imperial reckoning

The Home Guard loyalists and Askaris perceived Mau Mau to be a real threat to their elevated position with the colonists and British, and they were therefore reliable enforcers and goons…”


by mike morgan

Imperial Reckoning
The Untold Story of Britain’s Gulag in Kenya by Caroline Elkins
(Henry Holt Publishers)
Histories of the Hanged
The Dirty War in Kenya and the End of Empire by David Anderson
(W. W. Norton & Inc Publishers)


These two books, both released earlier this year, chronicle the history of the uprising in Kenya by the Kenya Land and Freedom Army, popularly known as the Mau Mau movement, during the period 1952 to 1960 (The Kenyan State of Emergency), and the resulting repression of the local African population by the British Colonial Government and white settler society. Their relevance is not only to be found in uncovering the crimes of the Kenyan Security Forces and the British Government. They both provide an insight into the roots of current day state counter-insurgency strategy, the “war against terror,” and political repression. In the context of Afghanistan and Iraq in general, and Abu-Ghraib and Guantanamo specifically, they have value.

What follows is a synopsis of the Kenyan war drawn from the information and analyses provided by both authors. I have included some additional information on certain individuals and particularities of that conflict that the writers have not expanded upon. I also make mention of other points of struggle in the world as examples to bolster some positions. It would take many more pages to explain each example, and I apologize for merely making reference. A fuller description of these particular organizations and events referred to in passing is for another time and place. I do stand by them though as legitimate historical facts. Above all, I have used the Kenya circumstance to write some about what is happening today. Given where official information regarding the war in Iraq, the “war on terrorism,” and matters pertaining to “intelligence” issues comes from, and how complacently it is translated verbatim by a non-critical press, it is difficult to suggest alternative explanations of why stuff happens without being branded as a conspiracy theorist. I do not consider myself one. We can either take things at their face value, in which case we will always be confused and wrong, or we can apply certain of the lessons of the past and insist that there is an organized character to unfolding events. The latter is far more likely to give us some clues and therefore can be useful towards obtaining a better understanding of what is going on and what is to come.

David Anderson is a lecturer in African studies at Oxford University. His account follows the trials of suspected Mau Mau members by the Special Emergency Assize Courts, set up by the Kenyan Colonial Government, to suppress the popular movement. He relies primarily on court transcripts and official documentation to recreate the events. Caroline Elkins, a Harvard University assistant history professor, has a more hands-on approach. She follows the war from the point of view of those behind the wire, the victims. Hers is not for the queasy of stomach. Both pieces are harrowing in their own right.

Like all European colonies in the Third World, Kenya had everything to offer white settlers and nothing but grief for the local indigenous population. From the beginning of the last century and by the early years post World War II, whites flocked to Kenya to cash in on the privilege afforded them by virtue of their skin color. Retired British army officers with swagger sticks and an alphabet soup of initials and abbreviations after their names, demobilized soldiers, adventurers and entrepreneurs, failed white South African drifters, want-to-be plantation owners and El Dorado seekers descended on Kenya to make their fortunes and live the good life. If ever a community of people deserved to be considered the detritus of humanity, it was the parasites that made up white Kenyan society. They swarmed into Nairobi and the arable Highlands of Kenya’s Central Province, grabbing large chunks of land from the African Kikuyu people, a peasant-structured society. The Kikuyu were forced into the reserves (the equivalent of reservations). White settlerism turned their world upside down. Many of these original inhabitants had to relocate to the capital city of Nairobi with the result that joblessness, poverty and crime that comes with enforced poverty ran rampant there. The settlers set up exclusive joints such as the Muthiaga Club in Nairobi, where they sloshed back pink gins for breakfast, and were waited on hand and foot by a disenfranchised, indentured population. They lived in an African country that afforded no civil, political or human rights to Africans. Their lifestyle was completely hedonistic. The Highlands, where many of them plopped themselves down, became known as “Happy Valley.” Cocaine, martinis, opium, champagne cocktails, sexual debauchery and wife-swapping, all were the order of the day. The standing joke back then in Britain was “Are you married, or do you live in Kenya?”

The racial hierarchy of Kenya placed white men at the top, Asians in the middle, and Africans firmly entrenched at the bottom of the pile. Naturally this didn’t sit well with the oppressed. Many black Kenyans had served in the Allied Forces during World War II and had seen action in North Africa, Europe and the Pacific. They returned to the empty promise of equality for service to the empire and were pissed off and rebellious. Militants such as Fred Kubai, Bildad Kaggia (who died earlier this year) and James Beuttah pushed the moderate Kenya African Union (KAU), the recognized African political party, to the left. These urban activists, known as the Muhimu (the important ones), began to initiate an old Kikuyu secretive oath of allegiance to serve Kikuyu interests and to stand hard against British colonialism. Weapons were stolen and stockpiled. Oathing ceremonies spread from the rural areas to the cities. This was the beginning of the resistance by the shoeless of Kenya.

