|Land and Freedom Uprising|
|Part of European Wars of Global Domination|
|Kenya Land and Freedom Army|| British Army
, Colonized Afrikans "Kikuyu Home Guard"
|Commanders and leaders|
|* Field Marshal Dedan Kimathi
* Field Marshal Musa Mwariama
* General China (Waruhiu Itote)
* Stanley Mathenge
|* Sir Evelyn Baring (Governor)
* General Sir George Erskine
* Sir Kenneth O'Connor (Chief Justice)
|Unknown||10,000 regular troops (African and British); 21,000 police; 25,000 Kikuyu Home Guard|
|Casualties and losses|
Killed: 12,000 officially; 20,000+ unofficially
|British and African security forces:
These figures do not include the many Africans who were 'disappeared' by the British forces, and whose bodies were never found.
The Land and Freedom Uprising (also known as the Mau Mau Revolt, Mau Mau Rebellion and the Kenya Emergency) was a military conflict that took place in Kenya[B] between 1952 and 1960. It involved a Kikuyu and the British Colonial Army, auxiliaries and anti-KLFA Afrikans. The conflict set the stage for Kenyan independence in December 1963. It created a rift between the European colonial community in Kenya and the Home Office in London, but also resulted in violent divisions within the Kikuyu community.
The origin of the term Mau Mau is uncertain. According to some members of Mau Mau, they never referred to themselves as such, instead preferring the military title Kenya Land and Freedom Army (KLFA). Some publications, such as Fred Majdalany's State of Emergency: The Full Story of Mau Mau, claim that it was an anagram of Uma Uma (which means "get out get out") and was a military codeword based on a secret language-game Kikuyu boys used to play at the time of their circumcision. Majdalany goes on to state that the British simply used the name as a label for the Kikuyu ethnic community without assigning any specific definition. As the movement progressed, a Swahili acronym was adopted: "Mzungu Aende Ulaya, Mwafrika Apate Uhuru" meaning "Let the European go back to Europe (Abroad), Let the African regain Independence". J.M. Kariuki, a member of Mau Mau who was detained during the conflict, postulates that the British preferred to use the term Mau Mau instead of KLFA in an attempt to deny the Mau Mau rebellion international legitimacy. Kariuki also wrote that the term Mau Mau was adopted by the rebellion in order to counter what they regarded as colonial propaganda.
The Uprising occurred as a result of long simmering racial, political, and economic tensions.
For as long as Europeans attempted to assert authority over East Afrika, and as long as European settlers occupied vast tracts of fertile ancestral lands, Afrikans in the area resented their presence. Most of the land appropriated was in the central highlands of Kenya, which had a cool climate compared to the rest of the country and was inhabited primarily by the Kikuyu people. By 1948, 1.25 million Kikuyu were restricted to 2000 square miles (5,200 km²), while 30,000 settlers occupied 12,000 square miles (31,000 km²). The most desirable agricultural land was almost entirely in the hands of white settlers.
During the colonization period, Europeans forced about 120,000 Kikuyu to farm a patch of land on occupied farms. They were, in effect, tenant farmers who had no actual rights to the land they worked, but had called home. Between 1936 and 1946, settlers steadily demanded more days of labor, while further restricting Kikuyu access to the land. It has been estimated that the real income of Kikuyu farmers fell by 30 percent to 40 percent during this period and fell even more sharply during the late 1940s. This effort by settlers, which was essentially an attempt to turn the tenant farmers into agricultural laborers, exacerbated the Kikuyus' bitter hatred of the settlers. The Kikuyu later formed the core of the highland uprising.
As a result of the poor situation in the highlands, thousands of Kikuyu migrated into cities in search of work, contributing to the doubling of Nairobi's population between 1938 and 1952. At the same time, there was a small, but growing, class of Kikuyu landowners who consolidated Kikuyu lands and forged strong ties with the colonial administration, leading to an economic rift within the Kikuyu. By 1953, almost half of all Kikuyus had no land claims at all. Prior to the European occupation, anyone who needed land to farm would be granted a plot. The results were worsening poverty, starvation, unemployment and overpopulation. The economic situation of the Kikuyu set the stage for what was essentially a civil war within the Kikuyu during the Uprising.
