The British Empire Library

Colonial Kenya Observed: British Rule, Mau Mau and the Wind of Change

by S. H. Fazan

Courtesy of OSPA

Peter Fullerton (HMOCS Kenya, 1953-62)
Sydney Herbert Fazan (always known as S.H Fazan) came to Kenya in 1911 and had a long and distinguished career in the Provincial Administration. He retired in 1949 and became a settler. He finished writing this history in 1969 at the age of 80 but no publisher could be found to take the manuscript at a time when colonial history faculties in the UK were becoming increasingly anti-imperial. Fazan's family recently resurrected the manuscript and passed it to Dr John Lonsdale, Emeritus Professor of Modern African History at the University of Cambridge, and it is thanks to him that it has at last been rescued and published. His twenty page Foreword to the book is both a professional review of the history and an appreciation of Fazan's career and of his unrivalled firsthand knowledge of Kenya's development as a colony through to independence.

The ICS had for many years recruited their administrators from Oxford and Cambridge by rigorous examination. Fazan was a classics scholar at Christ Church and was ICS quality. He was one of the first District Officers to be recruited direct from Oxford into the Kenya Provincial Administration. (Most of the early DC's had been with the Imperial British East Africa Company). Fazan did several tours as a DO in Coast Province and in Kamba districts. After that, he was DC in Nyeri and in Kiambu where he had the delicate task of defusing the crisis caused by attempts by missionaries to suppress female circumcision. He was later Provincial Commissioner in Coast and Nyanza Provinces. Everywhere he served he gained an acute insight into tribal customs and local history.

While in Kiambu he was a member of the government committee investigating Kikuyu land tenure. This led to his appointment as Secretary of the Carter Land Commission set up by the Colonial Office in 1931 to report on the vexed question of Native (especially Kikuyu) land and the White Highlands. Fazan not only ran the enquiry and wrote the lengthy report but also drafted its recommendations. These were accepted and re-set the boundaries of the White Highlands which lasted right through to independence. Kenya's turbulent history had divided white opinion between the "pro-native" and the "pro-settler". Government policy in the 1920's had wavered between the two. Fazan had agonised over the rights and wrongs of the settlers and well understood the divisive politics of land in Kenya which he later realised were the main cause of the emergence of Mau Mau.

After war service as Political Liaison Officer with the KAR, Fazan retired in 1949 to a small farm at Tigoni, near Kiambu, from where he observed first the surge in Kikuyu nationalism though the KAU and then the build up of Mau Mau violence leading to the Emergency. In 1960 he published his "History of the Loyalists", in effect a history of the Mau Mau rebellion through to the end of the Emergency in January that year. It is a robust defence of the Kikuyu Guard, the militia formed by the Provincial Administration and officered by temporary DO's recruited mainly from the Kenya Regiment. Fazan rightly saw the rebellion from the very beginning as a civil war between the Loyalists and the Mau Mau. He did not, however, agree with much in the Corfield Report, the official history of the Emergency also produced in 1960, which concluded that "Kenyatta had callously imposed the horrors of the Mau Mau on the Kikuyu". And he dissented from Governor Renison who branded Kenyatta as "the leader of darkness and death".

Fazan saw early independence for Kenya as the right goal but in the 1950's "early" meant twenty years ahead. He had been hopeful then that Kenya could evolve constitutionally to a multiracial elected government. He was taken by surprise by the Lancaster House Conference of 1961 which demanded African majority rule and led rapidly to independence in 1963. He deplored the rapid exodus of the Colonial Service, settlers and Asians which followed, at a time when Kenya's development was gathering pace. But his final chapter ''The Wind of Change" ends on a note of optimism: "As for the political stability of the country, it owes a very great deal to the triumph of leadership of its first President, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta. In the years succeeding independence he fostered a spirit of amnesty and oblivion of past enmities and he succeeded in controlling the exuberance of his own former partisans, the Land Freedom Army". Wise words indeed when written in 1969.

There is little that is factually new in this history. Colonial Kenya has been the subject of more books, articles and research by historians and journalists than any other former colony, a fact well illustrated by the scores of scholarly footnotes in John Lonsdale's Foreword. But Fazan's history is unique in that it was written by someone who helped to make that history, having been in Kenya Government service both in the field and in the Secretariat for nearly forty years. It was also written soon after independence, with the conviction that British colonial rule had been successful in bringing Kenya in just over half a century from tribal life to nation state, and from subsistence economy to productive farming and marketing. It is impossible today to find a colonial historian like Fazan who is not merely judgmental about but also acclaims the achievements of those who came to Kenya in the Colonial Service or as settlers, missionaries and traders. Fazan was "one of us", and he writes as one of us. His book, as the title suggests, is indeed Kenya "observed". It is a reassuring tonic to read it, and for those of us who were fortunate enough to have served in Kenya to be reminded that the years we spent there, despite all the pain and controversies that dogged its history, were not in vain. I had only one regret after finishing this remarkable book. I just wished that I could have read it when I was a young District Officer.

British Empire Book
S. H. Fazan


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