The Myth of 'Mau Mau'
State Murder in Kenya
‘The Mickeys were hard men
A white policeman in Kenya
Africa was the last of the great continents to be fully opened up to colonisation, before which only a few white explorers, missionaries and traders had penetrated the core. Prior to the last two decades of the 19th century, western countries had directly ruled only a few coastal areas - with most of the interior under African control. Then steam power, especially for rail and ships, provided the means to open the continent up to foreign invasion and Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Belgium, Spain and Portugal competed for territory. Africa then became a patchwork of new provinces, with most of its peoples coming under the control of the new colonial masters.
At the end of the 19th century, Britain had opened East Africa up for colonisation by the building of roads and railways. Strategic forts were built and African opposition was met with force, with tribes people who tried to stop the railways being machine-gunned. Tens of thousands of Africans were massacred and many more driven from their land. Kenya, as a country, emerged from the European ‘scramble for Africa’, which divided the continent into ‘spheres of influence’. The 1884/5 Berlin Conference and later colonial agreements and adjustments deciding borders, which were then plotted by colonial bureaucrats – rather than them developing from interaction between the native peoples.
Most of the Kenyan peoples, including the Kikuyu, Akamba, Maasai, Luo, Meru and Embu, were opposed to foreign rule and, as in other colonies, efforts were then made to win over some sections of the native population to the colonisers’ side. This usually took the form of securing agreements with, or instating, local collaborationist tribal chiefs - whose main tasks then were to facilitate colonial rule and collect taxes. The Kikuyu tribe explained that they had no chiefs but were organised by age groups which reflected seniority. The colonial authorities ignored this tradition of clan elders and put in place chiefs who were paid and controlled by the British.
Kenya held no large deposits of natural resources, but it had strategic importance and parts of the land – especially in the highland region – was conducive to productive farming. All land was designated ‘Crown land’, which was then parcelled up into ‘tribal reserves’ – with large parts of the best land being retained for colonists from Britain. The native peoples, including many Kikuyu, were then forced from this fertile land to make way for white settlers:
About the time of the 1st World War some Africans, especially Kikuyu, were allowed to return to the white areas, but they were designated as ‘squatters’ and were then forced, with other Africans from the ‘tribal reserves’, into wage-labour to work the land under its new owners. To ensure Africans would not have an alternative method of earning money, they were prohibited from growing cash crops like coffee. New ‘pass laws’ then increased the authorities control over Africans, helping to augment the near feudal conditions under which they laboured: ‘The authorities imposed hut and poll taxes which the blacks could pay only by working on the white man’s farms. The settlers themselves demanded legalised methods of compulsion and the right to flog their black workers.’ 
1: The British Empire,
2: Ibid - The British Empire,
Repression and Resistance
Kenya was in many ways like England after the Norman invasion, with the white settler barons treating the African people as serfs – driving them through laws and taxes into forced labour. Unsurprisingly, sign of revolt began to show. In the years following the 1st World War Harry Thuku, a low paid telephone operator, formed the Young Kikuyu Association to campaign against the mounting hut taxes and an end to the pass laws. He was sacked from his job and then arrested and deported to the desert region in the north of the country. At a protest meeting in the capital, Nairobi, a number of Africans were shot down, while cheering white settlers looked on – this occurred just over three years after the massacre at Amritsar in India.
Over 100,000 Africans from Kenya served in Britain’s forces during the 2nd World War, often fighting alongside white troops. But afterwards, on their return home, they were offered only menial jobs under whites who called them ‘boys’ and treated them like slaves. Africans still had no worthwhile representation on any level of government and in the capital, Nairobi, black workers, fighting for better wages and conditions, organised themselves into trade unions. The East African TUC, set up by a number of these unions, called for African political independence and majority rule in Kenya.
In May 1950, the authorities arrested the leaders and banned many of the trade unions, including the East African TUC. A general strike, which led to a shut-down of large parts of the country, was called, but the strike was broken with mass arrests and large scale intimidation from British police and troops with armoured cars, supported by low-flying war planes. Hemmed in by repressive laws and with their economic conditions getting steadily worse, Africans found that their peaceful political protests about land rights in the countryside and the right of workers to organise into trade unions in the towns were being suppressed by armed force.
Not content with this level of repression, the authorities then declared a ‘State of Emergency’ on 20th October 1952, implemented even more repressive laws, built up local police and militias and sent for reinforcements of British troops. With all routes to constitutional reforms blocked off Africans, in steadily increasing numbers, began to support the emergent underground revolutionary movement, known to them at first as the ‘Movement’ or ‘Unifier’ and later in its armed stage as the ‘Land and Freedom Army.’