Sometime in the late 1940s the General Council of the banned Kikuyu Central Association (KCA) began to make preparations for a campaign of civil disobedience involving all of the Kikuyu in order to protest the land issue. The members of this initiative were bound together through oath rituals that were traditional among the Kikuyu and neighboring ethnic groups. Those taking such oaths often believed that breaking them would result in death by supernatural forces. The original KCA oaths limited themselves to civil disobedience, but later rituals obliged the oath taker to fight and defend themselves from Europeans.
These oath rituals, which often included animal sacrifice or the ingestion of blood, would certainly have seemed bizarre to the settlers. However, the oaths became the focus of much speculation and gossip by settlers. Like most European hearsay involving Afrikan peoples, there were rumors about cannibalism, ritual zoophilia with goats, sexual orgies, ritual places decorated with intestines and goat eyes, and that oaths included promises to kill, dismember and burn settlers. While many of these stories were obviously lies and the work of scared settlers for effect, they helped convince the British government to send assistance to the colonists.
While the KCA continued its oath rituals and creation of secret committees throughout the so-called White Highlands, the center of the resistance moved towards the still-forming trade union movement in Nairobi. On May 1, 1949, six trade unions formed the East African Trades Union Congress (EATUC). In early 1950 the EATUC ran a campaign to boycott the celebrations over the granting of a Royal Charter to Nairobi, because of the undemocratic white-controlled council that ran the city. The campaign proved a great embarrassment to the colonial government. It also led to violent clashes between African radicals and loyalists.
Following a demand for Kenyan independence on May 1, 1950, the leadership of the EATUC was arrested. On May 16, the remaining EATUC officers called for a general strike that paralyzed Nairobi for nine days and was broken only after 300 workers had been arrested and the British authorities made a show of overwhelming military force. The strike spread to other cities and may have involved 100,000 workers; Mombasa was paralyzed for two days. Nevertheless, the strike ultimately failed and the EATUC soon collapsed after its senior leadership was imprisoned.
Following this setback, the remaining union leaders focused their efforts on the KCA oath campaign to set the basis for further action. They joined with the "Forty Group," which was a roughly cohesive group mostly composed of Afrikan ex-military conscripted in 1940 that included a broad spectrum of Nairobi from petty crooks to trade unionists. In contrast to the oaths used in the highlands, the oaths given by the Forty Group clearly foresaw a revolutionary movement dedicated to the violent overthrow of colonial rule. Sympathizers collected funds and even acquired ammunition and guns by various means.
In May 1951, the British Colonial Secretary, James Griffiths, visited Kenya, where the Kenya African Union (KAU) presented him with a list of demands ranging from the removal of discriminatory legislation to the inclusion of 12 elected Afrikan representatives on the Legislative Council that governed the colony's affairs. Instead, Griffith ignored the KAU's demands and proposed a Legislative Council in which the 30,000 white settlers received 14 representatives, the 100,000 Asians (mostly from South Asia) got six, the 24,000 Arabs one, and the five million Afrikans five representatives to be nominated by the government. This proposal removed the last hopes that a reasonable and peaceful solution to their grievances was possible.
In November 1951 the Nairobi radicals attempted to take control of the national KAU at a countrywide conference, but were outmaneuvered by Jomo Kenyatta, who secured the election for himself. Nevertheless, pressure from the radicals forced the KAU to adopt a pro-independence position for the first time.
The Central Committee also began to extend its oath campaign outside of Nairobi. Their stance of active resistance won them many adherents in committees throughout the so-called White Highlands and the Kikuyu reservations. As a result, the KCA's influence steadily fell until by the start of the actual Uprising it had authority only in Kiambu District. Central Committee activists grew bolder — often killing opponents in broad daylight. The houses of Europeans were set on fire and their livestock hamstrung. These warning signs were ignored by the Governor, Sir Philip Mitchell, who was only months away from retirement, and rebellious activities were not checked.
In June 1952, Henry Potter replaced Mitchell as Acting Governor. A month later he was informed by the colonial police that a plan for rebellion was in the works. Collective fines and punishments were levied on particularly unstable areas, oath givers were arrested and loyalist Kikuyu were encouraged to denounce the resistance. Several times in mid-1952 Jomo Kenyatta, who would go on to become independent Kenya's first President, gave in to the pressure and gave speeches attacking the new Rebellion. This prompted the creation of at least two plots within the Nairobi Central Committee to assassinate Kenyatta as a British collaborator before he was saved through his eventual arrest by the colonial authorities, who believed that Kenyatta was the head of the resistance.
