Monday, Mar. 31, 2003

The Bloody Mau Mau Revolt

Oct. 20. 1952

Chief Kungu Waruhiu had just arrived at the Seventh Day Adventist mission 7 miles outside of Nairobi when a fusillade of shots smashed into his car, killing the Kikuyu leader instantly. The gunmen were Mau Mau rebels, members of a secret society who had vowed to drive the white man from the British colony of Kenya.

Already accused of a series of arson and cattle-killing incidents, the Mau Mau's dramatic daylight assassination of a prominent British loyalist from their own tribe stunned the colonial government into calling a state of emergency that lasted nearly eight years. British troops were brought in. More than 100,000 Africans were put into detention camps.

The killings continued, and news reports about the Mau Mau's bloody massacres of white settlers living in the highlands of central Kenya horrified the world. In fact, only 32 Europeans died, while almost 2,000 Kikuyu loyal to the British crown were murdered before the colonial government regained control.

The turn to violence by the Mau Mau emboldened independence movements across Africa, frustrated with years of broken promises on land reform and self-government. After a largely nonviolent political process, Ghana was the first to win its freedom, in 1957. Kenya would wait another six years.