Monday, August 22, 2005

Who Is Tom Morello's Kenyan Dad?

Exactly twenty seven years ago today, a very rich African man died in the mansion below

And was later buried in the crypt above.

That man is of course, none other than,

A certain Kenyan political activist who lived abroad for 18 years writing about democracy, human rights violations and the atrocities committed by an unpopular regime in his native Kenya. For many years, intelligence agents who worked for the people who controlled the government in Nairobi tagged him as a notorious communist.

Like many refugees, exiles and immigrants, this Kenyan abroad struggled with financial woes. At one point he was so strapped for cash that he was forced to take a minor walk on part as an extra in

a very racist movie that was later disowned and denounced by its own high profile African-American lead.

One day, things changed a little bit when he made a somewhat famous speech.

Since there will be enough people obsessing about that dead guy today, I decided to turn my attention to someone else who has the advantage of still being alive- an equally famous rock musician...

Called Tom Morello.

He is no longer with the militant Rage Against the Machine, which broke up after its front man Zack de la Rocha resigned.

These days he is part of another super group, Audio Slave which recently made history by becoming the first American rock band to play a free concert in Cuba.

Tom uses his alter ego Night Watchman to explore the inner folk singer.

Together with others he formed a non-profit organization called Axis of Justice.

Tom Morello is one of the artists who make up the collective known as Tell Us the Truth.

He became a Marxist when he was at Harvard University ( h e graduated with honours in 1986 with a degree in political science) and you can see by browsing the interview below that Tom Morello still retains his militant politics and revolutionary ideological beliefs:

A long time ago you said you’re neither Democrat nor Republican because it doesn’t matter which rich white man rules over us. Taking into account the current situation, any change in your position?
“No, I totally agree with that statement. I honestly think that, while there are shades of difference, it doesn’t matter which multi-millionaire gets elected. It’s still up to the people to fight for issues like peace, workers’ rights, human rights, women’s rights and a cleaner environment. While there are clearly additional challenges posed by another four years of Bush rule, it also provides an opportunity for the country to clearly polarize and make up their minds about what’s right and wrong.”

You think the polarization of the electorate can actually be a positive?
“It’s absolutely a positive thing. It’s a total myth that we are a united country. Clearly there are huge sections of the country that are intolerant, ignorant, racist, pro-war and homophobic. While a lot of it is the right wing propaganda machine, it still provides a sharper juxtaposition for everybody to make a choice. Are you in favor of this unethical war that’s dipped up to its ears in torture, blood and oil, or are you afraid of billionaires ordering the globe as they see fit at the expense of the rest of us?”

Do you think there’s a chance the neo-cons in the Pentagon actually thought there were WMDs?
“Heaven’s no, but I think it was irrelevant to them. It was a smoke-and-mirrors game in the same way that I don’t believe they care whether gays get married. It’s a tool to get what they want. They wanted to go to war, they needed an excuse to do it and weapons of mass destruction, maybe they’re there, maybe not, whatever. Once the aircraft carriers launch, it’s too late.”

Do you think the media’s failed to hold these people accountable?
“Absolutely, and some of it’s intentional. The media is not some great, independent deliverer of truth and objective event. The media outlets are controlled by a few super rich corporations that are not apolitical in their philosophies. How in the world do you allow a president to literally get away with murder? They impeached the previous president because he shimmied around the facts about a blowjob, and no one ever died of a blowjob.”

One hopes not.
“Well, maybe someone does on some website, but I haven’t seen that yet.”

Why do the poor and working class support right wing policies that seem to push them further into poverty and war?
“The number one and two issues for Bush supporters were morality and terrorism. To me, sending poor people to die in a rich man’s war while some of them torture and shoot unarmed wounded prisoners sounds like the kind of immorality you want to vote against. The [Republicans] were really, really successful in motivating the religious right and making gay marriage a huge issue. The number one issue facing a country at war for unethical reasons and with an economy going down the toilet is the fear of gay people getting married? I have to take my hat off to them.”

What makes the right so effective?
“They’re very good at uniting because the Republicans and their leader really believe in something. [The President] really is against the gays, and he really is for war no matter what. Those type of strong opinions, no matter how wrongheaded, carry a lot of weight compared to the constant mincing and compromising done by the Democratic Party.”

