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Mama Ngina and Field Marshall Muthoni’s Locs: Sanitising the Kenyattas

9 min read.

By cutting and removing a part of Mau Mau fighter Mary Muthoni wa Kirima’s body which symbolizes a past state of being, a past that has nothing to do with her, Mama Ngina has appropriated Mau Mau-ness and its legacy for present political purposes.

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Mama Ngina and Field Marshall Muthoni’s Locs: Sanitising the Kenyattas
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The Kenyatta family is trying to falsely reinsert itself into Mau Mau history, and thereby bask in its legacy, with ahistorical claims that both Jomo and his widow Mama Ngina fought in the forests. Mama Ngina is seen shaving the dreadlocks of a nonogenarian former forest fighter, while curiously adorned in Maasai dress. What can it all mean?

The reality is that Jomo Kenyatta was never in Mau Mau, let alone spent any time in the forests. He spent much of his life post-1951 (the year Mau Mau began, although its seeds were planted earlier) railing against Mau Mau, which he called a “disease”. It is highly unlikely that Mama Ngina, who married him in 1951, was a forest fighter either. This story asks, why are the Kenyattas trying to reinvent themselves as friends of Mau Mau so many years later? The historical legacy of Kenya’s first family is at stake…

“We fought for our children’s sake,” declared Mama Ngina after shaving the long dreadlocks of 92-year-old former Mau Mau fighter Mary Muthoni wa Kirima at her home near Nyeri. In a bizarre ceremony organised by the women’s wing of the Kikuyu Council of Elders, the former First Lady wore Maasai-style clothing and adornment. Mama Ngina wrapped the 70-year-old dreads in the Kenyan flag and placed them in a traditional kiondo basket, saying they would be stored at the national museum.

But who exactly fought the colonialists? Not Jomo Kenyatta, nor Mama Ngina – not in the literal sense. Yet the Nation’s version of this story (4 April) went on to claim that Ngina had been Muthoni’s “friend during their stay in the forest and jail term at Kamiti Prison”. Given that Mau Mau only began officially in 1951, the year Mama Ngina became Jomo’s fourth wife, it is highly unlikely that the new bride spent the early 1950s in the forests fighting alongside the people he so despised. The Kamiti story has surfaced before, but no evidence has ever been provided.

Let us remind ourselves what Jomo Kenyatta’s stance on Mau Mau was. “Mau Mau was a disease which had been eradicated, and must never be remembered again,” he declared in a public speech at Githunguri in 1962. This heralded the start of a period of suppression of public memory of the Mau Mau movement. Mau Mau was banned by Kenyatta, and remained banned under his successor, Daniel arap Moi. As Hughes has written before: “National unity was to be achieved at all costs, with history the bloodless casualty”. The Kenyatta regime maintained a “deafening silence about Mau Mau”, according to historian David Anderson. This was interspersed at times with limited recognition of Mau Mau veterans, when it suited Kenyatta politically. This selective “forgetting” has led to the apparent confusion and ambivalence many Kenyans feel about Kenyatta’s legacy. How can a man who denied leading or even endorsing Mau Mau, which is widely seen as having brought about uhuru, be regarded as the person who led Kenya to independence? The two things do not hang together. Kenyatta also sharply told poor landless veterans that they shouldn’t expect anything for free, when they asked, after independence, for land and other rewards for their sacrifice. Veterans have been crying ever since.

One of Hughes’s best research informants was the late Paul Thuku Njembui. He fought in the forests, spent seven years in British detention camps, and claimed to have sheltered Dedan Kimathi for a while in his home at Karima Forest, Othaya. If anyone knew what Kenyatta did in the war, it was men like Thuku. He was adamant on that point:

I want you to pay attention. Kenyatta was not a Mau Mau. Who could have become the first president of Kenya? Is it Kenyatta or Kimathi? Kimathi continued fighting for freedom up to the end of his life, but Kenyatta surrendered – he betrayed his people, even though he became president. If Kenyatta was a forest fighter, or had he been, he could have helped the forest fighters thereafter. But he did not. The colonial government of course declared Mau Mau an illegal movement and Kenyatta remained with the same idea that Mau Mau was illegal. So did Moi.

He also believed that Kenyatta told the British to execute Kimathi: “Kenyatta was there to say, ‘Kill Kimathi! Let him die!’ Because he knew that he would [otherwise] have no chance of being president.” In other words, Thuku alleged that British officials consulted Kenyatta about this. That is highly unlikely, if not impossible.

