Frank Furedi, 1989, The Mau Mau War in Perspective

Frank Furedi, Chairman, Development Studies, University of Kent at Canterbury

Chapter Eight, The Consolidation of Reaction

Controlled decolonization required the exclusion of the masses from political life. The defeat of Mau Mau and the containment of radical nationalists in the early 1960s were preconditions for the realization of this process. But the stabilization of capitalism in post-colonial Kenya also required the neutralization of grassroots aspirations towards social change. In the sphere of politics the main priority of the Kenyatta regime was to ensure that the urban and rural proletariat should be deprived of its own organizational and political voice.
As was the case with the nationalist movement during the period leading up to the Mau Mau split, post-colonial KANU represented an uneasy alliance between radical and moderate nationalists. However, this time it was the moderates who were in the ascendancy and the radicals who were on the defensive. In hindsight it is clear that individual radical leaders were tolerated inside KANU so as to strengthen the party’s nationalist credentials. But it was only a matter of time before prominent KANU radicals came under fire. In June 1964, Bildad Kaggia, a former Mau Mau leader and a government minister critical of the conservative direction of the Kenyatta administration, was forced to resign. A year later Pio Pinto, a radical MP, was murdered. A more comprehensive purge took place at the KANU Reorganization Conference held at Limuru in March 1966. Through bureaucratic manipulation, the radical wing of KANU, led by Oginga Odinga and Kaggia, was ousted from positions of influence. Since 1966, with the exception of a brief episode during the 1968 elections, radical nationalism has been a marginal force in Kenyan politics.
The national pattern was reproduced in the Rift Valley, with the Kenyatta regime moving swiftly to impose its authority. The new African government was committed to the maintenance of the existing socioeconomic structures, albeit in a modified form. Consequently, one of its first steps was to draw up plans for the elimination of social unrest in the Rift Valley. As early as 3 April 1964, a meeting of civil servants organized under the auspices of the Ministry of Home Affairs drew up a plan for action.1 Naivasha was selected as the first operational area for the drive against what were now termed illegal squatters.
It took nearly four years before the Kenyatta government was able to establish stability on the land. During this period, the conflict between the ex-squatters and the state took on a class character, as those without land tried to fight the new group of African capitalist farmers. By the end of 1968, this struggle had come to an end, with the new landlords clearly in ascendancy. A chapter in the struggle for land had come to an end. The emergence of protest in the late 1920s which matured into a mass movement in the 1940s and armed struggle in the early 1950s was finally destroyed by the Kenyan African ruling class in the late 1960s.

Demobilizing the mass movement

Although the transfer of power in the Rift Valley was relatively peaceful, many problems remained unresolved. The pre-emptive measures taken by the colonial administration provided a measure of security for the new political regime. Many activists associated with the agitation for free land were in detention. A loyal group of African collaborators were well placed in key positions in the civil service and the security forces. An aspiring group of African landlords and entrepreneurs provided an important social base for the new regime.
However, the situation in Nakuru and Nyandarua in particular was far from stable. Thousands of landless peasants were determined to acquire land, and they were joined by thousands of migrants, particularly from Central Province, who poured into the Rift Valley in search of land. These migrants, like those already in residence, looked upon European-held farms as their just reward for fighting for Uhuru.
KANU could not remain immune from the pressures for radical land reform. In Nakuru, Naivasha and Nyandarua, it became a battleground between those seeking free land and pro-government forces.2 KANU could not but respond to popular opinions. Had it remained inactive on the issue of land it would have become isolated in the area. The local KANU leadership was forced to yield to pressure from below and articulated the demand for land of the squatters. As the national KANU leadership changed its course the radical elements came to dominate the local party organization. During the years 1964—68 a curious pattern emerged. Given the sensitive political climate the local KANU leadership postponed a showdown with the KLFA and the illegal squatters. A division of labour was established between the national KANU leadership and the lieutenants in Nakuru. In Nakuru, the local KANU spokesman put forward radical rhetoric of support for the illegal squatter movement, while in Parliament ministers denounced ‘threats to property’. Personalities with past radical affiliations to Mau Mau, like Assistant Minister Fred Kubai, were despatched to Nakuru. Kubai’s brief was to placate the squatters with promises of land in the future in exchange for common sense in the here and now.
KANU was thus able to act as the voice of the landless in Nakuru District. In the long run this would prove invaluable for the consolidation of the Kenyatta regime, but in the short run it meant that the local party became a permanent battlefield between conservatives and radicals. During the years 1964-68 the local branches of KANU were close to the rank and file and influenced by grassroots pressure. The response of the government was regularly to purge the local branches.3 But no sooner was one group of radical officials purged than another arose to take its place.
The local KANU branches reflected the strength of feeling on the farms. Throughout 1964 demonstrations were held in the district demanding land from the government. Considerable hostility greeted Kenyatta’s statement in September that the solution to unemployment was ‘to go back to the land’.4 ‘What land?’, was the reply. Civil disobedience became the norm as landless Africans organized to defend their interests. The report of the District Commissioner of Nakuru in 1965 gives a flavour of the period:
The general outlook in the Molo division is not encouraging. Many so called freedom fighters are determined more than ever on the theme of free land and Government jobs; they are rescived to promote local support to obtain grievances for free lands. The DC held another baraza on the 10 February 1965 at Elburgon aimed at the drive to encourage active participation in the fight against illegal oath takers and subversive elements in the district.5
The growing class polarization created a political climate fraught with tensions. The African gentry formed the backbone of political support for the government. For the local peasants, these capitalist farmers were perceived as hostile carpetbaggers. Mass unrest could only be checked through regular police operations. But police raids on illegal squatter settlements could not solve the underlying problem: most landless Africans simply had nowhere to go.
