In 2014, Belgian documentary artist Max Pinckers was invited to the Archive of Modern Conflict in London, where he came across a collection of British propaganda material relating to the 1950s “Mau Mau Emergency Crisis” in Kenya. Since then he has been working with various Mau Mau War Veterans Associations in Kenya, with a particular focus on using photography to (re-)visualize the fight for independence from their personal perspectives. This includes mass graves, former detention camp buildings, locations of former mobile gallows, cave hideouts, oral witness testimonies, portraits and demonstrations of personal experiences.
This ongoing documentary project titled Unhistories departs from the Hanslope Disclosure in which British colonial archives were destroyed, hidden and manipulated. Known as Operation Legacy in the 1950s, the British colonial administration in Kenya destroyed much of the documentation relating to the Emergency prior to their departure in 1963. Unhistories is a collaboration with Mau Mau veterans, Kenyans who survived the colonial violence, historians, artists, activists, writers, archives, universities and museumsto fill in the missing gaps of the archives.
This third part of the Unhistories series covers some of the figures who shaped the fight on both sides among Kenyans and the British, and introduces members from the Mau Mau War Veterans Association and their stories.
Field Marshal Muthoni wa Kirima
Muthoni wa Kirima (b.1930) attained the rank of Field Marshal. She entered the Aberdare Forest in 1952 and was never caught, although she still has a bullet lodged in her hand. She was nicknamed “Nina wa Thonjo” (weaver bird) by Dedan Kimathi because of her ability to weave brilliant war strategies. She was one of the last Mau Mau who laid down their arms at the flag of free Kenya at Ruringu stadium in 1963, where she met Jomo Kenyatta.
She still has the same dreadlocks she had when fighting in the forest, which she calls “the history of Kenya.” They are a symbol of her dissatisfaction with the new governments and she vows only to cut them when the deserved compensation is given to the Mau Mau veterans.
“I emerged from the forest after eleven years but was never given even an inch of land. I have nothing to show for those eleven years, not even a needle. It was only the sons of the supporters of the white men who benefited from the blood and sweat of our battered bodies.”
“I am still in the forest,” she says. She wants the “protruding bones of fallen heroes in shallow graves in Mt Kenya forests” collected and buried honorably. “The bones of my fellow freedom fighters are, like me, crying in the forests. We ventured into the forests to free the country from the grip of the white settlers. We thought that those we left behind schooling would fight for us, but things turned out differently.” The erasure of Muthoni and others like her from Kenya’s history books depresses her as she sites how unfortunate it is that “only white people” visit her inquiring about her story.
Peter Irungu Njuguna
In the whole of Central Province the British installed a villagization program for women and children. The villages were surrounded by a fence, a trench with spikes, and Home Guards in watchtowers. You’d leave early in the morning to go for forced labor, either digging roads, digging trenches; just out of spite so that you are continuously engaged.
At 5 pm you had one hour to leave the compound and search for food. One hour to go and look for food to feed your family. If you were late in coming back, you were arrested and taken to detention at the inner post, because it was alleged that you were helping the Mau Mau on the outside. When in detention you were beaten, whipped and you would sleep outside. In the morning you would be forced to carry a basin full of sand on your head for 12 hours, with your hands up, without putting it down.
— Peter Irungu Njuguna, Murang’a, 2019
This is my home, this land was our father’s and he left it to us when he died. There is a mass grave here. The ground I walk on is over people’s graves, but I found this one and I am taking care of it for the sake of tomorrow and the years to come.
This row is filled with young men, Mau Mau soldiers. They died between 1952 and 1955. They were murdered by Europeans while fighting for this soil. They are buried in deep and wide holes. In one hole there could be up to 30 people buried, based on how fast the bodies were coming in.
Here is a skull. This is an arm bone, these are leg bones, the skull, the jaw. I take care of this a lot. I take care of their bones because I don’t want to lose them. These are the people who gave us freedom. The warriors of independence have been buried here, and banana trees planted over them. Let’s preserve them here in remembrance of our freedom fighters. They don’t disturb me, they are my friends. They are my brothers.
— Geoffrey Nderitu, Tetu, Gititu, Nyeri County, 2019
Dedan Kimathi Waciuri
Widely regarded as the military and spiritual leader of the anti colonial movement, Kimathi fought against the British in the 1950s. When the colonial administration declared the state of emergency, Kimathi took to the forests close to Mount Kenya. He is credited with creating formal military structures and convening a war council along with his fellow Field Marshals. Kimathi was charged with possession of illegal firearms and sentenced to hang. He was executed on February 18, 1957 at Kamiti Maximum Prison. After his execution, his body was buried in an unmarked grave and has not been found to this day. He is now a celebrated national hero.