Heroic history

A leading historian of Kenya, who asks to remain anonymous, had this to say:

Mama Ngina is clearly trying to write herself into heroic history. A senior chief’s daughter, she was more likely to have been under Home Guard protection than in the forest. Nor can she ever have been in Kamiti. Some of Jomo’s children were lodged with Nairobi’s Etonian grocer, Derek Erskine, for quite some time during the Emergency. Mama Ngina was certainly with Jomo during his period of detention at Lodwar and then Maralal, after his jail term had expired. How else was Uhuru conceived?  I remember one Kenyan friend [another leading historian] saying how important it was politically for Jomo to have proved himself still sexually potent before taking on political power.

On checking with other historians, they too have not found any evidence that Mama Ngina was in the forest in the 1950s. If she had been, why have we not heard anything about it until now?

It is not clear from the press coverage whether the journalists concocted these claims, or whether they reported what Mama Ngina had told them. Either way, it is a very strange concoction, since the claims can be so easily dismissed by historians who have researched this period.

Potent imagery

The symbolism of the imagery is easy to decode. Mama Ngina is wearing an elaborate white mantle, similar to that worn by important elders or (in another culture) royalty. In her hair sits a tiara or Kenyan-style crown. It is Maasai in derivation, but branded with the Kenyan flag. Hughes, who has long researched Maasai culture and history, has never seen this style, with a vertical piece standing up over the forehead, worn by older women, only little girls, so that is odd in itself. This story began by describing her dress as “Maasai style” because it is not authentic. Red dresses and shirts to which tiny metal mirrors are sewn (are they not Indian in origin?) have only become popular among Maasai in the past 10 to 20 years or so; they didn’t wear such clothing, or even much beadwork, in the not-so-distant past. As a former First Lady she is effectively conferring an ennoblement, or blessing, on a rather bewildered-looking Muthoni.

How can a man who denied leading or even endorsing Mau Mau, which is widely seen as having brought about uhuru, be regarded as the person who led Kenya to independence?

From a cultural heritage perspective, the ceremony is a cultural invention, masquerading as traditional, though Kikuyu co-wives and friends did traditionally shave each other’s heads. In a rite of passage not dissimilar in some ways to FGM/C (female genital mutilation/cutting), and the shaving of Maasai warriors’ dreads by their mothers when they graduate to junior elderhood, the self-styled Mother of the Nation has cut and removed a precious part of the body which symbolizes a past state of being. The only problem is: this past has nothing to do with her. Thereby, through false pretences, she has appropriated Mau Mau-ness and its legacy for present political purposes. In so doing, she has attempted to weld Mau Mau to the Kenyattas, when in fact they have always had a deeply troubled relationship.

It is tragic that Muthoni may well not know, or remember, the history of the strained relationship between Kenyatta and Mau Mau, and could not object to being used in this way by such a powerful figure. However, others insist she knew what she was doing, and specifically asked for Mama Ngina to shave her.

Low profile

Kenya’s first First Lady has always kept an extremely polite low profile. This is not to say that Mama Ngina has been inert, especially where serious, if not controversial, business interests and deals are concerned. Her extensive commercial pursuits are well known, and some have brought her the wrong kind of attention. Now, in a “reunion” hosted by the women’s wing of the Kikuyu Council of Elders during which she cut off Field Marshal Muthoni wa Kirima’s hair –  and where it was reported that the two women had “buried old differences and together, passed on the baton to the new generation of economic freedom fighters and peace crusaders” – Mama Ngina has stepped back into the limelight, and into more public controversy.

Mama Ngina has absolutely no record of mingling with the hoi polloi, the madding crowd of have-nots such as Field Marshal Muthoni who have consistently threatened to invade the pitch of the sanitized politics of “law and order”, as they did in 1952. Having been born into a traditional chiefly family (her father was Chief Muhoho wa Gatheca), Mama Ngina married the country’s founding president and together they proceeded to amass huge family fortunes and establish a commercial empire. Some view this union as having been Jomo’s “lunch” card to African respectability, Gikuyu elderhood. In a sense, there was no Jomo without Ngina, who hailed from a kind of African “royal ancestry” that is oblivious to the struggles of ordinary people.

