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Why Was the Mau Mau Rebellion So Violent

Why Was the Mau Mau Rebellion So Violent

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Why was the Mau Mau rebellion so violent?

Discuss with reference to both British and Kenyan sides of the conflict.
The American journalist John Gunther remarked that Mau Mau killings were, „as everybody knows, peculiarly atrocious‟. Victims might be „chopped to bits‟, partly for security‟s sake; all gang members had to join in and share the guilt. They might also remove a corpse‟s accusing eyes, for Kikuyu, after all, were profoundly superstitious‟1

In October 1952, the violence of the Kikuyu Mau Mau rebels had prompted such social tension among Africans and British in Kenya2 that the new governor, Sir Evelyn Baring, saw declaring a State of Emergency the only way forward to put an end to the rebellion.3 The spreading abuses during the Emergency by the authorities against anyone suspected of being a rebel4 lead to an increase in Mau Mau militancy and eventually to the outbreak of a guerrilla war.5 It took Britain four years to crush the rebellion. The outcome of the conflict: 95 Europeans and 1920 Africans killed by the Mau Mau, and 11503 Kikuyu killed by the colonial forces.6 Despite failing to become a purely nationalist movement7 and being defeated in the battlefield, the rebels succeeded in opening the way for the creation of a Kenyan independent state. They made the British realize that there was a problem in the colony and the urgency to solve it. Talks for the reshaping of the Kenyan political landscape were started between the

1

J. Lonsdale, „Mau Maus of the Mind: Making Mau Mau and Remaking Kenya‟, The Journal of African History, V. 31 (Cambridge, 1990), p. 398, quoting John Gunther, Inside Africa (New York, 1953, 1954, 1955), p. 82. 2 D. Anderson, Histories of the Hanged: Britain´s Dirty war in Kenya and the End of the Empire (2005), pp. 4352. 3 Idem Anderson, p. 52; Lonsdale, „Mau Maus of the Mind‟, p. 394. 4 These abuses were committed by the Kenya government authorities, which were virtually controlled by the white settlers. Among many different kinds of abuses, there were the Collective Punishments and the use of torture in police interrogations. Lonsdale, „Mau Maus of the Mind‟, p. 396; Anderson, Histories of the Hanged, p. 46; J. Palmowski, „Mau Mau‟, A Dictionary of Contemporary World History (2004). 5 Lonsdale, „Mau Maus of the Mind‟, pp. 394-396. 6 Ibid. Palmowski. 7 It was been argued that the Mau Mau failed to become a pure nationalist movement because it was a specific Kikuyu entity and thus, it rejected all non-Kikuyu from its membership. Moreover, within the Kikuyu, the Mau Mau also discriminated those faithful to the authorities, the loyalist. D.W. Throup, „The Origins of Mau Mau‟, African Affairs, V. 84, No. 336 (July 1985), p. 421.

1

Why was the Mau Mau rebellion so violent?

Enrique Requero

colonial authorities and the representatives of the different African groups. Kenyatta was the leading figure for the Africans and became prime minister in 1963.8 Many, including the leader of the settlers Captain Briggs, saw this development of events as “a victory for Mau Mau”.9 This victory legitimised Mau Mau‟s vicious use of violence, which alarmed the British and which had its origins in times as early as the 1920s. However, in order to understand better the consequences of the Mau Mau rebellion, in this essay I will discuss how the roots of the Kikuyu unrest led to such violence on both sides. First, I will look at the African (Kikuyu) side of the conflict, to their tensions with the white population, but also to the increase of divisions among them. Secondly, I will study different theories about the Mau Mau violence that were formulated on the British side. The conclusion will be that this particular conflict appeared out of progressive socio-political polarization that took place during the previous decades between both whites and Africans, but also among the Africans themselves, especially the Kikuyu. The Crown Land Ordinance of 1926 was the origin of the divisions between whites and blacks in Kenya. It divided the territory into different African Reserves for each of the tribes and White Highlands for the settlers. This division affected mainly the lands of the Kikuyu people. In 1902, the Kikuyu had helped the British settlers to build their farms, ignoring the futures consequences of doing so. Soon the whites claimed the right of property over the lands they had settled in. The natives ignored the concept of ownership, they argued, and therefore the land was free.
10

