The Mau Mau uprising is one among many resistances put up by
various African peoples to kick out the Europeans who invaded Africa at the end
of the 19th century. The Mau Mau uprising began in present day Kenya, in 1952 when it was still controlled by the British.
The owners of the land, the indigenes, revolted against the
inequalities and injustices they faced under British draconian colonization.
The colonial administration, in retaliation and hope to assert their authority
commenced a fierce crackdown on the rebels which led to many deaths and
The British, with better fire power, were able to crush the
rebels in 1956, but one thing was certain, and that was that the people will
not rest till the British left their lands and returned to Britain. This
resolve by the people of Kenya was what led to their independence in 1963.
The Invasion By The British
The British officials, missionaries and companies arrived in
Kenya at the end of the 19th century, just after the Berlin Conference of
1884-1885. The European nations sat together and planned to invade
Africa and seize her lands. This process was later to be
known as the "scramble for Africa."
The African region we know today as Kenya was under the
control and rule of the Sultan of Zanzibar. Pressure and military bullying and
operations by the British, forced the Sultan to hand over the territory to the
British empire. The Sultan, at the same, also handed over Tanganyika to the
The Berlin conference ended with an agreement for the
European nations to forcefully take any African land and declare it their
territory. This agreement saw the British gaining control of most of the Eastern
part of Africa, rather brutally, and in what we call "Caucasian
A few years before the Berlin Conference, the British had
already mapped out their strategy to invade Africa, and started advancing
inland in 1890. Their major goal was to gain access to the highlands of the
region, where they would assemble their forces and provide security for their
newly possessed colony of Uganda.
To make their settlement on the highlands easy, they started
to build a railway line from Mombasa to Kisumu. They accomplished this with
Indian workers. The British Empire sent soldiers with the primary assignment of
suppressing the locals who resisted the intrusion of their land. The natives
who the railway line was to pass their lands were the Maasai, kikuyu, and the
At first, the natives didn't know what to make of the blatant aggression
by the British. In the normal African hospitability, some of the welcomed
the British; although others were hostile, and acted in defense of their land
The British didn’t care about the feelings of the natives.
They went about their show of force, and made it a sport to shoot and kill the
natives randomly. This devilish act led the natives to withdraw their welcome
and resort to self-defense.
The Maasai people didn't want to go to war with the British,
so they avoided any confrontations with the soldiers. The Kikuyu on the other
hand did not see themselves bowing to the British and giving up their land, so
they formed a few resistances to the intrusion of the British forces.
The resistance by the Kikuyu people angered the British
officials, who became genocidal, and started to hunt down the Kikuyu and Kamba
people. They murdered and expelled the people from their lands. The campaign of
murder and chaos by the British resulted to an outbreak of famine and disease.
A rinderpest epidemic swept through the region.
The disease killed off almost the livestock of the people,
and contributed to the already devastating situation the British guns had put
the people. The British after subduing the Kikuyu, Maasai, and Kamba people
with their weapons and murderous disposition, went on to make room for European
settlers, who began to arrive in 1903. The British seized large expanse of land
and gave them to the few European settlers, thereby adding to the crimes
against the indigenous people.
The British engaged in a well-planned revocation of fertile
land from the indigenous owners and reallocated them to the British farmers,
who had move down from Britain or South Africa. This was basically taking away
the sources of food and livelihood of thousands of Africans, and giving them to
foreigners, with a threat to life. This is nothing short of terrorism. The
taking of massive lands belonging to the indigenous people caused great hatred
for the British, and the next steps which the British took to uphold the land
grab, set the tone for the various rebellions that would follow, up until
independence, and beyond.
The British came up with a law which they called the
"The Crown Lands Ordinance Act of 1915", that took away the few
remaining rights the native people had to their lands. To make matters worse,
there was a huge influx of British settlers immediately after the First World
War. The British government set up a scheme to resettle many ex-soldiers in
Africa and give them stolen lands for agriculture.
The British didn't see anything wrong with what they were
doing, and since it was profitable to them, they continued their land seizure
and oppressions. This was a major rallying force that brought together Kenyans
to form organizations that campaigned for the restoration of land rights for
the indigenous displaced people. These organizations included the East African
Association (EAA), formed in 1921 but banned the following year, and the Kenyan
African Union (KAU), formed in 1942.
