Is the credit to our independence heroes more than is due to them?

Tuesday December 11 2018

Former freedom fighter Muthoni wa Kirima at during an interview at her home in Nyeri town on March 10, 2018. PHOTO | JOSEPH KANYI


All African countries have independence heroes — men and women who gave their lives in pursuit of freedom.

Every December 12, Kenya celebrates those who fought for self-rule. History places these phenomenal men and women as the CAUSE of independence.

In statistics, when the word CAUSE is invoked, gloves come out, and bare-knuckle philosophical brawls ensue, all singing the song "Prove causality!". In other words, prove that the action of A caused B. The science involved in this proof is known as causality.

In a complex and uncertain world, it is indeed quite hard to prove that A causes B, since there may be common causes that lead A to cause B or multiple reasons that affect B at the same time. The proverbial butterfly effect is an apt example. This effect grants the power to produce a hurricane in China to a butterfly flapping its wings in the US. It may take a very long time, but the connection is real.


Back to our independence heroes. If we were to question whether indeed the actions of our heroes led to independence, we would need to turn to a concept known as counterfactual. Formulated by the philosopher David Hume in 1748, it defines cause as, "If the first object had not been, the second never had existed". In it, we don't check if one event happens after another (correlation), but if the second event would not occur if the first event did not transpire (counterfactual).


Now let's reuse Hume's phrase on our independence heroes. If our heroes had never rebelled, would we have achieved independence? Probably yes, given time or through other means. Therefore, from the counterfactual concept of cause, our heroes’ activities probably never led to independence because independence would have happened without their actions anyway.

Let's look at another perspective. If we propose that African countries owe their independence to Adolf Hitler, are we right or wrong? One of the leading reasons Britain dismantled its empire was financial, and not necessarily insecurity (liberation movements).

Its six-year war (World War II) with Germany had drained her finances, and it was no longer viable to hold vast territories that were never profitable. Therefore, it was prudent to let these colonies become independent and be responsible for their finances while Britain refocused on rebuilding herself.

Returning to Hume's phrase, if Adolf Hitler had not unleashed World War II, would African countries have gained independence? The most probable answer is ''no'' (at least not in the 20th century). Hence, we can lay the CAUSE of African countries' independence to Hitler's order on September 1, 1939 to invade Poland, officially sparking World War II.

However, we are missing something important in this causal chain


After World War I, the League of Nations created the League of Nations Mandate, whose responsibility was to transfer territories from one country to another. Britain absorbed German's African colonies save for South West Africa (Namibia), which was claimed by South Africa. On October 24, 1945 after Germany capitulated in World War II, the United Nations was formed.

The League of Nations Mandate became the United Nations Trust Territories, which inherited a paramount clause from the League of Nations Mandate. It stipulated that preparation for independence and majority rule be granted to trust territories.

Therefore, the road to independence for several African countries pre-dated Hitler's order to invade Poland. At this juncture, from a counterfactual perspective, the League of Nations Mandate clause presents the most probable cause for independence.

However, the League of Nations would have never existed without World War II. On June 28, 1914, Gavrilo Princip, a Bosnian Serb member of Young Bosnia, a Yugoslavist organisation seeking an end to Austro-Hungarian rule in Bosnia and Herzegovina, shot and killed Franz Ferdinand, heir of the Austro-Hungarian empire in Sarajevo, thus precipitating the start of World War I. Therefore, the gunshot is our butterfly effect that led to independence.

To further illustrate the complexity of this causality, let's explore another subtle but important factor that had a significant contribution to our independence. The clause on granting autonomy and majority rule to trust territories came from the Americans. The emergence of America as an economic and military power enabled it to have a predominance at the League of Nations and subsequently the United Nations.


Causal diagram on factors that led to Kenya's independence. DESIGN | CHRIS ORWA

America's economic rise partly emanated from World War I, during which American companies provided raw materials, equipment and debt to European countries at war. Therefore, unknown to Gavrilo, the Serbian freedom fighter, the gunshot led a whole continent to gain independence.


In his book Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets, Nassim Taleb writes: "Heroes are heroes because they are heroic in behaviour, not because they won or lost." Hence, we honour and celebrate our heroes not on whether their actions caused independence but on the courage and determination they showed. Happy Jamhuri Day.

Chris Orwa is a data scientist. @blackorwa