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Monday, 16 August 2010

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Hussein Onyango never died (He’s being killed daily, though)

Hussein Onyango. Have you heard this name? It is the name of a Kenyan. Onyango was not his last name. We will get to that later. The man was imprisoned without trial for two years. He was tortured. All this for resisting British imperialism.

Today Churchill is hailed for being resolute in the face of fascism. He played a role, yes. Worthy of a cheer. Or two. It is certainly understandable, also, why George W. Bush, during the time he was President set up a ‘big growling bust’ of the man near his desk in the White House. He too, after all, fancied himself as a crusader of similar making, ‘making the world safe’ for what he believed was civilization.

What’s all this got to do with Onyango? Who was Oyango to Churchill? He was a victim, yes, but not the only one. A victim of British imperialism. Imperialism somehow seems too sanitized a term when it comes to talking about the horrendous crimes against humanity perpetrated by the British. Anyway, here are the relevant links: (a) Onyango was tortured during Churchill’s watch, (b) Onyango had a surname: Obama, and (c) Barack, Onyango’s grandson, returned Churchill’s bust to Britain.


A child in the Swat Valley. AFP

Churchill’s heroics and his villainy has been discussed extensively in a new biography/history, authored by Richard Toye, titled ‘Churchill’s Empire’. Too much to summarize here of course, but there are interesting points that tell us how really confused and confusing global politics is.

Not in Kenya

Churchill, we now know, as soon as he was out of his teens, went off to best ‘barbarous peoples’ all over the world. He had no qualms about eliminating those who were conveniently labelled as heathens because their ‘strong aboriginal propensity to kill’ needed to be subdued. For the sake of civilization, perhaps. The white man’s burden. These are his words: ‘We proceeded systematically, village by village, and we destroyed the houses, filled up the wells, blew down the towers, cut down the shady trees, burned the crops and broke the reservoirs in punitive devastation.”

Where did all this happen, though? No, not in Kenya (that came later). Does the name Swat ring a bell? Well, it is now a part of Pakistan. A place whose inhabitants may or may not have heard about Winston Churchill but are very unlikely to have Hussein Onyango. They know, I have no doubt, about a man called Obama. Barack Obama.

A man who tossed back Churchill’s bust across the Atlantic but is quite happy to do a Churchill (to the 100th power, may I add?) in the Swat Valley. We are talking about civilians killed. The assault into Buner, Lower Dir and the Swat Valley resulted in 1.45 million internally displaced persons. It is said to be the greatest displacement of civilians on the Indian subcontinent since the 1947 Partition.

When the Kurds rebelled against British rule in Iraq, Churchill is reported to have said, “I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilized tribes,” observing that ‘it would spread a lively terror.’

Obama is different. He doesn’t say such things. He just returns busts. Hussein Onyango fought Churchill. Hussein Onyango protested British attempts to secure for settlers the most fertile lands in Kenya, in which cause Churchill ordered ‘local kaffirs’ to be cleared out (read ‘killed’). Onyango’s people, some 15,000 of them were forced into detention camps, dubbed ‘Britain’s Gulag’. Onyango never recovered from the torture.

His grandson might want the world to think he’s doing some justice to his grandpa’s memory. I am not buying it. Obama is not in Kenya. He’s in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Doing a Churchill. He might as well drop his last name and ask David Cameron to return the butcher-bust. That, now, would be honourable indeed.

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