Books by Mukoma
Hurling Words at Consciousness
Conversing with Africa: Politics of Change
Rebellion in Kenya
Histories of the Hanged /
* * *
Justice for Mau Mau War Veterans
By Mukoma Wa Ngugi
As the Kenya Human
Rights Commission (KHRC) prepares to sue the British
Government for personal injuries sustained by survivors
of the Mau Mau war for independence whilst in British
detention camps in Kenya, Mukoma Wa Ngugi unravels the
Colonial myths of Christianisation and civilization and
exposes the reality of torture, murder, slavery,
landlessness, dehumanization, and internment.
In February 2008, the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC)
will file a representative law-suit against Her
Majesty’s Government (HMG) in the British High Court on
behalf of the survivors of the Mau Mau war for
The KHRC is suing HMG for “personal injuries sustained
[by the survivors] while in detention camps of the Kenya
Colonial Government which operated” under the direct
authority of HMG during the State of Emergency
But to understand the law-suit in all its implications,
we have to look at Africa’s historical relationship to
the West and separate the image from the reality. The
Enlightenment of the 1600’s sought to civilize Africans,
introduce reason and logic to them, and equip them with
the key to heaven through Christianization. The reality
masked underneath this image was one of torture, murder
Later, colonialism used the image of a gentle
stewardship to guide Africans along until they were
civilized. The reality, as the KHRC suit shows, was
landlessness, torture and dehumanization, whole
population internment, outright murder, and mass
For the Westerners and Africans alike who have sought
comfort in the images, the reality difficult to take.
But the reality has been well documented. Adam
Hochschild, writing in
King Leopold’s Ghost, estimates that 5 to 10
million Africans died as a direct result of Belgian
colonization in the Congo in the late 1800’s and early
1900’s. And chopping off hands, quite literally, was a
form of public control.
And between 1904 and 1907, 65,000 Herero (80 percent of
the total Herero population) were systematically
eliminated by the Germans in Namibia. In Algeria, during
the war of independence (1954 to 1962), the French
routinely tortured and 'disappeared' FLN freedom
These random examples illustrate an alarmingly simple
principle: One nation cannot occupy another and seek to
control its resources without detaining, torturing,
assassinating and terrorizing the occupied. A modern day
example of this principle at work is Iraq today where
torture and killings under the occupation of the United
States are rampant, even though the U.S. wants to sell
an image of spreading democracy.
Colonialism, Legacy and the Mau Mau
In Kenya, British colonialism followed this same
principle. Caroline Elkins’
Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain’s
Gulag and David Anderson’s
Histories Of The Hanged: The Dirty War In Kenya
document tortures, hangings rushed through kangaroo
courts, detention camps, internments, and
assassinations, not to mention psychological warfare
through fear and intimidation.
Independence however did not bring justice for
Kenyans—certainly not for the Mau Mau veterans. Kenyatta,
even before being sworn as president in1963, had
denounced the Mau Mau as terrorists. Contrary to British
propaganda, Kenyatta was never a member of the Mau Mau.
In an interview, Muthoni Wanyeki, Executive Director of
the KHRC, said that:
|On coming to power, [Kenyatta]
proceeded, through the land ownership
policies and practices) of his government
(and himself), to betray everything that the
Mau Mau had stood for and to entrench the
landholding patterns established under the
It is not a
surprise that Kenyatta by the early 1970’s had a few
detentions and assassinations under his belt. In the
words of politician J.M. Kariuki (assassinated in 1975),
Kenyatta created a nation of ten millionaires and ten
million beggars. He wanted the Mau Mau platform of Land
and Freedom erased from Kenyan memory.
In 1978 President Moi took over when Kenyatta died and
continued with the same dictatorial policies. Irony is
such that in 1982, Mau Mau historian Maina Wa Kinyatti
was imprisoned by the Moi government in the same Kamiti
Prison where the British in 1957 hanged and buried the
leader of the Mau Mau,
Kimathi, in an unmarked grave.
It was not until the Kibaki government took over in 2002
that the colonial ban on the Mau Mau was removed.
