events at Hola detention camp in 1959 and their
unexpected consequences cannot be found in any of
the prescribed textbooks in Kenya schools. There is
therefore almost total ignorance, certainly among
the younger generations, of the whole Emergency
period from 1952 - 1960. So this first part of the
series is devoted to the political build-up to Hola,
a defining moment in the Fight for Freedom.
1952 - May 1953
rushes in troops
beginning of 1952 the minds of the majority of the
leaders of the European Settlers in Kenya were
concentrated on two topics.
undoubtedly, was the imminent first visit in
February of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip to
the colony. It was during this fairy-tale occasion
that she famously became Queen of England at
Treetops after the sudden death of her father.
subject increasingly rattling around in the Settlers’
heads, however, at this time was the rising tide of
Kikuyu ‘subversion’. This they blamed on the
underground activities of certain African political
leaders. By the middle of the year the European
Electors Union was openly calling for the "neutralisation
or liquidation" of these ‘subversive’
previous Governor, Sir Philip Mitchell, at the end
of his long and meritorious 40-year career as a
colonial civil servant, appeared almost too
exhausted to care as he complacently coasted to
retirement as a Kenya settler and an old age of
trout fishing in the River Gura.
at this stage he was playing, if only through sheer
seniority, a dual role as both the British Colonial
office’s expert adviser on African affairs and
also the legendary "man on the spot," a
combination portraying unquestionable wisdom in
London’s eyes. He authoritatively pronounced that
"there was no serious danger."
he assured the incoming Governor, Sir Evelyn Baring,
that the Africans were "largely apolitical, but
beginning to show good ability operating a system of
local government." Mitchell, described by one
historian as "a blunt, unattractive, fat,
little man without any social graces," has been
portrayed by another as "easily succumbing to
Settlers’ pressure" and "personally
hostile and contemptuous of African peasant
October 1952 Senior Chief Waruhiu, a pillar of the
Kikuyu establishment in Kiambu District, was
assassinated. At 5 p.m in the evening of 20th
October, at the Brackenhurst Hotel near Limuru,
Baring, after a quick safari through the Central
Province and with the unanimous approval on 14
October of the British Cabinet, signed the
Declaration of a State of Emergency in Kenya.
jumping the gun so to speak, had begun to implement
"Operation Jock Scott" in the night of the
involved the arrest and detention without trial of
some 180 top political leaders, mainly from the
Central Province. A Royal Navy Cruiser, the
"Kenya", was already anchored at Mombasa.
Concurrently a battalion of British troops (the
Lancashire Fusiliers) flew in to Eastleigh Airport
from their Cairo Base. The European Settlers greeted
their arrival rapturously.
would not last
in fact the first British troops to serve in
sub-Saharan Africa in a time of peace for over forty
years. Ironically, however, British troops, of one
ilk or another, were to be stationed in Kenya until
well after the country achieved independence in 1963
under President Jomo Kenyatta. Indeed there are
agreed "training" arrangements even today.
October Baring had only been in the country three
weeks. The new Governor and his local advisers, who
included the palaeontologist and Special Branch
officer Dr. Louis Leakey, "on whom everyone
relied for wisdom about the Kikuyu", naively
believed that, after the first shock and awe, the
Emergency was unlikely to last more than two or
Percy Sillitoe, the Director-General of the Security
Services in Britain, who had come out to advise the
Kenya Government on setting up an efficient system
of intelligence, confirmed that the insurrection
would surely be short-lived. But all the pundits
were to be proved hopelessly wrong about this and,
of course, many other things. The Emergency actually
lasted nearly twice as long as the Second World War,
eventually being officially declared over on 12th
1952 - May 1953
six months of the phoney period of the subsequent
war were, from the Colonial Government’s side,
little short of chaotic. The coordination between
the army, the police and the administration was
Provincial Administration found itself overwhelmed
by the sheer magnitude of the problems that the
Emergency had unleashed. The situation in Nyeri, at
the centre of the gathering storm, was frantic
crisis management from one predicament to the next.
At this point no one knew what was happening, let
alone who or what was making it happen.
