KENYA HISTORY PROJECT

The Kamba Resistance of 1938

Reason for Kamba Resistance

They say that you can only push people so far before they resist.

A livestock destocking plan instituted by the colonial government in 1938 led the Kamba people to mount a peaceful but highly successful rebellion that gained international attention.

As a way of curbing soil erosion due to overgrazing, the government had imposed the destocking plan with the goal of reducing the community’s livestock population from 245,000 to about 50,000.

Up to this point the Kamba had acquiesced to colonial programs imposed on them. They had agreed to be resettled in reservations and had also gone along with other colonial government soil conservation projects including trenching, terracing and planting of protective plants such as napier grass and sisal.

But when it came to cattle destocking, it was another story. Just like many other tribes, the community had a sacred connection to their cattle that had been passed from their forefathers making the drastic destocking plan a very sore topic for them.

The colonial government, underestimating the level of resistance they would receive from the local people, organized for a large meat canning factory with a capacity to process 70,000 cattle a year to be built in Athi River.

At first, things went as planned and the factory was able to process about 20,000 cattle voluntarily sold to them.

However, a quiet rebellion started stirring when the colonial government tried to negotiate new stock quotas with the community as to how many cattle were to be sold over the period of the destocking project. To the community, this represented forced destocking and they were not willing to accept the stock quotas imposed on them.

Initially the community filed formal complaints with the colonial government citing their opposition against the stock quotas but their complaints were ignored. In-fact the governor, Sir Robert Brooke Propham, at that point ordered coerced and accelerated removal of cattle. This included the notorious seizure of 2500 heads of cattle from the the Ngelani and Koma-rock region that became the breaking point.

The community needed to step up their resistance.

Formation of the Ukamba Members Association

By mid 1938, the Ukamba Members Association (UMA) led by famed freedom fighter Muindi Mbingu (Samuel Muindi) and other Kamba leaders including Elijah Kavulu, Isaac Mwalonzi, and Simon Kioko had been formed to better represent the needs of the community to the colonial government.

Through various non-violent avenues, UMA sensitized the world on the government plan that was being instituted against the will of their community. For example, the association organized a march to Nairobi by more than 2000 of their members that was followed by a sit-in that lasted for six weeks.

They also worked closely with other political organizations that took up the cause, helping the association spread their message outside the colony. As a result of these efforts, renowned British publications such as the Guardian and the Times picked up the story.

On another front, Isher Dass, a barrister of Indian descent, continued to  put pressure on the colonial government through presentations to the Kenyan Legislative Council (LEGCO).

Due to the negative publicity and political pressure,  the colonial governor under the advise of his attorney general relented to the demands of the community and completely halted the forced destocking. The government now opted for voluntary destocking.

However, the forced destocking plan had planted seeds of discontent and suspicion for the colonial government in the Kamba community leading them to completely refuse to sell their cattle even through the voluntary destocking plan.

Therefore the colonial destocking program did not take off. More importantly, the colonial government’s assumption that the Akamba would easily go along with whatever programs were imposed on them was shattered.

Most impressively, the community had organized and achieved their goal within a period of months.

Mbingu sent to Detention

In the aftermath, as a precaution against further rebellion, the colonial government sent Muindi Mbingu to indefinite detention in Lamu towards the end of 1938 that lasted for eight years. Mbingu would go on to become a national hero for his activities as a freedom fighter. Muindi Mbingu street Nairobi and Muindi Mbingu Secondary school in Ukambani are named after him.

Many people speculate that Mbingu was sent to prison for uttering the following words, leading the colonial government to think that he was part the Mau Mau movement. However, there is no evidence that the Mau Mau movement had been born at this point. They were uttered during a meeting with the colonial Governor to air the community’s grievances.

“Twenda kwikala ta maa umau maitu, tuithye ngombe to Maau ma umaitu, nundu nthi ino ni ya maa umau maitu.” (We want to live like our grandfathers, keep cattle like our grandfathers, for the land we live on is our grandfathers’)

In fact, this statement could be the source of the slogan “Mau Mau” that the colonial government coined for members of the Kenya Land and Freedom Army (KLFA)!

Mbingu was tragically murdered in 1953 by his fellow freedom fighters who suspected that he was an informant for the colonial government. But he has remained a hero to his people.

References

A History of Africa: African nationalism and the de-colonisation process By Assa Okoth. East African Educational Publishers, 2006. Google Preview

Web Article titled, Kenyan Kamba tribe successfully resists colonial livestock control by the British, 1938. Global Non Violent Action Database.

Web Article titled, Samuel Muindi Mbingu: A Profile by Martin Masai.

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