When violence erupted in Kenya in 1952, the myth of colonial racial harmony was imploded. The celebrated author Graham Greene described the shattering of white pretense and paternalism and the ensuing struggle as “a revolt of the domestic staff. It was as if Jeeves had taken to the jungle.” In spite of popular perception at the time, when newspapers printed lurid photographs of mutilated bodies of white settler farmer families hacked to death by their deceitful servants, only a total of thirty-two settlers were killed by Mau Mau cadre during the entire State of Emergency and less than two hundred police, British army and security personnel were killed. The official estimate of Mau Mau guerillas killed is twelve thousand, but both authors question this number, claiming that twenty thousand is a closer estimate. One thousand and ninety Mau Mau suspects were tried and hanged by the Colonial Government. And for the Kikuyu population, whether activists or not, the devastation was total. Over one hundred and seventy thousand people were detained throughout the course of the Emergency. (There is a discrepancy of estimates here between both authors. Caroline Elkins suggests a figure closer to three hundred and twenty thousand detainees). Huge numbers of innocents were the victims of civil warfare between African loyalist elements (the Home Guard), supported by the British and the settlers, and Mau Mau fighters. The Home Guard loyalists and Askaris perceived Mau Mau to be a real threat to their elevated position with the colonists and British, and they were therefore reliable enforcers and goons.

Governor Sir Evelyn Baring, who had served the Colonial Office in Southern Rhodesia in the 1940’s, was well-schooled in “Call Me Bwana” politics. Spurred on by the rabid racist frothing of the leading settler politician and member of the Kenya Legislative Counsel Michael Blundell (an Ian Smith type), Baring declared a State of Emergency in October, 1952. The white bwanas moved fast. Later that same month, they implemented “Operation Jock Scott,” whereby they rounded up over one hundred and fifty known militants and charged them with terrorism. Included in these arrests was Jomo Kenyatta, a moderate KAU leader, who was publically anti-Mau Mau. For a helpful political barometer, David Dinkins is probably to the left of Jomo Kenyatta. Yet poor initial intelligence had led the British to ordain Kenyatta as the figurehead and force behind Mau Mau. He and fellow arrestees were tried and spent the entire emergency incarcerated in a prison camp in rural desolate Northern Kenya, far removed from any of the action.

The British poured military regiments into Kenya. General George “Bobbie” Erskine commanded the British Expeditionary Forces. Together Baring, Erskine, Blundell and Deputy Governor Frederick Crawford made up Kenya’s War Council. These were Kenya’s leading war criminals. Many Mau Mau cadre disappeared into the Aberdare Mountains and surrounding forests at the start of the Emergency, and it was from there that they waged guerilla war. Commanders such as General China and Dedan Kimathi ran organized campaigns from these strongholds, terrains which favored guerilla operations. Initially, they met with some success, including bold raids on police forts and chosen attacks on stooges. Yet they were up against a modern superpower, equipped with RAF Vulcan attack aircraft. The war in the forests and the mountains lasted almost four years. It was a protracted one that eventually went the way of the British, when starvation, continued assault on the rural population (the Mau Mau support base) and a no-prisoners unstated policy finally won the day. Towards the end, the British held out the carrot of amnesty to coax the surrender of Mau Mau fighters, primarily as attempts to turn them and then use them against their remaining former comrades still at large.

Meanwhile, the War Council upped the ante. Concerned that the Muhimu oathing had become the politics du jour in the ghetto, they initiated “Operation Anvil.” In April 1954, Kenya Security Police and both British and Kenyan military personnel swept through the townships of Nairobi and the rural villages in the Highlands, dragging in tens of thousands of Kikuyu people suspected of Mau Mau sympathies. The cops used “Gikunia” (hooded informants) to identify possible suspects. All it took was a nod from a Gikunia and a person’s fate was sealed. Those arrested were sent to detention camps, dotted around the country. The camp system was called “the Pipeline.” Initial detainees were screened by police, military intelligence and Home Guard loyalists to ascertain their connection, if any, to Mau Mau. These screenings were notorious for brutality and torture, and many did not survive the process. Caroline Elkins vividly describes this experience as told by survivors. The whites, who bleated about terrorism, caused unspeakable acts of violence against defenseless, men, women and children. Inmates were not screened once, but many times until they submitted. They were often hung upside down from rafters, lashed with rhino whips, burned, men were castrated, women were repeatedly raped and sexually abused. The barbaric nature of these episodes, which happened daily all over the country, is mind-boggling. The theory behind the Pipeline was that suspects would pass through a series of detention centers ranging from holding facilities to work camps. The camps were graded by severity of discipline and conditions from harsh to less stringent. Post rehabilitation (the supposed cleansing of their pro-Mau Mau sentiments), those incarcerated eventually would be released. Staunch Mau Mau adherents were sent to Special Detention Centers, which in reality were torture chambers and death camps. For instance, Mageta Island, an equivalent of an African Alcatraz and a malaria infested prison camp, had all of the features of Devil’s Island, the penal institution in French Guyana. Rather than deal with the ritual of burial at Mageta Island, bodies were tossed by the guards into the Indian Ocean as food for sharks.

