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Mau Mau Uprising
Date 1952 - 1960
Location Kenya
Result British military victory and eventual Kenyan independence
Flag of Kenya.svg Mau Mau Flag of the United Kingdom.svg British Empire
* 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 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 (Africans and Europeans) 21,000 police, 25,000 home guard[1]
Casualties and losses
10,527 killed in action;[2]

2,633 captured in action;

26,625 arrested;

2,714 surrendered;

70,000 - 100,000 interned.[1]

Security forces killed: Africans 534, Asians 3, Europeans 63;

Security forces wounded: Africans 465, Asians 12, Europeans 102;

Civilians killed: Africans 1,826 recorded, best estimates suggest a total of 50,000;[3] Asians 26; Europeans 32;

Civilians wounded: Africans 918, Asians 36, Europeans 26.[1]

Map of Kenya

The Mau Mau Uprising of 1952 to 1960 was an insurgency by Kenyans against British colonial rule. The core of the resistance was formed by members of the Kikuyu ethnic group, along with smaller numbers of Embu and Meru. The uprising failed militarily, though it hastened Kenyan independence and motivated Africans in other countries to fight against colonial rule. It created a rift between the white colonial community in Kenya and the Home Office in London that set the stage for Kenyan independence in 1963. It is sometimes called the Mau Mau Rebellion or the Mau Mau Revolt, and, in official documents, the Kenya Emergency.

The origin of the name Mau Mau for the rebel movement has never been determined. It was not coined by the movement itself — they called themselves Muingi ("The Movement"), Muigwithania ("The Understanding"), Muma wa Uiguano ("The Oath of Unity") or simply "The KCA", after the Kikuyu Central Association that created the impetus for the insurgency. Veterans of the independence movement referred to themselves as the "Land and Freedom Army" in English.


Origins of the Mau Mau uprising


Economic deprivation of the Kikuyu

For several decades prior to the eruption of conflict, the grabbing of land by European settlers was an increasingly bitter point of contention. Most of the land appropriated was in the central highlands of Kenya, which had a cool climate compared to the rest of the country and was inhabited primarily by the Kikuyu people. Repeated, peaceful attempts by local populations to address this land appropriation were ignored or ridiculed. Professor Michael S. Coray notes that

The [colonial] administration's refusal to develop mechanisms whereby African grievances against non-Africans might be resolved on terms of equity, moreover, served to accelerate a growing disaffection with colonial rule. The investigations of the Kenya Land Commission of 1932-1934 are a case study in such lack of foresight, for the findings and recommendations of this commission, particularly those regarding the claims of the Kikuyu of Kiambu, would serve to exacerbate other grievances and nurture the seeds of a growing African nationalism in Kenya.[4]

David Anderson concurs, writing that the Morris-Carter Land Commission report of 1934 was "the stone upon which moderate African politics was broken... Militant nationalism was conceived in Kikuyu reaction to the report of the Kenya Land Commission... Opposition to the Land Commission's findings fed militancy all the more over the next twenty years as the pressures upon land within the Kikuyu reserve became greater and the settler stranglehold on the political economy of the colony tightened."[5]

By 1948, 1,250,000 Kikuyu were restricted to 2000 square miles (5,200 km²), while 30,000 British settlers occupied 12,000 square miles (31,000 km²). The most desirable agricultural land was almost entirely in the hands of European settlers.[citation needed]

During the course of the colonial period, European colonizers allowed about 120,000 Kikuyu to farm a patch of land on European farms in exchange for their labour. They were, in effect, tenant farmers who had no actual rights to the land they worked, but which they had previously called home. Between 1936 and 1946, settlers steadily demanded more days of labour, while further restricting Kikuyu access to the land. It has been estimated that the real income of Kikuyu squatters fell by 30% to 40% during this period and fell even more sharply during the late 1940s. This effort by settlers, which was essentially an attempt to turn the tenant farmers into agricultural labourers, exacerbated the Kikuyus' bitter hatred of the white settlers. The Kikuyu later formed the core of the highland uprising.

As a result of the poor 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. By 1953, almost half of all Kikuyus had no land claims at all. The results were worsening poverty, starvation, unemployment and overpopulation. The economic bifurcation of the Kikuyu set the stage for what was essentially a civil war within the Kikuyu during the Mau Mau Revolt.

KCA begins to organize the central highlands

While historical details remain elusive, sometime in the late 1940s the General Council of the banned Kikuyu Central Association (KCA) began to make preparations for a campaign of civil disobedience involving all of the Kikuyu in order to protest the land issue. The members of this initiative were bound together through oath rituals that were traditional among the Kikuyu and neighbouring tribes. Those taking such oaths often believed that breaking them would result in death by supernatural forces. The original KCA oaths limited themselves to civil disobedience, but later rituals obliged the oath taker to fight and defend themselves from Europeans.

