Mau Mau vs British: Kenya’s fight for freedom that still shrouded in mystery

In the first months, the riots were not given much importance in London or the Kenyan capital Nairobi. In the summer of 1952, Secretary of State for the Colonies Oliver Littleton received several reports from concerned Acting Governor Henry Potter about the escalation of Mau Mau brutality…

This mysterious organization advocated the independence of Kenya and waged a guerrilla war against the British authorities, but the metropolis had no doubt that their representatives would easily cope with a bunch of savages.

“Mau Mau is a secret society,” Potter explained to his superiors. “In their unofficial oath, there are words about killing Europeans,” when the battle horn will sound, “and about saving Kenyatta if he is ever arrested. I have no proof, but I have no doubt that he controls the revolutionaries – to the extent that they are controllable. In short, all races are confused. The Kikuyu have rebelled and are preparing to harm us.”

Ngengi Kamau is a former employee of the municipality of Nairobi who studied and worked first in Great Britain, then in the USSR, and in 1946 returned to his homeland and led the resistance to the regime. His name, Jomo, adopted after his conversion to Christianity, is translated as “flaming spear”, and the surname Kenyatta – as “light of Kenya.” It was he who became a symbol of dissatisfaction with the regime and united the Kikuyu people – a tribe of indigenous inhabitants of central Kenya, from which Kenyatta himself came.

In October 1952, Sir Evelyn Baring arrived in Kenya to take up the post of Permanent Governor. None of his London colleagues warned what he would have to face. Philip Euen Mitchell’s predecessor left it to his successor to clean up the consequences of short-sighted policies. The day after Baring’s appointment, three Kenyans ambushed one of the local leaders and the most prominent supporters of the British protectorate, Chief Baruhiu. The loyalist, who openly condemned the actions of Mau Mau and received the title of Commander of the Order of the British Empire for his services to the crown, was shot in his own car.

A week later, Baring signed a state of an emergency decree that marked the outbreak of open conflict. Each of the parties dealt with the enemies as brutally as possible. Over the next few years, Kenya drowned in blood – the British responded to the dismemberment and elimination of political opponents from the Mau Mau with repression unprecedented even by the standards of the largest colonial empire. Historian David Anderson wrote about this period: “Between 1952 and 1956, when there was a particularly fierce struggle, the Kikuyu in Kenya became a police state in the fullest sense of the word.”

Where did the Mau Mau come from, and why did they get so angry with the British?

The exact origin of the name “Mau Mau” is unknown. According to one version, this is an anagram of the words “mind-mind”, which means “get out, get out.” On the other hand, it comes from the expression “ma umau”, that is, “our grandfathers.” This expression was first used in the late 1930s, when local peasants rebelled against the massive confiscation of livestock, urged the colonists to leave their lands, and allowed Kenyans to live freely like their ancestors. Another option is the abbreviation, which translates from Swahili to “let the foreigners return, and the Africans gain independence.”

Formally, the Kenyan rebels were not called Mau Mau, but the Kenyan Land and Freedom Army (KLFA) or the For Land and Freedom movement. This organization was formed in response to the oppression of the native population – the British government preferred to distribute land and leadership positions to white settlers. Those freely occupied territories that had belonged to African tribes for decades and free areas where the locals could theoretically move. By 1948, about 1.2 million Kikuyu people were herded into 3,000 square kilometers of reservations. For comparison, 30 thousand settlers divided almost 20 thousand square kilometers among themselves, including most of the territories suitable for agriculture.

Kenyans suffered from poverty, disease, overpopulation, and a lack of jobs, but British officials did not expect blacks to have the courage or the intellectual ability to unite and rebel. A class division began between the Africans themselves: some supported the new owners and took advantage of their favor, others (mostly peasants) were increasingly plunged into hopelessness.