The Pipeline strategy was used by the British in Malaysia, where a similar anti-colonial war was being waged by Malaysian nationalists and communists who also thought that the idea of Pax Britannica was a crock. Despite an enforced censorship that never allowed the Kikuyu a voice in the public arena, word of their condition and the so-called British civilizing process leaked out. Liberal and left Labour Party politicians spoke out about the Kenyan gulags in the House of Commons in London. Oliver Lyttleton, Secretary of State for the Colonies in Winston Churchill’s Tory government, and his replacement Alex Lennox-Boyd put their spin doctor techniques to work. The Colonial Secretary arranged for hand-picked (imbedded) journalists to visit the camps. The camp authorities were under orders to comply during the visits and not to show any visible signs of coercion to the inmates. Because of the traditional nature of the Muhimu oathing, a feature of which involved the drinking and eating of goat’s blood and organs, the church added its voice to those denouncing the godlessness of Mau Mau. The men of the cloth gave the traveling circus further legitimacy. The American novelist Robert Ruark, whose popular fiction on the rebellion “Something of Value,” (later made into a Hollywood film starring Rock Hudson as the noble settler farmer) wrote, “To understand Africa, you must understand a basic impulsive savagery that is greater than anything we civilized people have encountered in two centuries.” Clearly, he’d never been to Mississippi, Stalingrad or the Somme. Nothing was said about the violence being perpetrated by the civilizers. Photographs of Baring and his obedient group of yes-men pressmen and priests traipsing around the camps is chillingly reminiscent of a poker-faced Donald Rumsfeld standing in the prison compound of Guantanamo, claiming that all is well, while inmates are being wheeled by on stretchers. No prisoner-of-war status was afforded the imprisoned (Homeland Security circa 1955). The slogan that appeared above the gates of the Aguthi Work Camp read, “He who helps himself will also be helped.” Ten years after Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen and all of the “never again” pronouncements, the British had resorted to old Nazi tactics and propaganda. Now that’s European solidarity for you.

The Pipeline was overpopulated. Although public denials of any health problems in the camps were issued by Prison Commissioner John “Taxi” Lewis and Provincial Commissioner Carruthers “Monkey” Johnson, an epidemic of typhoid broke out in Manyani Detention Camp. Post Operation Anvil, the population of this particular camp had swelled from six thousand to sixteen thousand inmates. Caused by unsanitary conditions and lack of fresh drinking water, the disease ran rife. Baring referred to Manyani Camp as “a million Sterling aluminum and steel town…that stretched like some futuristic factory for three miles and is over a half a mile wide.” His Henry Ford/Inkster rhetoric aside, this futuristic institution did not have adequate sanitary facilities. This, together with a grueling dawn to dusk work regimen entailing hard labor, meager rations, heaped on top of the violence and beatings meted out by the guards, and regular screening sessions performed by interrogators meant that life at Manyani was indeed cheap. Lennox-Boyd, a master of disinformation, declared the camp “a model facility for maintaining the detainees’ physical and mental well-being”. Phillip Macharia. a former detainee at Manyani, was part of one burial party during the epidemic. He later recalled, “Our group alone buried over six hundred bodies. I lost count when we were around five hundred or so; I had just grown too tired. I’d say about two-thirds of these corpses were a result of the typhoid because they had no marks.” So much for the detainees well being. The Pipeline didn’t even have sewerage pipes.

In the reserves, those not detained post-Operation Anvil were forced to relocate into Emergency Villages. These villages were akin to rural detention camps, surrounded by stockades and policed by Home Guards, who would constantly rape and pillage. The strategy here was to deny Mau Mau access to the rural population, and to keep this same population under permanent surveillance. Life outside of the camps in the Emergency Villages was not that different than life inside the camps. Residents became forced laborers and were at the mercy of the guards. Sinister characters emerged. One was a young white settler policeman named “Kiboroboro” (the Killer) by the locals. His Land Rover was called “Gitune” (Big Red) by these same folk. A woman in an Emergency Village recalls, “Oh no, it was not red. It had a greenish-blue color. We used to call it Gitune because it was always bloody.” Kiboroboro affixed an automatic rifle on the dashboard of this vehicle, which he used to hunt down villagers during his rounds. Stanley Wainaina, a former villager, recalls, “If he happened to see anyone crossing the road ahead, he would not hesitate to shoot them…We came to fear him so much.” Dead bodies were thrown on the back of a flatbed truck referred to as “the Warurungana” (the Gatherer). Hear another villager describe a raid by Kiboroboro and his young soldiers, nicknamed “Johnnies.” “Sometimes Kiboroboro would just empty his Bren gun into the house without caring who or what was hit. Other times they would enter the house, and on finding a young man inside, they would take him away with them. The following morning we would get reports from the Police Post that his body was lying there. We had no peace.” This was the work of one settler cop, and there were many like him. One woman described the condition in the Emergency Villages, “the British wanted to kill us, and those that were not killed were going to suffer. That was what those times were like. They just thought we were animals.” Indeed, the sickness of the so-called civilized behaving with the utmost savagery to combat what they deemed as “the savagery of the wogs” defined the transformation of the settler police and British soldiers into non-humans. The notion that this same institution (the British Army) now can be described by Tony Blair as “being on a mission of mercy to liberate the women of Iraq” is utterly ludicrous. The Emergency Village scenario soon became a consistent strategy of counter-insurgency tactics worldwide. Strategic Hamlets in Vietnam and Protected Villages in Namibia both modeled themselves after the Kenyan Emergency Village blueprint.

