I’ve read a ton of books about Kenya. Every single one I could find. Its history, its people, books by its sons and daughters, books of people making a difference in Kenya. I’m particularly fascinated by the Mau Mau, even named one of my fantasy football [that’s American football; not soccer] teams Mau Mau.
The Mau Mau uprising [or rebellion or revolt] still confuses me. I understand the biggest issue was land. While colonized the British bullied their way into the most desirable land huddling the natives onto reserves fighting for the leftovers.
In Nyanza, for example, the Commission restricted 1,029,422 Africans to 7,114 square miles (18,430 km²), while granting 16,700 square miles (43,000 km²) to 17,000 Europeans. By the 1930s, and for the Kikuyu in particular, land had become the number one grievance concerning colonial rule, the situation so acute by 1948 that 1,250,000 Kikuyu had ownership of 2,000 square miles (5,200 km²), while 30,000 British settlers owned 12,000 square miles (31,000 km²).
Kenya has 42 tribes with the Kikuyu being the tribe that get the shortest end of the stick. The Nandi tribe was the first to fight back when the British arrived, but they were no match for the technology and weapons the British possessed.
The British forced many Kenyans to fight in the World Wars, and when they returned victorious, there was someone living on their land. The British.
The frustration built up to a boiling point and erupted in 1952. The Kikuyu organized, took oaths, headed for the forests and fought to take back their land. The confusion, though, is why all that animosity couldn’t be channeled to focus on actually fighting the British. Only 32 Europeans died, and some of them weren’t even British. Meanwhile, the Kikuyu were responsible for killing over a thousand Africans, mostly the Home Guard, the Africans who aligned themselves with the British.
The British definitely knew who they were fighting. The unofficial count is 20,000+ Kenyans killed [with some saying upwards of over a hundred thousand], an untold number who disappeared, and tens of thousands forced into concentration camps in an effort to stem the number of Kenyans joining the uprising.
So it was that in June 1954, the War Council took the decision to undertake a full-scale forced-resettlement programme of Kiambu, Nyeri, Murang’a and Embu Districts to cut off Mau Mau’s supply lines. Within eighteen months, 1,050,899 Kikuyu in the reserves were inside 804 villages consisting of some 230,000 huts. The government termed them “protected villages”, purportedly to be built along “the same lines as the villages in the North of England”, though the term was actually a “euphemism for the fact that hundreds of thousands of civilians were corralled, often against their will, into settlements behind barbed-wire fences and watch towers.”
But I’m not going to go into the whole Mau Mau uprising or why Kenyans killed more Kenyans than Europeans. The official number is 1,819 but that doesn’t include those who “disappeared” at the hands of the Mau Mau.
At the end of the day, when the British were planning on staying another 100 years before granting independence to Kenya, those plans were accelerated. Kenya received its independence in 1963.
Regardless of how the Mau Mau is interpreted, one of its leaders is celebrated alongside Kenya’s first prime minister and president. Dedan Kimathi is recognized as a hero and helped lead the country to independence.
A highly controversial character, Kimathi’s life has been subject to intense propaganda by both the British government who saw him as a terrorist, and Kenyan nationalists who view him as the heroic figurehead of the Mau Mau rebellion. Despite being viewed with disdain by the Jomo Kenyatta regime and subsequent governments, Kimathi and his fellow Mau Mau rebels are now officially recognised as heroes in the struggle for Kenyan independence by the incumbent government. His capture and execution in 1957 led to the eventual defeat of the uprising by the Kenyan government.