Colonialism fucked Africa in every hole. In his 1961 book The Wretched of the Earth psychiatrist Frantz Fanon described colonization as not only a crime against humanity, but having an overwhelming negative effect on the societal mental health of the colonized, who are viewed as little more than animals by the invaders. The author described violent uprising as a logical psychological response not just for attaining political freedom, but for improving national mental health. In 1950s Kenya, the Mau Mau Rebellion was once such display of extreme violence against the oppression of colonization. And while it failed as a revolution, it helped change western attitudes toward their thievery of the African continent.
–On This Day in History, Shit Went Down: October 21, 1956–
The origin of the term Mau Mau is uncertain, and the rebels preferred the name Kenyan Land and Freedom Army. Kenya had been a British protectorate since 1895 and declared a colony in 1920. It was prized by the empire for its rich agricultural soils and a diverse geography with climates pleasing to European conquerors.
Resistance to the British invasion was immediate in reaction to the settlers stealing their land, but the Mau Mau rebellion took it to new levels of violence. The British were known for their divide and conquer method of rule, and so the rebels often struck against fellow Africans who were “loyalists” to the British Empire. Because they lacked the sophisticated heavy weaponry for mass warfare, they skillfully utilized guerrilla tactics, often striking at night fast and hard, then disappearing into the countryside. They were known to be well organized and careful in their planning, often hitting where their opponents were weakest. And while massacres of civilians were known, the primary strategy was to avoid civilian casualties.
The British viewed the rebels as savages in need of extermination. They proclaimed the rebels wanted to take the country back to “the bad old days” before the Brits “civilized” it. Although the rebellion would continue for all of the 1950s, it was largely defeated as a military threat on October 21st, 1956 when the British captured the Mau Mau leader Dedan Kimathi Waciuri and executed him four months later.
The British committed numerous war crimes in suppressing the rebellion, using the familiar counterinsurgency strategy of collective punishment of entire villages to wean popular support away from guerrilla fighters. Kenyan home rule would be established in 1960, due in significant part to the British population back at home losing its taste for the amount of force it took to retain control of the African nation.
Get your daily dose of history by following James Fell.