Last weekend, thousands and thousands of Kenyans gathered at Freedom Corner in Uhuru Park in Nairobi. Most were former members of the Kenya Land and Freedom Army — no fewer than 375 busloads of them arrived from all across the country. Uhuru Park was a sea of red from Freedom Corner up to All Saints’ Cathedral — all wearing T-shirts branded “Mau Mau Hero.”
The occasion was the unveiling of the monument commemorating the acknowledgement by the British government of torture committed during the Emergency against Mau Mau adherents — those who fought for our freedom in the armed struggle.
The monument is the third and final part of the settlement from the case brought by five claimants on behalf of the Mau Mau War Veterans Association and the Kenya Human Rights Commission against the British government by solicitors from Leigh Day and barristers from Doughty Street Chambers.
The first and second parts of the settlement being an expression of regret by the British government and monetary compensation to the over 5,000 survivors of colonial era torture.
At the heart of the monument is a sculpture, showing a female fighter bringing food from the reserves to a male fighter in the forest — her face averted in case of capture afterwards.
There are plaques in English and Kiswahili on both sides, telling the story of the Emergency, the case and the expression of regret by the British government. There is seating around the monument at the base and on the level of the sculpture, intended to afford Kenyans a place for rest and reflection in Uhuru Park.
In a (cheeky) tribute to the site of the monument, designer Davinder Lamba has noted that the level of the sculpture can also be used as a podium — in honour of the many demonstrations and protests that began at Freedom Corner during the Second Liberation as well as the many we know will continue to take place to maintain its gains.
The launch was truly moving. Even knowing that the Mau Mau had organised themselves to come, their sheer numbers were astonishing. Tears came to the eye when they began singing freedom songs in honour of themselves as well as those who’d worked on the case.
The solicitors and barristers who’d come from the United Kingdom were called to the podium, together with senior advocates Paul Muite and Gitobu Imanyara, to be declared “English Mau Mau.” The freedom fighters flowed up and through the monument, wanting to actually touch the sculpture. They took an oath to protect the sculpture as they did so.
Then there were the speeches, among them one by Mzee Gitu wa Kahengeri on behalf of the MMWVA, telling of the long walk from the unbanning of the organisation in 2003 by the government of the National Rainbow Coalition. What it means for the British to have acknowledged what they did to them. What it means to be finally be acknowledged as hero(ine)s of this country.
He reminded us all that the KLFA included Kenyans from all across the country. That those in the armed struggle linked deliberately and in spirit with those who fought for freedom through other means. The religious spiritual movements. The trade unions. The political parties.
His point was that we should continually ask ourselves whether we’ve stayed true to that vision — and how far we’ve strayed from it today.
L. Muthoni Wanyeki is Amnesty International’s regional director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes