The Mau Mau Uprising

The Mau Mau Uprising, a revolt against colonial rule in Kenya, lasted from 1952 through 1960.


The uprising is regarded as one of the most significant steps towards a Kenya free from British rule.


By the start of the 1950s the Kikuyu had been increasingly economically marginalized as years of white settler expansion ate away at their land holdings.
Since 1945, nationalists like Jomo Kenyatta of the Kenya African Union (KAU) had been pressing the British government in vain for political rights and land reforms, with valuable holdings to be redistributed to African owners.
But radical activists within the KAU set up a splinter group and organised a more militant kind of nationalism.


By 1952 Kikuyu fighters, along with some Embu and Meru recruits, were attacking political opponents and raiding white settler farms and destroying livestock. Mau Mau supporters took oaths, binding them to their cause.
In October 1952 the British declared a state of emergency and began moving army reinforcements into Kenya.


So began an aggressively fought counter‑insurgency, which lasted until 1960 when the state of emergency was ended.


Although the Uprising was directed primarily against British colonial forces and the white settler community, much of the violence took place between rebel and loyalist Africans. Thus the uprising often had the appearance of a civil war with atrocities on both sides.


The number killed in the uprising is a subject of much controversy. Officially the number of Mau Mau and other rebels killed was 11,000, including 1,090 convicts hanged by the British administration. Just 32 white settlers were killed in the eight years of emergency.


Mau Mau armies were largely broken by 1957 and in 1960 the emergency was declared over. Three years later, in 1963, Kenya received its independence from Great Britain. One of the alleged Mau Mau leaders, Jomo Kenyatta, became the first president of the new nation. Historians, and surviving resistance leaders continue to debate the role of the Mau Mau in gaining Kenyan independence. Many survivors on both sides of the conflict see themselves as participants in the independence campaign.

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