The British Empire Library

Kenya Cowboy: A Police Officers Account Of The Mau Mau Emergency

by Peter Hewitt

Courtesy of OSPA

James Franks (Author of "Scram from Kenya", Pomegranate Press, 2005)
Hewitt explains that Kenya Cowboy, the title of his book, was the name given to the 1,000 or so men recruited outside Kenya and rushed in to reinforce the existing police force when Kenya was faced with insurrection, generally known as the Mau Mau uprising. The 'cowboys' were given just six weeks training before appointment as police inspectors. Recruited in Britain, the author was in his mid-twenties when he arrived in Nairobi in the Autumn of 1953 having spent eight years in the Fleet Air Arm. He is by no means the first policeman to take us through the forest in pursuit of Mau Mau. One recalls, particularly, hunting for Kimathi with Ian Henderson whose name features in this book too. But unlike Henderson, Hewitt was a new boy to Kenya so starts as an outsider with an outsider's perspective on events.

The author went from London to Nairobi and up to Gilgil for training with what he describes as "a multifarious bunch of recruit sub-inspectors of police" which included "ex-military services personnel, bank clerks, public school boys and ex-Palestine police". Accommodation and living conditions were basic. The course included law studies, weapon training and Swahili instruction. Hewitt remarks in passing that no-one in his intake failed the course.

His descriptions of hunting for Mau Mau, of encounters with and of their capture are straightforward and positive. He is in no doubt that Kenyatta was the leader of Mau Mau and principal villain. Hewitt was in the thick of it but he emphasises that there was no rough handling of prisoners by his men and his descriptions of encounters bear that out. Nothing gung-ho. He deals with Operation Bullrush, the highland clearances around Lake Naivasha, at some length and quotes authoritative contemporary critics' reports of 'Bullrush' as a "farcical and an unmitigated waste of money, materials and effort, not to mention the drubbing to British prestige". Most 'campaigns' have a 'charge of the Light Brigade', 'fall of Singapore' or similar episode best forgotten. In the 1990s, 40 years after the 'battle', European settlers living near Lake Naivasha recalled Operation Bullrush with hunched shoulders and pained expressions.

Hewitt has respect and sympathy for the white settlers with whom he comes in contact when investigating claims for losses suffered when cattle were stolen or maimed by Mau Mau. Indeed, he dedicates his book to "those spunky, indomitable pioneer settlers who were to find their precarious paradise in the White Highlands of Kenya". En route through his book the author touches on the major issues of the time including the murder of Europeans in their homes, the massacre of the Kikuyu inhabitants of Lari village and formation of the Kikuyu Homeguard.

This is the third edition of the book; the first and second editions were published in 1999 and 2001. The author admits his book is a 'potpourri' and in addition to 15 chapters it includes an author's note, an introduction, an epilogue and postscript which discuss events in Kenya since the period covered in the main text, glossary of Swahili words, glossary of army and police abbreviations and eleven appendices. Unfortunately there is no index.

Following service in Kenya the author served with the Colonial Police Service in Cyprus, Nyasaland and Papua New Guinea before diplomatic missions in Sierra Leone, East Berlin (GDR), Guyana and Portugal. He and his wife now divide their time between London and Northern Cyprus. Kenya Cowboy, both book and author, provide food for thought.

British Empire Book
Peter Hewitt
30 Degrees South Publishers (Pty) Ltd
978 1 920143 23 7


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