KENYA: General China & Friends

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At dawn, two white Kenya policemen climbed into a jeep and drove down the rutted trail that leads from Nyeri into the forest at the foot of Mt. Kenya. It was still dark among the camphor trees, but Policeman Ian Henderson knew that Mau Mau sentinels were watching, and he drove without headlights.

Deep in the forest, the jeep came to a halt and waited in darkness and silence. "The forest was full of eyes," said Henderson afterwards. "The pulse rate was not exactly normal," added Policeman Bernard Ruck. Presently there came a rustling, footsteps, then dark shapes. Two Mau Mau warriors loomed alongside. Henderson waved them aboard and the four drove out of the forest.

Waking in Nyeri's police stockade were half a dozen British Tommy gunners and one sad-faced black man wearing a turtleneck pullover, sandals and khaki shorts. The black man was Waruhiu Itote, 32, alias General China, one of the Mau Mau's bloodthirstiest killers. Captured and sentenced to death, General China was paying for a commutation to life imprisonment by cooperating with the British (TIME, March 8). Huddling with the two Mau Mau warriors in the Nyeri stockade, China gave them a message to take back to their gangs: "The white elders and the elders of the forest must now meet to end the war."

Cast-Iron Secrecy. By using China, once the Mau Mau's No. 2 commander, to call on the guerrillas to surrender, the British were hoping to win with words what 6,000 regulars and 24,000 police had failed to win by war. In a letter written from his cell, China had suggested to the authorities that Mau Mau morale is wilting, that many of its "generals" could be persuaded to lay down their arms. A squad of British officers grilled the condemned man for 68 hours and concluded that he was probably speaking the truth. In cast-iron secrecy (Kenya Governor Sir Evelyn Baring did not even tell his superiors in Whitehall), the death sentence was commuted, and China smuggled out of jail. The ball and chain were removed from his leg, the ball was placed in a metal money box which was handcuffed to China's wrist, and, disguised as a policeman, he was flown to Nyeri to communicate with the Mau Mau gangs.

By last week China had written 26 "surrender" letters to Mau Mau chieftains, including "General Cargo," who operates north of Nairobi, and scar-faced Dedan Kimathi, alias Field Marshal Russia. The letters were delivered by armored cars to jungle letter boxes in hollow trees and to Mau Mau couriers waiting in forest clearings. China's plea: "Further violence will only bring greater suffering. Those who fight on now are criminal fanatics."

Wildcat in the Bag. Black and white reaction was mixed. Governor Baring himself gives the plan, at best, a 50-50 chance; Kenya's white settlers, some of whom believe that the best way to fight the Mau Mau is to "hang the Kikuyu tribe in batches of 25," condemn it as "immoral" and "appeasement."

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