As part of the counter-insurgency campaign then mounted against the opposition to colonial rule, the British authorities, using their control of the media, ensured that the underground movement of Africans would became known to the outside world as ‘Mau Mau’. The words did not mean anything in any African language, and probably first came into use when whites misheard a local dialect. ‘Mau Mau’ conjured up images of an African ‘heart of darkness’ in susceptible western minds, and quickly gained widespread usage both within and outside Kenya. The spread of the name was helped by Government agencies and this successful psychological warfare operation made it easier to dehumanise the organisation in future years.
Moderate nationalists, many of whom had appealed to the authorities to allow a few concessions that might have halted the drift into conflict, were silenced or rounded up and jailed. The leading nationalist politician Jomo Kenyatta, who had denounced the use of violence by the militants, was arrested and convicted after a show trial of being ‘the leader of Mau Mau’, and was sentenced to imprisonment for 7 years. Josiah M. Kariuki, who was also interned in prison camps from 1953 to 1960, later stated:
Many Africans who were left became increasingly more militant. Land and Freedom Army activists were forced to operate undercover, or from bases in the jungle-covered mountains and foothills of the highlands. Kariuki later talked about the Land and Freedom Army saying that: ‘The world knows it by a title of abuse and ridicule [Mau Mau] with which it was described by one of its bitterest opponents.’
3: The Dissolution of the Colonial Empires,
The settlers had long been angered by the growing ‘insubordination’ among the ‘Kukes’ (Kikuyu), because of the long history of their opposition to British rule. Many Kikuyu had resisted attempts by missionaries to change their local customs and traditions. Some also refused to send their children to mission schools, which they saw as perpetuating the colonial system, and organised their own independent schools instead. Settler xenophobia deepened, especially after attacks were made on a few isolated farms and some whites were killed. Considerable political pressure was exerted on the British authorities by the settlers and a shoot to kill policy was implemented.
In ‘Prohibited Areas’ any African could be shot dead, in other areas they could be challenged and shot if they did not halt. The settlers were delighted with their ‘shooting orders’; in the past they had spoken about ‘wiping out the Kukes’. At a public meeting at Nakuru it had been seriously proposed that ‘50,000 Kukes’ be killed ‘to set an example’. Now, after the killings were officially sanctioned, some whites brought in bounty hunters to carry out the ‘exterminating’ for them:
Settlers themselves began to take drastic action against any suspect Africans, especially ‘Kukes’. Brutality against blacks and murders of them became commonplace. For his book, Mau Mau: An African Crucible, Robert B. Edgerton interviewed an Australian who had fought with the Chindits in Burma during the 2nd World War. Living in Kenya during the ‘Emergency’ he had witnessed the killing of Africans when visiting a settler called Bill. After receiving a call that some ‘Mickeys’ [Mau Mau] were in the area, they armed themselves and rushed out to join the hunt:
Afterwards they went off to a bar for lunch: ‘Bill ordered beers all around. I was feeling a little shaky but I drank my beer, The other blokes was laughing and feeling fine as near as I could tell. Bill says, “How do you think one of those Mickeys would’ve looked if I’d had him stuffed and mounted?” One of his mates says, “You mean when he still had a face or after?” Another one says, “Hell, he was better looking afterwards”. They had a good laugh over that. I spent the war with Wingate in Burma and I met some rough cobbers but I never seen men as cold as Bill and his mates was.’
4: Mau Mau: An African Crucible,
5: Ibid - Mau Mau: An African Crucible,
Karigo Muchai was an African who had also fought against the Japanese in Burma in the British forces. Back in Kenya he became involved in the struggle for freedom. He tells what happened after he was arrested and ‘taken to the police post which held about 400 prisoners and was run by a brutal European officer nicknamed “Kihara”’:
Many of the settlers were members of the local security forces, including the Kenya Police Reserve and Kenya Regiment. In these units, with white officers and native lower ranks, killings and ill treatment of black civilians became commonplace. The King’s African Rifles (KAR), which recruited native soldiers from all over East Africa, quickly gained a reputation for brutality in prosecuting the war: ‘The KAR were the first to be accused of atrocities. KAR troops, like those of the Kenya Regiment, routinely burned the houses of Kikuyu who were thought to sympathise with the Mau Mau, and it was KAR troops under the direct command of white officers who were said to have shot more than 90 prisoners in cold blood in what came to be known to the Mau Mau as the Kagahwe River massacre.’ 
Idi Amin, from Uganda, served as a soldier with the KAR in Kenya. A contemporary, Dr. Atieno Odhiambo, described Amin as ‘just the type the British liked, the type of African that they used to refer to as from the “warrior tribes”: black, big, uncouth, uneducated and willing to obey orders.’  A British officer said of Amin: ‘Not much grey matter, but a splendid chap to have about.’
It was in Kenya that Amin learned many of the brutal practices that he would employ against his own people in Uganda many years later: ‘Whether under orders by white officers or not, KAR soldiers often treated wounded Mau Mau by casually shooting or bayoneting them, or throwing them on top of dead Mau Mau in the back of a truck before driving off on a long journey during which the wounded either died on their own or were helped to do so.’ 
