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As Europe tears down Baden-Powell statues, Kenyan Scouts pledge loyalty

Friday June 12 2020
Paxtu

Paxtu, the house where the world Scouting movement founder Robert Baden Powell lived, at Outspan Hotel in Nyeri. PHOTO | JOSEPH KANYI | NATION MEDIA GROUP

By NICHOLAS KOMU
By JOSEPH MBOYA

The Kenyan Scouts chapter will continue honouring the memory of the movement’s founder, Lord Baden-Powell, who has been accused of racism by Black Lives Matter protesters in Britain, leading to the removal of his statue in Dorset.

Saying that he could “only speak of the rich values that Mr Powell taught us through the scouting movement”,  Mr Anthony Gitonga, the international commissioner at the Kenya Scouts Movement, said the founder will remain a hero in Kenya, the protests notwithstanding.

Baden-Powell’s monument in Poole Quay, Dorset, has come up on a website detailing potential targets for anti-racism protesters. He was a lieutenant in the British army specialising in reconnaissance and scouting, and upon retirement moved to Nyeri, where he started the Scouts Movement in 1910.

He died in 1941 and was buried in Nyeri town, where he had relocated permanently three years earlier. His wife Olave Powell is buried next to him.

But with the wave of protests over the May 25 death of George Floyd, an African American, while in police custody in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Powell’s dark past is being re-examined. Besides being the founder of the worlds’ largest youth movement with a following of over 50 million people, he is accused of homophobia, racism and being a supporter of Adolf Hitler.

Authorities have been forced to offer 24-hour security for his statue, which British media said was next in line in a new wave of destruction targeting statues of people believed to have aided the suppression of black people.

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The Black Lives Matter movement has gained momentum after Floyd’s death, sweeping across his native US and other parts of the world. This week protesters in Bristol, UK, dumped into the sea the statue of Edward Colson, a 17th century slave trader. The Guardian newspaper reported that Baden-Powell’s statue was among those added to a growing “hit list” of nearly 80 across the UK. It added that some local residents, including former scouts, rushed to the defence of the statue.

There were reports of a planned demolition of British war-time Premier Winston Churchill’s statue in Prague, Czech Republic. The 3.5-metre statue has already been sprayed with red graffiti reading “Byl rasista” (“He was racist”) and “Black Lives Matter”. The graffiti was later removed using a high-pressure washer.

The Mirror quoted Councillor Mark Howell, deputy leader of Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council, describing Baden-Powell’s statue as “much-loved” and said it had been at risk of damage or destruction.

“We know that local people feel proud of Lord Baden-Powell’s and the Scout movement’s links with Poole, and that some people feel that we would be giving in to the protesters by temporarily removing the statue,” he said.

Baden-Powell has a rich history in Nyeri and his grave continues to be a tourist attraction, and the burial and respects paid to him and colonial soldiers show the regard in which whites are held, even in death.

While Baden-Powell, his wife Olave and colonial soldiers’ graves are well kept, thousands of massacred Kenyan freedom fighters are buried in unmarked mass graves across Nyeri County. The Kenya Scouts Movement has been pushing to have Unesco declare Powell’s grave a World Heritage Site.

The Nyeri War Cemetery hosts 368 graves for Commonwealth soldiers who died in World War I, and war casualties who succumbed at the British military hospital or at the one used by Italian prisoners of war.

At the site, it takes a keen eye to notice the neat rows of headstones are arranged according to nationality. The grass, perfectly trimmed fence and beautiful flowers are a sight to behold. One would be forgiven for mistaking it for a picnic site.

Barely 500 metres away is a Mau Mau mass grave, where hundreds of Kenyans executed by the British colonialists were buried. Because the cemetery is unmarked, the Kiawara slum keeps encroaching on it. Tens of other mass graves have over the years been discovered in Tetu, Othaya, Mukurweini and Kieni.

Historian Anthony Maina termed the situation “a big shame to Kenya”.

“History will judge us harshly because we failed to honour those who fought for our freedom.”

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