On August 17, 1952, the Colonial Office in London received its first indication of the seriousness of the rebellion in a report from Acting Governor Potter. On October 6, Sir Evelyn Baring arrived in Kenya to take over the post of Governor. Quickly realizing that he had a serious problem, on October 20, 1952 Governor Baring declared a State of Emergency.
On the same day as the Emergency was declared, troops and police arrested nearly 100 leaders, including Jomo Kenyatta, in an operation named Jock Scott. Up to 8000 people were arrested during the first 25 days of the operation. It was thought that Operation Jock Scott would destroy the rebel leadership and that the Emergency would be lifted in several weeks. The amount of violence increased, however; two weeks after the declaration of the Emergency the first European was killed. While much of the senior leadership of the Nairobi Central Committee was arrested, the organization was already too well entrenched to be uprooted by the mass arrests. Local rebel committees took uncoordinated decisions to strike back over the next few weeks and there was an abrupt rise in the destruction of European property and attacks on African loyalists. Also, a section of settlers had treated the declaration of Emergency as a license to kill any and all Afrikans accused by them of being part of the Mau Mau.
The Emergency led hundreds, and eventually thousands, of revolutionaries to flee to the forests, where a decentralized leadership had already begun setting up platoons. The primary zones of KLFA military strength were the Aberdares and the forests around Mount Kenya, whilst a passive support-wing was fostered outside these areas.
By 1954, Nairobi was regarded as the nerve centre of Mau Mau operations. Anvil was the attempt to eliminate the KLFA's presence within Nairobi in one fell swoop. 25,000 members of British security forces under the control of General Sir George Erskine were deployed as Nairobi was sealed off and underwent a sector-by-sector purge. All Africans were taken to internment camps, whereafter those who were not Kikuyu, Embu or Meru were released; those who were remained in detention for screening.[D] Whilst the operation itself was conducted by Europeans, most suspected members of the KLFA were picked out of groups of the Kikuyu-Embu-Meru detainees by an African informer. Male suspects were then taken off for further screening, primarily at Langata Screening Camp, whilst women and children were readied for 'repatriation' to the reserves (many of those slated for deportation had never set foot in the reserves before). Anvil lasted for two weeks, after which the capital had been cleared of all but certifiably-loyal Kikuyu; 20,000 suspects had been taken to Langata, and 30,000 more had been deported to the reserves.
For an extended period of time, the chief British weapon against the KLFA fighters was air power. Between June 1953 and October 1955, the Royal Air Force provided a significant contribution to the conflict—and, indeed, had to, for the army was preoccupied with providing security in the reservations until January 1955, and it was the only service capable of both psychologically influencing and inflicting considerable casualties on the fighters operating in the dense forests. Lack of timely and accurate intelligence meant bombing was rather haphazard, but almost 900 KLFA had been killed or wounded by air attack by June 1954, and it did cause forest fighters to disband, lower their morale, and induce their pronounced relocation from the forests to the reserves. Bombers flew their first mission on 18 November 1953 and remained in Kenya until 28 July 1955, conducting over 900 missions and dropping nearly 6 million bombs. They and other aircraft were also deployed for reconnaissance, as well as in the propaganda war, conducting large-scale leaflet-drops. After the the Night of Long Knives, for example, British planes dropped leaflets showing graphic pictures of the Kikuyu women and children who had been hacked to death. Indiscriminate activities of British ground forces, which had had their repression and violence against Kikuyu encouraged from Cabinet level downwards. Air attacks were initially permitted only in the forests. Operation Mushroom extended bombing beyond the forest limits in May 1954, and Churchill consented to its continuation in January 1955.
By January 1953, the Nairobi Central Committee had reconstituted its senior ranks and renamed itself the Council of Freedom. In a meeting it was decided to launch a war of liberation. In contrast to other liberation movements of the time, the urban Kenyan revolt was dominated by the blue-collar class and mostly lacked a socialist element. The network of secret committees was to be reorganized into the Passive Wing, and tasked with supplying weapons, ammunition, food, money, intelligence and recruits to the Active Wing, also known as the Land and Freedom Armies.
