Mau Mau Uprising

From New World Encyclopedia

Mau Mau Uprising
Date 1952 - 1960
Location Kenya
Result British military victory and eventual Kenyan democracy.
Flag of Kenya.svg Mau Mau Flag of the United Kingdom.svg British Empire
* "Field Marshal" Dedan Kimathi
* "General China" (Waruhiu Itote)
* Stanley Mathenge
* Evelyn Baring (Governor)
* General Sir George Erskine
Unknown 10,000 regular troops (Africans and Europeans) 21,000 police, 25,000 home guard[1]
10,527 killed in action;[2]

2,633 captured in action;

26,625 arrested;

2,714 surrendered;

70,000 - 100,000 interned.[3]

Security forces killed: Africans 534, Asians 3, Europeans 63;

Security forces wounded: Africans 465, Asians 12, Europeans 102;

Civilians killed: Africans 1826 recorded, best estimates suggest a total of 50,000;[4] Asians 26; Europeans 32;

Civilians wounded: Africans 918, Asians 36, Europeans 26.[5]

colonial administration that lasted from 1952 to 1960. The core of the resistance was formed by members of the Kikuyu ethnic group, along with smaller numbers of Embu and Meru. The uprising failed militarily, though it may have hastened Kenyan independence. It created a rift between the white colonial community in Kenya and the Home Office in London that set the stage for Kenyan independence in 1963. It is sometimes called the Mau Mau Rebellion or the Mau Mau Revolt, or, in official documents, the Kenya Emergency. The name Mau Mau for the rebel movement was not coined by the movement itself- they called themselves Muingi ("The Movement"), Muigwithania ("The Understanding"), Muma wa Uiguano ("The Oath of Unity") or simply "The KCA," after the Kikuyu Central Association that created the impetus for the insurgency. Veterans of the independence movement referred to themselves as the "Land and Freedom Army" in English.

Economic disparity between Africans and settlers in Kenya and aspiration for independence provoked the rebellion, which the British always represented as a series of lawless acts by dangerous criminal, anti-social elements. This served to reinforce the moral view of imperialism as necessary for Kenyans moral good, until one day, in the far distant future, they would be mature enough to govern themselves. Until then, the logic went, if the British granted independence, criminal elements such as the Mau Mau would disrupt and jeopardize an indigenous government’s ability to keep the peace. The Mau Mau did commit atrocities but in suppressing the uprising, so did the British. As elsewhere, when faced with anti-imperial revolts, they compromised any moral ground they might have occupied by the ferocity of their response. The origin of the term Mau Mau is disputed. However, use by the British underscored the claim that law-abiding Kenyans were being terrorized by wild, dark, sinister and dangerous people from out of the African jungle.[6]

Map of Kenya

The Mau Mau Uprising was an insurgency by Kenyan rebels against the British


The meaning of the term Mau Mau is much debated. Proffered etymologies include:

  • The 2006 edition of American Heritage Dictionary lists the etymology as the sound imitative of foraging hyenas.[7]
  • It is the name of a range of hills (occurring in various geographical names e.g. the Mau Escarpment, the Mau stream in Eastern Province, a place called Mau in the Rift Valley Province, etc.)
  • An acronym that has been created for it is "Mzungu Aende Ulaya — Mwafrika Apate Uhuru." This Swahili language phrase translates in English to, "Let the white man go (back) to Europe; let the African attain freedom."
  • It is a mistransliteration of "Uma Uma" which translates in English to "Get out Get out"
  • It is in reference to a 'magic potion' the Kikuyu would drink, making their soldiers invulnerable.
  • It is in reference to the secrecy of the communication between group members: "Maundu Mau Mau" in Kikuyu translates to "those things, those same things" [we have talked about].
  • Perhaps the most creative attempt so far is reported in John Lonsdale's 1990.[8] He quotes a Thomas Colchester, who argued that since ka is a diminutive prefix in Swahili (as it is in Kikuyu and several other Bantu languages), while ma is an augmentative prefix, Mau. therefore, indicates something greater than KAU. KAU was the leading forum at the time for African political participation, but would have been seen as somewhat staid and conservative by the young radicals who would form Mau Mau. Lonsdale recommends this etymology on the ground that it requires no single originator.
  • In his memoir The Hardcore Karigo Muchai explains the etymology of Mau Mau in this way: "Now in Kikuyu when referring to whispers or voices that cannot quite be understood, one uses the expression 'mumumumu'. This apparently was heard by a journalist in the court as 'Mau Mau', and the following day the newspapers reported that the men had taken a 'Mau Mau' oath.

