On 3 March 1959, 11 Kenyans were bludgeoned to death and many more were maimed by British colonial forces at a camp in Hola in the East Coast province. President Mwai Kibaki's government has now cleared the way for the British government to be sued for reparations. Wanjohi Kabukuru traces the systematic torture that was the hallmark of British rule during the Mau Mau years.
For decades now, the Hola Massacre has been portrayed as an out-of-the-blue incident which was purely accidental. But it was not. Instead it was a well-planned operation which was approved by the British establishment mainly because Kenya, unlike the other colonies, was home of the British aristocracy.
Mark Warwick, the son of a former British settler notes in his treatise, Mau Mau-Messengers of Misery: "Whilst emigrants to other parts of the British Empire, such as Australia, were usually of middle of working class extraction, the Kenyan settlers were more often aristocrats and high ranking army officers.
"Many were the younger sons of wealthy English families. The upper class Englishmen who bought land in Kenya cheaply and in vast estates were notable mainly for the urgency and the style with which they established hunts and the ebullience of their extra-marital sexual relations."
Warwick continues: "The new life in Kenya was directed by those who imagined that they were living the lives of English country Squires; riding among the smiling peasantry who doffed their caps as they inspected their beasts and crops before returning to a well ordered household where gun-dogs wagged their tails.
"The only difference being that the lion became the substitute for the fox and the pajama and dressing gown for the dinner jacket. In this gentleman's colon, they built great manors and wooden chateaux set within gardens bowered by flame trees and looking across lawns kept smooth and watered by voiceless black servants.
"So in the end, the Africans arose in revolt which the panic and anger of the settlers made famous. The), put about the idea that the Mau Mau was the most brutal, bloodthirsty murderous rising of black men against white men in the history of mankind."
Warwick's sentiments underscore Kenya's independence struggle. It is a narrative of racism and arrogance.
The despotism and inhumanity that took place in Hola--a remote and far-flung town in Kenya's Coast Province--on 3 March 1959, was a manifestation of British ruthlessness and the single catalyst for an early independence for Kenya.
On that day, which stands out like a sore thumb, some 85 Mau Mau detainees were herded to a site and ordered to work. They flatly refused to follow the order, arguing that they were political detainees not prisoners.
"We were not going to work. We were very much aware of the difference between prisoners and political detainees," Mathenge Ngatia, a survivor of the massacre recalls. "This formed the basis of our refusal. We would not budge an inch. It was a matter of principle for our country's independence. We were not shamba boys (Swahili for farm boys) of ngati (Kikuyu for home guards). We were freedom fighters."
Having refused to work, the detainees were then huddled together in a trench, 12 feet deep. The trench was surrounded by some 100 security guards armed with guns. Inside the trench with the detainees were 30 other guards with truncheons.
The superintendent of prisons, John Cowan (who was the colonial Prisons chief from 1957-1963), angry a the defiance, then blew his whistle. What happened next makes one recoil with horror.
The prison warders set upon the hapless detainees with a despicable vengeance, And for the next three hours, they were pitilessly clobbered to death or maimed.
Eleven men (Kabui Kaman,Ndung'u Kibaki, Mwema Kinuthia, Kinyanjui Njoroge, Koroma Mburu, Ikeno Ikiro, Migwi Ndegwa, Kaman Karanja, Mungai Githi and Ngugi Karitie) lay dead under Cowan's supervision. …