One player in the Kenyan war saga worthy of more scrutiny than both authors offer is Frank Kitson. Then a major in British military intelligence, Kitson would go on to become a counter-insurgency guru and a Brigadier General. He wrote a number of books that are considered bibles on the subject, namely “Low-Intensity Operations: Subversion, Insurgency and Peacekeeping,” “Bunch of Five,”and “Gangs and Counter-Gangs.” All explain the strategy of dirty war work and how to subvert subversion. As an aside, he also wrote a book entitled “Old Ironsides: The Military Biography of Oliver Cromwell,” which should provide a clue as to where he’s coming from. Kitson not only fought in Kenya, but saw service in Malaysia (1957), in Oman (1958-59), in Cyprus (1962-64), and in Northern Ireland (1972-74). He was a former commander of the SAS (Special Air Services), Britain’s elite special forces. He rose to the rank of Commander-In-Chief of the United Kingdom Land Forces (1982-1985). Frank Kitson introduced the strategy of “pseudo-gangs” into the Kenyan theater of war. Expanding on U.S. Cavalry General George Crook’s motto in 1870s and 1880s Arizona and Mexico, namely that “it takes an Apache to catch an Apache” (Crook used Apache scouts successfully to track down Apache renegades, including Geronimo and his band of warriors), the pseudo-gang theory consisted of the use of turned former-guerillas, intelligence operatives, and military and police commando units in clandestine operations, disguised as the other side. Such murky shenanigans had been toyed with by the British to a limited degree in Palestine and Malaysia. The British had a long history of turning enemy spies and employing them as double agents. During World War II, if the British captured a German agent on home soil, they would either force that person to turn or execute him or her. A fascinating detailed account of these kind of activities can be found in the compelling book “Bodyguard of Lies” by Anthony Cave Brown. The title is derived from a quote by Winston Churchill that “In war-time, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies.”

David Anderson writes that “The pseudo-gangs became central to the European myth of how Mau Mau was defeated. This myth, popularized in magazine articles and a few colorfully presented television documentaries, tells the daring tale of a handful of white highlanders, all of them Kikuyu-speaking, who blacked up their faces, put on ragged clothes and stinking, dread-locked wigs, and strode into the forests to hunt down the last of the Mau Mau. The bravery and ingenuity of the canny white highlanders gives the tale its glamour and excitement, while the credulity of the Mau Mau fighters is only to be marveled at. It’s a good story, but it’s not quite true….” Frank Kitson never referred to liberation organizations as such, he always called them gangs, revealing his true disdain for the opposition. The pseudo-gang technique was extremely successful in Kenya. Not unlike the Emergency Village concept, pseudo-gang warfare established itself firmly as a reliable weapon in obtaining the upper hand against the forces of liberation and resistance.

