Mau Mau Rebellion


August 1951 to March 1954

By Alistair Boddy-Evans,

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The Mau Mau were a militant African nationalist movement active in Kenya during the 1950s whose main aim was to remove British rule and European settlers from the country.

August 1951
Information is filtering back about secret meetings being held in the forests outside Nairobi. A secret society called the Mau Mau, believed to have been started in the previous year, requires its members to take an oath to drive the white man from Kenya. Intelligence suggests that membership of the Mau Mau is currently restricted to members of the Kikuyu tribe, many of whom have been arrested during burglaries in Nairobi's white suburbs.

24 August 1952
The Kenyan government imposes a curfew in three districts on the outskirts of Nairobi where gangs of arsonists, believed to be members of the Mau Mau, have been setting fire to homes of Africans who refuse to take the Mau Mau oath.

7 October 1952
Senior Chief Waruhui is assassinated in Kenya -- he is speared to death in broad daylight on a main road on the outskirts of Nairobi. He had recently spoken out against increasing Mau Mau aggression against colonial rule.

19 October 1952
The British government announces that it is to send troops to Kenya to help the fight against the Mau Mau.

21 October 1952
With the imminent arrival of British troops, the Kenyan government declares a state of emergency following a month of increasing hostility. Over 40 people have been murdered in Nairobi in the last four weeks and the Mau Mau, officially declared terrorists, have acquired firearms to use along with the more traditional pangas. As part of the overall clamp down Jomo Kenyatta, president of the Kenya African Union, is arrested for alleged Mau Mau involvement.

30 October 1952
British troops are involved in the arrest of over 500 suspected Mau Mau activists.

14 November1952
Thirty-four schools in Kikuyu tribal areas are closed in the continuing clamp down on Mau Mau activists.

18 November 1952
Jomo Kenyatta, president of the Kenya African Union and the country's leading nationalist leader is charged with managing the Mau Mau terrorist society in Kenya. He is flown to a remote district station, Kapenguria, which reportedly has no telephone or rail communications with the rest of Kenya, and is being held there incommunicado.

25 November 1952
The Mau Mau has declared open rebellion against British rule in Kenya. British forces respond by arresting over 2000 Kikuyu suspected of Mau Mau membership.

18 January 1953
Governor-general Sir Evelyn Baring imposes the death penalty for anyone who administers the Mau Mau oath - the oath is often forced upon Kikuyu tribesmen at the point of a knife, and calls for the individual's death if he fails to kill a European farmer when ordered.

26 January 1953
Panic has spread through Europeans in Kenya after the slaying of a white settler farmer and his family. Settler groups, displeased with the government's response to the increasing Mau Mau threat have created their own Commando Units to deal with the treat. Sir Evelyn Baring, the Governor-general of Kenya has announced that a new offensive is to begin under the command of Major-general William Hinde. Amongst those speaking out against the Mau Mau threat and the government's inaction is Elspeth Huxley, author (who wrote The Flame Trees of Thika in 1959), who in a recent newspaper article compares Jomo Kenyatta to Hitler.

1 April 1953
British troops kill twenty-four Mau Mau suspects and capture an additional thirty-six during deployments in the Kenyan highlands.

8 April 1953
Jomo Kenyatta, known to his followers as Burning the Spear, is sentenced to seven years hard labour along with five other Kikuyu currently detained at Kapenguria.

17 April 1953
An additional 1000 Mau Mau suspects have been arrested over the past week around the capital Nairobi.

3 May 1953
Nineteen Kikuyu members of the Home Guard are murdered by the Mau Mau.

29 May 1953
Kikuyu tribal lands are to be cordoned off from the rest of Kenya to restrict movement of potential Mau Mau terrorists.

July 1953
Another 100 Mau Mau suspects have been killed during British patrols in Kikuyu tribal lands.

15 January 1954
General China, the second in command of the Mau Mau's military efforts is wounded and captured by British troops.

9 March 1954
Two more Mau Mau leaders have been secured: General Katanga is captured and General Tanganyika surrenders to British authority.

March 1954
The great British plan to end the Mau Mau Rebellion in Kenya is presented to the country's legislature -- General China, captured in January, is to write to the other terrorist leaders suggesting that nothing further can be gained from the conflict and that they should surrender themselves to British troops waiting in the Aberdare foothills.

11 April 1954
British authorities in Kenya admit that the 'General China operation' revealed previously to the Kenyan legislature has failed.

