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Historian, Kenya native's book on Mau Mau revolt

A review of Wunyabari O. Maloba, Mau Mau and Kenya, An Analysis of a Peasant Revolt (Indiana University Press), by Beth Thomas, UpDate, Vol.13 no.13, Page 7, 2 December 1993

The first African voice to publish a significant work on Kenya and the Mau Mau movement of the 1950s belongs to Wunyabari O. Maloba, associate professor of history at the University and a native of Kenya where the revolt took place.

Mau Mau and Kenya, An Analysis of a Peasant Revolt, published by Indiana University Press, is the first comprehensive look at the Mau Mau movement that examines all its aspects from beginning to end. It is the first analysis written by an historian and the first written by a Kenyan.

Maloba examines the background of the movement, the frustrations of African nationalism and the role of Jomo Kenyatta, once thought to be the grand old man of Kenyan nationalism.

In exploring the background of the movement, Maloba discusses economic factors that lead to the movement and the frustrations of economic desperation. He also looks at the frustrations of a people who were not allowed to organize politically.

Part of the book is devoted to British propaganda leveled against the Mau Mau and the British portrayal of the revolt as a "barbaric, savage revolt against benevolent whites."

"The British refused to see any legitimate reasons for the uprising," he said in a recent interview. "They portrayed the Mau Mau as bloodthirsty and the metaphors they used have stuck in Western views of any African uprising. The result is that African uprisings are treated as special rather than as political uprisings. Still today you will hear talk of 'black on black violence.' You never hear the problems in Northern Ireland or any other country portrayed as 'white on white violence.'

"The rebellion...was essentially an uprising of the peasants of Kenya...against the colonial state, its policies and agents, in 1952. When the revolt broke out, the colonial authorities refused to acknowledge that there was any legitimate reason for such an uprising. The general opinion of the colonial authorities continued to be that Africans were bound to benefit from colonial rule.... So long as this line of argument was maintained, it was impossible for the colonial state to see the genuine legitimacy of African discontent of nationalistic stirrings...so long as the colonial state and its agents continued to find an excuse for whatever they did from their belief in the 'white man's burden' it was impossible for them to recognize and respect the legitimacy of nationalism on the part of Africans...," Maloba writes in the introduction.

Another portion of the book analyzes the Mau Mau military and political strategy and shows why the uprising was unique. Key factors, Maloba says, are that it had no external support and was not Marxist-not influenced by capitalism but brought about solely with the goal of getting rid of colonization. It was a movement without an educated leadership in which peasants took leadership roles, and it lasted for six years.

Maloba also examines rehabilitation-a massive British program of ideological conditioning that affected hundreds of thousands of Mau Mau taken prisoner during and after the revolt. The program, he said, used Christian ideology to replace radical nationalism and force the Mau Mau into obedience to white rule.

The book also discusses the controversial and complicated legacy of the movement-concentrating on the fact that the people who went to fight were not necessarily the people who inherited the state in 1963.

"The people who inherited the state were Homeguards (Kenyans loyal to the British) or the children of Homeguards," Maloba said.

"Without a doubt the Mau Mau movement was one of the most important events in recent African history," Maloba said. "It had consequences for the entire continent."

Maloba joined the University in 1988. He completed his undergraduate work at the University of Nairobi and earned his doctorate in African history from Stanford University.