Origins of the Mau Mau uprising

The Uprising occurred as a result of long simmering political, economic and racial tensions coupled with the apparent lack of peaceful political solutions.

Economic deprivation of the Kikuyu

For several decades prior to the eruption of conflict, the occupation of land by European settlers was an increasingly bitter point of contention. 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 tribe. 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 settlers.

During the course of the colonial period, European colonizers allowed about 120,000 Kikuyu to farm a patch of land on European farms in exchange for their labor. They were, in effect, tenant farmers who had no actual rights to the land they worked, but had previously 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 squatters 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 white 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. The results were worsening poverty, starvation, unemployment and overpopulation. The economic bifurcation of the Kikuyu set the stage for what was essentially a civil war within the Kikuyu during the Mau Mau Revolt.

KCA begins to organize the central highlands

While historical details remain elusive, 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 tribes. 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. 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 exaggerated for effect, they helped convince the British government to send assistance to the colonists.

East African Trades Union Congress and the "Forty Group"

While the KCA continued its oath rituals and creation of secret committees throughout the so-called White Highlands, the centre 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 African ex-servicemen 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.

The closing of political options and the Central Committee

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 black representatives on the Legislative Council that governed the colony's affairs. It appears that the settlers were not willing to give in completely, but expected Westminster to force some concessions. 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 Africans five representatives to be nominated by the government. This proposal removed the last African hopes that a fair and peaceful solution to their grievances was possible.

In June 1951, the urban radicals captured control of the formerly loyalist Nairobi KAU by packing KAU meetings with trade union members. They then created a secret Central Committee to organize the oath campaign throughout Nairobi. The Central Committee quickly formed armed squads to enforce its policies, protect members from the police, and kill informers and collaborators.

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 White Highlands and the Kikuyu reserves. 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 Mau Mau activities were not checked.

The first reaction against the uprising

In June 1952, Henry Potter replaced Mitchell as Acting Governor. A month later he was informed by the colonial police that a Mau Mau 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 Mau Mau. 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.

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 decapitate 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 perpetrate excesses against suspected Mau Mau.

British military presence

One battalion of the Lancashire Fusiliers was flown from the Middle East to Nairobi the first day of Operation Jock Scott. The 2nd Battalion of the King's African Rifles, already in Kenya, was reinforced with one battalion from Uganda and two companies from Tanganyika, part of current day Tanzania. The Royal Air Force sent pilots and Handley Page Hastings aircraft. The cruiser Kenya came to Mombasa harbor carrying Royal Marines. During the course of the conflict, other British units such as the Black Watch and the The Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers served for a short time. The British fielded 55,000 troops in total over the course of the conflict, although the total number did not exceed more than 10,000 at any one time. The majority of the security effort was borne by the Kenya Police and the Tribal Police / Home Guard.

Initially, British forces had little reliable intelligence on the strength and structure of the Mau Mau resistance. Senior British officers thought that the Mau Mau Uprising was a sideshow compared to the Malayan Emergency. Over the course of the conflict, some soldiers either could not or would not differentiate between Mau Mau and non-combatants, and reportedly shot innocent Kenyans. Many soldiers were reported to have collected severed rebel hands for an unofficial five-shilling bounty, although this was done to identify the dead by their fingerprints. It is also alleged that some kept a scoreboard of their killings, but this practice was forbidden by the General Officer Commanding. Allegations of excesses by the Army and Police led General Hinde, officer in charge of all security forces, to issue stern warnings against any misbehavior.