To prevent the situation from getting out of hand the Kenyatta regime modified its policy of raids and evictions. A public relations exercise was launched to minimize the problem of landlessness. A circular from the Attorney General in September 1965 ordered that the term ‘illegal squatter’ be dropped in preference to the word ‘squatter’. The Attorney General wrote: ‘Please try to pass on to people this new application so that African squatters may not be made to look as if they are illegally residing in any part of Kenya’ 6 As a token gesture a few plots were made available to landless squatters in the District.7
These cosmetic exercises made little difference to the life of the landless peasants. The new African farmers tightened the screws on the squatters and life for the peasants deteriorated still further. The District Commissioner of Nakuru summed up the emerging pattern of class relations in 1969:
The new African farmer forged ahead in his long road to self sufficiency with considerable credit on his part, despite a legion of difficulties. The Gordian Knot was still finance. Unfortunately this class of farmer has been very ruthless and inconsiderate in dealing with squatters whom they find on the farms after purchase. This might sow seeds of bitterness among the squatters when their fellow Africans treat them with impunity and contempt.8
This acknowledgement of class antagonism was rare within government circles. Most civil servants preferred to find outside troublemakers behind every outburst of protest.
Opposition to the policies of the Kenyatta regime took on an increasingly strident note in Nakuru District. Towards the middle of 1965 a ground swell of support for the radical wing of KANU became evident. Bildad Kaggia and Achieng Oneko’s denunciation of corruption and nepotism in Parliament found a strong response among the peasants. The police complained that KANU meetings in Nakuru District had become rallies ‘for attacking the Government and its officials and supporting Mr Kaggia on the issue of free land.’9
When the radical wing of KANU split to form the Kenya People’s Union (KPU) many local activists joined the new party. To the dismay of the local establishment the have-nots finally had an articulate and independent organizational structure. The administration swiftly moved to destroy the KPU in Nakuru. To this end they combined a subtle policy of divide and rule with out-and-out repression.
The government was not prepared to allow grassroots opposition to acquire a coherent political organization. KPU activists were harassed and their meetings were banned.10 In 1967 the Special Branch devoted nearly its entire resources to the anti-KPU operation. One Special Branch officer drafted in from Nairobi remarked that one way or another ‘subversion must be rooted out’.11
Repression was complemented by the tactic of divide and rule. The local establishment set out to split the KPU along tribal lines. In one case a group of Kikuyu KPU activists were approached and prevailed upon to have a private discussion with Kenyatta.12 They were informed that the administration would assist the establishment of an association of ex-freedom fighters. They were told that this association would be given serious consideration for plots in settlement schemes and given assistance for purchasing land. These approaches had the desired results. The KPU could not compete against the newly formed Nakuru Ex-Freedom Fighters’ Association and lost its influence among the local Kikuyu community. Since the Kikuyu constituted the majority of the population in the District it meant the irreversible decline of the KPU in Nakuru. The District Commissioner of Nakuru enthused about the new association:
‘It is such a large number that they can claim to be a backbone to public opinion in the District’.’3 In his annual report for 1967, one district officer boasted: ‘The KPU is only supported by a handful of Luos. The Kenya Land Freedom Army… (another name for the association, FF) …which dominates the Elburgon area have been quiet since they have been officially licensed to collect money to buy a farm’.14
The destruction of the KPU was thorough. But although a small group of Kikuyu activists were pacified, the underlying agrarian problem continued to generate unrest. When Kenyatta visited neighbouring Naivasha in February 1968, hostility was barely kept under the surface. Local KANU officials pointedly ignored the ceremonies.15
Towards the end of 1968 the political climate in Nakuru became noticeably more stable. Years of economic insecurity had turned anger and determination into frustration and despair. There were still isolated cases of protest but those without land withdrew from protest activity. The local activists also lost much of their initial enthusiasm. Many of them turned towards the KANU establishment and sought political favours. Others attempted to turn their leadership qualities towards business and commerce.

The consolidation of reaction

The demobilization of the protest movement allowed the new African establishment to pursue its interests with vigour and confidence. Many squatters were rounded up and kicked off the land while others were forced to work for the new landlords for no pay. A report drawn up by the office of the Provincial Commissioner observed:
Nearly all local employers now-a-days gave out shambas as a means of incentive scheme and surety for labour stability bnt in some cases the scheme is being wrongly applied by the new farmers, that is to say, some African farmers fail to pay their labour wages simply because the labour are provided with land to cultivate and grow foodstuff as subsistence.16
The new African landlords were undercapitalized. Many of them were absentee landlords who continued to reside in Nairobi or the Central Province. They utilized the availability of a large pool of landless squatters to their advantage. In most cases they cleared some of the squatters off their land and retained the rest as unpaid farm labourers with limited rights to a small plot.