Pseudo-gang atrocities could also be manipulated conveniently to blame such violence on the liberation groups themselves. Here’s a glimpse as to how pseudo-gang/third force style operations have held sway internationally over the last five decades, post Frank Kitson’s experiment in Kenya: the Selous Scouts in Zimbabwe against the Patriotic Front (1970s); Koevoet against SWAPO in Namibia and Angola (1980s); RENAMO in Mocambique against FRELIMO (1980s and 1990s), the Bureau of Indian Affairs vigilantes against AIM at Wounded Knee and Pine Ridge (1970s); the Hmong hunters in Laos against the NVA (1960s and1970s) [using the Hmongs in South East Asia was originally the idea of Richard Secord, Oliver North et al., the main protagonists in the Reagan administration’s shadow CIA, responsible for the Golden Triangle/Iran-Contra operations]; the Blackstone Rangers street gang against black nationalist revolutionaries in Chicago (1960s and 1970s) [this was almost farcical in that while the Chicago Police Department was hounding the Blackstone Rangers, a lumpen criminal gang, the CIA was funding them to disrupt the revolutionary left]; the Ulster Loyalists against the IRA in Belfast (1970s, 1980s and 1990s); UNITA against the MPLA in Angola (1970s, 1980s and 1990s); the Contras against the Sandinistas in Nicaragua (1980s); the Oakland Hell’s Angels against the anti-war movement in the Bay Area (1960s and 1970s); Inkatha against the ANC in South Africa (1980s and 1990s); the Katanga Province secessionists in the Congo fighting as proxies at different times for Belgian, French, U.S. and South African interests (1960s, 1970s and 1980s); the Nation of Islam against Malcolm X’s short-lived organization in the U.S., post his break with Elijah Mohammed (1960s); and the Christian Falangists against the PLO in Lebanon (1970s & 1980s); the list is endless, and all and many more such groupings were born or mutated in large part out of the pseudo-gang theory in practice. Also, pseudo-gang activities have the potential to exploit already existing rivalries and exacerbate divisions within an united front liberation movement in order to further foment in-fighting, sectarianism and to exploit internal group instability. Examples here are IRA/INLA in Ireland, ZANU/ZAPU in Zimbabwe, ANC/PAC in South Africa, Hamas/El Fatah in Palestine and US (United Slaves)/Black Panther Party in California (Ron Karenga’s United Slaves was a bogus left, police-controlled, black nationalist radical formation). Pseudo-gang style interventions have set many a struggle back and harmed some irreparably.

With the actual war in the Kenyan countryside all but won by 1956, the British turned their attention to the release of the detainees. By 1957, there remained at least thirty thousand inmates who had not renounced Mau Mau and needed breaking. Monkey Johnson was impressed by a prison staff officer named John Cowan at Gathigiri Camp who had developed a new systematic approach to brutalize the detainees into confession. This was called “the Dilution Technique.” Recalcitrant prisoners were assembled into small, manageable groups. They were then ordered to perform simple tasks, and, when they refused, they were set upon by a superior number of guards, who used truncheons, clubs, whips and fists to subdue them. This process was repeated until prisoners became compliant. It finally wore down even the most stubborn and committed resisters. Monkey Johnson brought in one Terence Gavaghan, a young district officer to work with Cowan. They implemented the Dilution Technique as part of a more calculated effort called “Operation Progress” at the camp in Mwea. Gavaghan, an Irish Kenyan settler, was nicknamed “Karuga Ndua” (Big Trouble) by the detainees. Here’s Gavaghan’s own description of Operation Progress at work: “A dozen or so men in their twenties and thirties were half running at the level bent-knee gait of rickshaw pullers following an elliptical path in single file around the hump in the grass. They carried galvanized iron buckets filled with mud and stones on woven grass circlets placed on their shaven heads, gripped at the rim by each hand in turn, or by both if the bucket started to slip. They were expressionless and made no attempt to cast down their buckets or run out of the ring in which they were enclosed. This was a long practiced form of punishment know as ‘bucket fatigue’. It was visually brutal and degrading but was held to be both necessary and effective.” Another survivor recalls the Big Troublemaker as “yelling at us as we hung by our feet to confess.” Mwea indeed lived up to its reputation as “hell on earth.”

Caroline Elkins tells of Monkey Johnson visiting Terence Gavaghan in 1957, when he was hospitalized after a squash-playing accident at a whites-only hotel, and giving him a copy of Phillip Mason’s “The Men Who Ruled India” as a get-well gift. Operation Progress, by its relentless enforcement, either killed prisoners or exacted their retractions as rebels. The authorities, much like the ones we have today, debated the parameters of the sadism they had unleashed by differentiating between “compelling force” and “punitive force.” After all, Evelyn Baring himself had issued the “Governor’s Directive on Beating Up” back in 1953. If all of this has a familiar ring to it, it’s because this process of doublespeak, legalistic mumbo-jumbo and downright lying was not invented a little over a year ago, when the Iraq prison scandal made headlines worldwide. Operation Progress marked the beginning of the end of the Mau Mau resistance.

The British sought not to restore the old order necessarily, but rather to develop a new one which supported their long-term interests, one that could be perceived as different, but in fact had many of the same base characteristics and features of its predecessor. The immediate goal of the British was to break the back of the Mau Mau insurgency, fostering the belief amongst Africans that the pursuit of revolution was a doomed enterprise. Thus the brutality of the incarceration and screening processes, which were designed to spread fear and doubt amongst would-be Mau Mau adherents and to coerce those captured and already on the Mau Mau side to renege on their allegiances. However, another benefit of such tactics, critical to winning the overall campaign, was the collection of intelligence. The surreptitious nature of guerrilla warfare and urban rebellion requires that those combating it remain steps ahead of the rebels. Better intelligence gave the British the ability to pull off pre-emptive strikes. This hand was further strengthened by navigating the shady world of pseudo-gang warfare. They were able to plot situations which suited their justification for prosecuting the war, such as so-called guerilla atrocities actually undertaken by themselves. Through such activities, they could strike blows against Mau Mau fighters, create turmoil and distrust amongst Mau Mau members, sow terror into the hearts of the local population and pander to the racism and belligerence of their support base, namely white settlers in Kenya and the public back home. The British intelligence gathering machine relied heavily on the extraction of information from capturing and torturing Mau Mau guerillas in the field of operations, the screenings in the detention camps and the constant surveillance and heavy-handed policing in the Emergency Villages. The British firmly believed that such terror tactics were vital to winning the war. This was not the work of a few sadistic rotten apples. It was British military policy.

