Almost two decades after gaining independence, Kenya stands today as a symbol of stability in post-colonial Africa.
As Idi Amin's government in neighboring Uganda seems about ready to fall and sporadic border fighting goes on between Ethiopia and Somalia, Kenya continues to attract millions in U.S. investments and hundreds of thousands of American tourists. And its fertile land produces a variety of crops, including sugar cane, coffee, tea, sisal and wattle.
But Kenya was not always rock-like in its solidity. From the time that Britain declared East Africa a protectorate in 1895 through the Mau Mau terrorist days of the 1950s, the country's history was one of violence and bitterness between the white settlers and Africans.
"Black Man's Land," a three-part series of one hour each, beginning tonight at 10 o'clock on WETA (Chanel 26), and continuing on Wednesday and Thursday, takes a penetrating look at the bloody history of Kenya's social and political development.
Produced by independent filmmakers David Koff and Anthony Howarth, the series is a damning account of colonialists imposing their rule on Africans and attempting to retain the status quo through human massacre and torture.
A possible parallel to current events in southern Africa, the Kenyan experience of blacks throwing off white-minority rule is conveyed in low-key but dramatic terms.
However, the program fails to raise questions about kenya after the death of Jomo Kenyatta, its first president, in 1978.The issues of tribal unity, the role of intellectual dissent and concentrated wealth are ignored.
The program's three parts, "White Man's Country," "Mau Mau" and "Kenyatta," are crammed with interviews of white settlers, African freedom fighters (all of whom are now dead), journalists and government figures. Also used are newsreel material and still photographs, some of it gripping for the scenes of death and havoc shown.
The thinking, says Mwyinyipembe, was to create a white-man's country, as had been done in Australia and New Zealand. Land was taken from the Africians and parceled out to the colonialists.
Margaret Elkington, whose family brought her as a child to Kenya in 1904, recalls in an interview that per father got land that formerly had been a "native shamba" (Kenyan farm).
At the same time the transplanted Europeans were trying to transform Kenya into a latter-day version of the 19th-century English countryside (complete with hunts and teas), a generation of African nationalists was coming forth.
In 1922, Harry Thuku sent a telegram to the Colonial Office in London complaining of British landgrabbing. His arrest resulted in rioting and the death of Africans.
In 1952, the British declared war on the Kikuyu, the people who formed the largest of Kenya's different population groups and from whom came the so-called Mau Mau.
The Mau Mau, says Mwyinyipembe, was a white term applied to Kenyan freedom fighters. Though the name Mau Mau evoked images of black magic and mau evoked images of black magic and mumbo jumbo, she says it was a military response to repression and armed aggression.
In four years of fighting, only 32 of Kenya's 40,000 white settlers were killed by Africans, she continues. But more than 15,000 Africans died, mostly at the hands of colonial soldiers.
With the end of conflict between blacks and whites, Jumo Kenyatta came out of exile in England and subsequently out of detention in his own country, to eventually become Kenya's first president.
The program's last segment deals with his life, from his origins as a poor farm boy to popularly acclaimed leader, and ends with his death.
As a film record of Kenyan politics, the program helps fill the vacuum of documentaries on Africa. Though Koff, 39, a former Ph.D. candidate at the University of California at Berkesley, is a American, his sympathies are clearly with the Kenyams. Indeed, the film has been throughout Kenya by the government as an educational device.
What the film lacks, however, is an overview at the end. The interviews Mwyinyipembe conducts with African experts at the end of each segment are helpful, but do not go far enough.
In the end, however, it's a series not to be missed for a rounding out of understanding of Kenyan affairs. CAPTION: Picture 1, Jomo Kenyatta when he took control of Kenya; Picture 2, A treaty-making session, circa 1900, between Chief Lenza of Masai and British colonial officials.