Struggle that led to Uhuru

Story by The Daily Nation
Publication Date: 04/08/2004

The weekly Nation supplement Kenya@40 told the story of independent Kenya through the pages of the Daily Nation, from Uhuru in 1963 to the moment the country celebrated its 40th anniversary of nationhood, last year.

But what remains untold is the stirring story of Kenya's fight for freedom, that culminated in the unfurling of the flag in Uhuru Park on December 12, 1963.

Today, the Nation's team of investigative reporters starts to set the record straight.

Week by week we shall trace the Fight for Freedom, from its beginnings in 1952 with settler concern over a new mood of nationalism in Kenya, through the bloody struggle for independence in the forests, the farms, the notorious detention camps and the towns and the city, and through to the birth of the new republic.

Few of those alive in Nairobi at the time of Kenya’s First Liberation will ever forget the overflowing emotions and outpourings of creativity among our people during those precious first years of freedom. Whether it was the exhilarating beauty of the language flowing from the stunning poetry of Okot p’Bitek and Jared Angira, or the freshness of the perspective in the novels of Ngugi Thiong’o, Grace Ogot and David Rubadiri, or the depth of characterisation in the reality plays of John Ruganda and Francis Imbuga, the city was buzzing with talent, imagination and expectation.

Backing-up this bubbling front-line of innovation and excellence among artists and writers a complete school of our own dedicated scholars had also evolved, patiently but inexorably excavating and retrieving long lost histories. 

The path-finders included Bethwell Ogot, Gideon Were, Godfrey Muriuki, William Ochieng’, Idha Salim and many others, most of whom have by now quietly metamorphosed into highly respected and learned Professors. However, in 1963 they were the academic Young Turks of their day, turning upside down the Eurocentric viewpoint that had hitherto dominated African history and boldly tracing the remarkable story of our peoples back into the mists of time.

In the course of their explorations they refined new approaches for the greater understanding of oral history as they exploited to the full various specialist tools.

Dendrochronology, the skill of measuring tree rings, joined the well-tried art of radio carbon dating as they sought to fill in the bottomless abyss of time.

Finally came glottochronology, the tracking down of priceless linguistic evidence along the shadowy trails of neighbouring peoples borrowing each other’s words. The race was on to produce the basic building blocks and chronology of the neglected history of Africa. 

Sadly, however, the more the exciting work of our historians succeeded in revealing the past, the less time our politicians and educational professionals allocated to the study of history in our schools. Many believe that this trend has today reached an absurd level as History has effectively been squeezed in the timetable between Geography and Civics.

Yet our historians know our past is running over with fascinating and instructive material covering all the regions of our nation. History is the vehicle through which we all absorb and develop personal identities and should not be allowed to fade back into obscurity.

Through this series, the Fight for Freedom, the Nation will be bringing you insights into some of the decisive moments in Kenya's history. We shall also be focusing on some of the truly extraordinary characters who strutted the stage of the Kenya Story. Their actions and their decisions often had profound and lasting effects on what we are and what we do today.

The story begins with what happened one sunny morning in early March almost exactly 45 years ago in a detention camp in the Tana River District. 

This was an incident that shook to their foundations the pillars of authority in both Kenya and the United Kingdom. In Britain, it threatened the survival of Harold Macmillan’s Conservative government, while in Kenya it abruptly and dramatically shortened the road to Independence.

Link: http://www.nationmedia.com/dailynation/nmgcontententry.asp?category_id=57&newsid=5866 


The untold story of the Fight for Freedom

Story by The Daily Nation
Publication Date: 2004/04/08
The true story of the relentless war that led to Kenya winning Independence begins in the Nation today.

This major new series will reveal week by week the country's true heroes and explain how their selfless sacrifice led to the founding of a nation.

It follows the success of Kenya@40, the weekly series that tracked the history of Kenya from Independence up to date, told through the pages of the Daily Nation.

Fight for Freedom focuses on the struggle that led to the First Liberation – fought from 1952 to 1963 – at first in the forests, detention camps, and towns and villages of the Kenya heartland and then in the plush surroundings of London conference halls.

This moving story of the Fight for Freedom reveals the secret documents and correspondence between colonial governors and Whitehall, takes you inside meetings of the colonial war council, and shows you the illegal orders that allowed British troops to bully and beat prisoners held in the horrific Mau Mau detention camps.

It tells of a fierce struggle by proud people, largely unknown by today's generation of Kenyans and too often unsung.

Fight for Freedom starts today and continues week by week.

Link: http://www.nationmedia.com/dailynation/nmgcontententry.asp?category_id=57&newsid=5839


The road to blood bath at Hola Camp

Story by The Daily Nation
Publication Date: 2004/04/08


The 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.

October 1952 - May 1953
Britain rushes in troops
as Kenya erupts

At the beginning of 1952 the minds of the majority of the leaders of the European Settlers in Kenya were concentrated on two topics. 

Foremost, 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. 

The other 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’ leaders. 

The 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.

Nevertheless 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."

Simultaneously 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 agriculture".

On 7 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.

The police, jumping the gun so to speak, had begun to implement "Operation Jock Scott" in the night of the 20th. 

This 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. 

They believed the
Emergency would not last

These were 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.

On 20th 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 three weeks.

Even Sir 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 January 1960.

October 1952 - May 1953
Provincial Administration
found itself overwhelmed

The first 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 minimal.

The 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. 

The 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.

For these 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. 

These 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 diaspora. 

On 24 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 war. 

He 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.

To the 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. 

The 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. 

It is 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 insurrection.

January 1953
European settlers storm
Government House

In January 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 doors.

Their 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. 

The 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 him. 

March 1953
Naivasha police station
raided and ransacked

In the early months of 1953 there were three other critical events. Two took place on the same night - March 26th. 

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. 

They had 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. 

The forest 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. 

The sheer 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 hands.

Shortly 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 invaluable trophies. 

The 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.

Now that 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. 

There were 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.

Many of 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. 

Such Home 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. 

These 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.

Any 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. 

"Loyalism" 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 personal animosity. 

The 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 adherents.

It is 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.

In general, 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 Loyalty Certificate.

What began 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.

They acted 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.

By 1955, Central Province had become one vast detention camp with the reoganised paramilitary Kikuyu Guard of the all-powerful wardens and controllers.

Lari – Punishing
the traitors

The second incident on the same night was the burning down of the "Traitors Settlement" at Lari by a small group of Mau Mau. 

The chief 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. 

He had 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). 

The report 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. 

Massacre of
the innocents

However, 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. 

Probably no other single episode in the war was more ruthlessly exploited by the British for propaganda purposes. It was a Godsend.

Lari hit 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.

Ignorance 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.

April 1953
Corruption in the trial
of Kenyatta and five others

The third 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.

Governor 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 given.

Baring 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. 

Luckily 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.

the screws

In March 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 been. 

His very 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 history".

By 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 tightening.

The land 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 missions. 

Finally 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 Officers.

June 1953
Churchill appoints
Gen Erskine as CinC

The "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. 

Over the 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 illegal force. 

Having 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 it. 

Only 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 African religion.

The savage Government-initiated, European-supervised, stage-managed butchery at Hola shocked the political pragmatists in Britain’s Conservative Government to the core. 

They had 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. 

And now some remote spot called Hola was threatening to bring them crashing down.

Were the European Settlers in Kenya really worth this trouble any more?

Link : http://www.nationmedia.com/dailynation/nmgcontententry.asp?category_id=57&newsid=5838