Manchester Historian

Student newspaper for the University of Manchester's History Department

Saturday 22nd July 2017 | Manchester, UK

The Mau Mau Uprising

The Mau Mau uprising was a key part of a series of revolts from colonial rule that engulfed Africa during the 1950’s and 1960’s. The revolt took place in Kenya from 1952 to 1960 and was undertaken by the ethnic majority of Kikuyus in protest of British rule.

mau mau gang

The Mau Mau’s significance can be deemed important on multiple levels; it showcased an early extension of guerilla models of warfare against the colonial powers of Africa displayed successfully by Afrikaans farmers against the British during the first and second Boer wars. This type of warfare was well-suited to African terrain and,given the semi-suicidal prospect ofpitched battles it was the only way the numerically and technologically inferior Kikuyu tribesmen could hope for victory against military might of the British Empire. The Mau Mau warriors, lacking the equipment or training of their British or British-trained counterparts, operated in the savannah and the forests of Kenya and relying on their knowledge of the rugged terrain consistently performed lightening raids throughout all areas of the British chain of command, vanishing as soon as they came.

 

The Kikuyu tribes central role in the revolt stemmed out of their location in the rich agrarian hinterland of Kenya, which was seen as particularly attractive to the British, who had declared Kenya a colony in 1920. This resulted in many Kikuyu lands being forcibly opened up for British settlement towards the end of the 19th century and resulted in a multitude of atrocities being carried out towards the native population by British troops. Not only was land confiscated from the natives, but also cheap labour was acquired from them through force by colonial government and white farmers. By the early 1920’s, there was estimated to be around 100,000 squatters and tens of thousands more wage laborers, but still this was not enough for European settlers and measures were tightened which forced more Kenyans to become low-paid wage laborers on settlers farms. Kenyan native labourers were often ill-treated by their European settlers and, with a poorly ran labour-legislation and a prejudiced legal-system; an uprising was on the horizon.

 

Unfortunately, British involvement in Kenya led to divides within the Kikuyu people themselves. There was a small class of Kikuyu landowners who consolidated Kikuyu lands and formed strong relationships with colonial administration: this resulted in economic rift. However, the Mau Mau uprising must be viewed as a militant culmination of decades of oppressive colonial rule and opposition to it.The colonials regarded the Mau Mau rebellion as a savage and violent tribal cult. Meanwhile, Mau Mau was the Kikuyu people’s way of returning Kenya to its old ways prior to the European nations scramble for Africa.

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