These people solicited her help in 1966 when they wrote to Mama Ngina, begging her to take up their case with the president. Wanjiku Wariku, writing on behalf of the Women War Council, a veterans’ group, expressed their shock. For it seemed to them that Mama Ngina had forgotten the women who had played a crucial role in producing and bringing food to forest fighters at the height of the struggle. They told Ngina they had been writing to Kenyatta for years, without success. Now they were appealing to her in the hope that she would pass their petition to the president. Their entreaty is even more forceful in its original Gikuyu rendering: “Twĩna kĩmako kĩingi nĩ tondũ tuonaga tawariganĩirwo nĩ atumia a karaĩ na gĩciko,” translated as, “We are stupefied by the fact that it seems to us that you forgot all about the women of the cooking pot and spoon.”

There is no archival record of Mama Ngina having responded to the women of Karaĩ na Gĩciko, or Pots and Spoons, as they called themselves. We may surmise that no help was forthcoming. Had she met the likes of Field Marshal Muthoni before 2022? Most probably not. Why now?

It is not clear from the press coverage whether the journalists concocted these claims, or whether they reported what Mama Ngina had told them.

We need to go back in time in order to understand the background to this event. As an ageing Jomo drew close to the end (he died in 1978), many of the people around him, including Mama Ngina, grew increasingly apprehensive and fearful of what would happen after his death. Mama Ngina’s fears were personal, not political.

According to letters between members of the British diplomatic corps in the mid-1970s, “stories about Mama Ngina” were “interesting” (wrote a diplomat at the British High Commission, Christopher Hart, in a 23rd January 1975 confidential letter to Messrs. B.T. Holmes and Mr. Wallis). There was mention of Kenya’s endangered and dwindling elephants, the ivory trade, and the occasional mention of the word corruption. The letter mentioned reports from other sources suggesting that Kenyatta realized that when he died, Mama Ngina would “have to flee the country” and others would have to “provide for her future”. According to Hart, Kenyatta had no illusions “about popular feelings toward his family” and realized “there will be many out to get Mama Ngina as soon as his protection” was removed. Mama Ngina was justifiably afraid of Jomo’s demise.

This partly explains why the Kenyatta family remained in relative silence and obscurity until Uhuru, one of two sons Jomo had with Ngina, was plucked by Moi out of relative obscurity in the mid-1990s. It came as a surprise to many people when he was put on the KANU presidential ticket in 2002. The Kenyattas had spent more than 20 years in the political shadows, and in Gikuyu internal ethnic politics, and did not openly seek to court public support until it became clear Uhuru had a chance of gunning for State House after President Mwai Kibaki in 2013.

Even then, Kamwana, as Uhuru was popularly known, was unconvinced. He admits to having listened to mademoni (demons of self-doubt concerning the bid, and naysayers of it). What we have seen since Uhuru overcame mademoni is the re-ascendance of the Kenyatta name and family in national politics. With the looming end of ten years of Uhuru’s presidency, what is now at stake is this ascendancy and newfound credence. Their political relevance. And, most importantly, once again, the protection of their inestimable wealth and vast commercial empire. But this time around, Mama Ngina isn’t afraid. She is confident of her role in securing the double Kenyatta legacy. She has come out and spoken, finally.

In a sense, there was no Jomo without Ngina, who hailed from a kind of African “royal ancestry” that is oblivious to the struggles of ordinary people.

What we now see, therefore, are emboldened attempts since 2013 to use the combined memory of Mau Mau and Jomo to this end—the political relevance and protection of Kenya’s royal family. Gone are the days when Uhuru Kenyatta shied away from bringing up the memory of his dad, saying that people should let him rest in peace. Here is a chance to redeem the memory of the man who publicly fell out with the KLFA.  A chance to re-make and re-write the history of this blatant betrayal of freedom fighters, maladministration, brazen greed, self-aggrandizement and corruption of the two Kenyattas, elder and younger.

Unfortunately, and this should come as no surprise to the Kenyattas, this is how the supposed “reconciliation” between Mama Ngina and Field Marshal Muthoni will be seen: as a desperate and long-belated attempt to conflate the memory of the KLFA with that of the Kenyattas. Maybe there were worthy intentions behind the attempt to reconcile different generations of historical players. But this event was more than a little disturbing and shocking; it was sad, and ill-advised.