Mass unemployment, estimated around 28 per cent had a demoralizing impact on the population. The intensity of economic insecurity among squatters in Nakuru may be gauged from the following report of the labour officer: ‘with the construction of the Mount Margaret satellite tracking station getting under way, forty five people were taken on… Everyday more than 200 people turned out to try their luck some of whom were known to travel more than twenty miles everyday to the site. ‘17
The situation in the 1970s became worse. A demographic explosion combined with mass migration meant that between 1969 and 1979 the population of Nakuru District rose from 290,863 to 522,333.18
The polarization of class relations in Nakuru was particularly strikingly indicated by the unequal distribution of land. In 1974, of those Africans that owned land 91 per cent held only 21 per cent of the total — each holding less than three acres. At the other end of the social hierarchy, 2 per cent of the owners held 69 per cent of total land.19 These manifest inequalities were widely resented, but a decade of poverty and repression had taken their toll. The peasantry lost interest in land agitation.
The consolidation of the new African establishment in Nakuru did not imply the end of political conflict. Only now it was a conflict among contending groups within the establishment for land, political influence and access to capital. A rich district, with a considerable amount of land available for sale, Nakuru was a much coveted prize. Virtually every group within the ruling class made a claim for Nakuru. Politicians and entrepreneurs from different parts of Kenya converged on the district to stake a claim. The Kenyatta family and its allies monopolized many of the best landholdings hitherto owned by European farmers. The then Vice-President, Daniel arap Moi, became the leading property-owner in Nakuru Town. Lower down the social hierarchy, fierce battles erupted over every acre of available land.20
During the past decade as the class struggle has become suspended so ‘politics’ has become nothing more than conflict within the elite. An amalgam of populist Kikuyu politicians and entrepreneurs constitutes the core of the Nakuru political establishment. The continuous process of shifting alignments between contending groups of politicians indicates that the fierce battles within KANU are devoid of any ideological significance. Branch officials and MPs come and go as one set of alliances breaks down in favour of another.

From Mau Mau to today

The neutralization and repression of the KPU has certain parallels with the containment of Mau Mau, but also important differences. In different ways and under different conditions Mau Mau and the KPU sought to give organizational expression to the grievances of the urban and landless proletariat. To be sure the KPU never achieved the mass support enjoyed by Mau Mau but, as the Nakuru example shows, it had the potential to connect with grassroots discontent. Both Mau Mau and the KPU faced state repression. Like its colonial predecessor, the Kenyatta regime used the state machine to deal with its political opponents.
Most KPU public rallies were banned under the Outlying and Special Districts Ordinance.21 In June 1966, the Preservation of Public Security Act was amended to include preventive detention, and new powers designed to suppress political opposition were put on the statute book.22 The civil srvice and the rest of the state apparatus were mobilized to crush the KPU. As Kenyatta told a group of provincial and district commissioners: ‘civil servants are not impartial. They are KANU civil servants.‘23
However it is important not to lose sight of the fundamental differences between the containment of Mau Mau and the suppression of the KPU. In contrast to the Mau Mau era, the Kenyan state after independence had a political organization, KANU, which could be used to mediate between itself and the masses. KANU relied not only on repression but also on its access to resources to buy off opponents and to reward supporters. When necessary, KANU could make use of nationalist rhetoric to win support. In Nakuru District it encouraged the newly formed Nakuru Ex-Freedom Fighers’ Association to outflank the KPU. Concessions to this association were combined with a recognition of the role of ‘freedom- fighters’. But with one crucial difference. KANU celebrated not so much Mau Mau as the ethnic ties that linked Kenyatta with the Kikuyu ‘freedom-fighters’. This link, which promised material rewards, was understood in ethnic terms. In much the same way the KPU was dismissed as an ethnic threat to Kikuyu interests from the Luo. The isolation of the KPU in Nakuru District indicated that unlike the colonial regime, the Kenyatta government could develop significant social support against radical nationalism.
The vantage point of the late 1960s helps put Mau Mau into perspective. As indicated earlier, Mau Mau’s greatest strength was its organizational independence. The split with moderate nationalists allowed radical activists to promote the aspirations of the masses and thus challenge the very foundations of the colonial order. The problem was that this challenge remained diffuse because Mau Mau did not develop its own independent ideology. The failure to evolve a coherent class-based social programme meant that Mau Mau was simply the militant wing of a nationalist movement. The fundamental conflict of interest between those who supported militant nationalism and those who advocated moderation was never clarified. As a result once the militants were suppressed the collaborators could take over the leadership of the nationalist movement.
The assistance of the colonial administration made possible the ascendency of Kenyatta over the nationalist movement. In reality Kenyatta and his class hated Mau Mau. As he argued in 1967: ‘We are determined to have independence in peace, and we shall not allow hooligans to rule Kenya. We must have no hatred towards one another. Mau Mau was a disease which had been eradicated, and must never be remembered again.’24 Yet such sentiment does not stop those who now rule Kenya from claiming the mantle of Mau Mau. Thus in 1969 leading colleagues of Kenyatta attempted to mobilize the Kikuyu masses against the Luo people through a campaign of oathing. This campaign was often justified on the grounds that it represented a renewal of the Mau Mau tradition.