These oath rituals, which often included animal sacrifice or the ingestion of blood, were strange and unsettling to settlers who heard about them. They were particularly alarmed about rumors of cannibalism, ritual zoophilia with goats, sexual orgies, ritual places decorated with intestines and goat eyes, and that oaths included promises to kill, dismember and burn settlers. While the settlers' recounting of many of the stories were exaggerated by fear, they helped convince the British government to send assistance to the colonists.

East African Trades Union Congress and the "Forty Group"

While the KCA continued its oath rituals and creation of secret committees throughout the so-called White Highlands, the centre of the resistance moved towards the still-forming trade union movement in Nairobi. On May 1, 1949, six trade unions formed the East African Trades Union Congress (EATUC). In early 1950, the EATUC ran a campaign to boycott the celebrations over the granting of a Royal Charter to Nairobi, because of the undemocratic white-controlled council that ran the city. The campaign proved a great embarrassment to the colonial government. It also led to violent clashes between African radicals and loyalists.

Following a demand for Kenyan independence on May 1, 1950, the leadership of the EATUC was arrested. On May 16, the remaining EATUC officers called for a general strike that paralyzed Nairobi for nine days and was broken only after 300 workers had been arrested and the British authorities made a show of overwhelming military force. The strike spread to other cities and may have involved 100,000 workers; Mombasa was paralyzed for two days. Nevertheless, the strike ultimately failed and the EATUC soon collapsed after its senior leadership was imprisoned.

Following this setback, the remaining union leaders focused their efforts on the KCA oath campaign to set the basis for further action. They joined with the "Forty Group", which was a roughly cohesive group mostly composed of African ex-servicemen conscripted in 1940 that included a broad spectrum of Nairobi from petty crooks to trade unionists. In contrast to the oaths used in the highlands, the oaths given by the Forty Group clearly foresaw a revolutionary movement dedicated to the violent overthrow of colonial rule. Sympathizers collected funds and even acquired ammunition and guns by various means.

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 discriminatory legislation to the inclusion of 12 elected black representatives on the Legislative Council that governed the colony's affairs. It appears that the settlers were not willing to give in completely, but expected Westminster to force some concessions. Instead, Griffith ignored the KAU's demands and 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. This proposal removed the last African hopes that a fair and peaceful solution to their grievances was possible.

In June 1951, the urban radicals captured control of the formerly loyalist Nairobi KAU by packing KAU meetings with trade union members. They then created a secret Central Committee to organize the oath campaign throughout Nairobi. The Central Committee quickly formed armed squads to enforce its policies, protect members from the police, and kill informers and collaborators.

In November 1951, the Nairobi radicals attempted to take control of the national KAU at a countrywide conference, but were outmanoeuvred by Jomo Kenyatta, who secured the election for himself. Nevertheless, pressure from the radicals forced the KAU to adopt a pro-independence position for the first time.

The Central Committee also began to extend its oath campaign outside of Nairobi. Their stance of active resistance won them many adherents in committees throughout the White Highlands and the Kikuyu reserves. As a result, the KCA's influence steadily fell until by the start of the actual Uprising it had authority only in Kiambu District. Central Committee activists grew bolder — often killing opponents in broad daylight. The houses of Europeans were set on fire and their livestock hamstrung. These warning signs were ignored by the Governor, Sir Philip Mitchell, who was only months away from retirement, and Mau Mau activities were not checked.

First reaction against the uprising

In June 1952, Henry Potter replaced Mitchell as Acting Governor. One month later, he was informed by the colonial police that a Mau Mau plan for rebellion was in the works. Collective fines and punishments were levied on particularly unstable areas, oath givers were arrested and loyalist Kikuyu were encouraged to denounce the resistance. Several times in mid-1952 Jomo Kenyatta, who went on to become independent Kenya's first President, gave in to the pressure and gave speeches attacking the Mau Mau. This prompted the creation of at least two plots within the Nairobi Central Committee to assassinate Kenyatta as a British collaborator before he was saved through his eventual arrest by the colonial authorities, who believed that Kenyatta was the head of the resistance.

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 Waruhiu had been shot at point blank range by bandits in Kiambu. This was the first time the Mau Mau Organization had "officially" attacked. Quickly realizing that he had a serious problem, on October 20, 1952, Governor Baring declared a State of Emergency.

State of Emergency

On the same day as the Emergency was declared, troops and police arrested nearly 100 African political leaders and newspaper editors, including Jomo Kenyatta, in an operation named Jock Scott. A few days later, Senior Chief Nderi's car tires were slashed in broad daylight, but when a military attachment arrived, there was no one to be found but a few old men and women. Up to 8,000 people were arrested during the first 25 days of the operation. It was thought that Operation Jock Scott would decapitate the rebel leadership and that the Emergency would be lifted in several weeks. The amount of violence increased, however; two weeks after the declaration of the Emergency the first European was killed.

While much of the senior political leadership of the Nairobi Central Committee was arrested, some of its military leaders took refuge in the wilderness; the fighters allied to them were already too well entrenched to be uprooted by the mass arrests. Under the encouragement of this military leadership, Local rebel committees took decisions to strike back over the next few weeks and there was an abrupt rise in the destruction of European property and attacks on African loyalists. At the same time a sector of European settlers treated the Emergency declaration as a license to perpetrate excesses against suspected Mau Mau.