24 April 1954
Over 40,000 Kikuyu tribesmen are arrested by British forces, including 5000 Imperial troops and 1000 Policemen, during a widespread, coordinated dawn raids.

26 May 1954
The Treetops Hotel, where Princess Elizabeth and her husband were staying when they heard of King George VI's death and her succession to the throne of England, is burnt down by Mau Mau activists.

18 January 1955
The Governor-general of Kenya, Sir Evelyn Baring, offers an amnesty to Mau Mau activists -- the offer means that they will not face the death penalty, but may still be imprisoned for their crimes. European settlers are up in arms at the leniency of the offer.

21 April 1955
Unmoved by Kenya's Governor-general's, Sir Evelyn Baring, offer of amnesty the Mau Mau killings continue -- today two English schoolboys are murdered.

10 June 1955
Britain withdraws the offer of amnesty to the Mau Mau.

24 June 1955
With the amnesty withdrawn, British authorities in Kenya can proceed with the death sentence for nine Mau Mau activists implicated in the death of two English schoolboys.

October 1955
Official reports suggest that over 70,000 Kikuyu tribesmen suspected of Mau Mau membership have been imprisoned, whilst over 13,000 people have been killed (by British troops and Mau Mau activists) over the last three years of the Mau Mau Rebellion.

7 January 1956
The official death toll for Mau Mau activists killed by British forces in Kenya since 1952 is put at 10,173.

5 February 1956
Nine Mau Mau activists escape from Mageta island prison camp in Lake Victoria.

July 1959
The deaths of 11 Mau Mau activists held at Hola Camp in Kenya is cited as part of the British opposition attacks on the UK government over its role in Africa.

10 November 1959
The state of emergency is ended in Kenya.

18 January 1960
The Kenyan Constitutional Conference being held in London is boycotted by African nationalist leaders.

18 April 1961
In return for the release of Jomo Kenyatta, African nationalist leaders agree to take a role in Kenya's government.

14 July 1961
Jomo Kenyatta, now aged 71, is finally released from house arrest in Gatundu, 22 kilometres outside Nairobi.

21 August 1961
All restrictions on Jomo Kenyatta's movements are lifted following his release from prison last month.

27 May 1963
Jomo Kenyatta is elected prime minister in Kenya's first multi-racial elections.

12 December 1963
Kenya becomes the 34th African state to achieve independence.

16 December 1963
General amnesty is announced for Mau Mau activists.

12 December 1964
Kenya is declared a republic. Jomo Kenyatta is to be its first president.

1 September 2003
After more than 50 years the Mau Mau, who fought for independence in Kenya, is finally unbanned.



Mau Mau Uprising

Mau Mau Uprising
Date 1952 - 1960
Location Kenya
Result British military victory but eventual Kenyan independence
Flag of Kenya.svg Mau Mau[1][2][3][4][5] Flag of the United Kingdom.svg British military
Commanders and leaders
* Flag of Kenya.svg Field Marshal Dedan Kimathi
* Flag of Kenya.svg Field Marshal Musa Mwariama
* Flag of Kenya.svg General China (Waruhiu Itote)
* Flag of Kenya.svg Stanley Mathenge
* Flag of the United Kingdom.svg Sir Evelyn Baring (Governor)
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg General Sir George Erskine
* Flag of the United Kingdom.svg Sir Kenneth O'Connor (Chief Justice)
Unknown 10,000 regular troops (African and British) 21,000 police, 25,000 Kikuyu Home Guard[6][7]
Casualties and losses
Mau Mau:[8]

Killed: 10,527;

Captured: 2,633;

Surrendered: 2,714;

Civilians killed:

African 1,826. With estimates of a total of 50,000 from all sides;[9]

British and African Security forces:

Killed: 200

Wounded: 579

Civilians killed: African 1,800[10]; Asians 26; Europeans 32;

Civilians wounded: Africans 918, Asians 36, Europeans 26.[6]

Map of Kenya

The Mau Mau Uprising (also known as the Mau Mau Revolt,[11] Mau Mau Rebellion and the Kenya Emergency) was a military conflict that took place in Kenya (then called British East Africa), between 1952 and 1960. It involved a Kikuyu dominated anti-colonial group called the Mau Mau and elements of the British Army, auxiliaries and anti-Mau Mau Kikuyu. The conflict later widened to become a generalised civil war.[12]

The conflict set the stage for Kenyan independence[11]. It created a rift between the European colonial community in Kenya and the Home Office in London,[5] but also resulted in violent divisions within the Kikuyu community.[2][13]


Mau Mau and KLFA

The origin of the term Mau Mau is uncertain.