In the post-Mau Mau era, radical nationalists lacked even organizational independence. Without organization or a political programme they could offer no alternative to Kenyatta. Imprisoned inside KANU, prominent radical leaders were nothing more than individuals with grievances. A recent radical assessment of this period notes that ‘the militant nationalists’ were left ‘without an organizational base. They remained a minority faction within KANU, having failed to create their own sources of funds, their own propaganda organs, and institutionalized popular support’.25 This failure of militant nationalism was no accident. Militants’ involvement in KANU was a reflection of their isolation from mass politics. More to the point they felt more at home inside KANU than mobilizing the urban/landless proletariat.
Many individual radical leaders such as Bildad Kaggia, Oginga Odinga, Achieng Oneko and J.M. Kariuki were courageous in their denunciation of the corruption and the elitism of the Kenyatta regime. But politically they lacked a coherent identity and an alternative. Their criticism centred on Kenyatta’s failure to keep promises rather than taking a standpoint that was fundamentally different to that of the government. Such criticisms earned them imprisonment and, in the case of J.M. Kariuki, death. It is all the more ironic that these radical figures were indispensable in the consolidation of Kenyatta’s influence. Their very presence in KANU and in the government endowed the new regime with credibility. Seen as friends of the people, radical leaders lent weight to the conviction that the Kenyatta government would do something for ordinary Kenyans. Putting up with radical KANU branches in the countryside was for the Kenyatta government a small price to pay for the legitimacy it bestowed on the party. Once the transition was made towards the stabilization of the new regime, Kenyatta could begin to rid his party of the troublemakers. Whereas in the early 1960s this would have constituted a dangerous course of action, by the mid-1960s the radicals were a spent force. They had become accomplices in their own political destruction.
The experience of the years 1945-69 in Kenya shows that an undifferentiated nationalist movement gives way to the triumph of reaction. It is an experience that has been confirmed time and again in post-war Africa. An undifferentiated nationalist movement contains within itself conflicts of interest which remain suppressed. Only the capitalist class and the petit-bourgeois can profit from leaving such conflicts of interests unresolved. That is why these social strata felt so ill at ease, even threatened by Mau Mau. Mau Mau brought the question of social change out into the open, forcing them to retreat. Once Mau Mau was defeated, an all-class nationalist party could be created, one that precisely because it was undifferentiated would be responsive only to the interests of the new African bourgeoisie. In this process the colonial regime played not an unimportant role. The establishment of such a collaborationist movement is the central strategic objective of controlled decolonization.

Decolonization in perspective

Writing in 1977, the Kenyan historian Ben Kipkorir noted that the Mau Mau Emergency was ‘certainly responsible for the precise timing of the conclusion of British rule in Kenya but it must always be remembered that Kenya was the last of the East Africa territories to obtain formal Independence’.26 Although this observation is in one sense unobjectionable, stated in this way it implies that Mau Mau was responsible for delaying the decolonization process. Aside from the dubious comparison of a settler-dominated colony with Uganda and Tanzania, Kipkorir misses the essential point. It was precisely because of the powerful dislocation caused by Mau Mau that the straightforward option of decolonization had to be ruled out. Special measures which could guarantee British interests had to be implemented before Kenya could achieve formal independence.
According to the perspective of Kipkorir, decolonization was speeded up by moderation and slowed down by militancy. Decolonization is thus seen as a reward for responsible behaviour. From this perspective Britain is portrayed as a bungling but essentially benevolent colonial power and resistance is depicted as an unnecessary irrelevance. One of the most influential historians of the British Empire, the late Jack Gallagher, actually denies the very existence of the struggle for freedom as a factor in the decolonization process. Gallagher writes: ‘But where in all this are the freedom fighters? Not in West Africa, that is clear, for there was nothing to fight over except a time-table. But the places to look for them are in East and Central Africa. And there they were the white settlers.’27 According to this tradition of mainstream imperial history with its emphasis on the ‘official mind’, the struggles of Kikuyu squatters is at best a minor detail on the canvas of history.
It is worth recalling that on the eve of the post-Second World War era, Britain had no intention of abandoning its empire in Africa. Tropical Africa in general and Kenya in particular were central to the calculations of the British Chiefs of Staff.28 And with the decline of British power globally, Africa emerged as an important economic asset. As Sir Stafford Cripps, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, informed a Conference of African Governors in November 1947: ‘the whole future of the sterling group and its ability to survive depends in my view upon a quick and extensive development of its African resources’ 29
In August 1949, at a time when officials were reporting a breakdown in labour discipline on European farms in the Rift Valley, Arthur Creech Jones, the Labour Secretary of State for the Colonies, insisted on reaffirming the status quo in the White Highlands. He wrote to the Fabian Colonial Bureau:
The Settled Area has been developed by European enterprise and, indeed, with African labour, contributes the major part to the economy and prosperity of the country… I believe that if the Settled Area were declared to be generally available for African settlement it would have a most disturbing effect on relations between European and African.’30
Six years later, the Report of the East Africa Royal Commission recognized that the status quo could not be sustained and that the Highlands had to be opened to African cultivators. This shift in the outlook of the ‘official mind’ was the direct product of Gallagher’s invisible freedom fighters. The role of African resistance in the decolonization of the continent was decisive in forcing the hands of the Colonial Office. The February 1948 riots in Accra in the Gold Coast unleashed a chain of events that could not be contained within the framework of a colonial empire. As David Rooney, the biographer of Sir Charles Arden-Clarke, notes, the February 1948 events started a ‘revolution which in a few years was to free two hundred million… Africans from the domination and control of Europeans’ 31 The actual process of decolonization was influenced by Whitehall’s determination to limit the damage. Where the nationalist movement threatened to pursue a radical course, the schedule for decolonization was held up to gain time for the consolidation of reaction. There is more than a grain of truth in the ‘generalization’ cited by D. Goldsworthy, ‘that Mau Mau hastened independence everywhere else in Africa but delayed it in Kenya’.32
The discussion on the process of decolonization tends to ignore the general pattern. The outbreak of resistance is often explained as a result of policy mistakes or the misrule of the governor concerned. From the perspective of the historiography of ‘the official mind’, it is the administrators that assume the central role. History is made by colonial officialdom and the role of resistance is of secondary importance. Thus great attention is devoted to the conflict of interest between field officers, colonial governors and Whitehall. These conflicts are often presented as key variables in the historical process. No doubt there were conflicts of interest within the colonial officialdom. But what significance are we to attach to them?
