"A Far Cry From Africa" responds to the Mau Mau Uprising, a guerrilla war waged by Kenyan rebels against British colonists from 1952-1960. This fact becomes apparent as soon as the speaker references the Kikuyu, the tribe that the Mau Mau fighters were from.
Before making this reference, though, the poem begins with a suggestive and metaphorical image of the African continent: "A wind is ruffling the tawny pelt / Of Africa." This sentence seems to refer to the "veldt," or grassland, whose grasses look like a "tawny pelt"—that is, yellow-brown fur. It also summons images of some animals that live in that environment, such as lions. At a more abstract level, this image also comments on human affairs. Something is happening in Africa, a disturbance that the speaker will soon implicitly reveal to be the Mau Mau rebellion.
Describing this disturbance as a "wind" creates some ambiguity. Is this a gust of wind that suggests a storm is coming? Or is it simply a passing breeze? Does the Mau Mau rebellion signal a coming wave of violent struggles for independence, or is it an isolated instance that will be quashed and forgotten?
This first sentence invests the landscape with intense metaphorical energy. Throughout the poem, the speaker will use descriptions of landscape to loop in comparisons to human events. This happens more explicitly in the poem's second sentence: "Kikuyu, quick as flies, / Batten upon the bloodstreams of the veldt." By metaphorically transforming the people of the Kikuyu tribe into "flies," the speaker is able to use this description of the natural world as a means of commenting on human affairs. Such descriptions can also be thought of as a form of metonymy, in which the landscape adjacent to human events comes to stand for those events.
As noted above, the Kikuyu were the tribe that the Mau Mau, or Kenya Land and Freedom Army (KLFA), came from. Rather than fighting the British army head on, the Mau Mau mostly engaged in surprise attacks at night, often targeting white settlers instead of the army. The description here seems to channel the bloodiness of those attacks. "Batten" means lock down, "bloodstreams" refers to veins, and "veldt" refers to African grassland. In this intensely metaphorical description, the grassland has veins that the Kikuyu, as flies, attach themselves to. This description has parasitic connotations, suggesting, at the very least, how flies often hover around dead bodies.
The speaker conveys deep ambiguity about the Mau Mau here. Although later in the poem the speaker displays clear hatred for colonization, that doesn't translate to automatic sympathy for the Mau Mau. Right off the bat, there's a feeling that violence transforms people into creatures of death. That violence, at least for the speaker, makes it hard to keep viewing people as humans. In fact, this description foreshadows the speaker's later description of the Mau Mau as "Delirious as [...] worried beasts." All this to say, the speaker is deeply suspicious and critical of the Mau Mua.
These first lines begin to display the poem's loose take on iambic pentameter (five stresses per line in a da-DUM rhythm). For instance, the first line might most intuitively be read as:
A wind | is ruff- | ling the taw- | ny pelt
This first line, then, hints at iambic pentameter without committing to it wholeheartedly (since there's an anapest, da-da-DUM, in that third foot). Line 3 plays with a similar ambiguity:
Batten | upon | the bloodstreams | of the veldt.
Throughout the poem, this tension between strict meter and a looser tendency towards free verse reflects the speaker's own struggle. More specifically, with the legacy of colonialism in the language of the poem itself: English. (The "Themes" section of this guide discusses this legacy in depth.)
Also note the rhyme between lines 1 and 3, "pelt" and "veldt." As with meter, this rhyme indicates the importance of formal poetry to the speaker, while the poem's loose use of rhyme throughout suggests an uneasiness with the connotations of such forms.