Mau Mau Memorial - Nairobi

Nairobi, Kenya

by Wangui Kimari

“The Mau Mau Memorial Monument was unveiled in 2015 at the Uhuru Park in Nairobi. It stands at what is commonly referred to as Freedom Corner, which is often a starting or ending point for protests. It memorialises the atrocities and ill treatment of Kenyans during British colonialism, and, in particular, the Mau Mau who suffered and died during the colonial state of emergency between 1952 and 1960. British troops quelled Mau Mau freedom fighters and others who struggled to end colonial rule in a highly militarised and oppressive manner.

It's good to have a space to commemorate the atrocities against Kenyan people. But the British funded this memorial and it served, in my opinion, as a public relations tool. The Mau Mau memorial was part of an out-of-court settlement in which roughly 5,000 veterans of the Mau Mau uprising were paid compensation for the atrocities and violations they faced: from torture to being detained in prison camps. 

Since the memorial did not emerge from an inclusive process and it seems to actively ignore questions about land distribution. It feels like a burial ground for the struggle against colonialism; it appears to shut the door to more discussion with the British government and, unfortunately, no one really comes here to reflect on what happened. Framing the Mau Mau as victims, as the sign at the memorial says, also perpetuates their victimhood. It doesn't emphasise their courage. 

Much earlier, in 2007, a different monument was erected in downtown Nairobi for Dedan Kimathi, a Mau Mau leader who was killed in 1957. This statue rallies people. They have chained themselves to it, enacted protests there and they commemorate him on the day of his death. The Mau Mau memorial doesn't evoke the same kind of emotions. 

Even though there is more focus on remembering the colonial history in Kenya, the discussion isn't encouraged enough in the public sphere. Partly that is likely to be because a lot of people in government and their families collaborated with the British colonialists.“

Wangui Kimari is an anthropologist from Kenya.