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MAU MAU REBELLION, KENYA
The Mau Mau rebellion was an uprising of landless, slave-wage laborers in Kenya, who were frustrated with the racist colonial system that was established by the British to steal land and resources from Blacks to give to white colonizers. It was led by leaders such as Jomo Kenyata, Dedan Kimathi, Waruhiu Itote or General China, and Tom Mboya.
The movement began with overt passive resistance in 1946, but erupted in an all out rebellion in 1952 with a force numbering roughly 30,000 to a million Kenyans, mostly from the Kikuyu ethnic group.
The Mau Mau organized a secret society and a fighting force that had to take an oath to remove British rule and European settlers from the country. Wings of the movement began armed guerrilla attacks on white settler holdings and on Africans who supported the British regime.
By late 1952, the colonial governor of Kenya declared a state of emergency, and employed brutal methods to put down the rebellion, including brutal torture tactics, lynchings, forced migrations, and detention and labor camps. Although the British quelled the uprising four years later, the seeds of Kenya’s Independence, had already been sown
Mau Mau (rhymes with cow) is a term used to describe the Kenyans who fought against British rule in the 1950s for land and political freedom. No one really knows where the term Mau Mau came from. It was possibly used by the British to describe dissenters before the Mau Mau become a true movement. One thing I remember being told was that Mau Mau had no real meaning but essentially meant “Those people over there.”
The Mau Mau movement began in 1946 and was a rebellion of landless peasants and low paid laborers. Did you know that a Kenyan laborer was paid approximately one fifth of what a British laborer made?
The movement was largely made up of Kikuyu tribe members. The Mau Mau was a secret society and a fighting force. One of their goals was to kill Europeans and the African collaborators. They were able to get supplies from a few sources: through popular support of the people, forcing people to contribute even though they didn’t support the cause, and theft. The rebellion officially got underway in 1952 with a force numbering around 30,000 Kenyans. Although, they didn’t have much in the way of weapons and little financial support it took four years for the British to put down the rebellion.
The British declared a state of emergency that lasted until 1960. Kenyans were gathered up into ‘protected villages’ surrounded barbed wire and booby trapped trenches. They were not allowed to leave during the hours of darkness. If they were caught out after curfew a Kenyan would run the risk of being shot. The British employed 20,000 Kikuyu tribesmen as ‘home guards’ to help squash the Mau Mau rebellion.
A month after the Mau Mau rebellion began, Jomo Kenyatta along with close to 200 other Kenyans went on trial for being involved with the Mau Mau. The case against Kenyatta was extremely weak. Nevertheless, Kenyatta was sent to prison for seven years and was later released under house arrest in Lodwar – a very hot, dry, desert-like area of Kenya.
The Mau Mau hid in the forests of the Great Rift Valley where the British evidently had a hard time flushing them out. The rebellion was finally crushed in 1956. It took 21,000 paramilitary police, thousands of armed loyalists (British supporting Kenyans), and a full division of British troops supported by the Royal Air Force with jets and bombers to accomplish Mau Mau defeat.
Britain has finally apologised for war crimes committed at the end of the British rule in Kenya and agreed to compensate Kenyans tortured during the Mau Mau rebellion.
The British High Commissioner to Kenya, Christian Turner stood in front of the Mau Mau camp survivors and a read out a statement that discarded Britain’s appeal of the Mau Mau case in the high court, which was filed in 2009. The faces of the elderly camp survivors present were full of emotion, relief perhaps. In most quarters this decision was long overdue. For others it didn’t reflect all the victims of the struggle and the collaborators, who were actual victims of atrocities committed by the Mau Mau.
David Anderson author of the Histories of the Hanged says, ‘the Mau Mau war cannot be reduced to a modern morality tale. This gritty struggle divided the Kikuyu communities of central Kenya: many people were unwilling to support violence, and Kikuyu Christians in particular stood against the rebels.’
So is this an antecedent for former British empires like Sierra Leone, who also endured a long struggle before gaining independence? Is the Mau Mau case unique? Did the unearthed Hanslope files provide a foundation for a strong case against the British Government? The answer is heavily skewed towards Yes. Will it lead to future cases against the Empire? Possibly. Is this case unique? Yes. Evidence in the case was overwhelming, the history unearthed staggering.
For decades in Kenya the Mau Mau movement has been credited for being one of the main reasons why the empire relinquished its grasp on Kenya. The Mau Mau were freedom fighters, heroes and men of valour. Not hooligans or sub-human beings that lived like animals in the bush and had a penchant for violence or callousness. For many Kenyans and indeed in the African context the Mau Mau movement was a catalyst for change.
The British Government has made a strong step towards reconciliation and that cannot be unheeded. It is our prayer that though the past has left ineradicable scars our future will bring more healing and peace to communities that suffered indignity in the past across the continent.
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