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. 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 The Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME) served for a short time. The British fielded 55,000 troops in total over the course of the conflict, although the total number did not exceed more than 10,000 at any one time. The majority of the security effort was borne by the Kenyan Police and Kenya's Tribal Police or Home Guard.

Initially, British forces had little reliable intelligence on the strength or structure of the Mau Mau resistance. Senior British officers thought that the Mau Mau Uprising was a sideshow compared to the Malayan Emergency. Over the course of the conflict, some soldiers either could not or would not differentiate between Mau Mau and non-combatants, and apparently shot innocent Kenyans. Many soldiers were reported to have collected severed rebel hands for an unofficial five-shilling bounty, although this was officially done to identify the dead by their fingerprints. It is also alleged that some kept a scoreboard of their killings, a practice forbidden by the General Officer Commanding. Allegations of excesses by the Army and Police led General Hinde, officer in charge of all security forces, to issue stern warnings to troops.

Council of Freedom declares war

By January 1953, the Nairobi Central Committee had reconstituted its senior ranks and renamed itself the Council of Freedom. In a meeting it was decided to launch a war of liberation. In contrast to other liberation movements of the time, the urban Kenyan revolt was dominated by the blue-collar class and mostly lacked a socialist element. The network of secret committees was to be reorganized into the Passive Wing and given the task of supplying weapons, ammunition, food, money, intelligence and recruits to the Active Wing, also known as the Land and Freedom Armies or, less accurately, the Land Army.

The Land and Freedom Armies, named after the two issues that the Kikuyu felt were most important, were mostly equipped with spears, simis (short swords), kibokos (rhino hide whips), and pangas (a type of machete). Of these, the panga was most widely used. Some rebels also tried to make their own guns, to add to the 460 commercial firearms they already possessed, but many of the homemade guns exploded when fired.

This declaration may be seen as a strategic mistake that the Council of Freedom was pushed into by its more aggressive members. The resistance did not have a national strategy for victory, had no cadres trained in guerrilla warfare, had few modern weapons and no arrangements to get more, and had not spread beyond the tribes of the central highlands most affected by the settler presence. Later Mau Mau were trained in Isreal.[6]

Nevertheless, the lack of large numbers of initial British troops, a high degree of popular support, and the low quality of colonial intelligence gave the Land and Freedom Armies the upper hand for the first half of 1953.

Large bands were able to move around their bases in the highland forests of the Aberdare mountain range and Mount Kenya killing Africans loyal to the government and attacking isolated police and Home Guard posts. The Mau Mau also attacked Christian Kenyans especially, as Christianity was identified with the Europeans.

Over 1,800 loyalist Kikuyu (Christians, landowners, government loyalists and other Mau Mau opponents) were killed. The Mau Mau, operating from the safety of the forests, attacked mostly by night. They attacked isolated farms, but occasionally also households in suburbs of Nairobi. Only the lack of firearms prevented the rebels from inflicting severe casualties on the police and European community, which might have altered the eventual outcome of the Uprising.

The Land and Freedom Armies had lookouts and stashes for clothes, weapons and even an armoury. Still they were short of equipment. They used pit traps to defend their hideouts in Mount Kenya forests. The rebels organized themselves with a cell structure but many armed bands also used British military ranks and organizational structures. They also had their own judges that could hand out fines and other penalties, including death. Associating with non-Mau Mau was punishable by a fine or worse. An average Mau Mau band was about 100 strong. The different leaders of the Land and Freedom Armies rarely coordinated actions, reflecting the lack of cohesion to the entire rebellion. Four of the dominant Active Wing leaders were Stanley Mathenge; Waruhiu Itote (known as General China), leader of Mount Kenya Mau Mau; Dedan Kimathi, leader of Mau Mau of Aberdare forest; and Musa Mwariama, leader of the Mau Mau in Meru.

Response of the Europeans and government

On January 24, 1953, Mau Mau murdered Europeans Mr. and Mrs. Ruck, as well as their six-year-old son, on their farm with pangas. White settlers reacted strongly to the insecurity. Many of them dismissed all of their Kikuyu servants because of the fear that they could be Mau Mau sympathizers. Europeans, including women, armed themselves with any weapon they could find, and in some cases built full-scale forts on their farms. Many Europeans also joined auxiliary units like the Kenya Police Reserve (which included an active air wing), and the Kenya Regiment, a territorial army regiment.

British colonial officials were also suspicious of the Kikuyu and took measures. They initially thought the Kikuyu Central Association was the political wing of the resistance. They made carrying a gun illegal and associating with Mau Mau capital offences. In May 1953, the Kikuyu Home Guard became an official part of the security forces. It became the significant part of the anti-Mau Mau effort. Most Home Guard were members of the Kikuyu ethnic group, especially those converted to Christianity. The Home Guard was subsequently re-named the Kikuyu Guard. They organized their own intelligence network and made punitive sweeps into areas that were suspected of harbouring or supporting Mau Mau.

