This review is written with reservations, since I am
parti pris having served in Kenya for ten years (1953-63) as a district officer in ten
administrative districts, including some affected by the Emergency.
After World War 2, an illusion grew up that empires were for seafaring states alone.
A senior Colonial Office official termed this the "saltwater fallacy" and cited instances
of landbound empires. In 1996 there was a very fine American TV documentary on the
winning of the American West, produced by Kenneth Burns. After the American Civil War, the Federal Cavalry moved west under Sherman and Sheridan to deal with the Red
Indian problem (and Sheridan's belief was that the only good Indian was a dead Indian).
In the process much Indian land was lost to settlers. There was, of course, violence and
victims on both sides. But it is one of the ironies of history that Federal Cavalry, who
had fought in a civil war which was to free the slave, played a very different role in the
West. History has lessons to teach us all.
David Anderson's book contains much by way of solid research, but
it tells a one-sided story. He uses such terms as "Gulag" and "Belsen" (pages
311 and 297). He does not seem to fully understand that civil war breeds its own horrors
on all sides. Anderson is very dismissive of the theories of government's "Psycho Docs"
on the effects of MM oaths which he terms "bunk". The policy of villagisation was
designed to "protect" the population from Mau Mau not to create mini-Belsens. In
settled areas such as Thika the policy aimed at protecting a labour force which was
largely non-Kikuyu. In the Manyani detention camp, where there was a serious outbreak
of typhoid. Doctor Barton was moved from Kilifi to take temporary charge, and his
published account as an eyewitness, without glossing over the unpleasant aspects of the
regime, is very different from that given by Anderson. Anderson also labels the recruits
to the pseudo-gangs as "turncoats". His treatment of "General China" is favourable up to
his surrender, but not thereafter. European eyewitnesses tend to be quoted rather
selectively as in the case of a single reference to the book: Of Lions and Dung Beetles.
I hope that others, better qualified than I, will in due course join the debate. The argument
around the conflicting views about the end of Empire in Kenya, and elsewhere, will
continue. But in time, a balanced and impartial view may emerge; for the quest for the
truth must remain the ultimate goal.
Professor Pascal James Imperato adds:
Anderson has attempted to write a revisionist history that sharply challenges the
conventional wisdom concerning the 1,090 men who were hanged for Mau Maurelated
offences. His book reflects both meticulous and comprehensive research and a
sincere effort at a balanced rendering of conclusions about the judicial processes
through which these men were condemned to death.
He proves himself remarkably diligent in examining the trial records of the
1,090 hanged. His examination reveals some instances of judicial bias and corruption,
tainted testimony, questionable evidence, confessions extracted under torture, and
seemingly arbitrary and inconsistent judgements. However, these occasional
imperfections in judicial processes do not support the author's claim of widespread
victimization due to a mass miscarriage of justice.
One comes away from reading Histories of the Hanged with enormous respect for
Anderson's meticulous research and for the rigor of his scholarship. However, while he
gives voice to those who were hanged, he does not persuade us that they should not
have been punished in some form.