Obviously you are against the Iraqi war, but what about Afghanistan?
“I’m not sure what gives a country a moral mandate to attack another and throw out its government. If you use the criteria that it’s a country harboring a super criminal, then when our country was harboring Marcos or the Shah of Iran, does that mean the Philippines or Iran had the right to bomb and invade us? Yes, if you’re using an objective yardstick.”

There’s a huge genocide happening in Sudan. Would you use might to stop that tragedy?
“That’s one of the great ironies. Here you have a real tragedy, a real human rights disaster going on, but there’s no oil at stake. The Sudanese’s different ethnic populations can annihilate one another while the Bush administration sits around with its thumb up its ass counting the millions it’s making from rebuilding contracts in Iraq. It speaks to the underlying motivations for the whole Iraqi war. It had nothing to do with freeing people or making their lives better, which is what the Sudanese need right now. Unfortunately, there’s none of our oil under their sand.”

What parts of your childhood contributed to your social awareness today?
“Part of it was clearly racism. I literally integrated the town of Libertyville, Illinois by becoming the first person of color to reside within its borders. The playground conflicts were a great political awakening at age five. It was like, ‘Wait a second, he’s against me!’ I also grew up in a home where my mom was very involved in the civil rights movement, and my father was a Kenyan revolutionary. I had different politics in my home than in the narrow-minded conservative suburb in which I grew up. So once I got into the age when you would discuss such things, like in high school, my understanding of how the world was ordered was very different than the beliefs that were being voiced upon me.”

What are ways in which people can affect local change?
“We recently established the L.A. chapter of Axis of Justice. One of the things we’re doing is combating hunger with a program to feed the homeless that we do each Sunday with Food Not Bombs. In addition to informing, educating, and organizing, we’re physically helping the people who are on the lowest rungs of the economic ladder. We’re also addressing labor issues as workers continue to be squeezed on health care and other issues by the big Wal-Mart type companies. We have to support those struggles. For a constant update on the news and information that you might not be hearing on the Fox Network, go to”

What’s happening with Audioslave?
“We are in the midst of finishing our second record. It’s produced by Rick Rubin and sounds fantastic. It’s ferociously rocking. Before we made our first record, we’d never played a show together. This record is really a band coming together and discovering its own identity and unique chemistry through touring for a year and a half. It’s just about done. The intention is that it will come out in the first half of [2005]. It sounds great, and it’s awesome. I can’t wait for other people to hear it.”-Article by David Jenison, Mean Street Magazine and Online Music Store

But why on earth am I talking about Tom Morello today?

Do I mean to be disrespectful to the memory of the so called "Baba wa Taifa"?

What does an American rock star have to do with the first President of Kenya?

Well, my curious friends, as you will soon see, more than you think.

You see, Tom Morello's father is a very well known Kenyan.

More than that, in several of the 246,000 sites that mention Tom by name, including several interviews by the rock star himself, we are informed that Mzee Jomo Kenyatta was Tom Morello's "uncle".

Let us go through a few of these.

For instance check out this excerpt:

"Tom Morello was born in New York City May 30th, 1964. He grew up in Libertyville, IL. His mother's name is Mary Morello, who is the founder of Parents for Rock and Rap, an anti-censorship organization. His father was a guerilla in the Mau-Mau uprising that freed Kenya from British rule. His political education, as he says, "began the first minute you have brown skin and walk onto an inter-racial playground". He lived in Libertyville most of his life while he was in the high school drama club, played Dungeons and Dragons, and was into Marxist politics. It also appears that he was somewhat of a sci-fi geek, due to some references that have appeared throughout the years, such as: The title of the Lock Up album was based on a Ray Bradbury novel, "Something Wicked This Way Comes"; He was in a band when he was younger called 'Electric Sheep'. This was taken from the title of Philip K.Dick's novel 'Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?' which was later filmed as the movie 'Blade Runner'. Finally, 'Radio Free L.A.' was an adaption of the title of another Dick novel, 'Radio Free Albermuth'. Dick was a writer who often expressed disillusionment with the established order of the Universe, and his often subversive works are quite brilliant.

