Wednesday, July 21, 2010

African Terror: Recalling Mau Mau

Last February, The Daily Mail ran a great article from an acitve participant's perspective during the infamous Mau Mau emergency that took place in Kenya during the 1950s. The participant and author, Tim Symonds, paints a candid and thoughtful picture that pulls no punches. In this modern era of hyper-sensitivity and revisionist inclination, finding someone who calls it as it actually happened is refreshing. The Mau Mau were one of Africa's ugliest and most brutal terrorist insurgencies. For anyone with any passing interest in African history, security, terrorism, decolonization, or justice, this article is a breath of fresh air and a must read.

Here are some excellent passages from Symonds recollection:

Criteria for being targeting by the Mau Mau.
"Leakey was selected not because he was an enemy of the Kikuyu but, perversely, because he was widely considered a good man and therefore a more powerful sacrificial offering. He even had a Kikuyu nickname - Morungaru - which means 'tall and straight'."
 On blending in.
"Their sense of smell from life in the forest had become so keen that they could smell my freshly-laundered clothes. Another white man arrived. 'OK, film star,' he said to me. 'I'm your make-up man.'
He painted potassium permanganate on my hands, face and neck to stain the skin. Then he produced a small tin of boot polish and a tiny watercolour brush. 'Let's start with your right eye,' he said. 'Open wide.'
He brushed a small blob of the boot polish right inside the eyelid. It stung and I shouted, prompting peals of laughter from the Mau Mau men. He held out a mirror and, blinking uncontrollably, I looked at my eye. The polish had spread across it, turning the whites a streaky yellow"
 Jomo Kenyatta and the sinister benefits of incarceration.
"A white police officer met me and told me I was to take charge of a Land Rover with an African driver, who would take me to a secret destination to deliver a cargo. I went outside and met the driver. Crates had been loaded in the back of the Land Rover, covered by a tarpaulin.
Some time later we arrived at our destination where I gave a white Kenya police officer the papers to sign for the cargo. He invited me in for a quick drink before I had to set off for home base. Afterwards I came out to find the Land Rover only three-quarters unloaded. The mysterious cargo turned out to be crate upon crate of Scotch whisky.
The police officer explained that Jomo Kenyatta, the man accused of masterminding the Mau Mau, was being held under close arrest nearby. Kenyatta was being provided with three bottles of Scotch every day, which he was consuming.
The real aim, the officer said, was for Kenyatta to die of cirrhosis of the liver as quickly as possible. I could tell he wasn't joking.
Kenyatta was nearing 70 at the time. Eight years later, in 1963, he was to become newly independent Kenya's first black prime minister. Shortly after that he became Kenya's president, famed for his flywhisk, the symbol of a Kikuyu elder, made from the end of a cow's tail. Perhaps we pickled him instead of killing him: Kenyatta lived until he was 89."
It's a spectacular and compelling tale.


  1. Thanks for the link.

    In recent years two books were published damning the British for their treatment of Mau Mau fighters in the 1950s. But in reality, Mau Mau were terrorists who were far more terrible and brutal to innocent Whites.

    Have you read 'Red Strangers', a recently published account of the White community in Kenya? Recommended.

  2. I read and thoroughly enjoyed 'Red Strangers' last year. Excellent account.

    I have always resented the academic approach to glorifying the Mau Mau, who incidentally brutalized their own people with more ferocity than a rabid dog, while constantly assuming the worst of the White Kenyans and British Empire. There is no debating how criminal and intrinsically awful the Mau Mau were and history needs to correct itself on its assessment of them.