„The violence which governed the ordering of the colonial world, which tirelessly punctuated the destruction of the indigenous social fabric, and demolished unchecked the systems of reference of the country’s economy, lifestyles, and modes of dress, this same violence will be vindicated and appropriated when, taking history into their own hands, the colonized swarm into the forbidden cities.”
The decolonization process in Kenya, Britain’s East African settler colony, was indeed, as Frantz Fanon stated in 1961, a story of violence, starting with the forceful “transformation of Kenya from a polyglot of strangers into a coherent state” by the British in 1895 and the introduction of an economic system based on the violent acquisition of most of the land by British settlers. The formation of the nationalist movement, finally, is closely linked to the violence of the Second World War, in which Kenyans fought side by side with the British. Yet, Fanon’s “forbidden cities” have to be understood more in a metaphorical way in the case of Kenya, since the radicalisation of one part of these nationalists, which became known as “Mau Mau”, took place to a large extent in Nairobi itself. Rather, one can interpret these “cities” as an African modernity. Decolonization, however, was not only a history of anti-colonial resistance and violence, but also a discourse between a moderate and a militant part of the African population in Kenya about the shape of this modernity, which will be discussed in this essay. In order to understand the context of this discourse, the different African modernities during the process of decolonization will be examined at the beginning. Then, the discussion of the social background of the emerging Kenyan nationalist discourse and the way it was conducted in the press will lead to the comparison between two nationalist pamphlets from 1945 and 1948, respectively, representing the two competing fractions inside the nationalist movement. This essay thus focuses on the prehistory of the Mau Mau uprising. By putting two voices of the Kenyan discourse, which was less directly shaped by the Cold War than in other African countries, in the context of other African modernities, it intends to show that these voices can be seen as part of a general, double-edged quest for modernity in Africa during the process of decolonization, albeit less articulated in the ideological language of the Cold War.
To begin with, modernity, understood “as the basic characteristic and embodiment of the developmental process of modern society, […] manifests itself in all aspects of social life” and is thus an all-embracing concept of the study of societies in a post-enlightenment age. This concept is understood as split into a global multitude with overlapping similarities, but also clear local distinctions. Since the era of decolonization was a time of searching for new identities for colonized societies in Africa and Asia, it is a revealing lens to study the various anti-colonial or nationalist movements of the time. Decolonization also always has to be understood as closely linked to the Cold War, in which “modernity came in two stages: a capitalist form and a communal form, reflecting two revolutions – that of capital and productivity, and that of democratization and the social advancement of the underprivileged”, represented by the two anti-colonial superpowers which emerged from the Second World War, the US and the USSR, respectively. In Africa, these role-models were, however, mostly not addressed as such directly, since the different nationalist movements wanted to stress their independence from non-African powers and their distinct African ideologies. Indeed, the Non-Aligned Movement, which illuminated the “cultivation of an enlightened, humanist, and morally and socially reforming modernity”, was very popular among newly African governments. Socialism and Capitalism – albeit often with a rather socialist rhetoric due to the association of capitalism with colonialism – manifested themselves in very different forms in Africa, some in a non-violent way like in Ghana, but also through violence like in the civil war in Angola in the 1970s, in which the USSR, Cuba, China, the US and South Africa intervened. Many countries received financial and material aid from the West and the East, regardless of their official ideological position.
The origins of these different African modernities lie in the respective colonial background as well as the Western (and, later, Eastern) education of African elites. The Pan-African ideology, established and shaped by Africans in London, Paris or Lisbon, often studying at the metropole’s best universities, and at the five Pan-African congresses, met with different discourses of development after 1945, in which the colonial states “were redefined as the engines of social transformation directing a three-pronged process of ‘political’ progress, economic development, and educational and social advance’”, but in a different constitutional context. While the British had established a clear distinction from its colonies, the Portuguese regarded their colonies as overseas provinces of their nation, like the French did with regard to its settler colony Algeria, which led the nationalist movements in these countries no choice but to use violence to achieve their aims, similar to Kenya. The geopolitical background had thus a large influence on the different articulations of African modernity. Although some nationalist movements referred to a pre-colonial past, decolonization never simply meant “the negation of colonization – a return to what had existed before” and was therefore always some kind of adaptation of either the colonial or one of the both Cold War modernities, or a mixture of them, expressed, however, in a distinct African voice. Like the different European modernities all dealt primarily with capitalist industrialisation in the 19th century and its manifold consequences, its African equivalents were built primarily around colonialism as the primary driving force of history, which, albeit its negative influences, brought technological change African modernities were adapted to.
