Defeating Mau Mau, Creating Kenya: Counterinsurgency, Civil War and Decolonization

By Maloba, W. O. | African Studies Review, September 2010 | Go to article overview
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Defeating Mau Mau, Creating Kenya: Counterinsurgency, Civil War and Decolonization


Maloba, W. O., African Studies Review


Daniel Branch. Defeating Mau Mau, Creating Kenya: Counterinsurgency, Civil War and Decolonization. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009. African Studies Series, xxii + 250 pp. Map. Photographs. Bibliography. Index. $80.00. Cloth. $24.99 Paper.

Like other revolutionary movements, the Mau Mau peasant revolt continues to fascinate and even frustrate scholars. There has always been the drive to arrive at the "ultimate explanation" for the revolt. Its enduring appeal, which has in recent years extended beyond scholarly scrutiny to politics, rests on its unwieldy character; its decentralized organization before, during, and after the revolt; the agonizing impossibility of accurately determining its membership, ideological underpinnings, and the extent of British brutality in the execution of the war and the role of Home Guards in this repression; the existence of several centers vying for leadership of its memory in the postcolonial period; the residual tension between the former Home Guards and the Mau Mau guerillas or their supporters and descendants in the rural areas of Central Province; the political value of Mau Mau to the Kikuyu elite in postcolonial Kenya; the complicated role of Mau Mau in the attainment of political independence ( Uhuru) in Kenya; and finally the political and scholarly contest over the memory and position of Mau Mau in Kenya's national history.

Daniel Branch's book is a major contribution to the expanding Mau Mau historiography. The book is corrective in intent and tone. Branch seeks to draw attention to the loyalists (Home Guards), whose stories and value have hitherto been either neglected or misrepresented by the dominant nationalist thrust in the study of Mau Mau. According to Branch, many of the published books on Mau Mau have failed to account for local violence 'Svi thin the communities of the Central Highlands" by inadequately considering "political economy, household relations, the cosmologies of the actors, and the demands placed on them by their living in a time of intense conflict" (3-4). Also, these books have failed to note that there were very many loyalists, not just "a few wealthy Christian individuals," and that they were motivated by very complex needs and aspirations that cannot solely, or even principally, be explained with reference to preconflict "cleavages within Kikuyu society" (4) . Branch argues throughout his well-researched book that the revolt ended up as a civil war among the Kikuyu. The loyalists were not peripheral to the armed conflict, and their story is crucial to understanding Kenya's decolonization and postcolonial society and political economy.

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