Categories
College Papers Graduate Work History

Kenya and the Mau Mau – Article Reaction Essay

David Anderson’s article, “Mau Mau in the High Court and the ‘Lost’ British Empire Archive,” uses a potential lawsuit against the British government by survivors of the detention camps in Kenya to analyze the difficulty that historians face in gaining access to historical documents. He details the struggle that the prosecution went through to obtain access to documents that were removed from Kenya during the decolonization process, which ultimately raises questions about the British Empire’s supposed “civilizing mission” in the colonized world. If the British were the standard of moral and just behavior, what did they need to hide?

Not all of the documents removed from Kenya related specifically to the detention camps, but many did. These documents were removed because they might “embarrass” the British government, implying that the people in charge knew that what they were doing was outside the bounds of acceptable behavior. Anderson mentions many documents where individuals specifically raised concerns about practices in the detention camps. Anderson also points out that Governor Baring was aware of the activities going on in the prisons, so why was nothing done to stop it? The implication is that this was state-sanctioned violence rather than aberrant individual behavior. The removal of the files and their subsequently being “lost” also speak volumes about the British government’s need to hide what had happened there.

John Lonsdale’s “Mau Maus of the Mind: Making Mau Mau and Remaking Kenya,” is a very abstract and theoretical examination of what Mau Mau meant to different people. He opens his article by asking why Mau Mau as a resistance movement has come to be seen as somehow peculiarly evil or unnatural in comparison to other similar movements. He shows that the myth surrounding the reality of the movement grew because of how Mau Mau was used to justify and reinforce existing borders. For example, he looks at the political divide between conservatives and liberals and shows how conservatives used the Mau Mau movement and sporadic acts of violence to reinforce an image of white civilization at war with black savagery. The liberals, on the other hand, looked at Mau Mau as the embodiment of childishness and immaturity, and believed they could “fix” the problem by assimilating the locals into Western culture.

One of the more interesting aspects of Mau Mau that Lonsdale analyzes is the way it was perceived by locals. If it was a resistance movement, why were all Kikuyu not onboard with the ideology? Why was it seen as evil by locals as well? Lonsdale shows how, rather than being representative of Kikuyu culture, the way that Mau Mau operated undermined traditional boundaries and norms. In her article, “The Mau Mau Rebellion, Kikuyu Women, and Social Change,” Cora Ann Presley builds on this idea of Mau Mau not representing local culture by showing how people were forced to provide support or face physical abuse and possibly death. Presley is specifically analyzing the role that women played in the Mau Mau movement, to show that women were not passive actors and had an active role in the movement. She uses survivor testimony to build her argument and complicate an oversimplified narrative. She shows that some women were active and eager participants, while others were threatened into providing support.

One issue that could use more explanation is the significance of oaths in Mau Mau culture, and perhaps in British culture during the time period examined. Why were oaths so powerful? Lonsdale approaches Mau Mau oaths in a psychological and sociological way, but provides no background on the types of oaths normally taken or used in Kikuyu society. Also absent from these narratives is what the oaths were. One of Presley’s interviewees refused to speak about it. What was the text of the oath? Why is the act of taking the oath in the first place given more weight than what they were being asked or made to swear to?

Categories
College Papers Graduate Work History

The Assassination of Lumumba, by Ludo De Witte – Reaction Essay

In The Assassination of Lumumba, Ludo De Witte analyzes the events and motivations surrounding the death of Patrice Lumumba, the first democratically elected Prime Minister of the Congo after the country’s supposed decolonization by Belgium. De Witte was arguing against popular historiography and sentiment and attempted to provide readers with a more complete understanding of the circumstances that led to Lumumba’s assassination. De Witte analyzes documents he is given access to by the UN and the Belgian government, as well as a dissertation thesis written by Jacques Brassinne and Jean Kestergat in 1991, which he regards with suspicion since Brassinne collaborated with the Katangan government, which could have had a serious impact on the interviews Brassinne conducted. De Witte’s work opens up many questions about the decolonization process, including the influence of the Cold War, the usefulness of the United Nations as an institution, and the value of humanitarian ideals relative to strategic interests in the eyes of the international community.

De Witte’s argument for outside involvement in Lumumba’s assassination rests on three pillars: UN complicity, Belgian initiative, and the involvement of the CIA in an aborted assassination attempt. The influence attributed to the United States by De Witte in Lumumba’s eventual death is weak. De Witte clearly shows that the United States’ government’s obsession with the Cold War and the possibility of the Congo aligning itself with the USSR was seriously discussed and resulted in the CIA developing assassination plans. Had this plan been carried out, the United States would certainly bear responsibility. However, the assassination was called off when Belgium and the United Nations managed to arrange Lumumba’s death. Morally, the US incurred guilt through planning the action and intending to commit the action, but in the purest legal sense, intent without action is not a crime.

De Witte’s accusations against the United Nations are in some cases circumstantial. For example, he places blame on the institution as a result of the actions, or inactions, of individuals. It is very significant that Dag Hammerskjold willfully influenced events in a way that ensured the collapse of the legally elected and legitimate government that Lumumba was a part of, and validated the illegal government set up by Tshombe in Katanga. It makes one questions whether or not there was some unrealized link between Hammerskjold and the Belgian government that gave him an incentive to undermine Lumumba. Or, perhaps, Hammerskjold was merely representative of a neo-colonialist element within the United Nations that worked for goals contrary to those officially stated by the United Nations.

In his introduction, De Witte notes that many have understood his book to be primarily laying blame at the feet of the Belgian government. He attempts to deflect by saying that he thinks blame lies with more than one party and while that is certainly true, it is obvious that the primary motivation for removing Lumumba was to restore Belgium’s control of the Congo by using a weak parliament as a façade. The media was expertly manipulated to reiterate racist rhetoric that reduced Lumumba to a reactionary, animalistic figure without any clear plan other than to kill Europeans, reminiscent of anti-Mau Mau rhetoric in Kenya. The presence of Belgians at all stages of Lumumba’s detention, transfer and murder, as well as Belgian initiation and reinforcement of the secession of Katanga, and the intentional attempt to stamp out popular political sentiment clearly put the majority of the blame and responsibility at the feet of the Belgian government, regardless of later revelations by the 2002 Belgian parliamentary commission’s findings of active conspiracy by the royal court to assassinate Lumumba.

What is the actual purpose and value of the United Nations? How often has the organization actually effected positive change? Are humanitarian values and decolonial rhetoric smokescreens meant to place a positive veneer on continued Western control of other countries? Belgium’s actions in the Congo are reminiscent of the CIA and MI6 overthrow of Mossadegh in Iran after he nationalized the oil company formerly controlled by Britain. Lumumba was written off as being unique or unusual but he had the support of the people and his ideas, to truly decolonize his country, were part of a larger stream of thought in much of the world at that time. Unfortunately, the West still held a disproportionate amount of international power and, despite the public outcry and later support for the Stanleyville government primarily by Communist bloc countries, the Congo was allowed to remain under Belgian control.