"His first experience with guitar, was when he heard a KISS song that he wanted to play. He paid some guy $5 to teach him how to play, but instead, the first thing the man taught him was to tune the guitar. He came back the next week, coughed up another $5, and was taught the C scale. That was it for him, he didn't touch a guitar for years after. Then when he heard a song by the Sex Pistols, he thought that he might be able to channel his feelings and political ideas through a guitar too, so he learned how to play. He went to Harvard University, where he majored in History. This is when he practiced obsessively, at least 8 hours a day on the guitar. After his Harvard friends all left to become doctors and lawyers, Tom went to L.A, because that's where everyone said that you had to go to form a rock band.

"Going there with nothing, no friends, or anything except a Harvard Alumni phone directory, he started his rock career, he played with several bands, which were unsuccessful. He started teaching guitar to get along, and finally took a job as a California senator's secretary. He was fired when a woman called complaining that "colored people" were moving into her neighborhood, he told her that maybe the problem wasn't them, but the fact that she was racist. He then formed a band called "Lockup" with the guitarist of Tool, where Tom did backing vocals. He met up with Zack De La Rocha, and formed Rage Against The Machine."

Next, let us glean through a passage from the Metro Active, one of the alternative weeklies from the Bay of northern California in the United States:

These aren't angst-ridden, suburban youths whining that they're misunderstood. These are fiercely angry young men who align themselves with the Zapatista rebels in rural Mexico and demand the release of jailed American Indian Movement leader Leonard Peltier and death-row inmate Mumia Abu Jamal. And they have credentials. During the '50s, Morello's father fought British colonialism in the bloody Mau Mau uprising in Kenya, his uncle Jomo Kenyatta was the first elected president in that East African nation, and his mother was a driving force behind Parents for Rock and Rap, an organization that has fought censorship in the music business.

This biographical outline is repeated on this other site, this next one, plus this one as well and many, many more.

So, what is the source of all this information?

Well, for one, Tom Morello himself who is quoted directly on many of those sites. So where did he get his 411 from?

Well, apparently his own mother, who really should know.

This is what we read when we go to the wikipedia entry on Mary Morello:

"Mary Morello, born and raised in Marseilles, a mining and farming town in north-central Illinois in 1924, founder of Parents For Rock And Rap (1987), an anti-censorship group. She is sometimes referred to as Tipper Gore's nemesis in the '80s battles over music censorship.

"In 1954 she earned her masters degree in African and Latin American history from Chicago's Loyola University. The rest of the decade she spent in Germany, Spain, and Japan teaching English. She circled the globe on a freighter.

"From 1960–1963 she lived in Kenya, where she met the Kenyan Ngethe Njoroge whom she married. Her husband was a guerilla in the Mau Mau uprising (1950–1960) that freed Kenya from British rule (1963), a Kenyan revolutionary who later was the first Kenyan delegate to the United Nations. Her brother-in-law, Jomo Kenyatta, was the first elected president in Kenya.

"In 1964 she and her husband moved to Harlem, New York where they had a son Tom Morello, born May 30. Tom is known from the Geffen Records band Audioslave and as former band member of Rage Against The Machine and Lock Up."

Now, speaking frankly as a Kenyan who is a committed Marxist, is a rabid fan of progressive artists like Tom Morello and also something of a deranged research geek and demented history buff, my ears perked and brow, quite honestly furrowed with befuddlement. There was something wrong with this picture.

What was it?

The name of the father.

I have something close to a photographic memory and I remember clearly the name, "Ng'ethe Njoroge".

I used to hear and see it all the time in the 1960s and 1970s, from the time I was 8 years old to 18.

But it was not as a "revolutionary" or a "Mau Mau guerilla" that I heard the name.

Perhaps I was too young to remember, but I had no idea that Ng'ethe Njoroge was in fact, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta's cousin.

What I do remember about the man was that he was for a very long time, Kenya's High Commissioner to London- then, as now, considered the plum ambassadorial appointment that every Kenyan career diplomat hankered for. Representing our neocolony in the capital city of our former imperialist master is no mean feat.

I tried looking up Ng'ethe Njoroge on the internet, but most of the 200 or so references about him were somehow generated by the Tom and Mary Morello profiles. It is amazing that there is so little information about one of the true giants of Kenyan diplomacy. Long before Bethwell Kiplagat and Sally Kosgei became fixtures in the UK, you had Ng'ethe Njoroge, an ubiqitious figure on the front pages of the Kenyan newspapers throughout the sixties and seventies. This morning, he was just like one of those "Disappeared" from Argentina- vanished without a trace. Well, almost. There was a minor reference about a Chicago-based born again guitar playing Meru engineer called Martin Njamba Mbaya receiving a copy of the Good News Bible from a Ngethe Njoroge who was an alumni of Alliance Boys High School in Kikuyu, Kiambu District of the Central Province- but I was not sure if it was the same guy.