As the movement progressed, a Swahili acronym was adopted: "Mzungu Aende Ulaya, Mwafrika Apate Uhuru" meaning "Let the European go back to Europe (Abroad), Let the African regain Independence".[14] J.M. Kariuki, a member of Mau Mau who was detained during the conflict, postulates that the British preferred to use the term Mau Mau instead of KLFA in an attempt to deny the Mau Mau rebellion international legitimacy.[15] Kariuki also wrote that the term Mau Mau was adopted by the rebellion in order to counter what they regarded as colonial propaganda.[14]

According to some members of Mau Mau, they never referred to themselves as such, instead preferring the military title Kenya Land and Freedom Army (KLFA).[16]

Some publications, such as Fred Majdalany's State of Emergency: The Full Story of Mau Mau, claim that it was an anagram of Uma Uma (which means "get out get out") and was a military codeword based on a secret language-game Kikuyu boys used to play at the time of their circumcision. Majdalany goes on to state that the British simply used the name as a label for the Kikuyu ethnic community without assigning any specific definition.[17]

Kenya Before the Emergency

Though only officially declared a colony in 1920, the formal British colonial presence in Kenya began with a proclamation on July 1, 1895, by Her Majesty's agent and Counsel General at Zanzibar, A.H. Hardinge: Kenya was to become a Protectorate.[18] Hardinge announced that he was taking over the Coastal areas, as well as the interior that included Central Province, home of the Kikuyu.[18]

Even before 1895, however, Britain's presence in Kenya was marked by dispossession and violence; an officer in the Imperial British East Africa Company asserted, "There is only one way to improve the Wakikuyu [and] that is wipe them out; I should be only too delighted to do so, but we have to depend on them for food supplies."[19] This onslaught led Churchill, in 1908, to remark that "surely it cannot be necessary to go on killing these defenceless people on such an enormous scale."[20]

Kenyan resistance to colonialism preceded Hardinge's declaration—for example, the Kikuyu opposition of 1880–1900—and continued through the decades afterwards: the Nandi revolt of 1895–1905;[21] the Griamma uprising of 1913–1914;[21] and the Kalloa Affray of 1950.[22] The Mau Mau rebellion is therefore often considered the militant culmination of years of oppressive colonial rule and resistance to it.[23][24]

Economic deprivation of the Kikuyu

A feature of all settler societies during the colonial period was the ability of European settlers to obtain for themselves a disproportionate share in landownership.[25] Kenya was thus no exception, with the first white settlers arriving in Kenya in 1902 as part of Sir Charles Eliot's plan to have a settler economy pay for the recently completed Uganda Railway.[26][27] Over the next three decades, British settlers extended and consolidated their control over Kenyan land and—coupled with an increasing African population—the issue of land became an increasingly bitter point of contention.[27] The Kikuyu were the ethnic group most affected by the colonial government's land expropriation and European settlement, losing over 60,000 acres.[28]

The principal item in the natural resources of Kenya is the land, and in this term we include the colony's mineral resources. It seems to us that our major objective must clearly be the preservation and the wise use of this most important asset.

—Deputy Governor to Secretary of State
for the Colonies, 19 March 1945[29]

In addition to land, the Colonial Government and White farmers wanted cheap labor,[30] so measures were introduced to effectively force many Kenyans to become low-paid wage-laborers on White-settler farms: reserves were established for each ethnic group, serving to divide them and to exacerbate overcrowding; hut and poll taxes were enacted (equivalent to two months' African wages); a pass, or kipande, was introduced to keep track of the migratory laborers and their employment histories; growing of cash-crops by Africans was forbidden (later, even the amount of permissible crops grown was limited); and exempting wage laborers from otherwise-compulsory and "detested" tasks such as conscription.[31][32] By the early 1920s, there were 130,000 wage laborers, many of whom migrated back and forth between the reserves and settler farms.[33]

As well as creating migratory workers, the measures resulted in families permanently moving from their reserves to live on European farms as so-called squatters—100,000 of them by the 1920s.[33][34] From 1918 onwards, the Colonial Office enacted a series of Resident Native Labourers Ordinances—criticized by at least some MPs[35]—which progressively curtailed squatter rights, and subordinated African farming to that of the settlers.[34] The Ordinance of 1939 finally eliminated squatters' remaining tenancy rights, and permitted settlers to demand 270 days' labor from any squatters on their land.[36]

