Accepted Paper:

‘Going for cai at Gatũndũ, 1968-9: Storing up ethnicity for Kenya’s national future?’  


Ben Knighton (Oxford Centre for Mission Studies)

Paper long abstract:

President Kenyatta’s home at Gatũndũ was used as the venue for a secret oath-taking scheme designed to cover all Agĩkũyũ and to unite them politically during the crisis his government faced with the antagonism of the Luo. How much was this unusual exercise in independent Africa an effective mobilization of an ethnopolitical constituency for the entrenchment of a national government? Could the Agĩkũyũ either be taken for granted by this method following the divisions and government propaganda over the Mau Mau oathing or was any means to unity impossible? How politicized were the Agĩkũyũ who participated at Gatũndũ or in their locations? How did they respond to this secret, invented ritual? Are they able to talk about it openly even now or does their primary loyalty remain to their ‘community’? Did the responses of the mainstream churches nullify any advantages of the exercise?

The primary source for tackling these questions, which involve the loyalty and identity of the Agĩkũyũ with the leader universally acknowledged to have struggled longest against the colonialists, is lengthy interview material, recorded 2005-7 with a cross-section of ordinary Agĩkũyũ on the periphery and in the centre of Gĩkũyũ politics. Their memory of this haunting experience displays a range of illuminating reactions, rich in political meaning to this day.

Panel C7