Violence and Independence
MARION O'CALLAGHAN Monday, July 30 2012
A fortnight or so ago, the British government, to everyone’s surprise and to the shock of some, acknowledged that in the struggle with the Mau Mau, the Colonial authorities had rounded up and sometimes tortured Kenyans suspected of being members of the Mau Mau.
The acknowledgement came in reply to a civil suit launched before the British courts by some aged remnants of those who had fought the colonial war at the beginning of the 1950s. These were mainly the Kikuyu with a handful of the Luo. It was these who had suffered most from the alienation of those lands which became known as the White Highlands.
The wide areas of grass, the mass of bougainvillea which surround Nairobi were not primarily about beauty. They were meant to be part of the protection of the town in the urban guerilla warfare. The leader of the revolt, Jomo Kenyatta, had been one of the post Second World War social anthropology students, producing a useful book on the Kikuyu. It gave no hint of Kenyatta’s political aspirations. The Mau Mau became a synonym for savagery until the war was over. Kenya was independent and Jomo Kenyatta was hailed as a moderate and a peacemaker. He became a large landowner, took up his hereditary chieftainship and quarreled with his Luo lieutenant and town said Marxist, Oginga Odinga.
It was the beginning of the ethnic conflict which, surfacing after Kenyatta’s death became the bitter tribal armed clashes around the elections of four or so years ago. That these were tribal and that they were around elections, hid the decades long gestation of conflict. This was not primarily around elections. It was over the distribution of land, access to education and to the Civil Service posts and over the elaboration of a national Bourgeoisie. Elections were simply the mechanism through which these “goods” were allocated. The Mau Mau, or the Liberation struggle, was perceived less as a national event as much as the legitimation of the post-colonial power of the Kikuyu.
There was a result of the Mau Mau victory that is rarely remarked on: the collapse of a certain British model of decolonisation: the Federation. In the case of Africa, Kenya “belonged” to an East African Federation of Kenya, Tanganyika, Zanzibar and Uganda around the core of settlers from Britain. The Central African Federation of Northern Rhodesia (today’s Zambia) and Southern Rhodesia was around a settler Rhodesia. Both Federations failed.
There is a belief that if our own independence is at best fragile, it is because we got independence too easily and did not wrench it from the Colonial power in a war of liberation. This belief is to a large extent the theory of Frantz Fanon. If this remains it is because Fanon is an important witness of his time: the dismantling of colonialism. There is another reason: the popularity of psychology as social explanation. Since catharsis through some form of violence is accepted as the answer to individual problems of pent up rage, it is supposed that violence is therefore the answer to social problems. What then of Algeria? Fanon was, after all, the ideologue of the Algerian Revolution.
On July 5, 1962 Algeria politically celebrated her independence. It had been militarily won with the Agreement of Evian signed with France on March 18 of that year. The Evian agreement marked the end of Algérie Française. The treaty arranged by Charles De Gaulle, included the repatriation to France of her citizens. North Africa as a place of French settlement as well as of integration into France of a number of Europeans tempted by the hope of prosperity was over.
The French-Algerian war began May 8, 1945. It was the end of the Second World War and at Sétif and Guelma police fired into a rioting crowd. The reply was the massacre of hundreds of Europeans. This was followed by a ferocious revenge leaving hundreds of Algerians dead. This ferocity marked both sides of the Algerian war. What was noticeable was the extent to which the war affected not only Algeria, but France. French government after French government fell bringing home the cost of a war which threatened the very vision the French had of themselves and of the French Republic. This Charles De Gaulle recognised. The end of the fourth Republic was symbolically the end of France’s colonial era. Algérie Française was now the nostalgia of the Far Right of French politics. The future was with De Gaulle’s Fifth Republic. In Algeria, however, the end of French colonialism was not catharsis. It was only the beginning of the confrontation with poverty, with Fundamentalism, with the watchful trigger of the army and with the ethnic divisions left behind by another colonialism: the Ottoman Empire.