The stratification provided the ground not only for a protest against the colonialists but also for a civil war. About 120 thousand people from those who were driven from their plots settled in the possessions of white settlers. They provided the Africans with plots of land in exchange for labor. In the 1940s, rent laws tightened, and these Kenyans suffered between 30 and 40 percent losses.

Even the Royal Commission on East Africa in 1955 noted in a report that “the living conditions of the poor Asian classes and most Africans have deteriorated over a long period of time.” The inspectors found that about half of the wage earners are not paid enough to feed one person, not to mention the families. The Kenyans slept either on the streets or in the closets in groups of 10-14 people. “African workers are constantly hungry, poorly dressed and poorly maintained, or generally live like homeless people,” the commission said in its report.

The needs of Africans remained a topic of little concern to the British. When, in 1951, the public organization Union of Africans of Kenya demanded an increase in the number of representatives of the local population in the Legislative Assembly from four to 20 and raised the issue of leaving the protectorate, the Secretary of State for Colonial Affairs in the Labor government, James Griffiths, proposed a truly British compromise: increase the number of Kenyan representatives from four to five. Naturally, he had no intention of holding negotiations on granting independence.

“The rise of the revolutionary movement in Kenya in those years was still shrouded in mystery,” writes historian John Newsinger. “The exact plans and structure of the protesters have not yet been disclosed and may never be disclosed.” However, some details are still known. The movement began in the late 1940s with a decision by the banned Central Kikuyu Association to recruit recruits to launch large-scale civil disobedience. More radical leaders in Nairobi pushed for union consolidation.

In May 1950, rioters formally demanded independence, two members of the African Union of Kenya were detained, and the East African Trade Union Congress went on strike that paralyzed life in the capital for nine days.

The skies over the city were flooded with Royal Air Force bombers, and the military cracked down hard on any disturbances. More than 300 arrests were made, and in all, about 100,000 workers took part in the strike at various stages. But the strike failed – the intervention of the British army cooled the fervor of most of the protesters.

One of their leaders, Mahan Singh, was imprisoned for the next 11 years, another leader, Fred Kubai, was released after eight months. City agencies resumed work, but the protest did not die down. After a while, it resumed on a national scale. Local organizations across the country organized militias, attacked Loyalists, and rebelled against white landowners. By 1952, when a state of emergency was finally declared in Kenya, the British were in control of only one district, and even there, riots broke out periodically.

The movement was becoming larger and more active. The Mau Mau moved from isolated operations at night to killing opponents one by one in broad daylight. They burned the farms of white settlers and slaughtered cattle, and the British government, through its underestimation of the Africans and changes in governors, proved unable to quell the rebellion before it gained strength.

Unlike the Loyalist Africans, who were pejoratively called “the hounds of imperialism” by their compatriots, the rebels were mostly well educated and used to it. One of the Mau Mau leaders, General Gatunga, used to work as a teacher in the Kikuyu community and now executed acquaintances from that period who sided with the colonists. The insurgent methodically recorded the details of each operation in a notebook.

The British military commander, General George Erskine, came to disappointing conclusions in early 1953. The uprising did not encompass the entire country, but up to 90 percent of the population supported the rebels in the Kikuyu, Meru, and Embu regions. “The tremendous tide of popular love, the lack of armed forces in the region, and the lack of effective intelligence by the authorities allowed the Kenyan Land and Freedom Army to seize the initiative,” Newsinger notes.

Large units moved openly through the country, lynching collaborators and attacking isolated checkpoints. Only a shortage of weapons prevented the rebels from inflicting serious damage on the police and white settlers.

Psychological Warfare: Divide and Rule the Evil Savages

The day after the state of emergency was declared, authorities launched Operation Jock Scott: they raided Nairobi and rounded up 180 suspected Mau Mau leaders, including Jomo Kenyatta. But they failed to sow panic in the ranks of the rebels – information about preparations for the arrests was leaked, and most of the ideologues of the uprising managed to escape.