The Council of Freedom declares war

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 or, less accurately, the Land Army.

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.

Mount Kenya

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 Mau Mau opponents) were killed. Operating from the safety of the forests, the Mau Mau 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-Mau Mau was punishable by a fine or worse. An average Mau Mau 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 Mau Mau; and Dedan Kimathi, leader of Mau Mau of Aberdare forest.

Response of the settlers and government

On January 24, 1953, Mau Mau, 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 Mau Mau 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 Mau Mau 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-Mau Mau effort. Most Home Guard were members of the Kikuyu tribe (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 Mau Mau.

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 Mau Mau as bloodthirsty savages. In the weeks that followed, some suspected rebels were summarily executed by police and loyalist Home Guards, and many other Mau Mau implicated in the Lari massacre were subsequently brought to trial and hanged.

The urban resistance spreads

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 African 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 a 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.

The British gain the initiative

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 reserves 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 suspects, so this provision was subsequently abandoned.

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-Mau Mau and allied Africans, sometimes headed by white officers. They infiltrated Mau Mau ranks and made search and destroy missions. Pseudo-gangs also included white settler volunteers who disguised themselves as Africans. The Pseudo-gang concept was a highly successful tactic against the Mau Mau.

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 found themselves unable to stem the tide of insurgency. 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 Army launched "Operation Anvil" in Nairobi and the city was put under military control. Security forces screened 30,000 Africans 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 reserves 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 squatters were deported back to the reserves. In June 1954, a policy of compulsory villagization was started in the reserves 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 sheer 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 thus: "Short rations, overwork, brutality, humiliating and disgusting treatment and flogging - all in violation of the United Nations Universal Declaration on Human Rights."[9] 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.[10][11]

The beginning of the end

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 Mau Mau 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 Mau Mau 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 Mau Mau were low on supplies and practically out of ammunition.

The last Mau Mau 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 Mau Mau 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 military had won a clear 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 Africans 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.

These political measures were taken to end the instability of the Uprising by appeasing Africans both in the cities and country and encouraging the creation of a stable African middle class, but also required the abandonment of settler interests. This was possible because while the settlers dominated the colony politically, they owned less than 20 percent of the assets invested in Kenya. The remainder belonged to various corporations who were willing to deal with an African majority government as long as the security situation stabilized. The choice that the authorities in London faced was between an unstable colony, which was costing a fortune in military expenses, run by settlers who contributed little to the economic growth of the Empire, or a stable colony run by Africans that contributed to the coffers of the Empire. The latter option was the one, in effect, taken.


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. However, Elkins' methodology for arriving at her conclusions has been subject to considerable criticism.[12][13] Elkin's critics contend that her figures are derived from an idiosyncratic reading of census figures and a tendentious interpretation of the fortified village scheme.

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.[14]

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 military, settler and loyalist atrocities

British forces committed widespread human rights abuses, including rape, torture and castration. The number of Mau Mau 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.[15][16] Mau Mau veterans have sued for compensation from the British government,[17] and their lawyers have documented about 6,000 cases of human rights abuses including fatal whippings, rapes and blindings.[18]

Many British settlers took an active role in the torture of Mau Mau 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 Mau Mau 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."[19] A British officer, describing his exasperation about uncooperative Mau Mau 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 [Mau Mau] 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 Kenyan loyalists) were also responsible for the retaliation to the Lari massacre. Immediately after the discovery of the first Lari massacre (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 Mau Mau sympathies.[20] 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.[21] The official tally of the dead for the first Lari Massacre is 74; that for the second, 150.[22]

Mau Mau atrocities

Mau Mau militants did commit serious human rights violations. More than 1,800 Kenyan civilians are known to have been murdered by Mau Mau, and hundreds more disappeared, their bodies never found.[23] Victims were often hacked to death with machetes.