On March 25–March 26, 1953, nearly 1,000 rebels attacked the loyalist village of Lari, where about one hundred and seventy non-combatants were hacked or burnt to death. Most of them were the wives and children of Kikuyu Home Guards serving elsewhere. This raid was widely reported in the British media, understandably contributing to the notion of the Mau Mau as bloodthirsty savages. In the weeks that followed, some suspected rebels were summarily executed by police and loyalist Home Guards, and many other Mau Mau implicated in the Lari massacre were subsequently brought to trial and hanged.

Urban resistance spreads

In April 1953, a Kamba Central Committee was formed. The Kamba rebels were all railwaymen and effectively controlled the railway workforce, and the Kamba were also the core of African units in the Army and Police. Despite this, only three acts of sabotage were recorded against the railway lines during the emergency.

At the same time, rebel Maasai bands became active in Narok district before being crushed by soldiers and police who were given the task of preventing a further spread of the rebellion.

Despite a police roundup in April 1953, the Nairobi committees organized by the Council of Freedom continued to provide badly needed supplies and recruits to the Land and Freedom Armies operating in the central highlands.

Realizing that the blue-collar unions were a hotbed of rebel activity, the colonial government created the Kenya Federation of Registered Trade Unions (KFRTU) for white-collar unions as a moderating influence. By the end of 1953, it had gained an Arab general secretary who was a nationalist, but also opposed the revolt. Early in 1954, the KFRTU undermined a general strike that was called by the Central Committee.

British gain the initiative

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. A military draft brought in 20,000 troops who were used aggressively. The Kikuyu reserves were designated "Special Areas", where anyone failing to halt when challenged could be shot. This was often used as an excuse for the shooting of suspects, so this provision was subsequently abandoned.

The Aberdares Range and Mount Kenya were declared "Prohibited Areas", within which no person could enter without government clearance. Those found within the Prohibited Area could be shot on sight.

The colonial government created so-called pseudo-gangs composed of de-oathed and turned ex-Mau Mau and allied Africans, sometimes headed by white officers. They infiltrated Mau Mau ranks and made search and destroy missions. Pseudo-gangs also included white settler volunteers who disguised themselves as Africans. The Pseudo-gang concept was a highly successful tactic against the Mau Mau.[7]

In late 1953, security forces swept the Aberdare forest in the Operation Blitz and captured and killed 125 guerrillas. Despite such large-scale offensive operations, the British found themselves unable to stem the tide of insurgency.

It was not until the British realized the extent of the rebel organization, and the importance of the urban rebel committees and unions, that they gained a strategic success. On April 24, 1954, the Army launched "Operation Anvil" in Nairobi and the city was put under military control. Security forces screened 30,000 Africans and arrested 17,000 on suspicion of complicity, including many people that were later revealed to be innocent. The city remained under military control for the rest of the year. About 15,000 Kikuyu were interned and thousands more were deported to the Kikuyu reserves in the highlands west of Mount Kenya. However, the heaviest weight fell on the unions.

While the sweep was inefficient, the sheer number was overwhelming. Entire rebel Passive Wing leadership structures, including the Council for Freedom, were swept away to detention camps and the most important source of supplies and recruits for the resistance evaporated.

Having cleared Nairobi, the authorities repeated the exercise in other areas so that by the end of 1954 there were 77,000 Kikuyu in concentration camps. About 100,000 Kikuyu squatters were deported back to the reserves. In June 1954, a policy of compulsory villagization was started in the reserves to allow more effective control and surveillance of civilians and to better protect pro-government collaborators. When the program reached completion in October 1955, 1,077,500 Kikuyu had been concentrated into 854 "villages".

Conditions in the British detention and labour camps were grim, due in part to the sheer number of Kikuyu detainees and the lack of money budgeted for dealing with 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."[8] Sanitation was non-existent, and epidemics of diseases like cholera 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 lied about to the outside world.[9][10]

Beginning of the end

The inability of the rebels to protect their supply sources marked the beginning of the end. The Passive Wing in the cities had disintegrated under the roundups and the rural Passive Wing was in a state of siege on the central highlands and reserves. Forced to spend all their energy to survive, and cut off from sources of new recruits, the Land and Freedom Armies withered.

In 1953, some 15,000 Mau Mau guerrillas were at large. In January 1954, the King's African Rifles began Operation Hammer. They combed the forests of Aberdare mountains but met very little resistance; most guerrillas had already left. Eventually the operation was moved to the Mount Kenya area. There they captured substantial numbers of guerrillas and killed 24 of 51 band leaders. The Mau Mau were forced deeper into forest. By September 1956, only about 500 rebels remained.