In Kenya, the nationalist movement, which in the late 1940s split more and more into two competing camps, was primarily occupied with the land question and the political representation of African Kenyans. Both issues had its origin in the white settlers who had started to move to Kenya in 1902 and took the largest share of the most fertile land. Until 1952, 29,000 Europeans had moved to Kenya and dominated 97,000 Asians and 5 million Africans, who failed to gain any meaningful form of political representation. After 1945, the settlers opposed “enhanced political representation for Africans, pushed themselves into key roles in the management of the colonial economy, and tightened their grip over local and municipal government.” At that time, one-eighth of the Kikuyu population, the largest tribe in Kenya, living mostly in the Central Highlands, worked as tenants, so-called “squatters”, on the European farms. The land question even increased due to a population growth. These tensions led to a split within the African communities, which in 1950 can be divided in three political blocks: conservative chiefs, basically interested in the small benefits they gained from the British rule, moderate nationalists, which were westernized in attitudes, and militant nationalists, who won support among the Kikuyu evicted from European farms as well as urban workers and unemployed, most importantly in Nairobi, which became the centre of militant politics closely connected to its radical trade union movement. The latter “were the people who would take a lead in the Mau Mau movement.” The cleavages in the Kikuyu society, however, do not simply reflect the division “between wealthy and poor”, but also other splits between religions or the degree of influence in the British administration.
These political and economic impacts of colonialism “hit the Kikuyu with greater force and effect than any other of Kenya’s peoples, setting off new processes of differentiation and class formation”, which made them also the most active in the nationalist movement, which always vacillated between the Kikuyu and the Kenyan nation. Both nationalist fractions, however, arose from the Kenya African Union (KAU), a successor of the Kikuyu Central Association (KCA), which had started to operate in the 1920s. The KAU was founded in 1944 and constituted the first attempt of a “pan ethnic ‘national’ political organization”, committed to “moderate constitutional politics which accepted the premises of the colonial state’s version of modernization and nation-building.” Their failure to achieve any reforms, however, resulted in increased popularity of the radical fraction of the nationalist movement. After Kenyatta became head of the movement in 1947, it found it more and more “difficult to control their mass following.” Kenyatta and his supporters, although opposing the conservative chiefs, did not follow the radicalisation of the militants who used the notorious practice of oathing to achieve unity among their clientele which led to the formation of two opposing factions in the nationalist camp.
This competition was part of a broader discourse at the time “over the meaning of Kikuyu-ness, the nature of the community, the value of tradition, the involvement in new forms of production and exchange, and the degree of acceptance of and assimilation to European culture.” This discourse was shaped by the new socio-economic conditions in Kenya after 1945, since only now “large numbers of non-Europeans could afford to buy newspapers which reflected their own concerns more than those of settlers and European officials.” Even before 1945, however, the KCA had published a Kikuyu-language journal, Muigwithania (“The Reconciler”), edited by Kenyatta.  It was an outlet for the new Christian African elites and one of the first anti-colonial publications in Africa. The KAU, contrarily, published its journal, Sauti Ya Mwafrika (“The African Voice”) in Swahili. After the oathing began to reach mass bases, the inner-Kikuyu struggle took place increasingly in print, mainly in Henry Muoria’s weekly journal Mumenyereri with 10.000 copies. This increase in African publications was part of a general “efflorescence of African literature, artistic and political, all over the continent” resulting from an awakening of African elites and was crucial for the process of decolonization. In Kenya, this new African public, especially in the vernacular press, was seen as a “menace to the future of the Colony” by the administration, which soon started attempts to censor these papers.
