Saturday, August 10, 2013

The ghosts do not rest easy.

While stories of Kenya's colonisation are suffused with tales of wise seers who foresaw the coming of the white man with his trains, bibles and guns, they sometimes do not capture the incredulity of the natives confronted by the spectre of the pale faces and what they brought with them. Imagine that you are living in Kenya at the turn of the 19th Century, knowing what you know about the two seasons and the link between man and the earth. Imagine, again, that you are told that all the gods you worship and all the rituals you perform to appease the gods are wrong, intrinsically and inherently wrong. Imagine, instead, that you are taught that there is only One True God and that He is One-in-Three: Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Your questions about the incredibility of the Holy Trinity are swatted aside as the rantings of a man who refuses to be "civilised."

Now imagine that the "laws" that govern your bucolic society are declared irrelevant. That the land tenure systems you adminster are wrong; the white man has come with contracts and leases and treaties and that these are the correct way to govern your society. And because your primitive government is wrong, because your gods do not really exist, it is time for you to bow down to the mighty white man's wisdom and offer fealty to a king, or queen, many weeks away over the seas. To ensure that you do not go back to your primitive ways, you are herded into villages, you are constrained by taxes which you cannot pay, or you are attacked with weapons that you do not understand. Over a period of 60 years, all that you knew to be true is taken away from you. Your land, your stories, your government and your gods. In the end, you are a squatter on your own land. And the white man will kill your fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters to keep it that way. Worse still, the white man will persuade some of your fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters to kill you and your family if you resist the white man.

Now imagine again, that you have successfully removed the white man from your land. He is gone but his odious ideas remain. They have become the norm. They are the standard with which to measure all other ideas and all other ideas fall short of the glory of the white man's ideas. Your government is the white man's government; your gods are no more; and your land is still not your own. To cap it all, there is still a white man living on your land telling you that regardless of the fact that the white man's government is gone, the white man was still right to do what he did.

There are men and women in Kenya, both white and native, who still cling to the idea that the British civilising mission in East Africa was the right thing to do. They refuse to accept that the British used their law and their bible and their guns to turn the true owners of the land and the mineral wealth and bounty of our land into their own Shang-ri La. They refuse to acknowledge that even if the Mau Mau were bloodthirsty brigands, they had every right and more to attack and kill the perfidious and iniquitous white man.

Obviously we cannot turn back the clock to 1897, but we cannot go on pretending that the colonisation of Kenya was the right thing to do. We cannot accept that the Emergency was the right way to deal with the Mau Mau threat. The brutal atrocities visited on the Kikuyu by the British, their Home Guards and their African loyalists - the same people who claimed to be warriors for Christ - were wrong. Her Majesty's Government has gone out of its way to lie and cheat, and to hide the proof of their brutality from the eyes of the world. They have attempted to hide from the world the viciousness of their treatment of the Kikuyu and Kenyans in general. The torture. The starvation. The casual brutality. The murders. Their chickens are coming home to roost. It is not just Kenya. The ghosts of the Chagos Islands will not sleep easy. The victims of the Boer Wars will not rest. In the fullness of time, the British will be forced to reckon with their iniquitous past. And so too will the remaining apologists for Britain's civilising mission.

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