In 1955, an amnesty was declared. It both absolved Home Guard members from prosecution and gave rebel soldiers a chance to surrender. Peace talks with the rebels collapsed on May 20, 1955 and the Army began its final offensive against the Aberdare region. Pseudo-gangs were used heavily in the operation. By this time, Mau Mau were low on supplies and practically out of ammunition.

The last Mau Mau leader, Dedan Kimathi, was captured by Kikuyu Tribal Police on October 21, 1956 in Nyeri (using the pseudo-gang technique) with 13 remaining guerrillas, and was subsequently hanged in early 1957, having been sentenced to death by a court presided over by the British Chief Justice, Sir Kenneth O'Connor. His capture marked the effective end of the Uprising, though the Emergency remained in effect until January 1960 and some Mau Mau remained in the forests until 1963.

In 1959 the British forces bombed a big hide-out called the Mau-Mau Cave near Nanyuki. About 200 people lost their lives in the cave during the bombardment.

Political and social concessions by the British

Despite the fact that the British military had won a clear victory, Kenyans had been granted nearly all of the demands made by the KAU in 1951 as the carrot to the military's stick. In June 1956, a program of villagization and land reform consolidated the land holdings of the Kikuyu, thereby increasing the number of Kikuyu allied with the colonial government. This was coupled with a relaxation of the ban on Africans growing coffee, a primary cash crop, leading to a dramatic rise in the income of small farmers over the next ten years.

In the cities the colonial authorities decided to dispel tensions after Operation Anvil 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.

These political measures were taken to end the instability of the Uprising by appeasing Africans both in the cities and country and encouraging the creation of a stable African middle class, but also required the abandonment of settler interests. This was possible because while the settlers dominated the colony politically, they owned less than 20% of the assets invested in Kenya. The remainder belonged to various corporations who were willing to deal with an African majority government as long as the security situation stabilized. The choice that the authorities in London faced was between an unstable colony, which was costing a fortune in military expenses, run by settlers who contributed little to the economic growth of the Empire, or a stable colony run by Africans that contributed to the coffers of the Empire. The latter option was the one, in effect, taken.


The official number of European settlers killed was 26.

The official number of Kenyans killed was estimated at 11,503 by British sources, but David Anderson places the actual number at higher than 20,000. Professor Caroline Elkins of Harvard University, whose study of the revolt Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain's Gulag in Kenya won the Pulitzer Prize in 2006, claims it is probably at least as high as 70,000 but more realistically it in the hundreds of thousands."[11] However, Elkins' methodology for arriving at her conclusions has been subject to considerable criticism from a letter-writer in the New York Review of Books and London Review of Books, David Elstein.[12][13] Elstein contends that Professor Elkins' figures are derived from an idiosyncratic reading of census figures and a tendentious interpretation of the fortified village scheme. More recently, the demographer John Blacker, in an article in African Affairs, has estimated the total number of African deaths at around 50,000; half were children under 10.[14]

Blacker's article (April 2007 Journal of African Affairs) 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. By exhaustive analysis of all the available census data (Blacker was closely involved in the Kenyan censuses both before and after independence) he shows that there is no significant gap in the adult age-sex pyramids demographers use.

In estimating 50,000 "excess" deaths during the Emergency, he reveals that 26,000 were children under the age of 10. He surmises that a rise of about 20% in the Kikuyu infant mortality rate in this period (which still left that rate much lower than that for some comparable groups, like the Luo) was due to malnutrition and faster spread of diease in the protected villages. The policy of concentrating over 1 million Kikuyu in these villages certainly saved many thousands from Mau Mau attack, and cut off the guerillas from potential civilian support, but inevitably intensified the food shortages that the fighting caused.

Blacker estimated that 7,000 adult female deaths were also "excess" in this period (in other words, higher than the long-term death rates): again, he attributes this mostly to the hardships of life in the protected villages - and these represent 1 or 2 "excess" adult female deaths per protected village per year during the Emergency. His estimate of 17,000 "excess" adult male deaths fits the overall totals for Mau Mau killed or hanged, together with Kikuyu victims of Mau Mau, both civilian and in uniform, upon which nearly all historians of the period (apart from Elkins) agree.

Blacker concludes that "there is no evidence to support the claims made by Elkins", which are "based on a musunderstanding of the data".

For security force casualties, see the information box at the top of the article.

Of particular note is the number of executions authorized by the courts. In the first eight months of the Emergency, only 35 rebels were hanged, but by November 1954, 756 had been hanged, 508 for offenses less than murder, such as illegal possession of firearms. By the end of 1954, over 900 rebels and rebel sympathizers had been hanged, and by the end of the Emergency, the total was over 1,000. This total figure is more than double the number executed by the French in Algeria.