European Settlers, conscripted into the Kenya
Regiment or the Kenya Police Reserve, entered the
fray with a wild-western gung-ho approach that paid
scant regard to either discipline or the law,
beginning to cement a culture of violence and
extreme brutality into the situation that was to end
up tragically in the Hola Detention Camp disaster
six years later.
Settlers it was now truly a ‘Them’ or ‘Us’
war, with no holds barred. For many extermination
really was an option. The leaders of the Resistance
in the forest on their part were soon receiving a
constant stream of recruits and supplies.
enabled them to initiate a series of attacks both in
Nairobi and Central Province on police stations and
other Government posts. At this point the
operational initiative was clearly with the freedom
fighters who were supported in their political
objectives (land and independence) by virtually all
the people of Kikuyuland and their East African
November 1952 Baring wrote to Oliver Lyttelton, the
Colonial Secretary, warning him that what had been
previously been considered a police action, albeit
on a large scale, now resembled a small guerilla
demanded an experienced Director of Operations.
Whitehall did not agree and Baring flew to London to
plead with Prime Minister Winston Churchill himself.
He lost his case but was at least allowed to appoint
Major General Hinde (who had relatives among the
European Settlers) as his Personal Staff Officer.
European Settlers, however, there was no sign of any
change for the better in early 1953, although Hinde
had been pushed up a peg to become a pretty
ineffectual Director of Operations. Indeed it seemed
as if no one on the British side had any new ideas
on how to tackle the resourceful and innovative Mau
Mau fighters. Nor did anyone have much intelligence
about the movement’s organization or deployment.
British went on unimaginatively launching huge
ineffective sweeps of the dense forests with the
heavily overloaded KAR soldiers clumping noisily
about in their leaden boots and breathing so heavily
that the forest fighters, by now highly skilled and
much superior in bushcraft, could hear them in the
clear mountain air literally miles away.
often forgotten that unlike Algeria and other
African colonial insurgencies, the Mau Mau had no
material or financial help from anyone outside
Kenya. This was Africa’s first truly autochthonous
1953, a rowdy mob of about 1,000 frustrated and
furious European Settlers, largely composed of
Nairobi shopkeepers and residents, by now disgusted
with the indecisiveness of the ‘wobbly’ Governor,
and by the lack of any progress on the ‘battle’
front, marched on Government House, at one point
even trying unavailingly to storm the massive front
leaders, Michael Blundell and Humphrey Slade,
hoisted on to chairs, eventually managed to calm and
disperse them. Shortly after this the British Middle
East Commander-in-Chief came to Nairobi from Cairo,
meeting Lyttelton in Nairobi.
visitors agreed that Hinde, with whom Baring got on
surprisingly well, would have to go. Baring
reluctantly accepted a compromise. A "senior
general" would be appointed as
Commander-in-Chief for East Africa, with direct
access to the War Office in London and no longer
subordinate to the Cairo HQ. Hinde would answer to
early months of 1953 there were three other critical
events. Two took place on the same night - March
A group of
forest fighters under the command of Muraya Mbuthia
(still alive) and Mbaria Kaniu (whom the newly
registered Mau Mau War Veterans Association buried
last month with respect and ceremony), both from
Murang’a, reinforced by thirty men under Kibira
Gatu (still alive) from Othaya in Nyeri, surrounded
the Naivasha Police Station compound.
only five guns and very little ammunition. Surprise,
however, was total. They cut through the wire and
made straight for the Armoury. Mbuthia broke down
the door and began distributing the weapons.
fighters lost one man killed. They made a large haul
of Bren guns and rifles and also took off with a
considerable quantity of ammunition, incidentally
releasing some 150 prisoners.
courage and brilliantly executed planning
demonstrated by the insurgents involved in this
episode had a profound effect on the humiliated and
enraged colonial Security Forces, who were finally
beginning to realise they had a real war on their
afterwards the Government decided to issue the
embryonic so-called "Loyalist" Home Guard
(disparagingly christened 'The Kamatimu' - The
Little Spears). network with shotguns and rifles.