Kenyan employees were appallingly treated by their European employers—sometimes even beaten to death by them—with some settlers arguing that Africans "were as children and should be treated as such". Amongst other offences, it was widely acknowledged that few settlers hesitated to flog their servants for petty offences. To make matters even worse, African workers were poorly served by colonial labor-legislation and a biased legal-system. The vast majority of Kenyan employees' violations of labor legislation were settled with "rough justice" meted out by their employers. Most colonial magistrates appear to have been unconcerned by the illegal practice of settler-administered flogging; indeed, during the 1920s, it was the magisterial punishment-of-choice for African convicts. The principle of punitive sanctions against workers was not removed from the Kenyan labour statutes until the 1950s.[37]

The greater part of the wealth of the country is at present in our hands... This land we have made is our land by right—by right of achievement.

—Speech by Deputy Colonial Governor
30 November 1946[38]

Until the mid-1930s, the two primary complaints had been low African wages and the kipande.[39] From the early 1930s, however, two others began to come to prominence: effective and elected African-political-representation, and land.[39] The British response to this clamour for agrarian reform came in the early 1930s when they set up the Morris-Carter Land Commission. The Commission reported in 1934, but its conclusions, recommendations and concessions to Kenyans were so conservative that any chance of a peaceful resolution to African land-hunger was ended.[23][24] By the late 1930s, and for the Kikuyu in particular, land had become the number one grievance concerning colonial rule.[39]

By 1948, 1,250,000 Kikuyu had ownership of 2000 square miles (5,200 km²), while 30,000 British settlers owned 12,000 square miles (31,000 km²).

As a result of the situation in the highlands, thousands of Kikuyu migrated into cities in search of work, contributing to the doubling of Nairobi's population between 1938 and 1952. At the same time, there was a small, but growing, class of Kikuyu landowners who consolidated Kikuyu lands and forged strong ties with the colonial administration, leading to an economic rift within the Kikuyu.

Around 1943, residents of Olenguruone radicalised the traditional Kikuyu practice of oathing, and extended oathing to women and children.[40]

Rebellion, War of Independence or Civil war?

As many Kikuyu fought against the Mau Mau on the side of the colonial government as joined them in rebellion, and because of this the conflict has been described as a civil war.[41]. Professor Wunyabari O. Maloba[42] regards the rise of the Mau Mau movement as "without doubt, one of the most important events in recent African history."[42] Oxford's David Anderson, however, considers Maloba's work to be the product of "swallowing too readily the propaganda of the Mau Mau war",[39] noting the similarity between his analysis and the "simplistic"[39] earlier studies of Mau Mau. This earlier work cast the Mau Mau war in strictly in bipolar terms, "as conflicts between anti-colonial nationalists and colonial collaborators".[39] Harvard's Caroline Elkins' 2005 study has met similar criticism as well as being criticised for sensationalism[43][44] and having a pro Mau Mau bias[45].

It is often assumed that in a conflict there are two sides in opposition to one another, and that a person who is not actively committed to one side must be supporting the other. During the course of a conflict, leaders on both sides will use this argument to gain active support from the "crowd". In reality, conflicts involving more than two person usually have more than two sides, and if a resistance movement is to be successful, propaganda and politicization are essential.

—Louise Pirouet[46]

Others argue that Mau Mau was not explicitly national in either intellectual or operational scope.[47] Daniel Branch reasons that as the Mau Mau rebellion wore on, the violence forced the spectrum of opinion within the Kikuyu, Embu and Meru to polarise and harden into the two distinct camps of loyalist and Mau Mau.[41] Branch contends that this "neat division between loyalists and Mau Mau was a product of the conflict rather than a cause or catalyst of the violence. Initially, that violence was more ambiguous and intimate than it later became,"[41] in a similar manner to other situations.[48][49]

A related viewpoint is that of Marshall Clough, who argues that throughout Kikuyu history, there have been two traditions: moderate-conservative and radical.[50] Despite the differences between these traditions, Clough argues, there has been a continuous debate and dialogue between them, leading to a great political awareness among the Kikuyu.[50] In a similar vein, Anderson writes that by 1950 three African political blocks had emerged: conservative, moderate nationalist and militant nationalist.[51]

From KASU to Mau Mau

The first attempt to form a countrywide political party occurred on October 1, 1944.[52] This fledgling organization was called the Kenya African Study Union (so named to mask its anti-colonial politics); its inaugural chairman was Harry Thuku, who soon resigned his chairmanship.[52] There is dispute over Thuku's reason for leaving KASU: Bethwell Ogot states that Thuku "found the responsibility too heavy";[52] David Anderson states that "he walked out in disgust" as the militant section of KASU took the initiative.[53] KASU changed its name to the KAU in 1946.