Africans then claimed to have githaka – an ancestral

inherited right – over the land; but it was too late. As a consequence of the claims made to

8

In 1953 the colonial authorities had imprisioned Jomo Kenyatta accusing him of being responsible for the formation of the rebel group, despite his criticisms against their use of violence. Once released, Kenyatta managed to clean up his reputation by marginalizing the Mau Mau within the African public opinion, through his stress on the criminality of the movement. He was thus the better fitted to lead the new nation. Throup, „Origins of Mau Mau‟, pp. 429-433; Lonsdale, „Mau Maus of the Mind‟, pp. 419-421. 9 George Bennett and Carl Rosberg, The Kenyatta Election: Kenya 196o-1961 (London, 1961), p. 22; in Lonsdale, „Mau Maus of the Mind‟, p. 394. 10 Anderson, Histories of the Hanged, p. 23.

Why was the Mau Mau rebellion so violent?

Enrique Requero

London, the Kenya Land Commission was created to study the case. In 1934, the Commission confirmed the claims of the whites and the Kikuyu were asked to migrate to the reserves.11 However, with the background of the Depression of the 1930s and the fact that the white farmers still needed manpower to finish settling, many were allowed to stay on their lands. Nevertheless, they were now legally regarded as “squatters”. They became tenant labourers and the white settlers landlords.12 The qualitative and quantitative unequal territorial division that came about in Kenya with the colonial rule can be seen as a significant landmark leading to greater hatred towards the settlers. This was a hatred that would be clearly expressed by the Mau Mau rebels. African farming became essential for the whites to survive the Depression, although the government usually favoured white production and left the natives on a second level, putting up barriers to their trading activities.13 However, the advent of the Second World War suddenly transformed Kenya. The conflict was very profitable for the colony, which became strategically essential to provide food for the Allies‟ troops fighting both in the Atlantic and the Pacific. Thus, Kenya tripled its agricultural production. The white farmers saw this as the perfect opportunity to maximize their capital, both to pay for their debts from the Depression and to make some profit. 14 Nonetheless, the African farmers stood as an obstacle in their way. New regulations were introduced to limit African production, resulting in progressive impoverishment of the squatter farmers and the growing capitalization of the settlers. Squatters attempted to go into strike on 1946, but the initiative soon collapsed for lack of cohesion. Between 1946 and 1952 100,000 squatters were expelled from the Highlands and resettled in the reserves. 15 Those who stayed in the Highlands stayed in poverty. White greed

11 12

Ibid. pp. 21-22. J. Lonsdale, „The Depression and the Second World War in the Transformation of Kenya‟, in D. Killingray and R. Rathbone (eds.), Africa and the World War (1986), p. 112. 13 Lonsdale, „Depression and Second World War‟ p. 103. 14 Ibid. pp. 120-21. 15 Throup, „Origins of Mau Mau‟, p. 412.

Why was the Mau Mau rebellion so violent?

Enrique Requero

made them see blacks as working animals, which had to be treated like animals when reacted violently. Here it can be seen pressure increasing, which exploded with the Mau Mau and explains the harshness of the white response to the rebellion. The expelling of the squatters lead to the Second Colonial Movement, when government introduced Olenguruone, a new scheme for the resettlement of the squatters expelled and forcibly repatriated in the Nakuru district.
16

Olenguruone gave rise to more

tensions. Firstly, the squatters thought that they were being given githaka over the territories in which they had been resettled, so they wanted to work their new lands in their traditional ways. Hence, they were reluctant to accept the governmental provisions for the modernisation of African agriculture.17 Moreover, Kikuyu chiefs made use of the scheme for their own profit, and used forced labour to work on their lands. Head by Samuel Koiba Gitebi, those Kikuyu who resisted the government were expelled with nowhere to go. The government took the hard line in Olengurone because it was the model for future resettlement programmes in other parts of the country and therefore had to succeed. Many of the Olenguruone Kikuyu expelled went to Nairobi, where they became urban workers or criminals as a consequence of high unemployment. For all of these, Olengurone played an important role in the spread of militancy among Kikuyu in Nairobi, where the initial rise of the Mau Mau was originated.18 In 1945, apart from high capitalization due the profits of the war and the expelling of squatters, the white settlers also became more powerful. Through the Agricultural Production and Settlement Board, they seized control over the production process and improved the management of their farms. Thus, they became more respectable and united, reaching a position of hegemony that gave them control over the Kenya government institutions.19 In

16 17

Anderson, Histories of the Hanged, p. 26. Ibid. p.27. 18 Throup, „Origins of Mau Mau‟, p. 415. 19 Lonsdale, „Depression and Second World War‟, p. 124.