Atrocities were committed on both sides. The number of Mau Mau fighters killed by the British and their military adjuncts was about 20,000, though it has been documented that large numbers of Kikuyu not directly involved in the rebellion were persecuted by the British.[15][16]

A major source of atrocities was the 'screening' of Kikuyu and others suspected of Mau Mau sympathies. Elkins writes that,

Bottles (often broken), gun barrels, knives, snakes, vermin and hot eggs were thrust up men's rectums and women's vaginas. The screening teams whipped, shot, burned and mutilated Mau Mau suspects, ostensibly to gather intelligence for military operations and as court evidence.[17]

A British officer, describing his exasperation about uncooperative Mau Mau suspects during an interrogation, explained that,

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.'[18]

Many settlers took an active role in the torture of Mau Mau suspects, running their own screening teams and assisting British security forces during interrogation. One settler helping the Kenya Police Reserve's Special Branch described one interrogation 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."[17]

Home guard troops (black Kenyan loyalists) were also responsible for the retaliation to the Lari massacre. Immediately after the discovery of the first Lari massacre (between 10 pm and dawn that night), Home Guards, police, and 'other elements of the security services' (Anderson's term) engaged in a retaliatory mass murder of residents of Lari suspected of Mau Mau sympathies.[19] These were indiscriminately shot, and later denied either treatment or burial. There is also good evidence that these indiscriminate reprisal shootings continued for several days after the first massacre. (See the reports of 21 and 27 men killed on 3rd and 4 April, respectively.)[20] The official tally of the dead for the first Lari Massacre is 74; that for the second, 150.[21]

Mau Mau militants were also guilty of human rights violations, and many of the murders of which they were guilty were brutal in the extreme. More than 1,800 Kenyan civilians are known to have been murdered by Mau Mau, and hundreds more disappeared, their bodies never found.[22] Victims were often hacked to death with machetes. At Lari, on the night of March 25-26 1953, Mau Mau forces herded 120 Kikuyu into huts and set fire to them.[13][23]

Remarkably few British civilians were killed by Mau Mau militants: just 32. The white panic, however, was extreme. Perhaps the most famous Mau Mau victim was Michael Ruck, aged just six, who was killed along with his parents. Michael was found hacked to death in his bedroom, and "newspapers in Kenya and abroad published graphic murder details and postmortem photos, including images of young Michael with bloodied teddy bears and trains strewn on his bedroom floor."[24]

In 1952 the poisonous latex of the African milk bush was used to kill cattle in an incident of Biological warfare.[25]

Legal case

Some of those tortured during the era have sued for compensation from the British government,[26] and their lawyers have documented about 6,000 cases of human rights abuses including fatal whippings, rapes and blindings.[27] The British government has stated that the issue was the responsibility of the Kenyan government, relying on the grounds of "state succession" for former colonies. Around 12,000 Kenyans had sought compensation.[28]

In popular culture


Scene from The Oath
  • The 2005 short film The Oath, which used all Kenyan and Kenyan-based actors, some of whom are modern day descendants of the Mau Mau.
  • Something of Value (1957) directed by Richard Brooks and starring Rock Hudson, Dana Wynter and Sidney Poitier.
  • Mau Mau (1955 film) a shockumentary exploitation film directed by Elwood Price and narrated by Chet Huntley.
  • Simba (film) a 1955 film about the Mau Mau uprising starring Dirk Bogarde and directed by Brian Desmond Hurst.
  • The Mau Mau uprising is also highlighted in the movie "Safari (1956 film)" released in 1956 and starring Victor Mature and Janet Leigh. Mature is the great white hunter bent on revenge against the Mau Maus, and Leigh the love interest he takes on Safari. The movie was filmed in Kenya and directed by future-to-be James Bond film director Terence Young.
  • Africa Addio[29] is a well-capitalized 1966 Italian "shock"-umentary covering the political transition from colonial- to post-colonial Africa. It includes a brief recapitulation of the Mau-Mau Rebellion and authentic scenes of its aftermath, including damage to white Highland farms and livestock, actual participants' sentencing in local British court, and their re-appearance at the popular celebration of Jomo Kenyatta's pardon of all Mau-Mau participants.
  • The uprising is at the core of the movie The Kitchen Toto, released in 1987 and starring Edwin Mahinda and Bob Peck.
  • Mau Mau, a 52-minute documentary, is Part II of The Black Man's Land Trilogy, which was broadcast on PBS in 1978 and continues to be widely used in university-level African Studies courses. The film is described as "a political analysis of Africa's first modern guerrilla war, and the myths that still surround it."


  • Elspeth Huxley's 1954 novel A Thing to Love is set in Kenya during the uprising and presents it from the European perspective.
  • The novels Something of Value (1955) and Uhuru (1962) by Robert Ruark are written from the perspective of Dedan Kimathi and his friend Peter. Something of Value was made into a 1957 movie.
  • Two novels by Ngugi wa Thiong'o (James Ngugi), Weep Not, Child (1964) and A Grain of Wheat (1967), deal with the uprising from the Kikuyu perspective.
  • The Mau Mau Uprising, including a depiction of a character taking the oath, is referenced in the book The In-Between World of Vikram Lall by MG Vassanji (2003). The first part of the book is set during the time of the uprising, and the story interweaves the occurrences of the time into the lives of the characters.
  • In Wangeri Maathai's Unbowed: A Memoir, she discusses how the Mau Mau Uprising affected her childhood and divided the Kikuyu Tribe between those who fought on the Mau Mau side and those who fought for the British.
  • The Mike Resnick novel Paradise, a science fiction allegory for the history of Kenya, features the Kalakala Emergency, an uprising of the native alien population of the planet Peponi against the human colonists.


