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Kenya and Britain enjoy cyclical relations: fight, patch up, and continue normally. They are now patching up through President Uhuru Kenyatta and Prime Minister David Cameron, who met in London recently to discuss Somalia, but the issue runs deep.
Britain used to rule Kenya, would not mind doing it again. Kenyans insist on resisting external control and hence the fight.
It all started in the 1890s at the height of Euro-imperialism with Britain, Germany, France, and Italy all competing and craving for territories in eastern Africa. Britain took Kenya. Among the African youths witnessing the colonisation effort was Kamau Muigai who metamorphosed into Jomo Kenyatta.
Warning against the “professional friends of Africa” in 1938, he became the symbol of African intellectual and political challenges to colonialism. The challenges ranged from sending petitions to London to war-like activities in the Mau Mau War, which forced Britain to leave in December 1963.
The British, particularly the imperial mandarins in universities and “think tanks”, were not amused and did not forget Jomo’s “sins”.
Jomo also symbolised two other Kenyan traits. First is exceptional ability to forgive and move on, which encourages Kenyans to ignore past quarrels with Britons.
Second, they also have pride in being independent, making their own decisions, and being defiant of Western dictates. In this self-pride, they often collide with Britain, which believes in deciding for Africans.
The British are also proud people but, in contrast, they have unsurpassed determination to conquer others. This makes them mean spirited and grim looking which actually enabled them to conquer the world, Kenyans included.
Seemingly driven by vengeance, they believe in no permanent friends or enemies. They just have permanent interests that might coincide with friendship. This allows them to switch positions depending on perceived interests and the dynamics of international power politics..
London hosted a Somalia conference whose importance was that Cameron went out of his way to ensure that Uhuru, would attend.
While officially the invitation was because Kenya is “essential” to any discussions on Somalia, it is also to mend fractured diplomatic bones.
Cameron appointed Christian Turner as high commissioner. He arrived in June 2012 and sounded like those young colonial DCs, straight from universities, warning of bad things to happen if “natives” disregarded instructions.
Behaving like the “professional friend” Jomo complained about, Turner had seemingly not studied the empire. Telling voters who not to elect appeared like “colonialists” visiting Jomo’s anti-colonial “sins” on the son, Uhuru.
Turner, Uhuru claimed, had adopted “shadowy, suspicious and rather animated involvement … in Kenya’s 2013 general election.”
The threats backfired so badly that Cameron had to rethink position. With anti-colonial emotions aroused, Kenyans defiantly elected Uhuru, and waited for Euro-reaction. Cameron’s invitation to Uhuru, using Somalia, served the purpose of patching up and reiterating “friendships” based on “respect”.
Prof Macharia teaches at USIU-Nairobi.