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One of the other major successful African liberation stories occurred in Kenya. During the period of British imperialism, native African tribes lost their farmland in the northern highlands, their basic rights, and their culture. Many Africans faced financial stress and the native people grew impatient with the sluggish pace of political, social, and economic growth and change that had been promised by the British. African tribes saw the constant marginalization they faced and decided to form rebel groups such as the Mau Mau to remove the British government imposed in Kenya.
A rebellion started in the 1950’s between the Mau Mau and the British government. The Mau Mau targeted British settlers and African chiefs who were sympathetic to the government. They consisted mainly of the Kikuyu tribe, and their members were mainly farmers who had lost their farmland. The Mau Mau headquarters were on Mount Kenya, the Aberdares, and on the outskirts of Nairobi since the British government had outlawed their group’s freedom to assemble. The Mau Mau became the turning point in the struggle for independence. They resorted to using guerilla tactics against the British. They joined with other groups during police raids to gather firearms and rob shops, because this was the only way they could obtain guns to use in their rebellions. The Mau Mau also burned British property, like the Treetops Hotel.
The Mau Mau were known for their oaths, which they forced members of the Kikuyu tribe to take, in order to pledge their loyalty to the Mau Mau cause and their willingness to remove British rule. The property of those who refused the Mau Mau oath were burnt down and their cattle were mutilated. Descriptions of the Mau Mau oath vary, but many of the procedures were atrocious. These procedures included removing clothes, giving their own blood, eating animal organs, drinking mixtures with animal blood, earth, and other liquids from a gourd, and eating human flesh. Traitors of the oath were executed by the Mau Mau through methods of decapitation, torture, and hanging.
At a rebellion on October 7, 1952, Chief Waruhui, who had been opposed to the increasing Mau Mau aggression was speared in the middle of a main road outside Nairobi. The British saw these attacks as a threat to the government and they issued a law which cut off the Kikuyu territory from the other parts of Kenya, to restrict Mau Mau movement. The death penalty was imposed by the British-Kenyan government on those who administered the Mau Mau oath at knife-point, because the oath was a potent Mau Mau weapon against the British.
After the assassination of Chief Waruhui in October of 1952, the British-controlled government declared a state of emergency which lasted until 1960. Curfews were placed on the outskirts of Nairobi, and British settlers created commando units and sent troops to fight the Mau Mau. The British-Kenyan government launched coordinated dawn raids where they arrested suspected Mau Mau activists, many of whom were innocent. Kikuyu settlements were burned if they were suspected of being involved with the Mau Mau, and people were evicted from their homes, to clear space for a warzone. The British also established a “free fire zone” where there were no restrictions on the use of guns and Africans could be shot and killed at sight. Rewards were granted to the army or police units that had the most number of African corpses by the end of the day. The remaining Kikuyu civilians that had not been already arrested or killed were herded into “protected” villages so that they would be easier to control. The British also tried to force natives to reverse their Mau Mau oath by swearing on a sacred stone.
One of the most important leaders against the British in the Kenyan Liberation story was someone who strengthened the Mau Mau mentally and spiritually. Nicknamed “The Burning Spear,” Jomo Kenyatta was an educated man, having been taught by Presbyterian missionaries and studied in Europe. He went to Europe and campaigned for Kikuyu rights as the leader of the Kikuyu Central Association. He was arrested in 1951 for his alleged leadership of the Mau Mau movement, but he claimed to have no connection with the rebel group. He was sentenced to seven years of hard labor on charges of subversion and incitement, and was held in remote areas such as Kapenguria without methods of communication. His arrest gave the Mau Mau movement momentum and they expanded while he was in prison. Kenyatta was released from prison and later released from house arrest in Gatundu in 1961. The Kenyan African National Union nominated him as president while he was still in prison, and upon his release, he became president after gaining the majority over the Kenyan African Democratic Union.
Kenya finally gained its independence from Britain on December 12, 1963, when Harold MacMillan, Britain’s Prime Minister decided to release the Kenyan colonies, since Britain hadn’t made any profit off of the land since the state of emergency had been declared. Kenya became Africa’s 34th independent state. Kenya’s Liberation however had come with a price. Over 10,000 Africans had died and 80,000 were in detention camps. About 100 settlers had died and Europe’s respect for Britain had deteriorated.
Two of the most significant African liberation success stories include that of the South Africans and Kenyans. From fairly peaceful demonstrations to guerilla warfare tactics and violent rebellions, these African countries fought to gain independence from the control and marginalization of outside European forces. Even when they were executed and murdered, these rebels never lost hope, but instead they used brave leaders and resistance symbols as motivation to keep fighting. Kenya and South Africa have overcome oppressive leaders and discriminatory laws to win back the most important things to mankind; their land, their freedom, and their basic rights.
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