Wednesday, 26 March 2014

The Mau Mau Uprising

On my visit to Cambridge for a history master class, I was lucky enough to go to a lecture on the Mau Mau Rebellion, something I find incredibly interesting. I thought I would share what I learnt with you all.

The Mau Mau Uprising (also known as the Mau Mau Revolt, Mau Mau Rebellion and Kenya Emergency) was a military conflict that took place in Kenya between 1952 and 1960. It involved Kikuyu-dominated groups summarily called Mau Mau and elements of the British Army, the local Kenya Regiment mostly consisting of the British, auxiliaries and anti-Mau Mau Kikuyu.The capture of rebel leader Dedan Kimathi on 21 October 1956 signalled the ultimate defeat of Mau Mau, and essentially ended the British military campaign.

Mau Mau failed to capture widespread public support, partly due to the British policy of divide and rule, and the movement remained internally divided, despite attempts to unify its various strands. The British, meanwhile, could draw upon their ongoing efforts to put down another rebellion in Malaya.

The uprising created a rift between the European colonial community in Kenya and the metropole but also resulted in violent divisions within the Kikuyu community.The financial cost of the uprising to the former colony amounted to £55 million.

The uprising is now regarded in Kenya as one of the most significant steps towards a Kenya free from British rule.

The Mau Mau fighters were mainly drawn from Kenya's major ethnic grouping, the Kikuyu.

More than a million strong, by the start of the 1950s the Kikuyu had been increasingly economically marginalised as years of white settler expansion ate away at their land holdings.

Since 1945, nationalists like Jomo Kenyatta of the Kenya African Union (KAU) had been pressing the British government in vain for political rights and land reforms, with valuable holdings in the cooler Highlands to be redistributed to African owners.

But radical activists within the KAU set up a splinter group and organised a more militant kind of nationalism.

By 1952 Kikuyu fighters, along with some Embu and Meru recruits, were attacking political opponents and raiding white settler farms and destroying livestock. Mau Mau supporters took oaths, binding them to their cause.

In October 1952 the British declared a state of emergency and began moving army reinforcements into Kenya.

So began an aggressively fought counter-insurgency, which lasted until 1960 when the state of emergency was ended.

The number killed in the uprising is a subject of much controversy. Officially the number of Mau Mau and other rebels killed was 11,000, including 1,090 convicts hanged by the British administration. Just 32 white settlers were killed in the eight years of emergency.

However, unofficial figures suggest a much larger number were killed in the counter-insurgency campaign.

The Kenya Human Rights Commission has said 90,000 Kenyans were executed, tortured or maimed during the crackdown, and 160,000 were detained in appalling conditions.

Even though the Mau Mau were thoroughly defeated by 1960, the exact reforms that nationalists had been pressing for before the uprising had started and, by 1963, Kenya was independent.

British soldiers check identity papers of suspected Mau Mau members