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Bold media protected public memory, national pride by speaking truth to Empire

The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting – Milan Kundera, Czech writer (1929-2023)

Kimathi Street fired the first shot. It was doubtless the most fitting location to launch what turned out to be a nationwide blitzkrieg of speaking truth to Empire. The street is dedicated to Shujaa Field Marshall Kimathi Waciuri.

Two days before the “much-awaited” visit of King Charles III of England, the Weekly Review, published with the Sunday Nation at Kimathi Street, stated what Kenyans wanted in stark terms:

It won’t be business as usual when King Charles III lands on Tuesday to begin his first visit to a Commonwealth nation as monarch. Kenyans will demand an unconditional public apology and official acknowledgement of wrongs over and above ‘inadequate’ expressions of regret previously offered by the British government. Will he do it?”

The Nation Media Group’s flaming courage lit up the entire pantheon of Kenya’s freedom fighters resting in the Great Beyond. Yes, unconditional public apology and official acknowledgement of the British genocide, crimes against humanity and plunder in Kenya.

And with that, the media for a week spearheaded a national conversation on Kenya’s heroic struggle against colonialism that you could spend months studying at Jomo Kenyatta Memorial Library, pale UoN.

This unparalleled coverage stands as a textbook example of the media’s agenda-setting role.

Emboldened communities spoke out their pain and demands. “The royal visit: Demands for compensation,” NTV reported on October 29. Pokot elders said their people wanted Sh10 trillion for historical injustices.

The Talai demanded 35,000 acres of land taken away during British colonial rule returned to them in addition to compensation for the atrocities they suffered, Citizen TV reported.

On November 1, The Standard echoed the Weekly Review header: “Facing Empire’s dark past”. The story said, “Britain’s King Charles III was confronted by his nation’s dark colonial history on the first day of his four-day state visit, a tour rich in pomp as it is symbolic.”

At para 9, reporter Brian Otieno pulled off the gloves and unleashed a devastating bare-knuckled account that must have left Shujaa Muindi Mbingu nodding in approval from the Great Beyond:

Charles visited the stage of this brutality, the Uhuru Gardens, in his second stop. As he walked through the tunnel of martyrs, painted with names of thousands of Kenyans killed by British colonialists, the King witnessed the outcome of his nation’s reign.”

But His Majesty did not deliver an unconditional apology and public acknowledgement of Britain’s bloodbath and looting in Kenya. He stuck to Empire’s clichéd “regret.”

Whereupon the veteran newspaperman, media scholar, novelist and The Standard humourist Peter Kimani called out the King to “stop Kizungu mingi”.

He didn’t. Charles proceeded to hold a “private meeting with families of freedom fighters” – as if Kenya’s heroic liberation struggle was a private tragedy solely for individuals and their families. Alienda kuwapa pole.

Doesn’t matter. The media won. Kenya won.

Imagine if no one had spoken about British colonialism during King Charles III’s state visit. Only colour, pomp and circumstance. Vifijo na nderemo. Historical ties. Commonwealth. Planting trees. State dinner. Whatnot.

Imagine if no one had uttered a word about the rivers of blood of our people spilled on our land by the heartless defenders of Empire. Nothing about the British Gulag. Crimes against humanity. Forced labour. Rapes and mutilations. Tax without representation. Land grabs. Not a word about the rapacity of imperial plunder and dispossession that continue to haunt our people to this day, two generations after.

What then?

Our Independence, our resounding victory against the might of Empire, would be hollow. It would be pure hypocrisy to celebrate Mekatilili Wa Menza as a valiant daughter of our land. Or Muthoni Nyanjiru. Moraa Ng’iti. Why would we revere Shujaa Koitalel Arap Samoei? Why name a street in Nairobi and a university in Nyeri after Kimathi, if Empire should not be disturbed by the painful memories of our history?

Preamble to the Constitution of Kenya: “Honouring those who heroically struggled to bring freedom and justice to our land.” Their superlative sacrifices are immortalised for posterity in our Supreme Law.

But when the face of Empire is in town, we should behave ourselves, smile shyly and say only polite things? No. Hapana. Aa-aa.

Why, then, don’t we rip apart the flag of our Republic and remove the red colour? It signifies the blood that watered the tree of our liberation. Why do we keep it?

Because history is alive. We will never forget. We will always jealously guard our national pride and public memory against forgetting. We salute the Fourth Estate for speaking truth to Empire.

See you next week!

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