The same can be said for what is now occurring in Abu Ghraib, Iraq. The brutality in Abu Ghraib is designed as a deterrent to participation in the insurgency. Sometimes such tactics backfire by hardening the resolve of those brutalized and can transform a fence-sitter into a believer in his or her cause. More importantly, what is going on in Abu Ghraib and the other detention centers in Iraq is the creation of an enormous pool of low-level informants. Detainees are victimized and then thrown back on the street with orders to report any information to the occupational forces, or there will be more of the same in store for them if they don’t. Whilst not necessarily making this community of potential snitches reliable, this does make it vast, thus increasing the amount of information that the Americans and their allies can manipulate. Again, this is not the work of a few miserable bastards who delight in hurting helpless people, although most of those hung out to dry as guilty ones gained their experience as screws in the U.S. penal system. It is unstated U.S. policy. When the Government and the Pentagon here carry on about not enough intelligence on the ground, this is hard to believe. There is probably too much intelligence. A more possible explanation of why such surprise and stunning attacks by insurgents and underground cells are not nipped in the bud and are officially explained away as “lack of good intelligence” is because the very forces who are claiming to be the ones fooled by these same surprise attacks are themselves responsible for the attacking.

If you think that pseudo-gangs aren’t operating in Iraq today, then you’re wrong. The sensationalism of kidnappings and beheadings at the most opportune moments is designed to shock a moribund U.S. populus into horror, then anger and finally support for its government’s war in Iraq, as well as dehumanizing all opposition to U.S. domination. The gory video-taped beheading of an American, European or Japanese civilian contract worker in Iraq by so-called militants from a group with words like “sword,” “holy,” “jihad,” “Islamic,” “God, ” ‘brigade,” “martyr” and preferably some Arabic phrase that no good ole boy here will understand in its title can only work in favor of U.S. interests. This rakes in tons more propaganda benefits than the buffoonish imagery of George W. Bush being landed in an F-16 on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier. While there are no doubt people out there that do want to chop off the heads of infidels, that they comply at the most convenient of times (whenever there’s an expose like Abu Ghraib) should raise serious questions as to who is behind all of this. This is classic pseudo-gang strategy at work. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi certainly fits the profile. So does Hamas, which suits the needs of an Israeli state’s perceived self-righteousness because Israel faces an onslaught of wanton terrorism, conveniently diffusing any criticism of its continued persecution of the Palestinians. The privatization of the occupational military in Iraq, now at least thirty percent of the overall forces there (that’s more than the British contingent), also lends itself to pseudo-gang type operations. Who, after all, are these private buccaneers beholden to, the U.S. military or their corporate paymasters? Frank Kitson’s name still crops up in dialogue about how to defeat the insurgency in Iraq. Our current crowd of invaders, democracy/freedom deliverers and truth benders owe a big thanks to him. Kitson helped pave the way for the neo-cons’ grave new world.

Back to Kenya…. On the 11th of December 1963, the Union Jack was lowered in Nairobi and the new Kenyan flag was unfurled and hoisted. Jomo Kenyatta was sworn in as Kenya’s first President. Kenya was then the thirty-fourth African country to be granted independence from European rule. How did such a transformation occur when, ten years previously, the British had interned Kenyatta and fought a vicious war against the very notion of African self-determination? Britain had been seeking to shed her ownership of the colonies. Losing its ranking as the top banana superpower, dogged by the probability of further costly rebellions with the prospect of possibly losing, the British Government sought neo-colonial solutions through the granting of independence to compliant political forces within these colonies. Jomo Kenyatta was an ideal choice for them. A middle-of-the roader, one who would play ball and allow the British not to lose face (or anything else), Kenyatta had excellent credentials. For the African masses, he was seen as a leader who had paid the penalty for standing up to the British. To the British, he was perceived correctly as someone who would not wander too far from their program, would not upset the applecart of unequal exchange and, above all, would not export revolution to other colonies and suppress it in his own country. He won the first democratic election hands down. The British were as pleased as punch. The Duke of Edinburgh beamed from the podium. The masses were exuberant. But their euphoria was to be short-lived.