Why was the Mau Mau rebellion so violent?

Enrique Requero

contrast to the whites‟ progression in political power from the Legislative Councils to the government, the only form of political representation Africans enjoyed was through personal dealings with chiefs and district commissioners and through Local Native Councils, although the latter had a consultative character only.20 The many different political and economical ways for the peaceful expression and resolution of grievances were being closed for Africans, leaving opened only that of the violent action. In parallel to the widening gap between whites and Africans, there was also an increasing social stratification and political division within the Kikuyu. Chiefs were at the top of the social hierarchy. Politically, they formed the conservative group and were considered the “gatekeepers of the colonial state”, as Anderson describes them.21 The government saw Kikuyu chiefs as the perfect political tool to rule over the natives; and so, the Local Native Councils were created to consolidate their authority.22 Chiefs generally did all they could to hold on to their wealth and hence they supported all colonial policies during the post-war crisis, making use of them for their personal ends. They did not hesitate to step on their own people if they saw a profit behind doing so. An example of this was with chief Ignatio, in the location eight of Murang‟a, who forced labourers to work with new terracing policies, beginning by compelling them to work his own lands.23 There was also a moderate political group formed mainly by members of the Kikuyu educated elite, like Kenyatta. Many of the moderates had been conservatives in the past. However, the findings of the Land Commission and the clash of Western and African moral values in the clitoridectomy crisis of the late 1920s, made their enthusiasm for colonial rule to vanish. The new moderates then started to work for the promotion of African interests. They created the Kikuyu Central Association (KCA) and the Kenya African Union (KAU) when

20 21

Ibid. p. 101. Anderson, Histories of the Hanged, p. 11. 22 Ibid. p. 17. 23 Throup, „Origins of Mau Mau‟, p. 422.

Why was the Mau Mau rebellion so violent?

Enrique Requero

the former was banned in 1940. An example of a „convert‟ moderate was the conservative chief Koinange Wa Mbiyu, who a became moderate nationalist in the 1930‟s. Koinange was involved in the claiming of the return of lands to the Kikuyu. He also financially supported the creation of the Kikuyu Independent Schools Association that appeared as a response to the British attempts to impose Christian morals in the clitoridectomy crisis. Finally, Koinange played an important role in the formation of both the KCA and the KAU. 24 His three sons also later became important politicians when the Kikuyu political divisions sharpened.25 The Kikuyu militant nationalist group was directly responsible for the shaping of the Mau Mau in the 1950s. Its leaders came from the poor Kikuyu families and they supported all those Kikuyu harmed by the socio-economical changes that were taking place in Kenya. Among others, they supported the squatters, the younger generations who had become landless in the overpopulated reserves, the urban workers in Nairobi and the ex-askaris.26 Consequently, the militant group progressively consolidated its position in Nairobi, creating the Muhimu group. Between 1948 and 1950 talks were started between the Muhimu and the moderates in the Kiambaa Parliament and the KAU. The consequences of the talks were of major relevance in the formation of the Mau Mau. Through the agreements reached in the talks, militants made their way into the KAU. They eventually took control over it, modified its political agenda and made use of its power to spread out their influence from Nairobi to the rest of the Kikuyu territories. The oathing movement then started to promote affiliation to the cause and violence was used to ensure it happened. Their aim was to get rid of all Europeans and their collaborators.27
24 25

Anderson, Histories of the Hanged, pp. 12 and 18-20. Peter Koinange, for example, was the main responsible for the dialogues started between the Kiambaa Parliament and the Muhimu, described below. Anderson, Histories of the Hanged, pp. 29 and 38-45. 26 The ex-askaris were those who had made profit by fighting for the British in the war and came back to Kenya with optimism to start new businesses. Nevertheless, their plans failed because of the obstacles laid down by the conservatives. They fell into poverty and found their only way to survival by the formation of semi-criminal gangs in Nairobi, like the Anake a forti (Forty Group). Throup, „Origins of Mau Mau‟, pp. 406-7; Anderson, Histories of the Hanged, p. 13 and 35-38. 27 Anderson, Histories of the Hanged, pp. 38-45.