According to David Throup, local officials controlled the flow of information to London, thereby thwarting the Colonial Office’s objectives in Kenya. Moreover, Throup suggests that Governor Sir Philip Mitchell was not suited to handle Mau Mau because of his lack of experience with radical nationalists.33 In this scenario, Mitchell’s failures bear responsibility for much of the crisis in Kenya. In the same vein, Rooney suggests that the Governor of the Gold Coast, Sir Gerald Creasy, failed to see the warning signs of the nationalist explosion. Following the criticisms levelled at the local administration by thc Watson Report, Rooney writes of the ‘inadequacy’ and ‘incompetence’ of the colonial regime in the Gold Coast.34 According to T.J. Spinner, the 1953 crisis in British Guiana was to a considerable extent due to the over-reaction of Governor Sir Alfred Savage to the situation.35 It appears that Savage’s previous tenure as governor of Barbados ‘left him unprepared for the hectic, frantic political life of British Guiana’.36 Our friends, the incompetent administrators, also make their appearance in Malaya in the period leading up to the outbreak of revolt. Throup’s characterization of the Mitchell administration and Rooney’s condemnation of the colonial rulers in the Gold Coast is echoed in R.F. Holland’s criticism of the ‘archaic bureaucracy’ in Malaya. According to Holland, ‘the local British authorities had failed to act decisively, in the face of an earlier accretion of incidents because the prospect of much greater metropolitan supervision was unpalatable for an entrenched and often archaic bureaucracy’.37
It is interesting to note that, despite the obsessjon of imperial historians with individual officials as the makers of history, the explanation for Britain’s post-1945 colonial wars tends to hang on the recurrent theme of administrative incompetence. Can it be the case that a series of administrative errors provided the impetus behind the collapse of the Empire? Could a governor other than Mitchell have averted the Mau Mau rebellion, as Throup suggests?38 From our consideration of Mau Mau and other colonial revolts it would appear that the incompetence of colonial officialdom has only a minor significance in the unfolding drama. What we have is not a series of over-reactions and mistakes but predictable courses of action. And instead of seeing each colonial emergency as part of a series of accidents it is possible to outline a common pattern.
Whatever the inclination of the colonial official concerned, the response to radical nationalism followed a common pattern consisting of four parts: these were first, a campaign of criminalization, secondly a pre-emptive blow, thirdly the construction of a group of collaborators and fourthly the encouragement of ethnic tensions through a policy of divide and rule. The recurrence of this pattern shows that whatever the motives of individual officials, they were mere agents of forces beyond their control.
The criminali’zation of Mau Mau has already been discussed. In the Gold Coast, the nationalist movement was labelled as part of the communist conspiracy. Alternatively it was suggested that the Convention People’s Party used the ‘Ju Ju’ of ‘darkest’ Africa.39 In response to the General Strike of 1950, Governor Arden-Clarke justified his call for a state of emergency in the following terms:
The T.U.C. had no mandate for a general strike, and did not call a general strike… the strikes that have occurred have been engineered by certain members of the CPP… these are well known tactics advocated and practised by communists and others whose aim is to seize power for themselves by creating chaos and disrupting the life of the community.40
Lack of evidence for these accusations in no way inhibited Arden-Clarke from implementing a State of Emergency.
In British Guiana the Colonial Office was confronted with a democratically elected People’s Progressive Party (PPP) government not to its liking. Unlike the interim governments of other colonies, the PPP ministers led by Cheddi Jagan refused to play the role of grateful natives. In October 1953 the British government suspended British Guiana’s constitution, sent in troops and removed the PPP from office. The State of Emergency in British Guiana was justified on the grounds that it narrowly averted a communist takeover. The Colonial Secretary, Viscount Lyttelton, stated that there was irrefutable evidence of a ‘deadly design’ which aimed to ‘turn British Guiana into a totalitarian state dominated by Communist ideas’.41 Again, to this day Britain has deemed it unnecessary to publish its irrefutable evidence of the PPP’s conspiracy.
In Malaya, the nationalist movement was indeed influenced by communists. This made the campaign of criminalization a straightforward matter. The colonial propaganda machinery simply alleged that Soviet instructions to revolt were transmitted to Malayan communists via a conference held in Calcutta in February 1948. Again all that is missing is the evidence.