Our University of Nairobi historian colleague, Margaret Gachihi, who has researched the role women played in Mau Mau, has a different perspective:

In my view, and you can quote me on this, Marshal Muthoni’s physical and symbolic shaving of her dreadlocks marks the end of an era in the history of the Mau Mau liberation war. Not many took note of her words that at 92 years she felt the end was nigh. She’s closing a very special and important period of our nationalist history. In her shaving she shed her burden to the next generation, indeed threw the gauntlet to those who honour and uphold the legacy of what the war represented. What’s sad, and ironical, is that recognition of our gallant freedom fighters has been left to the very last of their days.

As the elections near, we will no doubt see more of this kind of crude cultural mash-up for political ends. Meanwhile, Mama Ngina, daughter of a loyalist chief, has been born again as a Mau Mau. Or has she? The last word goes to Paul Thuku. He sang an old Mau Mau song to Hughes, which referred to black chiefs: “These people wearing crowns are the ones who sold off our land.”

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By

Dr Lotte Hughes is an historian of Kenya and empire, and a journalist, who has written extensively about Kenya. Her publications include Moving the Maasai: A Colonial Misadventure (2006). Dr Nicholas Githuku is a scholar and writer based in New York, and the author of Mau Mau Crucible of War: Statehood, national identity, and the politics of postcolonial Kenya (2016).

Politics

Asylum Pact: Rwanda Must Do Some Political Housecleaning

Rwandans are welcoming, but the government’s priority must be to solve the internal political problems which produce refugees.

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Asylum Pact: Rwanda Must Do Some Political Housecleaning
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The governments of the United Kingdom and Rwanda have signed an agreement to move asylum seekers from the UK to Rwanda for processing. This partnership has been heavily criticized and has been referred to as unethical and inhumane. It has also been opposed by the United Nations Refugee Agency on the grounds that it is contrary to the spirit of the Refugee Convention.

Here in Rwanda, we heard the news of the partnership on the day it was signed. The subject has never been debated in the Rwandan parliament and neither had it been canvassed in the local media prior to the announcement.

According to the government’s official press release, the partnership reflects Rwanda’s commitment to protect vulnerable people around the world. It is argued that by relocating migrants to Rwanda, their dignity and rights will be respected and they will be provided with a range of opportunities, including for personal development and employment, in a country that has consistently been ranked among the safest in the world.

A considerable number of Rwandans have been refugees and therefore understand the struggle that comes with being an asylum seeker and what it means to receive help from host countries to rebuild lives. Therefore, most Rwandans are sensitive to the plight of those forced to leave their home countries and would be more than willing to make them feel welcome. However, the decision to relocate the migrants to Rwanda raises a number of questions.

The government argues that relocating migrants to Rwanda will address the inequalities in opportunity that push economic migrants to leave their homes. It is not clear how this will work considering that Rwanda is already the most unequal country in the East African region. And while it is indeed seen as among the safest countries in the world, it was however ranked among the bottom five globally in the recently released 2022 World Happiness Index. How would migrants, who may have suffered psychological trauma fare in such an environment, and in a country that is still rebuilding itself?

A considerable number of Rwandans have been refugees and therefore understand the struggle that comes with being an asylum seeker and what it means to receive help from host countries to rebuild lives.

What opportunities can Rwanda provide to the migrants? Between 2018—the year the index was first published—and 2020, Rwanda’s ranking on the Human Capital Index (HCI) has been consistently low. Published by the World Bank, HCI measures which countries are best at mobilising the economic and professional potential of their citizens. Rwanda’s score is lower than the average for sub-Saharan Africa and it is partly due to this that the government had found it difficult to attract private investment that would create significant levels of employment prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Unemployment, particularly among the youth, has since worsened.

Despite the accolades Rwanda has received internationally for its development record, Rwanda’s economy has never been driven by a dynamic private or trade sector; it has been driven by aid. The country’s debt reached 73 per cent of GDP in 2021 while its economy has not developed the key areas needed to achieve and secure genuine social and economic transformation for its entire population. In addition to human capital development, these include social capital development, especially mutual trust among citizens considering the country’s unfortunate historical past, establishing good relations with neighbouring states, respect for human rights, and guaranteeing the accountability of public officials.

Rwanda aspires to become an upper middle-income country by 2035 and a high-income country by 2050. In 2000, the country launched a development plan that aimed to transform it into a middle-income country by 2020 on the back on a knowledge economy. That development plan, which has received financial support from various development partners including the UK which contributed over £1 billion, did not deliver the anticipated outcomes. Today the country remains stuck in the category of low-income states. Its structural constraints as a small land-locked country with few natural resources are often cited as an obstacle to development. However, this is exacerbated by current governance in Rwanda, which limits the political space, lacks separation of powers, impedes freedom of expression and represses government critics, making it even harder for Rwanda to reach the desired developmental goals.

