The British tortured Obama's grandfather: today, the British go abroad to preach human rights to other nations. But not too long ago, they were torturing freedom fighters all over their colonies in Africa, including President Barack Obama's Kenyan grandfather.In the October issue of New African, my article, "How The Black Struggle Is Interconnected", recounted how, in October 1945, many black politicians from Africa, the Americas and the Caribbean, met in Manchester, England, to discuss the course of the struggle to free Africa from colonial rule. I specifically highlighted the role played in the conference by the Kenyan politician, Jomo Kenyatta, and what effect the meeting with so many black activists had on him. When he returned to Kenya from Britain, he contributed immensely to the freedom movement in that country which the British derisively called the "Mau Mau" revolt.
I linked the Kenya freedom movement directly to the fact that Barack Obama's father left his country to go and study in the United States, where he met Barack's mother. I wrote:
"In a very literal sense [then] ... Obama is the product of the Black Struggle around the world. Looking at him now [I continued], it may be difficult for the ordinary person to link him to the city of Manchester and the conference held there in 1945 that was to have such a revolutionary effect on the future of Africa and significantly, on Kenya, the land that gave birth to Obama's father."
Since I wrote that article, information has come to light showing that Obama's links to the Kenyan freedom struggle are even more rock-solid than I had imagined. Both Obama's father and his grandfather were jailed by the British during Kenya's independence struggle! In an article entitled "Beatings and abuse made Barack Obama's grandfather loathe the British" and subtitled "The [American] President-elect's relatives have told how the family was a victim of the Mau Mau revolt", published on 3 December 2008, The Times [of London] revealed that Obama's grandfather was imprisoned by the British on the mere suspicion that he was giving information to the Mau Mau revolutionaries. To try and force him to disavow his protestations of innocence, they tortured him whilst he was in prison.
The amazing aspect of the affair is that Obama's grandfather was a Luo, and not a Kikuyu, the ethnic group that spearheaded the Kenyan freedom struggle. The British line has all along been that the Mau Mau freedom fighters were Kikuyu tribalists who wanted to drive away both whites and other Kenyan tribes--including the Luo--from Kikuyu lands.
To achieve their purpose, the British alleged in their propaganda that the Kikuyu resorted to atavistic "oath-swearing" ceremonies during which they swore to kill everyone who was not a Kikuyu. But The Times has unearthed evidence that shows that this was a deliberate piece of disinformation, disseminated to win the other ethnic groups to the British side and turn them into the enemies of the Kikuyu. In other words, "divide and rule!" What's new?
Barack Obama's grandfather was called Hussein Onyango Obama, and fought in Burma as a conscripted British soldier in World War II. (It will be recalled that Jomo Kenyatta himself escaped similar conscription by the skin of his teeth--he removed himself just in time from the town in which he was practising carpentry to another town, where he became a shop assistant, in the employ of an Asian businessman.)
On being discharged from the army, Onyango Obama managed to find work as a cook for a British military officer serving with the British army contingent based in Kenya. But inexplicably, he was arrested in 1949--long before the Mau Mau emergency was declared by the British in 1952.
During two years' detention in a high-security prison, he was subjected, according to his family, to horrific tortures to extract information from him about what he knew about the growing unrest in Kenya. The unrest, of course, was caused by the seizure of African lands, which were distributed to white settler farmers who were disdainfully called the kaburi by the dispossessed Africans.
Interviewed by The Times, Obama's grandmother (whom Obama calls "Granny Sarah") said: "The African warders were instructed by the white soldiers to whip my husband every morning and evening till he confessed." That they kept him in jail for two solid years indicates that he did not crack under torture. He probably did not have anything to reveal anyway, but the British didn't care.
Mrs Sarah Onyango, who is now 87, said white soldiers visited the prison every two or three days to carry out "disciplinary action" on the inmates suspected of "subversive activities".
Her husband later told her upon his release from prison that the white soldiers "would sometimes squeeze his testicles with parallel metallic rods. They also pierced his nails and buttocks with a sharp pin, with his hands and legs tied together, his head facing down."
Obama refers briefly to his grandfather's imprisonment in his best-selling memoir, Dreams from My Father, but states that his grandfather was "found innocent".