Jomo Kenyatta immediately made overtures of compromise and reconciliation. On the first anniversary of Kenyatta Day on October 20th, which was also the anniversary of the declaration of the State of Emergency, Kenyatta proclaimed, “Let this be the day on which all of us commit ourselves to erase from our minds all the hatreds and difficulties of those years, which now belong to history. Let us agree that we shall never refer to the past.” Apologists for Kenyatta could argue that this was a forward-looking, nation-building-from-the-ashes-of-war type proclamation. But it cannot be forgotten that Kenyatta was no Mandela. He was jailed despite his opposition to Mau Mau. Nelson Mandela was at least a loyal ANC member through and through. The British and the white settlers were now putting Kenyatta’s position to the test. Hardly the brains and driving force behind the uprising, he in fact did all he could to subvert it, openly criticizing the Muhimu oathing, the armed struggle, and the demand for radical land reform. Fred Kubai, a veteran Mau Mau organizer and radical, recalled discussions of plots to kill Kenyatta by fellow activists when they were prison-camp mates, so abhorrent were Kenyatta’s positions to the stated aims of the movement. When ex-Mau Mau cadre called on Kenyatta for justice and the redress of wrongs, as President he stated, “We are determined to have independence in peace and we shall not allow hooligans to rule Kenya. We must have no hatred towards each other. Mau Mau was a disease which has been eradicated and must never be remembered.” In fact, he thought it such a pox that he began to imprison former Mau Mau militants who did not accept this. He signed their arrest warrants from the very desk that ex-Governor Baring had signed his almost a dozen years previously. How’s that for coming around full circle.

This was music to the ears of the more calculating and opportunistic white settlers. At the dawn of independence, those settlers for whom the very notion of an African-run state was inconceivable either fled back to Britain or scurried off down to Rhodesia or South Africa, then bastions of white supremacist rule. This was a dumb choice in the long run because, while relocating to the bosoms of white state power in Africa, they were in fact moving to countries that were both about to be embroiled in wars of liberation, waged by organizations and movements far more sophisticated than Mau Mau. But the real bonus for those who left was that they were able to sell their land at the then-current market value. This hardly fits the description of the old school being told to pack up and bugger off. Those that stayed, in hindsight, made the choice most suited to the continued maintenance of their white privileged existence. They were allowed to keep their plantations, their country clubs, golf courses and swimming pools, and their African domestic staffs. This time around though, all of their top-shelf standards of living were protected by an African government. How convenient for them. They could mumble and grumble about black ineptness and rattle on about the good old days, yet still reap the benefits of their high class status. When Kenyatta told a gathering of concerned white settlers soon after independence, “Let us join hands and work for the benefit of Kenya, not for the benefit of one particular community. We want you to stay and farm well in this country: that is the policy of this government,” the settlers were slapping each other on the back, shouting “Harambee” (let’s all pull together), which became Kenyatta’s preferred rally cry. Post Kenyatta, Kenya has gone through a series of corrupt regimes, each one seemingly more bent on a commitment to outdo its predecessor in state-run larceny and reactionary policies. An African ruling class was created, one which fed on the oppression of the African masses and lined its own pockets with bribes from multi-nationals and stolen wealth. This is the history of so many struggles in Africa that were initially legitimate and were derailed by the class interests and connivances of their leadership and new bwanas. Such lessons would prove to play a dramatic role in Southern Africa decades later.

Britain and the white settlers were never brought to book for their crimes against the Kikuyu people. Many were rewarded. For example, Ian Henderson, a leader of pseudo-gangster formations, was a hideous torturer and vile brute. He was popular amongst the colonists because he captured the guerilla leader Dedan Kimathi, a folk hero who was tried and executed by the Colonial Government. Henderson was awarded the Georges Medal and transferred by the British Foreign Office to Bahrein, where he served for the next thirty years as head of state security. Frank Kitson’s rise through the ranks post Kenya was meteoric. All of the assorted white minions, the so-called good Germans and the murderers, like Kiboroboro and Big Trouble, were free men. Home Guard loyalists, enforcers and bully-boys continued to be rewarded with access to better housing and more lucrative jobs. There were no war crime trials in Kenya, not even a hint at some sort of truth and reconciliation hearings, whereby grievances could at least be aired, and no mention of reparations for stolen lands and gross denials of human rights. It was as if the entire sordid bloody affair had never happened.

Those arrested and tried for alleged participation in Mau Mau attacks in Kenya were never afforded prisoner-of-war status. They were treated as common, violent criminals. They were offered little defense, even though their defense lawyers were committed human rights activists and skilled barristers. These attorneys were deluged with defendants and received hardly any co-operation from the war-horse judges, dredged up by the British authorities to follow the will of the colonialists. The majority of the Mau Mau defendants were hanged. There were certain mass trials where defendants weren’t even named, they were identified with placards bearing numbers around their necks. Proponents of the death penalty here argue that it deters crime. Opponents of execution here argue that it does not, that it is inhuman and does not reflect the behavior of a so-called civilized society. The proponents are just plain wrong. The opponents miss the main point. The use of capital punishment on a mass scale is a political tool and, if it ever becomes prevalent here or anywhere else in the world, it will be used primarily to repress opposition to those in power. The Nazis knew this. The Boers in South Africa knew this. The Stalinists knew this. The Chinese know this. And the British in Kenya knew it too. They hanged one thousand and ninety suspected Mau Mau combatants. Mass execution (as opposed to selective execution, which is currently employed) is not an option that the ruling class here would choose to use unless forced to, but we are bamboozling ourselves if we think they won’t when their rule is threatened.