Even after catching eight thousand rebels in a month, the British and their aides did not suppress the riots. By then, the resentment of years of humiliation had peaked – many Mau Mau participants were no longer afraid of shootings and detentions. Soon after Operation Jock Scott, they struck back: they literally sliced Nderi, another Loyalist chief, and several of his cronies into pieces.

Within months the rebels had developed an elaborate infrastructure. The central branch in Nairobi, which was renamed the Freedom Council, proclaimed the ultimate goal of the rebellion: independence. The detachments were divided into a passive and an active wing. The former was responsible for supplying weapons, ammunition, food, money, data, and recruitment. The second was in open conflict with the enemy. The Mau Mau bases were located in the forests, but their familiarity with the network of underground tunnels under Nairobi allowed them to operate in the capital as well.

Another advantage of the rebels was the active participation of women. Daughters, wives, and sisters, whom the British (at first) did not take seriously, carried weapons or supplies under capes, recruited new sympathizers, and ran with food to the men who were hiding in the woods from patrols.

It was not until the arrival of General George Erskine in January 1953 that the British Army made a serious effort to recapture the initiative. Thanks to the auxiliary detachments, the total number of armed forces reached 20,000. The Kikuyu lands were declared a special zone – within its boundaries, it was allowed to shoot anyone who did not stop when ordered.

In addition to Erskine, a young, ambitious officer, Frank Kitson, was sent from London to quell the rebellion. He came from a family of military pedigree: his father was a naval admiral, his brother was also in the Navy, and his grandfather had fought against Afghanistan in the Indian Army. Kitson himself had not been in combat before his assignment to Africa. When he arrived in war-torn Germany in 1945 with the Rifle Brigade, the fighting had already ceased, and the ambitious young man was left to wander the ruins. Frank’s greatest fear was that the Mau Mau uprising would have been crushed by the time he arrived. Then he would have to continue puffing his pipe and attending the races in the company of prim aristocrats.

Upon arrival in Nairobi, Kitson (no less methodical than capturing the details of the killings in a notebook, General Gatunga) wrote on a piece of paper his main goal: “To provide the Defense Troops with the information necessary to destroy Mau Mau.” He put the note in the Bible, which he kept next to the bed. Kitson, with a piercing gaze, perfect bearing, and firm principles, became the main enemy of the rebel dreamers of freedom. He could hardly bear the gossip, was proud of his origin, and when he passed the soldiers, he straightened his shoulders to appear taller.

Kitson approached the fight against Mau Mau with the same dispassionate professionalism as any other order. He believed that direct confrontation was not enough – it was necessary to sow discord among the rebels and fill their ranks with double agents.

His ideas formed the basis of the strategy used by the British military throughout the conflict. With bribery, threats, and promises, they provided themselves with access to information about the plans of Mau Mau. Kitson also used psychological tricks – going on patrol with one of the recruited rebels, he gave him a firearm, and he was left with one machete. Such tricks were the basis of the trusting relationship between the traitor Kenyans and the British officer.

“If you want to kill the fish, you can use a rod or net,” Kitson explained. “But if the usual methods don’t work, you have to do something with the water. For example, pollute it.” The military constantly kept several defectors in the headquarters, dressed in white sheets with slits for the eyes. When the arrested were brought in, the Kenyan spies identified former like-minded people. Then they let Kitson know about the details: what kind of man was caught, what he was doing in the Liberation Army, how to influence him. On other occasions, Kitson launched gangs of renegades into the forests who had already agreed to side with the authorities but had not compromised themselves in front of other Kikuyu. This allowed them to catch the rebel squads by surprise and destroy them in a matter of seconds.

Kitson also encouraged his fellow countrymen – he paid a reward of five pounds for every rioter killed. “One day, while we were in ambush, three Africans came straight towards us,” Kitson recalled many years later. “Unfortunately, they turned out to be policemen.” Largely thanks to the confusion of the British in the first months of the uprising and Kitson’s unconventional methods, the political conflict between the Kikuyu and the colonists turned into something more: an ideological confrontation over the empire’s right to control the life and fate of other peoples.