Why was the Mau Mau rebellion so violent?

Enrique Requero

From the point of view of the Kikuyu, the violence of the Mau Mau appears as the meeting point of two parallel processes that had been developing during previous decades. On the one hand there was the escalating tension with the British, with the lands taken from the Kikuyu and given to the settlers and a widening politico-economic gap between them. On the other hand Mau Mau also came about as a consequence of emerging political divisions and social stratifications among the Kikuyu. Militancy grew as the poor saw in violence the only way to stop their worsening situation. This situation had been prompted by the abuses of the settlers, the complicity or consent of chiefs with them and the inability of the moderates to accomplish any of the guarantees of change they had promised. However, from the British point of view, the origins of the Mau Mau violence were very different. The British were united in crushing the Mau Mau. Nevertheless, there were different opinions of how to do it, dividing them into three groups. This division resulted from the different causes that they attributed to the rise of the rebellious violent actions. The first group was that of the settlers. They were highly biased by their conflict with the squatters and the reports of the perversion and horror of the Mau Mau oathing ceremonies. The white farmers saw the radical movement coming as the squatters armed, ready to take a savage revenge for their impoverishment and expelling from the Highlands. There was great alarm and concern among them and thus they demanded drastic measures from the government to stop the rebellion. They believed that the Kikuyu had no grievance and as a result the Mau Mau needed to use violence to make itself be heard. Moreover, for them the Mau Mau proved that despite receiving Western education, Africans were still savages and therefore unfitted for democracy. The attempts of the Colonial Office to democratise Kenyan politics had only showed weakness and there was the need of restoring European dominance by dealing with

Why was the Mau Mau rebellion so violent?

Enrique Requero

the Mau Mau with firmness and force. That was the only language which savages understood.28 From the liberal point of view of the Colonial Office, the Mau Mau was the outcome of the difficulties that Africans were encountering when trying to engage with the cultural change that was taking place in Kenya. This view was built on basis of the theories of Dr Colin Carothers and Dr Louis Leaky. For the former, Mau Mau was a reaction to psychic insecurity growing out of loosing cultural supports in the process of modernisation. Thus, Carothers‟ remedy was self-assurance of modernity for the Kikuyu, which the liberals translated into practical terms such as permanent employment, the fostering of family life and the improvement of wages and living conditions.29 Leaky, on the other hand, explained that the perversion of the Mau Mau oathing was not in its violence but in its sociology. The Mau Mau made use of traditional Kikuyu oathing ceremonies and values, at the same time as violating them by forcing people to take them, including women and children.30 Christian missionaries shared the liberal point of view and thus, started works of rehabilitation and conversion of Kikuyu retained in detention camps.31 The British military differed from the other two groups in their conception of the Mau Mau. General Erskine acknowledged that there was an aim behind the oaths and that violence was intended to attain it.32 They also cooled down the exaggerations about the savagery of the rebels, which Captain Kitson described as “no more than the antics of naughty school boys” whose purpose was to scare people off.33 Above all, members of the army recognised that the Mau Mau had clear political motivations. These were mainly the attaining of more land and

28 29

Lonsdale, „Mau Maus of the Mind‟, pp. 405-409. J.C. Carothers, The African Mind in Health and Disease (Geneva, 1953), pp. 54-5, 130-3. In Lonsdale, „Mau Maus of the Mind‟, pp. 409-10. 30 L.S.B. Leaky, Mau Mau and Kikuyu (London, 1952), in Lonsdale, „Mau Maus of the Mind‟, p. 400. 31 Lonsdale, „Mau Maus of the Mind‟, p. 413. 32 General Sir George Erskine, despatch, „The Kenya Emergency June 1953-May 19555‟, 2 May 1955; PRO, WO 236/18; in Lonsdale, „Mau Maus of the Mind‟, p. 414. 33 Frank Kitson, Gangs and Counter-gangs (London, 1960), p. 131. In idem Lonsdale.