6: The Hardcore,
7: Mau Mau: An African Crucible,
8: Lust to Kill - the Rise and Fall of Idi Amin,
9: Mau Mau: An African Crucible,
Is Your Son a Murderer?
It was into this situation that reinforcements of British troops were rushed in 1952, many of them conscripts doing their National Service. Officers often found they had a natural affinity with the white Kenyans and spent much of their time-off at settlers’ homes and clubs. Most ordinary soldiers knew nothing about Kenya or why the ‘Emergency’ was happening, but many had similar racist views to the settlers:
These racist attitudes, combined with their indoctrination and the ‘Emergency’ situation, showed up in the soldiers’ actions: ‘British soldiers were demonstrating their dislike for the Mau Mau in the streets of Nairobi. Some soldiers, usually after drinking, stopped Africans at random, beat them, and stole whatever valuables they possessed.’  Army battalions who were stationed close to ‘Prohibited Areas’, which included the jungle-clad mountains and the surrounding scrub-land foothills where many Africans had settled after being forced from their fertile land, quickly sought to prove their effectiveness by recording ‘kills’. Africans detected in a ‘Prohibited Area’ - just like the ‘Free Fire Zones’ used by the US in Vietnam - were deemed to be ‘hostile’ and could be shot.
Many officers considered their units to be more professional than the local security forces and set about proving their superiority:
Back in Britain in early 1954 the Daily Herald carried a story about soldiers being paid for kills, under the headline: ‘IS YOUR SON A MURDERER?’ The regimental magazine of the Devons had mentioned the practice and questions were asked in the House of Commons. The War Office quickly convened a court of inquiry that exonerated British troops of any wrongdoing.
In Kenya, General Erskine expressed concerned about the Army’s image and issued an official warning to his troops: ‘It must be most clearly understood that the Security Forces under my command are disciplined forces who know how to behave in circumstances which are most distasteful.’ Erskine continued:
The warning did little to curb excesses and most practices continued covertly, with army units still keeping kills scoreboards - but now secretly. Erskine’s public statement was contradicted by the views expressed in his letters home: ‘Although Erskine referred to the practice of “beating up” Africans, he privately admitted that much worse had been going on, telling his wife that “there had been a lot of indiscriminate shooting” before his arrival.’ Other correspondence with his superior, Field-Marshal Sir John Harding, the Commander-in-Chief of the Middle-East Command, was also revealing:
During the ‘Emergency’ British aircraft dropped 50,000 tons of bombs on ‘Prohibited Areas’. They also fired over 2 million machine-gun rounds. Inevitably, many civilians as well as insurgents were killed and injured. RAF units, like Army regiments, kept a score of ‘kills’: ‘While some British soldiers were cutting off hands and sometimes ears as trophies of war, British airmen in the Royal Air Force were decorating their aircraft with their own trophies. Instead of the “kill” decals that in previous wars showed downed enemy aircraft, their decals pictured an African holding a spear.’ 
10: Mau Mau: An African Crucible,
11: Ibid - Mau Mau: An African Crucible,
12: Ibid - Mau Mau: An African Crucible,
13: Counter Insurgency in Kenya 1952-60,
14: Winning Hearts and Minds,
15: Mau Mau: An African Crucible,
Bringing the War Home
In the post 2nd World War years the British Army was made up of regulars and conscripts. Most soldiers in colonial conflicts obeyed their orders and carried out what they saw as their duty. Some, carried away on a tide of indoctrination and jingoism, believed passionately in what they were doing. In 1977, a disabled Scottish ex-soldier, who signed on as regular soldier just after the end of the 2nd World War, wrote about his experiences in some of these small wars:
Many other ex-soldiers suffered from physical and/or psychological wounds after leaving the army. Some brought home the violence they had been taught to dish out in colonial wars. Harry Roberts, convicted after the killing of three policemen on a west London street in 1966, and Donald Neilson - nicknamed the ‘Black Panther’ - who was convicted for four murders during a series of robberies and a kidnapping, were both ex-National Service men. Neilson had served in Kenya and Cyprus. Roberts, who had been a unit marksman, is a veteran of Malaya and Kenya.
A young British officer who had been involved in the fighting in Malaya said: ‘We were shooting people. We were killing them. ... This was raw savage success. It was butchery. It was horror.’ A National Serviceman who had served in Kenya said: ‘In the Aberdare Forest you were allowed to shoot any black man - if he’s black, you shoot him because he’s Mau Mau - it was a prohibited area.’ In jail Roberts told other ex-soldier prisoners he had once got into trouble for refusing to shoot an African in Kenya. He also spoke to a journalist who asked him why the policemen had been shot. Roberts replied: ‘They’re strangers, they’re the enemy ... It’s like people I killed in Malaya when I was in the army.’ 