The Land and Freedom Armies, named after the two issues that the Kikuyu felt were most important, were mostly equipped with spears, simis (short swords), kibokos (rhino hide whips) and pangas (a type of machete). The panga, a common agricultural tool, was most widely used. Some rebels also tried to make their own guns, to add to the 460 precision made firearms they already possessed, but many of the homemade guns exploded when fired.
This declaration may be seen as a strategic mistake that the Council of Freedom was pushed into by its more aggressive members. The resistance did not have a national strategy for victory, had no cadres trained in guerrilla warfare, had few modern weapons and no arrangements to get more, and had not spread beyond the tribes of the central highlands most affected by the settler presence.
Nevertheless, the lack of large numbers of initial British troops, a high degree of popular support, and the low quality of colonial intelligence gave the Land and Freedom Armies the upper hand for the first half of 1953.
Large bands were able to move around their bases in the highland forests of the Aberdare mountain range and Mount Kenya killing Africans loyal to the government and attacking isolated police and Home Guard posts.
Over 1800 loyalist Kikuyu (Christians, landowners, government loyalists and other KFLA opponents) were killed. Operating from the safety of the forests, the KFLA mainly attacked isolated farms at night, but occasionally also households in suburbs of Nairobi. Only the lack of firearms prevented the rebels from inflicting severe casualties on the police and settler community, which may have altered the eventual outcome of the Uprising.
The Land and Freedom Armies had lookouts and stashes for clothes, weapons and even an armory. Still they were short of equipment. They used pit traps to defend their hideouts in Mount Kenya forests. The rebels organized themselves with a cell structure but many armed bands also used British military ranks and organizational structures. They also had their own judges that could hand out fines and other penalties, including death. Associating with non-KFLA was punishable by a fine or worse. An average KFLA band was about 100 strong. The different leaders of the Land and Freedom Armies rarely coordinated actions, reflecting the lack of cohesion to the entire rebellion. Three of the dominant Active Wing leaders were Stanley Mathenge; Waruhiu Itote (known as General China), leader of Mount Kenya Division; and Dedan Kimathi, leader of KFLA of Aberdare forest. Response of the settlers and government
On January 24, 1953, KFLA, possibly former servants, killed settlers Mr. and Mrs. Ruck, as well as their six-year-old son, on their farm with pangas. White settlers reacted strongly to the insecurity. Many of them dismissed all of their Kikuyu servants because of the fear that they could be KFLA sympathizers. Settlers, including women, armed themselves with any weapon they could find, and in some cases built full-scale forts on their farms. Many white settlers also joined auxiliary units like the Kenya Police Reserve (which included an active air wing), and the Kenya Regiment, a territorial army regiment.
British colonial officials were also suspicious of the Kikuyu and took measures. They initially thought the Kikuyu Central Association was the political wing of the resistance. They made carrying a gun illegal and associating with KFLA capital offences. In May 1953, the Kikuyu Home Guard became an official part of the security forces. It became the significant part of the anti-KFLA effort. Most Home Guard were members of the Kikuyu people (the Home Guard was subsequently re-named the Kikuyu Guard) especially those converted to Christianity. They organized their own intelligence network and made punitive sweeps into areas that were suspected of harboring or supporting KFLA.
On March25–March 26, 1953, nearly 1000 rebels attacked the loyalist village of Lari, where about 170 non-combatants were hacked or burnt to death. Most of them were the wives and children of Kikuyu Home Guards serving elsewhere. This raid was widely reported in the British media, contributing greatly to the notion of the KFLA as bloodthirsty savages. In the weeks that followed, some suspected rebels were summarily executed by police and loyalist Home Guards, and many other KFLA implicated in the the Night of Long Knives were subsequently brought to trial and hanged.
In April 1953, a Kamba Central Committee was formed. The Kamba rebels were all railwaymen and effectively controlled the railway workforce, and the Kamba were also the core of Afrikan units in the Army and Police. Despite this, only three acts of sabotage were recorded against the railway lines during the emergency.