The campaign of crirninalization culminating in the declaration of a state of emergency provided the justification for a pre-emptive blow. Under special powers, militants were detained and organizations were banned. The objective was to remove the radical nationalists so as to gain a breathing space for the evolution of a moderate alternative. In the case of Kenya and Malaya, declarations of emergency acted as a catalyst for armed revolt. The events in Kenya have already been considered. In Malaya, the communist party faced a campaign of repression in the months leading up to the Emergency. Prevented from any access to legitimate political action, the communists were forced towards revolt. But like Mau Mau, the Malayan communist party was totally unprepared for the Emergency. If there was an instruction from Moscow, it certainly did not hear of it. According to M. Stenson its members were taken totally by surprise and their response was a ‘panic scramble for the safety of the jungle’ 42
The pre-emptive blow is often described as ‘overreaction’ in the studies of Britain’s colonial wars. R.A. Burrowes’ assessment of the British campaign of hysteria against Jagan in British Guiana is typical of the school of ‘overreaction’:
The international press was also quite surprised, after the build up from Whitehall, to find that there was no civil war, no disorder in Guyana on their arrival. It became obvious to almost everyone concerned that the whole crisis was the result of an over reaction of the colonial civil servants stationed in Guyana and, in turn, of the British Government itself. In the context of the Cold War it is quite easy to see how such a muddle could come about.43
Far from being a muddle, the British coup which overthrew Jagan was an essential component of controlled decolonization. It was precisely the need to eliminate mass support for a radical nationalist movement that inspired the intervention. To achieve this objective London held up British Guiana independence until 1966, by which time the colony could be left in safe hands.
Moreover the suspension of British Guiana’s constitution and the removal of its elected government had international repercussions. It served as an object lesson to other nationalist parties which might have considered an independent strategy. Nkrumah used Jagan’s demise as an argument for his moderate policy of ‘Tactical Action’ and for ridding the CPP of radical personalities.44
Through the pre-emptive blow, the colonial administration gained time to construct a political alternative to the radical wing of the nationalist movement. Before Arden-Clarke was despatched to take over as Governor of the Gold Coast he was told by CreechJones: ‘I want you to go to the Gold Coast. The country is on the edge of revolution. We are in danger of losing it’45 Arden Clarke’s reaction to this threat follows the predictable pattern. When he arrived, he asked one of the veteran officials: ‘Can’t you form a moderate party to keep these buggers out’?46 At the time in 1949 the moderate option was still premature. But ArdenClarke got his opportunity a year later. The Declaration of Emergency threw the CPP on the defensive and provided Arden-Clarke with an opportunity to educate Nkrumah in the realities of colonial politics.
In Malaya, British Guiana and Kenya, the colonial administration faced a more formidable problem. In these cases the radical nationalist movements had to be isolated or destroyed. In Malaya, counterinsurgency was only one side of the coin. The creation of a conservative nationalist movethent was the political objective of the British military. Holland writes that ‘through a combination of anti-insurgency techniques… deft political management, the British had made Malaya safe for Malay conservatives and Chinese businessmen’.47 In British Guiana, during a period lasting more than a decade, the colonial administration succeeded in splitting the PPP and forging an alliance of moderate collaborators to whom power could be devolved.
One of the tactics used by British imperialism to weaken the power of the nationalist opposition was to provoke the ethnic dimension of political life. By the time independence arrived, the Gold Coast, British Guiana, Kenya and Malaya all suffered from the problem of ethnic tension. The success of divide-and-rule tactics was most striking in British Guiana. The PPP was a multiracial party with a strong class base among urban workers and the rural proletariat. After the 1953 Emergency the colonial administration systematically used every opportunity to exacerbate conflict between Afro-Caribbeans and Asians.48 The Colonial Administration’s efforts were well rewarded - by the end of the 1950s ethnic tension had become a key issue and the PPP was forced to become a party predominantly based on the Asian community.
The specific form of decolonization in Kenya follows the overall pattern. As in the Gold Coast, British Guiana or Malaya, the colonial government directly intervened in the shaping of the nationalist movement. The success of controlled decolonization was inseparable from the close links established by the colonial administration with a section of the nationalist leadership in the late 1950s and 1960s. The consolidation of a moderate nationalist movement around Kenyatta was the prerequisite for the displacement of the radical challenge. In this new circumstance, something like the Olenguruone factor could be easily contained. Thus the struggle of landless Kikuyu at Bahati Farm, discussed in Chapter 7, had all the makings of another Olenguruone. In the event it became a local affair with no external consequences — the KANU leadership could hold the centre stage unperturbed by events at Bahati.

The problem of national liberation

The defeat of Mau Mau and the destruction of the radical option in other ex-colonies by Britain must be taken account of in any balanced consideration of the subject. The demobilization of radical nationalism and the subsequent consolidation of reaction, a process repeated throughout much of Africa, raises important questions about the relationship of national liberation and decolonization. National liberation movements often represent alliances of conflicting social forces. These alliances are necessarily temporary groupings directed against colonial domination. Controlled decolonization aims to strengthen the conservative constituents of these alliances and always directs its blows against a movement’s radical wing. Given a common stake in the perpetuation of capitalist social relations, conservative nationalists find the approaches of the colonial administration irresistible. There is now irrefutable evidence that at a certain stage in the transfer of power, the convergence of interests between the propertied elements and the colonial power far outweighs the national unity between the haves and the have-nots.