Hundreds of thousands of Kenyans lived in poverty and many
lived in slums around Nairobi, while the foreigners (Europeans and Indians)
lived wealthy lifestyles. The painful part was that the foreigners were hostile
to the indigenous people and treated them with contempt.
In the rural areas, just 3000 European families owned more
land than one million Kikuyu people, whom they drove into the reserves. This
situation and many others set the anger of the people on a very tight tempo and
motivated the various nationalist movements, whose campaigns led to the Mau Mau
The Mau Mau Fire Spreads And Burns
By the beginning of the 1950s, the nationalist movements
started to take a new turn, as there was more anger among the people. More and
more of the Kikuyu people wanted an alternative means of tackling the
oppression other than the constitutional reforms campaigned for by the older
people of the nationalist movements such as the KAU.
The Kikuyu became fierce in their approach and turned to
violence as the only legitimate means to take back their land and country. In
the years that followed they successfully carried out mall-scale attacks on
European settlements and properties.
The people supported their militant tactics and as the
months went by more and more Kenyans joined the militants, who used a campaign
of oath taking to make others believe in their course and keep it a secret.
This was how the Mau Mau movement was born. The movement
grew as the years went by, attracting other branches of the KAU to join their
radical approach to freedom. While the Mau Mau grew in strength and agitations,
the European government and settlers took no real interest in reducing their
oppressive laws and rights. They continued to use the existing policies to steal
land from the indigenes, and even propose new laws which would reduce the
rights of the Kenyans even further.
This final move broke the camel's back, and the Mau Mau
movement was forced into an all-out armed resistance. Their first targets were
the Kikuyu people who were collaborating with the Europeans, against their own
people. They attacked and assassinated those who gave information to the
colonial police regarding the Mau Mau movement in 1952. The prominent Kikuyu
people who collaborated with the Europeans were killed, and a small number of
white settlers were also attacked.
The colonial police went into action, and started to round
Kikuyu people whom they suspected to be Mau Mau members. Hundreds were taking
into detention to prevent them from associating with the Mau Mau movement. But
that did not stop the Mau Mau movement from growing. By the middle of 1952,
almost 90% of the Kikuyu adult had taken the Mau Mau oath, and worked together
to oust the Europeans.
The colonial governments made the Kikuyu chiefs to speak
against the Mau Mau movement and organize "cleansing oaths" that was
supposed to dissolve the initial oath taking by the Mau Mau initiates. Jomo
Kenyatta, who later became Kenya's first president also spoke up against the
Mau Mau, and till date many Kenyans don't believe he was a sell-out and a British
puppet. One Kikuyu chief, who was a major collaborator with the British, was assassinated
near Nairobi, in October 1952. His name was Senior Chief Waruhiu. His death was
celebrated greatly by the Mau Mau movement and the people. The British colonial
government frowned at his assassination. The British government then declared a
State of Emergency two weeks after the chief's assassination.
After the colonial government declared a State of Emergency,
they followed it up with a police crackdown and arrest of 187 Kikuyu people whom
they considered to be the leaders of the Mau Mau. They called it Operation Jock
Scott. The 187 arrested included some leaders of the KAU, but the colonial
police failed to arrest the Mau Mau Central Committee.
The British deployed their soldiers in an attempt to
intimidate the Mau Mau and halt their increasing attacks, but the opposite
effect was achieved. The Mau Mau took another hard offensive and assassinated
another senior Kikuyu chief and a group of European settlers. The Mau Mau then
changed strategy, and transformed into a full combatant force. They left their
homes in their thousands and set up a military base in the forests of Aberdares
and Mt. Kenya. There they grew in number and strength, and formed their own
government and army, with military commanders emerging from their midst. Some
of the notable commanders were Waruhiu Itote and Dedan Kimathi. The British
army and police were able to subdue the attacks coming from the Mau Mau camp
for the rest of 1952. The following year started with a vast scale attack on
Europeans settlers and farmers, and also their African loyalists and sympathizers.
The resumed waves of attacks sent a severe shock to the European population,
who then mounted pressure on the government to take precise action to stop the
The Kenyan security forces, under the command of the British
army set out to stop the Mau Mau. They surrounded the Mau Mau camps in the
forest. While the army was surrounding the camps, the colonial government
embarked on a large-scale eviction of the Kikuyu people from their lands, which
was marked to be given to European farmers.