Finally in 2007 a statue of Kimathi stands on Kimathi
Street, something unimaginable under the Kenyatta and
But more important than a hero's acre or a monument is a
reckoning with the colonial legacy of torture,
dehumanization and pauperization. Mau Mau veterans that
are still alive, along with their children and
grandchildren, live in abject poverty, landless and
without formal education.
The past and current Kenyan governments have as yet to
ask the British government to at the very least issue an
apology for the atrocities committed against the Kenyan
people. The Moi and Kenyatta governments, dependent on
Western aid and while maintaining a vicious elite
system, were not in a position to pressure Britain for
an apology. Or even to pressure HMG to reveal the exact
location of Kimathi’s grave so that his widow, Mukami
Kimathi, can bury him.
This dependent relationship has allowed the British to
commit crimes against Kenyans with near impunity. Forty
plus years since Kenya’s independence, the British Army
still uses Northern Kenya for military exercises. As a
result of leaving unexploded munitions behind, “hundreds
of Maasai and Samburu tribes people—many of them
children—are said to have been killed or maimed by
unexploded bombs left by the British army at practice
ranges in central Kenya over the past 50 years” the BBC
reported  With the legal aid of Leigh Day and Co
Advocates, 228 survivors took the UK government to the
British High Court. In 2002, a settlement was reached in
which the UK government agreed to pay 7 million dollars
plus legal fees.
Economic Justice and Forgiveness
Capitalism and Slavery  shows how Western
economies grew at the expense of African slave labor.
Walter Rodney in
How Europe Underdeveloped Africa  updates the
argument to include colonialism—Europe developed at the
direct expense of Africa. Today we find that economic
giants, Barclays Bank , J.P. Morgan and Chase
Manhattan Bank  are direct beneficiaries of the slave
Muthoni Wanyeki argues that “it has to be recognized
that the UK (and all ex-colonisers) grew at great human
expense and political-economic disruption and
exploitation within the ex-colonies. It is on that
recognition alone that current debates on
'aid'/'development financing', trade and investment can
shift as they need to.” The call for forgiveness and
reconciliation then has to rest on the realization that
colonialism was first and foremost an exploitative
Because the former colonizers continue to benefit from
colonialism, while the victims of colonization continue
to live in poverty, the governments of former colonizers
have a moral duty to rectify the historical wrong in the
present time. On the basis that colonialism as an
investment is still paying off, the British cannot argue
that they are not personally responsible for atrocities
committed by their parents—they have inherited the
economic well-being of a colonial system. They need to
do right by this history because it is living.
The British government has as yet to issue a formal
apology for the atrocities it committed. In the same way
that Clinton expressed shame and sorrow for slavery
without offering a formal apology, so did Blair for
colonialism. One can express sorrow, regret and shame
for causing an accidental death, but surely this is not
enough for a systematic exploitation that causes
millions to suffer and die.
It should be stated clearly that the authoritarian
governments of Kenyatta and Moi are guilty of
suppressing Mau Mau memory. And that there were
thousands of Kenyans who collaborated with the British.
But it should also be said that collaborators did not
create colonialism, it is colonialism that created its
functionaries. The real crime is colonialism.
And because colonialism if we are to be honest with
history is a crime against humanity, the British
parliament should at the very least pass a bill offering
a formal apology to its victims in Africa. And the
apology should also make provision for restitution.
Truth, Restitution, Reconciliation and Justice
While revolutionary in attempting to heal a wounded
nation, South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation
Commission undermined the very concept of forgiveness
and justice it espoused because it did not demand that
the perpetrators address in word and deed the question
of restitution. Muthoni Wanyeki on the TRC says that:
Within the human rights
movement in Kenya (and in Africa more
broadly), the TRC process in SA while hailed
for its reconciliation potential has always
been critiqued for its enabling of impunity
and its lack of direct recognition of,
compensation for survivors.
Even though a desired
by-product, the struggle against apartheid
was not waged solely for blacks to forgive
whites, or for whites to ask forgiveness,
but to bring economic, social and political
equality for all South Africans. So then
here is the irony of the TRC—the
perpetrators go home to their mansions, the
victims back to the township.
