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History is written by the victors of any war. But what happens when the victors forget to write down their history or omit the cog of the struggle? This is the untold story of Mathare Slum that has never been told to the world: of the role it played in anti-colonial struggle and the planning ground for the Mau Mau struggle which culminated with the fall of the British Colonial Empire in Kenya in the midnight of December 12th 1963. Mathare has also played a critical role in anti-oppression struggle against the four regimes that we’ve had since independence and continues to do so up to date. This history has not been documented and has only been done piecemeal. This has overtime eroded the rich history of Mathare and led to a distorted history of once a planning ground and a bulwark of Kenya Land and Freedom Army (KFLA). The current generation are not cognizant with the critical role Mathare played in the independence of our country.
Presently, Mathare is majorly known for all the negative reasons and its proximity to Mathari Mental Hospital has contorted its image to the outside world. My story tries to re-tell the history of Mathare from an informed insider perspective by threading the struggles from the colonial era to the present day and the role it has played in agitating for social justice.
My story brings to view the past history of this informal settlement in the heart of Nairobi, the present struggle and the promising future through community organizing.
Life Histories from the Revolution: Three militants from the Kenya Land and Freedom Army tell their stories
In the early 1970s, Donald Barnett — who worked with Karari Njama to produce Mau Mau From Within (published by Daraja Press) — also worked with three militants of the Kenya Land and Freedom Army to enable them to tell the story of their experience in fighting for freedom and against British colonialism.
These rarely acknowledged militants were Karigo Muchai, Ngugi Kabiru and Mohamed Mathu. Their stories were published in 1973 by LSM Information Center (Richmond, British Columbia, Canada) as part of a series entitled Life Histories of the Revolution, as The Hardcore: The Story of Karigo Muchai; The Man in the Middle by Ngugi Kabiro; and The Urban Guerrilla by Mohamed Mathu.
As part of its mission of Nurturing reflection, sheltering hope and inspiring audacity, Daraja Press is pleased to republish the three booklets as a single volume that will help a new generation of activists — Kenyan and international — reflect on a history that might inspire audacious struggles to continue the struggle for freedom that was the goal of the Kenya Land and Freedom Army.
Donald Barnett wrote the foreword to each of the booklets as follows:
One of our objectives in launching this series of LIFE HISTORIES FROM THE REVOLUTION is to provide a medium through which individual members of these classes-in-motion within the revolution can speak. We also believe it important that they be heard by those of us who comprise imperialism’s privileged and literate metropolitan minority. Their recounted lives throw our own into sharp relief, while at the same time they offer us fresh perspectives on the processes of repression and revolution from a unique vantage point: from below. Their life stories provide us with a window into the qualitative—as distinct from the merely statistical and quantitative—aspects of class conflict, thus enabling us to better understand and weigh the various factors at work in transforming oppressed masses into revolutionary classes. Again, their remembered life experiences can provide us with significant insights into the dialectical relationships between material and subjective conditions which shape the revolutionary situation, embrace the revolutionary transformation of individuals and classes alike, and move humanity forward toward a new international social formation.
Not all of the individuals whose life histories are included in this series are illiterate peasants or workers. Some are educated defectors from petty bourgeois classes who have joined the revolution and identified their interests with those of the oppressed masses in a very concrete way. They constitute a very important part of the revolutionary vanguard—i.e., the middle cadres who articulate the relationship between leadership and base, who carry forward the military and civilian programs in day-to-day contact with the armed militants and popular masses. The selfless dedication, integrity, comportment and skill of the middle cadres is an essential ingredient within any successful revolutionary process.
The life histories in this series have been recorded and prepared as historical documents from the revolutionary struggles of our time. The techniques and methods employed at each stage of the process, from initial contact to final editing, have therefore been chosen or fashioned with the purpose of guaranteeing the authenticity and integrity of the life history concerned. These stories, then, to the best of our ability to make them so, constitute a body of data and testimony as revealed by a few of those history-makers normally condemned to silence while others speak on their behalf.
We would like to express our thanks to Ole Gjersta, Steve Goldfield and others involved in the LSM Information Centre for making these booklets available.
Launch of the book in Nairobi!