Closing of political options and the Central Committee

In May 1951, the British Colonial Secretary, James Griffiths, visited Kenya, where the Kenya African Union (KAU) presented him with a list of demands ranging from the removal of alleged discriminatory legislation to the inclusion of 12 elected black representatives on the Legislative Council that governed the colony's affairs. Griffith proposed a Legislative Council in which the 30,000 white settlers received 14 representatives, the 100,000 Asians (mostly from South Asia got six, the 24,000 Arabs one, and the 5,000,000 Africans five representatives to be nominated by the government.

First reaction against the uprising

The Kenyan government imposed a curfew in three districts on the outskirts of Nairobi where gangs of arsonists, believed to be members of the Mau Mau, had been setting fire to homes of Africans who refused to take the Mau Mau oath.

On August 17, 1952, the Colonial Office in London received its first indication of the seriousness of the rebellion in a report from Acting Governor Potter. On October 6, Sir Evelyn Baring arrived in Kenya to take over the post of Governor. The next day, police headquarters in Nairobi received news that Senior Chief Waruhui had been assassinated in Kenya -- he was speared to death in broad daylight on a main road on the outskirts of Nairobi. He had recently spoken out against increasing Mau Mau aggression against colonial rule. This was the first time the Mau Mau Organization had "officially" attacked.

State of Emergency declared

On October 20, 1952, Governor Baring signed an order declaring a State of Emergency. Early the next morning, Operation Jock Scott was launched: the Kenyan police carried out a mass-arrest of Kenyatta and 180 other alleged Mau Mau leaders, and British troops patrolled Nairobi.[54] Though there was no initial reaction from Mau Mau fighters in the forests, Jock Scott did not decapitate the movement as hoped: a series of gruesome murders against settlers were committed throughout the months that followed.[55] Up to 8,000 people were arrested during the first 25 days of the operation. The state of emergency lasts until 10th November 1959.

Between 1952 and 1956, when the fighting was at its worst, the Kikuyu districts of Kenya became a police state in the very fullest sense of that term.

—David Anderson[7]

British military presence

One battalion of the Lancashire Fusiliers was flown from the Middle East to Nairobi on the first day of Operation Jock Scott. The 2nd Battalion of the King's African Rifles, already in Kenya, was reinforced with one battalion from Uganda and two companies from the former state of Tanganyika[56]. The Royal Air Force sent pilots and Handley Page Hastings aircraft. The Royal Navy cruiser Kenya came to Mombasa harbour carrying Royal Marines. During the course of the conflict, other British units such as the Black Watch, The Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME) served for a short time.

British efforts revitalized

In June 1953, General Sir George Erskine arrived and took up the post of Director of Operations, where he revitalized the British effort. His predecessor, Sir Alexander Cameron, became his Second in Command. In late 1953, security forces swept the Aberdare forest in the Operation Blitz and captured and killed 125 guerrillas.

"Concentration camps" in Kenya

Conditions in the British detention and labour camps were frequently very poor, due in part to the sheer number of Kikuyu detainees and lack of British officials to monitor them. One British colonial officer described the labour camps thus: "Short rations, overwork, brutality, humiliating and disgusting treatment and flogging - all in violation of the United Nations Universal Declaration on Human Rights."[57] Sanitation was non-existent, and epidemics of diseases like typhoid swept through the camps. Official medical reports detailing the shortcomings of the camps and their recommendations were ignored, and the conditions being endured by Kikuyu detainees were masked.[58][59]

Political and social concessions by the British

Kenyans were granted nearly all of the demands made by the KAU in 1951.

On the 18th January 1955, the Governor-general of Kenya, Sir Evelyn Baring, offered an amnesty to Mau Mau activists, the offer means that they will not face the death penalty, but may still be imprisoned for their crimes. European settlers are appalled at the leniency of the offer. On the 10th June 1955 with no response forthcoming, the offer of amnesty to the Mau Mau was revoked.

In June 1956, a program of land reform increased the land holdings of the Kikuyu. This was coupled with a relaxation of the ban on Africans growing coffee, a primary cash crop. In the cities the colonial authorities decided to dispel tensions by raising urban wages, thereby strengthening the hand of moderate union organizations like the KFRTU. By 1956, the British had granted direct election of African members of the Legislative Assembly, followed shortly thereafter by an increase in the number of African seats to fourteen. A Parliamentary conference in January 1960 indicated that the British would accept "one person — one vote" majority rule.


