Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain's Gulag in Kenya

By Jackson, Kennell | The International Journal of African Historical Studies, January 1, 2006 | Go to article overview

Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain's Gulag in Kenya


Jackson, Kennell, The International Journal of African Historical Studies


Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain's Gulag in Kenya. By Caroline Elkins. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2005. Pp. xvi, 475. $27.50.

For decades now, Nairobi lore has told of the city's dark skies in the days just before the British made the country independent. Lore has it right. Those dark skies were not a natural act, but caused by the continuous fires used by the British to burn records. Caroline Elkins mentions these "massive bonfires" (p. xii) as an attempt by the British to suppress knowledge of their detention system in Kenya. This erasure of history was but one of the reasons for her near-decade toil to reassemble an evidentiary foundation from which to write this book.

Elkins has been successful, indeed triumphant. She has written a harddriving historical narrative about the system of detention erected by the British during 1952-1960 in Kenya to stem the Mau Mau rebellion. She has examined in the greatest depth the imprisonment of thousands of Kenyans, overwhelmingly Kikuyu and men, in camps scattered across Kenya. Her main achievement is pulling back the veil that stood between us and this system so we can now see what took place in the camps. It is a gruesome sight.

After telling the rise of the colonial state and later, of nationalism and Mau Mau, in Chapters 1-2, Elkins picks up the pace with chapters on the screening of detainees and on the concept of detainee rehabilitation. Chapter 5, "The Birth of Britain's Gulag," is the epicenter of the book. Here, Elkins shows how in 1954, the detention system was transformed. In that year, at the end of Operation Anvil, a "Gestapolike" (p. 121) sweep of Nairobi, the "detainee population had risen to over fifty-two thousand-an increase of 2,500 percent" (p. 131). It would continue to rise, until its daily average running total was over 70,000-according to Elkins, making the total detained more than previously admitted by colonials.

With Elkins's new timeline and demography, we are well-placed to see the camps' infrastructures in creation: the system of interrogation heavily assisted by torture; the indoctrination against Mau Mau, to produce a procolonial new citizen; forced labor; the deeds of specific British commandants and their loyalist allies; the detainees' self-governing committees and resistance, particularly their ingenious communication in oral "newspapers"; camp tactics to break "The Hard Core" (in impressive Chapter 7); the treatment of women in camps; the success at dividing detainees; and the everyday hardships, such as cooling water for drinking.

With the spotlight on the camps, "Domestic Terror," Chapter 8, might get overlooked, because it deals with terror in the countryside, but it is a classic, informing us of oppressions visited randomly on rural folk: raids, confessional barazas, physical tortures, sexual assaults against women. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain's Gulag in Kenya
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.