Establishing a comfortable version of events was almost as important to the British as destroying Mau Mau. The metropolis completely ignored the socio-cultural aspect, the agrarian contradictions between the indigenous population of Kenya and the white settlers. The government’s version of the conflict boiled down to the fact that civilized Europeans are trying to pacify African savages who are resisting progress with all their might.

The rebels allegedly devoured the flesh of slain enemies, staged ritual orgies, and engaged in bestiality among the corpses. A visiting ethnopsychiatrist (a type of psychiatry that emphasizes environment and origins) declared Mau Mau “an irrational force of evil, driven by animal impulses under the influence of the communist regime.”

In parallel with the real war, a psychological war was waged – it brought confusion into the ranks of the Kenyans and at the same time maintained the status of the British as a humane and conscientious party in a bloody and unnecessary conflict. They described the uprising as a civil war between tribes, in which Europeans acted as regulators, rather than as a clash between indigenous people and colonists. Government propaganda helped to separate the Kikuyu from other tribes – those who wanted to turn military action, even if it meant a further lack of land and money.

Yet in Kenya in the early 1950s, few managed to maintain a clear conscience. The actions of the British did not fit the image of impartial peacekeepers. Mau Mau members moved from fighting for independence to terrorism when they began to attack not only their immediate opponents. As is often the case, civilians, both indigenous and white settlers, were hardest hit.

The uprising was indeed characterized by the characteristics of a civil war – at least two thousand loyalists from the Kenyan population were among the victims of the rioters. However, the compatriots who were considered collaborators by the Kikuyu were not their main target. They dealt with the white farmers that got in the way just as cruelly, even if these people did not do anything wrong to them.

One of the most shocking crimes of that time was the murder of six-year-old Michael Rak, who was beaten with a machete along with his parents. On another occasion, Mau Mau participants used a poisonous bush to poison a huge number of livestock. In total, 32 European civilians and 26 Asians became victims of Kenyans, and about the same number of civilians from other races were injured.

On the night of March 26-27, 1953, almost three thousand rioters broke into Lari, the village where the leader of Wakahangara, known for his devotion to the British, lived. In retaliation for an old land dispute, when Wakahangara sided with the colonists, the Mau Mau squad slaughtered the entire settlement. In addition to the leader, from 70 to 97 people were killed, including women and children. This operation remained unique in the history of the uprising – the rebels no longer made such brutal raids. However, many took the mutilated bodies and ashes at the site of the huts in Lari as proof that Mau Mau is an army of marauders and assassins who delight in violence.

The Kikuyu attacks terrified whites and other Kenyans, although the British were just as brutal, and often even superior, to their enemies. In response to the massacre in Lari, the Royal African Rifles (a colonial regiment of the British army) captured and shot 400 Mau Mau members.

The researcher of that period D.Kh. Roecliffe said that beatings of prisoners or suspects who were allegedly withheld information became the norm in the first months after the state of emergency. The government and the police, in collusion with the press, did everything to prevent the general public from learning about the abuse. Torture was also perceived as an absolutely normal strategy – not only for the sake of exposure or information but also as a tool of intimidation.

Harvard University history professor Carolina Elkins, who received a Pulitzer Prize for her book on British war crimes in Kenya, says investigators put out cigarette butts on suspects, gouged out their eyes, raped, inflicted multiple cuts, and ripped open the stomachs of pregnant women. One of the victims of the lawlessness recalled how she was raped with a broken bottle: “I felt blood flowing down my thighs, and I myself was in shock. The pain was unbearable, I wanted to die.” After three years of forced labor, the woman learned that her husband had died under unclear circumstances and confiscated the land.

Other victims described no less terrible methods: the men were castrated, the girls were forced, for the amusement of the soldiers, to have sex with relatives. Purges were carried out everywhere – if there was at least one rebel in the settlement, all residents were detained and subjected to humiliating interrogations.