All these developments, however, required “a deliberate investment by creative, innovative individuals” in order to flourish. Henry Muoria was one of them, representing the moderate fraction in the nationalist movement which he joined in 1938 by entering the KCA. Since he did not know “’whether he was a socialist or a conservative’, he later ‘decided to express the ideas of the KAU’” and published several of Kenyatta’s speeches. Contrary to Fanon’s insist on violence as the means of getting rid of the European rule, Muoria followed Kenyatta in his attempt to achieve independence through non-violent pan-Kenyan unity. In January 1945, he published the first ever political pamphlet in Kikuyu, Tungika Atia Iiya Witu? (“What Can We Do for Our Own Sake?”). It was sold at the Church Missionary Society and was a great success, encouraging Muoria to continue political writing. In this pamphlet, he describes a vision of a future Kenya in which the African population catches up to the settlers, who, as he writes, “came to stay, and they are staying.” Instead of criticizing the economic and political structures of the colonial rule which, as we have seen, caused the split in the Kikuyu society and the radicalisation of the militants, he blames the “attitudes” of “us Africans” for their situation and states that poverty is only caused by laziness. While the British are described as clearly progressive and as a role-model, the Africans are “midway between the old ways and the modern ways”, thus in the midst of a modernization process which can only be successful if the current generation changes its attitudes to life and work and takes care of the education of their children. The personal wrongdoings are thereby closely linked to the wellbeing of the nation. The same way he predicts the settler to be part of future Kenya, also their economic structure, wage labour, will remain to dominate Kenya in his view. His solution to the British domination and the situation especially the Kikuyu were living in was not the expulsion of the settlers or the nationalisation of foreign companies, but to establish a severe African competition to them. Therefore, hatred of the British, “who brought us so many good and useful things which enhance our lives” is only obstructive for his prescribed path of development and also simply useless since “we are not so strong as the white people”. Apart from hard work and education, unity among Africans (he uses both the terms “Africans” and “Kikuyu” to refer to his readers, which shows again the ambivalent and difficult relationship between the two nations) is crucial for achieving his goals. This unity is described as basis for concrete common achievements. For instance, people should come together and “subscribe money for a large-scale farming project such as buying new land or hiring a farm or buying ploughs which could be pulled by oxen or tractors in order to farm a large area.” Although these technological advancements only play a minor role in the pamphlet, tractors as well as movies and hospitals form part of the modernity Muoria describes. Also, Christian religion, i.e. also a British import, in his view forms the basis for all other knowledge, while “established customs used to be an obstacle that prevented the people from doing anything new in many aspects of life in the past.” The British rule, to sum up, should be used as a benefit on the road to full “enlightenment”. Since there “is no African education”, it can only be the British who can help the Africans in their modernization process. Interestingly, the revenue of his writing enabled him to be the first Kenyan owning a printing press and a car, two of the most significant symbols of modernity.
A quite different picture is drawn in Gakaara wa Wanjau’s Mageria no mo Mahota (“The Spirit of Manhood and Perseverance for Africans”) from 1948, originally published in Kiswahili and translated into Kikuyu in 1952. After being expelled from an elite Christian school in Kenya for participating in a student strike, he joined the army in 1940 and fought in North and East Africa, where he “learned much […] about the hunger and yearning for freedom of colonized peoples.” After the war, he became part of “African Book Writers Ltd”, the first firm of both African and Kenyan writers, and, shaped by his wartime experiences, became a political writer. In the pamphlet’s 1952 preface, written in the immediate prelude of the Emergency and after he became acquainted with the Mau Mau radicals in Nairobi – he even took the Mau Mau oath, renounced Christianity and his Christian name –, Gakaara intends to create a counter-narrative, or counter-truth, to the “white man’s strategy of lies.” Unlike Muoria, he calls for the “restitution of our land” and requests “each and every one of us to become actively involved in the struggle” to end “our slavery” and “grave impoverishment”, in which national independence is only one, but an insufficient step. He shows no patience with those Kikuyu (Gakaara refers more often specifically to the Kikuyu, which shows his affiliation to the militants) who refuse to acknowledge this “truth”. The pamphlet itself, written only three years after Muoria’s praise of the British and in the immediate aftermath and as an answer to the violent expulsion of a large amount of Kikuyu squatters in 1948, is nonetheless radical. In the form of rhetorical questions, the reader is shown how the British created lies about “us” in order to strengthen their rule. By refusing these lies, Gakaara intends to create pride and patriotism in the reader. The analysis of the relationship between the British and the Africans is based clearly on class-lines: “We only need to realize that the logic operating in our relationship with the white man is the logic between a poor man and a rich.” Yet, it is not only the British, but all “alien races” that have “established dominance over him in his whole land”, which can be seen as a precursor of the exclusion of the Asian community after independence. Both these “alien races” make huge profits of the hard labour of the “black man”, an analysis which one could read as a popular or un-dogmatic form of Afro-Marxism, which in its different forms also intended to break the rule of foreign capital. Not only the financial exploitation of the Africans, however, is a means of the British rule, but also its colonial modernity, also referred to as “colonial contradiction”:
The African finds himself in the sad situation where the carrot of modern attainments is cunningly dangled in front of him while he is insidiously denied the means and wherewithal of ever achieving the good things of modern living. He must needs [sic!] engage in hard struggle to obtain even a small portion of the good things.
