This book has been very extensively researched, though there are some important
omissions from the bibliography. Unfortunately the author has approached her
subject from the traditional American anti-colonial approach, her choice of material is
very selective, and she does not give a balanced picture - though her choice of selective
material and a sensational title appears to have done wonders for her circulation and
produced a best-seller, which is reappearing as a paperback.
It is a one-sided presentation of the facts, with little reference to the bestiality and
horror of the Mau Mau oath taking ceremonies, or the force used on those unwilling to
take the oaths. Nor does she bring out that Mau Mau was opposed by all Kikuyu
Christians, many of whom were killed - as in the Lari massacre - for their opposition.
Much of the so-called evidence comes from interviews with ex-detainees with little
opportunity to check their veracity. This leads to some major errors. A good example is
at p313 where, on the basis of an interview with one Nderi, she states that
Leslie Whitehouse, DC Turkana, "handed out torture". It appears from the bibliography
that she has not read the biography of Whitehouse (Jomo 's Jailor: Grand Warrior of
Kenya by Elizabeth Watkins) from which she could have seen that Whitehouse was a
fair-minded, gentle, and conscientious administrator who would never have tortured
anyone. He became a good friend of Jomo Kenyatta, became a Kenya citizen, was asked
to stand as a KANU candidate, and was awarded the decoration of Grand Warrior of
Kenya by an independent Kenya. It is fortunate for her that Whitehouse is now dead, as
otherwise I suspect he could have won a very substantial sum in a libel action.
Some errors were made at Hola - and fully aired in the British Parliament by the
parliamentary opposition. But they do not justify the all-out condemnation of those who
worked in the detention camps, nor does Elkins suggest how else men could have been
freed from these horrific oaths. There were many who worked patiently to
help detainees get free of their oaths and live normal lives. Two of these were
James Breckenridge and his wife who describe their efforts in Breckenridge's book
40 years in Kenya (another book that does not appear in Elkins' bibliography).
"The importance of Mau Mau to the decolonisation process in Kenya and its unique
and complex characteristics ensure that it will continue to be examined by historians,
political scientists, and sociologists. Each generation brings to endeavours of this
kind the intellectual influences that have shaped its critical thinking and attitudes
towards the certitude of received knowledge. It is thus not only history that can be
re-explored in the future, but also how scholars of past generations have interpreted
the forces that shaped it." ...
"Elkins is a prominent political activist who for some time has been campaigning for
monetary compensation for the alleged victims of British efforts at defeating Mau
Mau. Yet, as the author of this work, she has attempted to drape herself uniquely in an
academic mantle, namely her assistant professorship in Harvard's history department.
There is obvious subterfuge here: In failing to inform readers of her primary role as a
political activist, she has attempted to camouflage the bias this clearly imparts to her
historical narrative." ...
"Thus, through inappropriate analogies and inflammatory rhetoric, Elkins attempts not
so much to present truth supported by incontrovertible evidence, but rather to solicit
broad public support for her crusade on behalf of Mau Mau adherents and sympathizers
who were detained. In effect, her book is less a serious scholarly narrative and more a
political brief crafted in popular language in the interests of a group of people whom she
considers victims of a past wrong and worthy of reparations." ...
"A major defect in Imperial Reckoning is the bias and subjectivity with which Elkins
has researched the available evidence and drawn conclusions from it." ...
"In the end. Imperial Reckoning rests heavily on fragile testimony, faulty data, and
unconvincing intuition. It informs readers more about Elkins and her crusade than
about the complexities of Mau Mau and the human tragedies associated with it."
Dr Blacker is uniquely qualified to write on this subject: as the technical expert
he was responsible for the planning and analysis of the 1962 Kenya census and was the
Government's consultant for the 1979, 1989 and 1999 censuses. At the age of 77, with
fifty years East African experience, he is still active in this field today. In this article
he has drawn on published and unpublished data from the 1948 and 1962 censuses, the
1969 census (which he says, interestingly, is often claimed to have been the best census
Kenya has ever had) and, indeed, demographic and health surveys up to 2003 which tend
to confirm his findings.