Not totally unexpectedly, several members
immediately disappeared into the forests with their
motivation and complex structure of these "loyalist"
collaborators requires detailed research, as does
the whole concept and the different degrees of
"loyalism" acceptable in different
localities. It is assuredly a more complicated
picture than even that of Petain’s Vichy France.
today a few of these so-called "loyalists"
are tentatively breaking their self-imposed silence
about the war period, it is clear that the
motivation and quality of their "loyalism"
differed greatly in both space and time.
substantial differences not only between Districts
but even between locations. Large numbers were
merely fence-sitters who changed their positions
depending on who they thought was winning at any
particular time in their local area.
the Home Guard groups originated in late 1952 around
Chiefs and Headmen (sub-chiefs) who had committed
themselves irrevocably to the Government cause,
whether by some illegal act outside the law or by
over-zealous implementation of Government policies.
Guard groups were initially recruited from the
extended families and age-mates of these chiefs but
were joined piecemeal by others who thought they had
wealth and property to lose or who, for one reason
or another, felt they would be the targets of the
Mau Mau movement.
amorphous band were later joined both by double
agents and by the usual fringe elements who for a
time felt safer inside the Home Guard than outside
it, especially when uncommitted males at this time
were almost by definition assumed to support the
aims of the forest fighters.
analysis will also have to bear in mind that with
the influx of the KPR and Kenya Regiment the Rule of
Law in the Reserves had rapidly been replaced by the
Rule of Fear.
was a tangled mess of motives and emotions that will
be very difficult to unravel. Its primary motivation,
however, was never Freedom (Uhuru) and Land. Often
it was simply greed, fear, indecision, religion or
Christian Missions were another centre of Home Guard
activities. At the beginning Christian believers
would coalesce at the local mission stations or even
in trading centres, led at some assembly point by
the local Chief or Headman, at others even by a
European missionary of strong personality. These
stations would over time be barricaded and
surrounded with barbed wire, developing eventually
into reasonably secure sanctuaries for the mission
significant that "loyalists" never created
a unity oath of their own. Their membership was too
diffuse and their ideology too elastic varying as it
did from Senior Chief Njeru in Murang'a, solemnly
raising and lowering the Union Jack outside his
homestead daily to a poor shopkeeper desperately
trying to preserve his meagre stock of goods.
as the war went on, it paid in many ways to be, or
at least appear to be, a "loyalist".
Movement passes, trading licences and contracts,
education, jobs and eventually even voting rights
could all depend on the possession of the precious
as tentative, irregular, undisciplined bands of
collaborators ultimately developed into a much more
organised and regular addition to the tribal police
force with its own commandant, transferred from the
Malayan communist rebellion.
under the immediate orders to several locally
recruited European District Officers (Kikuyu Guard).
Before and after villagisation these units were
responsible for some of the worst atrocities and
abuses of human rights. It is believed that Baring
took the decision in favour of villagisation himself,
apparently on the advice of Louis Leakey.
Central Province had become one vast detention camp
with the reoganised paramilitary Kikuyu Guard of the
all-powerful wardens and controllers.
incident on the same night was the burning down of
the "Traitors Settlement" at Lari by a
small group of Mau Mau.
of the area (Luka Wakahangara) had accepted land at
Lari in exchange for his portion of an island of
African Ð owned land in the middle of the
"White" Highlands at Tigoni, near Limuru.
been unanimously condemned by the local Mau Mau
court for traitorously collaborating with the
Administration and the Europeans in the land
conflicts on the Kikuyu frontier. In accepting land
at Lari, which was already claimed by another mbari
group, he was also publicly supporting the political
basis of the unacceptable 1934 Kenya Land Commission
Report (popularly called the Carter Commission).
had officially recommended the extinction of all
other Kikuyu land rights and the recognition of the
White Highlands. So the Mau Mau court’s decision
was implemented and Luka, his family, his followers
and guards were burnt to death in their houses.
on the next day the colonial Security Forces went
berserk and it would appear that more than 300 of
the inhabitants of the surrounding area, who had not
been involved in any way in the previous night’s
activities, were brutally killed in a psychotic
spasm of revenge and racist genocide. In addition
1,400 people were arrested.
no other single episode in the war was more
ruthlessly exploited by the British for propaganda
purposes. It was a Godsend.
