The East African country of Kenya was settled by Europeans at the start of the twentieth century. The settlers concentrated in the fertile central highlands, mainly farming coffee and tea. They displaced large numbers of the Kikuyu tribe who had worked the land as migratory farmers for centuries. When Kenya became a crown colony of the British Government in 1920, the settlers were able to introduce a number of restrictions on land ownership and agricultural practise in order to protect their own interests and push the Kikuyu out. Forced from their traditional tribal areas, many disaffected Kikuyu migrated to the capital Nairobi

Photographs

Captured Mau Mau suspect

Photographs

Captured Mau Mau suspect

Members of a British Army patrol search a captured Mau Mau suspect.

During the early 1950s, resentment grew amongst the Kikuyu tribe against European settlement and their lack of political representation. This was first shown in attacks carried out in the latter half of 1952 by the banned secret society, Mau Mau, against Kikuyu loyal to the government. Strongly paramilitary in outlook, Mau Mau used secret ceremonies to enforce allegiance amongst its members and began a campaign targeting European settlers in their isolated farms. Armed groups of Mau Mau formed forest gangs in the Aberdare and Mount Kenya areas from where they would emerge to carry out attacks against the civil authorities and settlers. These attacks increased and a state of emergency was declared by the Governor Evelyn Baring in October 1952. Leading members of the Mau Mau organisation, including Kenya’s future president Jomo Kenyatta, were detained by the authorities. 

Photographs

in the jungle in Kenya

Photographs

in the jungle in Kenya

British Army soldiers in the jungle in Kenya during the Mau Mau uprising in 1952 or 1953.

The Mau Mau stepped up its attacks on European settlers and Kikuyu, culminating in the attack on the village of Lari in March 1953 in which 84 Kikuyu civilians, mainly women and children, were murdered. British troops began to reinforce local forces to try and counter these attacks. The Home Guard was strengthened and security measures began to be put in place on the Kikuyu Reserve to protect civilians and livestock. 

Photographs

Kikuyu tribesmen

Photographs

Kikuyu tribesmen

Kikuyu tribesmen working as members of a counter-gang tracking down Mau Mau insurgents. The work of counter-gangs including impersonating Mau Mau in order to obtain information.

British military operations started to concentrate on areas where Mau Mau was most active. These included 'Operation Anvil' in Nairobi in April 1954, the mass screening, arrest and detention of huge numbers of Mau Mau and its supporters. Large-scale sweeps took place in the Aberdare and Mount Kenya areas during 1955. British intelligence on the Mau Mau also improved with the introduction of pseudo-gangs, led by Kikuyu-speaking Europeans disguised as Africans, who infiltrated the forest gangs.

Although the declared state of emergency was to continue until 1960, British military operations effectively ceased in November 1955. By this point thousands of Mau Mau members had been detained and they had suffered over 10,000 casualties.

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