Recasting Mau Mau Discourse: Reflections on the Declaration of the State of Emergency 70 years later
As a preliminary to the annual #UoNresearchweek, the Department of History and Archaeology have organized a 3 days International conference on the 70th Anniversary of the British Declaration of State of Emergency in Kenya in 1952”, whose theme is, ‘Recasting Mau Mau Discourse: Reflections on the Declaration of the State of Emergency 70 years later.”
When delivering his keynote speech, Prof. John Lonsdale of University of Cambridge spoke on issues of Identity of the Maumau, the world outlook, their mandate and the history as it’s told by the British and what it really was.
Discussant Prof. Karuti Kanyinga asked the participants’ pertinent questions that spurred debate, ‘why is it that during almost every national holiday in Kenya, the Maumau are mentioned as an unresolved issue? Were the Maumau fighting for freedom or were they fighting for land? Were they fighting the issue of inequality in distribution of power? When the historical materials stored at the National archives are translated will they tell the same tale as what is at the British museums?’
These questions spiked conversations and confirmations from participants who were associated with the maumau. The Debate on whether the maumau was formed by only kikuyus was dispelled by Ochieng’ Oneko’s son who confirmed that he spent some three months with his father in a detention camp.
When delivering his opening remarks, The Chair Department of History, Dr. Kenneth Ombongi welcomed the participants to the conference and cited that universities must continue to stay relevant by having such rigorous academic discourses. He emphasised, ‘We would like to celebrate this rich history, reignite the vigor of academic discourse and maintain hope and relevance of institutions of higher learning.”
The Dean, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Prof. Jack Odhiambo noted that, “science cannot thrive without history. History looks at the past, it helps us evaluate the present and prepare for the future.”
On his part, Prof. Munyoki, Director research, speaking on behalf of the Associate Vice Chancellor, Research, Innovation and Enterprise, commended the Department of History for this precursor conference to the Research week, welcomed the participants and urged them to register for the other upcoming thematic conferences from Monday 24th -28, October.
While officially opening the Conference, the Vice Chancellor, Prof. Kiama recanted a tale told to him by his parents who experienced the detention and urged the historians to look at the gender perspective.
Prof. Kiama noted, ‘The ‘Mau Mau’ movement itself had deep roots that marked an intensifying crisis in the colony. The Declaration of Emergency was a pre-emptive strike to decapitate the, largely, underground movement of its leadership. The official repression and violence euphemistically dubbed as ‘counterinsurgency’’ ushered in a grave period in the colony that came to be known world-wide as the Mau Mau.
Out of this uprising, the colonialists had to rethink their occupation. This conference is, therefore, a welcome opportunity to relive the past with a view to reflecting on the meanings of the struggles and contradictions that ensued after the declaration of emergency.
The story of the Mau Mau has many trajectories that have evoked deep emotions, both in the academy, and in society, at large. For example, each of the key divides has a story to tell from either the so-called loyalists”, ‘sell-outs’ or ‘heroes’ and ‘heroines.’ It further raises pertinent questions that speak to the continued social, economic, and political ‘’emergencies’’ in Kenya today and how they resonate or rather derive from the 1952 declaration.