To put it
differently, after the TRC hearings the victims go back
to a life of poverty, they remain without the means to
feed, clothe or educate their children. Freedom comes
without the content—it’s just a name—it has no meaning.
Under these circumstances, forgiveness, healing and
justice cannot exist without restitution.
The British government, which had the largest empire in
the world, has cause to fear losing the Mau Mau
law-suit. Once it begins where it will end? In
neighboring Uganda? India? Malaysia? Or Jamaica? And if
the British lose, will this set precedence for the
victims of French, Belgian or Portuguese colonialism?
The British government knows that losing one law-suit
will open closed colonial closets all over the world.
It is precisely because this lawsuit has huge
implications for the victims of colonialism all over the
world that it deserves the support of all those who
understand that history is still acting on us and that
justice cannot exist without some form of restitution
even if it comes in the form of the whole truth.
Identifying the graves of the disappeared, so that their
relatives can rest; the numbers of how many killed, so
that nations account for their dead; the names of the
guilty, so that they may be brought to justice or
forgiven; initiating the return of what was stolen: all
these issues resonate with formerly colonized peoples.
For Muthoni Wanyeki says that “We see this case as being
part of the process of understanding and coming to terms
with our past...particularly given that our past impacts
so clearly and evidently on our present.” African people
in the continent and Diaspora should support the Kenya
Human Rights Committee by calling on the British
government to account for its torture of Mau Mau
We have to become each other’s keeper of memory and see
each atrocity perpetrated on the other as part our
collective memory – whether we identify as Afro-Latino,
African American, or African.
We have to make common cause because ultimately the
struggle for the truth will not be won because the
British High Court finds it just, or because the British
Government decides to come to terms with its past, it
will be won because victims across Africa, the Diaspora
and other survivors of colonial atrocities will make
common cause with the Mau Mau struggle and vice versa.
Truth will come to light because we will have demanded
justice and restitution before offering forgiveness.
It is only when an apology and restitution are offered,
and the victim in turn forgives that for both the
perpetrator and victim true healing can take place. For
me, that is the truth of justice.
1. Wanyeki, Muthoni (Kenya Human Rights Commission
Executive Director). Interview by Author via e-mail.
October 15th, 2007.
2. UK pay-out for Kenya bomb victims.
news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/2139366.stm July 19th,
3. Williams, Eric. Slavery and Capitalism. New
York, Russell & Russell, 1961
4. Rodney, Walter. How Europe Underdeveloped Africa.
Washington, D.C. Howard University Press, 1981
5. Barclays admits possible link to slavery after
April 1, 2007
6. Corporations challenged by reparations activists
February 21, 2002
* Kenyan writer Mukoma Wa Ngugi is the author of
Hurling Words at Consciousness (Africa World
Press, 2006) and the forthcoming New Kenyan Fiction
(Ishmael Reed Publications, 2008). He is a political
columnist for the BBC Focus on Africa Magazine.
* Please send comments to
email@example.com or comment online at
posted 30 October 2007
* * * *
Heart of Darkness
New to the Fourth
Edition is an excerpt from Adam Hochschild’s recent
King Leopold’s Ghost, as well as writings on
Galton. "Criticism" includes a wealth of new
materials, including nine contemporary reviews and
Heart of Darkness [Contents]
and twelve recent essays by
Peter Brooks, Daphne Erdinast-Vulcan,
Edward Said, and
B. Armstrong, among others. Also new to this edition
is a section of writings on the connections between
Heart of Darkness and the film
Apocalypse Now by Louis K. Greiff, Margot
Norris, and Lynda J. Dryden. A Chronology and Selected
Bibliography are also included.
King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed,
Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa
By Adam Hochschild
* * *
Blacks in Hispanic Literature: Critical Essays
Blacks in Hispanic Literature is a
collection of fourteen essays by scholars and
creative writers from Africa and the Americas.
