Sunday, February 27, 2011


I almost had nothing to write about today, as my iPod/Alarm Clock determined now was a good time to reset itself back to Eastern time. The same rooster that I threatened with bodily harm yesterday, today I owe my timely arrival at the front desk to meet up with Isaac, my driver up to the Aberdares. A gorgeous ride, complete with swirling hills, gaping green valleys, every shape and size of kiosk and roadside market along the way and some of the worst infrastructure my rear end has ever had the misfortune to experience at highway speeds. The next NGO to grace Kenya should be Meineke, and they should bring shocks.

We arrived at the Aberdares around 8 AM and immediately started a game drive around very different environs than I had experienced outside of Nairobi. The wide open dusty plains were replaced with lush greenery, providing a much more scenic backdrop, but also a much more dense camouflage to shield the objects of our interest. Animals would often burst from the foliage and out across the plain into another shelter before I could even power up my camera. Nonetheless, we enjoyed seeing more zebras, eland, bushbuck, waterbuck, gazelles, warthogs, water buffalo, rabbits, wild horses, and a phenomenal assortment of birds their untamed plumage luxuriant in the early morning sunshine.

We saw a number of majestic reticulated giraffes, and my guide Martin, gave me the "book" on giraffes: "Magnificent in appearance, Colossal in height, Bizarre in form, Unique in gait and Inoffensive in character". 18 feet tall on a base of only 4 feet, raising both left legs, then both right legs when walking (try it sometime, you'll fall over within three steps), and as mellow as their neck is long. Though the inoffensive character has its limits, as the kick from a giraffe can kill a lion. After a 14 month gestation, the giraffe gives birth while standing, which leaves it's 4 foot tall progeny to fall 2 feet to the ground once it emerges. Quite a harsh way to start life, no?

The briefest but most fascinating part of the trip was to the Mau Mau cave, a hide out under a rock abutment overlooking a glorious valley. Here over 100 Mau Mau were stationed along with other caves dotting the Nyeri countryside. They live off game meat and wild plants. Their ranks consisted of commanders, warriors, transporters who would bring food from cooking sites (lest the column of smoke give away their location, and runners - young boys who would ferry messages between the various hiding spots. They stockpiled weapons by raiding police stations, and administered illegal loyalty oaths to as many of their countrymen as they could. My guide and driver

This particular hide-out met with an abrupt end when the British bombed it and buried the remains of the 114 Mau Mau based there in the debris. How could the British have identified this location in this vast land? There begins the real story.

The Mau Mau were not defeated by the British. Fighting on foreign lands against an agile force which had minimal supply needs and indiscriminate standards of warfare, the British did not stand a snowball's chance in hell. Even the Masai askari that the British were able to hire as mercenaries were on unfamiliar territory and could match the Mau Mau in ferocity but not in mastery of the land. However, the Mau Mau were so fierce even amongst the loyalty they demanded from their own people (the first high profile killing by the Mau Mau was of a Kikuyu police official) that they began to alienate other Kikuyu who joined the Home Guard, a British sponsored security force. More and more, the Home Guard became constituted of disaffected Mau Mau who would expose their former crews' location, tactics, supply chains, and identities. Eventually the threat of retribution by the Mau Mau became hollow, and people could cross them with impunity, and the Mau Mau were squashed by the British and the Home Guard.

The damage, however, was already done, and the wound to the British colony festered and would not heal. The myth that the vast majority of Kenyans preferred their British masters was dispelled and a decade after the genesis of the Mau Mau's campaign, Kenya was granted its independence.

But the story doesn't end here. For although the titular head of the new Kenyan state, Jomo Kenyatta, had been jailed in isolation for years as a Mau Mau organizer, many others in the power structure came right out of the Home Guard. In fact, what happened was unlike anything I've heard of in any other country. In most instances, the winners appoint their leaders the historical heroes. History is written by the victors and all that. But who were the victors here - the Mau Mau, without whom the British might still rule these lands, or the Home Guard, who effectively slaughtered the Mau Mau by betraying them to the British?

 Instead of a straightforward answer to this question, those in power played a sly double game. The Home Guard and their ilk maintained all the control and wealth, but passed on all the glory to the Mau Mau heroes. So today there are statues, universities and streets named for Kimathi (a homicidal loon by most accounts), but those who stood in solidarity with Kimathi are impoverished and underserved to this day, while those who turned him in are living quite well, praising him at every opportunity. In fact, the Mau Mau's illegal status was recently revoked, and the new Constitution even transforms the previous national holiday from Kenyatta Day to Mashujaa Day - literally Heroes Day - which celebrates the Mau Mau warriors. On this day, the Mau Mau and their descendants are paraded around and feted, only to be returned to their fetid environments as soon as the fireworks dim. Whether this historical deception will pass without redress is a fascinating topic for a Kenyan PhD sociology thesis at some point in the future, but it's known by everyday Kenyans, who seem to adopt the same attitude that has baffled me all this time - the past is past, focus on the future.

I ended the morning with a leisurely row in a small boat around a natural lake in the shadow of Mount Kenya, and then headed back to Nyeri to take up our project again... no rest for the weary.

We returned to the main roads passing through the 6,500 acre ranch of an eccentric German who demands complete silence on his lands, but flies his helicopter back and forth from here to Nairobi.

Back to work...

1 comment:

  1. what a day--keep enjoying & we will continue to enjoy vicariously! Also, buy a watch and feed the rooster! Love, Mom & Dad.