[EVENT] Mau Mau Uprising, 1952-55

October 1952, Mau Mau Uprising Begins, State of Emergency Declared

The early 1950s saw increased activities by Kikuyu-dominated groups called the Mau Mau by British authorities. Quickly, violent uprisings and conflict escalated throughout the country, widening the already strenuous divide between European settlers and native-Kenyans, and in-fact the Kikuyu people themselves.

State of Emergency

Philip Mitchell retired as Kenya's governor in summer 1952, having been criticised for his inaction to Mau Mau's increasing activity. Through the summer of 1952, however, Colonial Secretary Oliver Lyttleton received a steady flow of reports from Acting Governor Henry Potter about the escalating seriousness of Mau Mau violence. On 30 September 1952, Evelyn Baring arrived in Kenya to permanently take over from Potter.

On 9 October 1952, 7 miles outside Nairobi, Kenyan Chief Waruhiu was shot dead in broad daylight in his car. Waruhiu had been one of the strongest supporters of the British presence in Kenya, with the newly appointed governor Evelyn Baring calling him "a great man, a great African and a great citizen of Kenya, who met his death in the service of his own people and his Government." His death gave Baring the final impetus to request permission from the Colonial Office to declare a State of Emergency.

The British plan was to broadly defeat the movement in two strokes: the first with Operation Jock Scott, to decapitate the movement by arresting alleged Mau Mau leaders, and the second with a series of major economic, military and penal initiatives. With the State of Emergency declared, Operation Jock Scott began in earnest, with British troops arresting 180 alleged Mau Mau leaders. The nicknamed Kapenguria Six – Bildad Kaggia, Kung'u Karumba, Jomo Kenyatta, Fred Kubai, Paul Ngei, and Achieng' Oneko – were six leading Kenyan nationalists who were arrested in the operation. They were trialed at Kapenguria through 1952-53. The charge against the defendants was that they had jointly managed a proscribed society (and that the proscribed society, the Mau Mau, had conspired to murder all white residents of Kenya). After a controversial trial, all six defendants were convicted, and sentenced to long terms and permanent restriction in Northern Kenya. The day after the round up, another prominent loyalist chief, Nderi, was hacked to pieces, and a series of gruesome murders against settlers were committed throughout the months that followed. The harshness of the British response after Jock Scott alienated ordinary Kikuyu and drove many of the wavering majority into Mau Mau's arms.

Three battalions of the King's African Rifles were recalled from Uganda, Tanganyika and Mauritius, giving the regiment five battalions in all Kenya, a total of 3,000 native Kenyan troops. To placate settler opinion, one battalion of British troops, from the Lancashire Fusiliers, was also flown in from Egypt to Nairobi on the first day of Operation Jock Scott.

In November 1952, Baring requested assistance from the Security Service. For the next year, the Service's A.M. Macdonald would reorganise the Special Branch of the Kenya Police, promote collaboration with Special Branches in adjacent territories, and oversee coordination of all intelligence activity "to secure the intelligence Government requires".

1953-1955, British Response

Military Action

The Emergency led hundreds, and eventually thousands, of Mau Mau adherents to flee to the forests, where a decentralised leadership had already begun setting up plattons. The primary zones of Mau Mau military strength were the Aberdares and the forests around Mount Kenya, whilst a passive support-wing was fostered outside these areas. Militarily, the British response was through using a more expansive version of "coercion through exemplary force". On 26 March 1953, Mau Mau forces massacred troops from the loyalist Home Guard and their families in Lari, including prominent local loyalist Luki. The massacre was subsequently used for propaganda purposes, with British planes dropping leaflets showing graphic picture of the Kikuyu women and children who had been hacked to death, and the massacre was shown to journalists. In May 1953, the decision was made to send General George Erskine to oversee the restoration of order in the colony.

By September 1953, the leading personalities of the Mau Mau were uncovered through extensive collaboration with security forces. The following year, on 15 January 1954, Waruhiu Itote, "General China", was captured and interrogated over a 68 hour period. This provided a massive intelligence boost on the forest fighters. Meanwhile, Erskine began to create mobile formations that delivered what he termed "special treatment" to an area. Once gangs had been driven out and eliminated, loyalist forces and police were then to take over the area, with military support brought in thereafter only to conduct any required pacification operations. After their successful dispersion and containment, Erskine went after the forest fighters' source of supplies, income and recruits, i.e. the native Kenyan population of Nairobi. this took the form of Operation Anvil, which commenced on 24 April 1954.

Nairobi had long been regarded as the nerve centre of Mau Mau operations. Anvil was an ambitious attempt to eliminate Mau Mau's presence within Nairobi in one fell swoop. 25,000 members of the British security forces under the control of General George Erskine were deployed as Nairobi was sectioned off and underwent a sector-by-sector purge. All native Kenyans were taken to temporary barbed-wire enclosures, whereafter those who were not Kikuyu, Embu or Meru were released; those who were remained in detention for screening.

Anvil lasted for two weeks, after which the capital had been cleared of all but certifiably loyal Kikuyu; 20,000 Mau Mau suspects had been taken to Langata, and 30,000 more had been deported to the reserves.

Swynnerton Plan

Baring knew the already-overcrowded reserves could only make things worse. Baring turned in 1953 to Roger Swynnerton, Kenya's assistant director of agriculture. The primary goal of the Swynnerton Plan was the creation of family holding large enough to keep families self-sufficient in food and to enable them to practise alternate husbandry, which would generate a cash income.

As the projected costs of the Swynnerton Plan were too high for the cash-strapped colonial government, Baring tweaked repatriation and augmented the Swynnerton Plan with plans for a massive expansion of the Pipeline couples with a system of work camps to make use detainee labour. All Kikuyu employed for public works projects would now be employed on Swynnerton's poor-relief programmes, as would many detainees in the work camps.

1955-, the Future

The Mau Mau effort has been significantly curtailed, but the harshness of the British response, such as the massive detainee programmes, has created deep contention among native Kenyans against the British and the colonial regime. For now the war continues. As the Mau Mau's situation draws more dare, the most ferocious fighting of the war has been recorded. British air power which has previously been relegated to the forests, has begun to expand to the entire country. On 18th January 1955, Baring offerd an amnesty to Mau Mau activists. The offer was that they would not face prosecution for previous offences, but may still be detained. European settlers were appalled at the leniency of the offer, but the offer still stands. The colonial government has announced that by 1956, direct election of native Kenyan members to the Legislative Assembly would begin, seen by many as the first step towards independence.


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