Called one of two significant critical works on
Afro-Hispanic literature to appear in the late
1970s, it includes the pioneering studies of
Carter G. Woodson and
Valaurez B. Spratlin, published in the 1930s, as
well as the essays of scholars whose interpretations
were shaped by the Black aesthetic. The early
essays, primarily of the Black-as-subject in Spanish
medieval and Golden Age literature, provide an
historical context for understanding 20th-century
creative works by African-descended, Hispanophone
writers, such as Cuban
Nicolás Guillén and Ecuadorean poet, novelist,
Adalberto Ortiz, whose essay analyzes the
significance of Negritude in Latin America.
This collaborative text set the tone for later
conferences in which writers and scholars worked together to
promote, disseminate, and critique the literature of
Spanish-speaking people of African descent. . . .
Cited by a
literary critic in 2004 as "the seminal study in the
field of Afro-Hispanic Literature . . . on which
most scholars in the field 'cut their teeth'."
* * * * *
Aké: The Years of Childhood
By Wole Soyinka
Aké: The Years of Childhood
is a memoir of stunning beauty,
humor, and perception
lyrical account of one boy's attempt
to grasp the often irrational and
hypocritical world of adults that
equally repels and seduces him.
Soyinka elevates brief anecdotes
into history lessons, conversations
into morality plays, memories into
awakenings. Various cultures,
religions, and languages mingled
freely in the Aké of his youth,
fostering endless contradictions and
personalized hybrids, particularly
when it comes to religion. Christian
teachings, the wisdom of the ogboni,
or ruling elders, and the power of
alternately terrify and inspire him
carried equal metaphysical weight.
Surrounded by such a collage, he
notes that "God had a habit of
either not answering one's prayers
at all, or answering them in a way
that was not straightforward."
In writing from a child's
perspective, Soyinka expresses
youthful idealism and unfiltered
honesty while escaping the adult
snares of cynicism and intolerance.
His stinging indictment of
colonialism takes on added power
owing to the elegance of his attack.
* * * * *
Faces At The Bottom of the Well: The Permanence of Racism
By Derrick Bell
In nine grim metaphorical sketches, Bell, the black former Harvard law professor who made headlines recently for his one-man protest against the school's hiring policies, hammers home his controversial theme that white racism is a permanent, indestructible component of our society. Bell's fantasies are often dire and apocalyptic: a new Atlantis rises from the ocean depths, sparking a mass emigration of blacks; white resistance to affirmative action softens following an explosion that kills Harvard's president and all of the school's black professors; intergalactic space invaders promise the U.S. President that they will clean up the environment and deliver tons of gold, but in exchange, the bartering aliens take all African Americans back to their planet. Other pieces deal with black-white romance, a taxi ride through Harlem and job discrimination.
Civil rights lawyer Geneva
Crenshaw, the heroine of Bell's And We Are Not Saved (1987), is back in some of these ominous allegories, which speak from the depths of anger and despair. Bell now teaches at New York University Law School.—Publishers
* * * * *
So Rich, So Poor: Why It's So Hard to End Poverty in America
By Peter Edelman
If the nation’s gross national income—over $14 trillion—were divided evenly across the entire U.S. population, every household could call itself middle class. Yet the income-level disparity in this country is now wider than at any point since the Great Depression. In 2010 the average salary for CEOs on the S&P 500 was over $1 million—climbing to over $11 million when all forms of compensation are accounted for—while the current median household income for African Americans is just over $32,000. How can some be so rich, while others are so poor? In this provocative book, Peter Edelman, a former top aide to Senator Robert F. Kennedy and a lifelong antipoverty advocate, offers an informed analysis of how this country can be so wealthy yet have a steadily growing number of unemployed and working poor. According to Edelman, we have taken important positive steps without which 25 to 30 million more people would be poor, but poverty fluctuates with the business cycle.
