Resettlement of Suspected Mau Mau Sympathisers in Tanganyika An Agriculturist's Involvement

Courtesy of OSPA

by J.M. Ainley
Resettlement of Suspected Mau Mau
Sympathisers in Tanganyika
An Agriculturist's Involvement
Handeni Boma
During the Kenya Mau Mau emergency, the Administration in Tanganyika were concerned that the troubles would spread southwards, their concern being mainly centred on the Arusha, Moshi, Meru areas where there were considerable numbers of Kikuyu, some having perhaps inter-married with the WaChagga (Kilimanjaro) and WaMeru. It was felt that those who might foment unrest should be rounded up and confined for the duration of the Kenya emergency, or until such time that the Tanganyika Government was satisfied that no possible danger remained.

My background was as an agriculturalist, joining the Colonial Service in 1948 and serving as an Agricultural Officer in Tanganyika until I resigned in 1964, some three years after Independence. It was in this capacity that I became involved in the settlement of the Kikuyu. In 1954 I was stationed in Handeni, a 5000 square mile District, some 100 miles SW of Tanga, with the Botna situated on the old road from Korogwe to Morogoro. It was mainly Miombo country with an erratic rainfall of some 28 inches per annum, and a sorghum, maize and cotton economy.

In the centre of the District there was a much more fertile area, hilly and with a higher rainfall and only sparsely populated. Here there was an old German estate of some 500 hectares, now reverted to bush, with the only signs of pre-First World War usage being a fairly substantial stone-built house, some derelict outbuildings, old quinine trees, some overgrown coffee bushes and old plantain (banana) stands.

Such estates were not unusual in parts of Tanga and Southern Highlands Provinces. Farmed by German settlers prior to the First World War, they were confiscated by the British and held by a Government body, the 'Custodian of Enemy Property'. Between the two world wars and into the mid-fifties, many of these estates were let out on 99 year, or longer, leases to settlers of several nationalities, Greek, Turkish, British and some East African Asians. Others were not let, nor settled by local inhabitants, and the one called Tamota in Handeni District was one of those.

Prior to the detention of the Kikuyu some effort had been made to grade them into categories of high, medium and low risk of Mau Mau sympathies. The term used at that time was Black, Grey and White (somewhat politically incorrect these days!). The former were detained in the Tengeru area of Arusha and were strictly confined within a secure camp. The latter were sent to the Central Province and allowed free access to that area. At Tamota we had the medium risk category but it was stressed there could well be dangerous persons among the 200 or so families sent for settlement.

Resettlement of Suspected Mau Mau
Sympathisers in Tanganyika
An Agriculturist's Involvement
In early 1954 I was informed by my Provincial Agricultural Officer at Tanga that I would be required to assist in the settlement of the Kikuyu who were currently being rounded up at their homes and who would be sent to Tamota shortly. I was to place myself at the disposal of a District Officer who had been selected to administer the resettlement. This was Mr Bill Helean, a New Zealander, who had been selected with some care as he was a 'no nonsense' District Officer who could be relied on to undertake this very difficult task. The other European was a Police Superintendent, whose name escapes me. We each had our African staff, the District Officers with clerks and messengers, the Police with six policemen (Askaris) and myself with four Agricultural Instructors who I brought with me from my staff at Handeni.

We arrived at Tamota some days before the detainees were due so that clearing round the old German house and surrounds could be done, and temporary accommodation in some of the old buildings, roughly constructed huts and tentage could be made for the 200 approximate families who would arrive in lorries with some food and their household and agricultural effects. Labour was recruited from the local tribe, the WaNguu, to assist us. Recruitment was not without its difficulty as the area was sparsely populated and the African 'bush telegraph' had spread many rumours that 'dangerous' people were due to arrive. Nevertheless preparations in the form of temporary accommodation, food supplies and a plan of action were completed prior to their arrival, a considerable task considering that Tamota was a remote area some 60 miles away from the small station of Handeni, with the added difficulty of some eight miles of unkept and overgrown dirt track.

Resettlement of Suspected Mau Mau
Sympathisers in Tanganyika
An Agriculturist's Involvement
Our task was to select suitable sites for the Kikuyu to build their houses and have access to suitable land for cultivation within reasonable distance from the 'village' sites. Whilst there were not detailed maps of the area, the task was made easier by the nature of the topography and the availability of water which was plentiful. Basically we had valleys and ridges, the former full of napier grass (and some buffalo!) and the ridges fairly clear with some light timber. The topography was not dissimilar to the Kikuyu area north of Nairobi and suitable for their preference of building their homes on ridge tops.

Nobody knew how long the Kikuyu would be held at Tamota but a time-scale of at least a year, probably longer, was a reasonable supposition. Using this as a yardstick, I drew up a settlement plan to provide sufficient land for each family to become self-supporting and remain so over a long period.

