Politics of Mau Mau in battle for Mount Kenya supremacy

Field Marshal Muthoni wa Kirima

Field Marshal Muthoni wa Kirima (seated left) with  former First Lady Mama Ngina Kenyatta after The former First Lady hosted the freedom fighter in Nairobi. The freedom fighter had paid a visit to Mama Ngina to express her gratitude for her assistance.

Photo credit: Pool

The use of the emotive Mau Mau politics has intensified in attempts to sway support in the Mount Kenya region by the ruling United Democratic Movement and the opposition Azimio la Umoja One Kenya.

From the government side, Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua and Kiharu MP Ndindi Nyoro lead the battalion that lays claim to being influenced by Mau Mau doctrines in leading Mount Kenya to the ‘promised land’. The Deputy President has often described himself as a child of Mau Mau.

In the opposition terraces lie former Ndaragwa MP Jeremiah Kioni, former Murang’a governor Mwangi wa Iria, one of Mr Raila Odinga’s Mount Kenya pointmen Kamau Mweha and former Mungiki chairman Maina Njenga.

Then there is Kenya’s founding First Lady, Mama Ngina Kenyatta, who on Thursday hosted Mau Mau veteran Muthoni Kirima, whose 70-year-old dreadlocks—the hairstyle associated with freedom fighters — she helped shave in April last year.

This week, Mama Ngina celebrated the place of Mau Mau in Kenya’s liberation, saying she was honoured to have been selected by Ms Kirima to shave her dreadlocks.

The iconic freedom movement, which led an armed struggle against British colonialists that intensified from 1952 when the state of emergency was declared, has been a divisive subject since independence in 1963.

The Mau Mau veterans and their descendants have over the decades largely been seen to have benefited less than the colonial-era collaborators (also sometimes referred to as home guards) in post-independence Kenya— even though such labelling is itself usually contested.

However, the masses, especially in the Mount Kenya region, are often considered sympathetic to those with links to the Mau Mau and politicians have often taken advantage of this goodwill to seek support.

The latest debate appears to once again be bringing to the fore a long-standing issue.

Mama Ngina, whose family remains politically significant even after the retirement of President Uhuru Kenyatta last year, recently asked Kenyans to be wary of imposters who wanted to link themselves to the freedom movement and said the real Mau Mau had been neglected.

On Friday, Mr Gachagua, in response to the remarks made during the hosting of Ms Kirima, said he is looking forward to those who had started declaring that they will help Mau Mau make haste.

“They should start by donating part of their swathes of land to Mau Mau. They took it from Mau Mau and they have never bothered. Even if they have never thought about it since 1963 if that inspiration to help has finally arrived, they are not late,” he said.

“They own large tracts of land where wildlife grazes with no production going on while Mau Mau and their children are being buried in public cemeteries. If they mean to help in a meaningful way, just half of those holdings will do.”

He added: “I can help in organising for a congregation of Mau Mau veterans and their children, who include me, to receive those donations”.

Former provincial administrator, Joseph Kaguthi, says invoking the freedom struggle has always been a sensitive and sometimes effective political tool.

“The picking of Mau Mau doctrine as a political selling point is on the strength that it gives Mount Kenya a sense of belonging in the founding of the nation and attainment of self-rule, where the sacrifice was blood, tears, and sweat. Such that, when those with the strife’s history hear the word Mau Mau being invoked, they will freeze to listen,” said Mr Kaguthi.

But he wonders how the Mau Mau philosophy will appeal to the majority of youthful voters who belong to Generation Z or younger.

“While older people like us can relate to the freedom war, those others in lower age brackets cannot relate,” he said.

Mr Kaguthi added that in the last election, youthful voters in Mount Kenya interpreted Mau Mau to mean “Hustlers battling dynasties”, which he thinks was a creative way of making Mau Mau doctrines gain some modern connection with the youths. The beneficiary, he says, was President William Ruto, who crafted the cogent “Hustler” and “bottom-up” message while Mr Kenyatta represented the supposedly elitist “dynasty” together with the Azimio presidential candidate Raila Odinga.

Mr Njenga, former Mungiki-sect-leader-turned-pastor, has activated a network called Amani Sasa, where he has since been ‘anointed’ in Laikipia County to lead the youths into political Canaan.

Mount Kenya region’s political Young Hustlers Caucus group chaired by James Waweru says “Mr Njenga cannot fully represent Mau Mau doctrines and win trust among young voters owing to the bad rating Mungiki still retains in the region”.

“While Mau Mau as it is read in books and narrated by the few freedom fighters remaining captures human death as a sacrifice for the common good, Mungiki killings are reflections of a criminal enterprise whose driving force was cruelty”.

Mount Kenya political analyst Ngugi Njoroge feels that the use of Mau Mau as a political agenda could backfire.

“We saw Mama Ngina Kenyatta shaving Mau Mau locks from the head of Ms Muthoni Kirima and immediately debate raged as to what were the real intentions.

“We have now seen Mama Ngina again on Thursday hosting Ms Kirima in her Muthaiga home and where it was announced she has bought for her a home in Nyeri,” said Prof Njoroge.

He says the political message in the shaving and home buy “can only be for appealing to the region that I am the only one who means true to the cause of freedom fight by taking away poverty off the shoulders of our heroes”.

As the debate rages, Mr Gachagua and Mr Nyoro are having it rough with the opposition now demanding that they table credentials that make them Mau Mau scions.

“The two cannot even sing a single freedom song…Others were District Officers when the remnants of Mau Mau freedom fighters were struggling to get jobs. We are calling them out and if it demands, we are going to hold a public forum for all of us declaring to be Mau Mau to showcase our knowledge about the cause that won us self-rule,” said Mr Mweha when he hosted Mr Odinga in Murang’a on Thursday.

It is in that meeting where Mr Odinga, Mr Kioni, and Mr Wa Iria blasted Mr Gachagua and Mr Nyoro as “power brokers with no liberation history, no credentials for fighting what is just and who have a problem thinking beyond their tribe and region”.

Mr Odinga said, “Those who cannot fight for the lowering of unga prices, one man one shilling one vote, county funding, and jobs for their youth cannot be anywhere near Mau Mau sympathisers”.