MAU MAU: A REVOLUTION BETRAYED An account of all stages of the Mau Mau war

by Julie Ngigi

The writings of Maina Kinyatti can be trusted to liven up the history of the Mau Mau. Kinyatti, one of the foremost Mau Mau researchers in Kenya, writes succinctly and, sometimes, delivers hard-hitting content veiled with humour.

In his book titled Mau Mau: A Revolution Betrayed Kinyatti tries to reinstate the Mau Mau image which, he claims, has been maligned over time. Through carefully curated references, excerpts, and pictures, Kinyatti illustrates the selfless nature of the Mau Mau fighters.

Throughout the book, the author’s position is clear; the political history of this nation is written with the Mau Mau blood. Kinyatti, who is not known for any ambiguity in expressing Mau Mau issues, traces the genesis of the Mau Mau movement through four historical stages from 1800 to 1900.  

In the first phase of the war, the Kikuyu put up spirited resistance against the British imperialist but suffered defeat owing to inferior weapons and uncoordinated attacks. During the second stage, the Mau Mau resistance took a different turn. Under the Harry Thuku-led East African Association (EAA), the political push aimed to achieve independence through non-violent means such as mass protests. But for the second time, the war failed to yield the desired results. The colonial government arrested and exiled the pro-change advocates to Kismayu, then a small  Indian Ocean port.

The third stage, the author explains, was marked by the creation of Kenya Central Association (KCA) after EAA was banned. Joseph Kangethe, Jesse Kariuki, James Beauttah assumed the leadership roles of the party. Just like EAA, KCA was banned and its leadership detained. The party’s newspaper, named Muigwithania, was banned. This stage lasted from late 1920s to early 1950s.

KCA leadership was then incorporated into Kenya African Union (KAU), initially led by James Gichuru, and later by Jomo Kenyatta. The party, initially known as Kenya African Study Union, wanted to gain political rights through peaceful, nonviolent approaches and form a government of the majority through constitutional means. However, KAU failed to “understand that fighting imperialism would ultimately require violent confrontation.”

Soon, ideological differences emerged in the party pitting the moderates against the radicals. The conservative group, led by Kenyatta, believed that the constitutional means was the best way to achieve independence. The radical group, led by Fred Kubai, Bildad Kagia, Eliud Mutonyi, Isaac Maina and the Forty Movement, held that armed struggle was the best route to freedom.

In the fourth stage of the war, Kinyatti traces and explains government plans to weaken the Mau Mau. He explains the arrest of the KAU leadership as the government stepped up measures to quell violent breakouts that had started to rock the country. Unbeknownst to the government, KAU had two factions- the radicals and the conservatives. The government arrested the conservatives, leaving room for the war to thrive.

With these arrests, the conservatives – the militant faction – was free to execute their plans through the Central Committee (CC), the party supreme organ of the movement responsible for the overall policy of the armed resistance. The Central Committee decided that Mau Mau, “a clandestine movement” was to be formed. The new movement was placed under the command of General Mathenge wa Mirugi and his deputy Enoch Mwangi.

The author underpins the need to fight for freedom using armed struggle in “Marxism – Leninism teachings that state that in order to liberate their country, the oppressed must wage a resolute struggle against their oppressors, and that armed combat is a decisive of that struggle.”

The author notes that between 1951 and 1952, this maltreatment of the Africans intensified and was marked by wanton mass arrests, killings and jailing of innocent Africans. This prompted the Central Committee to hold an emergency meeting to counter the enemy. Two major decisions were made. They ordered Mathenge and his army to go to Nyandarwa and begin the armed resistance. The CC changed its name to the Kenya War Council (KWC).

In highlighting the role of the Mau Mau in achieving independence, the author states that major meetings were convened to coordinate the war effort and strengthen demands against the British imperialists. Guerilla leaders, KWC representatives, peasants from militia and base structures including women used to attend the meetings.

The KWC made major decisions that shaped the history and future of the movement. For example, the author notes, a rift between Mathenge and Dedan Kimathi occurred. The rift became clear during the Mwathe Congress. Kimathi sent letters calling for a congress and Mathenge took that as a threat to his leadership.

During Kirathi conference, the Kenya Parliament (KP) was formed and Kimathi was elected Prime minister. KP leadership, in an attempt to prevent the erosion of guerilla army, carried a whole range of activities such as touring the battle field to bolster the morale of the fighters and exposing the counter revolutionary activities of the Mathenge faction.

Gen. Kimathi, in whose memory Kinyatti writes the book, provided the movement with political direction and articulated its goals and aims. He published several articles in the newspapers and authored a series of propaganda leaflets. In addition, he worked hard to build international constituency for the Mau Mau, Kinyatti writes.

The movement under Kimathi faced many issues such as the betrayal by general China. This gave the British an avenue to infiltrate the movement. This led to the creation of schism within the armed movement after Mathenge formed a splinter group.

Urban petty bourgeois like Tom Mboya came out in support of constitutional methods to independence. The biggest blow was Kimathi’s shooting, capture, and execution. The movement, however, carried on with the mission to liberate the nation.

The Kenya National Union (KANU) manifesto of 1960 embodied the main positions of the Mau Mau, Kenya Land Freedom Army, and Kiama Kia Muingi (KKM). By supporting these demands, KANU won the elections overwhelmingly. Kinyatti elucidates, “The manifesto took a back seat after taking power” and that “the aspirations of millions of dispossessed and expectant Kenyans were thrown overboard by the same government which they put into power.”

To people’s surprise, according to the author, Kenyatta began working with Anglo-American imperialist, former home guards, KADU reactionaries, and also worked with KANU right wing elements led by Tom Mboya and James Gichuru to oust anti-imperialist forces from the party.

Further, instead of dismantling the coercive colonial machinery, he decided to keep it intact for use against patriotic Kenyans. This is what Kinyatti calls the ultimate form of betrayal. The author posits that this trajectory was transferred and worsened to President Moi’s leadership after the death of Jomo Kenyatta.

Kinyatti says: “He (Kenyatta) also made it clear that the KANU Government did not recognize the heroic role played by the KLFA guerillas during the national struggle for independence hence the betrayal of the movement who had given their all to liberate the country.”

The author notes there are three interpretations of the Mau Mau movement; the imperialist or Christian school of thought; the University of Nairobi school of thought describing Mau Mau as barbaric, anti-Christian and uncivilized; and the chauvinistic school of thought positing the war was fought by the Kikuyu, Embu and Meru only and that they should hold all positions of powers in government.

Through careful study, the author deduces that Mau Mau was a national movement whose heroes fought valiantly for Kenya and they should be immortalized as such. For the well laid out argument and proof of research through the citations and valid examples, I would give this book a star rating for anyone who needs to understand the history of the Mau Mau and our journey to freedom.

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Muchiri muturi June 19, 2021 - 9:35 am

How can I get this book

Muchiri muturi June 19, 2021 - 9:36 am

Best history you will ever hear


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