Jomo Kenyatta and the Mau Mau Movement

In September 1946 Kenyatta returned to Kenya, and in June 1947 he became president of the first colony-wide African political organization, the Kenya African Union (KAU), which had been formed more than two years earlier. KAU's efforts to win self-government under African leadership were unsuccessful, however, African resistance to colonial policies and the supremacy of European settlers in Kenya became more militant.

The Mau Mau Movement

The Mau Mau Movement began among the Gikuyu who shared the same grievances with all other Kenyan peoples. At the same time, land shortages among the Gikuyu were particularly bad. There were many settler farms in Gikuyuland and a lot of Gikuyu land had been taken for European settlement.




World War II only increased African discontent as Kenyans fought side by side with their colonial masters. During the five year conflict Africans were exposed to many new influences and developed an awareness that the white man was far from invincible. Empowered by this new outlook, African veterans went home to Kenya with the realization that a return to the status-quo was impossible. From the end of the War in 1945, Africans regularly presented their grievances to the colonial government in Nairobi and the government in London. Under the leadership of Kenyatta, the Kenya African Union (KAU) became a national party with wide support from the people. It too, had played its part in demanding a settlement of African grievances. The Government however, did nothing except make promises. Meanwhile the white settlers were themselves pressing Britain for independence under white minority rule. Many Africans were beginning to think that what could not be achieved by peaceful means might be achieved by violence. After all, the colonial government had been promising reforms for a long time. Nothing had come of the promises.

In 1952 the Mau Mau began advocating violence against the colonial government and white settlers. Kenyatta did not advocate violence but the colonial authorities arrested him and five other KAU leaders in October 1952 for allegedly being part of Mau Mau. The six leaders were tried and, in April 1953, convicted.

While Kenyatta was confined the Mau Mau were fighting a guerilla war. Most of the fighting took place in the Central Province, Aberdares (Nyandarua), around Mt. Kenya and in Nakuru District. There were attacks on police stations and other government offices as well as on settler farms. As British troops fought the Mau Mau in the forests, the colonial government took strict measures against civilians. Many people were detained in concentration camps while others were forced to live in "protected" villages. It was not until 1955, that the British gained the upper hand against the Mau Mau, in spite of the much better arms and equipment.


Dedan Kimathi was a feared leader of the Mau Mau guerrillas who rebelled against British colonialism in the 1950s. After 1955, the most effective weapon used by the government against the Mau Mau were the 'pseudo gangs' composed largely of former guerrillas which were later renamed the Special Force Teams. Up to 1955 these units had been led by whites, and were led by loyal Africans thereafter which would go into the forests on seek and destroy expeditions against the Mau Mau hideouts.

Kimathi's capture on 21st October 1956 in Nyeri and signified the ultimate defeat of the Mau Mau and essentially ended the military offensive against the Mau Mau. He was captured in 1956 and executed in February 1957 - one of about 5,000 guerrillas to die in the struggle, in which 12,000 civilians also perished. Such was the fear of Kimathi becoming a martyr for his followers that when he died (mysteriously) in prison, his body was buried in an unmarked grave whose location has not been revealed even up to today.

The Home Guard and Special Force Teams were responsible for undermining and neutralizing the Mau Mau organization through their spy network and other measures.
Other measures included the setting up of controlled villagers as a punitive measure against areas suspected of being solidly behind the Mau Mau. By early 1955 some estimate that over a million Kikuyu had been settled in these villages.

Achievements of Mau Mau

The main achievements of the Mau Mau movement can be summarized as follows: -
1. The British government in London learned that the colonial government in Kenya could not govern Kenya properly and then relied on British troops to solve the problems it had helped create.
2. The British government learned the British rule in Kenya could be maintained only by the use of massive military force. Mau Mau freedom fighters armed with home made and captured weapons had engaged thousands of highly-trained British troops. The cost of the war was very high. Furthermore it was unpopular with many of the conscript troops who sympathized with the aims of the African nationalists, and also many people living in Britain.
3. Mau Mau made it perfectly clear that the Africans of Kenya knew their rights and were prepared to fight and die for them.
4. The emergency brought Kenya to the attention of the world through press and media reports. It became impossible for the British to continue claiming that most Kenyans were happy and content under their rule.
5. The Mau Mau War put an end to the hopes of white settlers for independence under the white minority rule. As a result of Mau Mau the British government began planning for Kenyan independence under majority rule.


Article Retrieved from:
http://www.glpinc.org/Classroom%20Activities/Kenya%20Articles/Struggle%20for%20Independence.htm

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