Marxist literature, with its emphasis on the primacy of class interests, anticipates the problem of alliances between different social forces fighting for national liberation. Marx and Engels warned about the fragile links that drew together conflicting interests around the struggle for freedom. In their writings they continually emphasized that it is often the propertyless masses that do all the fighting while the rich stand on the sidelines waiting to snatch the fruits of their victory:
It is self-evident that in the impending bloody conflicts, as in all earlier ones, it is the workers who, in the main will have to win the victory by their courage, determination and self-sacrifice. As previously so also in this struggle, the mass of the petty bourgeois will as long as possible remain hesitant, undecided and inactive, and then, as soon as the issue has been decided, will seize the victory for themselves, will call upon the workers to maintain tranquility and return to their work, will guard against so-called excesses and bar the proletariat from the fruits of victory.49
The danger of obscuring the conflict of interest between those whose objective is merely political change and those who aspire to social transformation is a theme stressed in the writings of Marx, Engels and Lenin. The experience of Uhuru in Kenya and more broadly in Africa and the calls for a ‘Second Independence’ from radical quarters confirm the continued relevance of Marx’s observations.
There is no a priori solution for the problem of national liberation. The conflict that inevitably erupts between those who fight for social change and those who have a stake in the perpetuation of the status quo is always resolved through the balance of class forces. Nevertheless from the experience of national liberation struggles this century it is possible to draw out two important lessons.
First, and this is amply illustrated by the experience of Mau Mau, the minimal guarantee of real change is the existence of a separate organization of plebeian or working-class elements. Without an independent organization led by and accountable to those without property, the KANU solution becomes inevitable. The experience of Africa shows that independence is always followed by an offensive of the propertied elements, and without an organized movement to counter-attack, the radical forces can become marginalized.
Secondly, the plebeian and working-class elements cannot wait until after independence to fight for their own separate interests. By the time independence arrives the balance usually shifts in favour of the propertied classes. Through controlling the state and the nation’s resources the propertied classes are well placed to defeat their opponents. The separation of the movement for independence from the struggle for social transformation is always, without exception, resolved against the interests of the masses. Although the fight for national freedom takes a logical priority in that it represents an attack on the most immediate and the most tangible manifestation of domination it cannot be chronologically separated from the struggle for social liberation. To postpone the objective of social change to a distinct stage in the future invites a form of independence which is necessarily on the terms favouring vested interests.
It was in the course of the first modern anti-colonial struggle, that of the Irish national liberation movement, that the issues under discussion were raised in all their acuteness. The Irish nationalist movement represented a classical alliance of diverse social forces. It was to the merit of the Irish Marxist, James Connolly, to recognize that while national liberation required the support of different social strata, the working class had to organize itself independently to ensure that the struggle would not be degraded by the narrower concerns of the Irish capitalist classes.
For Britain the tensions in the Irish nationalist alliance provided an excellent opportunity for containing the threat it represented. Anticipating the strategy deployed in Africa four decades later, the British government took steps to bolster the conservative wing of Irish republicanism. In the crucial period following the 1916 Easter Rebellion the British clamped down on radical nationalists and released more moderate republicans from prison. The prominent republican Maire Corneford later claimed that as a result ‘the counter-revolution within the republican movement began in October 1917’. Corneford observed: ‘it could be argued that the British government moved with unerring instinct to benefit from a temporary confusion and help towards the most conservative sequence’.50 It is this unerring instinct that stood Britain in good stead during the succeeding six decades.
The success of the Irish model of decolonization, leading to the marginalization of radical elements, is intimately linked to the moderates’ domination of the nationalist movement. Connolly’s address to the Citizen Army just before the Easter Rebellion retains its relevance to this day:
If we win, we’ll be great heroes; but if we lose we’ll be the greatest scoundrels the country ever produced. In the event of victory, hold on to your rifles, as those with whom we are fighting may stop before our goal is reached. We are out for economic as well as political liberty.51
Connolly’s warnings were to prove prophetic. Within six years the Irish nationalist struggle was transformed into a bitter civil war between moderates and radicals.
The absence of a clearly articulated social programme representing the interests of the masses ensured that differences inside the Irish Republican Movement were expressed as those between ‘hard’ men and moderates. Differences established on such subjective and arbitrary foundations ensure that the radical point of view remains without a clearly articulated perspective. This was also the central weakness of Mau Mau: radicals distinguished themselves from moderates primarily through the means they advocated for realizing an otherwise common goal. The failure to evolve a proletarian social programme for the national liberation movement means that conflicts of interests are expressed around narrow tactical questions, usually the means to be deployed in the struggle. Consequently disputes often acquire a generational foundation whereby the youth loses patience with the cautious elders. This phenomenon is paralleled throughout Africa, with the verandah boys and youth wings often in at the forefront of direct action against the colonial powers.
The experience of South Africa shows striking parallels with Mau Mau. There the African National Congress (ANC), founded in 1912 by a distinguished group of chiefs and sections of the educated elite, reflected the cautious approach of the KAU. Indeed the ANC sought reforms through arguing that if they were not granted, then the ‘agitators’ would prevail over the African population. The Reverend John L. Dube, the first President of the ANC, warned in 1926 that without change there would be:
a fertile breeding ground for hot-headed agitators amongst us Natives, who might prove to be a bigger menace to this country than is generally realized today. Let us all labour to forestall them: that is my purpose in life, even if I have to labour single-handed… Race co-operation must be the watchword.52
This cautious conciliatory approach inevitably aroused the impatience of sections of the nationalist movement. At about the time of the emergence of the Kikuyu squatter movement the ANC leadership took steps to ensure that this impatience did not get out of hand. On Easter Sunday 1944, under the careful watch of the ANC leadership, the Congress Youth League was launched. Many of the future leaders of the nationalist movement - Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and Oliver Tambo - were part of this new initiative.