Why was the Mau Mau rebellion so violent?

Enrique Requero

power of self-determination. Violence was the only recourse left to achieve them, as the Mau Mau General China declared in a police interrogation.34 The army saw the rebellion as a political war that needed to be finished by political means; peace by concession and agreement, “not enforced by the tyranny of good intentions [liberals] and warder‟s truncheons [settlers]”.35 The savage violence of the Mau Mau ravaged Kenya in the early 1950s, tearing apart the harmony between whites and blacks (and within blacks) that could have been won if a more just partition of land and a more egalitarian distribution of economic and political

roles had been worked out in the first place. The greed and prejudices of the settlers resulted in them using aggressive retaliation, while black suppressed anger exploded into butchery and carnage on a scale which has been all too common in African history. 36 Meanwhile, if the Mau Mau was defeated, it was mainly as a consequence of its criminalization by Kenyatta.37 Thanks to him the rebels lost supporters and once the situation was stabilized, the authorities were ready to dialogue. On the other hand, it was significant how the whites (mainly the settlers, but also governors such as Mitchwell38) willingly ignored the worsening situation of the poor, who ended up joining the Kikuyu militant movement. This ignorance explains their later inability to identify the origin of the Mau Mau, leaving Kenyatta as the only one able to stop it. Thus, Kenyan independence could be seen as an example supporting current Africanist historical discourses: Africans started the rebellion, Africans stopped it and Africans worked out their independence, with the whites as mere observers. (70%)
34

„Flash Report No. I – Interrogation of Kaleba‟, Special Branch headquarters, 28 Oct. 1954. In Lonsdale, „Mau Maus of the Mind‟, p. 416. 35 Lonsdale, „Mau Maus of the Mind‟, pp. 416-7. 36 Lonsdale and Odhiambo are right in referring to the Mau Mau as one of the many examples of fratricide violence in the roots of modern nations (in this case, violence against other Kikuyu and against people of other tribes). J. Lonsdale and E.S. Atieno Odhiambo (eds.), Mau Mau and Nationhood: Arms, Authority, and narration, (London, 2003), pp. 1-7. 37 Throup, „Origins of Mau Mau‟, pp. 429-433; Lonsdale, „Mau Maus of the Mind‟, pp. 419-421. 38 Anderson, Histories of the Hanged, p. 52.

Why was the Mau Mau rebellion so violent?

Enrique Requero

Bibliography J. LONSDALE, „Mau Maus of the Mind: Making Mau Mau and Remaking Kenya‟, The Journal of African History, V. 31 (Cambridge, 1990). - „The Depression and the Second World War in the Transformation of Kenya‟, in D. Killingray and R. Rathbone (eds.), Africa and the World War (1986). - and E.S. ATIENO ODHIAMBO (eds.), Mau Mau and Nationhood: Arms, Authority, and narration, (London, 2003) - „East Africa‟, in J.M. Brown and W.R. Louis (eds.), The Oxford History of the British Empire, vol.4, “The Twentieth Century” (1999). D. ANDERSON, Histories of the Hanged: Britain´s Dirty war in Kenya and the End of the Empire (2005). J. PALMOWSKI, „Mau Mau‟, A Dictionary of Contemporary World History (2004). D.W. THROUP, „The Origins of Mau Mau‟, African Affairs, V. 84, No. 336 (July 1985). K. KYLE, The Politics of the Independence of Kenya, (New York, 1999). B.A. OGOT and W.R. OCHIENG (eds.), Decolonization & Independence in Kenya 1940-93 (Nairobi, 1995). J. GUNTHERº, Inside Africa (New York, 1953, 1954, 1955). G. BENNETT and C. ROSBERG, The Kenyatta Election: Kenya 196o-1961 (London, 1961). J.C. CAROTHERS, The African Mind in Health and Disease (Geneva, 1953). L.S.B. LEAKY, Mau Mau and Kikuyu (London, 1952). General Sir George Erskine, despatch, „The Kenya Emergency June 1953-May 19555‟, 2 May 1955; PRO, WO 236/18. F. KITSON, Gangs and Counter-gangs (London, 1960). „Flash Report No. I – Interrogation of Kaleba‟, Special Branch headquarters, 28 Oct. 1954.

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