16: Socialist Worker,
17: Hidden Wounds - The problems of Northern Ireland veterans in Civvy Street,
Divide and Rule
In Kenya the British authorities were still having difficulty containing the insurrection. While the level of anti-black brutality and repression did intimidate some Africans, many more became angry and threw their weight behind the resistance. Land and Freedom Army units were often led by black ex-soldiers who had fought in the British forces during the 2nd World War. Deep in the forests, they operated under British Army style discipline. Training and attacks occupied much of their time, but at night they sat around camp fires singing patriotic songs:
Some Land and Freedom Army members likened themselves to the Wat Tyler led peasants in England, who had revolted against feudal laws and taxes. They also spoke of ‘levelling’ in Kenya in much the same way as had the Levellers in England, before they were suppressed by Cromwell after the Civil War. New fighters and supplies were smuggled to Land and Freedom Army units in the forest areas by African supporters outside. In the towns and countryside support was strong and unwavering. Black prostitutes, who often had security forces personnel as clients, sometimes charged soldiers and policemen rounds of ammunition for their services. These bullets were then smuggled to the fighters in the forests.
The authorities, using divide and rule tactics, succeeded in creating divisions within African society and although Akamba, Maasai, Luo, Meru and Embu militants did join the Land and Freedom Army, the movement remained overwhelmingly Kikuyu. Who were now themselves split between the nationalists, including Land and Freedom Army members and supporters who wanted land reform and an end to white rule and taxes; and the loyalists, mainly the appointed chiefs and their supporters, who sided with the whites. While land and crops were confiscated from many nationalists, restrictions on native land ownership and farming were lifted for loyalists - allowing many of them to become wealthy compared to other Africans.
Counter-insurgency strategists then deemed it a priority to break the support system and isolate the Land and Freedom Army units in the forests. To achieve these objectives the Kikuyu were now herded into ‘reserve areas’ and ‘protected villages’, which, following on from their predecessors in Malaya, were like mass prison camps. Africans were subject to the control within of loyalists organised into armed ‘Home Guard’ units, and outside by police and soldiers.
The Kikuyu Home Guard, instigated and protected by the white administration and under the control of loyalist chiefs, quickly gained a reputation for ruthless and corrupt behaviour. There were allegations of extortion rackets and their actions became so scandalous that even one of the white judges, Justice A. L. Cram, criticised them during a hearing: ‘There exists a system of guard posts manned by headmen and chiefs, and these are interrogation centres and prisons to which the Queen’s subjects, whether innocent or guilty, are led by armed men without warrant and detained - and as it seems tortured until they confess to alleged crimes and are led forth to trial on the sole evidence of these confessions ... [to] a hostile bench primed with lies, and the shadow of the cells, flaying whips and threats...’ 
The enmity between the loyalists and the nationalists deepened and escalated into bloody fratricidal conflict. This was of great benefit to the British, as much Land and Freedom Army time and effort was now taken up with fighting the loyalists. The brunt of the war, from the British side, was now born by pro-white Africans and the conflict could be deemed a ‘civil war’ for propaganda purposes.
18: Thunder from the Mountains - Mau Mau Patriotic Songs,
19: Counter Insurgency in Kenya 1952-60,
Oaths & Propaganda
The offensive against African resistance was accompanied by a propaganda campaign aimed at dehumanising ‘Mau Mau’ in the eyes of the world. During the struggle a massacre occurred at Lari, a village dominated by a wealthy pro-colonial chief who ruled over many displaced squatters living as landless tenants. Some local Land and Freedom Army members attacked and killed the loyalist chief and some of his family and followers also died after their huts were set on fire. Enraged by this the Home Guard, reinforced with police and soldiers who had entered the village and the surrounding area, took their revenge by killing hundreds of the poor landless tenants and burning a large number of their huts. Afterwards, government press releases spoke only of an attack ‘by the bestial wave of Mau Mau’ and blamed all the murders on ‘terrorists insatiable for blood’. All the Lari killings then appeared in the western media as a ‘Mau Mau atrocity’.
Throughout the conflict, government press handouts featured lurid accounts of the oaths that Land and Freedom Army volunteers took when joining the organisation. Oathing was a traditional practice within the age group system of Kikuyu society, and its use for the underground resistance movement was simply an extension of this. Josiah M. Kariuki stated: ‘It is easy enough for anyone who knows my people to understand that it was a spontaneous decision that they should be bound together in unity by a simple oath. From what I have heard this oath began in the Kikuyu districts, starting in Kiambu. There was no central direction or control. The oath was not sophisticated or elaborate and initially was wholly unobjectionable...’ 
Oaths had been tolerated by the white administration and often used by loyalist chiefs to control the population. Oaths are also used in many societies including Britain, where members of the armed forces, police and others swear allegiance to the reigning monarch. They are undertaken to maintain commitment through bonding, honour and fear. The Kikuyu were mainly a peasant people and their oathing practices reflected this. Those being initiated sometimes held a moist ball of earth to their stomach and a liquid mixture containing crushed grain, soil and animal blood was smeared on their foreheads in the shape of the cross. The oaths were often militant, but usually simple and straightforward:
The second oath was taken during the bitter struggle between the militants and the loyalist Kikuyu. The practice was made to appear repugnant, but the Land and Freedom Army oaths were no more extreme in Kikuyu society than the Freemasons oath - which is also couched in violent language and strange rituals - is in ours.