At least 1,800 African civilians along with 200 British soldiers and policemen and 32 European settlers were killed by the Mau Mau.[60][61]. The colonial government believed the number of Kenyans killed from all instances to be 11,503,[8] but David Anderson states that the true figure is likely more than 20,000.[61] Elkins claims it is as high as 70,000 or that they could be in the hundreds of thousands.[62] However Elkins' numbers were rebuked by the British demographer John Blacker, in an article in African Affairs, in which he demonstrated in detail that Elkins' numbers were over-estimated and that the total number of African deaths at around 50,000.[9] Blacker's article deals directly with Elkins' claim that up to 300,000 Kikuyu were "unaccounted for" at the 1962 census, judged by comparative population growth rates for other ethnic groups since the previous 1958 census. The number of executions authorized by the courts by the end of the Emergency was 1,090.[63]


Atrocities were inflicted by all sides. Over 100,000 Kikuyu suspected of involvement in the rebellion were screened by the British and Kenyan authorities for mau mau.[7][64] This 'screening' of Kikuyu and others suspected of Mau Mau sympathies caused great resentment and abuses were widespread.

[E]lectric shock was widely used, as well as cigarettes and fire. The screening teams whipped, shot, burned and mutilated Mau Mau suspects, ostensibly to gather intelligence for military operations and as court evidence.

—Caroline Elkins[65]

Mau Mau militants were also guilty of wide spread atrocities. At Lari, on the night of March 25–26, 1953, Mau Mau forces herded 120 Kikuyu into huts and set fire to them, killing any who attempted to escape.[66][67] Kikuyu were also tortured, mutilated and murdered by Mau Mau in large numbers[68].

A British officer describes his actions after capturing three known Mau Mau:

I stuck my revolver right in his grinning mouth and I said something, I don’t remember what, and I pulled the trigger. His brains went all over the side of the police station. The other two Mickeys [Mau Mau] were standing there looking blank. I said to them that if they didn’t tell me where to find the rest of the gang I’d kill them too. They didn’t say a word so I shot them both. One wasn’t dead so I shot him in the ear. When the sub-inspector drove up, I told him that the Mickeys tried to escape. He didn’t believe me but all he said was 'bury them and see the wall is cleared up.'[69]

Contrary to African customs and values, [Mau Mau members] assaulted old people, women and children. The horrors they practiced included the following: decapitation and general mutilation of civilians, torture before murder, bodies bound up in sacks and dropped in wells, burning the victims alive, gouging out of eyes, splitting open the stomachs of pregnant women. No war can justify such gruesome actions. In man’s inhumanity to man there is no race distinction. The Africans were practising it on themselves. There was no reason and no restraint on both sides

—Bethwell Ogot[68]

Settler groups, displeased with the government's response to the increasing Mau Mau threat created their own units to combat the Mau Mau. One settler with the Kenya Police Reserve's Special Branch described an interrogation of a Mau Mau, suspected of murder, which he assisted: "By the time I cut his balls off he had no ears, and his eyeball, the right one, I think, was hanging out of its socket. Too bad, he died before we got much out of him."[70]

After the discovery of the Lari massacre (between 10 pm and dawn that night), colonial security services retaliated on Kikyu suspected of being Mau Mau.[71] These were shot, and later denied burial. There is also evidence that these reprisal shootings continued for several days. (See the reports of 21 and 27 men killed on 3rd and 4 April, respectively.)[72]

Thirty-two British civilians were murdered by Mau Mau militants. The most well known Mau Mau victim was Michael Ruck, aged six, who was murdered along with his parents. Newspapers in Kenya and abroad published graphic murder details, including images of young Michael with bloodied teddy bears and trains strewn on his bedroom floor.[73]

In 1952 the poisonous latex of the African milk bush was used by members of Mau Mau to kill herds of cattle in an incident of biological warfare.[74]

Legal case

Several former Mau Mau have attempted to sue for compensation from the British government and their lawyers have documented about 6,000 cases of human rights abuses.[76] The British government has stated that the issue was the responsibility of the Kenyan government, on the grounds of "state succession" for former colonies. Around 12,000 Kenyans had sought compensation.[77] The UK has also stated that the claim is invalid because of the amount of time that has passed since the alleged abuses.[78]