Red salute to the organic intellectuals of Kenya for putting together their reflections in this absolutely fascinating compilation. As I read it, I want to read more and [the] more I read my appetite to “meet” our unsung heroes in this part of Africa deepens. https://t.co/wcLHssuiBT
— Issa Shivji (@IssaShivji) November 30, 2021
Pio Gama Pinto has long been the ‘unsung martyr ‘ in Kenya’s revolutionary history. It is a real mark of the consciousness of the new generation of organic intellectuals from the social justice centres that they chose to read, discuss, critique, and write about Pinto. A must read! —Dr. Willy Mutunga, Chief Justice & President of Supreme Court, Republic of Kenya, 2011-2016
I am inspired by reading your thoughts. Pio has shown you how: Constancy in your ideals.
Perseverance in your actions. Use every opportunity to further justice. Use every opportunity to subvert injustice. Speak out. Always place the Alternative before the people. Find what is already available, small or big, to further social justice. Much is already in the Constitution and laws. Enforce it. Pio created political space from blank walls and barbed wire. Finishing your book, I felt renewed. I thank you.
– Pheroze Nowrojee, Senior Counsel, author of Pio Gama Pinto, Patriot for Social Justice (2007).
This booklet on Pio Gama Pinto has been produced in the tradition of ‘looking back, in order to move forward’ to not only salvage history but also to use it as a mirror to reflect on the current political, economic and social conditions in Kenya. The essays, dubbed reflections, that appear in the booklet are a product of the efforts and dedication of young women and men under the banner of the ‘Organic Intellectuals Network’ in Kenya. We use the concept of ‘organic intellecutal’ as developed by Antonio Gramsci.
Members of the Organic Intellectual Network selected the book Pio Gama Pinto: Kenya’s Unsung Martyr 1927-1965 by Shiraz Durrani (Vita Books, 2018) as a basis for discussion for celebrating and remembering the life of Pio Gama Pinto, Kenya first Martyr, a dedicated and selfless individual in the struggle for freedom in Kenya. Pinto has not been fully appreciated and recognized for his efforts in the fight for independence and post-independence struggles that were characterized by ideological confrontation between capitalism and socialism. Each of the 14 participants in the discussions were asked to write their reflections on what they had learned, based on their daily struggles as activists, students and revolutionary community organizers in their communities. These discussions were accompanied by several activities at the beginning of 2021 to remember Pio Gama Pinto on the 56th anniversary of his assassination in 1965. These activities included reflections at his memorial grave and the production of a Pio Gama Pinto podcast.
The short book aims at retrieving and providing a genuine national direction for the struggles of Kenyans based on historical clarity devoid of any obscurity and distortion. It is our hope that these simplified reflections will introduce Pio Gama Pinto and socialism to the Kenyan people and across the world.
….to free oneself or assist in liberating others involves taking risks, being suspicious of the status quo, leaving the safety of the shore and launching out into the deep and the unknown. This is a very lonely calling too as one immerses oneself into the whole of reality with courage to confront and listen. Yet, the calling is not to be the liberator of the oppressed but to make a commitment to fight alongside them, as Paulo Freire wrote in Pedagogy of the Oppressed. — Fr Gabriel Dolan
From his work in Turkana, Kitale, Kapenguria and Mombasa, Father Gabriel reminds us that true transformative change comes from the people themselves, from the bottom up. This is a challenge that the social justice/human rights practitioners must internalize and the sooner the better. The idea of being the “voice of the voiceless” must transform to facilitating, encouraging and giving space to those who suffer the indignities of injustice, violence, poverty and repression. Indeed, one of the most significant tasks for the human rights community is to devolve away from Nairobi, in real, practical, and substantive ways.
It is not easy for a white man, with all the attendant privileges that brings, to become an integral part of the struggle for pro-poor transformative change in Kenya, and be subject to arrest, harassment, and repression. For those who read these memoirs, please circulate them to everyone you know. Translate them, read them in the mosques, churches and under trees so that Kenyans can get a sense of where we have come from, what we should avoid, and what it takes to make some gains that benefit the majority of our people. — Maina Kiai
This book is published by Zand Graphics Ltd (Kenya) in association with Daraja Press.