Concentrating peoples’ minds on ‘Mau Mau’ oaths obscured the political nature of African opposition to British rule and played on western prejudices about ‘witch doctors’, evoking imagined images of the terrible and frightening practices of ‘savages’ in the dark jungles. Government propaganda fixed on this issue, portraying the ‘Mau Mau’ as a ‘bestial, sub-human gang’.
20: The Dissolution of the Colonial Empires,
21: Ibid - The Dissolution of the Colonial Empires,
‘Cleansing’ the ‘Mau Mau’
The first fruits of the propaganda campaign to dehumanise the ‘Mau Mau’ were seen in the increasingly brutal activities of the security forces. ‘Screening’, which was meant to uncover all Land and Freedom Army activists and supporters, quickly degenerated into callous torture as the interrogators tried to make the internees confess to have taken oaths. At all the camps the prisoners were brutally treated: ‘They [the white screeners] hated the Mau Mau in principle and they hated the sullen, obstinate refusal of the detainees to confess having taken an oath. Day after day they gave vent to their hatred with a frenzy of punches, kicks, and blows from clubs, whips and rubber hoses.’ 
The administration thought that the process of ‘screening’ - forcing a prisoner to confess to have taken an oath, followed by detention - would break and then ‘cleanse’ the ‘Mau Mau’. During screening some detainees screamed with pain, but many refused to cry out or confess. Often detainees were beaten unconscious, some were beaten to death. One screening camp used a loyalist Kikuyu to castrate prisoners who refused to confess. Other brutal practices included burning with lit cigarettes, cutting off fingers and ears and soaking victims with paraffin, who were then set on fire.
Rather than ‘cleansing’ the ‘Mau Mau’, the process brutalised many interrogators. Some, like this Kenya police officer who led a screening team for several months, began to realise the consequences of their actions:
Detainees who broke and admitted taking oaths often found a simple confession was not enough. In scenes reminiscent of the witch trials of the 16th and 17th centuries, the ill treatment of Africans continued till they confessed to lurid accounts of oath-taking that conformed to the stereotypes of this activity held in the minds of their captors. These confessions of ‘bestial oath-taking’ were then used as anti-‘Mau Mau’ propaganda by the authorities:
The background briefing issued to British soldiers arriving in Kenya also contained details of ‘Mau Mau’ oaths. Some detainees were forced to undertake anti-‘Mau Mau’ oaths as part of their ‘rehabilitation’. These oaths were administrated by ‘respectable’ Africans, who were laughingly called ‘Her Majesty’s Witch Doctors’ by the whites.
22: Mau Mau: An African Crucible,
23: Ibid - Mau Mau: An African Crucible,
24: Winning Hearts and Minds,
Executions & Internment
Sometimes British soldiers had to man firing posts on the edge of jungle areas, while ‘loyalist’ African ‘beaters’ hacked their way through the undergrowth towards them. ‘Mau Mau’ fleeing the ‘beaters’ were shot down by the waiting soldiers. The officers called these ‘grouse drives’. Much of this repression was reminiscent of Ireland in 1798 at the time of the United Irishmen. Like in Ireland, a travelling gallows was used in Kenya to swiftly execute ‘rebels’. Even in death, Africans were allowed no dignity:
As Westminster MPs back home debated ending the death penalty in Britain, non-jury courts in Kenya were sentencing thousands of Africans to hang: ‘Administering or taking Mau Mau oaths became a hanging offence, as did possessing arms or ammunition, and even consorting with people likely to carry out acts prejudicial to public order.’  In just over two years, between October 1952 and the end of 1954, 896 prisoners were executed. Many were sentenced during mass trials of up to 50 men, often after confessions had been obtained under torture. In other cases ammunition was planted on suspects to ensure a conviction.
In April 1954, the British Army launched a vast search and arrest operation. The capital, Nairobi, was saturated with troops and police and almost the entire black population was rounded up and ‘screened’. Many were deported from the city to the new ‘reserves’ and ‘protected villages’, but over 15,000 were interned without trial. Anyone found with a trade union card was interned or deported. The ‘screening’ process was repeated in all ‘troublesome areas’ till over 80,000 Africans were interned and held in detention camps.
Some camps were better than others, but life for most internees was harsh and brutal. The guards were usually waiting as the prisoners arrived: ‘With very few exceptions, whenever a shipment of detainees arrived at a detention camp, the men had to run the gauntlet of African guards - always under the command of whites - who whipped and beat them with rifle butts and batons until they were inside the wire.’ The food given to detainees was at little more than starvation levels, but prisoners were still made to labour for long hours under a scorching sun. They were also expected to show subservience to their white ‘superiors’: ‘In addition to being forced to work a 12 hour day, detainees were required to display a submissive attitude. It was not enough to call white men “Bwana” (“Sir”); they had to be called “effendi”, a Turkish term for superiors that was used in some police units and KAR battalions.’ 