In addition to Kenyan civilians, 32 British civilians were killed by Mau Mau militants. Perhaps the most famous British civilian victim was Michael Ruck, aged just six, who was killed along with his parents. Michael was found hacked to death in his bedroom, and "newspapers in Kenya and abroad published graphic murder details and postmortem photos, including images of young Michael with bloodied teddy bears and trains strewn on his bedroom floor."[24]

At Lari, on the night of March 25-26 1953, Mau Mau forces herded 120 Kikuyu into huts and set fire to them.[25]

In popular culture

Scene from The Oath Film
  • As a result of the events in Kenya, the verb "to mau mau" meaning "to menace through intimidating tactics; to intimidate, harass; to terrorize," entered English usage, especially in a political and/or racial context. One example is Tom Wolfe's 1970 novel, Radical Chic & Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers. Another example, in the second episode of Law & Order ("Subterranean Homeboy Blues"), a detective uses the verb in this way: "If the lady popped you because you were mau-mauing her…."
  • Depicted in the short film The Oath, which used all Kenyan and Kenya-based actors, some of whom are modern day descendants of the Mau Mau.
  • The 1955 novels Something of Value and Uhuru by Robert Ruark are written from the perspective of Dedan Kimathi and his friend Peter. Something of Value was made into a 1957 movie.
  • A gang in late 1950s New York City known for their violent attacks named themselves the Mau Maus, apparently after the fearsome reputation of the Kenyan rebels. Evangelist Nicky Cruz was a member of this gang when he renounced his violent ways and converted to Christianity. The 1970 movie, The Cross and the Switchblade, starring Erik Estrada as Nicky Cruz, depicts these events.
  • The Mau Maus were also a fictitious political hip-hop group in the 2000 Spike Lee film Bamboozled.
  • The black radical hip-hop group The Coup reference the Mau Mau Revolt in many of their songs, such as "Kill My Landlord" and "Dig It"
  • The Mau Mau Uprising is referenced by several flashbacks in the Magnum, P.I. episode "Black on White."
  • The Mau Mau Uprising is the topic of the Warren Zevon song "Leave My Monkey Alone" on his album Sentimental Hygiene.
  • The Allan Sherman song "Hungarian Goulash" makes reference to the "jolly Mau-Maus" and how they are "eating missionary pie."
  • The name taken by the graffiti artist "Mau Mauknown as the "Ethical Banksy" [26]
  • In 2006, the novel The In-Between World of Vikram Lal by M. G. Vassanji won the Giller Prize in which his characters, who are Indian Kenyans, search for their identity in-between the world of the White settlers and the Africans against the background of the Mau Mau uprising.