Drawing on my experience of Kenya in and after the Emergency and my later career
as a market researcher for 33 years I would summarise his conclusions and add my
comments as follows:
1. Caroline Elkins' assertions that up to 300,000 Kikuyu (here and later this definition
subsumes Meru, Embu, Tharaka and Mbere) died or disappeared as a result of the
Mau Mau Emergency (including those not born because of a lower than normal
Kikuyu birthrate) is disproved. There may be some truth in her claim "that the
official figure of some 11,000 Mau Mau killed is implausible". (Censuses, of course,
even if perfectly designed and carried out, with 100% coverage, co-operation, and
understanding from the population concerned, are not intended to ascertain the exact
size of groups as small as one seven hundred and fiftieth of the total population.
More realistically they should be able to establish whether a defined category of
person amounts to a thirtieth, or to only a fortieth or fiftieth, ie two to two and a half
percent. Greater precision is seldom necessary for economic and other planning
purposes, but there may be political imperatives for it).
2. Elkins has ignored changes in the tribal classifications used for the Kenya censuses.
More importantly she has stressed apparent differences in population growth between
the Kikuyu and three other major groups, the Luo, Luhya and Kamba, implying that
this is accounted for by mass killings or is the consequence of other aspects of
colonial, ie British or Kenya, government policy. Blacker shows that Kikuyu
mortality, for both adults and children, was appreciably lower than among the
Kamba, Luhya and Luo: this pattern has been repeated in all subsequent censuses and
health studies. While conceding that there may have been malnutrition in Kikuyu
areas, aggravated by villagisation and the spread of infectious diseases (it would be
interesting to obtain a Red Cross or medical view on this: Blacker surprisingly quotes
Elkins as his source), the author points out the relevance of environmental (climate,
altitude, malaria) and social (education, age at marriage and at birth of first child)
factors as reasons for tribal differences and concludes that "... the excess mortality of
the Kikuyu attributable to the Emergency cannot possibly be measured by
comparisons with other tribes."
3. So what was this "excess mortality"? Blacker has calculated this from a comparison
between rather incomplete 1948 data obtained from women on the number of
children borne, distinguishing between the living and the dead, and the fuller answers
collected in the 1969 census, reinforced by a modelling procedure to infer the
number of deaths at all other ages. He concedes "the fragile nature of the data and
assumptions" and the "large margins of error" involved, hence his range of 30,000 to
60,000 "excess deaths" and his statement that "a round figure of 50,000 is as good a
guess as any." Of these "... rather more than half, say 26,000, will have been of
children under 10 ...". The estimates provide "an order of magnitude" very different
from Elkins' claims. Within the total, about 15,000 violent deaths already known
about and admitted are included.
4. A few further observations:
i) The casualty figures in the Corfield Report may be official but they are
necessarily incomplete, only reporting up to the end of 1956 and appearing to
omit the KEM (Home) Guard losses and possibly the Kenya Regiment's African
trackers. There was (and has been) no attempt to estimate Mau Mau killings of
their own men within the gangs (or "armies").
ii) Some Mau Mau continued to live in (or return to) the forests, particularly in
Mem, after military operations ceased (1956). Nearly 2,000 appeared at the time
of independence (1963). Would they have participated in the 1962 census?
Police operations continued for the rest of the fifties and in the early sixties,
including after independence.
iii) 59,000 "Non-Kenya Africans" were identified in the 1962 census. What we don't
know is the number of Kenya Africans (particularly Kikuyu) living outside
Kenya in that year: I would expect the total to exceed what was recorded in the
1948 Tanganyika and Uganda censuses: these figures should still be available.
iv) Overall under-enumeration in the 1948 census probably exceeded that for 1962
but the reverse may be true for the Kikuyu, but might there not have been some
incentive to exaggerate numbers to improve a tribe's or district's representation
in the forthcoming 1963 elections, counter-balancing Blacker's suggestion that
Kikuyu resentment and non-cooperation may have contributed to underenumeration
v) Dr Blacker has confirmed that the published article contained an error on p 223,
Table 10, where the enumerated figures for "both sexes" and "males" should be
as shown in Table 8, being 1,554,925 and 762,536 respectively. The "females"
figure is correct, and his conclusions are not affected.