David Lovatt Smith in his book seeks to correct the bias that he sees in much current
literature on Kenya. He had personal experience of the battles in Fort Hall in the worst
years. He makes valid points as to the nature of the Mau Mau oaths and the fierceness of
the civil war (which is what it became). He is right to stress that only certain areas and a
minority of the population (though sizeable), were affected by the violence of that time.
He also stresses the genuine close links that many local born whites in Kenya had had
with Africans. Lovatt Smith also cites certain incidents of white brutality. His critics will
say there were many more. Possibly so because, sadly, these were harsh times when fear
and red rage prevailed. (No doubt he too will be accused of bias.)
I think there is a crucial question that has to be answered - “Who started it?” African
nationalists, and their academic sympathisers, would probably say the weak colonial
government and greedy white settlers who stole much of the Kikuyu land. (Currently the
Maasai in Kenya seem to take a similar view that everyone else has stolen much of their
But “who started the violence in the years after World War 2?”. The answer must be
the radicals amongst the young Kikuyu nationalists using the methods of enforced
oathing, and in a form and manner wholly contrary to Kikuyu custom of oath taking
(which was to be done in public, in daylight, and as a voluntary act). The situation was
made worse by a sick governor and a hiatus before his replacement (also ill) could take
up the command. Action, long delayed, in October 1952 led to a savage civil war which
in turn brought with it more horrors and reprisals. But it also saw the introduction of the
Swynnerton plan, which brought greater prosperity to the Kikuyu and other progressive
farmers. There was the shocking and stupid incident at Hola, yet many thousands of
detainees had been successfully released back to their homes. (Not that we in the field
always welcomed them wholeheartedly, for suspicions lingered for a time.)
Perhaps the gesture of Kenyatta towards white settlers should also be remembered.
Despite having served 7 years of imprisonment and detention, he could address a white audience in the Rift Valley with the words “I forgive you, will you now forgive me?”.
And if there was a seeming rush to independence, circumstances beyond Kenya’s
borders prevailed. After all, as late as January 1959, the Colonial Secretary and his
advisers were thinking in terms of the mid-1970’s for independence in East Africa. The
Wind of Change was soon to blow them off course.
I hope that others, better qualified, 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.