  1. Malcom Page. KAR: a history of the King's African Rifles. (London: Leo Cooper ISBN 9780850525380), 206
  2. The Origins and Growth of Mau Mau' [known as the Corfield Report] (Nairobi: Government of Kenya, 1960),e 316 places the number of Mau Mau killed in action at 11,503
  3. Page, 206
  4. John Blacker (2007), The demography of Mau Mau: fertility and mortality in Kenya in the 1950s: a demographer's viewpoint, African Affairs 106(423): 205-227.
  5. Page, 206
  6. Reminiscent of the “horror” at the center of Joseph Conrad's 1899 novella Heart of Darkness. (Peterborough, Ont.: Broadview Press, (original 1899) 1999. ISBN 9780585229348), 130. “He cried in a whisper at some image, at some vision, he cried out twice, a cry that was no more than a breath, ‘the horror. The horror ….”
  7. American Heritage Dictionary. 2006. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 9780395825174)
  8. John Lonsdale, 1990. "Mau Maus of the Mind: Making Mau Mau and Remaking Kenya," The Journal of African History 31 (3): 393-421. 393n2.
  9. Mark Curtis. 2003. Web of Deceit: Britain’s Real Role in the World. (London: Vintage), 327
  10. Caroline Elkins. 2005. Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain's Gulag in Kenya. (NY: Henry Holt & Co.), Chapter 5
  11. Curtis, Chapter 15
  12. David Elstein. 2005. “The End of the Mau Mau,” New York Review of Books, April 7 The End of the Mau Mau Retrieved May 14 2008
  13. David Elstein, 2005. “Tell Me Where I am Wrong,” letter to London Review of Books, 27: 11, June 2 LRB Tell Me Where I am Wrong Retrieved May 14 2008
  14. John Blacker, 2007. "The demography of Mau Mau: fertility and mortality in Kenya in the 1950s: a demographer's viewpoint," African Affairs 106 (423): 205-227
  15. Austin Merril, May 8, 2005, book review of David Anderson's History of the Hanged: The Dirty War in Kenya and the End of Empire. in San Francisco Chronicle, The horror: imperialism's African legacy Retrieved May 14 2008
  16. David Anderson. 2005. Histories of the Hanged: The Dirty War in Kenya and the End of Empire. (NY: W. W Norton), 5. Anderson here states that at least 150,000 Kikuyu "spent some time behind the wire of a British detention camp."
  17. Anthony Mitchell, September 26, 2006, Mau Mau veterans to sue over British 'atrocities The Retrieved May 14, 2008
  18. John McGhie, 2002. “Kenya: White Terror,” BBC News November 9 White Terror Retrieved May 14, 2008
  19. Elkins, 87
  20. Anderson, 130
  21. See Anderson, 133
  22. The figure was given in an East African Standard report of April 5, 1953. (See Anderson, 132)
  23. Anderson, 4
  24. Elkins, 42
  25. See also Death at Lari: The Story of an African Massacre, chapter 4 of Anderson 2005
  26. Retrieved May 14, 2008.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Adekson, J. 'Bayo. "The Algerian and Mau Mau Revolts: a Comparative Study in Revolutionary Warfare," Comparative Strategy 2 (1) (1981): 69-92
  • Anderson, David. 2005. Histories of the Hanged: The Dirty War in Kenya and the End of Empire. NY: W. W Norton ISBN 0393059863
  • Blacker, John (2007), The demography of Mau Mau: fertility and mortality in Kenya in the 1950s: a demographer's viewpoint, African Affairs 106(423): 205-227
  • Clough, Marshall S. Mau Mau memoirs: history, memory, and politics. Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1998. ISBN 1555875378. online, The+Hardcore+Karigo+Muchai&source=gbs_summary_s& Retrieved November 6, 2008.
  • Corfield, Frank. 1960. The Origins and Growth of Mau Mau. [or the Corfield Report] (Nairobi: Government of Kenya)
  • Curtis, Mark. 2003. Web of Deceit: Britain’s Real Role in the World. London: Vintage ISBN 9780099448396
  • Elkins, Caroline. 2005. Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain's Gulag in Kenya. NY: Henry Holt & Co. ISBN 0805080015
  • Henderson, Ian with Philip Goodhart. 1958. The Hunt for Kimathi. London: Hamish Hamilton
  • Kitson, Frank. Gangs and Counter-gangs. London: Barrie and Rockliff, 1960.
  • Lonsdale, John. 1990. "Mau Maus of the Mind: Making Mau Mau and Remaking Kenya," The Journal of African History 31 (3): 393-421.
  • Maloba, Wunyabari O. 1993. Mau-Mau and Kenya: An Analysis of a Peasant Revolt. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press ISBN 0253211662
  • Marsh, Zoe & G. W. Kingsnorth, 1972. A History of East Africa. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press ISBN 0521083486
  • Newsinger, John. 1981, "Revolt and Repression in Kenya: The 'Mau Mau' Rebellion, 1952-1960," Science and Society 45: 159–185
  • Page, Malcolm. KAR: a history of the King's African Rifles. London: Leo Cooper ISBN 9780850525380
  • Thiong'o, Ngugi wa. 1967. A Grain of Wheat. London: Heineman ISBN 0435909878
  • Throup, David. Economic & Social Origins of Mau Mau, 1945—1953. Ohio University Press, 1987. ISBN 0821408844

External links

All links retrieved November 7, 2022.


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