Kenya’s Mau Mau: a colonial-era insurgencyTue, 31 Oct 2023 06:48:03 GMT

Kenya’s Mau Mau guerrillas carried out one of the bloodiest insurgencies against British colonial rule, with thousands of people killed in the brutal crackdown that followed, sparking calls for justice which still resonate in the East African nation.From 1952 to 1960 the fighters — often with dreadlocked hair and wearing animal skins — terrorised colonial communities.The fighters, drawn largely from the Kikuyu ethnic group in central Kenya, took up arms under the slogan “land and freedom” and staged surprise attacks from bases in remote forests.The rolling green hills and lush forests of central Kenya — once dubbed the “white highlands” — were especially prized by colonial settlers, sparking bitter resentment from the Kikuyu forced off the land.But while attention focused on a handful of murdered white settlers, at least 10,000 Kenyans were killed, with some estimates far higher.Tens of thousands were also rounded up and detained without trial in camps where reports of executions, torture and vicious beatings were common.As many as 90,000 Kenyans were killed, and 160,000 jailed in camps, according to the Kenya Human Rights Commission.The name Mau Mau reportedly came from secret code words for the group, many of whom referred to themselves instead as the Kenya Land and Freedom Army (KLFA).While the rise of the Mau Mau is now seen as a key stage in Kenya’s path to independence in 1963, it also provoked bitter divisions between those who backed the fighters and those who served in colonial forces.The capture of a top leader, Dedan Kimathi, in October 1956 and his execution by hanging a year later was a significant blow to the movement.Successive governments have tried and failed to locate his remains — believed to have been buried in an unmarked grave at Nairobi’s Kamiti Maximum Security Prison. – ‘Sincere regrets’ -The insurgency over, Kenya won self-rule in 1963, and became a republic the following year.Kenya’s founding president Jomo Kenyatta opposed the violence carried out by the group.The Mau Mau movement remained outlawed until 2003 when then president Mwai Kibaki lifted the ban.In 2007, a statue of Kimathi was erected in the heart of Nairobi, where he is now feted as an independence hero.In 2013, Britain offered “sincere regrets” and agreed to compensate over 5,000 Kenyans who had suffered abuse during the insurgency, in an out-of-court settlement worth nearly 20 million pounds (almost $25 million at today’s exchange rates).Each claimant received around 2,600 pounds after legal costs were deducted.Two years later, Britain also funded a memorial to all the victims in a rare example of former rulers commemorating a colonial uprising, but did not accept legal liability for the abuses.The memorial features a statue of a dreadlocked Mau Mau fighter armed with a homemade rifle being handed food by a woman supporter. The pair turn their heads away from each other, so as not to reveal identities to each other in case they were caught.Most of the fighters and their descendants live in abject poverty, never having won the land they fought for which instead went to pro-British loyalists.