The exploitative labour and the false promises, however, do not only increase the wealth of the oppressors, but they also distract the exploited from realizing and reflecting their own situation. What makes this oppression even worse is the humiliating way in which the British treat the “black man” as children. The solution he presents, finally, is highly symbolic: his ability to print and the readers’ ability to read are to reveal the “white man’s secret”, which in turn shall lead to an engagement of the readers in their own struggle, which, like in Muoria’s pamphlet, has to be fought in unity. Gakaara presents an ambivalent picture of modernity: on the one hand, he describes the slums many Africans were living in as a consequence of the “advent of the white aliens”. On the other hand, he states that “the African has accepted as his own the material and cultural aspiration of modern life” and thus shows, that colonial modernity became part of an African modernity imagined in the text, which he describes at the end more clearly: the independent future will bring modern buildings and modern means of transport, “the latter serving our need to fly out our children to great schools in foreign lands. It will then dawn on the white man that he is no better than ourselves.” The struggle he propagates is, in contrast to Muoria, a militant one, albeit in a non-violent rhetoric (“We do not want to resort to violent struggle”): the white man should be sent home to his own country and unpatriotic Africans “were better dead”. This rhetoric was probably part of the reason why he was arrested for the pamphlet in October 1952. The war, finally, following the increased tensions between the administration and the militant nationalists as well as inside the Kikuyu society is “most usefully conceptualised as a helix, with the strands of anti-colonial and civil war violence intertwined” and was thus the violent manifestation of the prewar discourse and cleavages.
After the war and the subsequent negotiation for independence, “the time of forgetting soon set in”, both about the British war crimes and the prewar discourse about different ways to achieve independence and thereby different modernities. Kenyatta, during his inauguration as first president of independent Kenya, made clear that he and his moderate nationalists wanted to get rid of the association with the militants: “Some of them [the British] have misunderstood us and it’s only by our actions that they will know we mean business.” Here we find again Gakaara’s insistence on a new, counter-truth, which in fact also characterizes Muoria’s later pamphlets, which develop a more critical stance in general terms. Truth, or the predominance in the discourse about African nationhood and modernity, is thus a general theme characterizing all paths taken towards modernity in the era of decolonization. This explains the importance of education in both fractions of the nationalist camp: it not only helps the country in an economic way to develop and modernize itself, it also enables Africans to oppose the British narration of African backwardness, which stands in the way of an own, African modernity. The manifestation of this modernity, in its general duality (as apparent in the two fractions of the nationalists), depended heavily on the geopolitical situation. If it were not for the British decision to refuse independence for such a long time and to fight the Mau Mau militarily, the Mau Mau or militant modernity would have likely been the dominant one or at least part of a post-colonial discourse. Instead, the new political culture, in which the vocabulary of class struggle was excoriated, excluded the voices of large parts of the landless, many of whom had supported the Mau Mau, while the white settlers were not expelled forcefully, but were given a “choice between selling up at attractive prices or remaining on the land.” The Western-oriented, capitalist and moderate nationalist modernity had thus gained the upper hand in a discourse which had started in the interwar-period, underwent a split after 1945 and was finally reduced to one dominant strand in the course of the war.
