It has only been in recent years that there has been some recognition of the role played by the Land and Freedom Army, dubbed by the British as the ‘Mau Mau’ in the achievement of political independence of Kenya. For many years, the history of the Mau Mau has been presented in the colonial narrative as a murderous and terrorist group of bestial atavism. But what was their role in the struggle for colonial freedom? How did they organise, what were their influences and how did they manage to achieve so much against such overwhelming odds? There have been numerous books written about the Mau Mau, but few have sought to give voice to those who were directly involved in the struggles of the movement.
By far the most important of these is Mau Mau from Within: Autobiography and Analysis of Kenya’s Peasant Revolt by Donald L Barnett and Karari Njama, first published by Monthly Review Press (New York) in 1968.
Mau Mau from Within is a story told by Karari Njama, a school teacher who was directly involved in the struggles for freedom from colonial rule, which was brought together by anthropologist Donald Barnett. As the late Basil Davidson put it: “Njama writes of the forest leaders’ efforts to overcome dissension, to evolve effective tactics, to keep discipline (including sexual discipline) and mete out justice … and to teach men how to survive in those merciless forests. His narrative is crowded with excitement. Those who know much of Africa and those who know little will alike find it compulsive reading. Some 10,000 Africans died fighting in those years . Here, in the harsh detail of everyday experience, are the reasons why.”
This unique book has been out of print since the 1970s. No other book published since that time has managed to capture so vividly and candidly the immense sacrifice and courage of those who fought for Kenya’s freedom. It tells a story that is essential for younger generations to reflect on in their struggles for justice and dignity today.
It is a particularly valuable supplement to the Kenya Human Rights Commission’s (KHRC) amazing and superbly executed struggle in 2011 to extract not only an apology from the British Government for the atrocities it committed on Kenya’s freedom fighters; but even compensation, paltry as it was, for these egregious wrongs. Never before, or since, has Britain accepted its liabilities to the many colonies it once ruled over. The brave senior Mau Mau veterans who travelled to London to fight for the recognition of ‘Mau Mau’ will be gratified to read this story, which is their story, told by one of their own. The Mau Mau War Memorial at the Freedom corner in Nairobi’s Uhuru Park and Mau Mau from Within are landmarks in the memorialisation project of the KHRC.
Daraja Press (https://darajapress.com) has been in touch with the estate of the late Donald Barnett and has been granted rights to publish a new edition of the book. The book will contain additional commentary from Professor Micere Mugo, Gitu wa Kahengeri (Secretary General of the Mau Mau War Veterans Association) and others that will help the modern reader understand the context of the narrative and to reflect on their relevance. Monthly Review Press have expressed an interest in collaborating in the production of a US edition, and AwaaZ intends to publish an East African edition.