The British created concentration camps where they put whole
villages of the Kikuyu people if they found one person from the village to be a
Mau Mau member. This was to dissuade them from joining the Mau Mau army. The
concentration camps were pure evil, as the British used abuse, torture and
sexual molestation to extract information from the Kikuyu prisoners. This
angered the Kikuyu more and forced hundreds of them to join the Mau Mau
fighters in the forest.
By this time, there was serious fighting between the Mau Mau
army and the British army. On March 26 of 1963, the Mau Mau army launched two
attacks that were of high impact. The first attack was on a colonial police
station in Naivasha, where over 173 Kikuyu prisoners were released and which
marked a humiliating defeat for the British. The second attack was the killing
of 97 Kikuyu people who were loyal to the British, at Lari.
The British took a revenge and machines gunned hundreds of
Mau Mau prisoners at the camp in Abardare forest. This in turn angered the Mau
Mau further, and they continued their raids on police and military outfits throughout
the rest of 1953.
The End Of The Road For The Mau Mau Rebellion
The British troops that were deployed to Kenya to stop the
rebellion were doing a bad job, since they had no guerilla fighting training.
They were then then replaced with units from the Kenyan army, British soldiers
who had spent considerable time in Kenya, who have experience in bush fighting.
The British forces used Army planes to drop bombs on the Mau
Mau camps and strafe the forest with their machine guns. The forest's thick
cover assisted the Mau Mau rebels, but the bombing by the army planes was so
intense that it started to demoralize the Mu Mau fighters. Both sides had a few
large-scale battles and engagements in 1953, and the Mau Mau suffered at the
hands of the British machine guns.
By the end of 1953, the Mau Mau had suffered great
casualties. More than 3,000 of them were killed, 1,000 was captured, and around
100,000 of their supporters had been arrested and placed in concentration
camps. This did not stop the Mau Mau from forming a formidable resistance to
the colonial regime and British wickedness. They continued attacking European
settlers and their Kenyan collaborators, especially in Nairobi where they had an overwhelming presence and support.
The British, in a final move to complete the suppression of
the original owners of the lands which they stole, launched operation Anvil.
The soldiers and police moved from house to house and arrested anyone whom they
suspected of Mau Mau's involvement. Those arrested were thrown into prison and
concentration camps, without explaining to them what their crimes were. The
government followed this with a 'villagization' policy, which uprooted Kikuyu
people from their villages and lands and put them in newly built villages that
were controlled by the British.
By the last months of 1954, the British had succeeded in
displacing over one million Kikuyu people. They took them away from their
ancestral lands and homes and placed them in semi concentration camps
(villages), which were prone to disease and famine. This strategy was effective
in cutting the supply chain to the Mau Mau in the forest who were still
In 1955, the British forces started to sweep through the
forest to flush out the remaining Mau Mau fighters. They didn’t make many gains
with this strategy, so they turned out entire African villages to go into the
forest and kill any Mau Mau rebels they saw. This was basically turning brother
against brother - that has been one of Europe's many tricks to destabilize
Africa. On one occasion, as many as 70,000 Kenyans were sent into the forest to
face the Mau Mau.
By the end of 1955, there were just about 1500 Mau Mau
fighters left. The British arrested their last commander, Kimathi, and put him
on trial. The fighters who were left did not have the power and organizational strength
to fight the British. This marked the end of the Mau Mau rebellion. The people
had fought a long and hard fight for the soul of their ancestral lands and
freedom. They stared vile hatred and draconian rule in the face and stood
together to defend their right to life.
Shortly after that, the murderous British matched their
troops out of Kenya, while continuing to uphold and enforce the State of
Emergency up till 1960.
The British government published the number of the Mau Mau
killed as 11,503, but from all indications they are false. The Kenyans killed
in the forests and in the concentration camps, including those who died from
disease and famine would have run into their tens of thousands. We would not
fully get that figure, because as usual, it is the victor who writes the history
of the battle.
The British had won the gun battle over the Mau Mau, but the
Mau Mau had won the hearts of their people and that of other East African
nationalists. The ability of the Mau Mau to deal certain blows to the British
government demystified the British power and reduced the reverence and fear the
people had for them. The Mau Mau uprising then set a high tempo for the
struggle towards independence. The brutality which the British showed in their
engagement of the Mau Mau opened generated a renewed anti-colonialist
consciousness among the people of Kenya.