Rwanda’s structural constraints as a small land-locked country with no natural resources are often viewed as an obstacle to achieving the anticipated development.

As a result of the foregoing, Rwanda has been producing its own share of refugees, who have sought political and economic asylum in other countries. The UK alone took in 250 Rwandese last year. There are others around the world, the majority of whom have found refuge in different countries in Africa, including countries neighbouring Rwanda. The presence of these refugees has been a source of tension in the region with Kigali accusing neighbouring states of supporting those who want to overthrow the government by force. Some Rwandans have indeed taken up armed struggle, a situation that, if not resolved, threatens long-term security in Rwanda and the Great Lakes region. In fact, the UK government’s advice on travel to Rwanda has consistently warned of the unstable security situation near the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Burundi.

While Rwanda’s intention to help address the global imbalance of opportunity that fuels illegal immigration is laudable, I would recommend that charity start at home. As host of the 26th Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting scheduled for June 2022, and Commonwealth Chair-in-Office for the next two years, the government should seize the opportunity to implement the core values and principles of the Commonwealth, particularly the promotion of democracy, the rule of law, freedom of expression, political and civil rights, and a vibrant civil society. This would enable Rwanda to address its internal social, economic and political challenges, creating a conducive environment for long-term economic development, and durable peace that will not only stop Rwanda from producing refugees but will also render the country ready and capable of economically and socially integrating refugees from less fortunate countries in the future.

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Politics

Beyond Borders: Why We Need a Truly Internationalist Climate Justice Movement

The elite’s ‘solution’ to the climate crisis is to turn the displaced into exploitable migrant labour. We need a truly internationalist alternative.

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Beyond Borders: Why We Need a Truly Internationalist Climate Justice Movement
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“We are not drowning, we are fighting” has become the rallying call for the Pacific Climate Warriors. From UN climate meetings to blockades of Australian coal ports, these young Indigenous defenders from twenty Pacific Island states are raising the alarm of global warming for low-lying atoll nations. Rejecting the narrative of victimisation – “you don’t need my pain or tears to know that we’re in a crisis,” as Samoan Brianna Fruean puts it – they are challenging the fossil fuel industry and colonial giants such as Australia, responsible for the world’s highest per-capita carbon emissions.

Around the world, climate disasters displace around 25.3 million people annually – one person every one to two seconds. In 2016, new displacements caused by climate disasters outnumbered new displacements as a result of persecution by a ratio of three to one. By 2050, an estimated 143 million people will be displaced in just three regions: Africa, South Asia, and Latin America. Some projections for global climate displacement are as high as one billion people.

Mapping who is most vulnerable to displacement reveals the fault lines between rich and poor, between the global North and South, and between whiteness and its Black, Indigenous and racialised others.

Globalised asymmetries of power create migration but constrict mobility. Displaced people – the least responsible for global warming – face militarised borders. While climate change is itself ignored by the political elite, climate migration is presented as a border security issue and the latest excuse for wealthy states to fortify their borders. In 2019, the Australian Defence Forces announced military patrols around Australia’s waters to intercept climate refugees.

The burgeoning terrain of “climate security” prioritises militarised borders, dovetailing perfectly into eco-apartheid. “Borders are the environment’s greatest ally; it is through them that we will save the planet,” declares the party of French far-Right politician Marine Le Pen. A US Pentagon-commissioned report on the security implications of climate change encapsulates the hostility to climate refugees: “Borders will be strengthened around the country to hold back unwanted starving immigrants from the Caribbean islands (an especially severe problem), Mexico, and South America.” The US has now launched Operation Vigilant Sentry off the Florida coast and created Homeland Security Task Force Southeast to enforce marine interdiction and deportation in the aftermath of disasters in the Caribbean.

Labour migration as climate mitigation

you broke the ocean in
half to be here.
only to meet nothing that wants you
– Nayyirah Waheed

Parallel to increasing border controls, temporary labour migration is increasingly touted as a climate adaptation strategy. As part of the ‘Nansen Initiative’, a multilateral, state-led project to address climate-induced displacement, the Australian government has put forward its temporary seasonal worker program as a key solution to building climate resilience in the Pacific region. The Australian statement to the Nansen Initiative Intergovernmental Global Consultation was, in fact, delivered not by the environment minister but by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection.

