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 warmly calloused 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 and to us. I am in awe because he is part of Kenyan history, 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. I am in awe because in spite of age, and time which has not exactly yielded the results he hoped for in his fight for independence, there is a twinkle in his eye that announces 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. It is interesting for me, I have previously enjoyed sessions sitting at my older relatives knees and listening with wide eyed interest as they described 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 amused by a group of young men, marked with dreadlocks and Rastafarian colours, who declare themselves part of the continuing Mau Mau struggle. Some of them are children of the original Mau Mau Veterans. Some of them support the Mau Mau ideology. The rest, well… Seated at a patio outside surrounded by an interested audience the young men argue about politics and policy 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 raising a fisted hand ‘black power’ salute. My companion raises a brow, and I know he is hinting at the wine.
The Speeches begin with Zahid Rajan of Awaaz magazine welcoming the guests. The Director of Alliance Francaise, where the Festival is being held welcomes us all, explaining that the Centre is proud to be part of an event that can help to shed light on important events in the History of the country. Present also is KHRC’s Muthoni Wanyeki, whose short speech ends with an announcement that the KHRC is filing suit against the British Government for the Torture and murder of the Mau Mau during the Independence War.
Zahid now welcomes the Mau Mau veterans led by Gitu wa Kahengeri, to 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 total destruction that the Imperial Colonialism and the succeeding struggle for African Independence wrought on our parents and grandparents.
Several times, I have written 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 Veterans speak, I realised that it is important to listen to the past, and from all angles, too.
The 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 Film hall, where we watch two films.
The first one is a Hollywood production made during the struggle that portrays the Mau Mau as blood thirsty terror hounds, and leaves me with a very bitter taste in my mouth. The second film by the KHRC, explains the development of the Mau Mau, the ideology behind it which is summed up in the motto Mau Mau ithaka na Wiyathi! (Land and Independence!), the power struggles that may have contributed to some deviation towards extreme violence, the absolute desperation and subsequent anarchy resulting form any war. Both films managed to depict the absolute cruelty of the British Colonial Soldiers and their home guard troops towards the Mau Mau Soldiers.
Both however, also succeed in reminding me that there is no clean side of war. I wonder as I watch, well, what if the British do compensate the Mau Mau survivors and their relatives for the atrocities during the Independence War, 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 curiouity. 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. I will start by learning about our past, mine, and this country’s.