To what extent was Mau Mau resistance against colonial

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To what extent was Mau Mau resistance against colonial

For many people, the name Mau Mau still conjures up images of brutality and primitivism, even today nearly half a century after the Mau Mau uprising took place. Furthermore, the Mau Mau are still probably amongst the best known African group in the United Kingdom, although nowadays few people actually understand the events which lead to the Mau Mau resistance. Indeed, even at the time of the uprising (1950s), most British people had no first-hand knowledge of events, and were therefore prevented from making objective judgements about the causes of the resistance movement. It was therefore easy for the colonial government to sway public opinion about the Mau Mau, giving them a mythical reputation amongst Westerners.

It could be claimed however that public feeling was justifiably strong, as expatriate British citizens were killed, stock was maimed and settler farms attacked, leaving many colonial farmers living in fear. However, this must be seen in relation to the overall State of Emergency (1952-1956), in which 13,000 Africans were killed, compared with only 90 British, of whom just 30 were civilians (Cowen, 1989). The reasons behind the resistance movement were greatly distorted by colonial reports however. The colonial government, in order to justify their imperialist motives, had to depict the Mau Mau in a negative light. The Movement was most often portrayed as being a reaction to Britain's attempts to modernise the country (which were, of course, admirable according to government propaganda) and a reflection of the native peoples' inability to cope with a modern lifestyle. According to a parliamentary delegation to Kenya, during the Emergency:

"Mau Mau intentionally and deliberately seeks to lead the Africans of Kenya back to bush and savagery, not forward into progress."

It was said to be a movement based on primitive emotions, rather than intellect, and would require the "rehabilitation" of Africans (Rosberg and Nottingham, 1966). All in all:

"It was seen primarily as a barbarous, atavistic and anti-European tribal cult whose leaders planned to turn Kenya into a land of "darkness and death"."

(Rosberg and Nottingham, 1966)

From the time of the Emergency (1952) until Independence in the 1960s, the colonial administration enjoyed an almost complete monopoly over means of communication and publicity from Kenya, and so this viewpoint became firmly entrenched in the British (and world) opinion of the Mau Mau. More recently however, ex-members of the Mau Mau have been able to give their view of the Movement, and the events leading up to it. They, not surprisingly, represent the Mau Mau movement in a completely different light - as a freedom fight, struggling against political oppression, and as:

".... a modern and rational political movement."

(Buijtenhuis, 1973)

In recent years, several historical studies have also been undertaken to try to explain the background to the events which occurred in the mid-1950s. It is vital to understand this background to the uprising before an objective and unemotional conclusion about the true motives of the Mau Mau can be reached. I will therefore begin by giving a brief history of colonial Kenya, before embarking on an argument about the true motives of the Mau Mau.

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The History of Colonial Kenya

The colonial period in Kenya really began in the closing years of the Nineteenth Century, as the British began to move into the area in large numbers. The greatest concentration of British colonists settled in the south-west of Kenya (an area since labelled the "White Highlands") as they saw a sparsely-populated area with a temperate climate and therefore considerable agricultural potential. The construction of the Ugandan Railway in 1902 opened up the area to large-scale settlement and so huge tracts of land were converted into settler farms. Although much of this land was uninhabited and ...

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