Beginning in April 2022, the new Pacific Australia Labour Mobility scheme will make it easier for Australian businesses to temporarily insource low-wage workers (what the scheme calls “low-skilled” and “unskilled” workers) from small Pacific island countries including Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Kiribati, Samoa, Tonga, and Tuvalu. Not coincidentally, many of these countries’ ecologies and economies have already been ravaged by Australian colonialism for over one hundred years.

It is not an anomaly that Australia is turning displaced climate refugees into a funnel of temporary labour migration. With growing ungovernable and irregular migration, including climate migration, temporary labour migration programs have become the worldwide template for “well-managed migration.” Elites present labour migration as a double win because high-income countries fill their labour shortage needs without providing job security or citizenship, while low-income countries alleviate structural impoverishment through migrants’ remittances.

Dangerous, low-wage jobs like farm, domestic, and service work that cannot be outsourced are now almost entirely insourced in this way. Insourcing and outsourcing represent two sides of the same neoliberal coin: deliberately deflated labour and political power. Not to be confused with free mobility, temporary labour migration represents an extreme neoliberal approach to the quartet of foreign, climate, immigration, and labour policy, all structured to expand networks of capital accumulation through the creation and disciplining of surplus populations.

The International Labour Organization recognises that temporary migrant workers face forced labour, low wages, poor working conditions, virtual absence of social protection, denial of freedom association and union rights, discrimination and xenophobia, as well as social exclusion. Under these state-sanctioned programs of indentureship, workers are legally tied to an employer and deportable. Temporary migrant workers are kept compliant through the threats of both termination and deportation, revealing the crucial connection between immigration status and precarious labour.

Through temporary labour migration programs, workers’ labour power is first captured by the border and this pliable labour is then exploited by the employer. Denying migrant workers permanent immigration status ensures a steady supply of cheapened labour. Borders are not intended to exclude all people, but to create conditions of ‘deportability’, which increases social and labour precarity. These workers are labelled as ‘foreign’ workers, furthering racist xenophobia against them, including by other workers. While migrant workers are temporary, temporary migration is becoming the permanent neoliberal, state-led model of migration.

Reparations include No Borders

“It’s immoral for the rich to talk about their future children and grandchildren when the children of the Global South are dying now.” – Asad Rehman

Discussions about building fairer and more sustainable political-economic systems have coalesced around a Green New Deal. Most public policy proposals for a Green New Deal in the US, Canada, UK and the EU articulate the need to simultaneously tackle economic inequality, social injustice, and the climate crisis by transforming our extractive and exploitative system towards a low-carbon, feminist, worker and community-controlled care-based society. While a Green New Deal necessarily understands the climate crisis and the crisis of capitalism as interconnected — and not a dichotomy of ‘the environment versus the economy’ — one of its main shortcomings is its bordered scope. As Harpreet Kaur Paul and Dalia Gebrial write: “the Green New Deal has largely been trapped in national imaginations.”

Any Green New Deal that is not internationalist runs the risk of perpetuating climate apartheid and imperialist domination in our warming world. Rich countries must redress the global and asymmetrical dimensions of climate debtunfair trade and financial agreements, military subjugation, vaccine apartheidlabour exploitation, and border securitisation.

It is impossible to think about borders outside the modern nation-state and its entanglements with empire, capitalism, race, caste, gender, sexuality, and ability. Borders are not even fixed lines demarcating territory. Bordering regimes are increasingly layered with drone surveillance, interception of migrant boats, and security controls far beyond states’ territorial limits. From Australia offshoring migrant detention around Oceania to Fortress Europe outsourcing surveillance and interdiction to the Sahel and Middle East, shifting cartographies demarcate our colonial present.

Perhaps most offensively, when colonial countries panic about ‘border crises’ they position themselves as victims. But the genocide, displacement, and movement of millions of people were unequally structured by colonialism for three centuries, with European settlers in the Americas and Oceania, the transatlantic slave trade from Africa, and imported indentured labourers from Asia. Empire, enslavement, and indentureship are the bedrock of global apartheid today, determining who can live where and under what conditions. Borders are structured to uphold this apartheid.

The freedom to stay and the freedom to move, which is to say no borders, is decolonial reparations and redistribution long due.

