The British Empire Library

Kenya, The Kikuyu And Mau Mau

by David Lovatt Smith

Courtesy of OSPA

Dr T H R Cashmore (Colonial Administrative Service, Kenya 1953-62)
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 traditional land.)

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.

British Empire Book
David Lovatt Smith
Mawenzi Books
0 9544713 2 6


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