The British Empire Library

Scram From Kenya: From Colony to Republic 1946 - 1963

by James Franks

Courtesy of OSPA

Review by Dr T H R Cashmore (Colonial Administrative Service, Kenya 1953-62)
James Franks went to Kenya in 1947 as a young subaltern. He did not revisit Kenya until 1989. During that visit his Kikuyu driver suggested that there was a need for an objective and balanced account of the post-war years in Kenya up to the time of independence in 1963.

Franks took up this challenge. He has studied much of the published literature, and also some material available in the PRO and in the Kenya National Archives. He also found certain unpublished recollections of Kenya held at the Imperial War Museum. In addition Franks revisited Kenya in 1994 and 1996 to interview and record recollections of former settler farmers still in Kenya, and others elsewhere, including former officials in England. Some of his information comes from Asians and from Africans. He chose as the title for his book words once uttered by Tom Mboya (but he points out that Kenyatta said "stay").

Franks admits that it is difficult for any writer to be wholly impartial, that memories are not always accurate, and that witnesses do not always tell the whole truth. His book is of particular interest for the period from 1946 (Kenyatta's return) through the Mau Mau Emergency to its end in 1960, and the transfer of power in 1963. His aim is to seek to give a fair account of the actions of all the parties involved; Westminster and Whitehall, the Governor and his officials, the Kenya politicians, the settlers, the Mau Mau fighters (who saw themselves as fighters for land and freedom), and the Kikuyu loyalists (engaged in a civil war).

This is truly a brave effort by Franks. But the question is does he succeed? Unfortunately there are typographical errors and also historical inaccuracies. For example Uganda is mentioned in passing as becoming a Protectorate in 1895 (in fact 1894), and a colony in 1920 (which it didn't). The Devlin report of 1959 may have outraged Iain Macleod, then Colonial Secretary, but that report concerned Nyasaland not Kenya. Franks stresses the importance of readers checking his "footnotes and references" before making up their own minds, but there are only 3 footnotes and the "references" are not always helpful. To simply cite a source as "KNA" without further details is hardly sufficient. On occasions, quotations appear without any reference at all. These are hostages to fortune, which hostile critics may make much of.

Franks' concluding chapter is an Epilogue raising questions, hypotheses, and assessments for each reader to consider and draw their own conclusions. And each reader needs to do this.

I offer only one comment under the "if only" column. Franks suggests that if only the Kenya authorities had recognised Kenyatta as the leader of the Africans on his return in 1946, there would have been no Mau Mau troubles. Given the evidence that Franks earlier presents of plots to assassinate Kenyatta, both before and after 1952, I suspect Kenyatta would have been seen as a Government stooge by the militants, and then eliminated.

Given the current climate of opinion in some academic and other circles perhaps the time is not yet right for a balanced and impartial view? For instance, statistics from all sides concerning the Kenya Emergency are wildly contradictory. Until the winds of change alter opinion, and the realisation grows that each generation sees things differently, perhaps all that can be done for the present is to wait. In the meantime, one might perhaps note the advice of the American poet, Stephen Vincent Benet, ending his epic poem John Brown's Body about the American Civil War:

Say neither, in their way,
'It is a deadly magic and accursed,'
Nor 'It is blest', but only 'It is here'.

British Empire Book
James Franks
Pomegranate Press


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