Fanon, Frantz: The Wretched of the Earth (New York: Grove Press, 2004).
Gakaara Wa Wanjau: Mageria no mo Mahota (“The Spirit of Manhood and Perseverance for Africans”), in ibid.: Mau Mau Author in Detention. An Author’s Detention Diary (Nairobi: English Press Limited, 1988), pp. 227-243.
Kenyatta, Jomo: Speech held in Nairobi on 27.05.1963. URL Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W4rxnT_X0M4.
Muoria, Henry: Gakaara wa Wanjau’s Mageria no mo Mahota (“The Spirit of Manhood and Perseverance for Africans”), in ibid.: I, the Gikuyu and the White Fury (Nairobi: East African Educational Publishers, 1994), pp. 85-123.
Anderson, David: Histories of the Hanged. Britain’s Dirty War in Kenya and the End of Empire (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2005).
Barber, K.: I.B. Akinyele and early Yoruba print culture in Peterson, D. and Macola, G. (Eds): Recasting the Past: History writing and political work in modern Africa (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2009).
Berman, Bruce J.: Nationalism, Ethnicity, and Modernity: The Paradox of Mau Mau, Canadian Journal of African Studies, 25 (1991), pp. 181-206.
Branch, Daniel: Defeating Mau Mau, Creating Kenya. Counterinsurgency, Civil War, and Decolonization (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009).
Eckert, Andreas: Panafrikanimus, afrikanische Intellektuelle und Europa im 19. Und 20. Jahrhundert, Journal of Modern European History, 4 (2006), pp. 224-240.
Eisenstadt, S. N.: Multiple Modernities, Daedalus, 129/1 (2000).
Frederiksen, Bodil Folke: Print, Newspapers and Audiences in Colonial Kenya. African and Indian improvement, protest and connections, Africa, 81 (2011), pp. 155-172.
Lonsdale, John; Odhiambo, E.S. Atieno: Introduction, in Odhiambo, E.S. Atieno; Lonsdale, John (Eds): Mau Mau & Nationhood. Arms, Authority & Narration (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2003).
Lonsdale, John: Henry Muoria, Public Moralist, in Muoria-Sal, Wangari; Frederiksen, Bodil Folke; Lonsdale, John; Peterson, Derek: Writing for Kenya. The Life and Works of Henry Muoria (Leiden: Brill, 2009).
Nugent, Paul: Africa Since Independence. A Comparative History (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004).
Ochieng, W. R.; Atieno-Odhiambo, E. S.: Prologue. On Decolonization, in Ogot, B. A.; Ochieng, W. R.: Decolonization & Independence in Kenya. 1940-93 (London: James Currey, 1995).
Ogot, Bethwell A.: Mau Mau & Nationhood. The Untold Story, in Odhiambo, E.S. Atieno; Lonsdale, John (Eds): Mau Mau & Nationhood. Arms, Authority & Narration (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2003).
Pugliese, Cristiana: Complementary or Contending Nationhood? Kikuyu Pamphlets & Songs 1945-52, in Odhiambo, E.S. Atieno; Lonsdale, John (Eds): Mau Mau & Nationhood. Arms, Authority & Narration (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2003).
Westad, Odd Arne: The Global Cold War. Third World Interventions and the Making of Our Times (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005).
White, Evan: Kwame Nkrumah: Cold War Modernity, Pan-African Ideology and the Geopolitics of Development, Geopolitics, 8 (2003), pp. 99-124.
Ziyi, Feng: A contemporary interpretation of Marx’s thoughts on modernity, Frontiers of Philosophy in China, 1 (2006), pp. 254-268.
 Fanon, Frantz: The Wretched of the Earth (New York: Grove Press, 2004), pp. 5-6.
 Ochieng, W.R.; Atieno-Odhiambo, E.S.: Prologue. On Decolonization, in Ogot, B.A.; Ochieng, W.R.: Decolonization & Independence in Kenya. 1940-93 (London: James Currey, 1995), p. xii.