25: Mau Mau: An African Crucible,
27: Mau Mau: An African Crucible,
African women, in households living below the poverty line, had a heavy burden to bear in Kenya and many joined, or supported, the underground struggle against the colonial system. The Land and Freedom Army included women among its ranks, who lived and fought in the forest areas. Many more helped run and support the underground network supplying the fighters, as this woman later recalled:
Women who were suspected of participating in the struggle were often subjected to sexual attacks from male members of the security forces: ‘Women were particularly vulnerable and many complained of molestation and of being raped by Home Guard loyalists. ... A former district commissioner, who witnessed many interrogations conducted by the police, described how bottles were used to sexually assault women suspects. “Some of the young police thought it was a bit of a laugh” he said.’  Kikuyu women also charged that British soldiers were guilty of rape. 
A woman militant recalled the ill treatment she had witnessed: ‘… The atrocities and other brutalities [they] subjected us to will never be forgotten – they beat us, raped our daughters in front of their parents, put bottles in our vaginas, and castrated men – they caused us untold suffering. Besides, they killed tens of hundreds of our compatriots.’  Over 30,000 women served time in the prison camps and nearly 8,000 were detained for long periods, most in a special camp near Nairobi. Some were young, many still in their teens, but they were treated no better - and often worse - than the men:
Some women detainees died in childbirth. Many other prisoners, both men and women, died after beatings or from sickness resulting from their ill treatment.
28: Kenya’s Freedom Struggle – The Dedan Kimathi Papers,
29: Daily Mail, 11th Dec. 1999.
30: Mau Mau: An African Crucible,
31: Kenya’s Freedom Struggle – The Dedan Kimathi Papers,
32: Mau Mau: An African Crucible,
The Hola Massacre
Inevitably, news of some brutal events in the camps leaked out, but it was not until near the end of the conflict that an incident caused concern in Britain. On Tuesday 3rd March 1959, 85 African detainees were marched out of Hola Detention Camp in the Coast Province of Kenya. The men were ‘hard core’ members of the Land and Freedom Army who considered themselves to be political prisoners. They were prepared to undertake domestic duties in prison such as collecting firewood, but refused to carry out work for the British administration.
Soon 11 detainees were beaten to death and 60 seriously injured as prison warders using batons attempted to force them to work. The warders were enforcing the ‘Cowan Plan’ which advocated compulsory forced labour for detainees as part of a ‘rehabilitation process’. The day after the killings, Robert Nelson Lindsay, the Chief Press Officer of the Kenya government, issued a press release:
These lies were exposed and the truth came out. A few Labour MPs, including Barbara Castle, attacked the Tory government about the ‘cover up’. Only a month before, Labour had demanded that a full-scale inquiry into all Kenya’s prison camps be undertaken. Castle had visited Kenya in 1955 and had come to the conclusion that the authorities often acted like ‘Nazis’ when dealing with Africans.
The Tory government still tried to excuse the killings, with the Colonial Secretary, Alan Lennox-Boyd, trying to justify the Cowan Plan to his fellow MPs at Westminster: ‘Experience has shown, time after time, that unless hard-core detainees can be got to start working, their rehabilitation is impossible. Once they have started working there is a psychological breakthrough and astonishing results are then achieved.’ Sydney Silverman then intervened to ask: “Who told the Right Honourable Member that? Stalin?”’ 
Tory MP John Peel dismissed the deaths as one of the risks of ‘dealing with desperate and sub-human individuals’ who had taken Mau Mau oaths. Lady Huggins, vice-chair of the Conservative Commonwealth Council, told students at Nottingham University: ‘Too much fuss is being made of the deaths of Mau Mau detainees at Hola camp. These men were certainly beaten to death, but they were in fact the worst type of criminals themselves and they would not have been accepted back in their home districts.’ 
In June 1959, just three months after the Hola Camp killings, Mr. J. B. T. Cowan, who was Acting Assistant Commissioner of Prisons in Kenya and the author of the Cowan Plan, was made an M.B.E. in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list. Then the colonial authorities, in an attempt to make people forget the happenings at Hola, changed the name of the camp to Galole.
34: The Guineapigs,
35: Ibid - The Guineapigs,
Some people in Kenya did question aspects of the ill treatment meted out to prisoners in the camps. But compassionate voices received no encouragement from the authorities and were often treated harshly themselves: ‘When the senior nursing officer in Kenya’s Medical Department criticised conditions at MacKinnon Road, the infuriated camp commandant put her in detention.’ 