the world’s headlines and its apparent irrational
purposelessness was brazenly used by the British and
colonial governments to alienate sympathy for the
freedom fighters’ cause.
of the White Highlands issue in the background made
the raid seem incomprehensible to many. Lari was
also ruthlessly and fatefully manipulated to boost
the moral credentials of the Security Forces and to
reduce the impact of the increasing number of
complaints from missionaries and the more radical
British MPs about the barbaric nature of the methods
they were using to quell the uprising.
in the trial
Kenyatta and five others
event was the trial of Jomo Kenyatta and five others
for managing Mau Mau. This began before Mr. Justice
Thacker, a retired High Court Judge from Kenya.
Baring bribed Thacker with £20,000 from some
source of (secret) Intelligence funds that was
personally controlled by him. Thacker responded by
shamelessly asking as well for an honour from the
Queen. This, however, was too much and it was not
also informed Lyttelton that "Every possible
effort has been made to offer them (the witnesses)
rewards and to protect them but no one can tell what
will really happen when they are confronted in court
by Kenyatta’s formidable personality . . . "
Interesting stuff, especially as one witness did
indeed later recant, admitted he had been bribed,
and was then promptly convicted of perjury. Thacker
significantly fled to Zimbabwe (then Southern
Rhodesia) as soon as the trial was over.
for him there was no Aaron Ringera around at the
time. It would seem that the incorruptibility of
British Justice was yet another myth to be severely
damaged by the Kenya Emergency.
1953 Governor Baring and Secretary of State Oliver
Lyttelton publicly committed the British Government
to a promise that Kenyatta and at least 15 other
leaders would never be allowed to return to live in
Kikuyu country. From then on Kenyatta was
air-brushed to oblivion. It was as if he had never
substantial house at Githunguri was demolished. As
one writer has it: "Like Trotsky and the
Russian revolution the name and fame of Jomo
Kenyatta were to disappear from Kikuyu and Kenya
mid-1953 the State of Emergency was steadily giving
birth to its own ever thicker Book of Regulations.
The legal stranglehold on all activities,
possessions, opportunities and movement was rapidly
of all the rank and file Mau Mau adherents was
legally confiscated and their houses and shops
demolished. All KISA and Karinga Independent Schools
were razed to the ground or handed over to Christian
while what was called the process of "reconstruction"
went on, the Central Province was legally closed to
visitors and sealed off from the outside world for
six years. This accompanied the introduction of a
comprehensive Pass system for all Kikuyu, Embu and
Meru persons. Henceforth permission to move out of
one’s location could only be granted by District
Erskine as CinC
"senior general" whose appointment had
been agreed at Lyttelton’s Nairobi meeting shortly
after January’s Settler March on Government House,
was Sir George Erskine, who had been personally
selected by Winston Churchill.
next two years Erskine carried out his orders, which
were to take the military measures required to end
the Emergency, to the letter. But, most importantly,
before he had finished in 1955 with Kenya (and its
Settlers), he had effectively moved the battle arena
from the forests and the African Reserves to the
Detention Camps. And Erskine’s troops had no role
in the Camps. And the Colonial Administration, who
did have the all-powerfull role in them, had only
one weapon they could use over the next four years
on the determined and heroic political detainees
facing them down in these Camps. That weapon was
detained 150,000 (at least) alleged Mau Mau
adherents in the camps for taking the Mau Mau oath,
it would surely be ridiculous to release them until
at least they "confessed" they had taken
brutal illegal force seemed to do the trick.
In 1959 in
Hola, in the defining moment of the Emergency, the
illegal use of force totally exploded in the
Administration’s face and destroyed with that same
explosion their carefully constructed concept of Mau
Mau as an atavistic cult rooted in some mystic
stage-managed butchery at Hola shocked the political
pragmatists in Britain’s Conservative Government
to the core.
survived Nasser and the Suez Canal Crisis and its
secret conspiracy with France and Israel. They had
rallied round the subtle, clever but ruthless Harold
Macmillan. They were even facing a General Election
in October with relative equanimity.
some remote spot called Hola was threatening to
bring them crashing down.
European Settlers in Kenya really worth this trouble