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Politics

The Murang’a Factor in the Upcoming Presidential Elections

The Murang’a people are really yet to decide who they are going to vote for as a president. If they have, they are keeping the secret to themselves. Are the Murang’a people prepping themselves this time to vote for one of their own? Can Jimi Wanjigi re-ignite the Murang’a/Matiba popular passion among the GEMA community and re-influence it to vote in a different direction?

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In the last quarter of 2021, I visited Murang’a County twice: In September, we were in Kandiri in Kigumo constituency. We had gone for a church fundraiser and were hosted by the Anglican Church of Kenya’s (ACK), Kahariro parish, Murang’a South diocese. A month later, I was back, this time to Ihi-gaini deep in Kangema constituency for a burial.

The church function attracted politicians: it had to; they know how to sniff such occasions and if not officially invited, they gate-crash them. Church functions, just like funerals, are perfect platforms for politicians to exhibit their presumed piousness, generosity and their closeness to the respective clergy and the bereaved family.

Well, the other reason they were there, is because they had been invited by the Church leadership. During the electioneering period, the Church is not shy to exploit the politicians’ ambitions: they “blackmail” them for money, because they can mobilise ready audiences for the competing politicians. The politicians on the other hand, are very ready to part with cash. This quid pro quo arrangement is usually an unstated agreement between the Church leadership and the politicians.

The church, which was being fund raised for, being in Kigumo constituency, the area MP Ruth Wangari Mwaniki, promptly showed up. Likewise, the area Member of the County Assembly (MCA) and of course several aspirants for the MP and MCA seats, also showed up.

Church and secular politics often sit cheek by jowl and so, on this day, local politics was the order of the day. I couldn’t have speculated on which side of the political divide Murang’a people were, until the young man Zack Kinuthia Chief Administrative Secretary (CAS) for Sports, Culture and Heritage, took to the rostrum to speak.

A local boy and an Uhuru Kenyatta loyalist, he completely avoided mentioning his name and his “development track record” in central Kenya. Kinuthia has a habit of over-extolling President Uhuru’s virtues whenever and wherever he mounts any platform. By the time he was done speaking, I quickly deduced he was angling to unseat Wangari. I wasn’t wrong; five months later in February 2022, Kinuthia resigned his CAS position to vie for Kigumo on a Party of the National Unity (PNU) ticket.

He spoke briefly, feigned some meeting that was awaiting him elsewhere and left hurriedly, but not before giving his KSh50,000 donation. Apparently, I later learnt that he had been forewarned, ahead of time, that the people were not in a mood to listen to his panegyrics on President Uhuru, Jubilee Party, or anything associated to the two. Kinuthia couldn’t dare run on President Uhuru’s Jubilee Party. His patron-boss’s party is not wanted in Murang’a.

I spent the whole day in Kandiri, talking to people, young and old, men and women and by the time I was leaving, I was certain about one thing; The Murang’a folks didn’t want anything to do with President Uhuru. What I wasn’t sure of is, where their political sympathies lay.

I returned to Murang’a the following month, in the expansive Kangema – it is still huge – even after Mathioya was hived off from the larger Kangema constituency. Funerals provide a good barometer that captures peoples’ political sentiments and even though this burial was not attended by politicians – a few senior government officials were present though; political talk was very much on the peoples’ lips.

What I gathered from the crowd was that President Uhuru had destroyed their livelihood, remember many of the Nairobi city trading, hawking, big downtown real estate and restaurants are run and owned largely by Murang’a people. The famous Nyamakima trading area of downtown Nairobi has been run by Murang’a Kikuyus.

In 2018, their goods were confiscated and declared contrabrand by the government. Many of their businesses went under, this, despite the merchants not only, whole heartedly throwing their support to President Uhuru’s controversial re-election, but contributing handsomely to the presidential kitty. They couldn’t believe what was happening to them: “We voted for him to safeguard our businesses, instead, he destroyed them. So much for supporting him.”

We voted for him to safeguard our businesses, instead, he destroyed them. So much for supporting him

Last week, I attended a Murang’a County caucus group that was meeting somewhere in Gatundu, in Kiambu County. One of the clearest messages that I got from this group is that the GEMA vote in the August 9, 2022, presidential elections is certainly anti-Uhuru Kenyatta and not necessarily pro-William Ruto.

“The Murang’a people are really yet to decide, (if they have, they are keeping the secret to themselves) on who they are going to vote for as a president. And that’s why you see Uhuru is craftily courting us with all manner of promises, seductions and prophetic messages.” Two weeks ago, President Uhuru was in Murang’a attending an African Independent Pentecostal Church of Africa (AIPCA) church function in Kandara constituency.

