inclined to do. The only difference between our wars for independence and the Middle East crisis is in the geography. Put simply, Arafat and his PLO are just fighting an occupation like we did against our colonial masters. In any kind of war, evil and immoral things are bound to happen, and indeed they have happened, thanks to both the Palestinians and the Israelis. While nobody condones these immoral acts by both parties, I think the greatest immorality is in the way the real issue in this conflict has been and continues to be ignored--the issue of occupation, or domination if you will. The same arguements put forth by the Israelis(and the US) against Arafat and his PLO were used by the British against Jomo Kenyatta and the Mau Mau, by the white settlers in South Africa against Mandela and the ANC, and in numerous other conflicts worldwide. Resolutions in all these conflicts were realized only when the real underlying issues were addressed, which is why its still my contention that as long as the real issues behind the Middle East conflict continue to get avoided, spun, or swept under the carpet, there will be no lasting peace in the region and innocent blood will continue to be spilled.

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