The spot where Dedan Kimathi was shot in the leg and arrested by Home Guard Ndirangu Mau. It is believed that the blood that soaked into the soil created an infertile patch of land where no tea has grown since. Kahigaini, Tetu, Nyeri County, Kenya, 2015.
Ian Henderson, CBE, GM & Bar, KPM (1927-2013) was a colonial police officer in Kenya. He is best known for his use of murders and brutal torture techniques against members of the Mau Mau movement, and for obsessively hunting down Dedan Kimathi. He was later deported to Bahrain where he was nicknamed “Butcher of Bahrain.
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Nairobi witnessed a new wave of protests on Tuesday, 2nd May 2023.
Kenya’s opposition wing led by Azimio la Umoja One Kenya coalition Leader Raila Odinga on Tuesday May 2nd 2023 staged a new wave of anti-government demonstrations in the country. Here is a sneak peek into how the demonstrations fared across the city of Nairobi.
Anniversary Towers on University Way which houses the IEBC offices remained under heavy security both outside and inside as policed braced for a clash with protesters.
Anti-riot police officers on horse back patrol Uhuru Highway in anticipation of the march by demonstrators.
A heavy contingent of anti-riot police deployed along Kenya International Conference Centre and Supreme Court premises ahead of the anticipated resumption of Azimio la Umoja anti-government protests.
Journalists and media practitioners from various media houses cover the anti-government protests in various streets around the Nairobi Central Business District.
The Nairobi Central Business District remained relatively calm with most residents going about their activities yesterday in spite of the concerns about the protests.
Security remained heightened along all access routes leading to Statehouse Nairobi.
Riders found it hard to access the Central Business District yesterday afternoon as anti-riots police blocked major roads and alleys leading into the city.
Earlier in the day, irate protestors burned down a minibus plying the Ngong-Nairobi route at Posta, along Ngong Road.
A private security guard mans a building entrance along Haile Selassie Avenue which was one of the earmarked routes for protests.
Nairobi: A City of Content Creators
For many youthful content creators that the Elephant interacted with, creating content is a source of income.
On a Sunday afternoon take a leisurely walk along Kenyatta Avenue, Kimathi Street, Muindi Mbingu and Koinange Streets on Sundays. Everywhere you’ll find young Kenyans with their cameras creating content of one form or the other.
Ms. Mercy Lubembe, 20 years old, explained, “Sundays are the days you will witness that Nairobi has beautiful buildings. All this makes videos and pictures look really swanky with amazing backgrounds”.
For many youthful content creators that the Elephant interacted with, creating content is a source of income. Here are some of the photos of what the streets look like on a Sunday.
Maandamano Thursdays in Photos – 30th March
In Nairobi the opposition coalition marked its third day and second week of protests by engaging the residents of Imara Daima, Kware and Mukuru Kwa Njenga. It all started peacefully before turning ugly as the day progressed.
Azimio la Umoja-One Kenya coalition leader Raila Odinga on Thursday 31 March 2023 led anti-government demonstrations across the country. In Nairobi the opposition coalition marked its third day and second week of protests by engaging the residents of Imara Daima, Kware and Mukuru Kwa Njenga. It all started peacefully before turning ugly as the day progressed.
Businesses in the Nairobi Central Business District were open for the better part of the day after security forces managed to lock out opposition protesters for the second time since the demonstrations started.
A lady tries to protect herself from teargas along Juja Road.
A tree that provides shade to Bunge la Wananchi on Jacaranda grounds was cut down by police.
Parents around the Jacaranda grounds rushed to various schools to pick up their children as news spread that opposition supporters were making their way to the area for a political rally.
Protestors barricade the Donholm underpass with stones and tires.
A protestor throws stones at the police in the Quarry area as passers-by try to get away from the scene.
Major standoff between police and protesters in the Pipeline area after a police officer was seriously wounded and a protestor shot and killed.
Some protestors walked away with police shields taken from wounded officers.
To reach their customers in Fedha Estate, delivery riders had to make tough choices after finding themselves caught between the police and stone-throwing protesters.
Kenyans coming from work are caught up in the fracas.
A police officer pleading with protestors in the Soweto area to remain calm.
Members of the press were under constant attack from both the police and the protestors as they covered the protests around the country.
A demonstrator supplying frontline protestors with stones in the Pipeline area.
Protesters cross a police roadblock on Old Donholm Road to join the opposition leaders’ motorcade.
Police provide cover for residents helping to open the road at Donholm.
A protester executing cartwheels on Jogoo Road.
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