The 2018 Commemoration weekend of the 23rd 24th and 25th November will be the last centenary commemoration of First World War and will be dedicated to the Kenyans who gave their lives for a better tomorrow but who have no known resting place.
But why have we chosen this weekend to remember them?
Ask your neighbour when the First World War ended. They are likely to reply ‘on the 11th November 1918’. This is not so: The first world war officially ended in June 1919 at the Treaty of Versailles.
So why did your neighbour say 11th November 1918?
Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday
The 11th of November is Armistice Day. The day when Britain’s Allies and Germany signed the first of many armistices to put a cessation or truce to end the hostilities. The first armistice came into effect at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. Every year in November we see Acts of Remembrance to acknowledged not only this first Armistice but those who have died in all military conflicts around the world. Wearing a bright Red poppy flower, which is the international symbol of Military Remembrance, we pause for 2 minutes on the 11th November at 11 am as a mark of respect.
The nearest Sunday to the 11th November is known as Remembrance Sunday traditionally marked by parades and services. The Kenya Defence Forces organise a Service of Remembrance at Ngong Road Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery here in Nairobi. In Mombasa are service is also held at Mbaraki Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery.
However, if you can remember back to the beginning of this story, I told you that the first acts of the war were to destroy the German Communication towers. 4 years later Von Lettow Vorbeck still did not have any means to communicate with Germany, so when a messenger arrived from the British Forces with a note that an Armistice had been signed, he did not believe them. 14 days later after borrowing a British radio, Von Lettow accepted that the fighting had stopped and laid down his arms at Mbale in Northern Zambia on the 25th November 1918. Thus ending the longest military campaign of the first world war.
In the same way that the rest of the world marks the 11th of November, I hope that marking the 25th November will become an annual event in Kenya and East Africa. Each one of you here in this wonderful Louise Leakey auditorium at our National Museum has a part to play in producing this year's event. I hope it will be broadcast out to the world, to promote the Kenyan People and the growing heritage section of our Tourism Industry. There is already a lot of international interest we just have to feed it professionally.
I can compare this with South Africa where Tour Guides on the the excellent Boer War Heritage Trail are booked up for upto two years in advance and just shows what could be achieved in Kenya.
Protection and Respect for our National Heritage Sites
To make this an ongoing success we need to have a good look at what we still have as a physical reminder of 100 years ago. The East African Campaign sites in Taita Taveta which were Gazetted as National Monuments by the Cabinet Secretary for Arts and Culture, Hassa Wario in January 2015, have still not been given the physical protection they need and are now in dire state.
Two of these monuments that are particularly close to my heart is the 117-year-old Police Post in Taveta from where the District Commissionaire fired the first British shots of the East African Campaign. The building is currently occupied by Prison Wardens but is in a most dilapidated state imaginable, it would not take too much to restore it to become a presentable building again.
Taveta Police Post
The other monument is the two naval guns which stand side by side outside Fort Jesus in Mombasa, they are badly rusted and are used as drink holders and children’s climbing frames. These are the only guns that I know of that fought each other at sea, as HMS Pegasus and SMS Konigsberg, then after the ships had both been sunk and the guns recovered, they were used against each other again on land around Taveta. A truly unique memorial to the East African Campaign just rotting away.
The two naval guns at Fort Jesus - A unique memorial to the East African Campaign
The cemeteries of the First World war, which were also given National Monument status, are beautifully maintained and cared for by a dedicated team from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission who have an office here in Nairobi. This amazing team have also begun a restoration and clean-up program on the two beautiful memorials to the African forces in Nairobi on Kenyatta Avenue and in Mombasa at Mwembe Tayari. Both these memorials are to be ready in time for the commemoration in November.
Our children are the future custodians of our culture and heritage. History Helps Us Understand Change and How the Society We Live in Came to Be but also how to avoid the mistakes of our past. Our history cannot be forgotten it needs to be embraced holistically to understand all prospectives. In a country such as Kenya, which has tremendous cultural, linguistic, ideological and tribal influences, we can soon see where one person’s hero is the next person’s villain and one person’s monument is the next person’s symbol of oppression. This, unfortunately, has been caused largely by the politics of the day. Educators must tread carefully and teach a balanced picture of the era to allow children to learn through remembrance and develop respect not only for our elders but for our heritage both tangible and intangible.
I am immensely proud that my publication Guerrillas of Tsavo has achieved its intention, which was to bring to life what had been a completely forgotten campaign that took place in Kenya during the First World War and the vital role that ¼ of the population in Kenya had played. I would like to remember the late Mr Vohra, chairman of Sarova Hotels, Resorts and Game Lodges who recognised the benefits of the East African Campaign to Kenya’s Tourism. Sarova continues to be envoys for the campaign and has pledged to continue hosting our display of artefacts at Sarova Taita Hills Games Lodge, a display that is currently being modernised and redesigned bigger and better in time for November. It is probably the only such display in Eastern Africa. FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT THE REFURBISHMENT OF THE DISPLAY CLICK HERE
Our forebears have a right to be remembered, Their struggles acknowledged and the achievements recognised.
When you go home tonight to watch the start of the World Cup, and take in today's budget, take a minute to remember those who gave up their lives so that you can live today. It is my hope that we can mobilise you all into an army of East African Campaign ambassadors to go out and tell their story and get as many people involved in this act of remembrance as possible.
I would like to recognise the presence tonight of Mr John Stevenson and Mr Tony Archer.
Mr Stevenson's father, a Missionary Priest, was posted to the Carrier Corps where he served as a corporal for the whole of 1917 in Tanzania. Mr Archer is Hugh La Fontaine’s God son. Hugh La Fontaine was the District Commissionaire at Taveta who fired the first shots of the East African Campaign.
Thank you all for being here tonight!