The structure of today’s economy has stultified wage
growth for half of America’s workers—with even worse
results at the bottom and for people of color—while bestowing billions on those at the top. So Rich, So Poor delves into what is happening to the people behind the statistics and takes a particular look at the continuing crisis of young people of color, whose possibility of a productive life too often is lost on their way to adulthood.—
* * * * *
Allah, Liberty, and Love
The Courage to Reconcile Faith and Freedom
By Irshad Manji
In Allah, Liberty and Love, Irshad Manji paves a path for Muslims and non-Muslims to transcend the fears that stop so many of us from living with honest-to-God integrity: the fear of offending others in a multicultural world as well as the fear of questioning our own communities. Since publishing her international bestseller, The Trouble with Islam Today, Manji has moved from anger to aspiration. She shows how any of us can reconcile faith with freedom and thus discover the Allah of liberty and love—the universal God that loves us enough to give us choices and the capacity to make them. Among the most visible Muslim reformers of our era, Manji draws on her experience in the trenches to share stories that are deeply poignant, frequently funny and always revealing about these morally confused times.
prevents young Muslims, even in the West, from
expressing their need for religious
reinterpretation? What scares non-Muslims about
openly supporting liberal voices within Islam? How
did we get into the mess of tolerating intolerable
customs, such as honor killings, and how do we change that noxious status quo?
* * * * *
The New New Deal
The Hidden Story of Change in the Obama Era
By Michael Grunwald
Time senior correspondent Michael Grunwald tells the secret history of the stimulus bill, the purest distillation of Change We Can Believe In, a microcosm of Obama’s policy successes and political failures. Though it is reviled by the right and rejected by the left, it really is a new New Deal, larger than FDR’s and just as transformative. It prevented an imminent depression, while jump-starting Obama’s long-term agenda. The stimulus is pouring $90 billion into clean energy, reinventing the way America is powered and fueled; it includes unprecedented investments in renewables, efficiency, electric cars, a smarter grid, cleaner coal, and more. It’s carrying health care into the digital era. Its Race to the Top initiative may be the boldest education reform in U.S. history. It produced the biggest middle-class tax cuts in a generation, a broadband initiative reminiscent of rural electrification, and an overhaul of the New Deal’s unemployment insurance system. It’s revamping the way government addresses homelessness, fixes infrastructure, and spends money.
Grunwald reveals how Republicans have obscured these achievements through obstruction and distortion. The stimulus launched a genuine national comeback. It also saved millions of jobs, while creating legacies that could rival the Hoover Dam: the world’s largest wind farm, a new U.S. battery industry, a new high-speed rail network, the world’s highest-speed Internet network. Its main legacy, like the New Deal’s, will be change.
* * *
Pictures and Progress
Early Photography and the Making of African
Edited by Maurice O. Wallace and Shawn
Pictures and Progress explores how,
during the nineteenth century and the early
twentieth, prominent African American
intellectuals and activists understood
photography's power to shape perceptions
about race and employed the new medium in
their quest for social and political
justice. They sought both to counter widely
circulating racist imagery and to use
self-representation as a means of
empowerment. In this collection of essays,
scholars from various disciplines consider
figures including Frederick Douglass,
Sojourner Truth, Ida B. Wells, Paul Laurence
Dunbar, and W. E. B. Du Bois as important
and innovative theorists and practitioners
of photography. In addition, brief
interpretive essays, or "snapshots,"
highlight and analyze the work of four early
African American photographers. Featuring
more than seventy images,
Pictures and Progress brings to
light the wide-ranging practices of early
African American photography, as well as the
effects of photography on racialized
* * * * *
It's The Middle Class Stupid!
Carville and Stan Greenberg
It’s the Middle Class, Stupid!
confirms what we have all suspected:
Washington and Wall Street have
really screwed things up for the
average American. Work has been
devalued. Education costs are out of
sight. Effort and ambition have
never been so scantily rewarded.
Political guru James Carville and
pollster extraordinaire Stan
Greenberg argue that our political
parties must admit their failures
and the electorate must reclaim its
voice, because taking on the wealthy
and the privileged is not class
warfare—it is a matter of survival.
Told in the alternating voices of
these two top political strategists,
It’s the Middle Class, Stupid!
provides eye-opening and provocative
arguments on where our
government—including the White
House—has gone wrong, and what
voters can do about it.
Controversial and outspoken,
authoritative and shrewd,
It’s the Middle Class, Stupid!
is destined to make waves during the
2012 presidential campaign, and will
set the agenda for legislative
battles and political dust-ups
during the next administration.
* * *
(Books, DVDs, Music, and more)
update 16 July 2012