  • The black radical hip-hop group The Coup reference the Mau Mau Revolt in many of their songs, such as "Kill My Landlord" and "Dig It".
  • Radical hip-hop duo Dead Prez references the Mau Mau among many other black power movements in their song "I Have A Dream Too" from the album "Revolutionary But Gangsta'".
  • The Mau Mau Uprising is the topic of the Warren Zevon song "Leave My Monkey Alone" on his album Sentimental Hygiene.
  • The Allan Sherman song "Hungarian Goulash" makes reference to the "jolly Mau-Maus" and how they are "eating missionary pie."
  • Blues showman Screamin' Jay Hawkins recorded a song titled "Feast of the Mau Mau"[30] on his 1969 album "...What That Is!", and released a double album of the same name in 1988, a UK re-release of "...What That Is!" and "Is In Your Mind" (1970).
  • The opening track of Paul Kantner's 1970 release Blows Against the Empire is called "Mau Mau (Amerikon)," which was written by Kantner, Grace Slick, and Joey Covington.


The meaning of the term Mau Mau is much debated. Proffered etymologies include:

  • The 2006 edition of American Heritage Dictionary lists the etymology as the sound imitative of foraging hyenas.
  • mau-mau is Kikuyu for "eat, eat," i.e. eating in a hurry. A Kenyan State Park guide in July 1990 said that guerillas adopted this name to describe how they lived in hiding and always on the move.
  • It is the name of a range of hills (occurring in various geographical names e.g. the Mau Escarpment, the Mau stream in Eastern Province, a place called Mau in the Rift Valley Province, etc.)
  • It was a nonsense word created by British settlers to demean the rebels.
  • A backronym that has been created for it is "Mzungu Aende Ulaya — Mwafrika Apate Uhuru". This Swahili language phrase translates in English to, "Let the white man go (back) to Europe; let the African attain freedom."
  • It is a mistransliteration of "Uma Uma" which translates in English to "Get out Get out".
  • It is in reference to a 'magic potion' the Kikuyu would drink, making their soldiers invulnerable.
  • It is in reference to the secrecy of the communication between group members: "Maundu Mau Mau" in Kikuyu translates to "those things, those same things" [we have talked about].
  • Perhaps the most creative attempt so far is reported in John Lonsdale's 1990.[31] He quotes a Thomas Colchester, who argued that since ka is a diminutive prefix in Swahili (as it is in Kikuyu and several other Bantu languages), while ma is an augmentative prefix, Mau, therefore, indicates something greater than KAU. KAU was the leading forum at the time for African political participation, but would have been seen as somewhat staid and conservative by the young radicals who formed Mau Mau. Lonsdale recommends this etymology on the ground that it requires no single originator.
  • In his memoir The Hardcore Karigo Muchai explains the etymology of Mau Mau in this way: "Now in Kikuyu when referring to whispers or voices that cannot quite be understood, one uses the expression 'mumumumu'. This apparently was heard by a journalist in the court as 'Mau Mau', and the following day the newspapers reported that the men had taken a 'Mau Mau' oath."[32]
  • Malcolm Davies relates a story in which police constables went to a village to arrest an old man who was engaged in secretive and illegal activities. When he saw them coming, the man cried out "Mau Mau!" meaning "Who are those?" The police used this phrase as evidence in court, and so the words gradually came to refer to the nefarious activities of the Mau Mau Organization. [33]

Use in popular culture

  • Following various reactions to the rebellion in Kenya, the verb "to mau mau" came to mean "to menace through intimidating tactics; to intimidate, harass; to terrorize,", in a political and/or racial context. The most famous usage is literary and titular- Tom Wolfe's essay Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers. A more 'popular' appearance may be in the 2nd episode of Law & Order ("Subterranean Homeboy Blues"), wherein a detective questions: "If the lady popped you because you were mau-mauing her...". The word has had a limited currency, first limited to the cultural centers of the Anglo-phone West, and losing currency by the 21st-century as race politics becomes supplanted.
  • A gang in late 1950s New York City known for their violent attacks named themselves the Mau Maus, apparently after the fearsome reputation of the Kenyan rebels. Evangelist Nicky Cruz was a member of this gang when he renounced his violent ways and converted to Christianity. The 1970 movie The Cross and the Switchblade, starring Erik Estrada as Nicky Cruz, depicts these events.
  • "The Mau Maus" were a fictitious political hip-hop group named in the 2000 Spike Lee film Bamboozled.
  • Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers, a 1970 essay by Tom Wolfe in which the titular metaphor "Mau-Mauing" compares the impression of aggressive race-based tactics used in the Mau-Mau Rebellion with the less violent but equally instructive collision of the seminal black-radical activist struggles of late-1960s New York City with politically naive white-liberal donors.
  • The Mau Mau Uprising is referenced by several flashbacks in the Magnum, P.I. episode "Black on White".
  • In the Lenny Bruce monologue, "The Palladium," a British stage manager chastizes an American comedian by calling him "a bloody Mau Mau."
  • The name taken by the graffiti artist "Mau Mau",[34] known as the "Ethical Banksy".
  • The 1976 film Taxi Driver makes reference to the Mau Mau Uprising. When speaking of a crime-ridden Harlem in New York City, the character Wizard, played by Peter Boyle, calls the area 'Mau Mau Land'.


