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Mau Mau: The Face of International Terrorism in the 1950's in the Contemporary Perspective'

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For more than 30 years until the end of the1980’s, Mau Mau in Kenya was to the Western world the terrifying face of African savagery. The British colonial authorities depicted it as an atavistic terrorist movement among a “primitive” people unable to cope with the pressures of modernity. This image of Mau Mau was vigorously propagated by the British through the Western media and was used to justify one of the first counter-insurgency campaigns against anti-colonial terrorism. Almost nothing about the official version of Mau Mau was true, however. ­­­­­­­ Some sixty years of research has revealed Mau Mau to have been an initially inchoate and later more organized response of a Kikuyu underclass of dispossessed peasants, urban workers and the unemployed. In contemporary perspective, what Mau Mau history suggests is the shared origins of the far more violent and ideologically extreme movements from Boko Haram and al Shabaab to the ISIS in the catastrophic impact of capitalist modernity on the underclass of indigenous societies. These consequences have been misunderstood, dismissed or ignored completely by all of the dominant theories of ‘development’ of the past seventy years. What we can learn from Mau Mau is what one veteran told a visiting researcher, that he joined “to get land and become an adult”.

This talk is part of the Centre of African Studies Occasional Talks series.

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