The Star (Kenya)
An investigation by Declassified UK has revealed that for more than 15 years, US and UK security agencies have been waging a covert war in Kenya.
ey have been arming and training a secret paramilitary team that has committed atrocities against civilians and violated Kenyan laws under the guise of fighting terrorism.
While the report does important work in documenting this, the collaboration between Kenya and the West and its brutality is hardly news. Reports of Kenyan agencies working with their Western counterparts to disappear, rendition, torture and murder local terror suspects are legion, and have appeared regularly in Kenyan and international press for decades.
However, the Declassified UK report brings to mind startling similarities between the way the global war on terror is waged and the British
effort to put down what came to be known as the Mau Mau uprising nearly 70 years ago.
e British sought to paint the rebellion as a reflection of the innate savagery and primitivity of Black Africans and to deny the fighters in the forests had any legitimate grievances or practical visions of the future.
e press was inundated with propaganda generated by the Colonial Office in London.
“All we heard was how savage Mau Mau was,” Caroline Elkins, author of the influential book on colonial atrocities during that period, British Gulag, quotes John Nottingham, then a young colonial officer, as saying. “Just completely atavistic, and somehow had to be gotten rid of, regardless of how this was done.”
According to the British, the conflict pitted the peaceful, progressive and enlightened forces of White colonialism against the dark, evil, foul and secretive filth of the degraded
Mau Mau. e name was an attempt to associate the movement with the idea of savagery. It did not originate with the fighters. In fact, they actively rejected it. In a 1953 Charter, introducing the movement, Dedan Kimathi, the leader, declared: “We reject being called [Mau Mau or] terrorists for demanding our people’s rights. [It is derogatory]. We are the Kenya Land [and] Freedom Army.”
Compare this with the descriptions of those today fighting against Western domination of Middle Eastern societies as anachronistic, long-bearded, cave-dwelling atavists defined by their brutality rather than by the aims they espouse.
ere is an entrenched resistance to the idea that those who espouse a violent overthrow of the current world order can either have legitimate reasons for doing so or espouse rational alternatives to their exploitation.
is resistance manifests in the tendency to employ simplistic, binary views of conflict and the zero-sum, with-us-or-against-us rhetoric pioneered by the George W Bush administration.
It is also evident in the idea of
“radicalisation”, which seeks to paint a resort to violence as a form of mental illness or the result of brainwashing. In the 1950s, the British efforts against the KLFA focused on the secret oathing ceremonies that the fighters used to recruit their members.
Today, the talk of “de-radicalisation” similarly denies the legitimacy of grievances. e anger many feel at Western policies and aggressions towards their countries and societies are easily dismissed and rather than focus on the oppressive policies, de-radicalisation frames the actions of the victims as the problem.
To recognise the legitimacy of grievances is not to defend the tactics of terror (though it will inevitably be portrayed as such by some).
e resort to such violence should, however, be understood within its full context, and that context includes recognition of the violence of oppression that incites it.
e brutal tactics used by the West and its allies may enjoy short-term success but this will come at the long-term expense of entrenched instability, hostility, fear and conflict.