In courtrooms, arbitrariness was no less than on the streets. In the first eight months after the introduction of the state of emergency, the British executed 35 rioters, but by the end of 1954, the pace had increased many times: almost 50 people were sent to the gallows a month. From late October 1952 to 12 November 1954, 756 rebels were sentenced to death. Of these, 508 were hanged for a less serious crime than murder. For example, 45 for taking the outlawed Mau Mau oath, and 290 for possession of illegal weapons. By the end of the same year, the total number of those hanged exceeded 900, and by the end of the state of emergency – 1000.

Compared to these figures in other British colonies, where riots broke out, the authorities showed themselves much more modest: in Palestine, only eight partisans were executed, in Cyprus – nine. The UK inspectors who periodically stayed in Kenya were amazed that the tribunal renders verdicts on not the most obvious cases in one or two minutes, but their reports describing suspicious moments were ignored.

While working on the book, Elkins found out that before leaving Kenya, the British military destroyed most of the documents from the period of the Mau Mau uprising. In three departments, dossiers were kept for each of 80 thousand prisoners – this meant that there should have been at least 240 thousand papers in the archives, but there were only a few hundred of them.

However, some important evidence has survived. One of the protocols established the “distribution system” of Africans – a combination of methods of interrogation, torture, isolation, forced labor, and suppression of morale. Another document proved that the British government had authorized a system of concentration camps, to which Mau Mau participants were exiled, suspected of cooperation, and simply caught by the Kikuyu.

Elkins’ investigation made a splash. Some colleagues rejoiced at the restoration of historical justice. Others accused the researcher of sensationalism, exaggeration, and unsubstantiated conclusions. Some noted that behind the evidence of the brutality of the British military, the atrocities of the Kenyans themselves, who attacked defenseless settlers, also tortured prisoners and dismembered bodies, were ignored. Their opponents objected that the war crimes of the Mau Mau participants could not be compared in scale with the policies of the colonial authorities.

In the first half and mid-1950s, one and a half million Africans were exiled to concentration camps. According to various estimates, the number of deaths among indigenous people varies from 25 thousand to 300 thousand, and a significant part of these victims are children under 10 years of age. More importantly, the metropolis did everything to whitewash itself and hide evidence of military lawlessness. Even when it became known about the concentration camps, the official data on the number of prisoners was underestimated several times. However, it is hardly possible to establish the exact number of victims – the British often disposed of the bodies of prisoners and deleted their names from the official documentation.

“During the war with the Mau Mau, the British strengthened their authority in ways that were too savage even for the standards of the colonists,” Elkins writes. -Only by imprisoning the entire population of the Kikuyu in camps, subjecting local physical and psychological torture, the empire manage to restore its power and resume its “civilization mission”. The documents found confirmed that the military widely used electric shock, fire, gun barrels, snakes, and insect pests. To extract a confession or find out about accomplices, they thrust hot balls into the anus of men and into the vaginas of women.

Elkins quotes a written confession from one of the British military volunteers: “One day I personally delivered a detained member of the detachment. It required a special approach. The guys and I tried to get him to talk for several hours. The situation is slightly out of control. By the time I cut off his balls, he no longer had ears. His eye – seemingly the right one – hung from its socket. It’s a shame he died before we knew anything of value.”

Among themselves, officers and politicians regularly resented the level of violence and the dire conditions in the so-called distribution camps. The attitude towards prisoners in them completely contradicted the ideas about the dignity and status of Great Britain as a world leader. “The deplorable state of affairs resulting from the horrors that have taken place requires immediate investigation,” Police Commissioner Arthur Young wrote to Governor Evelyn Baring; “It is necessary to deal with the growth of accusations of inhumanity and disrespect for the rights of African people. The government must not be allowed to feel ashamed of the actions of those who speak on its behalf.”