What we could not know was the attitude that the detainees would adopt. To be uprooted from home and sent miles away to detention could have resulted in complete non-cooperation despite our efforts to make the resettlement as easy as possible by providing facilities, albeit basic. I think their attitude really hinged on the number of people within their midst that had been indoctrinated by the Mau Mau oath taken against Europeans and their standing within the community. Fortunately it turned out that the great majority of the settlers were prepared to make the best of their circumstances, and those few who it later transpired had taken the oath had little influence in the community; arrangements were made later, when confidence had been gained, to arrange for them to be 'de-oathed'.

Jointly with the Administration and Police we agreed that I would select ten ridge-top building sites with enough room for twenty families and, within reasonable distance of the homesteads, enough land, based on approximately two acres per family, giving a total of about 40 acres. Such a plan would be flexible and could be adjusted as circumstances might warrant once the detainees arrived and discussions held. It was hoped that the Kikuyu themselves would select ten headmen who should act as spokesmen for the village groups and with whom we could liaise and in the event, with good cooperation, this is broadly how the settlement evolved.

Resettlement of Suspected Mau Mau
Sympathisers in Tanganyika
An Agriculturist's Involvement
John Ainley
Choosing the sites was not without its difficulties, as with no maps and fairly heavy undergrowth in the valleys it was hard work. As a starting point we climbed one of the higher hills to establish our bearings and with the aid of a compass drew a rough map of where we should plan the villages. Each Agricultural Instructor, together with some local labour to clear paths, then followed a route to the proposed sites bearing in mind that they should not be too far away, half an hour's walk at the most, from the central administrative camp, within easy reach of water and adjacent to sufficient land. By the time the first people arrived we had earmarked five sites so that they could be shown to the headmen who would make their comments, and we could alter our plans if necessary.

Arrangements had been wisely made for the detainees to arrive at intervals which enabled us to proceed with caution and try and reassure them that we were trying to do the best in arduous circumstances. They were very tired on arrival having been transported in lorries from many miles away, quite apart from the trauma of being removed from their homes. It was explained on arrival that temporary housing was available at the administrative site, food was to be issued initially and as they had brought their cooking utensils with them few problems should arise in that respect. It was further explained that on the following day, after a general baraza, they should select headmen and village sites would be shown to them. There was no language barrier as many spoke Swahili and for those that did not others were able to interpret.

From those first few days a pattern was established and the settlement, much to everybody's relief, went well. Snags there were, but generally these were ironed out with the cooperation of the Kikuyu themselves.

For those of us used to the somewhat Taidback' attitude of many of the Tanganyika tribes, and in particular the WaBena and WaNguu, the industry of the Kikuyu was a revelation. Clearing of sites and the erection of huts went on apace, the latter assisted by the availability of large stands of giant bamboo, some twenty feet in height with a girth as thick as a man's arm, presumably planted by the Germans all those years ago, as this type of bamboo was not indigenous to the area. It certainly made for the easy building of huts and, with ample supplies of napier grass in the valleys, roof covering was to hand.

Resettlement of Suspected Mau Mau
Sympathisers in Tanganyika
An Agriculturist's Involvement
Mau Mau Attack
It was not long before cultivation started, mainly with the initial planting of beans, followed by maize and some sorghum. I had made no actual plans of what crops had to be planted but arranged for a supply of the basic seed staples, beans, maize and cassava cuttings as a start. Not knowing how long the detainees would be at Tamota, a comprehensive agricultural plan could be drawn up later to cover food crops and the provision of cash crops, should the settlement be of long standing or perhaps even permanent; the criteria of adequate land had been arranged in the initial village layout.

Writing this some forty years after the event, I recall how much better the settlement went than we thought possible at the time. There were problems but in general and considering the enormity of the task, and perhaps the dangers of an assault, there were few major difficulties over the (from memory) year and a half before the Kikuyu were allowed to return to their homes, when the Government decided that there was no longer a risk to security in Tanganyika, and indeed, when the situation had improved in Kenya. There were amongst the families at Tamota some uncertain persons, but when these were identified they were sent to the secure camp and others, as previously mentioned, had the oath removed.

I remained under canvas at Tamota for several weeks, but then returned to Handeni to carry on with the normal agricultural extension work, calling in at Tamota once a month to see how things were going and if any assistance was required. Bill Helean later went on leave and his place was taken by a Mr Ferguson who also brought his wife with him to live at Tamota, an indication of how settled the community had become. My wife and I have a happy recollection of spending New Years Eve at Tamota having been invited by the Fergusons to celebrate the onset of 1956; the Fergusons, true Scots, he in full dress kilt and she with the appropriate clan sash, all of us sipping atholl brose to see the New Year in!

Memories fade and there are, I am sure, other matters and facts that could be added, or corrected, but this episode does give a broad account of what, in those days, was an important aspect of the way Tanganyika handled what could have become a serious disturbance in pre-Independence days. It is also for the record that our approach was one of firm but sympathetic consideration to those involved and was in no way the autocratic approach sometimes depicted by those apologists for the Colonial period. Perhaps there is a lesson here for some independent African governments in the way that their dissident and unpopular minorities have been, and perhaps still are, treated.

Colonial Map
1962 Map of North East Tanganyika
Colony Profile
Originally Published
OSPA Journal 72: October 1996


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