  • J. 'Bayo Adekson, "The Algerian and Mau Mau Revolts: a Comparative Study in Revolutionary Warfare," Comparative Strategy, vol 2 no 1 (1981): 69-92.
  • Anderson, David (2005). Histories of the Hanged: The Dirty War in Kenya and the End of Empire. Weidenfeld and Nicolson. ISBN 0-393-05986-3. 
  • Frank Corfield, The Origins and Growth of Mau Mau [aka Corfield Report] (Nairobi: Government of Kenya, 1960).
  • Caroline Elkins. Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain's Gulag in Kenya. ISBN 0-8050-8001-5. 
  • Wunyabari O. Maloba. Mau-Mau and Kenya: An Analysis of a Peasant Revolt. ISBN 0-253-21166-2. 
  • Zoe Marsh & G.W. Kingsnorth (1972). A History of East Africa. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-08348-6. 
  • John Newsinger, "Revolt and Repression in Kenya: The 'Mau Mau' Rebellion, 1952-1960," Science and Society 45 (1981): 159–185.
  • Ngugi wa Thiong'o (1967). A Grain of Wheat. ISBN 0-435-90987-8. 
LastMauMau cover.jpg


  1. ^ a b c Malcom Page "KAR: a history of the King's African Rifles" (London: Leo Cooper, 1998) p. 206.
  2. ^ The Origins and Growth of Mau Mau [aka Corfield Report] (Nairobi: Government of Kenya, 1960) page 316 places the number of Mau Mau killed in action at 11,503.
  3. ^ John Blacker (2007), "The demography of Mau Mau: fertility and mortality in Kenya in the 1950s: a demographer's viewpoint", African Affairs 106(423):205-227.
  4. ^ The Kenya Land Commission and the Kikuyu of Kiambu, Michael S. Coray, Agricultural History, Vol. 52, No. 1 (Jan., 1978), pp. 179-193.
  5. ^ Anderson 2005: 22.
  6. ^
  7. ^ Obituary: Lt Col Ian Field Daily Telegraph, 14 December 2009
  8. ^ Mark Curtis, Web of Deceit (Vintage, 2003), p. 327.
  9. ^ Caroline Elkins, Britain's Gulag (Pimlico, 2005), Chapter 5.
  10. ^ Curtis, 2003 Chapter 15.
  11. ^ Elkins, 2005 pp xv-xvi.
  12. ^ The End of the Mau Mau - The New York Review of Books.
  13. ^ a b LRB · letters page from Vol. 27 No. 11.
  14. ^ John Blacker. 2007. The demography of Mau Mau: fertility and mortality in Kenya in the 1950s: a demographer's viewpoint, African Affairs 106, Number 423: 205-227.
  15. ^ The horror: imperialism's African legacy.
  16. ^ Anderson, 2005 p. 5 Anderson here states that at least 150,000 Kikuyu "spent some time behind the wire of a British detention camp."
  17. ^ a b Elkins 2005:
  18. ^ Anderson, 2005.
  19. ^ See Anderson 2005: 130.
  20. ^ See Anderson 2005: 133.
  21. ^ The figure was given in an East African Standard report of 5 April, 1953. (See Anderson 2005: 132).
  22. ^ Anderson, 2005 p. 4.
  23. ^ See also Death at Lari: The Story of an African Massacre, chapter 4 of Anderson 2005.
  24. ^ Elkins, 2005 p. 42.
  25. ^ Verdourt, Bernard; E.C. Trump and M.E. Church (1969). Common poisonous plants of East Africa. London: Collins. pp. 254. 
  26. ^ Mau Mau veterans to sue over British 'atrocities' - Africa, World -
  27. ^ BBC NEWS | Programmes | Correspondent | Kenya: White Terror.
  28. ^
  29. ^
  30. ^
  31. ^ See p. 393n2 of John Lonsdale (1990) "Mau Maus of the Mind: Making Mau Mau and Remaking Kenya", The Journal of African History 31 (3): 393-421.
  32. ^ Muchai, Karigo. The Hardcore: The Story of Karigo Muchai. Ed. Don Barnett. Richmond, B.C.: Liberation Support Movement, 1973.
  33. ^ Davies, Malcolm. "Mau Mau Activities and the Unrest in Kenya." The Antioch Review, 1953: 221-33.
  34. ^

See also

External links


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