In one of his reports, he openly accused the warders in the distribution camps and the Local Defense Forces of the massacres. “In most cases, death was the result of willful cruelty and mistreatment,” said the examiner. “Such actions should be classified as murder.” When his calls were not heeded, the commissioner resigned. Such evidence undermines criticism of Elkins’ opponents, who believed that she was based solely on the memories of money-hungry and fame Kenyans.

Labor Party spokesman Dick Crossman also noted the inhuman methods of his compatriots and their local supporters. Even worse, in his opinion, was that such brutal methods were often ineffective: “Perhaps the repression prevented the spread of terrorism, but the disease itself only worsened. Almost every Kikuyu leader who had any influence over the population was imprisoned or sent to a camp – often without trial or investigation. The reservations were overcrowded even before the state of emergency was declared, but now 120,000 Kikuyu who lost their homes have been exiled there. British troops smoked the rebels out of the forests for months, but only achieved that the enemy sat even deeper.”

Another problem was that the authorities could not trust the Local Defense Forces – in fact, the same militias who often wrought lawlessness and lynched opponents on behalf of the crown. Attempts to suppress the uprising by their forces invariably failed until Operation Anvil, which began in 1954, meant the complete expulsion of the Kikuyu from Nairobi. By that time, about 85 thousand representatives of the rebellious people had settled in the capital. Erskine’s 25,000 British troops divided the capital into sectors and combed one by one. The entire indigenous population was imprisoned. Natives of the tribes who participated in the Mau Mau movement were left in concentration camps, the rest were herded to the reservation.

Kikuyu Reservation in Kenya

“The central committee of the protesters has disintegrated,” historian John Newsinger explains the aftermath of Operation Anvil. “None of the attempts to re-establish centralized management from forests have been successful. Within days, the rebels lost a source of supplies and potential recruits. From that time on, they became a heavy burden for the residents of the reservations, who were already under serious pressure. Luck has turned away from Mau Mau.”

By the end of the year, most of the participants in the movement and their accomplices were imprisoned in concentration camps, while the rest of the Kikuyas were kept in controlled territories. In June 1954, the authorities launched a new project for the forced distribution of the population among the villages to constantly keep potential rebels and disgruntled residents under surveillance. The resettlement proceeded in the same way as the previous stages of the suppression of the uprising: with minimal attention to the condition of Africans and with many violations of human rights.

Over the next year and a half, more than a million Kenyans were settled in 854 rural settlements, where life was not much different from imprisonment in concentration camps. They, too, were surrounded by high fences with trenches and barbed wire. The local defense squads acted in the role of overseers – often they consisted of neighbors and relatives of prisoners.

Due to the lack of minimum conditions and total control, at the beginning of 1955, mass famine began in the villages, and the death rate jumped sharply. The case of such direct control of the indigenous population remained unprecedented in the history of the African colonies of Great Britain.

The resettlement of the Kikuya made it possible to deprive the Mau Mau combat units of support on the reservations. The supporters of the revolution used to help the guerrillas with weapons, food, and medicine, but now the flow of resources is suddenly depleted. The plan worked – the bombers soon left Kenya because they had no targets left. Detachments of Kitson’s renegades finished off the remnants of the rebels. Those robbed a few villages that were not yet under the control of the authorities. Looting finally turned the peasants away from Mau Mau – former heroes came and took everything that was left after imperial searches and pogroms.

At the end of 1953, the rebel army consisted of 15 thousand fighters, but their number dropped to a couple of thousand over the next two years. In September 1956, about 500 Mau Mau members remained at large. Although the state of emergency persisted until 1960, it was already clear then that the revolution had failed.

When asked if the rebels had any chance of winning, historian John Newsinger replies: “Despite incredible support among the Kikuyu, the uprising was doomed from the start. In the first year and a half after the introduction of the state of emergency, the initiative remained on the side of the rebels. The authorities had no idea what to do, panic spread among the settlers, and discontent among other indigenous peoples. But it turned out to be impossible to convert opportunities into real achievements. The rebels literally lacked weapons, they did not have the opportunity for a decisive breakthrough. In such circumstances, the superiority of the professional army guaranteed the British victory.”