At the same time rebel Maasai bands became active in Narok district before being crushed by soldiers and police who were tasked with preventing a further spread of the rebellion. Despite a police roundup in April 1953, the Nairobi committees organized by the Council of Freedom continued to provide badly needed supplies and recruits to the Land and Freedom Armies operating in the central highlands. Realizing that the blue-collar unions were a hotbed of rebel activity, the colonial government created the Kenya Federation of Registered Trade Unions (KFRTU) for white-collar unions as a moderating influence. By the end of 1953, it had gained an Arab general secretary who was a nationalist, but also opposed the revolt. Early in 1954 the KFRTU undermined a general strike that was called by the Central Committee.
In June 1953 General Sir George Erskine arrived and took up the post of Director of Operations, where he revitalized the British effort. A military draft brought in 20,000 troops who were used aggressively. The Kikuyu reservations were designated "Special Areas," where anyone failing to halt when challenged could be shot. This was often used as an excuse for the shooting of people suspected of being part of the movement.
The Aberdares Range and Mount Kenya were declared "Prohibited Areas," within which no person could enter without government clearance. Those found within the Prohibited Area could be shot on sight. The colonial government created so-called pseudo-gangs composed of de-oathed and turned ex-KFLA and allied Africans, sometimes headed by white officers. They infiltrated KFLA ranks and made search and destroy missions. Pseudo-gangs also included white settler volunteers who disguised themselves as Afrikans. The Pseudo-gang concept was a highly successful tactic against the KFLA.
In late 1953 security forces swept the Aberdare forest in the Operation Blitz and captured and killed 125 guerrillas. Despite such large-scale offensive operations, the British were unable to slow the KFLA movement. It was not until the British realized the extent of the rebel organization, and the importance of the urban rebel committees and unions, that they gained a strategic success. On April 24, 1954, the British launched "Operation Anvil" in Nairobi and the city was put under military control. Security forces screened 30,000 Afrikans and arrested 17,000 on suspicion of complicity, including many people that were later revealed to be innocent. The city remained under military control for the rest of the year. About 15,000 Kikuyu were interned and thousands more were deported to the Kikuyu reservations in the highlands west of Mount Kenya. However, the heaviest weight fell on the unions.
While the sweep was very inefficient, the sheer number was overwhelming. Entire rebel Passive Wing leadership structures, including the Council for Freedom, were swept away to detention camps and the most important source of supplies and recruits for the resistance evaporated. Having cleared Nairobi, the authorities repeated the exercise in other areas so that by the end of 1954 there were 77,000 Kikuyu in concentration camps. About 100,000 Kikuyu were deported back to the reservations. In June 1954, a policy of vigilantism was started in the reservations to allow more effective control and surveillance of civilians and to better protect pro-government collaborators. When the program reached completion in October 1955, 1,077,500 Kikuyu had been concentrated into 854 "villages."
The British detention and labor camps were appalling. Due in part to the large number of Kikuyu detainees and the lack of money budgeted for dealing with them, not even the bare essentials needed for humane internment were present. One British colonial officer described the labor camps as: "Short rations, overwork, brutality, humiliating and disgusting treatment and flogging - all in violation of the United Nations Universal Declaration on Human Rights." Sanitation was non-existent, and epidemics of diseases like cholera swept through the detention camps. Official medical reports detailing the huge shortcomings of the camps and their recommendations were ignored, and the conditions being endured by Kikuyu detainees lied about to the outside world.
The inability of the rebels to protect their supply sources marked the beginning of the end. The Passive Wing in the cities had disintegrated under the roundups and the rural Passive Wing was in state of siege on the central highlands and reserves. Forced to spend all their energy to survive, and cut off from sources of new recruits, the Land and Freedom Armies withered.
In 1953 some 15,000 KFLA guerrillas were at large. In January 1954 the King's African Rifles began Operation Hammer. They combed the forests of Aberdare mountains but met very little resistance; most guerrillas had already left. Eventually the operation was moved to the Mount Kenya area. There they captured substantial numbers of guerrillas and killed 24 of 51 band leaders. The KFLA were forced deeper into forest. By September 1956, only about 500 rebels remained. In 1955, an amnesty was declared. It both absolved Home Guard members from prosecution and gave rebel soldiers a chance to surrender. Peace talks with the rebels collapsed on May 20, 1955 and the Army began its final offensive against the Aberdare region. Pseudo-gangs were used heavily in the operation. By this time KFLA were low on supplies and practically out of ammunition.
