‘My Enemy, My Friend’ by David Lovatt Smith is an engaging historical novel telling the story of the Mau Mau terrorists and how this led to the declaration of the State of Emergency in Kenya in 1952. Presenting factual information as if it were fiction, this book shows how the murder of white settlers and blacks perceived to be their sympathisers led to the colonial government’s brutality and repression that drove hundreds of petrified people into the forest where they became outlaws after linking up with pariahs who had committed crimes against their communities and had been banished.
The outcasts took advantage of the emergency to terrorise communities after invoking the name of the Mau Mau they knew so little about. As befits good fiction, this one is driven by action, suspense, twists, turns, surprises and breathing, talking and feeling characters. But the author was careful to change the names of individuals and places to protect the people involved while maintaining their personalities and actions. The author, a former foot soldier in the Kenya Regiment and then a Field Intelligence Officer seconded to the Kenya Police Special Branch, writes fact as if it were fiction, arresting and sustaining the attention of the reader from beginning to end. Writer Smith, whose is also careful to detach himself from the story. He contends that the Kikuyu, Embu and Meru people were sorely weakened by the Mau Mau conflict but that they rose out of it stronger and wiser communities. His style of describing places appeals to the senses as the reader almost sees, feels and smells them.
Among other methods, Field Intelligence Officers used captured terrorists in the impersonation of forest gangs on the realisation that pseudo gangs, rather than bombings and raids in the forest and Kikuyu reserves, were more effective in countering the Mau Mau insurgence. Captured Mau Mau were used to persuade former colleagues out of the forest. If discovered by the real Mau Mau, such convertees were shot or hacked to death. Most events recounted in the book took place in Kiambu and Muranga districts. Swinging from settler farms to African reserves, Mau Mau hideout in the forests and security forces, the novelist moves the reader with him. At times, Smith’s style endears the reader to the Mau Mau, empathising with them. He also makes them loathesome when they wreak havoc on innocent children. While some settlers are kind, others are outright wicked beasts who do not view Africans as fellow humans. Thiong’o wa Kimani is a driver on on Swara Farm in Limuru during the Emergency. He is a law-abiding citizen preoccupied with working for a living and sending Sh10 home to his widowed mother every month. So close is he to his employer’s family that the scheming and greedy foreman decides to drive a wedge between him and the family Forced to take what the foreman and other outlaws call oath of allegiance to the traditions of the Kikuyu, Kimani finds himself participating in a heinous crime against the family and the children he adores. This book traces the direction his life takes after this cataclysmic event that pushes Kimani into the forest where he becomes a terrorist. After his capture by the security forces, he embarks on saving his erstwhile forest colleagues from hunger, wild animals, and bombing by government planes and bullets. My Enemy: My Friend documents the exciting and often violent times the GEMA people lived through during the Emergency. All the elements of good narrative-suspense, action, easy words-are present here making the book compelling reading. The author concludes that the state of emergency was futile and that everyone was a loser. Although the plot is action-driven, the reader feels the story ends melodramatically.
Ideally, it should end after the Murang’a Mau Mau pseudo gang has brought people out of the forest without stretching it to Thiong’o, he who has been instrumental in bringing people out of the forest, being arrested and tried for the gruesome murder of the Beare family. Also, one feels the author is biting more than he can chew when he hurriedly tries to account for every character in the book in not so convincing manner. He has also got many African names wrong. Examples: soufirir instead of sufuria, serkali instead of serikali, niapara instead of nyapara, and debby instead of debe.