Not so simple: despite the defeat, the Mau Mau uprising still led to the liberation of Kenya

The suppression of the Mau Mau uprising remained the largest casualty military conflict involving Britain since World War II. The nuance is that then the empire opposed the Third Reich, and less than ten years later it used the same methods that the Nazis used. The war in Kenya showed how easily the precarious equilibrium in African colonies could be upset and heralded the beginning of decolonization. The British authorities realized that the main catalyst for discontent was the white settlers, many of whom were not even subjects of the crown.

To avoid a repeat of the bloody events, in the following years, the colonists made significant concessions to the local population and supported the indigenous people in the confrontation with European immigrants. Most of the Kikuyu received land, and land reform in the late 1950s allowed Africans to grow coffee (previously, only white settlers were allowed to run a lucrative business). From 1955 to 1964, the total cost of production from household plots distributed among Kenyans increased from 5.2 to 14 million pounds. The average annual wage for an African worker more than doubled over the same period, from £ 52 to £ 107.

Economic indulgences were followed by political ones – in 1956, Africans were allowed to directly elect their compatriots to the Legislative Assembly, but the number of Kenyan representatives increased from five to 14. In 1960, the first conference on the country’s secession from the British Empire was held in London. The Africans were first given a parliamentary majority, and three years later their demands were met. Despite the arrest or execution of virtually all of the Mau Mau leaders, in the end, they achieved their goal.

Public and political pressure left the British no other choice – the UN adopted the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples. Several influential political leaders, including John F. Kennedy, have called on Europeans to leave African territories. At the end of 1963, veterans of the uprising solemnly handed over weapons to the released Jomo Kenyatta, who lowered the British flag, marking the independence of Kenya. The former leader of the uprising took over as prime minister and formed a government, and became president the following year. He held this position until 1978.

Despite the political transformation, information about British activities in Kenya was withheld or distorted. Those who distinguished themselves in suppressing the uprising were awarded honors and insignia. In 1955, Frank Kitson received the Military Cross for “Valiant and Distinguished Service.” Since then, he has built a reputation as an expert on counter-insurgency. Immediately after Kenya, Kitson was sent to Malaya, where the local population also rebelled against the British protectorate. After receiving the second Military Cross, he commanded battalions in Cyprus and wrote a book on countering partisans. In the 1970s, he led the fight against separatists in Ireland and acted even more brutally than in Africa.

The unofficial title of “Torture Chief” in Kenya, emissary Ian Henderson was responsible for gathering evidence that in 1953 allowed the British to sentence six Kikuyu leaders to prison, including future President Kenyatta. Together with Kitson, Henderson, on pain of immediate hanging, recruited traitors from the ranks of the Mau Mau, who then took part in anti-partisan actions. In September 1954, Henderson was awarded the St. George Medal, one of the highest awards. It is traditionally awarded for outstanding courage.

Already in the 21st century, thanks to numerous testimonies, the Elkins investigation, and the release of secret archives, more details about the bloody war appeared. In 2012, the British government admitted that the documents on the suppression of the uprising were specially hidden in a vault, to which only employees of the Foreign Office and Intelligence had access. In June 2013, the Royal Court of London issued an unprecedented decision on the claim of the surviving victims of war crimes: to pay each of 5,228 Kenyans compensation in the amount of 3800 pounds.

Despite the admission of guilt by the British, the Mau Mau uprising remains one of the most controversial episodes in 20th-century history. Disputes about who in this story is considered scoundrels will probably continue for many more years, no matter how many documents historians dug up.

In modern Kenya, rebels are revered as heroes, although there was nothing noble about the massacre of compatriots in Lari and the attacks on white settler families. For decades, the metropolis ignored the discontent of the locals, until the beggars of the Kikuyu took up arms. As a result, in order to calm the “savages”, civilized Europeans had to act in even more savage ways.

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