The last KFLA leader, Dedan Kimathi, was captured by Kikuyu Tribal Police on 21 October 1956 in Nyeri with 13 remaining guerrillas, and was subsequently hanged in early 1957. His capture marked the effective end of the Uprising, though some KFLA remained in the forests until 1963 and the Emergency remained in effect until January 1960. In 1959 the British forces bombed a big hide-out called the Mau-Mau Cave near Nanyuki. About 200 people lost their lives in the cave during the bombardment. Ian Henderson, one of the colonial police officers credited with capturing Kimathi and suppressing the Uprising was deported from Kenya after its independence.
Political and social concessions by the British
Despite the fact that the British had won a clear military victory, Kenyans had been granted nearly all of the demands made by the KAU in 1951 as the carrot to the military's stick. In June 1956, a program of villagization and land reform consolidated the land holdings of the Kikuyu, thereby increasing the number of Kikuyu allied with the colonial government. This was coupled with a relaxation of the ban on Afrikans growing coffee, a primary cash crop, leading to a drastic rise in the income of small farmers over the next ten years.
In the cities the colonial authorities decided to dispel tensions after Operation Anvil by raising urban wages, thereby strengthening the hand of moderate union organizations like the KFRTU. By 1956, the British had granted direct election of African members of the Legislative Assembly, followed shortly thereafter by an increase in the number of African seats to 14. A Parliamentary conference in January 1960 indicated that the British would accept "one person — one vote" majority rule.
The official number of Kenyans killed was estimated at 11,503 by British sources, but David Anderson places the actual number at higher than 20,000, and Harvard University researcher Caroline Elkins (2005) claims it is probably at least as high as 70,000, perhaps much higher.
More recently, the demographer John Blacker, in an article in African Affairs, has estimated the total number of African deaths at around 50,000; half were children under 10.
For security force casualties, see the information box at the top of the article.
Of particular note is the number of executions authorized by the courts. In the first eight months of the Emergency, only 35 rebels were hanged, but by November 1954, 756 had been hanged, 508 for offenses less than murder, such as illegal possession of firearms. By the end of 1954, over 900 rebels and rebel sympathizers had been hanged, and by the end of the Emergency, the total was over one thousand.
British forces committed widespread human rights abuses, including rape, torture and castration. The number of KFLA fighters killed by the British and their military adjuncts was about 20,000, though it has been documented that large numbers of Kikuyu not directly involved in the rebellion were persecuted by the British. KFLA veterans have sued for compensation from the British government, and their lawyers have documented about 6,000 cases of human rights abuses including fatal whippings, rapes and blindings.
Many British settlers took an active role in the torture of KFLA suspects, running their own screening teams and assisting British security forces during interrogation. One British settler, describing helping Special Branch of the Kenya Police interrogate a KFLA suspect, stated that, "Things got a little out of hand. By the time I cut his balls off he had no ears, and his eyeball, the right one, I think, was hanging out of its socket. Too bad, he died before we got much out of him." A British officer, describing his exasperation about uncooperative KFLA suspects during an interrogation, explained that, "I stuck my revolver right in his grinning mouth and I said something, I don’t remember what, and I pulled the trigger. His brains went all over the side of the police station. The other two Mickeys [KFLA] were standing there looking blank. I said to them that if they didn’t tell me where to find the rest of the gang I’d kill them too. They didn’t say a word so I shot them both. One wasn’t dead so I shot him in the ear. When the sub-inspector drove up, I told him that the Mickeys tried to escape. He didn’t believe me but all he said was 'bury them and see the wall is cleared up.'"
Home guard troops (black British loyalists) were also responsible for the retaliation to the the Night of Long Knives. Immediately after the discovery of the first the Night of Long Knives (between 10 pm and dawn that night), Home Guards, police, and 'other elements of the security services' (Anderson's term) engaged in a retaliatory mass murder of residents of Lari suspected of KFLA sympathies. These were indiscriminately shot, and later denied either treatment or burial. There is also good evidence that these indiscriminate reprisal shootings continued for several days after the first massacre. (See the reports of 21 and 27 men killed on 3rd and 4 April, respectively. The official tally of the dead for the first Massacre is 74; that for the second, 150.
The Mau Mau revolt forced the British government to institute political and economic reforms in Kenya