He smiles when he walks by us. I smile back and he stops to introduce himself. I try not to quaver as I say my name, and shake his warm callused hand. I have just met Gitu wa Kahengeri.
I am in awe when he breaks out in very fluent English to explain why the evening is so very important to him, to them the Mau Mau Veterans, and to us all. I am in awe because he is part of Kenyan history,his is perhaps one of the names hardly ever spoken, but a name that was and is important in the making of the history of our country Kenya. I am in awe because in spite of his age, and time, which has not exactly yielded the results he hoped for infrom his fight for independence, there is still a twinkle in his eye that announces his conviction that he did the right thing in struggling for the measure of freedom Kenyans enjoy today.
I am at the opening of the Mau Mau Film Festival organised by The Kenya Human Rights Commission. This is of great It is interest ing forto me, as I have previously enjoyed sessions sitting at my older relatives’ knees, and listening with wide -eyed interest as they describe events of times past. Here, I am in a roomful of much older Kenyans, and they only need a question or two to prompt them into a narration of events that changed them and marked history.
I am slightly distracted, perhaps and amused by a group of young men marked by dreadlocks and Rastafarian colours, who declare themselves part of the continuing Mau Mau struggle. Some of them are children of the original Mau Mau Vveterans. Some support the Mau Mau ideology. The rest, well… Seated on a patio outside, surrounded by an interestedattentive audience, the young men argue about politics and policyies that have kept the original Mau Mau from benefiting materially and financially from their struggle for Kenyan resources. I find myself nodding;, at one point even raising a fisted hand ‘black power’ salute. My companion raises a brow, and I know he is hinting atit’s the wine.!
The Sspeeches begin with Zahid Rajan of Awaaz magazine welcoming the guests. The Ddirector of Alliance Francaise, where the Festival is being held, welcomes us all, and explains ing that the Centre is proud to be part of an event that can help to shed light on important events in Kenya’s the Hhistory of the country. Present also is KHRC’s director, Muthoni Wanyeki, whose short speech ends with an announcement that the KHRC is filing suit against the British Government for the Ttorture and murder of the Mau Mau during the Independence War.
Zahid now welcomes the Mau Mau veterans led by Gitu wa Kahengeri. , toThey give their speeches, which I find are made up of memories of their time in the struggle. It is so easy, it has been easy for very many in my generation to take for granted, the pain, fear, sorrow and totalmaterial destruction that the Imperial Ccolonialism and the succeeding struggle for African Iindependence wrought on our parents and grandparents.
Several times, I have written several times that we cannot blame the colonialists for all the ills in our country. Several times, I have declared that it is time for Kenyans to build their future, not dwell in the past. I still believe that. But listening to the Vveterans speak, I realised that it is important to listen to the past, and from all perspectives, too.
Theoday’s program is meant to help us do just that. After the speeches and the introduction of the diplomatic community to the veterans, we are led to the Ffilm hall, where we watch two films.
The first one is a Hollywood production made in 1953, at the time of during the struggle. It that portrays the Mau Mau as blood- thirsty terror hounds, and leaves me with a very bitter taste in my mouth. The second film, ‘Itungati,’ by the KHRC, explains the development of the Mau Mau and the ideology behind itthe movement, which is summed up in the motto Mau Mau iIthaka na Wiyathi! Land and Independence!, The film also portrays the power struggles that may have contributed to some deviation a move towards extreme violence, and the absolute desperation and subsequent anarchy that can resulting formfrom any war. Both films managed to depicted the absolute cruelty of the British Ccolonial Ssoldiers and their home guard troops towards the Mau Mau Ssoldiers.
Both movies however, also succeeded in reminding me that there is no clean side ofto war. I wonder as I watch, well, what if the British government does do compensate the Mau Mau survivors and their relatives for the atrocities during thate Independence Wwar, who will compensate the many African victims and their survivors for the atrocities committed by the Mau Mau?
At the end of the films, I talk to Dedan Kimathi’s widow. I am fired with curiousity. I want to know exactly what happened, why it happened and how it has shaped my country. I make an appointment to meet Evelyn Kimathi, daughter of Mrs. Kimathi, who also works with the Dedan Kimathi Foundation.
I intend to work for the future, mine and this country’s’s. I will start by learning about our past, mine, and this country’s.