Mau Mau Status in Kenya

Members of Mau Mau are recognized by the current Kenyan Government as Freedom/Independence Heroes/Heroines who sacrificed their lives in order to free Kenyans from colonial rule.[79] The Government of Kenya has proposed Mashujaa Day (Heroes Day) to be marked annually on 20 October (the same day Baring signed the Emergency order).[80] According to the Kenyan Government, Mashujaa Day will be a time for Kenyans to remember and honour Mau Mau and other Kenyans who participated in the fight for African freedom and Kenya's independence.[79] Mashujaa Day will replace Kenyatta Day; the latter has until now also been held on October 20.[81]

We are determined to have independence in peace, and we shall not allow hooligans to rule Kenya. We must have no hatred towards one another. Mau Mau was a disease which had been eradicated, and must never be remembered again.

—Speech by Jomo Kenyatta
April 1963[82]

This official celebration of Mau Mau is in marked contrast to a post-colonial norm of all previous Kenyan governments regard of the mau mau as terrorists.[83] Such a turnabout has attracted criticism of government manipulation of the Mau Mau uprising for political ends.[84]

During this same period, opposition groups tactically embraced the Mau Mau rebellion.[85] As noted, Mau Mau's politicization within Kenya appears to continue up to the present.

In popular culture



Yard investigates Mau Mau 'atrocities'
Kenyan demonstrators
The Mau Maus are fighting for compensation

Scotland Yard is to investigate claims that British officials were responsible for a catalogue of atrocities during the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya 50 years ago.

At the beginning of May, officers from the anti-terrorist branch of the Metropolitan Police began making preliminary inquiries into the claims.

The allegations, made in the BBC's Correspondent programme White Terror last year, include rape, torture, murder and theft of property, in the 1950s, when the Mau Mau movement fought against the colonial power in a battle for land and freedom.

A police spokesman said: "Officers from the anti-terrorist branch are investigating - or making a preliminary assessment - of the information received.

"Inquiries are continuing to see whether there is enough evidence to pursue it - at this stage it is too early to say."

If it decides there is enough evidence to support the claims, a full-scale inquiry will be launched, which may mean officers going out to the east African country.

What went on in the Kenya camps and villages was brutal, savage torture
Former colonial officer John Nottingham

The BBC Correspondent programme claimed more than 6,000 statements have been taken from veterans of the uprising, all claiming human rights abuse.

The programme also claimed murder occurred on a daily basis at the slave labour camp Embakasi, where slaves allegedly built the foundations of Kenya's main airport.

Professor Caroline Elkins of Harvard University told the programme more than 50,000 people could have been killed by British security forces.

If the atrocities prove to be true, the British Government could be liable for vast sums of compensation.


John Nottingham, a district colonial officer during the 50s, stayed on in Kenya after the uprising, told Correspondent that compensation should be paid immediately as most of the victims are now in their 80s.

"What went on in the Kenya camps and villages was brutal, savage torture," he said.

"I feel ashamed to have come from a Britain that did what it did here."

London based human rights law firm Leigh Day has taken up the Mau Mau's case and is seeking legal aid to fight their cause.



It has been said that no one knows the real meaning of "Mau-Mau" other than a Kikuyu (also Gikuyu) tribesperson and that is because its name, like its origins, is shrouded in ancient African tribal mysteries and covered in blood. On the other hand, some authorities claim that the name was invented by European settlers and applied to the native insurrectionists in Kenya. At any rate, the name was first heard among the white population of Africa in 1948 when police officials in the British colony of Kenya began to receive rumors of strange ceremonies being held late at night in the jungle. These midnight assemblies were said to be bestial rituals that mocked Christian rites and included the eating of human flesh and the drinking of blood. Then came the reports of native people being dragged from their beds at night, being beaten or maimed, and forced to swear oaths of initiation to a secret society. In each case, their assailants were said to be members of a secret society called the Mau-Mau.

In 1952, a state of emergency was declared in Kenya as the midnight rituals and beatings had escalated into the murder of Kikuyu policemen, whose bodies were found mutilated and bound with wire, floating in rivers. White farmers discovered their cattle disemboweled and the tendons in their legs severed so they could not walk. The secret society thathad begun by practicing black magic and the administration of blood oaths had degenerated into the most violent sorts of barbarism. 

Mau-Mau being rounded up. (CORBIS CORPORATION)
Mau-Mau being rounded up.

