Freedom by any means necessary
Published Mar 16, 2005 1:20 PM
Book review: “Imperial Reckoning” by Caroline Elkins and
“Histories of the Hanged” by David Anderson
In 1947 in Murang’a, women led a revolt against being
forced to build thousands of miles of terraces that often washed away in the
Kenyan African Union leaders went to the countryside. Jomo Kenyatta
spoke to 30,000 people in Nyeri, 60 miles north of Nairobi, on July 26,
Oath-taking campaigns united people in demanding land and freedom.
Most historians have smeared the so-called “Mau Mau oaths” as
“savage” and “barbaric.” What was barbaric was colonial
Throughout history oppressed people have taken oaths to
fortify themselves. The “Tolpuddle Martyrs”—English farm
workers who dared to form a union—were banished to Australia in 1834 for
taking an oath.
Kenyans boycotted buses in Nairobi. Preparations were made
for armed struggle. People’s justice got rid of the biggest collaborator
of the white settlers, British-appointed “Senior Chief” Waruhiu, on
Oct. 9, 1952.
Eleven days later Kenya’s colonial governor, Evelyn
Baring, declared a state of emergency. His family controlled Barings Bank,
founded in 1762 by the slave dealer Francis Baring. His father was Lord Cromer,
the British dictator of Egypt and India.
A battalion of Lancashire
Fusiliers was flown in from the British-occupied Suez Canal. Authorities rounded
up more than 80 Kenyan political leaders, trade unionists and school
administrators. Most of the independent schools were shut down.
Kenyatta, Bildad Kaggia, Fred Kubai and three other defendants were put on trial
for allegedly leading the Mau Mau. There was no jury. Their conviction was
guaranteed. Judge Ransley Thacker received a bribe of 20,000 British pounds,
worth several hundred thousand dollars today.
The London Daily Telegraph
called Kenyatta “a small-scale African Hitler.”
Kenyatta’s frame-up would demoralize Africans. Instead, it ignited years
of guerilla warfare.
Mau Mau fighters stole weapons and ammunition from
settlers’ farms and military depots. Kenyan blacksmiths made hundreds of
guns in the liberated areas.
Ten more British battalions had to be rushed
to Kenya. The Royal Air Force bombed guerilla strongholds in Aberdares Forest
and on Mount Kirinyaga (Mount Kenya).
A total of 55,000 soldiers and cops,
including thousands of British draftees, were mobilized to fight the Mau
Mass beatings, hangings
The British hanged 1,090
“Mau Mau suspects.” As with Kenyatta, none of these martyrs had a
Like those tortured in Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison,
captured Mau Mau soldiers were not protected by the Geneva Convention. Being
found in possession of a single bullet brought a death sentence.
people were executed just for administering oaths. Supplying food to guerilla
fighters—labeled “consorting” by British justice—sent
207 to the gallows.
By this time, the Conservatives were in office in
Britain. Prime Minister Winston Churchill was Adolf Hitler to the people of
Elkins estimates as many as 300,000 Kenyans were put through
concentration camps to be “screened.” Prisoners had to confess to
taking the Mau Mau oath in order to be released.
Author Elkins and her
assistant, Terry Wairimu, a researcher at the Kenyan National Archives,
interviewed 300 survivors. Every one of these heroes had been beaten and
starved. Their harrowing testimony is reminiscent of “The Theory and
Practice of Hell,” Eugen Kogon’s account of surviving Buchenwald
Torture, including sexual mutilation, was routine.
Detainees at the Manyani camp were clubbed on arrival. Alsatian dogs mauled
women inmates at the Athi River camp. Inmates could be killed just for trying to
smuggle a letter to the outside.
In Kamiti camp alone, 600 children were
confined. Almost none survived.
“Hard-core Mau Mau supporters”
would be selected to bury them. “They would be tied in bundles of six
babies,” recalled former camp inmate Helen Macharia.
Teachers’ Training College was turned into a concentration camp equipped
with a pair of gallows. Some of the slaves who built a 37-mile irrigation canal
at the South Yatta camp were buried alive.
The biggest of the 55 main
camps was located outside Nairobi, where thousands of inmates built a
seven-square-mile airport at Embakasi with their bare hands. U.S. “foreign
aid” helped pay for this atrocity.
British authorities burned almost
all their records about these camps when finally forced to leave Kenya.
U.S. and British media alleged that Kenya’s Land and Freedom Army
was just a “tribal struggle” conducted by the Kikuyu—just as,
50 years later, President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair claim the
Iraqi resistance is confined to the “Sunni
Concentration camps were set up for Kamba and Maasai
people, too. Ole Kisio died in combat leading Maasai fighters. Luo political
leaders Tom Mboya and Oginga Odinga demanded Jomo Ken yatta’s release.
Fitz de Souza and other lawyers of Asian origin defended
Stymied by their failed attempts to defeat the Mau Mau, the
British military decided to starve them out, cutting off their supplies. This
was real “ethnic cleansing.”
Over a million Kikuyu were forced
out of their homes. They were driven into 800 “emergency villages”
built by their own slave labor—a tactic also used by the British in Malaya
and the Pentagon in Vietnam. White settlers and Kenyan mercenaries called the
“Home Guard” brutalized Kikuyu in these fenced-in
“Operation Anvil” swept nearly half of Nairobi’s
Kikuyu population into the camps on April 24, 1954. Anyone found with a union
card was picked up as well.
The world was shocked when 11 prisoners were
beaten to death in the Hola camp on March 4, 1959. Colonial authorities claimed
at first that they had died from drinking “contaminated water.” The
United Nations did nothing.
“You had to knock the evil out of a
person,” explained senior prison officer John Cowan, in charge of Hola and
other camps. Cowan later got a plush job with the Bank of England.
from its support network, Kenya’s Land and Freedom Army was finally
overcome by British planes and tanks.
But 20,000 Mau Mau guerrillas
didn’t die in vain. Neither did hundreds of thousands of other Kenyans,
whether murdered in concentration camps or killed by hunger and disease in the
emergency villages. An independent Kenya was born on Dec. 12, 1963.
last of the Mau Mau leaders—Field Marshal Dedan Kimathi—had been
captured on Oct. 21, 1956. He was hanged on Feb. 18, 1957, in Kamiti Maximum
Security Prison outside Nairobi.
Tony Blair and George W. Bush shed
crocodile tears for Africa, but Tony Blair’s government refuses to even
reveal where Kamathi’s body is buried. None of the bodies of the hanged
Mau Mau martyrs was returned to their families. Oppressed people aren’t
even supposed to mourn their heroes.
But Africa remembers. The date of
Kimathi’s execution is commemorated annu ally. Streets are named for him.
Mau Mau veterans have filed a lawsuit for reparations.
They are being
avenged wherever people fight for land and freedom.
Reckoning” and “Histories of the Hanged” can be purchased from
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