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Focus shifts to Baden Powell’s grave in Nyeri as racism skeletons emerge

The statue of scouts movement founder Baden Powell is set to be removed in Britain for protection due to threats of being destroyed by Black Lives Matter protesters.

With the wave of protests sweeping fast globally, Powell’s history books have been reopened and activists are looking into his dark past.

Besides being the founder of the worlds’ largest youth movement with a following of over 50 million people, Powell is facing accusations of homophobia, racism and being a supporter of Adolf Hitler.

While the folks in Bournemouth continue to debate the character and contribution of Powell to history, in Kenya he is a hero and a founding father.

Baden Powell was a Lieutenant in the British Army specialising in reconnaissance and scouting.

Upon retirement he moved to Nyeri, Kenya where he started the scouts movement in 1910.

He died in 1941 and was buried in Nyeri where he had relocated permanently three years earlier.

His wife Olave Powell was also buried in the same spot in Nyeri.

Scouts in Kenya in reaction to the reports of Powell’s statue being removed have said they can only focus on the good they know of their founding father.

A signage outside Paxtu, the last home of the World Scouting movement founder Robert Baden Powell at Outspan hotel in Nyeri. PHOTO | JOSEPH KANYI

“As a scout I can only speak of the rich values that he taught us through the scouting movement. We remember him for these values. Besides, nobody can be perfect,” International Commissioner at Kenya Scouts Movement Anthony Gitonga said.

While Baden Powell left a rich history in Nyeri and his grave continues to be a rich tourism monument, a big disparity continues to playout in the treatment of black people vis-à-vis white people, even in Kenya.

The burial and respect paid to Baden Powell and colonial soldiers are a classic example of the discrimination of African people more than 57 years’ post-independence.

While Baden Powell, his wife Olave and colonial soldiers were buried with more respect and in neatly kempt graves, thousands of massacred Kenyan freedom fighters are buried in unmarked mass graves across Nyeri County.

Ironically the Kenya Scouts Movement is in a push to have UNESCO declare Powell’s grave a World Heritage site.

Nyeri War Cemetery alone contains 368 Commonwealth graves for soldiers who died in World War 1. War casualties who succumbed at the British military hospital or at the one used by Italian Prisoners of War (POWs) were buried here.

At the site, neat rows of headstones in different corners sit in rows but it takes keen eye to notice they are arranged according to nationalities.

The well-manicured grass, perfectly trimmed fence and beautiful flowers are a sight to behold. One would be forgiven for mistaking it for a picnic site. Local staff have been employed by the British Government to maintain the graves and keep them neat on a routine basis.

Barely, 500 metres from where Baden Powell is buried lies one of the Mau Mau Mass graves.

Hundreds of Kenyans executed by the British colonialists were buried in an unmarked grave which has now been encroached by Kiawara Slum.

Tens of other mass graves have over the years been discovered in Tetu, Othaya, Mukurweini and Kieni.

Geoffrey Nderitu shows human remains believed to be of Mau Mau fighters he dug up from a mass grave in his home at Aguthi in Tetu, Nyeri County on April 14, 2019. PHOTO | NICHOLAS KOMU

Despite a constant push by surviving war veterans and the Kenya National Museums to protect the mass graves and honour the victims of the colonial massacre, no action has been taken.

Some have been encroached and others remain as forests and unkempt bushes.

Historian Anthony Maina has termed the situation as a shame to Kenya as a people who appear to have forgotten their own heroes.

“It is a big shame. The National Museums have played its part in gazetting the mass graves but we are losing them to encroachment. History will judge us harshly because we fail to honour those who fought for our freedom,” Mr Maina said.