At the church, the president yet again threatened to “tell you what’s in my heart and what I believe and why so.” These prophecy-laced threats by the President, to the GEMA nation, in which he has been threatening to show them the sign, have become the butt of crude jokes among Kikuyus.

Corollary, President Uhuru once again has plucked Polycarp Igathe away from his corporate perch as Equity Bank’s Chief Commercial Officer back to Nairobi’s tumultuous governor seat politics. The first time the bespectacled Igathe was thrown into the deep end of the Nairobi murky politics was in 2017, as Mike Sonko’s deputy governor. After six months, he threw in the towel, lamenting that Sonko couldn’t let him even breathe.

Uhuru has a tendency of (mis)using Murang’a people

“Igathe is from Wanjerere in Kigumo, Murang’a, but grew up in Ol Kalou, Nyandarua County,” one of the Mzees told me. “He’s not interested in politics; much less know how it’s played. I’ve spent time with him and confided in me as much. Uhuru has a tendency of (mis)using Murang’a people. President Uhuru wants to use Igathe to control Nairobi. The sad thing is that Igathe doesn’t have the guts to tell Uhuru the brutal fact: I’m really not interested in all these shenanigans, leave me alone. The president is hoping, once again, to hopefully placate the Murang’a people, by pretending to front Igathe. I foresee another terrible disaster ultimately befalling both Igathe and Uhuru.”

Be that as it may, what I got away with from this caucus, after an entire day’s deliberations, is that its keeping it presidential choice close to its chest. My attempts to goad some of the men and women present were fruitless.

Murang’a people like reminding everyone that it’s only they, who have yet to produce a president from the GEMA stable, despite being the wealthiest. Kiambu has produced two presidents from the same family, Nyeri one, President Mwai Kibaki, who died on April 22. The closest Murang’a came to giving the country a president was during Ken Matiba’s time in the 1990s. “But Matiba had suffered a debilitating stroke that incapacitated him,” said one of the mzees. “It was tragic, but there was nothing we could do.”

Murang’a people like reminding everyone that it’s only they, who have yet to produce a president from the GEMA stable, despite being the wealthiest

It is interesting to note that Jimi Wanjigi, the Safina party presidential flagbearer is from Murang’a County. His family hails from Wahundura, in Mathioya constituency. Him and Mwangi wa Iria, the Murang’a County governor are the other two Murang’a prominent persons who have tossed themselves into the presidential race. Wa Iria’s bid which was announced at the beginning of 2022, seems to have stagnated, while Jimi’s seems to be gathering storm.

Are the Murang’a people prepping themselves this time to vote for one of their own? Jimi’s campaign team has crafted a two-pronged strategy that it hopes will endear Kenyans to his presidency. One, a generational, paradigm shift, especially among the youth, targeting mostly post-secondary, tertiary college and university students.

“We believe this group of voters who are basically between the ages of 18–27 years and who comprise more than 65 per cent of total registered voters are the key to turning this election,” said one of his presidential campaign team members. “It matters most how you craft the political message to capture their attention.” So, branding his key message as itwika, it is meant to orchestrate a break from past electoral behaviour that is pegged on traditional ethnic voting patterns.

The other plunk of Jimi’s campaign theme is economic emancipation, quite pointedly as it talks directly to the GEMA nation, especially the Murang’a Kikuyus, who are reputed for their business acumen and entrepreneurial skills. “What Kikuyus cherish most,” said the team member “is someone who will create an enabling business environment and leave the Kikuyus to do their thing. You know, Kikuyus live off business, if you interfere with it, that’s the end of your friendship, it doesn’t matter who you are.”

Can Jimi re-ignite the Murang’a/Matiba popular passion among the GEMA community and re-influence it to vote in a different direction? As all the presidential candidates gear-up this week on who they will eventually pick as their running mates, the GEMA community once more shifts the spotlight on itself, as the most sought-after vote basket.

Both Raila Odinga and William Ruto coalitions – Azimio la Umoja-One Kenya and Kenya Kwanza Alliance – must seek to impress and woe Mt Kenya region by appointing a running mate from one of its ranks. If not, the coalitions fear losing the vote-rich area either to each other, or perhaps to a third party. Murang’a County, may as well, become the conundrum, with which the August 9, presidential race may yet to be unravelled and decided.

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