Winning the War But Losing Everything

Winning the War But Losing Everything

When the Mau Mau leader Dedan Kimathi was captured on 21 October 1956, the military portion of the Mau Mau Uprising in Kenya was effectively over.  

Dedan Kimathi was shot in the leg during his capture, necessitating the use of a stretcher to bring him into custody.

That did not end the British system of camps, called the “Pipeline“, nor did it end the systemized torture torture and brutality that played a large role in quelling the rebellion that officially began in 1952 with the murder of a white woman and the shooting death of Senior Chief Waruhiu, and didn’t officially end until “one man, one vote” was instituted in Kenya in 1960 and then Kenyan independence in 1963.

Jomo Kenyatta’s 1964 inauguration

The Mau Mau Rebellion was ugly, and it was ugly for everyone involved.  The official death count is still disputed, with numbers swinging wildly between just over 11,000 dead Kenyans to over 150,000 dead. 

A Mau Mau fighter, clothing in tatters, is captured.

There was lots of suffering on the other side, too,” said Professor David Anderson of Oxford University.  “This was a dirty war.  It became a civil war – though that idea remains extremely unpopular in Kenya today.

It is often cited that the British used “divide and rule” tactics to stay in control of Kenya and keep the Mau Mau fighters from gaining more followers.  Brutal methods such as “villagisation”, which was really just a version of concentration camps surrounded by barbed wire, detaining suspected Mau Mau fighters, castration, burning ear drums with cigarettes, beatings, and sexual abuse were all employed to break Mau Mau support amongst the Kikuyu tribe who made up most of the fighters.

Kikuyu tribe members are held on suspicion of being Mau Mau.

The Mau Mau leadership also exhibited a brutality that divided the Kikuyu tribe that was the majority of those participating in the uprising.  Dedan Kemathi, the leader of the rebellion, enforced oath ceremonies that sometimes required such activities as drinking blood, eating human flesh, and even eating human brains of relatives.  Those who refused to “oath” to the Mau Mau were hacked to death. 

It was a dirty war.  

Seven years after the capture of Dedan Kimathi, Kenya would be independent.  


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