Terrorists and Freedom Fighters

Today is Jamhuri Day – Republic Day – in Kenya, the day when we celebrate Kenya’s establishment as a republic in 1964.

Yesterday I was reading the Wikipedia article about it, and it stated that the day is often associated with Dedan Kimathi. I found this very odd because I had never heard that it was associated with him, and I had only ever heard of him as a terrorist, monster, and murderer. I had never once considered him as a national hero.

But it turns out that in 2006 the Kenya government erected a bronze statue of him right across from the Hilton. I was completely unaware of this, and it strikes me as revisionist history in the worst way.

However, this morning I was thinking, as I often have before, how the distinction between freedom fighter and terrorist is entirely one of perspective. After all, Castro, Khadaffi, Mugabe were all freedom fighters, and George Washington was a notorious terrorist.

It also makes me wonder how much of my understanding of Mau Mau is based on the fact that I was myself a white person in Kenya at a time when most people still remembered Mau Mau. The Mau Mau were savage monsters who massacred indiscriminately out of unrestrained bloodlust.

And of course that is most assuredly a grossly slanted view, too, with the truth being somewhere in the middle, as it usually is. Kenyatta, one of the early leaders of the movement, was arrested in 1952 and remained in prison for the entire period of the ‘Kenya Emergency’, as it was called, but after that he became Kenya’s first president.

It used to be that history was written by the winners. In the day of Wikipedia, history is as often written by people trying to clarify old oppression. I think I should finally read Facing Mount Kenya, and whatever other first-hand accounts of Mau Mau I can find. I’d really like to know how much of my “knowledge” about Mau Mau is just the British perspective I got in school.