In the succeeding five years the uneasy alliance discussed in relation to the Kenyan nationalist movement was evident between the Youth League and the ANC old guard. This tension crystallized in the boycott controversy, leading to the adoption of the 1949 Programme of Action. As in Kenya the debate was over tactics - the young militants took their stand on promoting boycott and non-collaboration. In contrast to Kenya, the Youth League succeeded in taking over the ANC leadership
- in 1949 Walter Sisulu became its Secretary General.
In contrast to Kenya, the Youth League was absorbed into the ANC leadership. The ANC became a movement with influence over a broad spectrum of social forces - well able to contain conflicts of interests. To this day the question of what interests will prevail remains unresolved. But without the emergence of an independent working-class movement, with its own social programme for national liberation, the Kenya solution is inevitable. This is the inescapable conclusion drawn from the experience of Ireland, Kenya and the rest of Africa.
Our aim is not to suggest that situations are the same the world over, from Ireland to Kenya to South Africa. The specific conditions that prevail in each case makes such comparisons facile. Rather it is possible to point to the inherent instability of the boundaries that separate radical from moderate nationalism. If conflicting social interests remain unclarified, then such differences become merely differences in emphasis with no long-term consequences. More to the point, under such circumstances reaction will always prevail. Radicalism and activism cannot be long sustained without a coherent organizational expression. Although there are exceptions, the general pattern is that the mood of defiance gives way to caution. Thus even KANU, Kenyatta’s nationalist party, could live with a relatively radical youth wing. For without an organized social base, radicalism becomes incoherent and ultimately an ineffective point of view. The triumph of KANU over Mau Mau illustrates a central problem of national liberation: if the questions of what Connolly called economic liberty or of conflicting social interests remain unresolved in the course of the struggle, the triumph of reaction is guaranteed.


1. KNA, P.O. 3/315, Policy on Illegal Settlement, no. 11, Notes of meeting held in the office of the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs, on Friday 3rd April, 1964 regarding Illegal Squatters.
2. Interviews and Daily Nation, 12 September 1964.
3. DC, NKU L & 0 17/17 vol. VII, Law and Order, KANU. See reports during the period under consideration.
4. Interviews.
5. DC, NKU Adm 15/3/4, Molo. Monthly Reports, no. 66.
6. DC, Nyandarua Lab 4/1/vol. 2, Unemployment, Illegal Squatters, no. 189, Special Commissioner, squatters, circular 14 September 1965, Legality of the Use of the term Squatter.
7. The small plots (4.5 acres) were insufficient to provide most of the recipients with their subsistence requirements.
8. DC, NKU Adm 15/3/3A vol. 2, Annual Intelligence Reports, Annual Report Year Ending 1969.
9. DC, NKU Adm 15/3/4, Mob, Monthly Reports, no. 67, April 1965.
10. DC, NKU See reports in ibid., and Adm 15/3/5, Administration Monthly Reports.
11. DC, NKU Adm 15/4/4, DOs meeting, Incident Reports, December 1966.
12. Interviews.
13. DC, NKU Adm 15/32/3A, Administration. Intelligence. Annual Reports, no. 89, Nakuru Report (Annual) 1967.
14. ibid.
15. DC, NKU Adm 15/3/10, Administration. Monthly Reports. Naivasha, no. 36, Report for February.
16. PC, RVP Lab 27/3/1, vol. 3 (no file number), Report, September 1969.
17. DC, NKU, Lab 27/3/3, vol. 1, Labour Reports, Naivasha, no. 69, January 1969.
18. Senga(1980),p. 4.
19. Njonjo(1980), p. 39.
20. Land registration files for the period 1966 onwards were missing when the author visited the Land Office in Nairobi in 1972. When the author inquired about their whereabouts, he was told ‘they are out on permanent loan’.
21. On the state offensive against the KPU see Mueller (1972), Chapter 4.
22. ibid., p. 237.
23. Cited in ibid., p. 237.
24. Kenyatta(1968), p. 189.
25. Anonymous (1982), p. 20.
26. Kipkorir (1977), p. 325.
27. Gallagher(1982),p. 148.
28. See Louis (1984), pp. 108—9.
29. Cited in Pearce (1982), p. 96.
30. Cited in Goldsworthy (1971), p. 142.
31. Rooney(1982),p. 82.
32. Goldsworthy (1971), p. 28.
33. Throup (1987), p. 237.
34. Rooney (1982), pp. 86—8.
35. Spinner(1984), p. 53. -
36. ibid., p. 35.
37. Holland (1985).
38. Throup(1987), p. 250.
39. Cited in Rooney (1982), p. 113.
40. ibid., p. 104.
41. Cited in Spinner(1984), p. 50.
42. Stenson (1974), p. 145.
43. Burrowes (1984), p. 55.
44. Marable(1987), p. 114.
45. Rooney (1982), p. 88.