Between 1952 and 1960 in Kenya, the Mau Mau rebels who rose up against British rule faced a brutal crackdown that killed thousands of them. Left out of the history books for decades, these independence heroes are now fighting for recognition before the last survivors die out. Our correspondents report.
Sixty years ago, on December 12, 1963, Kenya gained independence after 68 years of British rule and following a decade of deadly violence. Between 1952 and 1960, the Mau Mau rebellion was one of the bloodiest episodes in the country’s history. This rebel group, mainly made up of members of the Kikuyu ethnic group, organised a campaign of sabotage and assassinations against the British settlers, claiming 32 lives. The rebels’ aim was to recover the land and freedom that had been stolen from them by the British colonial authorities.
In response, a state of emergency was imposed, during which the British army and Home Guards – soldiers recruited from the local population – were responsible for suppressing the movement. At least 11,000 Mau Mau were killed; the Kenyan Human Rights Commission even puts the figure at 90,000.
When independence was declared in 1963, the Mau Mau leaders were denied access to positions of power. They were seen as part of a brief chapter in the country’s history. The most influential politicians monopolised the most fertile land, despite many of the Mau Mau fighters being the original owners. To avoid complaints and demands, the ban on the movement remained in place, even though the British no longer controlled the territory. The result was forty years of oblivion, which suited local officials and former settlers.
But in 2003, President Mwai Kibaki ordered that the Mau Mau should no longer be considered as “terrorists”. Little by little, their status has evolved. Today, six decades after Kenya’s independence, they are regarded as heroes. But their story, long kept secret, remains largely unknown. Most of the archives from the time have disappeared. Now that their numbers are dwindling, survivors and their descendants are fighting to ensure that the movement finally gets the recognition they feel it deserves.
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