Now and again doctors would complain about having to sign false death certificates after prisoners had been killed. They were usually cajoled or threatened into signing anyway, often specifying illness or disease as the cause of death. By June 1954, 402 prisoners had been listed as having died from tuberculosis and malaria alone (living conditions in the camps were so bad that detainees often genuinely died from these causes).
Duncan MacPherson, who was the Assistant Commissioner of Police in charge of the CID, wrote a letter to the Commissioner, detailing sixteen specific cases of murder, beatings, torture and rape by Home Guard and ‘screening’ personnel. The CID chief said that many of these incidents had occurred with the knowledge and complicity of government officials and that his attempts to investigate and prosecute were often hindered.
MacPherson had personal experience of prison camps, having been a long term prisoner of the Japanese. He eventually resigned from the Kenyan Police in disgust, and stated his view of the detainees and the camps: ‘Hundreds of these men and women were just listed and detained on the whim of various clerks with no authority at all ... all seemed well, provided a 10% quota was returned for detention ... I would say that the conditions I found existing in some camps in Kenya were worse, far worse than anything I experienced in my four and a half years as a prisoner of the Japanese [my emphasis].’ 
36: Mau Mau: An African Crucible,
Separated from its support systems by protected villages, home-guard posts and army and police actions, the Land and Freedom Army, under constant attack, split into increasingly isolated bands. The movement’s morale then faded and it was riven by internal disputes and factionalism. Towards the end of 1956, the main Land and Freedom Army leader, Dedan Kimathi, was captured and swiftly executed. By that time the war against ‘Mau Mau’ was almost over, the movement broken - especially by the RAF’s intensive bombing.
Afterwards, a police officer who had served on a screening team stated: ‘The Mickeys were hard men and only hard methods would work with them. It was a war to save white civilisation in Kenya and in war people get killed.’  As soon as ‘saving white civilisation’ was achieved, the British government reversed its political direction for Kenya. Conservative politicians like Harold Macmillan talked about the ‘winds of change blowing through Africa’ - which implied that countries like Kenya would become independent. Although defeated, the struggle of the Land and Freedom Army had shown that trouble would undoubtedly continue if Britain maintained direct control of Kenya.
At the end of the ‘Emergency’ in Kenya, Jomo Kenyatta was released after 7 years in detention. Although a moderate nationalist, he had been called a ‘terrorist’ by the British media and vilified as the ‘African leader to darkness and death’. On his release, he was groomed to become the leader of an ‘independent’ Kenya. On later visits to London, Kenyatta met the British Prime Minister at 10 Downing Street and dined with Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace.
The white settlers were outraged, but soon calmed down when they realised that the black government the British had in mind would still be friendly to their and British interests. After a period of rule by Kenyatta’s government, a former white critic told a visitor: ‘I don’t know where we’d be without him. And to think that only 18 months ago we were thinking of how we could manage to shoot the bastard.’ 
Almost the entire African sections of the security forces remained in place after Kenyan independence and British soldiers remained garrisoned about the country till 1965. The Kenyan government and administration led by Kenyatta turned out to be one of the most repressive and corrupt in Africa. It, and successive administrations, have kept their own people down, while acting for the betterment of Western economic interests and a small Kenyan neo-colonial elite:
In Nyeri, the ‘capital of Kikuyuland’, the main street was renamed Kimathi Way and on it a cenotaph was dedicated: ‘To the Memory of the Members of the Kikuyu Tribe who Died in the fight for Freedom 1951-1957.’ But in the new ‘independent’ Kenya the spirit of the struggle was being buried and those who tried to keep the memory alive were suppressed. Historians and writers, like Maina wa Kinyatti and Ngugi wa Thiongo, were jailed or driven into exile.
Ex-detainee Josiah M. Kariuki had became an MP and worked with Kenyatta as his private secretary. After a while he became disenchanted, as the new elite became enriched and the poor became steadily poorer. In 1975, after speaking out about this situation, he was abducted by two police officers outside the Hilton Hotel in Nairobi and murdered shortly afterwards. Before he was killed Kariuki had prophetically warned that Kenya could become a country of ‘ten millionaires and ten million beggars’.
38: Mau Mau: An African Crucible,
39: The British Empire,
40: The Politics of Cruelty,
Since the end of the 2nd World War, many western powers have been engaged in colonial conflicts. France was forced from Vietnam and later Algeria, Holland from Indonesia, Portugal from Mozambique and Angola and the USA from Vietnam. One of the main features of these wars had been the overwhelming superiority of the imperial forces in terms of military capability - weapons, technology, numbers of combat personnel and back-up etc. Yet, despite that superiority, western armies suffered a number of humiliating defeats. Robert Taber, in his book The War Of the Flea, summed up the characteristics of these conflicts:
In his book, On Revolt, J. Bowyer Bell described the way British governments responded to unrest in various colonies: ‘In carrying on the imperial dialogue the British often talked without listening, looked at events without seeing. As the years passed, potential rebels turned to a more lethal dialogue. Mass nonviolence, the politics of confrontation, and the tactics of direct action, first in Asia and then in Africa, not only caught the British by surprise, but also finally caught their attention.’  Bell also outlined Britain’s response when unrest had turned to revolt:
Britain’s response to colonial unrest was also designed to combat critical voices, as Bell stated: ‘British political tactics ... even in the midst of open revolt, varied vastly and could be quite flexible. A basic principle was to isolate and, if possible, ignore the rebels. This meant keeping out international investigators, ignoring United Nations resolutions, and turning back efforts to “broaden” the crisis.’ 
