MotherTongues and childless women
The Right Honorable Malcolm MacDonald, former colonial official, gave this dubious welcome to the “infant” independent Kenya in 1964, in his introduction to the collected speeches of the new Prime Minister, Jomo Kenyatta. The health of the newly decolonized nation seems to take the Right Honorable observer from the first world by uneasy surprise, but he comes to good humor at last, noting that Kenya is, after all, if not exactly “still born,” still only a child. MacDonald’s wishes mark a transition in Kenya not so much from subjugated colony to sovereign state, as from direct colonial rule to indirect and often competing international influences manipulating and manipulated by the postcolonial regimes of Kenyatta and his successor, Daniel Arap Moi. MacDonald’s benevolent infantilization of the newly independent nation stands in tension with the images of the “Motherland” used by Kenyatta and Moi in an attempt to legitimate their authoritarian regimes. Substituting “Mother Kenya” for “Mother Africa,” Kenyatta and Moi positioned themselves as “father” presiding over a nation of “children.”2 Despite their paternal position, Kenyatta and Moi’s efforts at control of the Kenyan populace coincided with one instrument of international influence. We hear echoes of that instrument in MacDonald’s lengthy digression into a metaphoric progress through miscarriage, stillbirth, and infant mortality: population control.