 Ziyi, Feng: A contemporary interpretation of Marx’s thoughts on modernity, Frontiers of Philosophy in China, 1 (2006), pp. 254-268, here p. 255.
 Eisenstadt, S.N.: Multiple Modernities, Daedalus, 129/1 (2000), pp. 1-29.
 Westad, Odd Arne: The Global Cold War. Third World Interventions and the Making of Our Times (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), p. 40.
 Nugent, Paul: Africa Since Independence. A Comparative History (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004), p. 139.
 White, Evan: Kwame Nkrumah: Cold War Modernity, Pan-African Ideology and the Geopolitics of Development, Geopolitics, 8 (2003), pp. 99-124, here pp. 111-112.
 Nugent: Africa, p. 139.
 Eckert, Andreas: Panafrikanimus, afrikanische Intellektuelle und Europa im 19. Und 20. Jahrhundert, Journal of Modern European History, 4 (2006), pp. 224-240, here p. 226-227.
 Berman, Bruce J.: Nationalism, Ethnicity, and Modernity: The Paradox of Mau Mau, Canadian Journal of African Studies, 25 (1991), pp. 181-206, here pp. 188-189.
 Nugent: Africa, p. 8.
 Anderson, David: Histories of the Hanged. Britain’s Dirty War in Kenya and the End of Empire (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2005), p. 3, 9.
 Ibid., p. 23.
 Ibid., p. 13.
 Branch, Daniel: Defeating Mau Mau, Creating Kenya. Counterinsurgency, Civil War, and Decolonization (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), p. 13.
 Berman: Nationalism, p. 196.
 Ogot, Bethwell A.: Mau Mau & Nationhood. The Untold Story, in Odhiambo, E.S. Atieno; Lonsdale, John (Eds): Mau Mau & Nationhood. Arms, Authority & Narration (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2003), p. 11.
 Pugliese, Cristiana: Complementary or Contending Nationhood? Kikuyu Pamphlets & Songs 1945-52, in Odhiambo: Mau Mau & Nationhood, p. 97.
 Berman: Nationalism, p. 198.
 Nugent: Africa, p. 35.
 Berman: Nationalism, pp. 200-201.
 Ibid., p. 197.
 Frederiksen, Bodil Folke: Print, Newspapers and Audiences in Colonial Kenya. African and Indian improvement, protest and connections, Africa, 81 (2011), pp. 155-172, here p. 158.
 Berman: Nationalism, p. 197
 Frederiksen: Colonial Kenya, pp. 156-158.
 Ibid., p. 161.
 Lonsdale, John: Henry Muoria, Public Moralist, in Muoria-Sal, Wangari; Frederiksen, Bodil Folke; Lonsdale, John; Peterson, Derek: Writing for Kenya. The Life and Works of Henry Muoria (Leiden: Brill, 2009), p. 25.
 Frederiksen: Colonial Kenya, p. 155.
 Barber, K.: I.B. Akinyele and early Yoruba print culture in Peterson, D. and Macola, G. (Eds): Recasting the Past: History writing and political work in modern Africa (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2009), p. 47.
 Pugliese: Kikuyu Pamphlets, p. 98-99.
 Ibid., pp. 98-100.
 Muoria, Henry: I, the Gikuyu and the White Fury (Nairobi: East African Educational Publishers, 1994), pp. 85-123.
 Lonsdale: Henry Muoria, p. 4.
 Ibid., p. 110.
 Pugliese: Kikuyu Pamphlets, pp. 105-107.
 Nugent: Africa, p. 10-12.
 Gakaara Wa Wanjau: Mau Mau Author in Detention. An Author’s Detention Diary (Nairobi: English Press Limited, 1988), pp. 227-243.
 Branch: Defeating Mau Mau, p. 8.
 Lonsdale, John; Odhiambo, E.S. Atieno: Introduction, in Odhiambo: Mau Mau & Nationhood, pp. 3-4.
 Lonsdale: Introduction, p. 4.
 Nugent: Africa, p. 154.