The basic Britain plan in their colonial wars, however, was almost exactly the same as that used to defeat the United Irishmen in 1798. This was to force any militants into premature armed actions, which could then be crushed by superior military capability - combined with divide and rule and repressive laws, interment and torture etc. Britain then sought to promote ‘moderate’ leaders, who could be relied on to toe a pro-colonial line and protect ‘British interests’.
41: The War of the Flea,
42: On Revolt - Strategies of National Liberation,
43: Ibid - On Revolt - Strategies of National Liberation,
44: Ibid - On Revolt - Strategies of National Liberation,
At the end of the 2nd World War British capitalism was almost bankrupt and deeply in hock to the new leaders of western imperialism, the USA. The British ruling class, however, resisted pressure to open up the Empire to US interests, resolving to significantly increase colonial exploitation instead. While this would help save British capitalism and shelter the workers at home from the worst effects of the crisis, it dramatically increased the exploitation of the native peoples in the colonies. All resistance was ruthlessly put down, especially from trade union activists or when it was linked to nationalist movements.
From 1945 both Conservative and Labour governments had been in office directing British policy during the many colonial conflicts. The Conservatives tended to be more openly bellicose, but there was little in practice to separate their actions. While a few Labour MPs had an honourable record of opposition to the unjust treatment and practices carried out by British forces during these wars, in both Malaya and Kenya the trade unions were suppressed under Labour governments. Some members of the labour movement bureaucracy in Britain then helped to set up ‘moderate’ unions, that were willing to reach conciliatory agreements with the colonial authorities.
At the end of the ‘Emergency’ in Kenya the British Government’s official report listed the cost of the war as £55,000,000. ‘Terrorist casualties’ were put at 11,503 killed and 1,035 wounded. While some wounded would have escaped and others crawled into thick undergrowth and died, these official figures still suggest a very high kill to wounded ratio. This resulted from a racist abhorrence that reduced the ‘Mau Mau’ to sub-humans in white minds - and led to the subsequent shoot to kill attitude of the security forces and settlers.
Kenyan sources have put the number of anti-colonial Africans killed in the conflict much higher, with 50,000 being suggested as something like the probable figure. And if we added the native people who died from starvation, disease and trauma brought on by deportations and ill treatment the toll could be well over 100,000. On the other side, Land and Freedom Army actions killed 1,819 loyalist Africans, and wounded 916. 1,582 members of the security forces were wounded, and 167 were killed, of which 63 were white. Perhaps the biggest surprise came in the figures for white civilian deaths:
Pro-establishment politicians and historians have tried to claim that Britain’s withdrawal from the Empire was relatively bloodless. This fiction, of a benevolent Westminster gradually bestowing independence on its grateful colonies, could only be maintained because of the propaganda that accompanied those conflicts. In Kenya, white deaths, both civilian and military, numbered under one hundred. A fact one would never have realised from reading the British papers at the time: ‘British tabloids, invariably wrote about “innocent”, “helpless”, or “heroic” whites being “slaughtered” or “butchered” by “fanatical”, “bestial”, “satanic”, “savage”, “barbaric”, “degraded”, or “merciless”, Mau Mau “gangsters”, or “terrorists”. While Kenya Government press releases bombarded the world with news of Mau Mau atrocities, the government neglected to publicise what their own troops did ...’ 
Today, the Imperial War Museum in London has a display of captured ‘Mau Mau’ weapons. Mostly they are homemade firearms, knocked together from bits of wood and metal piping - often with nails as firing pins. Armed with these pathetic guns an intrepid peasant army took on the might of the British Empire in what the pro-colonial writer, Margery Perham, described as ‘a pathological atmosphere’. However, the real ‘heart of darkness’ in Kenya lay not in ‘African savagery’, but in the racism in white minds, which combined with (and was multiplied by) settler xenophobia - to create an anti-African tyranny, in which the brutal war took place. Without help - and they had none - it was inevitable that the Land and Freedom Army would be beaten. The British administration, however, went much further, vilifying and crushing the movement into the ground and carrying out a policy of torture, internment and mass-slaughter against the native people of Kenya.
45: Historical Survey of the Origins and Growth of Mau Mau,
46: Mau Mau: An African Crucible,
47: Ibid - Mau Mau: An African Crucible,
......................© 2004 Aly Renwick / TOM....................
Now read chapter seven of Oliver’s Army