The Mau-Mau weapon of choice was the panga, the broad-bladed machete commonly used to hack a path through thick jungle vegetation. The society appeared to favor bloody and brutal attacks as a means of striking fear into the hearts and minds of all who might oppose them, but their choice of enemies seemed often difficult to comprehend. The first man to die at the hand of the Mau-Mau was a Kikuyu chief who spoke out against the secret society that had chosen to resort to savagery and barbarism to achieve its political objectives. In October 1952, a lone white settler was killed and disemboweled. An elderly farmer was found dead in November; in January 1953, two men who worked a farm as partners were discovered murdered by the Mau-Mau. A vicious attack on January 24, 1953, claimed the Rucks, a family of English heritage, who had always been regarded as dealing with their black employees in a fair-minded and charitable manner, even to the extent of supporting a clinic at their own expense. The bodies of the husband, wife, and their six-yearold son were found so hacked and ripped as to be nearly unrecognizable as human beings.

Later it was learned that native men and women who had been in the Rucks' employ for many years had been foremost in the slaughter of the English family. What seemed particularly insidious to the white population was discovering to their horror that employees who had been loyal to them for decades were suddenly rising up and butchering them without warning. When the Mau-Mau demanded that blood be shed, long-standing associations and friendships between black and white were no longer considered something of value.

Such unprovoked butchery as that exhibited toward the Rucks had the white farmers watching their employees apprehensively and preparing for another brutal attack on their isolated homes. But the next violent raid occurred on March 26, 1953, against the police station at Naivasha. The station was overrun and guns and ammunition were taken away in a truck. Later that same night, the Mau-Mau bound the circular huts of the villages of Lari with cables so the doors could not be opened, poured gasoline over the thatched roofs, and set the homes on fire. Most of the men of the village were away serving in the Kikuyu Guard, an anti-Mau-Mau force, so the greatest number of the 90 bodies found in the charred remains were those of women and children. In addition, the Mau-Mau had mutilated more than 1,000 of the villagers' cattle as further punishment for opposing them.

As nearly as it can be determined from the vantage point of an historical re-examination of events, the Mau-Mau was quite likely an ancient Kikuyu secret society that was reactivated. The Kikuyu tribe was the most populous and educated in Kenya, but their culture also permitted secret societies to flourish, and there were many such groups that had been in existence since long before the Europeans came to Africa. The Mau-Mau leaders invoked the old secret society in order to stir up the Kikuyu tribe to support their demands for independence and for the return of the Kikuyu land that the whites had stolen over the years. What was ignored by the society's leaders was the fact that the land occupied by the European settlers had long been designated a kind of buffer zone between the Kikuyu and their traditional enemies the Mazai tribe.

The ranks of the Mau-Mau increased when they began to force many unwilling individuals from other tribes into participating in their blood oaths. The oathing ceremonies began with the new members taking a vow to honor the old religion of their tribal ancestors. There were at least seven stages of oath-taking, which might take several days or weeks to complete and which included the drinking of blood, eating portions of human flesh, cohabiting with animals, and ingesting bits of brains from disinterred corpses. After the seventh stage of the oath-taking had been reached, the members had to repeat the cycle and reinforce their vows by beginning again. No man or woman was exempt from this requirement, not even the leaders of the society.

The Mau-Mau reign of terror was broken by groups of white settlers who joined the auxiliary police and army units who had combined forces with ex-terrorist Kikuyus. The former Mau-Mau members were provided with small arms and grenades, and they, in turn, taught the whites how to move silently through the thick under-brush. In May 1956, Dedan Kimathi, who was identified as the militant head of the Mau-Mau, was captured by a party of Kikuyu tribal police. Soon after Kimathi had been apprehended, the Mau-Mau society crumbled from lack of ammunition and arms, internal quarrels in the ranks, and disease brought about by the hardship of existing in the jungle under extremely difficult conditions. By the time the Mau-Mau was disbanded, they had slaughtered more than 2,000 African tribespeople and brutally maimed many thousands more native people. Although the murders of Kenyan civilians of European ancestry were brutal and bloody, the actual numbers of those killed at the hands of the Mau-Mau were greatly exaggerated by the media. Actual deaths of white settlers attributed to the Mau-Mau insurrectionists have been listed as low as 32 to 57, to as high as less than 100.

Dedan Kimathi was executed by the British in 1957 for having ordered atrocities and murders as the leader of the Mau-Mau. The Kikuyu Central Association, the political party that fronted for the secret activities of the Mau-Mau, was headed by Johnstone Kamau, better known as Jomo Kenyatta (1892–1978). Under his leadership, Kenya gained independence in 1963