I noticed that a former Kenyan ambassador to the United States, Prof. Benjamin Kipkorir, recently bagged a cool $20,000 ( ok, it is in Canadian pesos, but those are still serious chums ama?) to sit in front of his computer monitor and compose his memoirs. Can you believe that? Now, I think that the IDRC should give me just one small fraction of that to put together the relevant facts about Ng'ethe Njoroge, who I find exceedingly more interesting.

Was Ng'ethe Njoroge a Mau Mau guerilla?

Was he Jomo Kenyatta's cousin?

(UPDATE:A visitor to the Jukwaa forum citing a very reliable and credible source- Wamboi Otieno Mbugua, a former Mau Mau member, political activist and sister to Munyua Waiyaki, the former Kenyan foreign minister- has clarified that Ng'ethe Njoroge was a brother of Njoroge Mungai who was a cousin of Jomo Kenyatta. So yes, Ng'ethe was Jomo Kenyatta's cousin and therefore an uncle of Tom Morello. I am hoping to clarify the second question: was Ng'ethe Njoroge a member of the Mau Mau?- Monday, August 22, 2005 4:31 p.m.)

In fact, one of the purposes of composing this digital today is to exhort my Kenyan compatriots, especially the older wananchi with roots in central Kenya to confirm or squelch this Ngethe/Mau Mau/Kenyatta links.

In the meantime, I would like to point out the following:

Mzee Jomo Kenyatta was NEVER a member of the Mau Mau. If anything he was very hostile to the Kiama Kia Muingi as you can see from this 1952 speech.

When I was in Kamiti Maximum Security Prison in the early to mid 1980s, the well-known Kenyan historian

Maina wa Kinyatti (who moved to the USA as a teenager in 1961 as part of Tom Mboya's airlift and later became a radical member of the Black Power movement before coming home to become a patriotic lecturer at Kenyatta University and author of several seminal texts like Thunder from the Mountain: Mau Mau Patriotic Songs), Maina told me that the late

Bildad Kaggia had revealed to him (Maina) that even while in jail Mzee Jomo Kenyatta together with Waruhui Itote aka "General China" had already sold out and working with the British intelligence.

The other thing Mwalimu Maina ( as we affectionately referred to him behind bars) also informed us of the genocidal, racist and discriminatory policies that the British colonialists used to try and break the back of the Mau Mau uprising. Apart from the concentration camps, the torture sessions (by the way, our current Internal Security minister

John Michuki was a nortorious police torturer extracting confessions from


Mau Mau suspects in the 1950s according to several sources) the fortified hamlets, the

homungati and

komerera collaborators, one of the ways was a brutal carrot and stick strategy of punishing the families of freedom fighters and rewarding the families of sell-outs. If your father or mother, sister or brother was in the movement you could find all opportunities for secondary and higher education completely blocked. Your family's land-if it had any- could be grabbed and handed over to a homungati family. If you check out the background of the prominent Gikuyus who served in Kenyatta's government after 1963-`Njonjo, Nderi, Mahihu, Mathenge, Michuki, Gethi, Hinga etc- you should not be surprised to find out which side they were on during the Mau Mau war for national independence.

It is in the context that I am loudly wondering what were the chances of a former Mau Mau guerilla making it to New York City as Kenyatta's representative to the United Nations- in the same year that Mzee had scornfully asked Bildad Kaggia what he had done for himself; the same year that Kenyatta was ordering White Kenya Air Force pilots to smoke out the Mau Mau hold outs who had refused to come out of the forests because Kenya was

Not Yet Uhuru.

So who is Tom Morello's famous Kenyan dad?

Is he a Mau Mau freedom fighter or a venal neocolonial fat cat?
The son seems to know. Here is what Tom said in an interview not too long ago:

"My dad has been one of the beneficiaries of neocolonialism and inherited an enormous tea plantation on which he lives today. He's done very well for himself. He's not such a good letter writer to his son."

Onyango Oloo

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