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Bildad Kaggia: The unsung hero of Kenya's struggle for independence

 

By Shola Adenekan

 

During the days of Kenya’s struggle for
independence, Bildad Kaggia who has died aged
82 from stroke was at the fore-front of Mau-Mau
insurgency against British Colonial rule.

Like many prominent black politicians at the time,
he was of Kikuyu ethnic extract and one of the
founders  in 1946 of  the Forty Group, which a
year later metamorphosed into Kenya Land and
Freedom Army, commonly known as  Mau-Mau.

While Jomo Kenyatta provided the political face
for black political aspirations, it was Kaggia who
mobilised and organised many to continue the
arm struggle against the British after the
execution of Dedan Kimathi, the movement’s
legendary leader.

Born in 1922 to a peasant family, he stunned his
primary school teacher who had asked him what
he wanted to do in life. He replied he wanted to
become a warrior. The teacher then told him the
days of warriors going on raids to hunt wild
animals were long gone.

Not cattle and goats, he replied. Kenya, he said,
needs warriors to send white people back to
Britain.

Even though he excelled at his education, his
parents could not afford to send him to
secondary school, so he became a clerk in the
colonial service. When the Second World War
broke out, Kaggia was one of the several
thousands young Africans recruited to fight with
the Allied troops. Serving in the King’s African
Rifle, he fought in Asia and on a  military posting  
to Britain, he said he saw that Europeans were
just like Africans and wonder why they should
continue to govern in the continent.

He returned to Kenya in 1946  and was distress
to see that living conditions of most Kenyans
were worse than in the army barracks. The
British government promised reform but instead
thousands of  acres Kenyan lands were
appropriated for British farmers.

Kaggia soon  became a trade union activist,
organising campaigns for better working
conditions and wages for black workers. He
rapidly rose through the rank to the leadership
position  with the Labour Trade Union of East
Africa.

He also began his own brand of Christian
Socialism, founding the African Independent
Church
with which he hoped to Africanise
Christianity in Kenya and make it more relevant
to indigenes. Another project he started was a
Kikuyu language magazine called ‘The
Whetstone of Agikuyu.’

Angry but determined to take chase the British
out of the country, Kaggia left his  young family
in 1950, going underground to help organised
the Mau -Mau insurgency.

By 1952, the insurgency has become an open
warfare and the Imperial Government declared a
state of emergency. Kaggia was arrested, tried
and jailed alongside Kenyatta, Odinga Oginga
and three other. The men were soon to be
known as the Kapenguria Six, after the prison
they were held in.

The men regained their freedom in August 1961.
In June 1963, Kenyatta was elected Prime
Minister of self-governing Kenya. Kaggia, now an
MP, became a junior minister in the government.

Kaggia soon became disillusioned with the
endemic corruption in the new government. He
openly condemned the actions of many of his old
comrades, accusing them of fretting away the
gain of independence and of lining their own  
pockets with money meant for the poor.

He was labelled a communist and in 1964 was
hounded out of the ruling Kenya African National
Union (Kanu) along with Odinga, who was then
the country’s Vice President. The two men
formed a new leftist party, Kenya People’s Union.

Kaggia’s defection was seen as a betrayal by
Kenyatta, who Kaggia said, had tried to bribe
him with an offer of a large parcel of land in the
Rift Valley.  During the 1966 general elections,
Kenyatta, now the elder statesman, travelled
down to Kaggia constituency to campaign
against him. Kaggia lost his parliamentary and
for many years to come was taunted by
Kenyatta as a man who had fought for
independence yet have no material wealth to
show for his contributions.

In 1969, he was arrested, charged and jailed for
six months for addressing what the Kenyatta
Government called an ’illegal political rally’ in the
Rift Valley region.

Kaggia retired from active politics in 1970 and his
wife pre-deceased him in 2000. He was an
unapologetic left-wing radical for most of his life.
He also fought for the recognition of the
contributions Kenyan Asians made to the
struggle for independent

With his Father Christmas-like grey beard and
warm charm, Kaggia spent his last days in the
slum of Nairobi, among the poor he had served
devotedly as a political figure and as a freedom
fighter, a far cry from the villas of many of his
compatriots, the likes of Daniel Arap Moi and
present day politicians  who reside in exclusive
part of the capital city a few hundred metres
away.

He is survived by two sons and a daughter.

Bildad Kaggia, Kenya’s leftist politician. Born in
1922, died on March 7, 2005

 

 

Bildad Kaggia: Mau Mau Leader and Statesman

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