I shall never surrender

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Lewis Maghanga gives us a timely reminder of how jails and other state institutions have historically been used and continue to be used to repress and break Kenyans who are struggling to change the status quo. He draws similarities between the colonial administration and the neo-colonial government, reminding us that the neo-colonial state is an appendage of global imperialism – and that the people of Kenya today still face the task of carrying on with the struggle for full independence and freedom.

Introduction:

That present-day Kenya is a hotbed of police brutality and state repression is a fact that goes without saying. Characteristic of any despotic system, Kenya, through its state apparatus, exhibits immense intolerance to any form of dissent and views contrary to its neo-colonial agenda.

A look into the history of ‘independent’ Kenya, right from 1963 when the country attained self-rule, reveals a pattern of political repression directed against those whose ideas seek to change the status quo. Throughout the years, many Kenyans have suffered arrest, torture, detention, and exile on account of their adversarial positions against the regimes that have been in place. Additionally, many others have sacrificed their lives in order to see a better Kenya – a Kenya in which freedom and liberty are enjoyed by the majority.

This reflection of ‘Kenya: A Prison Notebook’, by Maina wa Kinyatti, a book that was first published in 1996, seeks to highlight the brutal nature of the neo-colonial state, particularly in relation to those citizens who take it upon themselves to work toward genuine freedom, liberation and a better future for all. It also seeks to applaud the bravery, commitment, and determination exhibited by Kenyan revolutionaries, such as Maina wa Kinyatti, who ended up as political prisoners based on their uncompromising position even in the face of dehumanizing conditions and torture

The author states in the preface of the book that the diary is an expression of the neo-colonial brutality experienced by Kenyan prisoners. It is also a testimony to courage and fortitude.

Reflections

Constitutionalism and the rule of law are always shunted aside when dealing with political dissidents in Kenya, as well as in other parts of the world. The arrest of Maina wa Kinyatti in 1982, as highlighted in the book, began with the unlawful ransacking of his house by six armed plainclothes policemen determined to find ‘seditious publications.’ Maina writes in the book:

That agent of the state found publications on the Mau Mau ‘seditious’ says a great deal regarding the extent of the falsification of Kenya’s history by the government. Determined to relegate the status of the Mau Mau movement to that of a ‘terrorist organization, in conformity with the colonial narrative, the government of Kenya sought to destroy any meaningful material or publication regarding the Mau Mau movement. Any inquiry into the organizing done by the Mau Mau, as well as its aims and membership, was strictly prohibited and discouraged by the Kenyatta and Moi regimes.

“Why are you doing research on the Mau Mau movement? Do you know the Mau Mau issue is political and sensitive and would divide the people of Kenya? Secondly, do you know it is a crime to do any academic research in this country without the government’s permission?”

These questions asked by superintendent Rono of the Kenyan state intelligence body – the Special Branch – to Maina wa Kinyatti, highlighted the attitude of the government towards Kenya’s freedom struggle and the gallant fighters of the Mau Mau. They portrayed a government that was eager to suppress any information regarding Kenya’s genuine independence movement, and the illegitimacy of Kenya’s neo-colonial regime.

Mention is made in the book of the inhumane and degrading treatment accorded to prisoners upon admission to jail. Prisoners in Kenya, in addition to putting up with rough and dehumanizing treatment from the police and prison guards, are often made to go without food for lengthy periods of time. Blankets, if provided, are often infested with bedbugs, lice, and fleas. They are often stinking. Food, when provided, was often of the poorest quality. Maina highlights in the book:

“Breakfast is cold sugarless porridge full of sand, cockroaches, and flies. Lunch is half-cooked Ugali (maize meal) with yellow, dirty Sukuma wiki (collard greens). Supper is half-cooked cold ugali and rotten beans full of worms and stones. ”

In addition to the poor quality of food, sanitation was often non-existent in the prison, with inmates made to live under unhygienic conditions. Clearly, these conditions were meant to break the spirit of the prisoners.

In their interactions with the prison guards, the political prisoners often discovered that indeed some guards empathized with their situation. Some of them even understood the nature of the repressive system of Kenya and loathed the neo-colonial regime of President Moi and KANU. These guards, forced to be in their position solely due to the problem of unemployment and their search for a better life, stood in support of the political prisoners, albeit clandestinely. Through these progressive guards, Maina wa Kinyatti, as well as other political prisoners, were able to get access to letters and other material and pass correspondence to comrades from outside the prison.

The book points out that most of the Maximum Security Prisons in Kenya were established by the British colonialists as detention centers during the Mau Mau uprising. The methods used by the prison authorities to torture the prisoners were used by the British colonialists during the Mau Mau war of independence. That state agents still use the very same detention centers and methods used by the colonial administration shows how similar the colonial and the present neo-colonial regimes are. These prisons are up to date still meant to break the spirit, with prisoners crammed into overcrowded blocks that also host many innocent citizens whose cases forever drag on. They are many others in these prisoners who have been incarcerated for their inability to pay fines arising from simple misdemeanors. Just like in the colonial era, the justice system remains skewed in favor of the elite in this country, not to meet the needs and interests of the majority. The neocolonial regime also continues to perfect several other methods used by the British colonialist, such as dividing the population along tribal lines, entrenching colonial patterns of economics that generate more inequality, and militarising society. This present regime, far from serving the interests of the African people, simply exists to serve the interests of the former colonial masters. Its leaders are mere puppets of Western imperialism.

If our state is an appendage of global imperialism, and if our state is merely a representation of the continuation of colonial rule, it goes without saying that the people of Kenya today still face the task of carrying on with the struggle for full independence and freedom.

The author makes mention of the blueprint for national development by the KANU regime which it published as of its political manifesto and referred to as ‘African Socialism.’ Despite its proclamation as an anti-capitalist program, the manifesto led to the entrenchment of exploitation, inequality, pervasive corruption, and theft of public resources. The program was anything but socialist; it was capitalism in disguise. The author argues that just as it is impossible to have African capitalism, African biology, African physics, African chemistry, and the like, there cannot be a scientific concept based on race.

The book details towards its end that many Mwakenya cadres were broken down by the Kenya Special Branch Police. This succeeded in uprooting some of the movement’s underground cells and disorganizing its leadership. Because of the information the police had in their custody since February 1986, they were now in a better position to confront any Kenyan political dissident they arrested.

In spite of the arrest and torture that many revolutionaries have gone through, many more Kenyans continue to engage in the struggle against despotism and to fight for a brighter future for generations to come.

“I shall never surrender. I would rather die than betray my country. My country is larger than life itself.” These last words by General Kago aptly summarise the message in this book and of the continuing struggles for liberation in this country.

Lewis Maghanga is a member of the Central Committee of the Revolutionary Socialist League and Ukombozi Library.

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