Which brings us to Guantanamo. Like the numbered Mau Mau dragged in for trial in Kenya, the population of the Guantanamo prison in the U.S. occupied sliver of Cuba is made up of people whose identity is generally not public information. They didn’t only have to be captured in Afghanistan or Iraq. Inmates at Guantanamo have been picked up in Pakistan, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Yemen, Israel, Indonesia, Australia, the Philippines, Malaysia, South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, countries in Eastern and Western Europe and here in the U.S. They are placed in a dire limbo, afforded no recognized status, have to seek minimal legal defense from a government unwilling to allow them any, and are regarded as high-security terrorist risks. While a few have been released due to pressure from their home governments and acquiescence by the U.S. to keep those states as part of the U.S.-led coalition, or shipped back to jail in other countries to avoid scrutiny of the U.S. being perceived as the only torturer in town, it is conceivable that many might never get released. If they do finally gain freedom, they could be so well enfeebled by the horror of their ordeals that they are socially useless and might as well be dead. This is already true for some that have been released. The prisoners at Guantanamo have been taken off the map of the living. How an inmate, who was captured in Afghanistan in 2001, is likely to give some information today to his or her interrogators that suggests an upcoming terrorist attack on the U.S. homeland or any other U.S. installation around the world is almost impossible to comprehend. That’s like the Gestapo in 1944 interrogating an RAF pilot who was shot down over France in 1940. Despite being an inmate of a Stalag deep in Germany for four years, the Gestapo questioners demand to know from the airman the exact date and place of the Allied invasion of Europe. At face value, such rationales for Guantanamo are ridiculous. Its real reasons for being are far more creepy and sinister. The Guantanamo situation represents the death penalty at work in a different way, without all of the mess and hoopla that official executions will attract. It’s also an informant manufacturing plant. Another feature to stress about Guantanamo is its permanence on the landscape of “the war against terror.” When the next 9/11 type incident occurs (and it will), more Guantanamos likely will appear. If ever a resistance movement of any substance develops here, U.S. citizens might not be exempt. Guantanamo is the U.S.’s 2005 version of the British Assize Courts and the screening rooms in Kenya rolled into one.

As for what the future holds, more than often situations are being created whereby ruling elites, organizations, obedient poodles and old flunkies are put into power in different states around the world with the blessing and the manipulation of the U.S. and almost immediately become military dictators in their own countries. Some recent examples of this are the Taliban in Afghanistan, post Russian withdrawal and the collapse of the Soviet empire, Manuel Noriega in Panama, Saddam Hussein in Iraq, war-lords in Somalia and Charles Taylor in Liberia. Such circumstances lead to pretexts for accusations of “barbarism” and “chaos” by tub-thumpers and neo-cons in Washington D.C., not always imagined. Their hypocrisy aside, they can put forward and act on the position that these situations require a “civilizing” interference. What this will result in is future military interventions. The consequences of failed policies in the past are building oppositions that the ruling class will be required to deal with. Not all, in fact very few of these emerging opponents might have a liberatory character. Many might be outwardly fascist, for example religious fundamentalists, or old garden-variety gangsters in Armani suits, and army men. Some of these circumstances are forced upon the powers that be. Through a combination of exploiting these developing scenarios and perceiving them to be real threats to their domination, the ruling class will be obligated to respond and make choices that guarantee new wars in other parts of the world. The U.S. military, their allied counterparts and the private armies need not concern themselves with the threat of unemployment.

And now, a final word on the Kenya books. It is said that a crocodile’s teeth fall out immediately, but when one falls out, another grows in its place straightaway. A tooth can be renewed forty-five times. If the crocodile, a prehistoric creature, knows one thing it’s how to bite. Both of these books should be required reading for all who hold out for social and economic justice and stand for a better world. They tell the story of how a revolution is born and dies. They dramatically expose the absurdity of the “civilizing” process. Above all, they allow their readers a peek into the hell that those with absolute power have in store for those with none who dare to fight back.

Originally published:
Issue Thirty-Seven
June 2005


(additional illustrations: kurt eisenlohr)

A Brooklynite by way of Wales and South Africa, Mike Morgan is the founder of Burrow Magazine and serves as one of its Senior Editors and Contributors. In addition to these duties, he has been and continues to be at the heart of a thriving literary, art and music scene and is a regular at several neighborhood bars, where he can be found discussing global and local affairs, rock and roll, various New York sports teams, and whatever books he happens to be reading at the time. More from Mike Morgan can be found in the Vault of Smoke.

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