Grandpa Onyango Obama served the British Army well in Burma during World War II and, like many army veterans, his hope, on returning to Africa was that Africans, having helped the British defeat the Germans and the Japanese, would be given greater freedoms from colonial rule.
Instead, the British seized their lands. So although Grandpa Onyango was a Luo from western Kenya, he sympathised with the Kikuyu Central Association, the organisation leading an independence movement and whose secretary was Jomo Kenyatta.
"He did not like the way the British soldiers and colonialists were treating Africans, especially members of the Kikuyu Central Association," Mrs Onyango said.
But the records of Grandpa Onyango's trial and imprisonment do not survive because "all such documentation was routinely destroyed in British colonies after six years".
The British responded to the Kenyan rebellion with unimaginable brutality: at least 12,000 freedom fighters were "officially" listed as having been killed, most of them Kikuyu. But Kenyans believe that the overall death toll was more than 50,000. Yet although British propaganda claimed that the Mau Mau wanted to kill all Europeans, "in total, just 32 European settlers were killed", acknowledges The Times.
Mrs Onyango believes that her husband was denounced to the British authorities by his own white employer, who sacked him on suspicion of consorting with "troublemakers". She recalls the day of her husband's arrest. He was picked up by two soldiers, and taken to Kamiti prison, the national maximum-security prison outside Nairobi. "This was like a death camp because some detainees died [there] while being tortured," Mrs Onyango remembers. "We were not allowed to see him, not even [to bring] him food." She said her husband was told that he would be killed or maimed if he refused to reveal what he knew of the insurgency, and was beaten repeatedly until he promised "never to rejoin any groups opposed to the white man's rule".
Mrs Onyango said some of her husband's fellow inmates were beaten to death with clubs.
During Obama's first visit to Kenya in 1988, his grandmother vividly described to him the growing resentment against white colonial rule in Kenya--with rallies and mounting violence--that were to explode into full-scale rebellion in 1952. Most of this activity centred on Kikuyu land, she told him. But the Luo, too, were oppressed--they were turned into the main source of forced labour for the British.
"Men in our area began to join the Kikuyu in demonstrations ... many men were detained, some never to be seen again," she told her grandson.
At the height of the rebellion, an estimated 71,000 Kenyans were held in prison camps. The vast majority were never convicted. According to the Harvard historian, Caroline Elkins, who won a Pulitzer Prize for her expose of British atrocities during the Mau Mau uprising, there were reports of sexual violence (homosexual rapes) and mutilation using "castration pliers" inside the prison camps. "This was an instrument devised to crush the men's testicles," Elkins writes in Britain's Gulag: The Brutal End of Empire in Kenya (published in 2005). "Other detainees also described castration pliers, along with other methods of beating and mutilating men's testicles."
Several hundred letters from camp inmates survive in the Kenyan National Archives, "chronicling camp conditions, forced labour, torture, starvation and murder", according to Elkins.
One white policeman, Duncan McPherson, told Barbara Castle, the former Labour cabinet minister, that conditions in some Kenyan detention camps were "worse, far worse, than anything I experienced in my 4 1/2 years as a prisoner of the Japanese".
Grandpa Onyango, who was only 56 when he was arrested, came out of prison prematurely aged and deeply embittered. In his memoir, Obama described his grandfather's shocking physical state: "When he returned to Alego, he was very thin and dirty. He had difficulty walking, and his head was full of lice." For some time, he was too traumatised to speak about his experiences. "From that day on, I saw that he was now an old man," Mrs Onyango said.
Barack's father was also arrested, for attending a meeting in Nairobi of the Kenya African National Union (Kanu), the organisation spearheading the independence movement. Mrs Onyango told Obama that his father, unlike her husband, had been held only for a short time in the white man's prison: "Because he was not a leader in Kanu, Barack [Snr] was released after a few days."
In 1960, Barack Obama Snr travelled on a scholarship to the University of Hawaii, as part of a programme sponsored by the late American President, John F. Kennedy. Mrs Onyango said that the combative spirit shown by her husband during Kenya's bloody independence struggle had passed down through the generations to the future president. "This family lineage has all along been made up of fighters," she said. "Senator Barack Obama is fighting using his brain, like his father, while his grandfather fought physically with the white man."